by Jeff Boam
Opening this weekend
Snow White & the Huntsman
Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron
In a city full of dreamers, it only makes sense that fairy tales would become one of H’wood’s hottest commodities … however fractured. Earlier last year, Catherine Hardwicke directed Amanda Seyfried in a Gothic re-imagining of Red Riding Hood. Then, Julia Leigh directed Emily Browning in a very adult re-telling of Sleeping Beauty. Next year brings Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton in the gritty period actioner Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. First, however, comes this, the second of two takes on the Snow White legend this year. In this PG-13-rated fantasy adventure, Snow White (Stewart) gets turned into a warrioress by the huntsman sent to kill her (Chris Hemsworth) after an evil queen (Theron) declares war on the fairest-of-them-all. The Plus: The players. In this stylish re-imaging of the legend, hot commercial director Rupert Sanders makes his feature debut with an even hotter cast that includes Stewart (The Twilight Saga), Oscar-winner Theron (Young Adult), Hemsworth (The Avengers), Sam Claflin (The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Strange Tides), and Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) as well as dwarves the likes of Ian McShane (44 Inch Chest), Bob Hoskins (Doomsday), Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger), Ray Winstone (Edge of Darkness), Eddie Marsan (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), and Nick Frost (Paul). The Minus: The gamble. Here, a first-time feature director is helming the second (with a larger budget) Snow White flick in three months. Moviegoers have saturation points. It’s doubtful, but perhaps, they’ve reached their fill of fairy tales already.
Danielle Panabaker, Matthew Bush
While not a remake so much as a follow-up, the success of 2010’s Piranha 3D has, as yet, failed to do career-wise for director Alexandre Aja (High Tension, The Hills Have Eyes) what Piranha and Piranha Part Two: The Spawning did for their respective directors, Joe Dante (who went on to helm The Howling and Gremlins) and James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar). Still, this hasn’t stopped John Gulager (Feast) from helming a sequel. In this R-rated horror comedy, a school of blood-thirsty, pre-hysteric fish with nasty over-bites are unleashed in a water park full of young, beautiful people in bikinis … in three dimensions. The Plus: The genre. Panabaker (The Crazies) and Bush (Halloween II) are relative unknowns, but B-movie actors David Koechner (Final Destination 5), Gary Busey (HBO’s Entourage), Christopher Lloyd (Piranha 3D), Ving Rhames (Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol), and David Hasselhoff (Click) are hopefully in on the joke. The Minus: The competition. In a crowded summer box office already ruled by the likes of The Avengers and Men in Black III (both more family friendly with a PG-13 rating, mind), this adults-only confection might find that is has no bite come the weekend.
Men in Black 3
Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones
More in the Black than in the red, this sequel is three times more charming than the last go-round … and ‘time’ is the key word. MIB 2 was a choppy tale borne out of studio execs looking to bank some serious bucks on a predetermined sophomore slump. This three-quel presents a fun-filled, well acted time travel story that proves a much better follow-up to the stylish alien-hunting original than the aforementioned deuce …doubtful as it seems, given its pedigree (eight years since the last chapter, unfinished script during production). Invaded with great humor, SFX, and performances, this MIB file is solid — not great, but consistently entertaining.
In this PG-13-rated, sci-fi sequel, extraterrestrial investigator Agent J. (Smith) time travels to the ’60s where he teams up with a young Agent K. (Josh Brolin) to stop an alien from assassinating his partner’s future self (Jones).
Smith works hard to be America’s Sweetheart. Here, he stands, delivers, and — based on the early box office returns – rakes in the glory. His performance, however, is not the gold standard. Rather, it’s Brolin as the younger Jones, delivering a pitch-perfect channeling of the older Oscar winner. Kudos also go to Jemaine Clement for playing brilliantly against type as the baddie. The legendary Rick Baker’s make-up and creature effects remain the true star. This wizard plays with ’60s H’wood style by aping some serious throwback designs. Because of these commitments to Black gold, this trifecta ends up being a slightly above average way to hang up the series … if only H’wood was that high minded Bottom line: Bet on Black to the future.
The Chernobyl Diaries
Jonathan Sadowki, Jesse McCartney
A found footage thriller without the benefit of a mocumentary feel or thrills, Chernobyl Diaries is pretty much a horrific meltdown of near-epic proportions. Sometimes, you just wish that found footage thrillers would remain lost. Oren Peli, the director of Paranormal Activity, managed to produce this tale with little of the genre-defying flair afforded his unique twist on the Blair Witch recipe, despite the promising nuclear fallout zone hook. Instead, contrivance replaces innovation, bad acting replaces suspension of belief, and a Z-movie label replaces any chance of greatness being written in the stars for this entry in the Chernobyl Diarrhea. In this R-rated thriller, six young tourists (Sadowski, McCartney, et al) hire an “extreme tours” guide to take them through the site of Russia’s Chernobyl disaster … only to find that the town might not be abandoned.
Within the past year, The Darkest Hour played the same game, pawning post-Communist Russia off as the setting for a so-unreal-it-hurts horror show featuring nebulous villains. That horrible genre tale, however, was at least a straight-ahead alien invasion tale masquerading as a handheld thriller. This B-sting toss-off is just a waste of time. Shoddy, er, shaky camerawork? Check. Placing the protagonists in a scary, isolated setting? Check. Picking off pretty people one by one? Check. Pitting shuffle-footed creeps against your worst fears? Check, please. These creature fissures are lead-footed, at best. Still, a few points get rewarded for the true ending, which delivers a helluva potboiler almost unworthy of the cliché-ridden hour and a half build-up. Bottom line: From Russia with flubs.
Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans
Assembling the Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Mighty Thor, and First Avenger Captain America into an astonishingly superb mash-up, this is a spectacularly fun and uncannily exciting comic book flick due a hero’s welcome. In this PG-13-rated Marvel Comics adventure, Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) international spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of superheroes (Downey, Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner) to fight off the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Giving moviegoers an equal mix of heroic action, comical relief, ace casting, and decent character building, writer/director Joss Whedon forms the most rewarding supergroup since George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison took to the stage as The Traveling Wilburys. Yes, it runs long … but do you hear that noise? Nom nom nom. It’s the sound of audiences eating popcorn and loving every minute of it. Bottom line: A Hulk smash.
Taylor Kitsch, Liam Neeson
In pulling off his best Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) imitation, director Peter Berg’s Battleship ends up giving audiences a naval exercise in futility. In this PG-13-rated sci-fi adventure, a fleet of American Navy ships must do battle with an armada of robotic otherworldly forces set on a destructive path. Granted, it’s not exactly a board game. The star-studded talent pool, weapons-grade effects, and clever play on Hasbro’s game of the same name keep it from becoming a total wash.
Unfortunately, even this often-rusty bucket’s unique points aren’t enough to sink moviegoers’ disbelief for more than two looooong hours. Blockbuster action flicks should never feel as long as Titanic, even if a love story and ship goes down within the running time. As for the actors getting rained on with awards, pop star Rhianna needn’t bring her umbrella-ella-ella. Bottom line: A sinking feeling.
Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer
Creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky with a story that occasionally gets a lil’ ooky, director Tim Burton presents an oftentimes fun and stylish camp update of a unintentionally funny and camptastic soap opera ripe for reimagining. In this PG-13-rated remake, fishing tycoon-turned-vampire Barnabus Collins (Depp) awakes in the ’70s after a centuries-old slumber to find his heirs carrying on the family business in a cursed town. Granted, this remake’s unlikely success, however slight, came from a risky roll of the dice. The movie flirts more with comedy than horror as opposed to NBC’s episodic deathly seriousness ’90s remake. The script, however witty, clever and sometimes frightening, never keeps the audience in the dark or shadows as to its color-by-numbers final act. Even though it’s far from perfect, this horror show is well worth the price of reinvention. Bottom line: Shadow of a doubtlessly good.
Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris
Despite the fact that he often evokes the chameleonic comic abilities of Peter Sellers, Sacha Baron Cohen’s skills just can’t keep this wannabe classic from ending up as a Dicta-Phony. In this R-rated comedy, a buffoonish foreign leader (Cohen) gets stripped of his royal trappings and gets forced to live as a poor everyman in New York City. From frame one, the audience knows right where this surprisingly color-by-numbers Easy Bake performance piece is headed: the discount bin. There are definitely some funny bits, but they are interspersed with numerous misfires and dummy rounds. It’s certainly not uncommon for intelligent comedians to raunch up their material these days, but here, Cohen never flushes out his potty mouth. He’s notorious for ramping up the shock value, yes, but there’s nothing shocking about tired Dick-tator and fart jokes set on repeat. Bottom line: One-man bland.
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 T.V., 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.