OPENING THIS WEEKEND
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry
So, you say you want a revolution, huh? After making an impressive debut with the 1996 crime thriller Bound, Andy and Larry Wachowski blew the minds of critics and moviegoers alike when The Matrix hit screens in 1999. The mind-bending sci-fi actioner proved revolutionary enough to spawn two lesser-regarded sequels, Reloaded and Revolutions. The trilogy’s follow-up, however, proved a lot less popular with audiences. Speed Racer ended up being one of 2008’s biggest H’wood flops. Now, however, they’re back with an even trippier piece of sci-fi … oh, and Larry, who reportedly had a sex change, is now being billed as Lana. In this R-rated sci-fi drama based on David Mitchell’s novel, the Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) bring moviegoers the exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another more than hundreds of years, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness inspires a revolution — whatever that means.
The Plus: The players. Here, double Oscar winner Hanks (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump) and Oscar winner Berry (Monster’s Ball) join Hugh Grant (American Dreamz), Susan Sarandon (That’s My Boy), Hugo Weaving (Captain America: The First Avenger), Jim Sturgess (21), and Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady) also star.
The Minus: The gamble. In 2006, director Darren Aronofsky presented another trippy, indulgent, sci-fi, century-spanning mindbender called The Fountain. It divided critics and audiences alike. In a similar vein, the Wachowskis’ 2-hour and 45- minute latest might ask too much of moviegoers.
Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston
Gerard Butler paid his dues in the H’wood trenches for years (Reign of Fire, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) before the chest-pumping box office conquest of 300 made him a star. Rather than make the 300 sequel Rise of an Empire (due: Aug. 2, 2013), however, he’s headlining this family sports drama based on a true story. In the PG-rated Chasing Mavericks, veteran surfer Frosty Hesson (Butler) mentors a fatherless teenager to become a big wave surfing legend (Weston).
The Plus: The players. Butler found success with critics (RocknRolla, Corionalus), moviegoers (The Ugly Truth, Law Abiding Citizen), or both (How to Train Your Dragon) in a variety of genres. Here, he’s working with newcomer Weston and Elizabeth Shue (The House at the End of the Street, CBS’s CSI) under the co-direction of Curtis Hanson (LA Confidential, 8 Mile) and Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
The Minus: The odds. Butler hasn’t always found success with critics (The Bounty Hunter), moviegoers (Machine Gun Preacher), or both (Gamer). In a crowded box office weekend, his star power (or lack thereof) will make all of the difference.
Chelsea Handler, Johnny Knoxville
Teen comedies might seem like a Weird Science, but they’re as important to pop culture as American Pie. All of the Risky Business is worth it so long as there are Fast Times … a Sex Drive, and sometimes a Road Trip with The Girl Next Door. If the script for, say, Project X proves to be Losin’ It early on, however, the Superbad result might just be … Out of My League. In the latest R-rated teen comedy to hit theaters, a sarcastic high school senior gets stuck taking her little brother trick or treating on Halloween, the night of the biggest party of the year … so she brings him along. Comedy, hopefully, ensues.
The Plus: The genre. R-rated comedies are all the rage at the cinemas nowadays (The Hangover, Bridesmaids). Hopefully, The O.C. and Gossip Girl creator Josh Schwartz will bring the funny with this, his directorial debut. It helps that he has acting support from Handler (This Means War, E’s Chelsea Lately) and Knoxville (The Dukes of Hazzard, Jackass 3D).
The Minus: The odds. Not every R-rated comedy gets a piece of the pie. In April, American Reunion performed below expectations, as did last year’s The Sitter.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D
Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell
Ah, nothing brings a family together like terror! In the R-rated video game adaptation Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, a girl plagued by nightmares and the disappearance of her father comes face to face with the demonic world threatening her.
The Plus: The genre. Last year, Insidious snuck into theaters under the radar with very little star wattage attached and still managed to scare up over $54 million at the box office on a relatively small budget. This flick stars Bean (Mirror Mirror, HBO’s Game of Thrones), Mitchell (Surrogates, The Crazies), and Carrie-Anne Moss (Disturbia, HBO’s Vegas).
The Minus: The odds. Last month, The Apparition failed to wow moviegoers while The Possession banked some decent box office. Horror moviegoers are quite choosy, which is a frightening affair when two other R-rated flicks are also opening on the same weekend.
Tyler Perry, Matthew Fox
A heady Cross for moviegoers to bear, this latest James Patterson adaptation just kisses the franchise goodbye. Along came a spider to the franchise and his name is Tyler Perry. A writer/director/producer/studio mogul/actor used to having his name placed possessively before the title, here a standard issue police procedural thriller owns him. 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. Moviegoers who enjoyed Freeman in Kiss the Girls and Along Came a Spider now have a reason to be Cross with H’wood.
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). Perry’s not solely to blame, mind. After directing The Fast and the Furious, xXx, and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor to overblown heights, Rob Cohen can’t help but rely on style-over-substance showboating, pushing actors toward mustache-twirling acting, and hyper-kinetic editing to tell this tale … mustache-twirling except for Perry, that is. Even his co-star Edward Burns, an actor who cut his teeth in the real-as-it-gets DIY indie ’90s-scene, seems game for an arch adventure. If it weren’t for Fox’s lean-crazy mean performance as a sadomasochistic killer, Alex Cross would be a complete bupkis. Bottom line: Kiss the hurl.
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. Oh, it continues threading the same thinly connected story begun in chapters one and two 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.
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. Watch. Winch. Repeat. That’s the formula set up by this franchise, which had already gone back to the well too many times before this go-round. Oh, it’s got some new characters and new situations, but the poltergeist can’t help but work from the same gag of tricks. You’ll jump and cower in your seat, but not with the same intensity as the original or even part two evoked. Rather, moviegoers will feel like they’ve been fooled by such Activity too many times, Paranormal or not. Unfortunately, the fifth chapter isn’t an ‘if’ so much as a ‘when’ even though each succeeding flick increasingly looks and feels like a photocopy of a photocopy — more murky and less fresh than the original every time. Bottom line: The Sick Sense.
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.
Voices of Winona Ryder, Martin Short
Stitched together from his own spooky ooky CV and a love of classic H’wood horror, Tim Burton’s latest is a heartfelt oddity that ranks among the best stop-motion animated flicks ever. In this PG-rated 3D family flick, young Victor (Charlie Tahan) brings his beloved but departed dog Sparky back to life as a science experiment, only to encounter monstrous consequences. Of course, this auteur has ’tooned in to this material before, making Frankenweenie as a partly live-action short in 1984 while at Disney before famously getting fired for his efforts. Nearly 30 years on, he’s brilliantly realized Frankenweenie as a personal feature-length tale for — drumroll, please — Disney. Brimming with the oft-kilter Burtonesque style and verve that he himself invented and has often seen copied (but never duplicated), this macabre tale proves to be among this master’s personal best. Bottom line: Puppy love.
Voices of Adam Sandler, Selena Gomez
Thanks to some frightfully cool animation, Hotel Transylvania scares up a monster mash-up that’s definitely worth booking into. In this PG-rated animated comedy, Count Dracula (Sandler) runs a five-stake resort for monsters like Frankenstein (Kevin James), the Wolfman (Steve Buscemi), and the Invisible Man (David Spade), until a human (Andy Samberg) stumbles in and falls for Drac’s 118-year-old daughter (Gomez). Here, Sandler and company aim for an immature audience whereas their movie Grown Ups was just plain immature. Granted, Hotel runs schmaltzy at times and force-feeds an all-too-familiar modern ’toon moral (being different is okay and blah, blah, blah), but this check-in still comes with a lot of amenities, namely a winning combination of sophomoric humor, classic monster movie nods, and A-list animation. Indeed, without acclaimed animation director Genndy Tartakovsky, this Sandler vehicle would warrant an early check-out. Bottom line: A graveyard smash.
Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell
Whether In Bruges or in the psychopathic breeding grounds of H’wood, Martin McDonagh proves that Seven truly is a lucky number for filmgoers. In this R-rated comedy, an out-of-work screenwriter (Farrell) falls afoul of LA’s criminal underworld after his ne’er-do-well friends (Rockwell, Christopher Walken) kidnap a deadly gangster’s (Woody Harrelson) beloved Shih Tzu. Like his previous film, the deliciously twisted, side-splitting, and thought-provoking pitch black comedy In Bruges, McDonagh’s latest becomes all the funnier and more provocative after you step away to wipe the blood off. It’s nearly impossible to factor the many angles and appreciate the brilliant performances (especially Rockwell in a better-be-Oscar-nominated supporting turn) while you’re laughing your spleen out. Rather, like the writer/director himself and his alcoholic main character namesake, there’s no escaping the sad but hilarious fact that there’s a little psychopath in all of us. Bottom line: Magnificent Seven.
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.