Reel Report: June 21, 2012


Reel Report

by Jeff Boam

 

OPENING THIS WEEKEND

Brave
Voices of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly
After 10 successful, critically adored, animated films (Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Cars), Disney-owned Pixar Animation was nominated for Best Animated Feature and Best Picture for the same movie at both the 2009 and 2010 Academy Awards (Up and Toy Story 3, which both ended up winning Best Animated Feature Film) … only to follow up this success with their worst reviewed (albeit still very profitable) film, Cars 2. How could they win back critics? Well, the Mouse House will follow this summer’s Brave with Monsters University, a sequel to Monsters, Inc. In Pixar’s latest PG-rated animated family film, however (the first with a female lead — hurray!), an impetuous young princess (Macdonald) defies tradition and sets out to carve her own path in life, inadvertently unleashing a beastly curse that she must vanquish. This entry has the vocal talents of Macdonald (No Country for Old Men), Connolly (Gulliver’s Travels), Emma Thompson (Nanny McPhee Returns), Kevin McKidd (ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy), Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows), Craig Ferguson (CBS’s The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson), Julie Walters (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) and, of course, John Ratzenberger (NBC’s Cheers) who has had a voice in EVERY Pixar movie thus far. The Plus: The players. In addition to being Oscar award-winning fans of critics (Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and WALL•E also took home the trophy for Best Animated Feature Film), the Pixar films are also moneymakers. The Minus: The odds. If Cars 2 signaled the start of a creative slump for Pixar, Brave won’t have the marketability of the characters in Cars (a merchandise bonanza for Disney) to fall back upon.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper
In 2012, iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Schindler’s List) is bringing the life of the United States’ most revered president to cinemas—slavery abolishing, Gettysburg speech delivering, nation dividing, and all. This is not that film, however. Rather, director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Dark Shadows) has taken to producing an adaptation of novelist Seth Grahame-Smith’s (Pride & Prejudice and Zombies) rather offbeat re-imagining of history. In the R-rated Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer, director Timur Bekmambetov brings to light the secret life of America’s rail-splitting 16th president (Walker) as he takes to eliminating bloodsuckers bent on taking down democracy. The Plus: The players. From the producing skills of Burton (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach) to the direction of Bekmambetov (Wanted) to the acting chops of Walker (Broadway’s Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson), Cooper (Captain America: The First Avenger), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing), Anthony Mackie (Real Steel), Rufus Sewell (The Tourist), this flick is edgy and patently crazy enough to work. The Minus: The odds. In an already crowded box office, an R-rated thriller (family unfriendly movies are hard sells to begin with) has to contend with the likes of other ‘Restricted’ titles like Prometheus and That’s My Boy just before Magic Mike and Ted open, thinning the adults-only herd even more.

 

NOW PLAYING

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. Of course, this isn’t the soundtrack’s fault. In fact, the songs of Bon Jovi, Pat Benetar, Def Leppard, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Journey, Twisted Sister, Night Ranger, and Whitesnake 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.
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 where a burned out rock star (Cruise) struggles to go solo. Channeling a skeevy hybrid of Bret Michaels and Axl Rose, movie star Tom Cruise ably and impressively turns golden god rock star. In their capacity as star-crossed leads, however, Hough and Bonita have the pipes — just not the chemistry. The same goes for the direction. Adam Shankman has the credentials (Hairspray), but not the follow-through. The fact that he has Cruise sing into a Rolling Stone reporter’s posterior as if it were a microphone hints that he’s in on the joke. The fact that the audience starts snickering from the very first moment that a character hammily breaks into song shows that the movie’s a joke. Bottom line: Jukebox zero.

That’s My Boy
Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg
Running the comedy gauntlet from A to B, Adam Sandler’s latest manchild romp finds him on familiar playground, further strip-mining the empty depths of a theme involving losers who refuse to grow up and the lengths they’ll go to beat a dead gag. Despite the hook holding a smidgen of promise (true, no one’s used Mary Kay Letourneau as a movie plot point yet), Sandler’s already played this ne’er-do-well countless times before (Billy Madison, Billy Gilmore). Worse, he’s already tailored it around a fathering theme (Big Daddy). His latest has some laughs, but the ultimate laughs are on Samberg, who showed potential with his underrated big screen comedy debut Hot Rod, but probably wishes that he had stayed on Saturday Night Live now that his latest flick has landed with a thud.
In this R-rated comedy, a Z-grade celebrity famous for fathering a boy with his high school teacher while underage (Sandler) seeks out his successful grown son (Samberg) for a handout. True, Jerry Lewis made a career out of playing pretty much the same character type as Sandler (Patsy, Disorderly Orderly, Bellboy). The difference is: He grew it beyond a caricature with classics like Nutty Professor (never mind the fact that he wrote, directed and starred in his movies). When Sandler stretches this paper doll into a father (Click, Grown Ups), audiences just get a sophomoric Boy-ish misadventure like this. It’s not as patently abysmal as the ridiculously unfunny pantomime Jack and Jill, but Sandler’s baby talk won’t-grow-up and  his Peter Pan shtick is well past its sell-by date. Bottom line: Thrown-Ups.

The Avengers
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 (Samuel L. Jackson)’s 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.

Battleship
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 board 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.

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.

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. 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). 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 series’ unfortunate deuce … doubtful as it seems, given its pedigree (eight years since II, unfinished script during production). Invaded with great humor, SFX, and performances (Brolin, as the younger Jones, delivering a pitch-perfect performance) this trifecta ends up to be 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.

Prometheus
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.

Snow White & the Huntsman
Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron
A fairy tale sprinkled with more grit and spit than pixie dust, this re-imagining of Snow White thankfully owes more to a Huntsman than Uncle Walt. In this PG-13-rated fantasy adventure, Snow White (Stewart) becomes a warrioress alongside the huntsman sent to kill her (Chris Hemsworth) after an evil queen (Theron) sentences death on the fairest-of-them-all. The last such re-telling, March’s dreadfully cartoony Mirror Mirror, certainly owed an unseemly amount to Disney’s first animated feature. Here, however, there arises the same vulnerability-derived fierceness and brutality that redefined James Bond and Batman for the post-9/11 age. Much of the credit goes to director Rupert Sanders, who cleverly colors outside the lines with arresting flourish. The tale’s only fractures include an overlong running time and inclusion of an obligatory star-crossed teen love triangle a la The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games. Bottom line: Princely

 

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