April, 19th 2013

Oblivion

Oblivion

 

There is a lot to celebrate about the new sci-fi film Oblivion.

For one, it is neither a remake, a sequel, nor based on a comic book.

Two, it stars a remarkably well-preserved 50-year-old Tom Cruise, who—as an Internet meme recently confirmed—is the same age Wilford Brimley was when he appeared in Cocoon. (Feel free to laugh or cry over this tidbit.)

And three, it has some rather slick visuals.

I enjoyed the film, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it original. In fact, Oblivion plays a bit like a “Greatest Hits” compilation of many films that we’ve seen before: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stars Wars, WALL-E (yes the Pixar film), Total Recall, and, even a bit of Top Gun. (Almost all of Tom Cruise’s films could be dubbed Maverick Goes to X. This one would be Maverick Goes to Space.)

Here’s the plot: The year is 2077. Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by a war with aliens. Now, survivors of the war are living on a moon off Saturn. Cruise plays Jack, who lives in a space station with his partner/lover Victoria (excellent Andrea Riseborough), to scavenger for Earth’s last remaining resources and tend to...

11:34 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 11th 2013

42

Baltimore magazine

 

It’s really rather stunning to me that there hasn’t been a biopic of Jackie Robinson since 1950’s earnest The Jackie Robinson Story that starred the barrier-breaking baseball player as himself.

Spike Lee, reportedly, pursued the subject for many years, but never got the funding.

That’s a shame, because Lee would’ve definitely made a better film— one with more grit, depth, and ambiguity. But he couldn’t have made a more crowd-pleasing one. 42 tells an important story—a story that needs to be shared with a new generation—in a slick, highly entertaining way. As directed by Brian Helgeland, it’s a nifty piece of old-fashioned American mythmaking.

Robinson, just in case you didn’t know, was the first baseball player to crossover from the Negro League to the majors, at a time when Jim Crow was the law of the land in the south. (His jersey number, now retired in all of baseball, was 42.) He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and he was great—more importantly, he was tough and virtually unflappable. All the taunts and abuse just made him a better ballplayer.

Newcomer Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson with a pleasingly cocksure physical presence (he couldn’t talk back to racist...

12:30 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
April, 4th 2013

Evil Dead

Baltimore magazine

The busiest man on the set of Evil Dead had to be the “blood wrangler.” Second busiest? “Prosthetic limb coordinator.” Third busiest? “Impaling consultant.”

I think you get the idea.

Like the 1981 cult film it’s based on, Evil Dead is an absolute gore-fest. If you don’t like to see human flesh sliced, dangling, stabbed, lopped off, and nail-gunned—this is probably not the film for you.

To be honest, it was kind of unnecessary to do a remake of Evil Dead to begin with (even more unnecessary than the average remake, that is), because the original Sam Raimi film was so influential, half the horror films out there already feel like Evil Dead remakes.

Comely young people in a secluded cabin? Check.

Basement with disconcertingly rickety stairs? Check.

Creepy ancient book that NEVER SHOULD HAVE BEEN OPENED! Check.

Evil spirit opening up a can of whoop-ass? Check.

Dog gets it first? Sniff.

That being said, this remake is nimble enough.  There’s a neat twist to their seclusion in the woods: The friends—including the fabulously-named Shiloh Fernandez and The Go Getter’s Lou Taylor Pucci—have come together to help...

11:21 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
March, 22nd 2013

Admission

Baltimore magazine

I am about to write the most depressing sentence you will read all day: Tina Fey and Paul Rudd have no chemistry together.

I know, right?

I mean, everyone loves Tina Fey and everyone loves Paul Rudd so the idea of putting them together just seemed like a no-brainer, a match made in rom-com heaven. But there are zero sparks. Zero. Every time they kissed, I was actively puzzled: Why are the nice friends kissing each other?

Their lack of chemistry, though, is a rather apt analogy for this bump-on-a-log of a film. It’s a dud—tonally confused, narratively moribund, painfully unfunny, unsuccessful in almost every respect.

Fey plays Portia Nathan, a by-the-book admissions counselor for Princeton. Her life is thrown into a tailspin when her boyfriend (Michael Sheen) dumps her and she goes on an admissions trip to a small alternative high school that resembles no school on earth (it’s on a farm, and seems to have about 13 students and one teacher). That teacher, John (Rudd), is eager to introduce her to one particular student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), who wants to go to Princeton. In one of the film’s many far-fetched contrivances, John is convinced that Jeremiah is the son that Portia gave up...

4:03 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
March, 22nd 2013

Olympus Has Fallen

Baltimore magazine

Olympus Has Fallen has one of the higher body counts of a film that doesn’t take place on the beaches of Normandy that I’ve ever seen.

It starts right out of the gate: Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is in a motorcade taking President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) and his wife (Ashley Judd) to a fundraising event on Camp David. Ominously, it is snowing. (And because Olympus Has Fallen has all the subtlety of a WWE Pay-Per-View event, anything that appears ominous IS ominous.) Yup, the cars skid off the road and crash—the First Lady’s head is smashed (gorily) into the window and she’s trapped in her seat belt, as the car dangles over a cliff. When the car begins to fall, Banning can only save the president, who watches in horror as his wife (and the two agents in the front seat) plummet to their deaths. Because Banning assured the president he would save his wife, he is now a broken shell of a man in need of a redemption arc. Which leads to a few thoughts:

1. Is this officially an Ashley Judd cameo, or has her career really come to playing doting wives who die in the first five minutes of the film? (All of this will be a moot point of course, when she becomes the next...

10:13 am Comment Count Tags: film reviews
March, 15th 2013

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Baltimore magazine

 

It’s not fair—and possibly not even professional—for me to judge a film by its trailer, but that’s exactly what I did for The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

I gazed upon Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, as a Vegas magic act, with their bad fake tans, and skin-tight Lycra get-ups and horrible flowing wigs and I made the following mental equation: The producers of this film think that these things are funny, therefore my sense of humor does not align with the producers of this film.

And, well, damned if I wasn’t right.

Here’s the thing: Siegfried and Roy style Vegas acts, if they still even exist, stopped being ripe for satire 30 years ago. There was a brief period where America genuinely luxuriated in this kind of cheesiness and then, well, the 80s happened, and we all became conversant in irony. But The Incredible Burt Wonderstone acts as if the mere spectacle of a shirt unbuttoned down to the naval (and chains around the neck! hi-larious!) is still something worth mocking.

The plot, in brief: Longtime friends Burt Wonderstone (Carell) and Anton Marvelton (Buscemi) have being performing as a duo in Vegas for years. But audiences are dwindling, turning to Steve...

4:31 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
March, 13th 2013

Oz: The Great and Powerful

Baltimore magazine

Considering it’s in 3D, Oz: the Great and Powerful falls surprisingly flat. Obviously, it’s always risky to mess with a classic, but Wizard of Oz origin stories have worked before: Wicked re-imagined the relationship between the Good Witch Glenda and the Wicked Witch of the West as a feminist fairytale, Thelma and Louise in pointy hats—and, in doing so, became one of the most popular musicals of all time.

So why not explain how an ordinary man came to be the feared and awesome Oz, the man behind the curtain? Why not address the always intriguing dynamic between would-be messiahs and those who desperately want to believe them?

But if Wicked was a work of inspiration—built out of a righteous need to take back a destructive archetype and reinvent it for a new generation of young girls, the inspiration for Oz: The Great and Powerful seems to be this: Oz would sure look cool in 3D! (And it barely does that, by the way. Technically, the film is unimpeachable. As a work of imagination, it has all the visual flare of a cereal box.)

The film follows certain Wizard of Oz protocols, because, well, that’s what you do. So it starts, naturally, in black and white: Oscar “Oz” (James...

12:08 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
February, 25th 2013

Global Domination

Did you hear the one about the Golden Globes getting the best of the Oscars?

Yeah, it kinda happened last night.

No, not the awards themselves—the Golden Globes will always remain a shadowy achievement, several notches below Oscar on the prestige factor (albeit a few steps up from a People’s Choice).

But at least the Golden Globes had the good sense to hire Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as hosts.

This was such a head-slapping, no-brainer of a decision, the Oscars had to reference it themselves last night. William Shatner, playing Captain Kirk as Oscar-critic of the future, remarked to host Seth MacFarlane that the MPAA could have saved themselves a huge headache by hiring Tina and Amy instead.

“They’ll host next year,” quipped MacFarlane in response.

And somewhere, the president (prime minister? lord?) of the Hollywood Foreign Press high-fived his nearest minion.

Because, of course...

3:14 pm Comment Count Tags: Oscar
February, 21st 2013

The Oscars are INSANE This Year! (And I love it)

 

Last year, I wrote a column bemoaning the fact that, thanks to social media and blogs devoted exclusively to Academy Award prognostication, the Oscars have lost all their suspense.

Oh what a difference a year makes!

I’m not quite sure how it happened, but the Oscars are a veritable free-for-all this year. Oh sure, there are a couple of locks: Daniel Day Lewis for Best Actor and Anne Hathaway for Best Supporting Actress are “bet the ranch” type material. But everything else feels gloriously, uncharacteristically up in the air.

The weirdness of this year’s race started when the nominees came out and both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow were shut out of the Best Director’s category. Since Argo and Zero Dark Thirty were at the time seen as legitimate Best Picture contenders, it sent the whole race into a tailspin: Wait, how can either of those films win Best Picture if their directors weren’t seen worthy of recognition? (Yes, films have won Best Picture without the director getting nominated before—Driving Miss Daisy was the most recent one—but it is a rare feat.)...

11:24 am Comment Count Tags: general film, Oscar
February, 15th 2013

Safe Haven

 

 

Josh Duhamel, who never met a romantic comedy or seasonally-themed Garry Marshall ensemble film he didn’t love, is an obvious choice to play the male lead in a Nicholas Sparks film. Indeed, the only thing surprising about Duhamel’s appearance in Safe Haven is the fact that he hadn’t appeared in a Sparks film sooner.

He got in just under the wire, too, because despite his boyish good looks, Duhamel is 40. And—awkward alert!—his costar in this film, Julianne Hough, is 24. Slightly gross, but hey, at least they look pretty together.

Safe Haven is your standard Sparks fare, with a few tiny twists. We have the girl with a troubled past. We have the sleepy beach resort town. We have the hot guy who takes his shirt off a lot. We have the two of them falling in love, montage style. We have the unspoken thing that threatens to tear them asunder.

In this case, that unspoken thing is a possible murder. As the film starts Katie (Hough) is fleeing the scene of a crime, with what appears to be blood on her hands. She cuts off her dark hair and even finds time to give it beautiful golden highlights. Then she dons a hoodie and hops onto a bus.

The cops, particularly the...

4:23 pm Comment Count Tags: film reviews
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