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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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MOVIE REVIEW: The Woman in Black (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY:  Daniel Radcliffe’s first non-Potter movie is a listless, lifeless ghost story adapted from Susan Hill’s evocative novel.

MY RATING: 

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Solicitor and widower Arthur Kipps arrives at the Nine Lives Causeway and the home of the recently deceased Alice Drablow to settle her legal affairs, where he learns of a menacing spirit that is believed to be causing the death of town children.

MY REVIEW:
PROS:  Good use of atmosphere, with a couple of effective shock sequences; a refreshing nearly complete absence of CGI.
CONS:  Characters that never take on more than two dimensions; plodding pace; routine script and direction; far too reminiscent of other, better, more inspired ghost stories.

I’ve never been completely sure what it is about the Victorian Era that draws the ghost story.  Maybe the sudden domination of the Industrial Revolution dovetailing with Darwinism drove people screaming to spiritualists and mediums in order to reorient themselves—a reaction to progress, which E.E. Cummings dubbed “a comfortable disease.”  The characters in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, I’m sure, would have agreed with cummings, and so would the aristocrats in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, as well as those populating the tales of that other great James, M.R.  With society rapidly fleeing its agrarian underpinnings in favor of the urban, as progress’s disease spread, tales in which the dead interact with the living probably offered some small, unchanging foothold solace, even if the incidents were horrifying.  It explains not just the prevalence of such missives, but the large number of good ones.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Chronicle (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY:  A “found footage” superhero movie that shows a good deal of craft, skill, and intellectual and emotional honesty.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After encountering a mysterious artifact, a trio of high school students must learn to cope with newfound superpowers before their lives spin out of control.

MY REVIEW:
PROS:  Effective use of documentary techniques; believable cast of unknowns; strong special effects; exceptional direction (and on occasion use of misdirection); intellectual and emotional honesty of the benefits and costs of acquiring superheroic powers.
CONS:  Filmmaking techniques that are, by this point, bordering on cliché; sometimes predictable; distinct lack of women.

Part of the appeal of superhero movies comes from the idea that somebody would use their powers in a way that most of us would not.  Superman’s alien heritage makes him ideal as a savior of humanity because, as Jor-El reminds him in Superman: The Movie, even though he was raised as a human being, he is not one himself.  Peter Parker initially uses his powers to make a quick buck, only to find that his own immediate goals have accidentally and indirectly killed his uncle.  Tony Stark becomes Iron Man out of necessity, using his scientific knowledge to escape from Wong-Chu.  Compare these to Josh Trank’s Chronicle, which, like Pat Cadigan’s “Two,” suggests that adolescents gifted with incredible strength and the ability to fly might behave in exactly the way most adolescents would.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: The best entry of the film series, thanks in no small part to Brad Bird’s engaging direction, several outstanding set pieces, and a good deal of tongue-in-cheek humor.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After breaking out of a Russian prison, secret agent Ethan Hunt and the Impossible Mission Force team set out to stop a Swedish peace proponent from stealing codes to a nuclear arsenal and detonate a device.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: A refreshing ensemble cast led by Tom Cruise, with Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner adding much life to every scene; two soon-to-be-famous set pieces; Brad Bird’s outstanding command of pace despite the movie’s length.

CONS: Inane nuclear weapons storyline; not enough time developed to either the principal or most of the secondary villains; tone at times too slight and diffident.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Silly, with too many subplots and not quite enough brain, this follow-up to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes still manages the same level of energy and dynamism, helped in large part by Guy Ritchie’s energetic pace and Robert Downey, Jr.’s return as the iconic sleuth.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: On the eve of Dr. John Watson’s wedding night, Sherlock Holmes investigates the death of an Austrian prince, whom Holmes believes has been murdered by Professor James Moriarty.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: The chemistry between Jude Law and Robert Downey, Jr., again; the fully-realized Victorian London; outstanding battle aboard a train hurtling through the English countryside as well as the Holmes-Moriarty fight over Reichenbach Falls.

CONS: Lack of memorable lines; emphasis on action over intellect; a screenplay that makes too little use of deductive reasoning and far too many subplots; Guy Ritchie occasionally losing control as director.

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Thing (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Despite good effects, impressive cinematography, and the beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr.’s witless prequel to the Carpenter classic offers no new ideas or scares.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Paleontologist Kate Lloyd travels to a research lab in Antarctica run by Dr. Sander Halvorsten, whose team has discovered an alien craft and still-living life form.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Often good animatronic monster effects as opposed to CGI; good cinematography from Michael Abramowicz; good decision by director Matthijs van Heijningen, Jr. to shoot on 35 mm film instead of digitally; interesting take on the “blood test” from the Carpenter movie.

CONS: Poor script and plotting by Eric Heisserer and Ronald D. Moore; inconsistent alien rules; flat, often plodding direction by Heijningen; flabby Marco Beltrami score; no interesting characters despite sever good actors, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Ulrich Thomsen.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Fright Night (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Surprisingly good but still only modestly entertaining remake of the 1985 chiller, with David Tennant stealing every scene.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When he learns that new neighbor Jerry Dandridge is actually a vampire, high school student Charlie Brewster tries to convince others to believe him, setting off a cat-and-mouse game that comes to involve egocentric stage magician Peter Vincent.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Good, endearing cast, with a standout performance from David Tennant; smooth, tongue-in-cheek direction by Craig Gillespie; occasionally clever screenplay by Marti Noxon; enjoyably cheesy 3-D effects in the manner of Friday the 13th: Part III; good deviation from the original about halfway through…

CONS: …but until that time perhaps too close to the original; clichéd relationship between two of the principals; and would somebody please give Christopher Mintz-Plasse a role other than the geeky high school student?!

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Often fun, never pretentious, and a far more compelling precursor to the upcoming The Avengers than Thor, though too slight to be great.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Unfit to fight the Nazis at the outbreak of the Second World War, Steve Rogers allows himself to be the test subject of a top secret experiment that transforms him, ultimately, into America’s greatest hero.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Joe Johnston’s deft, speedy direction; earnest cast that neither takes things too seriously nor plays anything too lightly; good script; minimal jingoism; complete, requiring no knowledge of The Avengers or previous comics issues.

CONS: Never fully engaging; jarring anachronisms; lack of emotional investment leading to unnecessary sappiness toward the end; occasionally sloppy special effects.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: All third act and by turns too sappy and too detached, the final chapter of the Harry Potter series nonetheless possesses more energy and focus than the previous three entries.

RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Harry, Ron, and Hermione attempt to recover the magical horcruxes in their attempt to defeat Voldemort as he and his followers lay siege to Hogwarts.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Seamless special effects; tighter energy and focus than previous installments; well-realized chases.

CONS: All third act; steep learning curve for those who have seen none of the movies; by turns too sappy and too emotionally detached; still too long; despite tightening, still difficult to follow the number of characters.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Woody Allen returns to magic realist territory for an enjoyable if ultimately slight look at Paris is the 1920s.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: One evening, successful screenwriter Gil Pender, on vacation in Paris, gets into a car with a group of strangers and finds himself transported among Gertrude Stein’s Lost Generation.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Allen’s most beautifully shot movie since Manhattan; excellent casting of the writers, artists, and filmmakers of the period, notably Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, and Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí, and, as usual, an excellent jazz soundtrack.

CONS: Allen’s shallowest movie since Scoop; too slight; the ninety-minute running time leads to one-dimensional portraits of the artists, writers, and filmmakers…and most of the other characters; Wilson’s character not neurotic enough; slightness of observations and epiphanies.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Super 8 (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: J.J. Abrams enters Steven Spielberg territory in a surprisingly effective, even endearing, homage the Golden Age of the summer movie.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Strange, unexplained events occur in a small Ohio town after a group of teenage aspiring filmmakers witnesses, an inadvertently records, a train crash that might not have been an accident.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Outstanding young cast, particularly Elle Fanning, aided by Abrams’s fine direction; good use of suspense; strong script populated with interesting characters that almost never slides into melodrama or postmodern irony; a creature that’s genuinely creepy; truly captures the period.

CONS: Excellent pastiche of some of the best Spielberg hampered by a last minute from the very worst; science fictional elements don’t hang together; occasional plotting and elements that might appear silly to modern audiences.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Restless, noisy and ultimately lethargic fourth entry in a series that should have quit three pictures ago, and one that makes almost no use of the novel on which it is “based.”

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After a daring escape from a London court and a meeting with King George II, Captain Jack Sparrow teams up with the pirate Bluebeard and his daughter to search for the Fountain of Youth.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: …I’m thinking, I’m thinking…okay, the mermaid hunt, maybe…

CONS: Fine source material jettisoned for a script that incorporates numerous chases to little or no effect; scenery chewing by most of the major players; listless action sequences and lackluster direction; borrows heavily from other, far better movies.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Thor (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Good looking and fun but ultimately slight.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After impetuously attacking the Frost Giants on their home planet Jotunheim on the eve he is to ascend the throne of Asgard, Thor, the God of Thunder, is cast from the higher realms to Earth, where he becomes the defender of humanity.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Good cast, attractive design and good action sequences, all under director Kenneth Branagh’s deft hand.

CONS: Predictable script hampered by Kenneth Branagh’s too deft touch; rushed pace; feels more like a placeholder than an adaptation.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Source Code (2011)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Duncan Jones avoids a sophomore slump after Moon by making an engaging Dickian, even Malzbergian (yes, you read that right), thriller.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Soldier Colter Stevens wakes up in someone else’s body as part of a time travel operation to learn the identity of a bomber of a Chicago commuter train.

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Strong, compelling script from Ben Ripley; engaging direction by Duncan Jones; good cast, with an especially strong performance from Jake Gyllenhaal; suspenseful execution reminiscent of Run, Lola, Run; good blend of action, character, existential angst.

CONS: One or two too many climaxes; lead character doesn’t so much solve the mystery as luck into it; drags somewhat as the movie approaches its conclusion; confusing title; clumsy and rather nonsensical discussion of its scientific bases; quantum handwaving.

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