by Jeff Boam
Opening This Weekend
Narrated by Tim Allen
It seems like only yesteryear that Mother Earth had a birthday. Thankfully, filmgoers have Disneynature to remind them of Earth Day … every year. Following in the footsteps of Earth, Oceans, and African Cats comes Chimpanzee. In this G-rated documentary, Allen narrates the story of a three-year-old chimpanzee named Oscar who gets separated from his troop only to be adopted by a full-grown male. The Plus: The tie-in. Just in time for Earth Day comes another doc that takes dead aim at the same people who helped make The March of the Penguins a box office phenomenon. The Minus: The competition. In the U.S., Earth did an impressive $32 million, but Oceans wasn’t able to break the $20 million mark a year later. African Cats did only slightly better. It’s another busy holiday weekend in Film-Ville and John Q. Filmgoer’s B.O. lucre is spread thin yet again.
The Lucky One
Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling
Since graduating from the High School Musical series, Efron has done well with both moviegoers (17 Again) and critics (Me and Orson Welles) …though not necessarily in tandem. His latest is The Lucky One. In this PG-13-rated romantic drama, a U.S. Marine sergeant (Efron) returns from his third tour of duty in Iraq to search out the woman (Schilling) whose picture kept him alive through the fighting. The Plus: The genre. The romantic drama The Vow became one of the biggest box office smashes of 2012’s first quarter, which bodes well for this three-hanky offering. Here, Scott Hicks (Shine) directs Efron (Charlie St. Cloud, The Lorax), newcomer Schilling, and Blythe Danner (Little Fockers, Paul). The Minus: The odds. Teens are more likely to make The Hunger Games and Titanic lucky at the box office again than get behind this relatively hype-free drama.
Think Like a Man
Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara
In this PG-13-rated romantic comedy, four interconnected fellows (Ealy, Ferrara, Kevin Hart, Terrence Jenkins) find their love lives turned upside down when their respective ladies start reading Steve Harvey’s book on relationships. The Plus: The players. Tim Story (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) directs Ealy (Underworld: Awakening), Ferrara (HBO’s Entourage), Meagan Good (Jumping the Broom), Regina Hall (Death at a Funeral), Hart (Little Fockers), Taraji P. Henson (Larry Crowne), and Steve Harvey (Madea Goes to Jail). The Minus: The competition. One weekend, three new movies, an already crowded box office …even though this flick aims for a specific demographic, it faces a lot of other contenders this weekend.
The Cabin in the Woods
Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly
As evil as The Evil Dead and more of a scream than Scream, confectionary mindscrew The Cabin in the Woods is a brilliant blending of horror, comedy, and movie geekdom that’s as fun as it is frightening. This flick doesn’t re-invent horror, it just reprograms the genre much like Capt. Kirk did to the Kobayashi Maru program in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Bloody and bloody funny, the genre mash-up occasionally falls prey to the very cliches it’s lampooning, but the audience quickly forgives any loose mindscrews because they just watched the slasher movie get turned on its head but couldn’t do a damn thing about it … and they loved every R-rated minute of it.
In this R-rated thriller, horror gets turned on its ear when bad things happen to five pretty young things (Hemsworth, Connolly, et al) after they go on a remote trip to a, uh, cabin in the woods.
Joss Whedon more than earned his geek credentials, having birthed Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly (in less than a month, we can add his directing duties on The Avengers to this list). Having navigated the seven levels of H’wood, this producer/co-writer has wholly earned creative license to take apart the genre and tinker with the inner workings. He’s also earned his license for eagle eye talent scouting. Here, he hands over the directing reins to former Buffy and Angel writer Drew Goddard (also co-writer of the movie with Whedon), who makes a ridiculously impressive debut stacked with perfectly casted slasher movie character types. Bottom line: Cabin fervor.
The Three Stooges
Will Sasso, Sean Hayes
Giving moviegoers more n’yuks than yucks, the Farrelly brothers put the cart before the farce and someway, somehow bring The Three Stooges into the 21st century, backstory and all. The odds, of course, were stacked against this flick being more of a knuckleheaded than chuckleheaded endeavor. The Farrellys have Babe Ruth kind of stats — yes, there are some ace comedies (There’s Something About Mary), but they have a helluva strikeout record too (Shallow Hal). With The Three Stooges, however, they get their forebears’ comedy more right than wrong, proving that their brand of Depression-era slapstick is just as funny. Perhaps, this flick’s greatest accomplishment is its PG rating, which affords younger moviegoers an introduction.
In this PG-rated comedy, knucklehead orphans Moe, Larry, and Curly (Sasso, Hayes, Chris Diamantopoulos) find themselves embroiled in everything from a murder plot to becoming reality TV stars as they fight to save an orphanage from closure.
Truthfully, this reviewer still holds a grudge against H’wood reinventing classic comedy teams since the A Night at the Opera reworking Brain Donors spit on the Marx Brothers’ graves. Here, however, the imitation is more of the flattering kind. Hayes, Sasso, and Diamanoutopoulos nail their Stooge counterparts. Moreso, the episodic chapters give it a breezy two-reel feel. Granted, the origin runs too long and the paper-thin lame-brain plot owes more to The Blues Brothers than Howard Brothers, but it’s a live action cartoon, afterall. It’s hard to hate a movie that’s worst transgression is the absence of a pie fight. Bottom line: Three cheers.
Jason Biggs, Seann William Scott
As American as the whoopee cushion, this welcome Reunion tries for cheap laughs and heartstring tugs with a better than average success rate. In this R-rated comedy sequel, a group of friends who once quested to lose their virginity by 18 (Biggs, Scott, Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, Alyson Hannigan, Tara Reid, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Eddie Kaye Thomas) find that their priorities have changed when they reunite for a high school reunion. This franchise’s Rocky Balboa chapter hits most of the right notes of The Big Chill without trying to be The Big Chill, showing an impressive degree of maturity for a comedy that embraces its hard-R. Moviegoers just have to look in-between the poop and penis jokes to find it. Thankfully, these moments are much more amusing than an actual high school reunion. Bottom line: The levee’s not quite dry.
The Hunger Games
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson
Falling somewhere between the Harry Potter series and the Twilight saga in terms of pure spectacle, Games doesn’t quite live up to the killer hype, but it manages to stave off moviegoers’ hunger for summer blockbusters, albeit briefly. In this PG-13-rated adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s bestselling novel, young Katniss Evergreen (Lawrence) takes her sister’s place in a televised fight-to-the-death battle between children living in the ruins of North America. Director Gary Ross gets points for keeping the action gritty and violent even with a PG-13 rating. He loses points, however, for allowing the costume and make-up design to run wild. Yes, it’s a commentary on reality TV, class and our accelerated culture’s desensitization to violence, but moviegoers are ultimately desensitized to anything but the garish window dressing that’s oftentimes more farce than satire. The shaky camerawork also proves more jarring than in-the-moment. Bottom line: Game of throes.
Julia Roberts, Lily Collins
Far from the fairest of them all, the indulgent and cracked Mirror Mirror is more of a poison apple than magical kiss. In this PG-13-rated Brothers Grimm re-imagining, Snow White (Collins) wins the heart of a handsome prince (Arnie Hammer) only to be banished away from her realm by a wicked queen (Roberts). Director Tarsem Singh is all bluster and no bite. He puts a ridiculous amount of emphasis and time into the costume, set design and make-up and then seems to demand that a cartoonish script around these trappings. Like The Immortals, the aesthetics are lush, complex, and captivating, but — without the written verve to match the vervy visuals — it’s unpure as drivel, Snow.
Is it wrong to make family entertainment for the cinema? No, but it’s wrong to assume that cinema-going families are simpletons. Bottom line: Fractured fairy tale.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
Set adrift with memory drips, audiences re-watching Titanic with the dubious benefit of 3D will find that the film evinces the same majestic waves and seasick gurgles that it did 15 years ago … only not with much of the all-encompassing, immersive Avatar feel as many had hoped. Even so, it’s all worth seeing again. The grandiose sweep of this spectacle has only improved in this second run, the top-shelf attention to detail and top-rate special effects illustrating the storied true events with a classic H’wood feel.
This classic H’wood feel, however, also extends to the wooden and melodramatic lines, which sound like they could’ve been spoken by Gary Cooper and Myrna Loy. Sadly, in an era when ’20s throwback The Artist sweeps the Oscars, this wondrous technical marvel would’ve been served even better with a silent re-release. Bottom line: A good sinking feeling.
Wrath of the Titans
Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson
A boring piece of mythbusting that will quickly earn the wrath of moviegoers, this Titan-ic deuce fools audiences again and shames us all. In the PG-13-rated 3D sequel to Clash of the Titans, demi-god Perseus (Worthington) travels to the underworld to rescue Zeus (Neeson) and the other titans after they are enslaved by their ferocious father Kronos.
The gods must be crazy for allowing this to happen a second time. Granted, it’s tighter and better scripted than its predecessor, but it quickly loses steam and credibility when the story begins killing off Greek gods like they were Game of Thrones characters. And there’s the rub. Titans plays with Greek mythology the way Thor played with Norse mythology. The difference? Thor is a well-rounded action-packed character study. This is just bad fantasy fiction wishing to the gods that it were something more. Bottom line: Cinema of a lesser god.