by Jeff Boam
Opening this weekend
Keira Knightley, Jude Law
Like Juno, Michael Clayton, No Country for Old Men, and There Will be Blood, director Joe Wright’s Atonement also held a coveted place among the Best Picture Oscar nominees in 2007, one of world cinema’s best years yet. The Soloist aside, this director has wowed high-brow audiences time (Pride and Prejudice) and time again (Hanna). In his latest, an R-rated adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel, Anna (Knightley) questions her marriage to a nobleman (Law) after meeting a young count (Aaron Johnson) as the fabric of Russia changes around them. The Plus: The players. Here, Wright is working for the third time with Knightley (the Pirates of Caribbean franchise, Seeking a Friend For the End of the World), whose castmates include Law (Contagion, Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows), Johnson (Kick-Ass, Savages), Kelly Macdonald (Brave, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), Olivia Williams (An Education, Ghost Writer), and Matthew MacFadyen (Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers). The Minus: The odds. The film’s pedigree aside, Wright is setting the epic sweeping details of Tolstoy’s novel in a single static theater. Though the trailer hints at some awe-striking production design and location filming, this sticking point might turn off many prospective filmgoers.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2
Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson
Four vampire-themed young adult books by Stephenie Meyer have not just inspired any movie series, they have spawned a marketing juggernaut. In fact, the movie
franchise has proved so successful that Summit Entertainment has taken a cue from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, splitting this adaptation of the last Twilight
book into two separate movies (Breaking Dawn — Part 1 raked in more than $705 million worldwide). Even Meyers’ latest novel, The Host, is being adapted into a movie by director Andrew Niccol for release in 2012 … but first comes Breaking Dawn — Part 2. In this PG-13-rated conclusion to the Twilight Saga, Edward (Pattinson) and his newly-turned bloodsucker wife Bella (Stewart) gather vampire clans to confront a violent vampire inquisition from the Volturi after false word spreads about their daughter. The Plus: The brand. This franchise has proven unstoppable at the box office. Twilight stars Stewart (The Runaways), Pattinson (Water for Elephants), Lautner (Valentine’s Day), Anna Kendrick (50/50), and Ashley Greene (The Possession) are all returning for direction under Bill Condon (Dreamgirls). The Minus: The scuttlebutt. Stewart, who has been linked romantically with Pattinson since the franchise first began, recently had a public dalliance with her Snow White & the Huntsmen director, Rupert Sanders. Despite a seeming reconciliation (at least at press time), such an affront to the loyal Twi-Hards, ardent fans of the books and movies who comprise this flick’s core demographic, could cause a commercial backlash.
Daniel Craig, Judi Dench
Flying so sky high that it nearly touches the heavens, the 23rd James Bond flick marks one of the 50-year-old franchise’s highest points. Though Skyfall might belly the tale of Chicken Little, it cuts right to the marrow of Ian Fleming’s spymaster. The movie proves to be a cross-section of the bone-crunching grit and spit that defined the last two, post-9/11 007 missions and the wit-infused Union Jack swagger of the 20 other chapters that preceded them. The classic characters of Q and Moneypenny return, but with a wholly plausible and often blood-soaked backstory. Oh, the film’s not letter-perfect, but it’s deathly close, ranking among Bond’s top flag-smashing adventures.
In this PG-13-rated spy thriller, MI6 agent James Bond (Craig) finds his loyalty to direct superior M (Dench) tested after her past comes back to haunt her and all of British Intelligence comes under attack from a cyber terrorist (Javier Bardem). Yes, he’s an alcohol-abusing, sex-chasing, sociopathic gambler with expert comic timing, but he also channels this penchant for addiction toward protecting crown and country. Perhaps, more than any other Bond movie, Skyfall manages to peel back the onion layers of this complex killing machine without spoiling the mystery of the mystery man. As always, Daniel Craig gives a wonderful hard-hitting turn, but he thankfully also engages in some good humored ribbing. In the hands of usually high-brow Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), the blockbusting action could’ve fallen flat. Instead, he mercifully gives moviegoers a slick, stylistic and smart near-classic for the ages. Bottom line: Double Oh Seventh Heaven.
The Man with the Iron Fists
Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu
A giddily gory tale of fists a-flying that ends up with the audience’s fists a-pumping, the filmmaking debut of the Wu Tang Clan’s Rza ends up to be bloody well tight. If it’s possible to bestow cult status on a film before its even left first-run distribution in theaters, then this Hong Kong grindhouse throwback already has an iron-clad promise on cinematic immortality. An intoxicating drug cocktail of Spaghetti westerns and ’70s chop socky flicks in a Blaxploitation candy shell, this gleefully historical inaccurate actioner ultimately isn’t as smart as its American cousin, Kill Bill, but it’s almost as fun.
In the R-rated The Man with the Iron Fists, a humble ex-slave and blacksmith (RZA) and a rogue British soldier (Crowe) look to defend some Chinese villagers against a band of assassins on the hunt for gold.
Between directing the high-kicking action, giving an understated but effective turn, choosing the beatastic soundtrack, and penning some witty lines, writer/director/star Rza rules his love letter to martial arts filmmaking with an iron fist. Oh, it’s not that he’s hard on the genre. In fact, between the slick camera tricks and fantastical fight scenes, the movie projects a generally madcap atmosphere. Even when he doesn’t directly handle something, he surrounds himself with talented friends who will help him aim for an A-List B-Movie (Quentin Tarantino as executive producer, Eli Roth as producer, visual effects legend Greg Nicotero doing make-up). And no, it doesn’t reach this high plateau (at times, the story’s way disjointed and scattershot), but it damn well flies trying. Bottom line: Black Belt jonesing.
Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston
Chronicling the production of a ridiculously bad Arabian Nights-aping sci-fi flick, Argo ironically ends up to be 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.
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. 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. This adaptation of David Mitchell’s epic novel falls somewhere in-between the poles of ‘Love It” or ‘Hate It,’ but thankfully on the better side of average. Some of the vignettes prove more entertaining than others. Also, the actors playing against ethnicity in small unimportant roles jars more than gels the material. 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. Bottom line: Look for the silver lining.
Denzel Washington, Bruce Greenwood
Despite a story set in dark waters, Robert Zemeckis’s Grade-A return to live action filmmaking flies sky high thanks to an A-list pilot and crew on top of their A-game. In this R-rated drama, an airline pilot (Washington) miraculously saves a 747 flight from total devastation, only to have the crash investigation bring to light his drug and alcohol use. Of course, filmgoers show up to a plane wreck … granted, it’s a beautifully lensed and directed plane wreck, but the subject matter is inarguably a bummer nonetheless. Still, Flight actually ends to be a tragic character study and not an Allen Irwin-style disaster drama. Scripted with a character-driven angle, the player is the thing and, thankfully, the player does his thing masterfully. After years of no-frills holding patterns for both, this film’s ultimate trajectory noses filmgoers into an awe-inspiring and thought-provoking horizon. Bottom line: Plane awesome.
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 3 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.
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. 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 her horrific nightmares … which means that moviegoers get 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. 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. Bottom line: Drool on the Hill.
Voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman
Leaving a Tron Legacy that’s much cooler than, well, Tron Legacy, Kingly Ralph finally presents a video game flick that doesn’t completely byte. In this PG-rated animated family comedy, a lifelong video game villain (Reilly) sets out to become a hero, but his quest brings havoc to the whole video arcade world. This inventive candy-colored adrenaline shot isn’t based on a particular video game per se — just based in and around an arcade’s greatest hits and gamer’s paradise. More Super than Mario Bros., less Payne-ful than Max, more Princely than Persia, and more of a Hit than Hitman, Ralph power-ups the entertainment factor for gaming … in regards to cinema, at least. Despite being saddled with the tired and all-too-familiar animated family flick moral of ‘being yourself,’ this frenetic joystick ride a least earns an Extra Life for the inevitable sequel. Bottom line: Wreck-It? Ralph’s so funny, he nearly kills it.