movie reviews June/July 2012

For greater glorySnow white and the huntsmanPeace, love & misunderstanding * Madagascar 3: Europe's most wantedPrometheusthat's my boyhysteriarock of agesBraveseeking a friend for the end of the worldAbraham lincoln: Vampire hunterMoonrise KingdomYour Sister's SisterTedSafety not guaranteed people like usmagic mikeThe amazing spidermanSavages

Ratings range from "0" (watch TV instead) to "5" (a must-see).

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Savages

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

 

In Savages, director Oliver Stone leans heavily on his signature frenetic energy and overly self-conscious storytelling without providing the film a marked point of view. Based on the novel by Don Winslow, this tale of a new generation of drug lords at war with a Mexican cartel is too earnest to be classified as dark comedy and too flippant to be considered pure steamy pulp.

 

 

Move over Cheech and Chong, two young California surfers — Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) — have made millions in both the legal and illegal drug trade with their particular brand of high-potency marijuana. Bohemian botanist Ben, the brains behind the grow houses, spends his share of the profits on NGO projects, such as building wells for potable water in Indonesia, while high-strung Chon, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, watches over their operations at home in Laguna Beach, CA, with a tight, white knuckled fist. They’re the yin and yang of Southern California drug trafficking, and because of this Elena (Salma Hayek), the fading grande dame of a Mexican cartel, wants to bully them into sharing their business with her.

 

After first asking for advice from Dennis (John Travolta), the dirty DEA agent on their payroll, Ben and Chon decide to quit the business altogether rather than play nice with their neighbor to the south. They make plans to skip the country with their shared California dream girl O (Blake Lively), who despite warnings of danger can’t resist one last trip to the mall, which precipitates her kidnapping by cartel henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro), a cruder, less focused version of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men. To get the love of their lives back, Ben and Chon, with only the help of the ineffectual Dennis, must now try to outmaneuver Elena and the seemingly psychopathic Lado.

 

Full of fancy tricks and beautiful but empty sun-kissed people, Savages has no soul. The film relies too much on voiced-over dispatches from O for the narrative, the unreliability of which wouldn’t be a problem if she weren’t given the burden of having to tell more than the film is allowed to show. And when it is allowed to show something, it does so in silly post-production graphics, which is really just another form of telling.

 

In other films, particularly in Natural Born Killers, Stone uses these effects to great success. The changes in speed, style and stock set tone and mood, ultimately serving the larger purpose of the film. Here, they distract from a story that’s already suffering and cause discord between mood and meaning.

 

In truth, if Stone were to take one step further into novelty — to Smell-O-Vision — the theaters in which it plays would be infused with patchouli, gunshot residue, and, of course, pot. But they would also stink of desperation. With Savages, Stone is showing the blunt edges of a filmmaker yearning for another slick, hip hit and willing to do almost anything but tell a good story to get it. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted on 07/06/12)

 


 

The Amazing Spiderman

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

 

The latest in a seemingly never-ending flood of Hollywood remakes, director Marc Webb's 215 million dollar (!!!) remake of the 2002 version of Spiderman's iconic origin story is ... a slightly different version of that iconic origin story. I'm not kidding here: If you were hoping for a kinda “Spiderman 4,” don't bother. With a running time of two hours and 15 minutes, The Amazing Spiderman takes even LONGER before high school nerd Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) gets bitten by a radioactive spider and gains his superpowers. That also means you get the thrilling action of a lot of 3D scenes of people standing around talking in rooms, which is exactly as lame as it sounds. At least it does get better, a little bit, anyway.

 

 

We start with introverted photographer Parker (who for some reason uses an old school SLR camera with film despite the modern setting) getting pushed around while pining for the lovely Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). In an effort to find out more about the mysterious disappearance and later death of his parents, Parker goes to Ozcorp and finds his fathers old science partner, Dr Connors (Rhys Ifans), who's trying to use lizard cells to re-grow his missing arm. Parker of course immediately wanders into a high security lab filled with glowing spiders, gets bitten, and stumbles home without anyone noticing.

 

Peter's guardians, his Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and Sally Field, respectively) soon notice his weird behavior as he tries to both refine his new powers and hide them at the same time, which does result in some pretty funny scenes. Meanwhile, the good Dr. Connors uses his lizard formula, and successfully re-grows his arm only to later turn into a giant, evil lizard. Who could have ever seen that coming?

 

Once the action actually gets started, there are some cool web-sling scenes (this version has him make mechanical web-shooters, like the comics did), but the frenetic CGI fights sometimes look a little cartoony.

 

The casting is decent, particularly Garfield's take on Parker, and once it get going it is fun, but then so was the 2002 version, which had a far better villain. Also, I have to say this is obviously just a set-up for more sequels, and has SO much padding during the first hour that you'll be thinking about sneaking out and going over to the next theater to watch The Avengers, again. (PG 13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted 07/03/12)

 


 

Magic Mike

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

 

Don't let the marketing campaign for Magic Mike fool you. Although there's plenty of beefcake in the film, it's not without substance. Director Steven Soderbergh returns to his indie filmmaking roots to make a lesson of the exhibition of the hunky male stars as hunks of meat — implicating his audience in the process.

 

 

Bad credit in a slow economy keeps Mike (Channing Tatum) from his pipe dream of manufacturing custom furniture from glass and the flotsam that washes ashore in front of his Tampa, FL beachfront home. A self-described entrepreneur, Mike tries to earn enough money for a down payment to open a workshop through a mobile detailing business and construction. The bulk of Mike's savings, in small bills, however, comes from shaking his moneymaker as Magic Mike for a small-time all-male revue run by Mike's hinky mentor, the leathery creeper Dallas (Matthew McConaughey in an amusing send up of his public image), who has promised Mike a bigger take once they open a club in Miami.

 

To save one night's show, Mike initiates 19-year-old college dropout Adam (Alex Pettyfer) into the business. The two become friends and share the perks of their small fame. However, when Mike ends up falling for Adam's sister Brooke, played by a brilliantly self-conscious yet sunny Cody Horn, and after a gig at a sorority house turns violent, resulting in even worse consequences, Mike begins to question his future as a male stripper.

 

Reid Carolin based some of the elements in the screenplay for Magic Mike on the real-life stripping experiences of the film's star Channing Tatum. Shrewdly, Soderbergh keeps the film grounded in this reality. He revels in the seediness of this world, at first showing its attractive qualities, then making light-hearted fun of it, and finally exposing its repulsive, destructive force. Using techniques more common in his independent films, Soderbergh infuses Magic Mike with a necessary gravitas. Sharp edits, dialog that seems improvised and gets layered Altman-style over other dialog, and close, angled shots bring into focus the details that unfold character and story more than any narrative could possibly do.

 

More important, a less experienced filmmaker may have been tempted to create show-stopping numbers with slick choreography, and certainly Tatum, along with some of the supporting male cast, could have pulled them off. Instead, Soderbergh offers believable, unsynchronized acts based on bad imitations of boy band moves. That is, until he's ready to make a point. He saves Alison Faulk's best choreography to emphasize Mike's final defiant break. Spectators misled by selectively edited trailers and expecting easy eye candy will be greatly disappointed — and rightly so. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 06/30/12)

 


 

People Like Us

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

People Like Us is based on an interesting true story. In telling the story, director Alex Kurtzman occasionally makes some decisions that undermine the veracity of the tale. The fact that it still works can be attributed to a solid cast and the sense that having cash really doesn’t make life any easier.

 

 

Not having it isn’t any fun, either. Sam (Chris Pine) is working for a company that trades leftover goods for other firms in the name of making their clients’ operating fees smaller. Despite how glibly he talks about these transactions, Sam’s deals are headed for disaster.

 

Even though has been parroting his boss’ (Jon Favreau) talking points and following his business strategies, Sam is stuck with the fallout of a deal gone south. Sam has to pay for the losses and deal with a corrupt official who wants a deal in kind to prevent sending Sam to the authorities.

 

His day gets even glummer when his estranged father Jerry dies. Actually, that might be a blessing in disguise. It doesn’t take much effort to discern that Jerry was a lousy father and husband, but his instincts made record companies rich. Hoping to get out of the funeral in Los Angeles, he pretends to have lost his ID, making him late for the ceremony. Now, he’s in trouble with both the law and his grieving mother Lillian (Michelle Pfeiffer).

 

Jerry couldn’t leave a simple message to his descendants. When Sam meets with the old man’s attorney (Philip Baker Hall), he learns that his dad has left hundreds of thousands of dollar bills for a half-sister and a nephew Sam didn’t know he had. Jerry stipulates that the case is for the youngster’s welfare, but Sam could certainly use the dough to keep himself out of jail.

 

He tracks down his previously unknown sibling Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), a recovering alcoholic who makes a meager living as a barmaid. Her son Josh (Michael Hall D'Addario) has disciplinary problems but seems likable. It doesn’t help that Josh’s father is nowhere in sight and that Jerry made little effort to acknowledge his offspring until he was near death.

 

Sam has no trouble introducing himself to the two of them, but he has less courage when it comes to admitting why he’s in their lives. Needing the cash for his own situation, he’s hesitant to reveal his dad’s dying wish, and Frankie would probably hate him because the newspapers acknowledge him as Jerry’s son but not her.

 

Sam naturally feels some fondness for Frankie (she’s played by Elizabeth Banks, after all). But he has a girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) who’s been waiting for him to straighten out, and Frankie is seeing a long-suffering security guard (the prolific Mark Duplass). For all of her flaws, Frankie is a decent person and needs all the support she can get. The question is can Sam become the relative his father never was.

 

Despite an intriguing scenario, Kurtzman treats the proceedings as if he were making a Lifetime Original offering instead of a theatrical film. It’s a given that watching Sam grow from a mouse to a mensch will be worth viewing, but the unusually sappy score from A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire) and Kurtzman’s insistence on dragging out Sam’s telling Frankie the truth gets annoying after a while.

 

Some of the difficulties Sam encounters later could easily be avoided if he simply told attorneys why he’s had legal issues and that he’s at his father’s funeral. Oh, and telling Frankie he’s her brother at the start might have helped, too.

 

Having a true story is one thing, but telling it honestly is another. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 06/30/12)

 

Haiku

People Like Us

 

Having a secret

sister is a surprise, but

sappy music hurts.

 


 

Safety Not Guaranteed

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

Safety Not Guaranteed is a little comedy that makes the world safe for personal ads. Because of the requests made in personals or Craig’s List posting, it’s easy to wonder if the authors should be looking for therapy instead of lovers or employees.

 

The staff at “Seattle Magazine” have discovered an ad requesting a person to go back in time. The person who put it up promises cash after the mission but warns that safety isn’t guaranteed.

 

 

The clip amuses a reporter named Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) who wants to find out what sort of fool would place this bizarre clip. Actually, he’s got an ulterior motive. While a pair of interns named Darius (Aubrey Plaza) and Arnau (Karan Soni) do the actual fact finding, he wants to romance a woman (Jenica Bergere) he hasn’t seen in years. Jeff seems more preoccupied with her weight gain than he is with generating the copy he’s being paid to produce.

 

To her credit, Darius quickly finds the mystery man behind the ad. He’s Kenneth (Mark Duplass, in his third movie opening this weekend), a grocery store clerk. Whereas Jeff’s glibness instantly sent Kenneth running away, Darius greets him with sarcasm. The two quickly find out that they’re both hardened cynics. In each other’s company, however, the two seem to lighten up and let down their inhibitions.

 

In Kenneth’s case, those inhibitions are warranted. He wants to go back in time so badly that he’s procured illegal and potentially dangerous components. Darius also learns that he may be fearful, but he’s not paranoid. There really are people following him with suspicious intent.

 

The characters in Safety Not Guaranteed may speak with sharp tongues, but director Colin Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly consistently paint their people affectionately. Because of Kenneth’s earnestness, it’s easy to hope he’ll succeed in turning time travel from science fiction to science fact. His attempts to obtain components for his time machine might be amusingly clumsy, but he appears to know what he’s doing. Under Darius’ bitter remarks is a desire for contentment she hasn’t felt since the untimely death of her mother.

 

Safety Not Guaranteed plays like a romantic comedy, but there are some interesting variations. When the sci-fi kicks in, the effects are convincing. More importantly, characters that seem like cads one moment can behave with class in the next. If a character starts to turn annoying, Trevorrow and Connolly find something in him or her that prevents them from becoming unbearable. Even Jeff seems likable in their hands.

 

As Safety Not Guaranteed progresses, the line between silly and serious crumbles. Kenneth and Darius both want to turn back the clock even though the hands move only one way. Trevorrow acknowledges the quest may be mad, but most worthy goals can seem initially bizarre. Perhaps we’re at our worst when we ignore those seemingly silly ideas. As the Rolling Stones put it so eloquently, “Lose your dreams, and you will lose your mind.” (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 06/30/12)

 

Haiku

Safety Not Guaranteed

 

Sometimes it takes time

travel to make romantic

comedies worthwhile.

 


 

Ted

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

 

Despite the novelty of the initial premise, Ted relies too much on the relentlessly goading harangue of writer/director/voice Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy). Essentially a buddy picture, the movie misses prime opportunities for true absurdity by sticking to the same purposely offensive spiel ubiquitous on the small screen on any Sunday night.

 

The Christmas wish of lonely young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) comes true when his new teddy bear, Ted, comes to life. After the initial shock, the two become inseparable, especially during thunderstorms. Even through Ted's rise to celebrity and subsequent fall from fame, the two remain best friends, growing up together but not really maturing.

 

 

However, after four years and one particularly gross game of truth or dare Ted (gruffly voiced by MacFarlane) has with four prostitutes, Lori (Mila Kunis), the girlfriend of the adult John (Mark Wahlberg), issues an ultimatum. Either the bear moves out or they break up. So Ted begrudgingly gets hired on as a cashier at a grocery store and rents his own apartment. Yet, John still can't seem to make a break from his best friend.

 

The opening sequence in which the newly animate plushy bear comes to life, narrated by Patrick Stewart, is surprising and delightful. MacFarlane's signature irreverence is tempered by the contrasting sweetness of the budding friendship, and the tempo at which it establishes the main idea is refreshingly swift. Plus, the production values, especially for the effects that bring the bear to life, are high. Thankfully, Ted looks as if he exists on the same plane as his human co-stars.

 

Beyond the main idea, however, the film suffers from a lack of imagination. There's a cronyism that stifles its creativity. It's as if MacFarlane, just as in a scene in the movie, got stoned with his friends and came up with the premise and then never returned to fulfill its potential. Instead of crafting scenes that seem unpredictable yet come naturally from having a teddy bear as an anti-hero, MacFarlane falls back on his usual shtick. There's no reach beyond the usual hateful speeches. For instance, although MacFarlane doesn't shy away from weird sex scenes involving Ted and human women, a fight scene between Ted and John plays as ordinary, complete with Foley punching noises, when it should have been soft and suffocating and infinitely creepier and thus funnier.

 

Once you get used to Ted as a foul-mouthed slacker, the film becomes tedious. By the time Giovanni Ribisi unleashes his creepiness, it's too late. Even surprise cameos by other stars make the already dragging scenes seem infinitely longer than they need to be. As John, even Wahlberg, who can be astoundingly funny and weird as seen in I Heart Huckabees, remains the naïve straight guy enthralled by his fast-talking bear.

 

Ultimately, this buddy film is a boy's club that rewards tired one-liners. The women are either bimbos who can be talked into sex with a plushy toy or nagging adults, such as Kunis as Lori, who cleans up the mess and gets none of the fun. And then only relents once they break her. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted on 06/30/12)

 


 

Your Sister's Sister

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

Your Sister’s Sister is a movie about initially unlikable characters that make catastrophic blunders. And yet it’s an oddly charming and entertaining film that works because it’s willing to embrace the less savory side of its characters. You might not want to spend much time with these folks, but it’s fascinating to watch them fumble their way to love.

 

The movie begins with a celebration in honor of the late Tom (who’s not in the movie because he’s been gone for a year). His brother Jack (the omnipresent Mark Duplass) quickly tires of the sentimentality and goes on an angry rant. The sugarcoated memories his friends are sharing only seem to make Tom’s loss harder to bear. He knew Tom’s weaknesses and can’t tolerate hagiography.

 

His outburst, however, turns the evening into a giant buzz kill.

 

 

If Jack’s grief is hard for others to take, his pal Iris (Emily Blunt) understands that it’s even harder for him to endure. She gives him the keys to her family’s cabin in the woods (sorry, nothing supernatural here) outside of Seattle. His alone time is quickly interrupted when he discovers that Iris’ half-sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already staying there.

 

To say the two hit it off is a bit of an understatement. She’s grieving in her own way because she’s just dumped her girlfriend. She may be lesbian, but after a few drinks, even the gloomy and very male Jack seems worth a fling.

 

The two proceed to have some of the clumsiest and least gratifying sex in cinema history. This candid sequence is in many ways a microcosm for the rest of the movie. Shelton avoids sensationalizing it or presenting it too broadly, but the awkwardness feels real and curiously becomes downright hilarious because of its frankness.

 

Rarely do toned bodies gently merge in soft light while strings are playing. This is especially true if the lovers barely know each other. It takes a while for people to feel comfortable together in carnal situations, so trysts like this one are all too common.

 

When Iris shows up unannounced, the situation becomes even more complicated. Jack doesn’t merely like her. He’s been nursing a debilitating crush that’s undiminished by the previous evening’s encounter.

 

The storyline for Your Sister’s Sister isn’t that involved, but the relationships between the three leads are. One refreshing aspect of having women behind the camera is that they tend to depict men as they are instead of how they’d like to be seen. Shelton and Duplass aren’t afraid to make Jack look hurt by his losses. Rather than stoically dealing with adversity, Jack is understandably crushed by it. Nobody would take the loss of a beloved sibling lightly, so Jack’s grieving is involving even if he doesn’t know how to handle it gracefully.

 

As for the sisters, Blunt and DeWitt have such convincing rapport and rivalry that it’s easy to by them as siblings even if neither speaks with the same accent (they are half-sisters, after all). Both also like each other despite the fact that Hannah is a lousy cook (just because it’s vegan or organic doesn’t mean it’s edible) and that both know each other’s most embarrassing secrets.

 

Because Shelton is willing to present her characters’ less than graceful moments, Your Sister’s Sister feels even more uplifting when the characters do manage to soar. (R) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 06/30/12)

 

Haiku

Your Sister’s Sister

 

If you see one Mark

Duplass movie this weekend,

this is the right one.

 


 

Moonrise Kingdom

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

Wes Anderson’s movies all take place in a strange, artificial world that only occasionally resembles our own. That may explain why his movies work best if they’re about kids or cartoon animals.

 

Moonrise Kingdom focuses on squarely on the former, so its artificiality is more plausible and entertaining. In some of Anderson’s other movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, it was tempting to wonder when the characters would get a life and get past their childish obsessions. With Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom, it’s hard to fault children for having these same fixations.

 

 

In this case, a couple of youngsters living in the 1960s develop an instant attraction and decide to run off together in hopes of getting married. Like most 12 year olds, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) have no career options, but it’s easy to see why they’d want to run off together. Sam has lost his parents and feels miserable being stuck on an island off the coast of New England as part of a troupe of Khaki Scouts. When he expresses discontent about his status, his foster parents won’t take him back.

 

Suzy, however, has parents and siblings. But if there ever was love between her father Walt Bishop (Anderson regular Bill Murray) and his wife Laura (Frances McDormand), it’s not evident now. Walt seems like the walking embodiment of resignation, whereas the only passion Laura has in her life is the affair she’s having with the island’s lonely cop (Bruce Willis).

 

Suzy, who never goes anywhere without her binoculars, catches the two smooching and runs off to meet Sam in a clearing the adults don’t know about. It doesn’t help that she’s discovered a pamphlet in the house about dealing with a very troubled child.

 

The disappearance alarms Sam’s frustrated Scout Master (Edward Norton), who worries that Sam’s scouting skills are a little ahead of his social skills. Suzy, on the other hand, won’t go anywhere without her records or the overdue library books she’s borrowed.

 

In Anderson’s world these kinds of decisions are strangely appropriate. His movies often have astonishing camerawork, imaginative sets and quirky humor. But with Moonrise Kingdom, his stylistic choices make sense and actually fit the tale (by Anderson and Roman Coppola) beautifully. There’s a logic to what the characters do this time (albeit idiosyncratic), so Anderson isn’t doing things simply because they sound or look interesting.

 

It also doesn’t hurt that his casting is spot on. The two leads look as if they’re parodying the adults in their lives, but they have an earnestness the grownups lack. By avoiding irony, Moonrise Kingdom is more engaging than some of Anderson’s other efforts because it’s easy to like Sam and Suzy, even if they are misguided.

 

Murray’s sense of weary resignation makes anything that comes out of his mouth seem hilarious. Walt is so emotionally drained that any hint of life left in his pot bellied frame seems miraculous.

 

Frankly, Murray is often funnier as part of Anderson’s movies than he was in some of the films that were made in his alleged prime. Stripes wasn’t bad but it doesn’t seem all that witty when viewed through an adult’s eyes.

 

Willis plays an able straight man to the eccentrics around him, and Tilda Swinton is suitably foreboding a social worker trying to find a new home for Sam.

 

Because Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson movie, there’s a Greek chorus and some peripheral gags that viewers might miss if they aren’t paying attention (watch how some of the scouts use their utensils at breakfast). For once, it’s great that the people are as captivating as the East Coast scenery. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Posted on 06/30/12)

 

Haiku

Moonrise Kingdom

 

Bill Murray is the

only man who can droop his

way into laughter.

 


 

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

 

While it's no surprise to say that a movie titled Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is indeed as ludicrous in execution as the actual concept sounds, the sheer fact that this thing actually got made in the first place is remarkable, if not also slightly crazy. The result, as directed by a Russian (Timur Bekmambetov of the “Day Watch” vampire franchise) is a completely straight-up and serious story about how our 16th president secretly hunted vampires — with an ax. An ax that can turn into a shotgun. Oh, also, Lincoln knows Kung Fu.

 

 

The story follows a young, dirt-poor Abe (Benjamin Walker) seeing his mother being killed buy his family's vampire boss. After a grown Lincoln almost dies in a drunken attempt to kill said vampire, an encounter with the "good" vampire Sturgis (Dominic Cooper) leads us to your standard training montage as the president that freed the slaves learns how to spin a silver-coated ax REALLY fast. Soon Lincoln draws the attention of Adam (Rufus Sewell), the "father of vampires" as their struggles grow into the actual civil war, with the vampires secretly aiding the South to continue the supply of slaves for them to kill.

 

There is some cleverness in the merged themes of slavery/vampirism, and the charismatic Sturgis and Lincoln's childhood friend Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie) do make a cool "action" trio together, but it's really the attention to details and excellent casting that makes this thing watchable. We follow Lincoln from a boy to preparing for a night at the theater, through his early career as a lawyer, and his growing disgust at the system of slavery, his great speeches and troubled marriage to Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) with a serious faithfulness that never waivers. Sure, a little more humor would have been welcome, but the comic book style action scenes and effects more than make up for that.

 

However, if this film sounds like your kinda thing, I would implore you NOT to see this in 3D. It's a post-convert, and it sucks harder than a room full of pro-slavery southern vampires. The 3D made it so dim I watched half the film with the glasses pushed up on my forehead. There's a fair amount of CGI here, and sometimes it's cool, and sometimes it looks crappy, but Walker's take on a vampire-killing Abraham Lincoln is just fun to watch, despite the heavy (and occasionally really fake-looking) make-up.

 

If anything, it's worth it to see the scene later in the film when we see the silhouette of Lincoln, in full beard and stovepipe hat regalia, twirling an ax and dispatching vampires while atop a burning train, in the name of freedom ... for the ax, by the ax, and with plenty of axes for all. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted on 06/30/12)

 


 

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

 

Take part romance, raunchy comedy, social satire, buddy road-trip and family drama, mix in equally thin and diluted amounts, and you could easily get writer/director Lorene Scafaria's first-film endeavor Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

 

We start with insurance salesman "Dodge" (how’s that name for an insurance man?) Peterson (a very subdued Steve Carell) in his car, listening to an announcement that in three weeks a giant asteroid will destroy the world. While through the film we see various reactions to that news, from rioting to orgies to even hiring an assassin to hunt you down, it takes Dodge's wife takes exactly .5 seconds before she hops out of the car and runs away.

 

 

Now abandoned, sad sack Dodge goes to an "end of the world" party hosted buy his friend Warren (Rob Corddry), where a bunch of suburbanites drink, take drugs and frantically switch bed-buddies. He even keeps going to work, which results in probably one of the film’s funniest scenes when a customer phones and wants to know the rates for the "Armageddon package.”

 

As the asteroid gets closer, Dodge decides to find his high-school love with the help of his young quirky downstairs neighbor Penny (a very weepy Keira Knightley) as they flee the growing violence. Penny agrees to help because Dodge promises that he can get her to a plane so that she can see her family, and also probably because she's a complete flake.

 

Suddenly, we're in the road-trip bit as they travel trying to find Dodge's lost love and encountering the likes of a trucker (William Petersen), who thinks they're the killers he's hired. In the midst of all that wackiness, the two get closer despite both protesting that they're "just friends"... until they get very friendly and confused about what to do about it.

 

After a fairly touching meeting with Dodge's estranged father (Martin Sheen, in a simple and great performance), Dodge loads Penny into his father's plane (yes, that was the plane he was talking about), which is easy because she has some kind of weird sleep-thing where it's almost impossible to wake her up — one of the worst plot gimmicks ever.

 

Will Penny go to her family or back to Dodge? Will some last second reprieve let them survive? Sorry, I don't give out all the spoilers but I will say that the ending was a little weak. Also, the pacing of this film is GLACIAL. The first thirty minutes or so are the best with a fair amount of snickers and laughs as with Rob Corddry teaching a little girl how to chug liquor by telling her to "drink through the burn." It’s both very wrong and awesomely funny. The rest of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a bit boring as the duo wanders from set-up to set-up.

 

I will say that the most unlikely event present is the chemistry between Carell and Knightley. The actually HAVE some. The growing affection as Penny's free spirited attitude softens Dodge's hardened heart, while his honest reserve and compassion begins to look better to her than the hipster man-boy musicians and macho d-bags she's used to dating.

 

All and all, the end of the world is a little bit funny, and somewhat boring but with a dash of charm. Not bad for a first time out. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 06/22/12)

 


 

Brave

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

A recurring theme in a lot of reviews of the new Pixar animated movie Brave is that many of my peers wish the film was as courageous as its title would imply. Personally, simply featuring a female protagonist who doesn’t derive all of her worth from appealing to a man is pretty gutsy for a Hollywood offering.

 

The same execs that happily counted the cash Bridesmaids raked in were terrified about the prospects of a comedy with gross out gags that featured people who didn’t have Y-chromosomes.

 

 

It’s probably more relevant to quibble about the fact that Brave borrows a little too much of its story from previous Pixar and Disney tropes. In Medieval Scotland, the princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald from Boardwalk Empire) is having a difficult time getting along at court. She’s more at home practicing her archery and riding her horse Angus than she is wearing regal gowns. Her knotted red hair is unkempt from all of her activity. Her mother Elinor (Emma Thompson) worries that the lass might have a tough time getting a suitor.

 

That marriage thing is important because King Fergus (who else but Billy Connolly?) has three rival lords (Robbie Coltrane, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson) who think their sons would be able rulers. A wedding is a sure way to keep the kingdom stable, but Merida isn’t ready for a husband. None of the lads available are that bright or interesting, and she could easily best the trio in battle.

 

To weaken Elinor’s resolve, Merida makes a deal with an obsessive woodcarver (Julie Walters from the Harry Potter movies). It doesn’t take much effort to guess this artisan is really a witch. Anyone who remembers Disney’s The Little Mermaid knows that conducting transactions with a witch usually leads to disaster.

 

Because similar things happen in Brother Bear, The Emperor’s New Groove and other kiddie fare, it’s initially disappointing to learn what the witch has in store for Merida. But at least this sorceress isn’t as malicious as her cartoon sisters.

 

What keeps Brave from becoming a Scottish version of Memory Glen is that Merida gradually learns that her mother is actually a loving, conscientious parent who has her kingdom’s fate as well as her daughter’s to worry about.

 

It’s a shame it takes a misguided magic spell, but it’s a pleasure to see Elinor become more human and compassionate and for Merida to become more responsible and mature.

 

Pixar has a history of concentrating on story before visuals (although their images are always grand), and having dynamic female leads is certainly refreshing. Curiously, the supporting cast is surprisingly thin. Even the minor creatures in Monsters, Inc. were memorable. This time around, the supporting players barely register. There’s also a violent streak that’s not been in Pixar’s previous movies. Some of the confrontations might not be suitable for younger or more sensitive children.

 

Naturally, Pixar’s images are typically breathtaking. The Scottish highlands look suitably majestic, and the 3D is more than a cheap gimmick. The perspective makes the landscapes more imposing, and small details like Merida’s locks actually reveal things about the character and the story instead of simply looking cute or pretty.

 

Brave is not vintage Pixar, but other studios would do well to aim as high as Merida and her movie do. (PG) Rating: 4 (Posted on 06/22/12)

 

Haiku

Brave

 

Merida has the

aim and the hair to conquer

boredom or a bear.

 


 

Rock of Ages

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

 

Based on the 2009 Broadway jukebox musical, Rock of Ages distills ‘80s rock hits down to its true cornball essence to bring a new form of sentimental camp to the big screen. Yet, despite director Adam Shankman’s attempts to sabotage the film’s more penetrating moments with boorish pranks, it exhibits an electrifying dark side, embodied by Tom Cruise’s surprisingly sad and powerful turn as a mercurial rockstar.

 

In the heady days of the Los Angeles-based hair metal scene, aspiring singer Sherrie (Julianne Hough) arrives in Los Angeles and through a chance meeting with wannabe rocker Drew (Diego Boneta) is drawn into the drama of the Bourbon Room — a fictitious version of the Whisky A Go-Go — run for comic relief by aging queen Dennis (Alec Baldwin) and spacey Brit sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand). Under siege from a cadre of conservative women, led by the mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), determined to turn the place into a Benetton, Dennis must come up with enough cash to pay the taxes or shut the Bourbon Room’s doors.

 

 

Dennis’ best hope for his club is to stage the last performance of popular band Arsenal, led by whiskey addled, erratic Stacee Jaxx, who’s leaving the band for a solo career. But Stacee’s sleazy manager (Paul Giamatti) has other plans for the night’s takings, as well as for the future of rock, leaving the Bourbon Room still in jeopardy and his prize client alone with his demons.

 

The script for Rock of Ages — co-written by Justin Theroux, Allan Loeb, and Chris D’Arienzo, who holds the credit for the musical book for the original show — takes a few missteps. For instance, the mayor’s wife and her chorus of biddies should have been given Blondie’s “One Way or Another” instead of Pat Benetar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” But it also hits several perfect notes. Although it lingers a little too long on the romance between Sherrie and Drew, it comes down hard on the cynical side of the music industry that admits that religious zealots are inconsequential when there are the destructive forces of commerce at work.

 

Perfectly cast as Stacee’s corrupt and corrupting manager (down to the pathetic ponytail), Paul Giamatti plays the role with a Satanic glee, and the result, when he finally gets his hands on the young Drew, has its funny moments, yes, but is also ultimately heartbreaking.

 

It’s clear this dark power has been worked on Stacee Jaxx, who Tom Cruise, perhaps unlocking the door to his own monkey’s cage, portrays as a combination of rock God and little boy lost. Stacee’s neurotic yet introspective proclamations push the movie from light-hearted play into dangerous, authentic feeling. And the tête-à-tête between the rockstar and true fan in the guise of Rolling Stone reporter (Malin Ackerman) is wonderfully affecting, that is, when the director’s idea of a joke doesn’t get in the way. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 06/15/12)

 


 

Hysteria

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

When making fun of the prejudices and foibles of a previous age, it’s usually a good idea to remember that we have issues of our own.

 

Hysteria is a mildly entertaining comedy that should have produced the kind of laughter indicated in the title. Instead, screenwriters Stephen Dyer and Jonah Lisa Dyer focus on the nonexistent phenomenon of hysteria, a blanket term that physicians used to describe nearly any discontent that women might face.

 

 

During the Victorian era, “hysteria” was a label doctors could apply to anything from mental illness to premenstrual syndrome. If a patient wasn’t getting her requisite orgasm from her husband, a doctor’s gentle, steady pressure could make up for a spouse or lover who was wanting in the sheets.

 

A struggling young physician named Joseph Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) thinks he has found his calling when Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce) recruits him as an apprentice. The growing practice “treats” almost every middle and upper class woman in London.

 

To our eyes, it’s obvious that none of these women have any real affliction and are simply getting carnal delight. Dr. Granville quickly proves an able pupil of Dr. Dalrymple, but he gets debilitating hand cramps from pleasing all of his clients.

 

He also gets into a tight spot because he’s been courting his boss’ comely daughter Emily (Felicity Jones), who’s learning medical breakthroughs as dubious as the ones her dad practices. There’s a reason no one believes phrenology any more. From the way it’s depicted in Hysteria, it’s a wonder anyone believed it back then, either.

 

Because he’s unable to do his job, Dr. Granville finds himself unemployed until is technocratic best friend Lord Edmund St. John Smythe (Rupert Everett) starts working on a cleaning device. Dr. Granville discovers that with a few modifications, the cleaner can be used to perform what he used to do with his bare hands.

 

It’s obvious where this is going, and there are some good laughs to be had at the expense of Victorian sexual standards. To Victorians, women turned to prostitution not because they were hungry or penniless but because they were wanton. That sort of attitude deserves ridicule, but director Tanya Wexler and the screenwriters should have approached the material with a little more subtlety. After a while, the orgasm jokes get old.

 

That’s a sad thought.

 

The characterizations are also a little thin. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Dr. Dalrymple’s older daughter Charlotte, who runs a community center that provides food and education for the London residents who need it. Sadly, she’s underfunded and her father would rather get rich coddling people who don’t have real illnesses. Dr. Granville, however, finds himself drawn to Charlotte and her cause.

 

The relationship might have been more convincing if Charlotte didn’t seem to have travelled back in time from the present. Instead of coming off as someone who is compassionate and gifted with foresight, she’s needlessly smug.

 

Gyllenhaal and the rest of the cast are fine, but there’s a sense of condescension that runs throughout Hysteria that gets tiresome. It’s one thing to learn from the mistakes of the past. It’s another to snidely mock our ancestors’ failings while following in their hubris or creating a new folly of our own. (R) Rating: 3 (Posted on 06/15/12)

 

Haiku

Hysteria

 

Orgasms from the

past aren’t funnier than the

ones happening now.


 

That's My Boy

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

There are moments in That’s My Boy where by sheer tastelessness Adam Sandler and his cohorts manage to squeeze out a few laughs by reaching for depths of depravity that seem beyond human capabilities. In these sequences, there’s a sort of purity of perversion in that no measures were taken in the name of decency.

 

Sadly, there aren’t enough of these transcendentally vulgar moments to fill 114 minutes. Without the handy chapter select features that come with DVDs and Blu-Rays, it’s a long and painful wait for the good, I mean, bad stuff.

 

 

Several commentators have noted that Sandler and fellow Saturday Night Live alumnus Andy Samberg have only 12 years between them, so it would seem odd that the latter would play the former’s son.

 

Actually, for the sordid tale that unfolds, the age gap is eerily appropriate. Like a lot of Van Halen fans, 14-year-old Donny Berger (Justin Weaver) is literally hot for his teacher, Mary McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino). In a turn of events that’s both surprising and queasy, she returns his affection. Apparently, his volcanic libido is hard to resist.

 

That may explain why she winds up going to jail for the affair and getting pregnant with Donny’s son Han Solo (Sandberg). Because Donny is little more than a child himself, he’s not cut out to raise one. It’s no wonder that Han Solo changes his name to Todd and completely distances himself from his bumbling, hard-partying father.

 

Eager to erase the older Berger’s sordid legacy, Todd makes a tidy sum as a hedge fund manager while Donny simply wants to remain the male Amy Fischer. If you have trouble remembering her name or have never heard of her, Donny is slowly headed down the same path to obscurity.

 

The only problem with that career path is that Donny owes nearly 40 grand in back taxes and could join Mary in jail. Desperately in need of his son’s cash and eager to be part of his life again, Donny crashes Todd’s wedding to a socialite (Leighton Meester). Todd denies that his parents are a jailbird and a tax dodger and says they’re both dead. So the unbelievably crass Donny claims to be Todd’s best friend.

 

The less said about what follows the better because the gags that work do so through shock value. Director Sean Anders (Sex Drive) and screenwriter David Caspe (TV’s Happy Endings) attempt to bring down every taboo imaginable. Underage sex, geriatric coitus, drug use, bodily functions and ethnic stereotypes are all potential fodder for gags and gagging. This sort of material requires careful handling because it isn’t funny simply for being forbidden.

 

Stanley Kubrick could coax torrents of laughter out of pedophilia and nuclear war, but that’s because he was Stanley Kubrick. He also had help for other formidable minds like Vladimir Nabokov, Terry Southern and Peter Sellers.

 

Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges aren’t quite in that league, but they do seem to enjoy poking fun at themselves. They also seem happier about their work than some of their better-paid cast mates.

 

Sandler, who also produced, has also provided plenty of work for fellow SNL alumni like Will Forte and Rachel Dratch, but he doesn’t give them much room to shine. Sandberg, who could pass as Sandler’s kin, is given little to do but be the older comic’s straight man.

 

All of the good and bad behavior that runs throughout That’s My Boy is unfiltered through Sandler’s sensibilities. It’s obvious he has the courage to do politically incorrect humor. It’s too bad the film has little of the heart or brain to make it work. (R) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 06/15/12

 

Haiku

That’s My Boy

 

Adam Sandler’s jizz

is not much funnier than

anyone else’s semen.

 


 

Prometheus

Reviewed by Beck Ireland

 

Prometheus marks director Ridley Scott's return to the franchise he launched with the 1979 debut of Alien. Available in 3D screenings, the film takes on ambitious visual effects and big themes, and fails spectacularly in the execution of both. As a prequel, Prometheus may satisfy the most minimal demands of the series' fans but doesn't innovate or create new standards for sci-fi the way its predecessors did.

 

The film's most beautiful and original shot ― and the only warranted use of 3D technology in the entire film ― is its first sequence. A muscle-bound humanoid with ashy skin stands at the top of a waterfall that cascades over the fresh landscape of a proto-planet while a craggy, primitive-looking spaceship hovers above the bluff. Then the being ingests a potion that breaks down his body to its smallest elements ― the DNA helix ― which falls into the water and washes downstream. The moment is beautiful in its orchestration and establishes the main theme of the film.

 

 

Yet, what follows is a convoluted and often frantic storyline, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, that spends more time attempting to shock with gore and raiding the DNA of the previous films than building on the opening shot and the questions it raises. A summary of the action in Prometheus would sound similar to how an excitable 6-year-old would recount a fantastical dream. It's just not believable or very interesting. It seems that when Ridley Scott signs on to a project, the studio executives no longer require a marketable elevator pitch.

 

Multiple threats in the movie dilute the storyline. When everything seems ominous, nothing is scary, and the movie devolves into a breeding ground for unintentional camp, egging the audience to yell at the scream at how dumb the characters are, such as when they open the ship's door to a deceased colleague. Between the surging orchestral score and the never-ending one-liners, there are no quiet moments that build needed suspense or awe.

 

The stellar supporting cast, including Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Rafe Spall and Michael Fassbender, are wasted on stock characters that, unlike in the first two movies of the franchise, remain undeveloped and without an internal rapport. Only Noomi Rapace as archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw gets to show her mettle. However, eventually Shaw also dissipates the tension as she alternates between groaning and sprinting her way through the labyrinthine spaceship and space station.

 

More than a nod to Alien and Aliens, Prometheus frustratingly resurrects the formula of those movies without any of the surprise and heart. On their own, these familiar elements are unable to re-create the suspense and claustrophobia, which made the other movies such a success. For instance, when the H.R. Giger set design was supposedly an organic occurrence of the alien nest it's intriguing. When it's the entire purposeful shape of a space station, it's overload. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted on 6/8/12)

 


 

Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Reviewed by Brandon Whitehead

 

When it comes to kid's films, the best manage to entertain their target audience while still appealing to the adults who bravely chose to sit in a dark theater with a bunch of children hopped up on soda and candy. While Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted is plenty loud, bright and goofy for the young ones, it does manage enough adult laughs and snickers to make a fun movie for all.

 

 

While I am not exactly an expert in the Madagascar series, the plot is simple: four animals, a lion, hippo, zebra and giraffe are accidentally sent from their cushy New York zoo to the wilds of, you guessed it, Madagascar. Voiced respectively by Ben Stiller, Jada Picket Smith, Chris Rock and David Schwimmer, the group learns some life lessons while adjusting to their new environment.

 

In yet another attempt to get back to New York, our animal protagonists head to Europe, where they join a traveling circus led by Vitaly (Brian Cranston), a Russian tiger with confidence problems and Gia, a ... cheetah, I think. Soon the whole group is being chased by Captain DuBois (Frances McDormand), an animal control officer obsessed with catching them in order to add their heads to her trophy wall.

 

Reinvigorated by the wacky group, the circus hits the road with our animal friends adding their own brand of wacky talents and forge new relationships (the best being the king of the lemurs, Julian, falling for a giant, mute bear in a too-too).

 

Given that this is the third film in the series, you would think that this whole premise would be played out, but the filmmakers (for some reason there are THREE director credits here), including Eric Darnell from Prairie Village, KS) manage to pack in enough payoffs and in-jokes to make a more than watchable kid's movie. The 3D here is, well, pointless but not seizure inducing, which is about as good a 3D gets, and the big, over-the-top ending is a satisfying ending to a well-done trilogy. Until “Madagascar 4: The Search for More Money” come out, that is. (PG) Rating: 3 (Posted on 6/8/12)

 


 

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is a failed sitcom pilot that somehow wound up mistaken for an independent film. The film’s makers, financial backers and distributors probably live under the impression that they’ve made a movie that’s too sophisticated for a typical multiplex. In the end, however, it’s too shallow.

 

Despite being helmed by the once promising Australian director Bruce Beresford (who went from the great Tender Mercies to Driving Miss Daisy) and feature a cast full of capable thespians, not a frame of Peace, Love & Misunderstanding feels genuine or even interesting. Instead of warming the heart, the movie succeeds only in being a non-medical replacement for Ambient or inducing occasional unintended chuckles

 

 

The normally appealing Catherine Keener stars as Diane, a conservative Big Apple attorney, whose life is thrown into disarray when her husband Mark (Kyle McLachlan) abruptly asks for a divorce now that their children Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff) are nearly grown.

 

In better films, the writers and director might have provided some clues to why the relationship collapsed (like lingering incompatibilities and stuff like that), but Beresford and screenwriters Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert waste no time dealing with such niceties as character development or motivation. They want to send Diane and her offspring to Woodstock than to let viewers care why the three are heading to stay with Diane’s flower child of a mother Grace (Jane Fonda).

 

Grace carries on as if the famous concert at Max Yasgur’s farm were still playing, and because it’s Fonda; she doesn’t look as if she’s aged much since then. Grace’s house is loaded with grade-A weed, and her Bohemian friends aren’t much like the people Diane runs around with back home. While there, Diane locks horns with Grace and keeps running into a blandly handsome local named Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

 

The smug vegetarian Zoe feuds with a local organic butcher (Chace Crawford), who himself is quite a cut of meat. Meanwhile, Jake, who shoots videos over everything he encounters, clumsily tries to woo a young lady (Marissa O'Donnell), who’s eager to help him in more ways than one, if he ever remembers to put down the goddamn camera.

 

Needless to say, love is in the air like ganja smoke and cupid’s efforts lead to indifference. The characters are uniformly one-note and most start smooching before we barely know their names. Oh, some are set up as opposites, but their couplings are more programmed than organic. Because Jake is nothing more than shallow stereotype of a middle-class teen film geek, he’s annoying instead of likable. When viewers finally get to see his film, it is, of course, a flashy hodgepodge of the irritating events that have been seen earlier. It was painful to watch these scenes when they were shot in focus.

 

It’s as if Beresford is trying to show how superior he is to the young filmmakers who dwell on technique instead of storytelling. In most cases, a good story easily trumps camera tricks. But the main story here is thin and worthless. The camera tricks become endearing when the characters aren’t.

 

In bad films, characters often go into long ideological rants because the filmmakers falsely assume it makes the characters sound smart or committed. With these folks, it merely makes them talkative. It’s a bad sign when Jane Fonda has to work to pass for an old hippie. (R) Rating: 1 (Posted on 06/08/12)

 

Haiku

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding

 

If Jane Fonda

can’t pass for a hippie, the

the film has no hope.

 


 

Snow White and the Huntsman

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

In Annie Hall, Woody Allen laments that he had trouble watching Walt Disney’s Snow White because he found himself falling in love with the Wicked Queen. He could easily be excused for his strange longings after seeing Charlize Theron play her in Snow White and the Huntsman.

 

Theron portrays the malevolent monarch Ravenna with over-the-top zeal and almost makes the tyrant sympathetic. Her habit of sacrificing others to keep herself looking young is undeniably evil, but who really wants to look old and decrepit?

 

The South African actress easily dominates the film, and it’s a shame she doesn’t have more time to revel in the destruction she causes.

 

It doesn’t take much effort for her to steal the spotlight from Kristen Stewart as the title character. In this reworking of the Grimm Brothers fairytale, the princess is an unusually resourceful royal. She has a McGuyver-like way of using scraps around her to set fires or protect herself from danger.

 

Having killed Snow White’s father and stolen his throne, the Queen has locked the princess in a tower until she is just old enough for the queen to steal the younger woman’s heart and purity. Being a moonlighting, power hungry witch; the Queen’s own purity has been long gone.

 

Fairytales are tricky for those who like cognitive resonance instead of dissonance.

 

 

When the princess manages to escape from the tower, she wanders into the appropriately named Dark Forest, which is populated with lots of black beetles and tree limbs that turn to serpents. Ravenna has no power in the woods so she sends out a drunken, brooding huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, Thor) to bring Snow White back to the palace. When he discovers the princess, he quickly changes his mind about the assignment and defies the queen.

 

Hemsworth has a way with archaic dialogue, and it’s fun to see him play surly instead of dignified. It might have been easier to believe his change of heart if Stewart’s Snow White had just a little more personality.

 

While Stewart can thankfully play more than the vacant Bella from the Twilight movies, three screenwriters have a little difficulty knowing where to go with the character. Stewart’s gape mouthed stare is inscrutable instead of empathetic. If she were more galvanizing, the story could have had more involving.

 

Rookie director Rupert Sanders has some technical prowess. The fairytale world he presents does come alive, and he makes Nick Frost (the burly actor from Shawn of the Dead), Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Ian McShane and Toby Jones look convincing as dwarves. The designs look good, but they’re rather derivative. A grove dominated by fairies borrows liberally from the Japanese animated film Princess Mononoke, even copying the design of the Great Forest Spirit.

 

It would be easier to forgive the visual plagiarism if Snow White herself were somewhat more engaging. It’s OK if the Wicked Queen is fascinating, but film’s heroine is supposed to be “Snow White,” not “Blank Slate.” (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted on 06/01/12)

 

Haiku

Snow White and the Huntsman

 

Is it OK if

I cheer for the Queen instead

of a dull Snow White?

 


 

For Greater Glory

Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

 

For Greater Glory is set during Mexico’s Cristero War from 1926 to 1929. Ninety thousand people died in the conflict, which centered around Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles’ strict laws that drove Catholicism underground. The fight for religious freedom against a tyrant would seem a no-brainer for a movie. Curiously, rookie director Dean Wright can’t seem to make a struggle for one of the most basic rights all that interesting.

 

Wright is a veteran special effects supervisor who worked on The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, so his new film looks good with lots of attractive locales and sweeping combat scenes. What’s missing is any sense of spirit or humanity. Despite featuring a formidable cast and a terrific setting, For Greater Glory never makes the struggle feel like more exciting than an encyclopedia entry.

 

 

For one thing, there isn’t a clear set of central characters. Andy Garcia as retired General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde is the top-billed star, but doesn’t stroll onscreen until several minutes have passed. It’s hard to focus in on the story because Wright and screenwriter Michael Love don’t seem to know who their main characters are. Peter O’Toole plays a foreign born priest whose time in the film is so brief, it’s easy to wonder why he was cast at all. The same goes for Eva Longoria as the general’s wife. Blink, and she’s back to Wisteria Lane.

 

The general ends up joining the resistance along with a gun-toting priest (Santiago Cabrera), a rebel named “El Catorce” (Oscar Isaac) and a woman (Catalina Sandino Moreno) who uses her charity work to sneak ammo to the rebels. The interactions between these folks is fleeting and not all that intriguing. At two and a half hours, it gets a little dull waiting for another shoot out in the name of the Lord.

 

Part of the problem is that most of the characters are painfully one note. As Calles, all Rubén Blades is called on to do is simply look grumpy. If the script could have at least let us understand his hatred of the Church, it would have made the film more than a superficial tale. There’s little suspense of a character is simply good or evil. It’s an easy bet that he’s going to behave like an ogre, so there’s no point in guessing the outcome.

 

The general, however, is a potentially fascinating character because he’s an agnostic who is apparently fighting because he wants to return to his life as a soldier and because he values the freedom of others. The script only deals with a potentially complicated character in a cursory manner, so we never really get to know him. Garcia is too accomplished a performer to be stuck with such an underdeveloped role.

 

In order for For Greater Glory to be successful, viewers have to want to ride with the Cristeros (or soldiers of Christ) into battle or to think long and hard over what sacrifices are necessary for faith. Neither the brain or the heart gets much of a workout here. No film about war should feel like an extended siesta. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted on 06/01/12)

 

Haiku

For Greater Glory

 

The Cristeros did

not fight a terrible war

to make viewers sleep.

 


 






 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.
Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Brandon Whitehead can be contacted at kinginyellow@juno.com


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