Here's one of my favorite jokes of all time. There's no punchline, it's just a sentence. "I've been rich and miserable, and I've been poor and miserable. And I'll tell ya: rich is better."
I don't know if this is what director Neill Blomkamp had in mind as the ultimate message of 'Elysium,' his visually stunning follow-up to 'District 9,' but beneath the dazzling spectacle, there isn't much else beyond that aphorism to cling to.
I loved 'Rango,' the last time Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski offered up a madcap spin on the Western. I basically enjoyed 'John Carter,' last year's Western-infused would-be space epic, which, not coincidentally, was the last time Walt Disney stock holders had to reach for a shaker of Tums.
However, 'The Lone Ranger,' this new spazzed-out Western from Depp, Verbinski and Disney, takes unusual and unlikely measures to ensure that audiences have a miserable time. There are momentary flashes of amusement, but it is jumbled, tone-deaf and uninteresting. If I wanted to be kind I'd call it dull and ephemeral, but there are long stretches that seem to strive to be annoying - almost anti-entertainment. The only thing 'The Lone Ranger' has going for it is a long life as to go-to description how not to make a blockbusters movie - this generation's 'Last Action Hero.'
I am not a monster. I want to be very clear and upfront about this. Yes, those little squibbling yellow marshmallows called “minions” in 'Despicable Me' and 'Despicable Me 2' are adorable. I don't care how much of a tough guy you think you are, when these little buggers are vrooming about the screen and warbling and wobbling and making exaggerated facial expressions; it is biologically impossible for a human being not to smile. They're wonderful and the design team that creates them (and the scientists who code the array of imaging rendering computers) should all continue to take a bow. With this qualifier out of the way, allow me to warn anyone over the age of 10 or 11 that 'Despicable Me 2' stinks.
That's what 'Arrested Development' star Tony Hale shouts from the back of Melissa McCarthy's broken down jalopy of a police car as she goes through the motions of an uninteresting chase sequence.
"Hoo boy," I mutter. "We're in for another 'Identity Thief' here" - a movie where physical comedy and riff-heavy music cues will have to suffice instead of any real wit. But something happens about 10 minutes into 'The Heat,' the latest comedy from 'Bridesmaids' director Paul Feig. McCarthy's Detective Mullins loudly and brashly bursts into a room and meets Sandra Bullock's Special Agent Ashburn.
The chemical reaction is instantaneous. McCarthy and Bullock, both naturally funny people, feed off one another and crackle as one of the best comedy pairings since John Cleese and Michael Palin. 'The Heat' is a decent movie; McCarthy and Bullock are outstanding.
The title is 'World War Z,' but I can think up two other letters: "O" and "K."
'World War Z' is okay because it zips along with the fury of a computer-generated cascade of fast zombies. 'World War Z' is okay because Brad Pitt is a great leading man, even if his character has no depth. 'World War Z' is okay because there is always a fatalistic draw to see our social order tumble and great cities reduced to cinders.
It is also, unfortunately, merely okay because there's nothing in this movie you haven't seen before.
Seventeen summers ago, Will Smith gave us the catch phrase "welcome to Earth" and then punched an alien in the face. This time he's the invading alien (kinda) and his new line "this is Earth" is much more doom and gloom than swagger. An international icon, father and potentially the next great crazy celebrity, Will Smith is finally ready to pass the baton to his son Jaden.
But it isn't a baton he's using in 'After Earth' (an original sci-fi film based on a story of Smith's own creation) but a C-40 Cutlass – a doohickey kinda like Darth Maul's lightsaber, which springs out different blades depending on what you need. Actually, we never quite know how the Cutlass in 'After Earth' works, but it is one of a number of really nifty gizmos that populates the half-baked mythos of this film.
With 'Star Trek Into Darkness,' Abrams' follow up to the 2009 'Star Trek' reboot (or continuation of the series, if you are Spock Prime) he has solidified his position as a master of propulsive, visceral filmmaking. Dude knows where to put the camera, when the music should swell, when the characters should zing each another or when they should project pathos to the cheap seats. The 'Star Wars' films are mostly gut and little brains and, unfortunately, that is what we have here. The movie still works as an exemplary thrill ride – I laughed, I cried, I cheered – but woe be to anyone who gets caught in a conversation afterwards trying to explain the overly complicated and, at times, silly plot. If you expect something a little sharper out of 'Star Trek' you may come away with some mixed emotions.
My disdain of the 'Scary Movie' franchise came early. I distinctly recall seeing the 'Scary Movie 2' poster, which featured Kathleen Robertson wearing a t-shirt that says "I See Dead People." This isn't a joke. It's just a reference. It isn't clever, it isn't witty - it's just saying a thing from another movie. It's not funny.
Almost 10 years later, 'Scary Movie 5' still suffers from this debilitating problem. There is absolutely nothing funny about going 'Inception'-style into Christian Grey's S&M room and having Mike Tyson show up. Yet, if you are somehow able to ignore the lowest common denominator pop culture appearances (I hesitate to even call them jokes) there are a great number of truly amusing gags and examples of rapid fire dialogue zings. Put bluntly: when the film is freed from the shackles of its referencing mandate, there's some good, dopey humor in here. Much to my surprise, I laughed out loud a good half-dozen times.
You can buy replicas of Richard Attenborough's amber-tipped cane or you can listen to ten minute loops of Jeff Goldblum's oddball laugh but there's something you haven't been able to do in twenty years: hear the roar of a T. rex fighting two Velociraptors from thunderous, surround sound of big cinema speakers. Something you've never been able to do is see it in 3D or in IMAX. Until now. And you don't want to miss it.
There are probably more works of fiction about the Weather Underground than there were ever members.
Okay, that's a hyperbolic statement, but when you get in the mindset of the radical left of the 1960s and 1970s you tend to get a little grand in your rhetoric. The Weather Underground, if you don't know, was the anti-Vietnam youth movement so sickened by the US's foreign policy that they felt they had to “bring the war home” with acts of domestic terrorism. In real life, they called ahead to warn of bombs in government buildings – and the only blood they shed was their own during an explosives accident in a Greenwich Village apartment – but for the movies, even one by a bonafide liberal like Robert Redford, it is easy to paint them as people who let their ideals take them too far.
I stand before you, humbled, and tasked with explaining, in comprehensible terms, just what the heck 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' is all about. Attaining comprehensibility, however, is a chore the filmmakers didn't wrestle with, doubling-down on pure adrenaline and big movie star charisma. It's a risky move and sometimes it works. Sadly, this is not one of those cases.
While there are chuckles to be had (I mean, that Cobra Commander helmet is just too incredible to dismiss) there isn't enough whiz-bang in this film to fully deflect the utter lack of a story or absence of intriguing characters. It is, surprisingly, the lesser of the two 'G.I. Joe' films, with Stephen Sommers' 2009 'The Rise of Cobra' featuring much more team spirit, pep and fun.
Cartesian Dualism lights up the screen in 'The Host' as Saoirse Ronan's alien-possessed soul loudly thinks, "don't you smile at him! Uch! You are not goin' there!" Then she leans to smooch #TeamIan. And who said there was nothing deep happening in mainstream cinema?
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