Archive for June, 2011

Generic ‘Green Lantern’ lacks punch and power

Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Ryan Reynolds in "Green Lantern" Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) answers the call to defend the Earth from evil in the comic book-based superhero adventure “Green Lantern.”

I wasn’t much of a Green Lantern fan back in the ’60s when I read a lot of comic books, both from the DC and Marvel brands.

How powerful can a superhero be if he can be crippled by the color yellow? I mean, a box of crayons might kill him.

DC’s Green Lantern, aka Hal Jordan, struck me as a generic, second-tier superhero, the guy I’d read about only after I’d pored over the adventures of Superman, Batman, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.

I had high hopes when 007 director Martin “Casino Royale” Campbell directed “Green Lantern” starring a ripped Ryan Reynolds as test pilot Hal Jordan, chosen by a mystical ring to protect the universe from evil.

Campbell’s “Green Lantern” packs in plenty of cool CGI-effects, brutal fights (a hypodermic needle in the face!), spectacular explosions, and a classic clash between good and evil. (The yellow weakness device, thankfully, no longer applies.)

But this is no “Casino Royale.”

Like Hal Jordan, “Green Lantern” comes off as a generic, second-tier superhero movie that brings nothing new to the genre.

The opening of “Green Lantern” feels like rewarmed “Top Gun” with its supersonic jet fighters zipping through their maneuvers, with another maverick rebel pilot. (Read more…)

Witless ‘Penguins’ for the birds

Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Jim Carrey in "Mr. Popper's Penguins" Tom Popper (Jim Carrey) leads six birds in a dance number during the unappealingly preposterous “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.”

The alleged family comedy “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” lacks wit, cleverness, convincing characters, a serviceable plot, worthy messages about parenting and real fun.

It’s the kind of bleak, soul-deprived comedy that even Dean Jones would refuse to do, and we’re talking about the survivor of some of Walt Disney’s shallowest and most mechanical family movies.

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” wallows in abject dumbness. It showers us with stupidity.

Take a scene near the end when Tom Popper, played by erstwhile funnyman Jim Carrey, rushes into a restaurant to stop it from being sold. He bursts into the room, inexplicably pretending to move in slow motion.

“St-oooooop … th-uuuuh … saaaayle!” he shouts, slowly.

Then, Popper apologizes to everyone for his slow motion act, explaining, “I needed to get your attention!”

It would have been unfunny enough if Carrey had performed this stale and moldy slo-mo bit and gone on with the scene. But to apologize and explain why he did it?

This movie lacks the courage of its nonexistent convictions.

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” concerns another archetypal Hollywood businessman who has made a fortune, but at the cost of his family. (Read more…)

This ‘Company’ better suited to stage

Thursday, June 16th, 2011
Martha Plimpton, Stephen Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris in "Company" Martha Plimpton, Stephen Colbert and Neil Patrick Harris sing away in a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical “Company,” in movie theaters on four nights only.

What makes for good live theater doesn’t always make for a good movie, and the proof lies in the New York Philharmonic’s all-star revival of “Company,” Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical tribute to the ambivalence of the matrimonial state, opening at select movie theaters today.

“Company” was recorded in April at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in New York.

Its cast features popular TV stars such as Jon Cryer (“Two and a Half Men”), Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) and Stephen Colbert (“The Colbert Report”) aligned with Broadway powerhouse diva Patti “Evita” LuPone.

Led by the talented and personable Tony Awards host (and Xfinity TV pitch man) Neil Patrick Harris, the TV transplants acquit themselves nicely in voice, movement and comic timing.

Their primary challenge isn’t the lyrics, music and stripped-down sets, but the orchestra.

Oh, the musicians are fine. But they’re on the stage. Right behind the actors.

If you’re in Row 2 at the theater — OK, Row 40 — this would not be a distraction. Your suspension of disbelief is extremely willing.

But in the more literal medium of movies, seeing a musician sitting right behind the performers and looking bored out of his mind is a monumental distraction. (Read more…)

100 Ways To Get a Bad Review (41-50)

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

When you think about it, a lot of places can tell filmmakers how to make movies: Columbia College. UCLA. USC. NYU.

  • But how many of them can tell filmmakers ways to avoid bad reviews of their movies?
  • I can.
  • I offer 100 ways to warn filmmakers – beginners and veterans – on how they can avoid making simple errors that can cost them major critical points when their pictures go to market.
  • Let’s face the ugly truth. Creative inbreeding in Hollywood has reached “Deliverance” proportions. I defy anyone to sit through three movies — any three of any genre – and not notice the same rusty lines of dialogue, the same arthritic visual devices, even the same lame props and set-ups.
  • Except for a handful of filmmakers who actually think outside of the Cliché Box (Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Jonathan Demme lead the very short list), many Hollywood storytellers seem content to let their movies become narrative viruses that simply replicate themselves as quickly as possible, with different casts, of course.

So, here come the next 10 of the 100 lamest, most unimaginative ways filmmakers can dare critics to dis their works. As for those filmmakers who continue to use the following elements of creative stagnation, I can only say on behalf of film critics everywhere, “Thank you. You’ve made our day.”

Read my 100 Ways To Get A Bad Review Page.

Spielberg’s fingerprints all over Abrams’ ‘Super 8’

Sunday, June 12th, 2011
Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths in "Super 8" Martin (Gabriel Basso), left, Cary (Ryan Lee), Joe (Joel Courtney) and Charles (Riley Griffiths) witness a terrible train derailment in “Super 8.”

The kids in J.J. Abrams’ science-fiction thriller “Super 8” are so personable, so funny, so transparent and so real that it feels like a distraction when a hokey, angry extraterrestrial drops in on them to create some spectacular mayhem.

“Super 8” is a mess, but an endearing, nostalgic mess that replicates vintage Steven Spielberg from the late 1970s.

If you’ve never seen Spielberg’s 1977 alien opus “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror show “Alien,” or Richard Donner’s 1985 kids’ adventure “The Goonies,” you’re in luck.

“Super 8” combines all three of them, plus tips its celluloid hat to Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 mystery “Blow Up” in which a photographer inadvertently snaps a nefarious act.

Abrams, who directed 2009’s savvy “Star Trek” reboot, hasn’t achieved the stature of a Spielberg or a Scott. Not yet.

“Super 8” is at best a diminished duplicate of its obvious inspirations.

It emulates Spielberg’s style (awe-struck children’s faces, shadowy military figures, dramatically sweeping camera movements) so well that Abrams has little chance to put his own stamp on the work, just as Tobe Hooper’s “Poltergeist” looked like a Spielbergian clone.

“Super 8” takes place in 1979, set in the Ohio town of Lillian, a rusty, blue-collar version of Spielberg’s clean-cut, middle-class suburbia. (No coincidence, Spielberg served as executive producer here.) (Read more…)

‘X-Men’ prequel a first-class affair

Sunday, June 12th, 2011
Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy in "X-Men: First Class" Erik (Michael Fassbender), left, and Charles (James McAvoy) prepare to prevent World War III by using telekinetic powers in “X-Men: First Class.”

Matthew Vaughn’s marvelously inventive “X-Men: First Class” wraps a classic comic book superhero origin tale around the Cuban missile crisis, then creates a coming-of-age teen angst drama that poses pertinent philosophical questions:

What does it really mean to be “different” and “accepted”?

Should X-ceptional people use their super powers to benefit themselves? Or serve humankind?

If “First Class” possesses a major flaw, it would be its ambitious density. It stuffs too many good ideas and too many interesting characters into too little time to be readily absorbed and appreciated, at least on a single viewing.

If you’re new to the Marvel comics universe, don’t worry.

You don’t need to be an “X-Men” fan who’s read all the Marvel comic books to enjoy “First Class.” Even seeing the earlier X-Men movies is not a prerequisite.

However, you will miss most of the smart, sly subtext and allusions pitched to “X-Men” fans, especially a throwaway bar scene in which a drunk Hugh Jackman (aka: the future Wolverine) tells a couple of guys off.

Those guys work with Professor X (James McAvoy), and they’re trying to locate as many American mutants as they can to stop the start of World War III.

But let’s not get ahead of the story. (Read more…)

Well-constructed ‘Yellowbrickroad’ leads to confounding finale

Sunday, June 12th, 2011
Image from "Yellowbrickroad" A group of investigators follows a path where an entire New Hampshire village disappeared in 1940 in the psychological horror film “Yellowbrickroad.”

We’re only two films into AMC Theaters’ exclusive summer horror movie series “Bloody Disgusting Selects,” and I must admit, I’m impressed.

Between last month’s Armageddon plague drama “Rammbock” and this month’s psychological brain twister “Yellowbrickroad,” the series has avoided the expected slate of mindless splatter films in favor of solid genre offerings.

Bloody violence does appear, but it comes in unexpected moments where the suggestion of what’s happening packs more shock value than lingering shots of graphic carnage.

“Yellowbrickroad” was directed by Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland, reportedly as a throwback to the character-driven horror films of the 1970s.

In 1940, the citizens of a tiny New Hampshire hamlet called Friar all decide to go on a walk into the woods. Most of them never return.

To find out what happened — and to have something to write a book about — Teddy Barnes (Michael Laurino) assembles a team of investigators to retrace the steps of the ill-fated villagers.

Local residents of Friar refuse to give Barnes any information. They won’t even steer him to the beginning of the mysterious trail taken by the missing townspeople. Barnes figures the trail starts where the local Rialto movie theater sits. How can that be?

Finally, a movie usher agrees to take the investigators to the start — marked as “yellowbrickroad” — if they agree to take her along. (Read more…)

‘Midnight in Paris’ a true delight

Sunday, June 12th, 2011
Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in "Midnight in Paris" Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancee (Rachel McAdams) have their destinies reshaped by a fantastic journey into the past in Woody Allen’s whimsical comedy “Midnight in Paris.”

Woody Allen’s whimsical fantasy “Midnight in Paris” becomes a stylish lamentation on how human nature deprives us of fully living our lives in the best period of history we’ll ever know: the present.

This cautionary movie argues that nostalgia can be a powerful force, and if we allow ourselves to romanticize the past unchecked, we run the risk of missing the specialness of being in our Now.

Allen fans should be delighted, for this cinematic confection celebrates a return to classic Woody, a work of imagination and mirth reminiscent of his “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”

“Midnight in Paris” revisits many of Allen’s familiar touchstones — a neurotic writer protagonist, a disdain for intellectual poseurs, contempt for right-wingers, a bent romantic triangle, glib and witty banter — yet, this enchanting movie feels fresh and fun, as if Allen turned back the clock from before his fascination with London locales and felt comically inspired once again.

The story boasts the unlikeliest star to ever be cast as Allen’s narrative surrogate: Owen Wilson, whose film persona has been closer to shallow stoners than hand-wringing, introspective intellectuals.

Here, Wilson’s a perfect fit.

He plays Gil, a hack Hollywood script writer who harbors dreams of becoming a respected novelist.

He has arrived in Paris with his attractive, driven fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her affluent, staunchly Republican parents. (Read more…)