Saturday, December 21, 2013

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

It took three or four viewings of 2004's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy before I fell in love with it. The movie was so idiosyncratic, so ridiculous, and so weird that I wasn't quite sure what to make of it at first, but little by little, Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 News Team won me over and eventually I became an Anchorman superfan. I've written countless articles about these movies, attended a Live Read of the first film in Los Angeles, and dressed as Ron Burgundy at a Halloween party. I'm telling you all of this because I think it's important for you to know how much I love the first film in order for you to get an accurate gauge of my feelings toward the sequel. Our reactions to films are all going to be different, but I feel like comedies may be even more subjective than dramas because everyone's sense of humor is so specific. We can all relate to a dramatic theme like unrequited love, but there are only so many people who will think Will Ferrell singing to a shark is funny.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Steve Carell



Friday, December 6, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller's version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is the second major film to come through Hollywood, but it scarcely resembles the 1947 take starring Danny Kaye. Loosely based on a short story by James Thurber, Stiller's Mitty presents a dull photo specialist as a stand-in for the American everyman and allows the actor/director to give audiences a piece of escapism that aims to be inspiring but only occasionally hits its mark.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Director: Ben Stiller
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott



Friday, November 15, 2013

Jodorowsky's Dune (AFI Fest 2013)

What if, two years before Star Wars debuted, a different film was released that fundamentally changed the way we look at science fiction movies forever? Would the age of blockbusters have ever happened? What would movies look like now? These are questions posed in Jodorowsky's Dune, a documentary that reveals in exceptional detail the vision of director Alejandro Jodorowsky as he spent years trying to adapt Frank Herbert's seminal sci-fi book "Dune." Jodorowsky's movie holds the distinction of being one of the only cult classic films that no one has ever actually seen, considering it was never made in the first place. But despite that pesky little fact, the failed movie profoundly affected Hollywood in ways that can still be seen on screens today.

Jodorowsky's Dune
Director: Frank Pavich
Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lone Survivor (AFI Fest 2013)

Peter Berg's most recent film was last year's board game adaptation Battleship, a bloated, lifeless imitation of a Michael Bay action film with zero heart and a godawful screenplay. Thankfully, Lone Survivor is the complete opposite: it's a small-scale true story with strong performances, clear cut action sequences, a tension-filled script, and a powerful emotional core. This was the film Berg wanted to make a few years ago, but Universal negotiated with him to make Battleship first; now we're seeing what the writer/director can do when he has some real investment in his story, and the result is a thematically rich and complex tale of brotherhood, morality, and, of course, survival.

Lone Survivor
Writer/Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Ben Foster, Emile Hirsch



Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Counselor

Over the past decade, Ridley Scott has taken some heat for directing films that are visually impressive but lack narrative weight. Here, he teams up with famed novelist Cormac McCarthy, the writer of "The Road," "No Country For Old Men," and "Blood Meridian" who makes his screenwriting debut with The Counselor. But old habits die hard: this is a stylish movie filled with sexy people, fast cars, and sharp suits, and though the film's premise is strong, McCarthy and Scott get trapped under the weight of their own attempts to tell this story in the "coolest" possible way.

The Counselor
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz



Thursday, October 17, 2013

12 Years A Slave

Experiencing problems in your life? Having trouble at work? Unlucky in love? Watch Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave, and you'll have an entirely different perspective on what it means to endure tough times. McQueen's gut-wrenching rendering of Solomon Northrup's autobiography is one of the most unflinching looks at slavery ever committed to film, and a monumental performance from lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor commands our attention even as we desperately try to look away.

12 Years A Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch



Friday, October 11, 2013

Captain Phillips

In the opening moments of Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks' title character chats with his wife (Catherine Keener) about how tough it is for up-and-comers to get their captain's stripes compared to when he was coming up. "You gotta be strong to survive out there," he says, lamenting the competitive environment in which 50 guys interview for every open position. The mantra of being strong is one that appears many times throughout the film, and it applies both to Phillips - whose ship is hijacked by Somali pirates - and to the lead pirate as well, a constantly disenfranchised man desperate to complete the task he's assigned. Though it's based on a well-known true story, Captain Phillips is one of the most intense films of the year, and with stellar performances by the leads and excellent direction by Paul Greengrass, it's also one of the most profound.

Captain Phillips
Director: Paul Greengrass
Starring: Tom Hanks, Barkhad Abdi


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Gravity

With his 2006 film Children of Men, Alfonso Cuaron proved himself as a master of crafting long continuous shots and punctuating them with unexpected and exciting action beats, all while telling a dense, thematically rich story. Seven years later, the director takes that skill set to its logical conclusion with Gravity, a space-set thriller which contains some of the most impressive cinematic visuals I've ever seen. But while the film is unquestionably a technical marvel, there's also a deep emotional core at the center of its story; perhaps Cuaron's most impressive feat here is finding the perfect balance of those two elements.

Gravity
Co-writer/Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney




Saturday, August 31, 2013

I Declare War

Younger readers may not remember the days before cell phones and the internet when kids would regularly go outside and play for hours, often with nothing but their imaginations to entertain themselves. I Declare War hearkens back to those days, following a group of 13-year-olds as they enact an elaborate, ongoing game of war in the woods. Armed with sticks as guns and water balloons filled with red paint as grenades, two armies face off in an effort to capture the other team's flag. That's vaguely interesting on its own, but there's more: the filmmakers alternate showing footage of the kids walking through the woods with their stick weapons and footage of them carrying actual weapons. We're brought into the minds of the kids, seeing what they see and giving the game a greater sense of importance.

I Declare War
Co-directors: Jason Lapeyre, Robert Wilson
Starring: Gage Monroe, Siam Yu, Michael Friend


Friday, August 30, 2013

Getaway

In Getaway, Ethan Hawke plays Brent Magna, a former NASCAR driver who bailed from the pro circuit and dabbled in some shady dealings before going straight. He's settled down in a new country with his new wife, but when he comes home from work one day, he discovers she's been taken. His phone rings and a mysterious voice tells him to steal a Shelby Cobra parked in a nearby garage or his wife will die. So begins one of the worst car chase movies I've ever seen, and unquestionably one of the worst films of 2013.

Getaway
Director: Courtney Solomon
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Selena Gomez, Jon Voight



Friday, August 23, 2013

Drinking Buddies

Can men and women be close friends without complicating things with sex and love? Drinking Buddies takes this question - most famously asked (in pop culture terms, anyway) in When Harry Met Sally... - and strips away the Hollywood sheen, replacing it with a quiet, realistic take of two people who are crazy about each other. Even if they can be together, should they?

Drinking Buddies
Writer/Director: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston



Thursday, August 22, 2013

The World's End

Everyone can relate to that feeling of going home and things not being the same as how they once were. Unlike many movies that tackle that topic, The World's End is not a slow, ponderous treatise on aging and a wistful attempt to recapture one's youth (check out Kristen Bell's The Lifeguard if that's your cup of tea). This is an Edgar Wright film, so the movie takes those notions and blows them up - literally, at one point - and adds robot aliens to keep things interesting. The World's End is the final piece in Wright's Cornetto Trilogy, but takes a tonally different approach than the first two entries into this spiritual series.

The World's End
Co-writer/Director: Edgar Wright
Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan



Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Kick-Ass 2

While some in the critical community dismissed Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass when it came out in 2010 and seem to think it's completely without merit, I actually found a lot to like about that movie. It briefly positioned itself as a serious attempt to explore what might really happen if a regular person became a costumed crime fighter in the real world, but quickly ditched that premise when its main character, Kick-Ass (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), ended up in the hospital and had metal rods fused to his skeleton. Combine our hero's new kinda-sorta-superpowers with the introduction of Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) - the most badass 11-year-old you've ever seen - and the movie turned into more of a comic book crowd-pleaser than an insightful examination of real-world heroism.

Kick-Ass 2
Writer/Director: Jeff Wadlow
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Chloe Grace Moretz, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jim Carrey


Friday, August 9, 2013

Elysium

Writer/director Neill Blomkamp's 2009 debut feature film District 9 was surprisingly successful both creatively and commercially; the $30 million independently produced sci-fi movie earned four Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture. The film was praised for its visual effects, thematic content (allusions to apartheid), and its impressive action sequences, and Blomkamp immediately became a person of interest to sci-fi fans. Now he's back with Elysium, another piece of social commentary wrapped in a science fiction package. But does it live up to the promise of his first feature?

Elysium
Writer/Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Alice Braga, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley



Thursday, August 1, 2013

2 Guns

If the trailers never mentioned it, you'd probably never know 2 Guns is based on a comic book. The movie version of this crime story feels much more like Tango & Cash than anything produced by Marvel, but 2 Guns does share one aspect with the films of that superpower-fueled studio: it has genuine movie stars in the lead roles. Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg banter and shoot their way through a twisty plot, and their chemistry is the glue that holds this movie together.

2 Guns
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Starring: Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg, Paula Patton, Bill Paxton


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The To Do List

It's tough to really stand out these days if you're a teen sex comedy. Surprising audiences is more difficult than it used to be thanks to the legacy of other movies in this genre; a lot of them try to gross you out in increasingly ridiculous ways, but after the antics of Jim, Stifler, and the gang in the American Pie films (or that horrifying eclair scene in Van Wilder), a small comedy like The To Do List seems, well, sort of lame in comparison. It's as vulgar as you'd expect from a movie with the central premise of a girl crossing sexual moves off a list, and it has a solid cast and a few good jokes, but the film never takes any memorable chances. Calling The To Do List "a forgettable, one-note romantic comedy" seems harsh and it undervalues the talents of everyone involved, but, sadly, it's an accurate description of the film.

The To Do List
Writer/Director: Maggie Carey
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Scott Porter, Bill Hader



Thursday, July 4, 2013

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Lone Ranger

There's a scene in The Lone Ranger in which Tonto (Johnny Depp) hooks our unconscious title character to the back of a horse, pauses while the horse excretes a pile of dung, and then knowingly proceeds to drag our hero through that pile of feces. This is the level of comedy you can expect from this film, a western that's overstuffed, devoid of humor, achingly boring, and insufferably long. Watching The Lone Ranger isn't quite as bad as being dragged through a pile of crap for two and a half hours, but at times it starts to feel that way.

The Lone Ranger
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson


Thursday, June 27, 2013

White House Down

White House Down and this year's other action film set in our nation's capital, Olympus Has Fallen, were both pitched as "Die Hard in the White House." But while Olympus took that premise and put its own hyper-violent jingoistic spin on it, this movie seems content to operate in John McClane's shadow without bringing the same freshness that made John McTiernan's 1988 film an action masterpiece. Roland Emmerich, the filmmaker who already obliterated the President's residence on film in Independence Day, returns behind the camera here and crafts a goofy and lighthearted throwback to 90s action flicks that works as totally dumb summer fun.

White House Down
Director: Roland Emmerich
Starring: Channing Tatum, Jamie Foxx, James Woods, Jason Clarke, Maggie Gyllenhaal


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Conjuring (L.A. Film Fest 2013)

Inspired by films like PoltergeistThe Amityville Horror, and The Exorcist, James Wan's The Conjuring is an old school horror ensemble period piece that proves it's still possible to make a truly terrifying movie in 2013 without relying too heavily on CG. This film is horrifying in all the right ways, led by terrific lead performances and Wan's true understanding of how to make his audience squirm. Though the premise seems played out, Wan's technical mastery and a great script from Chad and Carey Hayes make The Conjuring already feel like a classic for the modern era.

The Conjuring
Director: James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor



You're Next (L.A. Film Fest 2013)

When you break it down, there are really only two types of horror movies: those that embrace conventions of the genre, and those that attempt to subvert them. Director Adam Wingard (V/H/S, A Horrible Way to Die) and writer Simon Barrett have opted for the latter with You're Next, a crowd-pleasing twist on the home invasion thriller that almost makes you feel sorry for the bad guys. Debuting on the film festival circuit back in 2011, the film sat on a shelf for years while Lionsgate acquired Summit and planned for a theatrical release. But unlike the godawful All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (which has received an even lengthier delay and will be released this fall), You're Next is absolutely worth the wait.

You're Next
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Sharni Vinson, AJ Bowen, Nicholas Tucci, Joe Swanberg


Friday, June 21, 2013

Only God Forgives (L.A. Film Fest 2013)

When Nicolas Winding Refn and Ryan Gosling teamed up to create 2011's Drive, that film's basic premise sounded as if it could have been that of a Jason Statham film: a stunt driver by day works as a getaway driver by night. In their second collaboration, Only God Forgives, the premise sounds like something Jean-Claude Van Damme might have made: an American who runs a boxing club in Bangkok tries to avenge his brother's murder. In both cases, Refn's vision elevates the material beyond the superficial and results in fascinating character studies, but audiences hoping Only God Forgives is a spiritual sequel to Drive will likely be left as dazed as Gosling's OGF character after taking a punch.

Only God Forgives
Writer/Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vithaya Pansringarm


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Europa Report (L.A. Film Fest 2013)

Europa Report marks two significant "firsts" for Ecuadorian director Sebastian Cordero: it's his first English language film and his first foray into science fiction. Based on how well the movie turned out, I don't imagine it will be his last in either category. The film is a strong piece of science fiction with a found footage twist, crafted with a terrific sense of tension and featuring some potent performances from a lesser-known cast of actors. If you're looking for realistic, grounded sci-fi without laser blasts or warp drives, you'll find a lot to like with this one.

Europa Report
Director: Sebastian Cordero
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Anamaria Marinca, Michael Nyqvist, Embeth Davidtz


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

World War Z

World War Z, the film adaptation of Max Brooks' hit novel, was fighting an uphill battle from the start. The fractured structure of the book doesn't particularly lend itself well to a film version, and once filming finally did get underway, it was plagued with very public production troubles, massive reshoots, and third act rewrites. Most who were following the production's issues were expecting a disaster on the scale of the events in the movie itself, but World War Z somehow managed to stumble through that hellish gauntlet and emerge as a solid piece of summer entertainment.

World War Z
Director: Marc Forster
Starring: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, James Badge Dale, Fana Mokoena


Monday, June 10, 2013

Man of Steel

Man of Steel has long been my most anticipated movie of the summer. Though director Zack Snyder seems to be on shaky ground in the critical community following 2011's Sucker Punch, I'm a fan of his work and was especially excited to see him take on a project of this magnitude while working alongside producer Christopher Nolan. As the casting came together, it looked more and more as if this film would finally be the Superman movie fans have been waiting for. I had insanely high expectations, and in short, this movie lived up to all of them. Man of Steel is now officially the blockbuster to beat in 2013.

Man of Steel
Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Henry Cavill, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Russell Crowe



Thursday, June 6, 2013

This is The End

Vulgar, filthy, and laugh-out-loud funny, This is The End proves that writing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are actually pretty solid directors, too. The duo - who became major players in Hollywood with the success of Superbad - wrote this post-apocalyptic comedy as a full length adaptation of a short film they worked on years ago, and they chose this project as their co-directorial debut. Featuring a motley crew of comedic all stars and some impressive creature effects, This is The End imagines the end of the world as seen through the eyes of some of Hollywood's biggest actors and culminates in one of the funniest moments I've seen on film in years.

This is The End
Writer/Directors: Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg
Starring: Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fast & Furious 6

After the gloriously self-aware, sublimely idiotic, and extraordinarily well-executed Fast Five, director Justin Lin had his work cut out for him when it came to crafting a new sequel in the Fast and Furious franchise. Now he's back with Fast & Furious 6, the series' largest and most ridiculous entry so far, but does bigger always necessarily mean better? Read on to find out.

Fast & Furious 6
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwayne Johnson, Luke Evans


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

In the summer of 2009, J.J. Abrams boldly did what no director had done before: he made Star Trek cool to mainstream audiences. Four years later, he's back with Star Trek Into Darkness, a sequel which improves on his original while advancing the relationships of the Starship Enterprise crew. With killer action, a terrific villain, amazing setpieces, and stunningly good visual effects, Into Darkness provides a spectacle only Abrams could deliver; luckily for us, all of that translates into a pretty damn good summer blockbuster.

Star Trek Into Darkness
Director: J.J. Abrams
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Iron Man 3

When Jon Favreau kicked off Marvel's amazing string of interconnected superhero films with the first Iron Man back in 2008, I doubt if he knew exactly what he was getting himself into. The second film (which Favreau also directed) was saddled with the unenviable task of fitting in tons of references to S.H.I.E.L.D., resulting in a disaster that felt more like a calculated piece of franchise set-up than a real movie. But now Favreau has wisely handed off directing duties to Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black, and he has reinvigorated the Iron Man series with its best entry yet. Iron Man 3 is smart, clever, fun, full of surprises, overflowing with action, and loaded with terrific moments. It's the perfect way to kick off Phase Two of Marvel's Cinematic Universe.

Iron Man 3
Co-writer/Director: Shane Black
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall



Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pain & Gain

It's been eight years since Michael Bay directed anything other than a Transformers movie, and if you've read interviews with him over the past couple of years, it's obvious the director has been itching to move out of Optimus Prime's shadow. But in a classic case of "one for them, one for me," Paramount gave Bay a modest $25 million budget to direct Pain & Gain if he agreed to come back and direct the fourth entry into the giant robot franchise. For Bay, it was a good deal not just because of the stacks of money he'll assuredly make by returning to his robot saga, but because this film lets him flex a different set of creative muscles. This is a small scale passion project that tells the true story of kidnapping, extortion, sex, and murder in Miami during the mid-1990s; in other words, it's a story Michael Bay was born to tell.

Pain & Gain
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Oblivion

After taking the reigns on the sleek-but-hollow sequel TRON: Legacy a few years ago, director Joseph Kosinski is back with his second feature, Oblivion. It's a sci-fi passion project that shows a marked improvement over Kosinski's debut film, and while it certainly fuels his reputation as a filmmaker that loves to use gorgeous visuals to tell his stories, it also proves he isn't as soulless behind the camera as his first effort led us to believe. Despite some eye-rolling moments and more than a few derivative plot points, Oblivion is a solid science fiction film filled with beautiful cinematography, strong performances, exciting action, and a sense of heart that ties it all together.

Oblivion
Director: Joseph Kosinski
Starring: Tom Cruise, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Morgan Freeman


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Company You Keep

Just so we're all on the same page, I want to put it out there that I'm normally a sucker for these kinds of journalism movies. Throw on All The President's Men, Network, Shattered Glass, Anchorman, and even lesser films like State of Play and Scoop (plus, Netflix's terrific new series "House of Cards" and the fifth season of HBO's legendary show "The Wire") and I'm hooked. The Company You Keep has so many things going for it - an awesome director in Robert Redford, a story with an interesting hook, and the most impressive ensemble cast this side of Spielberg's Lincoln - but its slow pacing and meandering plot removes much of the film's liveliness, ultimately rendering it a boring and unfulfilling entry into a genre I normally love.

The Company You Keep
Director: Robert Redford
Starring: Robert Redford, Shia LaBeouf



Jurassic Park 3D

Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park is not only a fantastic adventure movie, it's also a brilliant science fiction film and a pulse-pounding horror thriller. The 1993 film has been converted into 3D for its twentieth anniversary, and though the new layer of depth doesn't add anything essential to the viewing experience, this re-release provides fans with another opportunity to see one of Spielberg's biggest blockbusters on the big screen, where they can reassess its themes all over again and find depth in the storytelling while the extra dimension gives more physical depth to the image.

Jurassic Park 3D
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum



Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Upstream Color

In 2004, former engineer Shane Carruth released his debut film - a low-budget time travel movie called Primer - which he wrote, produced, edited, composed music for, starred in, and directed. Despite its incredibly dense technical dialogue and rough-around-the-edges appearance  the film won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and earned a cult following, turning Carruth into something of a rock star for cinephiles. Carruth has attempted to get a few projects off the ground since then, but has remained quiet...until now. His second feature, Upstream Color, premiered at Sundance earlier this year and comes out in limited release on April 5th, 2013.

Upstream Color
Writer/Director: Shane Carruth
Starring: Shane Carruth, Amy Seimetz, Andrew Sensenig


Monday, April 1, 2013

Trance

A slick narrator sets up a daring art heist, but things go south when he's hit in the head and can't remember where he stashed the multi-million dollar painting he just stole. His colleagues aren't pleased with his forgetfulness, so after torturing him, they take him to a hypnotherapist to try to unlock his mind. He doesn't think he's met her before, but she clearly recognizes him. Are they secretly in cahoots? Is he faking the amnesia? Could they escape together with the money and leave the bad guys in their rear-view mirror? This is the set-up for Danny Boyle's Trance, an intense psychological thriller loaded with suspense, deception, and more twists than a corkscrew factory.

Trance
Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: James McAvoy, Rosario Dawson, Vincent Cassel



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a ludicrous but satisfying big budget blockbuster based on a toy franchise, and it's clear the studio was aiming for the type of mindless entertainment for which director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) was famous. For G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Paramount wanted something different: a more realistic, authentic look at the Joes, concentrating more on mythology and less on spectacle. In most situations I prefer the mythology-first option, but - and maybe this is because I didn't grow up watching the cartoon or playing with the toys - in this case, director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2: The Streets) never struck the right balance between campy, over-the-top action and the film's more dramatic moments. Retaliation is still an entertaining adventure, but it's simply not as fun as the first entry into this series.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation
Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ray Park, Lee Byung-hun, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis



Friday, March 22, 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

When it was announced there would be two "Die Hard in the White House" movies coming to theaters in 2013, I chose sides quickly. The contenders: Olympus Has Fallen, directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart; and White House Down, directed by Roland Emmerich, starring Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx. Based on that information alone, the latter seemed like the "better" choice, and while that film still has a chance to surprise us (we haven't even seen a trailer for it yet), I'm already confident in saying I made a huge mistake in my initial assessment. Olympus Has Fallen is brutal, insane, hilarious, and action-packed, and I hereby pledge my allegiance to it as one of the most ridiculously enjoyable movies of the year.

Olympus Has Fallen
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Starring: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett



Friday, March 15, 2013

Spring Breakers

There isn't a cloud in the sky as college kids gyrate in slow motion on a sun-kissed Florida beach. Dubstep music blasts in the background, beer flows like a mountain spring, and nudity abounds. The opening sequence of Spring Breakers is replayed multiple times as the film progresses, but each time it's intercut, it becomes clearer that this stylized hedonism is nothing more than an idealized version of an escape from a mundane lifestyle. Spring Breakers will make headlines for casting former Disney starlets in bikinis and arming them with guns, but underneath the controversy lies one of the most interesting films of the year.

Spring Breakers
Writer/director: Harmony Korine
Starring: Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

For a profession that certainly hasn't historically been very well-represented on film, you don't have to go very far back in cinema history to find a movie about magicians. In fact, 2006 saw the release of not one, but two magician films: Neil Burger's The Illusionist and Christopher Nolan's The Prestige, the former of which faded into obscurity when compared to what still may be Nolan's best film. Sadly, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone will likely suffer the same fate when Louis Leterrier's own magician film Now You See Me comes out later this year; not because the latter will be Leterrier's best work - though I suppose anything is possible - but because Wonderstone doesn't do itself any favors, failing to deliver anything memorable aside from Jim Carrey's performance.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Director: Don Scardino
Starring: Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Jim Carrey, Alan Arkin


Monday, March 11, 2013

Upside Down

Upon first glance, one might be tempted to praise Upside Down for its visual splendor and original concept. After all, this is a movie about two worlds with opposite fields of gravity that hover right on top of each other. But look a little deeper, and you'll discover that writer/director Juan Solanas' film is just a substandard love story wrapped in a gimmick that isn't nearly as interesting as the filmmaker thinks.

Upside Down
Writer/Director: Juan Solanas
Starring: Jim Sturgess, Kirsten Dunst, Timothy Spall




Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Place Beyond the Pines

Ryan Gosling reunites with his Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance for The Place Beyond the Pines, a riveting generational crime drama that explores the lifelong consequences a father's actions can have on his son. A sprawling narrative that shifts between multiple protagonists, Pines is being billed as an action movie when in fact it's more of a familial study that contains performances that are career highlights for practically its entire cast. This is one that cinephiles won't want to miss. 

The Place Beyond the Pines
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Dane DeHaan


Oz the Great and Powerful

Victor Fleming's 1939 adaptation of The Wizard of Oz remains one of the most famous and beloved movies in film history, so when Disney announced production on a prequel, the news wasn't exactly well-received. The popular Broadway show "Wicked" tells a different origin story of the Wicked Witch of the West (and a film based on that show has been in development for years), so the idea of a studio producing a separate origin story for the wizard seemed at best unnecessary and at worst like shameless capitalization. But thanks to a solid screenplay and energetic storytelling by Sam Raimi, this trip down the yellow brick road is surprisingly worth taking.

Oz the Great and Powerful
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff



Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snitch

One of Hollywood's longest running truisms is that studios use the early months of the year to dump their less desirable movies into theaters (despite the occasional exception, like Cloverfield or The Grey), so when an action film is released in February, audiences can typically assume it won't be very good. But here's the thing about Snitch: it's actually surprisingly solid, and despite the star power of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, it's much less of a pure action movie than the trailers would have you believe. 

Snitch
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Barry Pepper, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jon Bernthal


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Good Day to Die Hard

When Die Hard was released in 1988, Bruce Willis' wisecracking NYC cop John McClane instantly became one of America's greatest action movie characters. He redefined what an action hero could be in an era of movies starring meatheads like Schwarzenegger and Stallone, and it was refreshing to see a relatable, flawed protagonist that didn't look like he was the result of coked-out Hollywood execs attempting to transfer the concept of a "god mode" hero from a video game to the big screen. But after the first entry, the Die Hard series fell prey to the old industry maxim "bigger is better," expanding the confined sensibilities of the first movie* from a building, to an airport, to New York City, to the entire United States, and now - in A Good Day to Die Hard - across the world to Russia.

Let's face it: by this point, the franchise has lost whatever magic the first film created, and all of the sequels pale in comparison. But since the studio seems hellbent on expanding the continuing adventures of John McClane rather than focusing them down, we'll probably never see this character in his 1988 glory again. So with the notion that "no Die Hard sequel will truly feel like a Die Hard movie" in mind, how does A Good Day to Die Hard fare as an action movie that just so happens to star Bruce Willis as John McClane? Sadly, not well.

A Good Day to Die Hard
Director: John Moore
Starring: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yuliya Snigir


Friday, February 8, 2013

Stoker

Filter Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt through Korean director Park Chan-wook's off-kilter sensibilities, and the result is Stoker, Chan-wook's English language debut feature. It's a nicely shot thriller that's very well-acted, but methodical pacing, a nontraditional story, and some intense violence could easily alienate audiences unfamiliar with the director's prior filmography.

Stoker
Director: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Nicole Kidman


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Identity Thief

Following up her breakout performance in 2011's Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy stars alongside Jason Bateman in Identity Thief, the newest comedy from Horrible Bosses director Seth Gordon. Gordon has directed some really good stuff in the past - The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, episodes of "Parks and Recreation," "The Office," and "Community," even Horrible Bosses was solid - but the trio of McCarthy, Bateman, and Gordon is no match for the profound crappiness of writer Craig Mazin's abysmal script. Identity Thief isn't as terrible as a post-2005 Adam Sandler movie, but it's definitely one of the worst movies I've seen so far this year. 

Identity Thief
Director: Seth Gordon
Starring: Jason Bateman, Melissa McCarthy, Robert Patrick, Amanda Peet


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bullet to the Head

Bullet to the Head is an ode to the kind of movies director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs.) and star Sylvester Stallone used to make in their 1980s heyday. Even though this is their first time collaborating, the two are clearly cut from the same cloth; worse, they both share in the delusion that modern audiences want to relive mediocre action cinema. The Expendables films at least have the gimmick of uniting some of the biggest action movie heroes of the 80s and 90s, but Bullet to the Head brings things back to a tired buddy cop scenario, pairing Stallone with Sung Kang (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) as the unlikely duo goes out for revenge. This film would have been terrible even among its competition if it was released thirty years ago, but it's especially awful when dumped in the early months of the 2013 movie landscape.

Bullet to the Head
Director: Walter Hill
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Sung Kang, Jason Momoa, Christian Slater, Sarah Shahi