Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Michael Caine
After starring in such PG-rated fare as Race to Witch Mountain and The Tooth Fairy, the Artist Formerly Known as The Rock found himself fast becoming Disney’s go-to guy for playing a family-friendly, loveable lunk. This was a far cry from his days in the ring with the WWE when he made his bones doling out his signature ‘People’s Elbow’ move to roughneck competitors (he recently made a return to wrestling). Following his return to action in the no-holds-barred revenge thriller Faster, Johnson’s back on Disney duty with The Mysterious Island. In this PG-rated 3D Journey to the Center of the Earth sequel, the Rock takes over for Brendan Frazer, shepherding a young boy (Josh Hutcherson) to answer a coded distress signal from his missing explorer grandfather (Caine). The Plus: The players. The Rock has done well in family flicks before (The Game Plan) and franchises as well (Fast Five). Here, he’s starring with Caine (The Dark Knight, Inception), Hutcherson (The Kids Are Alright, the hotly anticipated Hunger Games), Luis Guzman (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, Arthur), and Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Sucker Punch). The Minus: Sequelitis. The first Journey to the Center of the Earth got lucky, surprising everybody in the industry when it opened strong at the box office and made a tidy profit. Making a sequel could be a case of New Line Cinema pressing its luck.
Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds
Whether he’s generating awards buzz while working with Spike Lee (Malcolm X, He Got Game, Inside Man) or the go-to action guy for Tony Scott (Crimson Tide, Man on Fire, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3), two time Oscar winner Denzel Washington has worked in a lot of different genres under a lot of famous directors – including himself (Washington directed Antwone Fisher and The Great Debaters). His latest, however, is directed by relative unknown Daniel Espinosa â¦ but the early buzz is already gangbusters. In the PG-13-rated actioner Safe House, a rookie CIA operative (Ryan Reynolds) running a Cape Town, South Africa holding cell housing a renegade intelligence officer (Denzel Washington) finds himself in a deadly spy game when dangerous mercenaries come a-knocking. The Plus: The players. Last year, Washington clocked another blockbuster action hit with Unstoppable. Here, he’s got back-up from Reynolds (Green Lantern, The Change-Up), Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, Source Code), Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Guard), and Sam Shepard (Brothers, Fair Game). The Minus: The competition. One weekend, four new releases. Even if Safe House opens at number one (which, given the Star Wars factor, it probably won’t), the box office is spread too thin to share the wealth.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 3D
Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor
It has been seven years since George Lucas last sat in the director’s seat for the final Star Wars installment to be released, Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. This is no big deal though. Prior to rolling camera on Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999, it had been 22 years. In fact, Lucas has only directed 6 movies in his stored career: THX 1138, American Graffiti, Episode IV – The New Hope, and Episode II – Attack of the Clones round out the list. With these six movies, however, he’s made quite an impression. In this, the first of six 3D-enhanced, re-releases of his PG-rated sci-fi adventure series, two Jedi knights (Neeson, McGregor) get tasked with protecting a young slave boy (Jake Lloyd) who may bring balance to a galactic government verging on collapse. Episodes II through VI will follow. The Plus: The brand. No matter how many times this franchise is re-released or re-packaged for home video, moviegoers show up in droves. The Minus: The backlash. This set of prequels to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi (Episodes IV, V, and VI if you’re keeping score) were never as critically hailed as their forebears and post-production 3D conversions haven’t always wowed audiences (Exhibit A: Clash of the Titans).
Rachel McAdams, Channing Tatum
With successful movie adaptations like A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, and Dear John, novelist Nicholas Sparks â¦ oh wait, this sappy tale of lost love isn’t another Sparks flick? Regardless of any sparks thrown, this Feb. 14 will bring audiences flowers, chocolates, and The Vow. In this PG-13-rated drama supposedly based on a true story, a husband (Tatum) begins a difficult courtship with his wife (McAdams) after she loses any memory of their relationship in a car crash. The Plus: The players. McAdams (Midnight in Paris, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) joins Tatum (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Haywire), Jessica Lange (Bonneville, FX’s American Horror Story), and Sam Neill (Daybreakers, Fox’s Alcatraz). The Minus: The competition. One weekend, four new releases. Even with Valentine’s Day bearing down on moviegoers, the box office is spread too thin to share the wealth.
Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo
A rapturously entertaining and emotional love letter to cinema, creativity, and romance, The Artist says more with no dialogue than the rest of the talky Best Picture nominees combined. Calling it a masterwork of pure motion picture artistry would be as gross an understatement as saying talkies might someday replace silent movies in the ’20s.
Aping everything from Douglas Fairbanks to Citizen Kane to Singin’ in the Rain, this superb piece of filmmaking is edifying from its letter-perfect performances right to its beautifully lensed homage to classic H’wood. To put it in a single title card: joyous.
In this PG-13-rated black and white silent dramedy, an up-and-coming H’wood bit player (Bejo) falls for a moving picture superstar (Dujardin) just as the advent of talkies changes the business.
This reviewer has seen the future and, thankfully, it’s the past. Eight years ago, when he made his own love letter to silent and Golden Age comedies, he ran out of money to fully realize it as a black and white title carded kiss to classic H’wood. Ironically, work began last fall to finish this vision, but writer/director Michael Hazanavicius has truly crafted as perfect an idol as any film fan could hope to make, assembling the ridiculously talented likes of Dujardin and Bejo to give brilliant unspoken lip service to a trailblazing era of filmmaking. The sure-to-be Oscar hat trick is that his film is far more than an homage – it hangs in its own gallery, a heartfelt masterpiece that’s not just a piece of throwback pop art. Bottom line: The gold rush.
Woman in Black
Daniel Radcliffe, Ciaran Hinds
Scarily atmospheric, but frightfully redundant, betting on Black ultimately proves to be a mixed gamble. Between his ace use of angles, lighting, and well chosen locations, director James Watkins gives the audience a haunted house thriller that perfectly conjures up hell’s fury, scorned Woman and all. Screenwriter Jane Goldman’s script is more of a character-driven, un-American horror story, however, which leads to a lot of now-you-see-her-now-you-don’t moments and loud bumps in the night. Yes, these tired thrills are the oldest tricks in the horror book, but they’ve also served the genre well. Thankfully, Watkins has enough edgy flair up his sleeve to truly bring the scary.
In this PG-13-rated thriller based on Susan Hill’s novel, a young lawyer (Radcliffe) travels away from his young son to a remote village where the ghost of a scorned woman reputedly terrorizes locals.
Over a decade, actor Daniel Radcliffe grew into the part of be-speckled boy wizard Harry Potter. Woman in Black shows that he’s no one-trick pony, shouldering the eyes of a sorrow-eyed widower from frame one. Here, he drops the Hammer … which, strangely, is a damn good thing considering that Hammer is a classic British horror studio for which this brand of scare-making is old hat. There are genuine hair-raisers throughout but one can’t help but shake their head at why seemingly intelligent but weak-kneed people seek out ominous sounds and specters when most of us would’ve yelled, “Exit, stage left even!” If Goldman’s adaptation of this creaky story could’ve sold this, moviegoers would be talking Woman of the year. Bottom line: The deathly hollow.
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock
Despite its extremely earnest and incredibly ambitious intentions, this interesting Loud & Close drama never rings completely true. In this PG-13-rated heart-tugger, a young boy (Thomas Horn) is convinced that a key left by his father (Hanks), who died in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks, will lead him to a message somewhere in the city.
Oftentimes, this boy’s journey provides the audience with an enthralling through-line thanks to the Jonathan Safran Foer novel on which it is based. Director Stephen Daldry’s overly syrupy and highfalutin handling of the source material proves to be the film’s rub, however. For all of his inventive frenetic flourishes, much of this mix between a harrowingly real event and whimsical coming of age story – from the tell-don’t-show narration to the thinly-veiled subtext – feels manufactured save for Max von Sydow’s effortless soul-bearing performance. Bottom line: Lock, stock, and fallow.
Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney
When it comes to playing a rough-hewn man’s man with the eyes of a bare-fisted fighter and the heart of a poet, there’s no Grey area for Liam Neeson. In this massively engrossing R-rated action-adventure, a plane crash strands a group of oilrig roughnecks (Neeson, Mulroney, Frank Grillo) in the wilds of Alaska with wolves in hot pursuit.
His character is part of an ill-fated crew, but it’s Neeson who does the heavy lifting, bringing an air of believability to a character type that lesser actors would render with an implausible mix of chest-puffing and scenery-chewing. The Grey proves to be a.
Indeed, this is a helluva good thriller that’s an improbable but amazingly gripping mix of Jaws and The Edge that’ll keep audiences biting their nails down to their elbows straight through to the ace curtain closer. Bottom line: Black, white, and rad.
Gina Carano, Michael Douglas
Making Hay while the celluloid shines, director Steven Soderbergh’s latest is live-wire filmmaking at it’s action-packed best. In this R-rated turnabout spy revenge tale, a highly trained black ops contract agent (Carano) gets double crossed and left for dead by someone in her agency, leading her to try turning the tables on her dangerous employers (Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender). With the steel-tipped explosively entertaining Haywire, Soderbergh nails the genre so well that it gives other action flicks and directors a bad name. With Carano’s hard-kicking performance here, a star is Bourne. She stands and delivers her character beautifully while kicking butt at an automatic clip – kind of like Ginger Rogers but with martial arts substituted for hoofing. It helps that Soderbergh’s ace camerawork and clever editing frame all of the hard-kicking excitement with brilliant verve. Bottom line: Quantum of Excellence.
One for the Money
Katherine Heigl, Jason O’Mara
One step removed from being a Lifetime TV Movie starring Angie Harmon and Meredith Baxter, this uneven Money won’t live to see Two for the Show. In her latest, this PG-13- rated adventure, a down-on-her-luck Jersey girl (Heigl) goes to work for her sleazy bail bondsman cousin, which leads her into an investigation involving a vice cop wanted for murder (O’Hara) – an ex who broke her heart years before. Katherine Heigl is good at some roles … it’s just that this reviewer hasn’t seen them yet. In her defense, the lines, laughs, and lucre are too heavy-handed even for Meryl Streep to bail the material out.
The dialogue sounds like it was probably snappy … in the novel, that is. Instead, poor casting and a screenplay that’s sadly P to the G despite clocking a ’13′ makes for One unfortunate bounty. Bottom line: Dog of a bounty hunter.
Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea
Awakening tired material best left in its already comatose state, Underworld 4 is definitely the resident evil at the box office this week. In this PG-13-rated monstrously bad sequel, vampire warrioress Selene (Beckinsale) escapes from a cryogenic prison into a world where humans are hunting bloodsuckers and werewolves to extinction.
Even its redundancy is redundant. Unlike Resident Evil, Underworld isn’t based on a video game, but it does have the same gnat’s attention span CG-generated execution.
Moviegoers can easily trade Milla Jovovich for Beckinsale and zombies for Lycans (read: poorly animated werewolves) and save the $9 ticket expense. Granted, the leather-clad Beckinsale does a fine job of selling through blood gushing while generating some blood rushing too, but – thanks to the 11th Hour set-up for another obligatory sequel – it’s doubtless she’ll ever graduate to Aviator or Serendipity-grade material again. Bottom line: Bloody well wrong.