Author Archive

FILM REVIEW: Evil Dead (2013)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Dumb, noisy, and ultimately pointless reboot of Sam Raimi’s groundbreaking picture shows as much life as the revenants shambling across the screen.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Five friends meet at a derelict cabin in the woods, where one finds an ancient book deep within a cellar strewn with decaying animal carcasses.  When one utters an incantation scrawled in its pages, it summons the demons living in the woods.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Occasionally interesting shots.
CONSs: Generic characters and situations; strained pace; fumbled misdirection; routine direction; underfinished screenplay; poor nods to the earlier movies.
Read the rest of this entry

FILM REVIEW: Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Well-executed set pieces, clever touches, and tongue-in-cheek manner manage to save Bryan Singer’s mostly by-the-numbers fantasy adventure.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Farm boy Jack accepts a payment of beans for a horse, which sprout into a beanstalk beneath his home up to a world of Giants who are none too happy being relegated to a land away from humans.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Efficient direction from Singer, who finds a good balance between action and humor; reasonably good casting (especially of Stanley Tucci as Roderick and Ewan McGregor as Elmont); amusing, often clever sight gags; interesting blending of the classic English and Cornish folk tales.
CONS: Largely bland leading man and woman; character motivations at times make no sense; script’s blending of folk tales not smooth and starts too slowly.

It must be a challenge to make a fantasy movie in the wake of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (to say nothing of the phenomenal success of the Harry Potter franchise), especially when it comes to making movies out of other successful series, each more anemic that the last.  Challenging and even foolhardy; how many of even the genre’s most devoted fans would bother to sit through, say, Joe Johnston offering a cinematic tour of one of Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels, or even (wait for it) a Zack Snyder–helmed rendition of Terry Brooks’s The Sword of Sha-na-nara?  Even scarier, how many would want to?
Read the rest of this entry

FILM REVIEW: Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A pretentious, self-indulgent, and ultimately silly first feature from director Panos Cosmatos that never captures the erratic grace or fitful elegance of early 1980s trash science fiction cinema.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: At the Arboria Institute in the early 1980s, scientist Barry Nyle performs experiments using odd metaphysical technologies on the mind of a captive young woman.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Michael Rogers, who looks precisely as a mad scientist should in a trash classic; unique attempts to give the visual and aural textures of a science fiction movie from the 1980s; odd, occasionally effective imagery, intriguing music from Jeremy Schmidt…
CONS: …all of which in the service of Cosmatos’s obtuse and uninvolving script and painfully redundant direction; set design and visual cues borrowed too heavily from other, better movies and directors; a finished product that never quite convinces it is of the period.
Read the rest of this entry

FILM REVIEW: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Plodding, ponderous, and ultimately pretentious, Peter Jackson’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy never reaches its predecessor’s epic heights.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Gandalf the Gray and a gathering of Dwarves enlist Hobbit Bilbo Baggins into a quest to reclaim treasure stolen by the dragon Smaug.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Breathtaking realization of the riddle scene and the goblin kingdom beneath the Misty Mountains; impressive rendering of goblins, Gollum, and the brief glimpse of Smaug.
CONS: Lumberingly paced; script stretching the source material to excruciating lengths; Peter Jackson’s restless yet surprisingly murky direction; 48 frames-per-second resolution giving the entire movie a cheesy look.

They’ve made a mistake.  Several, actually.  Though clogged with too many songs and meals, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again benefits from a deft touch and, despite occasional lapses, an elegance in its telling, even when the twee narrative spills into the annoyingly cute.  While it occasionally touches on big themes, it recounts the adventures of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf the Grey, and a band of Dwarves out to reclaim familial treasure from the Dragon Smaug in a way that never bogs down.  Perhaps it lacks the epic sweep of The Lord of the Rings, but its relatively simple quest makes it more immediate and, in a way, more engaging.

Read the rest of this entry

FILM REVIEW: Skyfall (2012)

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: James Bond returns in a visually lush and emotionally involving adventure that benefits from a strong script and one of the best casts the series has seen in its 50-year history.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Outstanding cast, specifically Daniel Craig and Judi Dench in the forefront as James Bond and M, respectively, with Javier Bardem as the truly insane Silva; kinetic opening sequence; exceptional screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan; Sam Mendes balancing action and character nearly seamlessly; Roger Deakins’s outstanding cinematography.
CONS: Thomas Newman’s serviceable but unmemorable score; occasional plot contrivances that allow events to become too convenient; underuse of Bérénice Marlohe; odd elements that may disturb the series’ continuity for some.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Cloud Atlas (2012)

MY RATING:

SUMMARY: Audacious, daring, and never uninteresting, yet the execution falls far short of its visionary ambitions.

MY REVIEW:
PROS:
Visually absorbing and lush; interlocked narratives that run the gamut from historical journey to far-future adventure.
CONS:
Stories too jaggedly pieced together and never compelling on their own; intriguing cast playing things too broadly.

Tom Tykwer and the siblings Wachowski deserve a good deal of credit for attempting to bring David Mitchell’s sprawling novel Cloud Atlas to the screen.  Alas, they also must accept the blame for so much of what goes wrong with Cloud Atlas, which, like David Lynch’s completely wrongheaded adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, retains much of the structure and many of the characters but fails to understand the core theme.  Or perhaps they understood it, but felt they needed to change it to meet studio and audience needs.  The former seems more plausible; the creators of The Matrix Trilogy and the director of Run, Lola, Run and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer certainly have shown themselves willing to tackle bold projects, even when they demonstrate glib comprehension.

Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Looper (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Ambitious and often clever, Rian Johnson’s first foray into science fiction never quite pieces its philosophical content together with its thriller elements.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Time travel hitman Joe begins to have doubts about his chosen vocation when his next target is…himself.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, as Joe and his older counterpoint, respectively; notable supporting cast, especially Jeff Daniels and Paul Dano; good blend of science fiction and noir in a well-rendered future; effective set pieces and intriguing use of time travel tropes.

CONS: Second act slows to a crawl to introduce philosophical elements that do not mesh well with its suspense narrative; important story details revealed late, giving the story uneven structure; unconvincing makeup to make Gordon-Levitt look like Willis; Emily Blunt’s bland Sara.

In the future, time travel exists but has been outlawed, so of course only outlaws have time travel.  The Rainmaker, a mob boss headquartered in Shanghai who, based what audiences see of the year 2072, studied the methods of Pol Pot as well as Al Capone, sends those he wants taken care of thirty years into the past—the past being 2044—and into the sights of the loopers, hit men contracted specifically to eliminate said undesirables.  (Though one wonders why the Rainmaker, who appears to wield enormous influence in this future overrun by gangs, would go to the trouble of using time travel to rid the world of his enemies, rather than simply eighty-sixing them in his own time period without consequence.  Perhaps with absolute power comes absolute deniability.)  The loopers obey only a few rules: when you’ve killed your mark and discover bars of gold on his body (based on the loopers’ Kansas City headquarters in 2044, women need not apply), it means your loop has been closed—you are, in essence, responsible for your own execution—and your contract is terminated.  (Loopers never see the faces of those they kill because their targets wear hoods.)  Another, and perhaps even more important condition, is that the looper must not let the target escape.

Read the rest of this entry

FILM REVIEW: Dredd (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Covering almost no new cinematic ground, director Pete Travis and screenwriter Alex Garland nonetheless concoct a tight, gritty, and resiliently dark picture featuring John Wagner’s and Carlos Ezquerra’s classic character.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: While investigating the deaths of three individuals in the 200-story Peach Trees tower, Judge Joe Dredd and rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson become the prey of drug lord Madeline Madrigal and her army.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Karl Urban, disappearing beneath the helmet to become Dredd; Olivia Thirlby’s nuanced Anderson; Lena Headey’s menacing turn as Ma-Ma; Alex Garland’s lean, spare script; Pete Travis’s tight direction; exceptional action sequences; good blend of gritty realism and fantastical ultraviolence, even when using slow-motion techniques.
CONS: Worldbuilding of Mega-City One sacrificed for speed and efficiency; unassuming score from Paul Leonard-Morgan; competent yet unnecessary use of 3D; perhaps not newbie-friendly.

Cinema history poses the most significant challenge in making a movie based writer John Wagner’s and Carlos Ezquerra’s Judge Joseph Dredd.  Forget that anybody who wants to bring him to life must contend with the iconic image of Peter Weller’s chrome-bodied cyborg in Paul Verhoven’s RoboCop; audiences inevitably will compare the vast urban landscapes of Mega-City One, regardless of how well rendered, to Bladerunner’s postmodern Gothic spires and Escape from New York’s decaying infrastructure.  When Dredd speaks in the panels of 2000 AD, fans hear Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan growling at yet another lawless punk ready to make his day.  Granted, the comic always borrowed heavily from others in crafting Dredd’s adventures; one followed the series for its audacious vision, not for its originality.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Messy, way too long, and with far too many missteps and misguided elements, Nolan’s final chapter in the rebooted Batman franchise still remains watchable because of its outstanding cast and several breathtaking sequences.

MY REVIEW:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Batman is called back into service eight years after taking blame for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent to save Gotham City from the psychotic Bane, and enlists the help of the mysterious jewel thief Selena Kyle.

 

MY REVIEW:
PROS:
  Visually stunning, with outstanding performances by the leads and supporting cast; incredible action sequences.
CONS:
Underdeveloped ideas and story; overlong; intrusion of science fiction elements breaks the tone of the series.

Despite the incredible high-tech gadgets, powerful souped-up vehicles, and near-magical ability of his utility belt to rescue him from any nefarious jam (much like Doctor Who twisting the knobs of his sonic screwdriver to turn any series of unfortunate events, ultimately, to his benefit), Batman is not, and never has been, part of the science fiction universe.  Large though his shadow looms over the ever-growing corner of genre populated by four-color heroes of a far more fantastic bent (from orphaned alien Superman to Amazon Wonder Woman, from laboratory success Captain America to super-science accidents Hulk and Spider-Man, incredible and amazing or not), Bob Kane’s seminal creation shares far more in common with the crime fighters of The Strand or Black Mask, a Sherlock Holmes in cape and cowl, a Continental Op who goes down the noir mean streets in operatic fashion.

Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Marc Webb’s updating of Spider-Man’s origin story looks good but feels flat and, ultimately, too familiar.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: High school student Peter Parker’s investigation into his parents’ disappearance bring him to Oscorp, where he is bitten by a genetically engineered spider and begins to take on its powers.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Exceptional special effects; great chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone; early scenes where Peter learns to use his powers.
CONS: Lack of necessity in retelling the origins of the title character; inappropriate tone undermines the character’s primary appeal; too little humanity in the villain.

Haven’t we been here before?  It seems like only yesterday when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man opened to rave reviews and a huge opening weekend, with the pitch-perfect casting of its title character (Tobey Maguire), love interest (Kirsten Dunst, who went red to play Mary Jane Watson), and key villain (Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin),  to say nothing of scene-stealer J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, exceptional dialogue, and its…well, honestly, rather substandard effects, but those didn’t detract from the action and suspense.  Raimi followed it with a superior sequel (Spider-Man 2) written by Michael Chabon and a lifeless continuation (Spider-Man 3) crammed with too many villains.  Now Marc Webb, hot off the success of indie favorite (500) Days of Summer, takes the helm to continue… Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Brave (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Beautifully shot, as one would expect from Pixar, but only intermittently engaging and sputters badly as it moves toward its climax.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When free-spirited princess and archer Merida learns that she must choose a suitor, she seeks the counsel of a witch to change her fate.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Beautiful renderings of the Scottish Highlands as well as exceptionally realized animated characters; good vocal casting; a vibrant score by Patrick Doyle; intriguing fairy tale and fantasy elements…
CONS: …that never really go anywhere; too much time spent in DunBroch Castle; uneven drama that runs out of steam as the movie approaches its conclusion; use of 3D largely unnecessary.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Dull, drawn out adaptation never even manages the B-movie fun the title would suggest.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Abraham Lincoln loses his mother to vampires and vows to avenge her death as the newly-formed United States tears itself apart over slavery.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: The title elicited a smile.
CONS: Derivative direction, flat script, bored actors.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a one-note joke played for two hours by a bugler with asthma who lost his hearing during the opening cannon fire of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Its central conceit—that Honest Abe loses his mother not to milk sickness but through the bite of a vampire, thus transforming him into the Slayer-in-Chief—sounds like it might have made for one of the more diverting coked-out sketches Saturday Night Live used to toss out between commercials during the days when Lorne Michaels wasn’t afraid of the NBC censors.   Stretching it out to a full-length novel, as Seth Grahame-Smith did in 2010, in the wake of the massive success of his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, always seemed like a far more dubious proposition.  Now Grahame-Smith has enlisted the directorial eye of Day Watch’s Timur Bekmambetov to adapt his mashup into a feature film, and the result makes Zack Snyder’s 300 look like a Kurosawan masterpiece and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor a measured documentary. Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A touching romantic comedy supported by a great cast, Derek Connolly’s smart script, and Colin Trevorrow’s understated direction.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Three Seattle magazine reporters cover a story on the man who placed a classified ad calling for time travelers.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Winning performances by all involved, but especially Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass; intelligent, taut, and unpredictable script.
CONS: Directorial missteps at the movie’s opening; liminal treatment of genre content might turn off some viewers.

Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Prometheus (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Ridley Scott returns to science fiction with a lifeless, derivative prequel to one of his most famous movies.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After finding identical cave paintings throughout the world, a pair of scientists boards the starship Prometheus bound for an alien planet to uncover the origins of humanity, and uncover horrors they never anticipated.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong casting, especially of Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbinder; good looking visuals; strong incorporation of 3D technology.
CONS: Derivative screenplay and underwhelming direction; never engaging emotionally or intellectually; too familiar ground covered.

Like the prodigal son returning home, Ridley Scott comes back to science fiction after more than twenty-five years.  The count includes his beautiful but deeply flawed fantasy Legend; the last time he focused his camera on true quill science fiction was thirty years ago, with the now classic Bladerunner.  And if one judged Prometheus solely on the year-long anticipation and hype surrounding it, to say nothing of the viral future dispatches from Weyland Industries, its grosses would match Joss Whedon’s Marvel’s The Avengers within ten days and we would acknowledge it as an instant classic.  Hugo voters no doubt would bestow the 2012 Dramatic Presentation award early, sight unseen.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Men in Black III

REVIEW SUMMARY: Occasionally clever touches and a strong turn by Josh Brolin as a young Agent K cannot hide the listlessness of the third entry in a series that should have ended two pictures ago.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When the alien Boris escapes from Lunar Max prison, he plots to travel back to 1969 to kill Agent K in order to allow his species to invade Earth, leaving Agent J to go back in time to protect his partner.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Clever background touches, as usual, including a visit to a photo shoot with Andy Warhol; slick direction by Barry Sonnenfeld; fun to watch Josh Brolin ape Tommy Lee Jones’s Agent K…
CONS: …but it gets tiring after a while; dull, routine script; the frantic pace doesn’t hide the lack of drive or energy.

The third movie of a film series poses problems.  Ostensibly meant to bring a sense of unity and closure, often threequel also marks the point where ideas lose their freshness, familiarity saps vigor, causing actors tire, and energy starts to drain.  Exceptions exist, yes, but for every Goldfinger and Toy Story 3 that achieves greatness, a hundred Matrixes threaten revolution, Indiana Jones considers one last crusade, and The Godfather, just as he thought he was out, is drawn back in.  There are countless others.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Dark Shadows (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Despite good casting and one or two promising scenes, Burton’s sendup of the classic supernatural soap opera only manages to be an incoherent mess.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After being chained in a coffin by a scorned lover for two hundred years, vampire Barnabas Collins returns to Collinwood manor.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Well, at least it’s better than the trailers; a couple of clever scenes; Burton’s juxtaposition of Gothic and 1970s stylings; a good cast…
CONS: …wasted by an aimless script and, despite frantic action, a complete lack of energy.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Marvel’s ‘The Avengers (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: One of the most satisfying superhero movies ever made, helped by Joss Whedon’s writing and direction and his outstanding cast.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When the Tesseract opens a rift in space to free the power-hungry Norse god Loki, SHIELD director Nick Fury assembles a diverse group of superheroes—the Avengers—to stop him from taking over the world.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Visually engrossing, with outstanding performances from each cast member; and a script that moves at a deft clip…
CONS: …even when it is somewhat predictable.

Like a number of my generation’s geeks, I cut my teeth on comics.  By the time I was ten I knew all of DC’s and Marvel’s major heroes, and many of the minor ones.  My love affair with costumed characters waned considerably once I discovered the prose adventures of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain, Roberson’s Robeson’s Doc Savage, and Ian Fleming’s James Bond, but I always kept an eye on changes the storylines and key players of four-color sequential art underwent, especially as comics transformed into graphic novels and movies of lesser-known creations popped into multiplexes at a regular pace.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: Wrath of the Titans (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY:  Witless sequel to 2010’s Clash of the Titans that plays fast and loose with Greek mythology and internal logic.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:  Hades bleeds power from Zeus to bring about the reign of the Titan Kronos, causing Perseus to once again do battle.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: I’m thinking…well-done special effects, I suppose…
CONS: Messy script; frantic, pointless direction; dull performances…need I go on?

Somebody gravely insulted Zeus.  How else to explain the existence of Wrath of the Titans, sequel to the 2010 remake of the 1981 pseudoclassic Clash of the Titans?  That was a huge hit, so of course the studio gods would demand and greenlight a sequel.   And, upon hearing of its existence, again I held my breath.  My review of the previous movie was, shall we say, somewhat less than enthusiastic, but I raised my hopes upon hearing that Titans II boasted a new director and writers.  Okay, we’d still have to sit through another movie starring Sam Worthington—an actor so devoid of charisma or presence that he makes Kevin Costner look like Sir Laurence Olivier—but if the studio replaced Louis Leterrier as director and Travis Beacham, Phil Hay, and Matt Manfredi as screen scenarists, then how bad could it be?  (Note to self: I must, must learn when I ask, “How bad could it be?” the answer will be, “Worse than I can possibly expect.”)

Then I learned who the studio brought in to replace them.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: The Hunger Games (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: By turns pedestrian and pretentious, Gary Ross’s adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s young adult novel still delivers a good deal of suspense and a remarkable ensemble cast.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Every year, the districts of Panem offer tributes, 24 boys and girls, to fight in a televised competition—the Hunger Games.  When her sister Prim is called during the Reaping Ceremony, Katniss Everdeen offers to take her place.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong ensemble performances from new and seasoned performers; intriguing glimpses of a totalitarian world that never gets too preachy; deft handling of action sequences and characters; a dark premise…
CONS: …that could be darker given said premise; too long; Gary Ross’s scattershot direction; a bit too familiar for the well-versed science fiction viewer; feels like a buffer was placed between the movie and the viewer.
Read the rest of this entry

MOVIE REVIEW: John Carter (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Often visually striking, occasionally breathtaking, yet too long and uninvolving, John Carter often remains too reverent to the source material to be fully successful.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After the Civil War, former Confederate soldier John Carter is suddenly transported to Mars, where he finds himself thrust into conflict between warring factions.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Well-realized renderings of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Barsoom; impressive effects: good cast; eye-candy for men (Lynn Collins) and women (Taylor Kitsch).
CONS: Needless prologue; far too much exposition, causing pace to drag; respectful script that never lets loose the source material’s energy; uninvolving in places and occasionally too long.

This isn’t the review I wanted to write.  I should be grateful that, nearly one hundred years after Captain John Carter first woke on the red sands of Barsoom in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars, after numerous false starts and a disastrous straight-to-DVD release starring Antonio Sabato, Jr. and Traci Lords, the dream of seeing one of Burroughs’s great heroes finally becomes reality.
Read the rest of this entry

 Page 2 of 4 « 1  2  3  4 »