A young Superman (Henry Cavill) must finally come to terms with his place on Earth and his birth on his home planet of Krypton in "Man of Steel", yet another cinematic retelling of arguably the most popular and beloved comic book superheroes of all time. Michael Shannon leads a group of militaristic Kryptonies to Earth in the hopes of resurrecting their lost civilization on a new planet and also along for the ride is Amy Adams (dare I say making us yearn to see Margot Kidder or Kate Bosworth instead) as our heroine/Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane who constantly seems to be putting herself in danger's way. "Man of Steel" makes itself out to be revolutionary and creative, but it struggles the whole way with strange casting, an interminable running time, offbeat pacing, and a resolution which is more migraine-inducing than memorable (and also more reminiscent of something this side of "The Transformers" rather than something from the "Batman Begins" series). Flashbacks strangely are the most compelling and interesting parts of the movie as we are transported back to seeing a young Clark Kent in Smallville slowly coming to terms with who he is and what his true purpose for existence is. Diane Lane and Kevin Costner (Costner, in particular doing quietly some of his best cinematic work in years) shine as the titled character's adopted parents. Russell Crowe is also on hand (and never seems to disappear even after his early demise) as Superman's biological father/accomplished scientist of Krypton. Superman's home planet destruction is a fascinating side-board as we get deep into politics, failed science, and even an unhinged militaristic coup. In the end, "Man of Steel"'s main story pales in comparison with its sidelines and this makes the film basically a special effects-heavy would-be tour de force which unfortunately never does really take off in the end. A shame too because Cavill's performance and the aforementioned attributes were right in line to make "Man of Steel" much more memorable and critically successful than it really is. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Highly impressive animated feature which is tame enough for the youngsters and surprisingly entertaining and thought-provoking for adults. A young chameleon (voiced pricelessly by Johnny Depp) is accidentally thrown into a town of dirt which is in desperate need of a sheriff. Oblivious to the politics of the town, there seems to be a group trying to control the city's water supply (which of course is needed by the town's inhabitants for survival). Shades of some of the more interesting live-action westerns of the years past and even Roman Polanski's contemporary classic "Chinatown" as under-rated director Gore Verbinski creates a cartoon that has depth and ingenuity ala Walt Disney's earliest feature-length ventures or newer productions like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" and the "Toy Story" series of films. Innovative, smart, technologically impressive, perfectly-realized production which succeeds on various levels with a wide-range of moviegoers. 5 stars out of 5.
Sixteenth U.S. President Abraham Lincoln (a mind-blowing part by the seemingly always flawless Daniel Day-Lewis) struggles to get his policies for emancipating all enslaved African-Americans passed through the Legislative Branch of government as the bloody final days of the Civil War continue in early 1865. An amazing cinematic achievement by director Steven Spielberg as he primarily uses the the nearly unending novel "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin to create a portrait of quite possibly the most polarizing political and social reforms in this country's long history. In a time now when bi-partisanship is a romantic idea which seems more hypothetical than realistic, Lincoln struggled with North vs. South and Republican vs. Democrat just as contemporary presidents today do. Tommy Lee Jones steals every scene as Thaddeus Stevens, a politician trying to get all of Lincoln's policies through Congressional meanderings. Sally Field is also on hand as Lincoln's wife who struggles herself with the death of the couple's young son. Field's emotional fire has to be tamed though as her part could almost be an entire movie to itself and in the end the 16th President's ability to somehow immerse himself further in the nation's civil war and its possible political future uncertainties even after a potential emotional breakdown after his family's personal tragedy. "Lincoln" is deeper than an ocean. It has a bare minimum of action and is highly talkative ala something in the line of "Lawrence of Arabia" or even "Gandhi". Spielberg almost makes the film feel like an elaborate stage play with top-of-the-line performers going effortlessly from scene to scene and creating emotional fireworks. Day-Lewis is the catalyst, but his supporting cast never backs down from his challenge of acting excellence as they all add to his almost mythic portrayal of quite possibly our most important commander-in-chief. As usual, Spielberg creates a historical atmosphere (basically showing Washington, D.C. as a small village which doubles as a mud trap of a town with moist soil at least a foot deep in almost every direction) which puts his audience in another time and another place. Towering achievement on many various cinematic levels. "Lincoln" is destined to be one of those rare productions which will likely survive time, its critics, and those who fail to believe in the power of the cinema to educate, influence, and enlighten. Total excellence. 5 stars out of 5.
Former teacher Bradley Cooper is let out of a mental institution after having a mental breakdown after discovering his wife (Brea Bee) was having an affair. He tries to handle his bi-polar condition with the help of his parents Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as he moves back in with them and attempts to put his life back on track. His success is hit-and-miss at best and then another potential monkey-wrench is thrown into his life when he meets a young sex-addicted widow (dynamite role by the always impressive Jennifer Lawrence). Together these two very similar, yet very different individuals go on an emotional journey to reclaim normalcy and self-reliance in their lives. "Silver Linings Playbook" is brilliant in most every way. The performances reach near epic heights with Lawrence leading the talented cast. The film's screenplay is deeper than it appears as it shows subtleties in its characters where you have trouble understanding who has mental deficiencies and who does not. In the end the movie is about humans doing their best, with the help of those around them, to find happiness and success against sometimes grim and seemingly insurmountable odds. In a crazy world, doing one's best in a dance competition and making that little extra money betting on the hometown Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL can become the most unexpected roads to individual happiness and group camaraderie. A definite winner. Kudos to director David O. Russell in keeping what could have been a schizophrenic screenplay (no pun intended) on the straight and narrow path to cinematic success. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Vertically-challenged ex-convict Marlon Wayans disguises himself as an orphaned baby to a yuppie couple (Shawn Wayans and Kerry Washington) so he can reclaim a valuable diamond he placed in a purse while trying to elude the authorities. Also along for the ride is Marlon Wayans' dim-witted accomplice Tracy Morgan and comic book-styled crime boss Chazz Palminteri (no idea what he's doing in this film). Basically a rehash of old Warner Bros. Merrie Melodies cartoon concepts as the novelty wears thin pretty quick. The film starts fairly but the material cannot hold up for a feature-length production like this. The typical insanity and crazed situations would be better suited to a variety show or an animated sitcom. Ho-hum comedic misfire that could only be from the Wayans'. 2 stars out of 5.
Mind-numbing and migraine-inducing horror anthology involving several stories (all filmed via home movie cameras) wrapped around a small group of miscreants (themselves filmed on home movie cameras as well) who have been hired by an unknown character to steal a certain VHS tape. Naturally, all hell breaks loose quickly as the gang of thugs finds a dead body and a whole library of video tapes which they watch one by one. On the tapes are discombobulated tales involving the supernatural, wild behavior, dirty dealings, sexy women, and head-scratching images. Pure wreck of a feature which was created by no fewer than 10 directors (not a misprint) and a dozen screenwriters (once again, not a misprint). Pure late-night fare which has that "Blair Witch Project" feel to it. The movie wears out its welcome pretty quickly. Don't waste your time. Turkey (0 stars out of 5).
High school-aged babysitter Camilla Bell is called over and over again for nearly 90 minutes in this would-be horror yawner. A crazed psychopath who has a history of hunting down other young, vivacious, and physically well-endowed young ladies for a reason which is never made clear. And ultimately an attempt at an explanation is never even pursued. Bell does what she can with her admittedly good looks and an ability to keep a straight face during the unintentionally hilarious romp, but in the end her Tom Hanks-esque role ala "Cast Away" cannot save this typical, dim-witted, and overly-done production. In the end, the phone ringing repeatedly is about as annoying and unwanted as the entire film in the end. 2 stars out of 5.
Early writing/directing venture by future Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow ends up being a fascinating, but very underwhelming entry in her list of cinematic credits as Oklahoma cowboy Adrian Pasdar is bitten one night by the beautiful Jenny Wright (really a vampire). As Pasdar goes through his demonic change he falls in with Wright's small group of drifters led by Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton as they terrorize small towns and deserted roads late at night as they continue to keep their strength feeding on unlucky strangers. As day comes in they must do all in their power to stay out of sunlight or be burned beyond recognition. Nothing really new to speak of here as vampires were all over the place in the mid-1980s with bigger-budgeted and better though-out ventures (think "Fright Night" and "The Lost Boys"). Bigelow shows potential here as a relatively new film-maker, but in the end "Near Dark" is little more than a late-night cable dud which does nothing to distinguish itself from three dozen other films of the genre and the time period. Turkey (0 stars out of 5).
Eight years after the events of "The Dark Knight", Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, aka Batman) must once again come to Gotham City's aid as a crazed masked terrorist known as Bane (Tom Hardy) terrorizes anyone and everyone in his demented path. A seductive cat burglar (Anne Hathaway) is also along for the maddening ride as biblical-styled destruction, atomic warfare, and even stock market tampering turn out to the most devastating orders for the day. Long, winding, and ultimately towering installment in co-writer/director Christopher Nolan's new-age "Batman" trilogy is a triumph of vivid characterizations, advanced-styled story-telling principles, and wonderful technicalities such as cinematography, editing, sound, and visual effects. Joseph Gordon-Levitt shines as a good cop caught up in the chaos; the same can be said for new love interest Marion Cotillard who makes an impression as an associate to Bale's Wayne Industries. Traditional standouts Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and Morgan Freeman also add well-timed and effective roles for the production's nearly three-hour running time. Once again, a great accomplishment of style, flair, and dynamics in a tightly-wound cinematic product which blends and meshes in well with its two predecessors of the dominant trilogy. 5 stars out of 5.
Los Angeles commercial director Wesley Snipes goes to New York to visit dying childhood friend Robert Downey, Jr. (who is in the latter stages of AIDS) and has a quick affair with yuppie Nastassja Kinski. Their secret seems safe until one year later Snipes returns to New York with his erotic, but oft-times mean-spirited wife (Ming Na-Wen) and they meet Kinski by chance when they find out that she is actually married to Downey Jr.'s older brother (a cold and seemingly unfeeling Kyle MacLachlan, even equipped with latex gloves because of his fear of catching AIDS). Would-be potboiler is actually pretty tame in the end with Snipes and Na-Wen providing a few light sparks with a couple of emotional sparring matches, but probably the greatest conflict actually occurs between Snipes and his boss (Thomas Haden Church who in the end is really only a window-dressing character here). Kinski and MacLachlan are more quiet and supposedly deep-thinking than anything else and in the end it is Downey, Jr. who is the revelation being almost unrecognizable as a young man whose body and mind are beginning to decay from his horrid illness. However, it is almost like he is in the wrong film as his part just basically is used as a bridge on more than one occasion between Snipes and Kinski. Writer/director Mike Figgis (who was fresh off "Leaving Las Vegas" in 1995) tends to use coincidence, chance, and splintered relationships between major roles to get his points across. The film stutters and drags to its finale, finally resolving with a would-be jaw-dropping conclusion which in actuality most could probably see a mile away. Just lacks the fire and intensity needed to be much more than a curiosity and little else. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
F4..................Direct Hit (And Not Necessarily a Good Thing).
Would-be special effects/science-fiction tour de force which would make "Transformers" fans proud as mysterious outer space aliens target the Pacific (Hawaii in particular) and it is up to primarily Americans and Japanese naval personnel who just happened to be available for a training mission to save the day. Very little substance and an idea which was a bit contrived anyway (based on the popular board game of yesteryear) ultimately sink this watchable, loud, but completely empty entry from sporadic actor-turned-director Peter Berg (who impressed with the cinematic version of "Friday Night Lights" but also disappointed with the much-hyped "Hancock"). The characters are just basic cardboard cutouts with Taylor Kitsch taking the lead with a likable, but under-developed role which sort of acts as a microcosm for the entire project. The lovely Brooklyn Decker seems lost in the shuffle, along with Liam Neeson (no idea why he is in this film) and the oft-seen but rarely heard Rihanna who ultimately acts as window dressing and nothing more. Adequate summer fluff, but in the end nothing more to discuss here. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Ends Up Needing More Than Just a Blood Transfusion.
Schizophrenic underachiever that markets itself as a unique and appealing comedy on the level of perhaps "Being There" as long-deceased and cursed vampire Johnny Depp awakens in 1972 Maine with typically well-calculated and hilarious results. However, Tim Burton's unfocused, mean-spirited, and oft-times confusing direction derails what should have been the film's premise with surprisingly dark and disturbing sequences, a distracting love triangle between Depp, his true love Bella Heatchcote (in a yawner of a role), and the super-sexy Eva Green (arguably hitting a new note for even her on the heat meter) who doubles as a witch and a cutthroat businesswoman of canned foods (no kidding), and waning attempts of possible character redemptions. Also along for the ride is the always under-rated Helena Bonham Carter as a frazzled psychiatrist, 1972 family matriarch Michelle Pfeiffer (woefully lost and miscast here), and cameos by horror veterans like Jackie Earle Haley, Christoper Lee, and even Alice Cooper. Definitely would have worked better as a long skit ala something from "Saturday Night Live" or even perhaps a sitcom, uneven elements turn a possible winner into another in the long line of ho-hum releases from the sometimes brilliant, but sometimes negatively outlandish Burton. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Yogi and Boo-Boo (voiced perfectly by Dan Aykroyd and Justin Timberlake) cause mischief at Jellystone Park with their hankerings for picnic baskets and breaking the status quo of being simple woodland creatures. Things get even more chaotic when paper-thin bad guy Andrew Daly (the town's mayor) wants to sell the park to land developers. As the titled character attempts to help his human friends (ranger Tom Cavanaugh and visiting documentary film-maker Anna Faris) save the park, everything seems to go hilariously wrong in ways that could only be perpetrated by the Hanna Barbera cartoon character. A rare turtle who serves as Boo-Boo's pet also ends up being a key plot device within. Likable mess for the most part which should please the younger of age groups and be tolerable for most hardened adults. The greatest asset are the bears and their voice characterizations as Aykroyd and Timberlake make the lovable characters their own and do eerily perfect imitations of the old cartoons. The people, on the other hand, are more miss than hit as they struggle through with keeping up the intensity of the bears and just cannot cope with a near-nothing screenplay which domino effects into uninspired direction. Good for a few laughs and good to put a smile on your face, "Yogi Bear" is a somewhat fun break from reality which tries to do what it can with several cinematic limitations. Likely would have been better 100% animated. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Young urban professionals Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake become friends after Kunis (a corporate headhunter) recruits Timberlake (a high-class magazine editor) to New York City to take a job with magazine giant GQ (Gentleman's Quarterly). Their friendship blossoms as both are discontented with failed romances. Thus they decide to have a physical relationship which is meant to avoid complications and complexities of would-be deeper emotional bonds. Of course we all know this will be a recipe for all kinds of turmoil and conflict which will ultimately develop between our two leads. "Friends With Benefits" makes itself out to be a revolutionary addition to the romantic genre, but in the end it is just as predictable as dozens of its type. Kunis and Timberlake make for an interesting pairing, but their chemistry is more sporadic than it is sizzling. Richard Jenkins gives one of his finest performances as Timberlake's father who is experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, but his appearance (along with daughter Jenna Elfman) is too late and really becomes too much of a side-story that the audience does not necessarily need (I think I would have rather had a film where Jenkins' character was the focus). Patricia Clarkson is loopy and in the way as Kunis' 1970s-obsessed mother who throws out everything verbally except words of wisdom. She is almost like Kunis' daughter instead of the other way around. Also along for the ride is gay sports editor Woody Harrelson who comes around Timberlake with would-be hilarious one-liners and distorted views about relationships and life in general. Harrelson's character, like Clarkson's, was probably not needed at all in the final analysis. Tiring clichés, an interminable running time, weakly-drawn characters, and stupid gimmicks (the recurring flash mobs in particular) cause "Friends With Benefits" to collapse by its final resolution. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Raunchy, disgusting, and stomach-churning mess has teacher Cameron Diaz doing seemingly anything and everything to be the worst teacher in the history of mankind in a junior high school. She is a superficial air-head who dreams of making just enough money for breast enhancement so she can get substitute teacher Justin Timberlake to notice her and ultimately marry him. It seems Timberlake's family has a fortune based on owning one of the world's most famous wristwatch companies (yawn). The antagonist here is fellow instructor Lucy Punch who seems more suited to a kindergarten class than a junior high school with sickening antics which seem to belittle and annoy everyone in sight. Also along for the ride is crude gym teacher Jason Segel who is not much of a better employee than Diaz and seems to have a crush on her. I guess it is true that birds of a feather will always flock together. "Bad Teacher" starts off fairly enough, but the routine drops off the cliff quickly. Basically there is about enough material for a five-minute "Saturday Night Live" sketch here and nothing more. As the minutes tick away, the misery becomes nearly unbearable. Arguably will be the worst film of 2011. Turkey (0 stars out of 5).
High-class New York businessman Jim Carrey's life gets turned upside down when his father passes away and he inherits six penguins. The typical would-be poignant and heartfelt situations then take place with Carrey's ex-wife (Carla Gugino) and a comic-book-styled bad guy (zookeeper Clark Gregg) making the biggest impressions within. Another film of recent memory which really is not sure what it wants to be. "Mr. Popper's Penguins" is a gimmick film based on a source (a children's book) which has limited cinematic potential. Carrey does what he can, but this is beneath his talents (seeming like it has been light years since "The Truman Show") and the penguins' cuteness meter drops steadily with each passing minute. The other performers seem lost here, in particular Angela Lansbury who almost appears to be in the wrong movie all together with a distracting and ultimately unwanted side-story. Plot holes galore, head-scratching outcomes, a confusing tone, and basic film-making shortcomings cage "Mr. Popper's Penguins" in the end. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
The titled character (Kevin James) learns one day that the animals at his facility can actually talk and they make it their mission to help him find love with a somewhat demented ex-flame (Leslie Bibb) while simultaneously we as an audience all know he really belongs with friendly co-worker Rosario Dawson. "Dr. Dolittle" antics for the most part as James talks to the animals with only minimally cute and memorable results. Voice characterizations led by Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, and Cher give the animals personality but really little else. James is definitely a likable comedic force, but he deserves better material. The leading ladies struggle to keep up his mild momentum and really the animals are not even needed as their appearances sometimes distract from what is going on as the plot limps along into development. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
A test pilot (Ryan Reynolds) is given a green ring by a dying space alien which can allow him superpowers to help protect the universe. Intergalactic protection is quickly needed as college professor Peter Sarsgaard becomes our super-villain via a virus-like element from space which grants him frightening physical and mental capabilities. Special effects-laden dog struggles from its starting point to generate much interest and intensity. Reynolds makes for a fascinating superhero, but ultimately he disappoints in the title role. Love interest Blake Lively looks good, but makes little impression and supporting players like Tim Robbins and Angela Bassett seem like they are in the wrong movie completely and that their best work is light-years behind them. Voice characterizations by legitimate supporters Geoffrey Rush and Michael Clarke Duncan add to the head-scratching career choices present here. The screenplay is a flop, the direction seems lost, and even the special effects fall flat as the movie tries to advance into something more than it is. Lights out quickly on this superhero dud. 2 stars out of 5.
Shia LaBeouf is now attempting to find a career after college graduation with little luck. However, all is not so dark and bleak as he has found a new love (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and the world appears safe from those dreaded Decepticons. But things can change quickly as an Autobot spacecraft which was first discovered in the 1960s, becomes a point of interest for all robotic protagonists and antagonists involved. "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" sizzles in its set-up and its plot development early with a vibrant energy and excitement from its highly likable cast (which even includes stand-outs like Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, and Ken Jeong), but is steadily destroyed by the titled characters. As the clock ticks and the running time becomes astronomical (running nearly 160 minutes) the movie begins to lose its wheels with an unending finale which literally takes up about an hour of the movie's running time. The "Transformers" series continues to deliver what it promises---sleek cars, sleeker women, and tons of chaotic noise and visuals. In the end though, the complexities of the human performers always seem to take a backseat to the titled weapons of mass destruction. Director Michael Bay seems to overlook and sacrifice legitimate premises and possibly interesting outcomes in favor of confusing and over-wrought visual effects which ultimately do very little to advance the effectiveness which potentially could have developed within. Sometimes less is more and I do not think it could be more prevalent, cinematically speaking, than in this particular movie franchise. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
College freshman Shia LaBeouf appears to be on his way to a normal life after the events of the original, but soon his mind is entranced with strange Egyptian symbols which hold the key for the Decepticons to use the sun as energy needed to take over the planet. Hit-and-miss sequel does basically accomplish what its predecessor did with non-stop action mixing with would-be witty one-liners, beautiful women, and sleek technologies. With all that said, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" still lacks the complexities and depth of legitimate film-making vehicles to be much of a movie from a critical standpoint. Director Michael Bay would rather get thoughts across with confusing action sequences and seemingly unending chaos which often becomes more tiring and migraine-inducing than thought-provoking and interesting. 2.5 out of 5 stars.
Kung-Fu masters led by the titled character (voiced by Jack Black) must join forces to fight an old enemy (a deranged peacock voiced by Gary Oldman) who has created a new weapon which threatens all which is good and right in animated Asia. Much darker and heavier than its predecessor, "Kung-Fu Panda 2" feels like it is somewhat forced as the movie gets into flashbacks and chaotic action sequences which sometimes become distracting to the warmth and complexities of the key characters involved. A bit on the scary side for really young age groups and not quite as compelling to older viewers, the movie is still successful overall but lacks the magic of the first. It also leaves the door open for more sequels by its finale. 4 stars out of 5.
Three chimps are trained via the space program to save aliens who have become the victims to a ruthless dictator. Very slight animated feature that is pleasant enough, but may bore some more discriminating viewers. With that said, "Space Chimps" should be enjoyable to the youngsters and some of the tongue-in-cheek humor will keep most hardened adults watching as well. Good animation techniques, cool voice characterizations, and an adequate story are more than enough here to keep this spaceship flying at a safe orbit for animated feature productions. One of those films which seems to get kind of lost in the shuffle of the genre, but is not a bad effort at all by the film-makers involved. 4 stars out of 5.
Basically "It's a Wonderful Life" for "Shrek" fans as our titled hero is tricked by Rumpelstiltskin to be erased from his reality and thus creating a weird and dark alternate reality. Talk about your mid-life crises. Can be looked upon as creative or down-right plagiarist, but overall an adequate continuation of the long-running series as "Shrek Forever After" matches the little intensity left by "Shrek the Third", but the first two of the series seem like distant memories now. The voice characterizations are still right on the money and the sight gags and one-liners are still strong enough to endear the film to even the harshest of legitimate critics. However, in the end many may wonder if this is the last theatrical gasp for our friend Shrek though. 4 stars out of 5.
The toys find themselves at a day-care facility after their rightful owner goes away to college. All seems fine at first, but there are issues abound as our heroes get settled into their new lives. A bit darker entry in the vastly popular series still delivers in the end as we have top-of-the-line animation mixed with superior story-telling, focused direction, and amazingly humanistic characters who seem like complex caricatures of their voiced alter egos. Pixar's original "Toy Story" continues to be the high watermark not only for animated features, but for most all films produced and in the end "Toy Story 3" meets and exceeds all requirements necessary to stand next to its original inspiration. Excellence once again. 5 stars out of 5.
John Carpenter's cult classic about Antarctic scientists led by Kurt Russell battling a space-shifting alien which is able to take on the appearance of the people it kills. Typical monster-that-would-not-die shtick in the tradition of Ridley Scott's "Alien" of 1979 as we have a whole host of character actors (led by Wilford Brimley, Keith David, and Donald Moffat, among others) trying to survive seemingly insurmountable odds. Jolts of energy come only sporadically with long mixtures of would-be suspense and unfortunately boredom as well. Good for a few campy laughs and mild shock values, "The Thing" in the end does little to separate itself from literally dozens of other films of the kind. 2.5 out of 5 stars.