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