Review: Jurassic World

Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jake Johnson

Review: Entourage

Starring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon

Review: San Andreas

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino

Review: Ex Machina

Starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson

Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The Pitch is Back!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review: The Purge

They say that big things start with one simple thing – a good idea.  The premise of The Purge is exactly that - an interesting foundation upon which to build a suspenseful narrative.  That the film has done $61M domestically thus far against a reported $3M production budget reinforces that notion.  Sadly though, The Purge lacks the proper execution to take the film from a good idea and turn it into the taut edge-of-your-seat narrative that is promised in the trailer.

The plot of the movie is set in a new America that has achieved new economic and social prosperity born from an annual purge – a twelve-hour window in which all crimes are considered legal.   The goal of this is to allow citizens to release the anger and frustration they accumulate during the other 364 days of the year, though there are some socioeconomic undertones that are alluded to in this film.  The movie focuses on Ethan Hawke’s James Sandin, who along with his family, becomes the target of a pack of bloodthirsty yuppies.

Somewhere in that premise, there is an interesting movie to be made.  Unfortunately for this film, most of the creativity was spent on the overall concept.  Every twist and turn conjured up by writer/director James DeMonaco is incredibly telegraphed and would not surprise even the most casual movie viewer.  This sucks a significant amount of tension right out of the plot.  DeMonaco compounds this issue with his directorial choices – making the movie look and feel like a direct rip off of The Strangers.  Equally as egregious as his lack of creativity, is his inability to take advantage of the opportunities to deliver chilling visuals and cheap scares; those moments that are inherent in great and mediocre suspense movies alike.  The end result then is a movie that fails to deliver all that is teased in the first act.

In regards to the cast, there’s not much to say here.  The script is  not the least bit sophisticated and the characters look and feel like cardboard cutouts.  Ethan Hawke clearly approaches this film like it’s an exercise in acting by numbers.  Really, there are moments where it feels like he is reading his lines off of cue cards.  Watching Hawke in this film reminds you that Training Day was a long long time ago and that Hawke is clearly at a different point in his career.  As for his cohort Lena Headey, she is at her best in roles that call for her to play defiant, tough-as-nails women.  Sadly, the opportunity to play Hawke’s wife is not such a role.  She is just barely adequate for most of the film and could have easily been replaced by any number of less accomplished actresses.

Rounding out the cast are names like Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, and Tom Yi, but then who really cares.  You’ve probably never heard of them and none of them are particularly good in this film, thus relegating them to the status of “also rans” in this film.  But that is to be expected in a film with a $3M production budget.  You get what you pay for and in this case they the filmmaker and crew got very little from the bunch.

Considering this film in its entirety, I would strongly recommend you not see this in the cinema.  It starts off decently but completely flames out by the end of the first act, leaving you with about sixty more minutes to endure.   At best, this is a weeknight rental during the Halloween season when everything seems 10% scarier than it really is.   Otherwise, it’s probably a free TV movie or a complete pass.   Having now seen Hawke in two suspense/horror films (Sinister), I think it is safe to say that his work in this genre is not representative of the kind of performances that he can deliver.  Here’s hoping he starts putting some check marks in the good column again soon.

Standout Performance:  Edwin Hodge.  While his actions are incredibly predictable, Hodge’s character is easily the most likable in the film.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review: Playing for Keeps

One of the best things about a buffet is that you get a little bit of everything - prime rib, king crab, lasagna, shrimp cocktail all piled sky high on an overpopulated plate.  One of the worst things about a buffet is that while you can a little big of everything, none of it is done particularly well.  That more or less sums up the biggest problem plaguing Playing for Keeps starring Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel.  There are a bunch of subplots running concurrently in this film beneath the umbrella of the central narrative, but none of those side stories are particularly compelling or entertaining.  The result is a film that feels more muted than emotive.

The plot of the movie focuses on Gerard Butler’s George, a former soccer great, who has fallen on tough times in the aftermath of his playing career.  Recently relocated to Virginia, he tries desperately to reunite with his estranged son and ex-wife (Jessica Biel) while trying to find a job to alleviate his financial woes.  In a completely unforeseen turn of events (sarcasm should be noted), Butler becomes his son’s team’s soccer coach in an attempt to mend fences shattered by the selfish behavior of his past.

This premise makes the film sound like some decent family fare packed to the gills with melodrama that builds an emotional crescendo, culminating with a warm and fuzzy moment.  And this very well might have unfolded perfectly had director Gabriele Muccino’s film not veered off into “Desperate Housewives” territory.  What started off as a movie with soccer images, families, and a central father/son relationship, almost literally takes a sharp left turn onto Wisteria Lane in a not so subtle attempt to make sure that this film caters to as large a target audience as possible.  Sadly, vamping up the familial themed plot serves only to muddle up the  tone and vibe of the film.

However, one of the more positive aspects of this film is Gerard Butler, who seemingly finally found a role perfectly he was perfectly suited to portray – that of a past-his-prime burnout with a reputation for poor life-choices and philandering.  It almost makes you wonder if writer Robbie Fox wrote the part with Butler in mind.  The moppy hair, the disheveled clothing – it’s as if the powers that be let him onto the set after a late night without stopping for making and wardrobe.  And sadly, that gives his character a modicum of believability.  I dare say it may be Butler’s most credible work since 300 – though it’s not nearly as interesting. 

Working opposite Butler is Jessica Biel as his ex-wife Stacie.  In regards to Biel, let me ask you this.  When was the last time you walked out of a theater and thought to yourself how great she was in that movie?  Three years?  Five years?  Never?  Well fear not, that streak (however long it is) will remain intact.  In Playing for Keeps, she isn’t as soulless as she was in Total Recall (2012) or as inept as she was in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, but of all the women to be featured in this film, her character clearly represents a step down in regards to screen presence.

As for the rest of cast, Dennis Quaid, Uma Thurman, Judy Greer, and Catherine Zeta-Jones look and feel at least a decade past their respective primes but they are for the most part satisfactory as cynical individuals who are cavalier with their indiscretions as a means to navigate the banality of their every day lives.  While collectively the presence of their characters in this narrative  greatly undermines the overall direction of the film, the seasoned actors do manage to provide an entertaining moment or two.  On the other end of the age spectrum, Noah Lomax (as Butler’s son) shows himself to be as capable a child actor as I have seen in a while and that helps to offset some of what ails this movie.

So when you put all these pieces together ,you are looking at a film that is an absolute pass as a rental.  It’s not quite  a RomCom nor is it family fare; and there’s not enough of either genre embedded in the film to satisfy anyone who might be tempted to watch.  And really, there are too many other titles in this sphere of filmmaking ranging from mediocre to fantastic to spend your time on this one.  If you’re really looking to satisfy your Gerard Butler fix (not that anyone in this world would or should require one), I would suggest you take a look at Chasing Mavericks.  While I haven’t seen it as of yet, I can’t imagine it being much worse than this film.

Standout Performance:  Noah Lomax.  In retrospect, it’s not entirely surprising that the youngest member of this cast turned in the best job.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: Bullet to the Head

Ten minutes into Bullet to the Head, I started to think this was a textbook B-level action movie straight out of the late 80’s/early 90’s.  Twenty minutes later I was sure this would have been more like a C-level movie had it been made back in that era.  Thus, it amazes me that this movie received any sort of theatrical release, even though it was in January, the month where bad theatrical releases go to die.  It’s just that bad.  From writing to directing to acting, this production hits the trifecta of futility and establishes itself as possibly the worst action film of 2013.

The plot of the movie follows Sylvester Stallone’s James Bonomo, a lowlife hit man who gets involved with a job that goes wrong.  Clearly the result of a double cross, he becomes hell bent on exacting revenge.  Sung Kang (as Taylor Kwon), a detective from Washington D.C., joins him as an unlikely partner on this trail as they both seek to bring down citywide corruption.  Throw in an attractive tattoo artist (Sarah Shahi), a sleazy attorney (Christian Slater), an ex-military goon (Jason Momoa), and an international criminal (Adwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and you have the catastrophic mess that is this narrative.

The single greatest problem with this movie is the writing so the biggest slice of the blame pie goes to writer Alessandro Camon.  His attempt at a fish out of water/mismatched partners narrative is unimaginative and so poorly written that much of the dialogue is literally cringe inducing; so much so, that at various points of the movie I questioned whether Camon had ever had an actual conversation with another person.  The dialogue is incredibly disjointed and littered with clich├ęs and tired racial innuendos to the point that the movie’s credibility is exhausted very early on.  And with director Walter Hill’s best days behind him (48 Hours, Brewster’s Millions), very little is done from a production standpoint to mitigate this damage.

As for the work of the cast, this movie serves as a sad reminder of what happens when someone stays in the game too long.  There was a time and place when Sly was an actor in the truest sense and an unmitigated success story of a struggling writer/actor who stuck to his guns with his script for Rocky (insisting he be cast in the lead), and ultimately being thrust into A-list stardom.  Bud sadly, the moderate success of The Expendables franchise aside, the expiration date on his acting career has long since passed.  He has descended into a caricature of himself to such depths not seen since Robert DeNiro and that makes it virtually impossible to take him without a mountain of salt.

Starring opposite Stallone is Sung Kang of Fast & Furious fame.  I am a fan of Kang’s work and find him to be a capable actor, but his portrayal of Detective Taylor Kwan is uneven and fairly banal.  Again, I attribute much of this to how the character is written, but sadly Kang doesn’t have the charisma to elevate the material to something more.  It’s not so much a question of effort, but more the result of his acting DNA.  The same cannot be said for Christian Slater, who has in the past delivered some very good performances, but in Bullet to the Head seems to be along for the paycheck.  Sure, he may not be held in the regard he once was, but that in no way acquits him for a complete lack of effort.

As for the rest of the group, Adwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s character is a jumbled mass of stereotypes and shows no willingness to develop his character beyond this.  Jason Momoa is your prototypical muscle-bound goon straight out of the early 90’s, who probably would have made the movie significantly better had he not actually spoken any lines.  And Sarah Shahi is capable but unremarkable as the tattoo artist daughter of Stallone’s Bonomo. 

For all the attention and lip service paid to actors and (to a lesser extent) directors, the foundation of any good film is the writing.  Without that strong base, it’s nearly impossible to deliver a solid finished product and Bullet to the Head is a glaring example of this.  Given the quality of the writing, the cast and crew never really had a shot at success.  Still, no one does anything of merit to makes this film worthy of a viewing, so I cannot recommend this one under any circumstances.  You should take a complete pass and turn to pretty much any other action movie released on DVD in the last twelve months as an alternative.

Standout Performance:  Sarah Shahi.  She isn’t great, but she doesn’t embarrass herself either.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review: Man of Steel

Bringing a movie about one of the most recognized characters worldwide is a daunting task.  It’s akin to writing a new Star Wars movie, only more difficult.  The reason for this is because everyone has a stake in the character and everyone has an idea of what kind of story it should be, even the most casual of fans.  And after seventy-five years, there are a lot of versions of the world’s most famous alien.  Some adhere strictly to the version of the man of steel straight out of the funny pages, while most from the mainstream holds onto Christopher Reeve’s (and director Richard Donner’s) iconic but dated version.  And then there are the critics who back in 2006 bestowed so many platitudes upon Bryan Singer’s publicly ridiculed version of Superman; for them Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel is clearly most difficult for them to embrace (evident from the highly polarized reviews), as this film is the cinematic antithesis of Singer’s Superman Returns.

Ninety-nine percent of the world has at least a broad sense of Superman’s origins.  Where this film differentiates itself is that it builds a richer backstory to the narrative – fleshing out Kryptonian civilization and bringing an element of science fiction that had sorely been missing from its more recent onscreen adaptations.  There is also a bold attempt to ground this film in reality much in the same way that writer David Goyer also did with Batman Begins.  For the purist, this can be a bit of a jolt as it’s a stark look at the character and what he might really mean in a world that tilts more towards skepticism and cynicism. 

So does it work?  It does because there is a logic to the way they approach story points and some nice attention to detail that really makes this new direction pop.  I’ve heard the complaints that it’s too dark and not optimistic enough, but that’s not the world we live in and the days of movies that are loaded with bright pastels with characters ready to break out into group hugs don’t exist anymore.  Just as other onscreen Superman depictions have been a reflection of the times in which they were produced, this is a Man of Steel movie for the times we live in.  Isolationism is a major theme; fallibility but with a strong determination to do better – those are authentic every day themes in our lives.  The former is something we all struggle with and the latter represents the best that each of us has to offer.

Now is the movie perfect?  No.  There are times where you feel the dialogue around Henry Cavill’s Superman could have been refined a bit, but then this is also a movie about grand themes and large action sets so to get hung up on that feels like nitpicking.  And there are times where the movie struggles a bit with the pacing, but this is born from the non-linear storytelling approach, but those flashback sequences are expertly shot and add so much depth to the narrative, that the pacing issue feels only minor. 

So what makes this movie the antithesis of Bryan Singer’s Superman?  Because Henry Cavill’s Superman has an intensity that drives this film and Zack Snyder brings this to life in the greatest (not hyperbole) action sequences I have ever seen in a superhero movie.  What comes to life onscreen is the type of flying, fighting, and struggling one would imagine a fight of this magnitude would have to be.  Whereas in other superhero narratives, the fight scenes seem clean and choreographed no matter the amount of destruction that goes on around the combatants, in Man of Steel, it feels raw, destructive, and emotionally charged.  Haters of Zack Snyder (of which there are many mostly for Sucker Punch and Watchmen) can criticize the man for his shortcomings as a director, but even they would have to admit the man knows how to do two things – frame a great action scene and deliver great visuals, and those two talents are on full display in this film.

As for the cast, while Henry Cavill has becomes a twitter phenomenon for his good looks, it can’t be overlooked that he does a good job as Clark Kent/Superman.  Is he the most charismatic version of the character?  No, that mantle now and forever will belong to the late great Christopher Reeve.  Instead, Cavill’s man of steel is an outsider struggling to balance a great number of emotions against a larger sense of purpose.  He does a nice job of conveying this with his voice and facial expressions.

Kevin Costner (Jonathan Kent) and Diane Lane (Martha Kent) do a very good job in these roles with Costner darn near stealing the show.  Of all the themes that run strongly through this film, the notion of the father-and-son relationship runs deepest and Costner is the driving force behind this.  It is a redemptive showing for an actor who I stopped paying attention to after Water World and The Postman.  Russell Crowe (Jor-El) as the Kryptonian half of the father combo does a very good job in this film as well.  The tone and inflection of his voice really punctuates his performance, as he seems to hit the right notes in all the major scenes.  Ayelet Zurer as Lara, gets very little screen time, but does very good work with what time she is given.

As for the villain’s, Michael Shannon delivers a typical Michael Shannon performance.  His General Zod is intense, menacing, and calculating.  One of the biggest complaints with past Superman narratives was the lack of a formidable opponent for a hero with so many gifts.  Shannon delivers precisely that villain – one who is a legitimate threat.  Another candidate for best in show is Antje Trau as Faora-Ul, Zod’s henchwoman.  She displays a strong screen presence and does so much with a sparse set of lines.  Her menacing screen presence manifests from the succinct way she communicates and her cold hard stare.  Hers is not the most robust character, yet she manages to impact the movie significantly.

Then there is Amy Adams as Lois Lane.  I really appreciate the way the character is written and with some of the newer choices that were made.  And while I thought Adams was satisfactory in this role, I did not love her in Man of Steel.  She is not the worst Lois Lane I’ve ever seen (Margot Kidder), but there is a certain quality that seems missing.  Her Lois is spunky and no nonsense, and I get that from the way the script is written, but I don’t know that she fully embodies these qualities in the film.

By now it should come as no surprise that I would recommend this movie.  Don’t wait for On Demand or a rental or Blu-ray purchase.  You should absolutely see this movie on the big screen.  The visuals and the detail poured into the action sequences can only be appreciated in a cinema.  Whether you’re a superhero fan or not; or you just like to see a bunch of things blow up on screen; or maybe you think Henry Cavill or Amy Adams are really hot, I would encourage you to see this movie.  There may be all sorts of heroes like Iron Man, Batman, and dozens of Avengers (many of which you will see in the coming years), but the man who wears the S on his chest is one of the most iconic characters of modern American literature and pop culture.  That alone makes this film worthy of attention.

Standout Performance:  Kevin Costner.  Well done, sir.  Consider yourself redeemed.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: This is the End

I think we’ve all had a moment where we look at our friends sitting around the apartment drinking beers and talking smack about anything and everything and come to the brilliant realization that making a movie about our regular interactions would be pure cinematic gold.  Because of course every single thing we say is incredibly witty and every punch line completely hilarious.  Yet somehow, despite this obvious wealth of entertainment value, this never comes to fruition.  The reasons for this are threefold:

1.  Most of us are not nearly as funny or witty as we think.
2.  No one cares what kind of idiocy most strangers would spew during a drunken stupor or otherwise.
3.  Unlike writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, we don’t have a bunch of famous comedic actor friends to attach to the film in order to convince a studio like Columbia Pictures to distribute said movie.

Luckily for the writing tandem that brought you Superbad, Pineapple Express, and The Green Hornet (2011), they do have such friends.  The result then is one hundred and seven minutes of footage showing a group of mostly funny actors hanging out under the guise of making a movie.  The plot of said movie finds Seth Rogen and Jay Barauhel (as themselves) attending a party at James Franco’s house along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and a number of other celebrities that one would associate with this group.  When the end of the world seemingly strikes the Hollywood hills, the group must fight to survive the end of days while managing to keep their respective friendships intact. 

So when you take a bunch of actors who are adept at adlibbing and throw them in a confined space to film scenes that are loaded with comedic banter, most times the script gets thrown out the window.  And it’s evident that this is precisely what is going on in this film.  Portraying the worst caricatures of their respective public personas, it’s clear these actors are riffing on each other in very natural ways with no topic off limits.  The chemistry that they share really makes this the best aspect of the movie.  The jokes are cutting, incisive, and outlandish but then again, so is the premise (armageddon) and thus it all comes together in what can best be described as a frenetic hot mess.

Ironically, the very vehicle that allows for the over-the-top hilarity (specifically the end of the world as a backdrop) is ultimately what drags this movie to a screeching halt in the third act.  The first two thirds of the movie focus on establishing friendships and on comedic hijinks (the high point of the film), while the last third is dedicated to bringing some closure to all the fire and brimstone, and unfortunately that’s the least interesting aspect of the film.  The further you move away from the reckless banter, the more you become aware of how flimsy the whole narrative is.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some strong moments in the final act, but that by then, the movie’s sheen has definitely faded.

As for the work of the principle cast, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride particularly stand out for their comedic timing, prowess with physical comedy, and overall screen presence.  If I had to take a guess, I would say that this trio provides the lion’s share of laughs attributed to the principle actors.  James Franco and Seth Rogen hold their own in this film though their work is a step down in the laughter department.  Seemingly not as adept at adlibbing as their peers, Franco and Rogen seem to rely more on the written script and thus many of their lines lack the natural spontaneity that the others project.  As for Jay Baruchel, he is the straight man of the group and thus responsible for setting up the jokes rather than delivering punch lines.  He plays the same character from She’s Out of My League and in this way he is perfectly adequate.

As for the celebrity cameos, the best of the bunch come from Michael Cera (hilarious), Emma Watson (because she’s Emma Watson), and one actor who surprisingly shows up in the third act (click here if you want to know), but there is no shortage of familiar faces (including Jason Segel, Paul Rudd, Rihanna, Aziz Ansari, et al) parading across screen during the first act to add a bit of punch to the chicanery unfolding onscreen.

In its totality, the movie is really funny.  If you are an avid fan of the movie industry you will especially appreciate some of the verbal barbs tossed around in this film.  However, This is the End is not for everyone.  As I mentioned, the plot is soft and the jokes are incredibly crude so if either of these elements are absolute deterrents to you enjoying a movie, you may want to rent it on DVD or take a pass altogether.  But in all honesty, they don’t really make films like this and probably won’t ever again (unless it grosses $250M).  So that plus some genuinely hilarious moments make This is the End worth a look this weekend…just not before you check out Man of Steel (review coming on Friday).

Standout Performance:  Danny McBride.  He proves once again that he is incredibly underrated.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Side Effects

Before I launch into this interview, let me put this on the table.  I think Steven Soderbergh is incredibly overrated in both his own mind and in the minds of those kids getting their expensive film degrees.  To me he has produced more misses (Ocean’s TwelveSolarisThe Informant, et al) than hits (Ocean’s ElevenTrafficOut of Sight).  Where I think he particularly gets into trouble is when he tries to prove through his films that he is the smartest person in the room.  The results tend to be films that feel didactic, overly self-important, and not particularly entertaining.  With his most recent cinematic endeavor Side Effects, he is clearly wading into those waters – trying to send a message to the movie viewing massing, though by film’s end it’s hard to figure out what exactly that message is.  But I digress.

The plot of Side Effects focuses on the life of Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara), a woman struggling with depression.  When she is reunited with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum) who is recently released from prison, she struggles to adjust to those changes and is forced to seek the counsel of Dr. Banks (Jude Law).  After trying repeatedly to find the right medication, she settles on one specific prescription that has side effects (hence, the title of the movie) that prove damaging to her life and the lives of those around her.

If ever there was a list of movie premises that screams soapbox, a film about pharmaceuticals would have to be near the top.  It’s a subject matter not too far from one of Soderbergh’s more recent films (Contagion), but it’s far from the only hot button issue he tackles in this film.  While I can’t divulge any more without ruining the not-so-clever twist in the plot, I will say that many of the machinations that take place feel like a stretch and some of the plot surprises are telegraphed.  Thus, the film essentially amounts to watching a bunch of average characters try to outsmart each other; not exactly a riveting way to spend two hours. 

Despite the fact movie’s banality, the work of the cast is not a complete miss.  Jude Law (as Dr. Banks) manages to make himself both sympathetic and likable in this film, which is no easy task for an actor saddled with loads of baggage and a recent string of mediocre performances.  Both Catherine Zeta-Jones (Dr. Victoria Siebert) and Channing Tatum are surprisingly adequate in their respective roles though much of this has to be attributed to how they are utilized as opposed to improved acting acumen.  Surprisingly, Rooney Mara turns in the most disappointing performance in the film.  She has shown herself to be a chameleon in the past, disappearing into some truly challenging roles.  Sadly, her Emily Taylor is bland and uninteresting – and thus makes watching the film an exercise in tedium.

Maybe it’s for the best then that Soderbergh has allegedly retired from filmmaking because this film is void of his signature snappy pacing and unique visual style.  At times it’s hard to fathom that Side Effects is the work of the same person who directed Ocean’s Eleven and Traffic.  And while a muted visual motif may have been born from intent, it still leaves the impression that everyone and everything in this film represents the epitome of going through the paces.  My guess is that (like everyone else in Hollywood) for the right dollar amount we will see Soderbergh behind the camera again, but if this feature film is his cinematic swan song, then he will have gone out with a whimper.  Side Effects is a cable television movie at best saved for a very slow midweek evening unless you are one who prefer a snappier cinematic style, in which case you should probably take a pass.

Standout Performance:  Jude Law.  I wouldn’t put it up there with his better work, but he is a bit more than satisfactory.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Superman and Lois Lane: Through the Years

Over the past 55 years, Superman and Lois Lane have appeared on the big and small screen in a number of incarnations that very much reflected the times in which they were set.  With the upcoming release of Man of Steel, here’s a look at DC’s most iconic superhero and most recognizable intrepid reporter through the years.

KIRK ALYN – Superman (1948)

GEORGE REEVES – Adventures of Superman (1952 – 1958)

CHRISTOPHER REEVE – Superman, II, III, IV (1978, 1980, 1983, 1987)

JOHN NEWTON – The Adventures of Superboy (1988 – 1989)

GERARD CHRISTOPHER – The Adventures of Superboy (1989 – 1992)

DEAN CAIN – Lois & ClarK: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 – 1997)

TOM WELLING – Smallville (2001 – 2011)

BRANDON ROUTH – Superman Returns (2006)

HENRY CAVILL – Man of Steel (2013)

NOEL NEILL – Superman: (1948). Adventures of Superman (1953 – 1958)

PHYLLIS COATES – Adventures of Superman (1952 – 1953)

MARGOT KIDDER – Superman, II, III, IV (1978, 1980, 1983, 1987)

TERI HATCHER – Lois & ClarK: The New Adventures of Superman (1993 – 1997)

ERICA DURANCE – Smallville (2001 – 2011)

KATE BOSWORTH – Superman Returns (2006)

AMY ADAMS – Man of Steel (2013)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

Snow White (and the Huntsman), Hansel & Gretel (Witch Hunters), and now Jack the Giant Slayer (sans Bean Stalk) – having finally viewed the latter I have officially completed the recent trifecta of fairy tales turned Hollywood action vehicles.  And suddenly my confidence in director Bryan Singer’s next X-Men is considerably shaken.  And this isn’t a case of high expectations either as I went into Jack the Giant Slayer with very little hope.  While box office receipts aren’t the be-all-end-all indicators of quality filmmaking, a $65M domestic take against a reported $195M budget (which was really more like $235M) will temper any and all hype surrounding a movie.  So where did this dud (one in a extended string of underwhelming WB theatrical releases) go wrong?

It wasn’t necessarily the premise.  Unlike some of its fellow fairy tale adaptations, the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk would seem to lend itself nicely to an action treatment without too much cajoling.  The mythical beans, a magical crown, nefarious giants, a princess, and the potential for some large-scale battle scenes are elements that could easily provide a decent foundation for an epic fantasy film in the vein of so many other classics.  And with Bryan Singer at the helm - no newcomer to the action genre, the table seemed set for a raucous ride.

Where I believe the film first goes awry is with the tone.  There’s a fine line between catering to a young adult audience and then to a more mature one, and it so rarely works when a script tries to toe that line.  There are moments in this film when the characters dialogue and actions seem to pander to youthful viewers and that in turn greatly diminishes its credibility with the older viewers.  So when those characters enter grave moments in which the stakes are raised and consequences dire, those scenes fail to carry the weight that they should.  This proves true even when characters of varying significance meet their demise.

The second major issue plaguing this film is most definitely the CG.  With a budget hovering around the $200M mark, it’s hard to fathom that the effects could be so shoddy, but that’s precisely what they are.  From start to finish, the CG appears second rate and this is incredibly crippling for a film that is set in a fantasy world with an army of computer-generated giants as the chief antagonists.  Needless to say, that any “willing suspension of disbelief” is impossible to achieve while watching this film when the visuals keep reminding you that none of it is real.

The third major issue with the film surprisingly has to do with the work of the cast.  On paper, a roster that features Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, and Nicholas Hoult would seem very impressive.  Unfortunately, things never come together for this ensemble.  Hoult as Jack is merely satisfactory, and not nearly dynamic enough to carry a film of this scale.  McGregor’s performance as Elmont, the head of the royal guards, is completely over-the-top.  Clearly in this for the paycheck and loathing himself for it, McGregor turns in the kind of performance we haven’t seen since the days of Star Wars Episode II.  As for the usually interesting Stanley Tucci and intense Ian McShane, to say that they sleepwalked through the film would be an understatement.  The words “bag job” would probably be a more accurate description.

The lone bright spot in the cast has to be Eleanor Tomlinson as Princess Isabelle.  I have never noticed her work before and am not in a rush to see more, but she was credible and did her best with very little support from her cast mates.  Regardless, she could have turned in an Oscar winning performance and it would have been for naught in a film such as this one that was plagued with so many issues.

I would have to concur then with all the people who decided not to watch this move in the cinema (and there were many of them).  There’s just so little to truly like about Jack the Giant Slayer and because of this, I don’t think you should waste your time renting it.  There is a plethora of action movies out there in the home entertainment sphere that may not be great films but are exponentially more entertaining than this title.  If you happen to catch this movie on television and your only other viewing option is MTV’s Teen Mom, then I would suggest you give it a look.  Otherwise take a pass.  Going forward, here’s hoping Bryan Singer does a better job with his re-entry in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

Standout Performance:  Eleanor Tomlinson, for not being as bad as the rest of her cast mates.