by Jeff Boam
Opening this weekend
Voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman
In this PG-rated animated family comedy, a lifelong video game villain (Reilly) sets out to become a hero like his do-gooder nemesis (Jack McBrayer) only to find that his quest brings havoc to the whole video arcade world. The Plus: The players. Following the success of Tangled, Walt Disney Animation is on a bit of a roll. Moviegoers will be hot to see if the follow-up, their 52nd feature, passes the muster. It helps that the flick stars Reilly (Step Brothers, Carnage), Silverman (The Muppets, Comedy Central’s The Sarah Silverman Program), McBrayer (The Campaign, NBC’s 30 Rock), and Jane Lynch (The Three Stooges, Fox’s Glee). The Minus: The odds. Despite its interesting video game hook, the expensive Wreck-It Ralph will have to deliver a winning story or bad word-of-mouth from audiences will kill its momentum early.
Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood
Robert Zemeckis is an Oscar winner (Forrest Gump) with an audience-friendly resume to beat the band (Back to the Future, Who Famed Roger Rabbit?, What Lies Beneath), but he’s spent the better part of a decade working with cartoons. Beginning with 2004’s Polar Express, he’s directed A-list stars including Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie and Jim Carrey in motion capture performances for animated flicks like Beowulf and The Christmas Carol. Now, he’s set to make his first live action film since 2002’s Cast Away … with A-lister Denzel Washington, to boot. In the R-rated drama Flight, an airline pilot (Washington) miraculously saves a 747 flight from crashing, only to have the investigation into the plane’s malfunctions bring to light his drug and alcohol use. The Plus: The players. Zemeckis as director aside, this production couldn’t ask for a better cast than Washington (Safe House), Greenwood (Star Trek), Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2), John Goodman (The Artist), and Melissa Leo (The Fighter). The Minus: The material. Just last year, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close failed to become a box office smash or huge award winner despite an A-list cast that included Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Many speculate that the uncomfortable nature of the 9/11-based material kept filmgoers away, a fact that doesn’t bode well for this plane crash drama.
The Man with the Iron Fists
Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu
In emulating the B-movie chop-socky of ‘70s Asian cinema, indie maverick Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds) put together Kill Bill, a two-part love letter to martial arts classics like Lady Snowblood. Now, with Kill Bill Vol. 3 rumored to be among the auteur’s next projects, Tarantino’s producing the directorial debut of the series’ soundtrack producer and composer, Wu-Tang Clan member RZA. In the R-rated martial arts actioner The Man with the Iron Fists, a humble blacksmith (RZA) looks to defend himself and his fellow feudal Chinese villagers against a band of warriors, assassins and a rogue British soldier (Crowe) on the hunt for a legendary treasure. The Plus: The players. As director, Tarantino gave film audiences Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. As producer, however, he gave filmgoers Eli Roth’s Iron Monkey and Hostel. Here, he’s wrangled RZA, a talent pool that includes Crowe (Robin Hood, The Next Three Days) Liu (Kung Fu Panda, CBS’s Elementary), Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious, Ninja Assassin), and Jamie Chung (Sucker Punch, The Hangover Part II). The Minus: The competition. One weekend, two R-rated flicks, a box office already crowded with ‘Restricted’ films … even with a relatively small budget of $20 million, this Man’s going to have to fight to stay alive in cinemas, Iron Fists or not.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry
A fantastical patchwork of interconnected people, places, and times that mostly rocks your whirl, Cloud Atlas boasts more of a silver lining than an overcast vista. Approaching this sprawling and ambitious piece, this reviewer banked on embracing one polar extreme or the other: love it or hate it. Instead, this adaptation of David Mitchell’s epic novel falls somewhere in-between, but thankfully on the better side of average. Some of the vignettes prove more entertaining than others. Some of the performances fit the mold while others break it. Some of the themes smack you, while others lie deeply embedded in the background. The sum total of the parts, however, end up to be an inspired think-piece that’s less weighty than the filmmakers would have you believe but too heady for impatient filmgoers looking for a pedestrian yarn.
In this R-rated sci-fi drama, the actions of individuals impact one another over hundreds of years — from a 19th century Abolitionist to a shepherd in the far future. With Oscar-winning actors Tom Hanks and Halle Berry playing multiple diverse parts, this flick has a definite through-line. Sometimes, however, their playing against ethnicity in small unimportant roles jars more than gels the material. Sure, it ruminates on the connectivity of humanity over time (think: Jeff Goldblum’s butterfly wings Chaos Theory monologue from Jurassic Park transposed to Magnolia), but it’s equal parts heavy-handed and gracefully touched. Between directors Tom Twyker and Andy and Lana Wachowski helming the separate cross-cutting chapters, it’s a case of too many cooks stirring the pot … but here, even the damaged goods are damn interesting. Bottom line: Look for the silver lining.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
Adelaide Clemens, Kit Harington
Brimming with W00t 3D that’s way OMG, but LMAO CG that’s too OCD, this trip to Silent Hill deserves more of a TTYL than SRO reception. True, the first chapter proved to be a tepid spooker boasting a preposterous amount of gore, but it did develop a cult following, of sorts. Rather than improve upon its substandard origins, however, this deuce just spins its wheels of cheese. “The darkness is coming” gets spoken a ridiculous amount of times during the 94-minute running time, but this reviewer would’ve loved to have heard it at least once before descending into this cinematic Hell. Instead, he gets subjected to a paper-thin story about a young heroine looking for the truth about her past in an evil town, but — between the standard-issue jump-cut editing and gamer-verse plotting — the only Revelation to be found is the fact that this franchise should’ve stayed Silent. In the latest R-rated horror flick, a teen (Clemens) looking for her missing father (Sean Bean) gets drawn into a strange and terrifying alternate reality that holds answers to the horrific nightmares that have plagued her since childhood. At least, the baddies keep the action interesting. If Salvador Dali and H.P. Lovecraft had had a litter, they would’ve looked like the creatures here. Unfortunately, these terrific creations owe more to the video game on which Silent Hill is based than filmmaking magic. Beyond these villains, the scariest parts derive from Game of Thrones actor Harington failing to nail an American accent. Bottom line: Drool on the Hill.
Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox
A heady Cross for moviegoers to bear, this latest James Patterson adaptation just kisses the franchise goodbye. In this PG-13-rated adaptation of James Patterson’s novel Cross, Perry trades in Madea’s dressing gown for the loafers of a homicide investigator/psychologist trying to take down a cage fighter moonlighting as a serial killer (Fox). Along came a spider to the franchise and his name is Tyler Perry. A multi-hyphenate used to having his name placed possessively before the title, he gets owned here by a standard issue police procedural thriller. At first, it seems like he’s performing one of cinema’s greatest examples of underplaying the part, “throwing it away” naturalistically like understated turns by, say, Kevin Spacey or Edward Norton. The rest of the flick proves heavy-handed and over-directed, however, which just makes Perry’s marquee performance look like bad community theater acting. Bottom line: Kiss the hurl.
Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston
Chronicling the production of a ridiculously bad Arabian Nights-aping sci-fi flick, Argo ironically ends up being one of the most brilliant real-life dramas to come along in years. In this R-rated drama, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist (Affleck) invents a fake science-fiction film production to free six Americans from Iran. Pinioning the story synopsis around the titular failed Star Wars rip-off is as short sighted as saying JFK is a film about the 35th president, however. Indeed, Argo plays hard, fast, and fair with a declassified CIA case involving the Iran Hostage Affair. The fact that the late ’70s/early ’80s-set action looks, feels, and plays out like an actual white knuckle ’70s thriller only helps matters — we’re talking All the President’s Men here. But Argo is its own logical animal, using a genius blending of humor amid the perfectly played terrifying historic touchstones. Bottom line: Rescue glee.
Paranormal Activity 4
Katie Featherston, Kathryn Newton
Four times the charmless, the third sequel of Paranormal Activity turns the series from prequel to weakquel in one foul swoop. In this R-rated documentary-style psychological thriller from directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, a supernatural force terrorizes a family (Newton, et al) once Katie (Featherston) and the strange child that she kidnapped suddenly move in next door. Oh, it continues threading the same thinly connected story begun in chapters 1 and 2 when handheld cameras caught a young wife named Katie becoming slowly and unnervingly possessed. Despite using the same scare tactics as the first two, part three at least brought things back to the ’80s for a somewhat unique spin. Now that audiences are back to modern times with a new family, however, the haunted goings-on feel like deja-boo all over again. Watch. Winch. Repeat. Bottom line: The Sick Sense.
Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance
Giving audiences a one-word title that aptly describes the truly chilling experience of seeing this oftentimes-scary flick, Sinister proves to be an above average jolt thriller. In this R-rated horror flick, a true crime novelist (Hawke) discovers a box of disturbing home movies that plunge his family into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror. Well-acted and well plotted, this true crime-turned-supernatural chiller has many scares but it also has more plot holes than a kindergarten play. Of course, horror lovers aren’t looking for continuity as much as they’re looking forward to soiling their britches and upping their blood pleasure to ludicrous speed. Here, however, the movie goes to great lengths to develop the characters as much as terrorize them. Sadly, all of this build-up nearly collapses under the script’s patent absurdity, but you’ll be too busy biting your nails down to your elbows. Bottom line: Paranormal festivity.
Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen
Now, listen to me: Despite a particular set of skills, Liam Neeson can’t rescue his latest beatdown from becoming just another kick in the head. In this PG-13-rated action sequel, a former CIA operative (Neeson) and his wife (Janssen) become hostages of the vindictive father of a murdered kidnapper. As unlikely as it seems, this number two held a sliver of promise too, angling the fisticuffs as a revenge tale spawned from the main character’s actions in Taken. Indeed, had Neeson’s daughter gotten kidnapped again, moviegoers would’ve had to suspend disbelief beyond the already ludicrous Spinal Tap high of 11. Unfortunately, kidnapping Neeson instead remarkably amounts to more yawns than fist pumps. Even though this actioner clocks in at a lean mean 90 minutes, it amazingly manages to feel both redundant and boring in one fell swipe. Bottom line: Taken for a fool.