Oz the Great and Powerful, Sam Raimi‘s first Disney film, is oddly two-faced. Here we have a director who made his name with low budget horror, who became a household name when he infused the superhero genre with his do-it-yourself, energetic visual style. And then there’s Oz, a massive film that gives Raimi the most toys he’s ever had to play with, but also the commitment to make a movie that’s fun for all ages. The result is a Sam Raimi movie wrapped up tightly in a Disney package. And the Raimi elements are willing themselves out.
There’s not a frame of Oz The Great and Powerful that doesn’t bear Raimi’s mark. The production design, the camera moves, the pulpy performances, everything screams his name. I mean, the movie is basically Army of Darkness, right? (Normal guy lands in magical land, is forced to go on quest to save that land.) But just when you see that kinetic, signature style starting to unleash, the story forces the film back into its Disney shell to play to the masses. We’re left with a film that’s entertaining, a little scarier than you’d expect, but extremely inconsistent. Read More »
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Posted on Friday, March 1st, 2013 by Angie Han
In Jack the Giant Slayer, Bryan Singer engages in the time-honored tradition of taking a classic fairy tale and reshaping it to fit the times. Current trends being what they are, that means turning the film gritty and (relatively) realistic, with plenty of Lord of the Rings-style action.
Screenwriters David Dobkin and Darren Lemke take the basic touchstones of Jack and the Giant Beanstalk — the poor farm boy, the magic beans, the scary giants — but introduce several brand-new elements to the story. In this version, Jack (Nicholas Hoult) heads upward to rescue a beautiful princess (Eleanor Tomlinson) and stop her evil betrothed (Stanley Tucci) from taking over the kingdom. It’s a version of Jack that’s never been told in all the centuries that the character has been around. So why does it all feel so tiresomely familiar?
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In the event this discussion of Bruce Willis‘ fifth outing as John McLane trails off after a couple paragraphs, let me offer a pre-emptive excuse: that might be the purest way to reflect the prime characteristics of A Good Day to Die Hard. Willis gives a detached, disinterested performance in the series’ fifth film, and the movie skips from scene to scene as if being played from a DVD dragged across gravel.
A Good Day to Die Hard is a sketch of a movie, and a bare outline of a Die Hard film. It feels small, constrained, even cheap. Its closest kin are Luc Besson’s Euro-quickies, rather than John McTiernan’s densely-choreographed, gorgeously anamorphic franchise installments. If there’s praise to bestow, it goes to Fox’s marketing department for making this dead-eyed bore look zippy and energetic, even if that illusion can only last for bare minutes at a time. Read More »
Steven Soderbergh, so often adventurous over the course of his career, closes out his theatrical run with the relatively conventional thriller Side Effects. Though the ideas within are familiar, a winding narrative path keeps predictability out of sight, and prevents Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns from ever falling back to one simplistic message. Soderbergh’s own skill with the form allows him to pursue that path at length, without losing the plot.
Starting off with pharmacological paranoia, the two take clear inspiration from Rosemary’s Baby, and toy with notions that call back to Hitchcock. But this is no throwback. Soderbergh has crafted a smart but pessimistic film rooted firmly in fears that are becoming more and more common today.
The film is built around a woman (Rooney Mara) who suffers from severe depression and falls into the care of a potentially dodgy psychiatrist. Side Effects traffics in the tone of modern paranoia that defined previous Soderbergh/Burns collaboration Contagion, and revels in the duplicity that was a cornerstone of their first partnership, The Informant!. The three films define something like an informal trilogy in which we are chronically disconnected, dishonest, and perhaps eventually doomed. Read More »
Posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013 by Angie Han
It’s no coincidence that the official website for author Isaac Marion includes glowing blurbs from both Stephenie Meyer and Simon Pegg. Marion’s novel Warm Bodies, and Jonathan Levine‘s film adaptation of same, owes as much to Twilight as it does Shaun of the Dead. It attempts to infuse some self-aware humor into a tale of star-crossed inter-species romance. Ultimately, however, the combination turns out to be less than the sum of its parts.
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Charlie Victor Romeo is sure to be among the most stark and unnerving films you ever see. By using real conversations between cockpit and control tower from scenarios that ended in airplane crashes, the film walks an atypical line between entertainment and education.
The sheer, visceral terror to be had in this adaptation of the long-running stage play might lead to claims of exploitation, but there are no sick thrills here. Charlie Victor Romeo, shot in 3D, puts us right in the cabin with crews feverishly working to save themselves and their live cargo. It engenders fear, respect, and a fascinated detachment. This is an unusual and unforgettable film. Read More »
First-time feature documentary director Zachary Heinzerling makes a quietly assured debut with the tender and perceptive Cutie and the Boxer. In documenting the 40-year marriage between Japanese “action painter” Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko Shinohara, the film paints a keen vision of the ways in which the halves of a life-long couple learns to life with, and often in spite of one another. Read More »
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If a movie can be both gentle and scathing, Fruitvale is it. In this simple but stunningly effective film, first-time feature director Ryan Coogler responds to the shooting death of a 22-year old Oakland man at a BART station on New Year’s Day 2009. The writer/director recreates the horrific action in a straightforward manner that is largely free of hyperbole and excess emotional manipulation. The climax of the film is one of the most powerful sequences you’re likely to see on a movie screen this year. Read More »