by Jeff Boam
OPENING THIS WEEKEND
The Amazing Spider-Man
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone
Merely five years after the conclusion of director Sam Raimi’s super-successful Spider-Man trilogy, Sony is looking to start from scratch on reinventing the famed web-crawler under the direction of Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer). In this PG-rated comic book adaptation (also available in 3D), a teenage orphan (Parker) looking for clues to his parents’ disappearance is put on a collision course with his father’s former partner, Dr. Curt Connors (Rhy Ifans), and a radioactive spider bite. The Plus: The potential franchise. Spider-Man consistently ranks as Marvel’s most popular and endearing character. Here, Garfield (The Social Network), Stone (Crazy Stupid Love), and Ifans (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) join Martin Sheen (The Departed), Sally Field (Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming Lincoln), Denis Leary (FX’s Rescue Me). The Minus: The gamble. Fans and critics alike disliked Spider-Man 3, but Raimi (Evil Dead series, A Simple Plan’s Spider-Man series) was adored overall. Perhaps, it might be too soon for a reboot with so many other properties flooding the Multiplex.
Katy Perry: A Part of Me
Katy Perry, Shannon Woodward
In this PG-rated ‘backstage pass’ (also available in 3D), the glamorous and, at times, not-so-glamorous life of pop songstress Perry is chronicled—performances and all. The Plus: The genre. Both 2008’s Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best Of Both Worlds Concert Tour and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never proved that fly-on-the-wall pop concerts bank a lot of buck when the disposable income comes from a demographic (read; screaming teen). The Minus: The odds. Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience underwhelmed at the box office. With an already over-crowded Cineplex and three other new flicks opening, Perry’s behind-the-scenes extravaganza (obviously, the documentary won’t concentrate much on her recent divorce from actor Russell Brand with a teen-friendly PG rating) will probably part company with audiences quite quickly.
Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson
Considering director Oliver Stone’s CV, none of his films really seem ripe for the sequel treatment (JFK 2, Born on the 5th of July, or Any Given Monday, anyone?). Given 2010’s economic climate, however (the banking industry really seemed to take Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is Good” mantra to heart), Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps made a whole lot more sense than Platoon 3-D. Now, 30 years on, Stone follows up his classic screenplay to Scarface with this drug war drama. In the R-rated Savages, two young entrepreneurs (Kitsch, Johnson) develop and distribute weapons-grade marijuana, which attracts the attention of a vicious Mexican drug cartel and Feds. The Plus: The players. In addition to Kitsch (John Carter, Battleship) and Johnson (Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass), this drama features the talents of Lively (The Town, Green Lantern), Benicio Del Toro (Sin City, The Wolfman), Salma Hayek (Grown Ups, Puss in Boots), John Travolta (The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, From Paris with Love), Emile Hirsch (Milk, The Darkest Hour), and Demian Bichir (A Better Life, Showtime’s Weeds). The Minus: The odds. The once-unstoppable box office blockbusting of Stone (Natural Born Killers, Any Given Sunday) any given way to a bad run at the Cineplex (Alexander, W.). If Savages doesn’t garner good word of mouth early, it’ll be a Stone’s throw from the discount bin.
To Rome With Love
Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin
In this R-rated comedy, a number of people in Italy — some American, some Italian, some residents, some visitors — find romance, adventure, and predicaments complicating their lives in Rome. The Plus: The Woodman. Just last year, Allen released his greatest box office success of all time, the Oscar-nominated Midnight in Paris. His follow-up boasts the acting talent of Baldwin (Rock of Ages), Robert Benigni (Life is Beautiful), Penelope Cruz (Nine), Judy Davis Greta Gerwig (Arthur), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network), Ellen Page (Inception) … oh, and Allen himself in his first acting role since 2006’s Scoop. The Minus: The odds. Capped off by Midnight’s success, Allen has had a good run since moving production overseas (Match Point, Vicky Cristina Barcelona). There has been the in-between slump of Cassandra’s Dream, Whatever Works, and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, however. Statistically, To Rome With Love might just fall in with these flicks.
Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey
Conjuring some slick H’wood Magic out of a simple premise and a screen full of himbos, Steven Soderbergh shows audiences how Mike makes right when it comes to pure filmgoing entertainment. Nothing against his edgier more experimental fare like Schizopolis and Bubble, but this reviewer loves when this particular auteur goes H’wood. With films like Contagion and Haywire, he conquered one-off genre pieces with amazing atmosphere, style and all-star casts to boot. This film keeps the tone light-hearted. Still, it’s not as heavy as Traffic nor as high kicking as the Oceans trilogy. The closest bedfellow in his CV would improbably be another name-checked drama streaked with levity: Erin Brockovich … albeit with ass-less chaps. Just like the porn-tastic Boogie Nights wasn’t purely about carnal love, Magic Mike is about more than lap dances. In this R-rated drama set in the male stripping world, seasoned dancer Mike (Tatum) takes a young dancer (Pettyfer) under his wing and schools him in the art of partying, picking up women, and making easy money … albeit mostly one dollar bills. The cast seems to be having as much fun as filmgoers. Having inspired Magic Mike’s events, Tatum surprises all yet again with the extent of his acting chops. Selling through the horse hockey of The Vow and making our sides split laughing through 21 Jump Street was already career-making enough this year. Together with Soderbergh and his bag of tricks (uninterrupted takes, ace camerawork, clever editing), his star has come tenfold. Macho guys would be smart to get over the premise. A good time is guaranteed to all. Bottom line: Like Mike.
Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis
A bear hug of a laugh-getter, Seth MacFarlane’s feature film debut is far from cuddly but — sure as a Teddy Ruxpin poops cassettes in the woods — it definitely brings dirty smiles to moviegoers. Except for one storyline too many, Ted clocks in at nearly a laugh-a-minute, comedy-wise. Unfortunately, it’s so rooted in pop culture jokes that you can already see the flick aging before your eyes. The gimmick proves funny enough, but so much of the movie follows MacFarlane’s Family Guy formula (dim-witted people interacting with a snarky dog/teddy bear) that it seems hopelessly derivative at times. Still, the concept elicits the kind of racy belly laughs where you look around to see if a Human Rights council’s watching you …. only to see them laughing even harder. In this R-rated comedy, John Bennett (Wahlberg) must deal with his cherished teddy bear (voice of MacFarlane), who magically came to life through a childhood wish and became a profane leech. Even though most of the funniest moments are spotlighted in trailers both PG and R-rated, MacFarlane consistently channels the funny. Plus, Wahlberg proves that his hilarious turn in the cop buddy comedy The Other Guys wasn’t just a fluke — this guy’s in on the joke and he plays it letter-perfect. Giovanni Ribisi, however (great in an unnecessary role), plays a nut obsessed with kidnapping the titular talking bear. Sadly, the movie’s better served by keeping it simple with Ted being a third wheel in a romance where juvenile jokes are strangely the order of the day. Bottom line: Toy Story Ew.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper
A revisionist history lesson that cuts like an axe through moviegoers’ minds eyes, this Gettysburg Redress proves a diverting piece of popcorn so long as it’s approached with a wink and a nod. In the R-rated thriller, America’s rail-splitting 16th president (Walker) eliminates Confederate bloodsuckers bent on taking down democracy. True, Honest Abe hunted as many bloodsuckers as Dwight Eisenhower wrangled zombies. In an age when originality-starved audiences bemoan the amount of remakes, sequels, and comic book adaptations littering the box office, however, this movie does put a clever story forward. The flick tinkers with the mechanics of the Civil War the way Quentin Tarantino did with World War II in Inglourious Basterds. Despite a uniquely fanciful spin on real events, Vampire Hunter unfortunately follows a rather formulaic path despite director Timur Bekmambetov’s eye-popping flair for pyrotechnical aesthetics Bottom line: With malice toward fun.
Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly
As colorful and awe-strikingly artful as its heroine’s photo-realistic fiery hair, this Scotland yarn marks a return to near-top form for Pixar following an unfortunate deuce. In this PG-rated animated family film, an impetuous young princess (Macdonald) defies tradition and refuses to be married off, inadvertently unleashing a beastly curse on her family that she must vanquish before her dynasty disappears forever. The title proves apropos beyond just describing Pixar’s first female hero headliner, who’s two parts Hunger Games and one part Cinderella. It comes down to this being an oft-kilter historically fictive fairy tale adventure without the benefit of a bevy of warm ’n fuzzy wisecracking animals to throw on a tee-shirt. For all of the welcome convention bucking, however, the movie unfortunately plays out like a Disneyfied crowd-pleaser in the home stretch — tonal shift, inconsistent characters, ones-to-grow-on, and all. Bottom line: Single malt Scotch whimsy.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Voices of Ben Stiller, Chris Rock
More hyperactive than a spastic thyroid, three-times-the-less-charming animated sequel Europe’s Most Wanted is not completely a case of audience cruelty … but it’s close. In this PG-rated animated sequel, a group of zoo animals (Stiller, Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cedric the Entertainer) hide themselves among the talent in a European traveling circus (Sacha Baron Cohen, Bryan Cranston) on their journey home to the Big Apple. Still, this chapter begs the question: All along, was the franchise’s title just a portmanteau for madcap gassed-up cartoon? Ironically, Dream Works Animation chose to set this go-round in a circus. When the movie shows any trace of heart, it’s quickly bowled over by the frenetic nature of the goings-on. The characters zip around the screen more wildly than Ricochet Rabbit on a cocaine binge. Bottom line: Big Top Phooey.
Bruce Willis, Edward Norton
A fantastically watchable coming of age story, the moon never sets in Wes Anderson’s latest fascinating misadventure. In this PG-13-rated 1960s-set drama, two young lovers make a pact and run away into the wilderness, riling the local townspeople (Willis, Norton, et al) intent on finding them before a violent storm touches down. Truthfully, this is not the auteur’s best work since Rushmore, but it hits a lot of the right notes … especially if you’re a fan of this writer/director’s life Quixotic. You have to trust his quirky vision by jumping in — not slowly dipping your toes to find the right temperature. This seems more the case with this film than any of his others. It’s a wondrously whimsical world painstakingly brought to life with specific brushstrokes and amazing performances. If you’re willing to fully immerse yourself, the payoff is worth a king’s ransom. Bottom line: Scout’s honor — it’s good.
Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender
Though it’s not exactly a gift from the gods, the chest-burstingly thrilling Prometheus lights a fire of excitement in moviegoers’ bellies that fans out when it hits the mind. In this R-rated prequel, a research vessel crew (Rapace, Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce) seeks out mankind’s origins in a dark and terrifying corner of the universe. In effect, it’s an Alien autopsy, dissecting and building upon an unexplained detail from the 1979 sci-fi classic. Despite a sumptuous visual feast, however, the script is patently ridiculous. The story has interesting ideas but is oftentimes dotted with lunk-headed dialogue. Also, some characters act without plausible motivation while others get brilliantly fleshed out. Still, within the space of the breathtaking aesthetics, no one hears these screams. Regardless of plot holes bigger than supernovas, this scaremaker proves more of a franchise Resurrection than the last go-round. Bottom line: Little Green Eh.
Rock of Ages
Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin
Far from one for the Ages, this joke-box musical doesn’t rock out so much as it rolls over for moviegoers. In this PG-13-rated jukebox musical, two young lovers (Julianne Hough, Diego Bonita) chase their singing dreams in a famed ’80s Los Angeles club headlined by a burned out rock star (Cruise). Of course, this isn’t the soundtrack’s fault. In fact, the songs of everybody from Bon Jovi to Pat Benetar encourage more throaty interactivity than a game of Rock Band. Aside from toe-tapping, however, this is not an audience participation experience a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If it were, moviegoers wouldn’t be throwing toast, they’d be throwing corn because this movie’s a cornier star-studded sing-a-long than “We Are the World” circa 1985. It’s intentionally tongue-in-cheek, mind … but the movie invites more laughing at them than with them moments overall. Bottom line: Jukebox zero.