Dark Shadows (2012) - Directed by Tim Burton - Rating: 3/5
Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows has some nice homages to early Avant-garde cinema and horror films like Nosferatu. However, that’s not enough to save the film from falling flat with a meaningless story and uninteresting characters.
The Avengers (2012) - Directed by Joss Whedon - Rating: 4/5
The long awaited “Avengers” movie has finally been released in the US, and it broke the 200 million dollar mark opening weekend (becoming the first movie to do so). A lot has been said about it already, mostly great things. The Avengers is definitely a good movie, that does what many thought to be impossible, creating a coherent story that involves so many heroes and personalities. Joss Whedon who directed the film, did a great job giving each superhero their own moment to shine during the movie, also managing to sprinkle in some humor. However, with all the great response that the Avengers has gotten, I’ve noticed somewhat of an overreaction to it as well. I read some comments of people saying the Avengers is the “greatest superhero movie ever”. Which is odd to say since it may not even be the best Marvel superhero movie ever, the original Spider-Man is still pretty damn good. After seeing all the recent Marvel movies that led up to the Avengers, in terms of quality, they all seem to be around the same. The Avengers suffers from a pretty long run time, and a lot of cliché moments. Without spoiling too much, the Agent Coulson storyline was ridiculous and quite literally manipulative to the Avengers and to the audience. How many times have we seen that happen in a movie before, especially a superhero/action movie? The third act was something right out of a Michael Bay movie, just a ton of inconsequential CGI destruction and explosions to buildings. I never got the sense the stakes meant anything, or that the Avengers were actually fighting in a real environment. Again, I really liked the movie, I’m just nitpicking at the negatives. I give Whedon a lot of credit for creating perhaps the most difficult of the Marvel movie to make with all the different elements. The performances were pretty good as well, Robert Downey Jr. owns Iron Man so well. Tom Hiddleston as Loki was great, definitely one of the better villains from the Marvel universe. I would highly recommend this movie, if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it by this point.
The Cabin In The Woods (2012) - Directed By Drew Goddard- Rating: 4/5
Hard to believe this movie was shot all the way back in 2009, and has been sitting on the shelf until it’s release last week. Distribution disputes with MGM over the last few years finally led the rights being sold to Lions Gate. But now it’s here, and I think it’s definitely worth the wait. “The Cabin In The Woods” is really better for the audience to not know too much about its premise going in. The creators did such a great job of playing on the classic horror film tropes, but also adding a few new twists. I was surprised to see how much of this movie really isn’t so much of a horror film, but really an examination of the genre itself. It touches on the elements of why we as the audience want to see such blood and gore in the first place, universally across all cultures and customs. Quite literally almost every imaginable monster, and evil creature we’ve ever dreamt of comes to life in this movie. The main characters are really well written with funny and likable attributes (with maybe the exception of the stoner character, but I eventually warmed up to him). What I liked a lot about Cabin In The Woods was its ability to bring the audience along to explore the elements of horror films, but it stopped short of being too self aware like Scream or even becoming literal spoof of the genre. What makes this movie so good is the third act, when unexpectedly all hell breaks loose. Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon probably could have used a higher budget to really make the CGI creatures stand out, but overall it’s very well written and well crafted.
American Reunion (2012) - Directed By Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg- Rating: 2/5
“American Reunion” reunites the class of ‘99 and the old high school crew, Jim, Oz, Kevin, Stifler, and Finch. Although funny at times, the premise has become tired over the years, now on it’s fourth installment (if you’re not counting the numerous straight to DVD films). Sure Stifler is a funny character that still has great moments, but it’s not enough to keep this movie afloat. The idea of having a “13 year reunion” makes no sense what so ever, which just translates this into probably being nothing more than a desperate cash grab from the cast and crew. The movie seemed to be too concerned with putting the characters in ridiculous situations then actually spending time to create even a little emotional depth or sympathy. Jim having to fight of the sexual advancements of a high schooler, Oz as a “famous” sportscaster who was on a dancing show, and Jim’s dad getting drunk while trying to hit on Stifler’s mom, are just a few of the crazy storylines. There were some pretty good cameos, and a few key observations of how culture has changed since the late 90s. However, what could have been a great comedy that also reflected on what “post-high school” life means to the now the early 30 somethings, was completely missed. I feel like the 1990’s are an underappreciated decade that could use a great movie that evokes real nostalgia. I will say though, if you’re a fan of the series and you enjoy spending time with Jim and company, then American Reunion may not completely disappoint.
Wrath Of The Titans (2012) - Directed By Jonathan Liebesman - Rating: 2/5
I haven’t seen the first installment of the series, “Clash Of The Titans” (after hearing how bad it was, I tried to avoid it). However, now that the sequel is out, and it was reviewed as being better than the first (at least the 3D effects anyway) I decided to check it out. From the start it really doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the first one or not. The characters are consistently reminding the audience that Perseus is the great Kraken slayer. Early on there is also a little backstory given about Perseus through “casual” conversation about his wife, and child, so you’re caught up on all the important things that have happened. As an action film it’s not bad, and it doesn’t take long for things to begin exploding and for people to run for their lives. The movie could have spent a lot more time developing the cookie cutter characters into something more relatable. There are a lot of relationships that we are supposed to care about, Perseus and his son, Perseus and Zeus, Perseus and the Queen, just to name a few, but not enough time was given to develop each relationship to make the final outcome of the film matter. None of which is more painful to sit through then the relationship between Hades and Zeus. Essentially, Hades was sent by Zeus to look after the underworld and you get the sense that Hades has a lot of pent of resentment about that. Amazingly, all it takes to turn Hades frown upside down is basically one sentence from Zeus to make him forget all about the last thousand years or so he’s been in the underworld. The CGI effects are pretty good as the movie heavily relies on it’s big, over the top action sequences. The movie keeps upping the ante every time there’s an action scene, until the very end where there’s basically a cluster fuck of CGI fireballs and explosions in your face. Again, it would be cool to see all that if it meant something to the audience in wanting to see the main characters succeed. You could have all the money in the world to buy the best computer generated images of monsters and aliens, but if you don’t have a solid story behind it, the end result isn’t going to be very good.
After seeing the advertisements for this film, I was pretty turned off from seeing this movie. The reviews however, we’re much better than I expected them to be. So I decided to check it out anyway and see if it was as good as others had been saying. One thing I liked right away was that “Mirror Mirror” is an extreme fantasy interpretation of Snow White, which immediately sets it apart from the Disney version. It also sets the stage for us as the audience to be prepared for a light hearted, fun, entertaining movie. Many of the elaborate costumes, sets, and designs filled each scene up with a lot to take in. I’m pretty sure this movie is already a lock for an Oscar nomination for costume design. The writing was well done, with great one liners and humorous moments sprinkled throughout. The problems that arose with Mirror Mirror were that even at just over an hour and a half it still felt long. The pacing seemed to be pretty uneven, and there are a lot of interesting characters that could have used more screen time to liven things up. Nathan Lane was great as always, doing his usual supporting character roles. In fact most of the performances were pretty good, both Lily Collins and Julia Roberts were terrific. In the end though, I still felt uninterested in the final outcome. I can’t say I really enjoyed the movie, but it’s not something I’m usually a fan of in the first place. Maybe because I’m so familiar with the story of Snow White that it just felt like nothing new or that different. Even so, it’s still one of the better live action fairy tale films I’ve seen in recent years. It’s a good movie for kids, and if you’re a fan of fairy tales this is a decent one to watch.
The Hunger Games (2012) - Directed By Gary Ross - Rating: 4/5
As you probably know by now, “The Hunger Games” is an adaptation from a popular series of young adult books. The film focuses around a group of kids (selected at random from various districts) that are forced to battle each other in an ultimate death match, the winner getting the bragging rights for their district. The Hunger Game’s protagonist “Katniss” played by Jennifer Lawrence, is a sixteen year old kid who reluctantly volunteers herself in place of her younger sister. The movie felt like a throwback to the action/sci-fi movies of the 80’s. It had a lot of over-the-top costumes and sets that provided an otherworldliness, but there’s was also a grittiness to it (particularly in the forest scenes). Most of the performances were solid, I thought Lawrence did a great job. She essentially carried the movie, as the film’s second half includes scenes made up of almost entirely of her. Other supporting roles like Stanly Tucci’s television host, “Caesar Flickerman” were great as well. The drawbacks were mostly with the camera work. I’m not exactly sure why it was shot in almost entirely “shaky-cam”, but I would bet it had to do with the limited budget. The shaky-cam style has been used and abused in recent years, and rather than showing wide angle, open shots that let the audience take in the characters in their surroundings, the shaky-cam technique does exactly the opposite. It provides a very close, claustrophobic, almost chaotic look, that’s usually only used in action scenes. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it used in an entire film like this before, but it makes the camera moves very distracting and confusing to watch. However, I really did enjoy this movie, for a two and half hour film it was well paced with a lot of dramatic tension and didn’t feel that long. I’m interested to see what Lion’s Gate studios does for the appending sequels, because The Hunger Games budget was only $78 million dollars (which is pretty low for an action/sci-fi film). Conversely, Disney’s John Carter had a budget of $250 million. So I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more, and hopefully expanding The Hunger Games universe.
The Lorax (2012) - Directed By Chris Renaud, Kyle Balda - Rating: 1/5
Normally I would only rate a movie with a “1” if it’s truly awful, and has hardly anything redeeming about it. I was interested in seeing “The Lorax” because I’m a big fan of animated films and having not seen any of the other Dr. Seuss adaptations, I was genuinely curious how turn out. The movie pretty much fails at every level from the voice work to the overall direction. I guess I’ll start with the story, it becomes clear from the beginning that the filmmakers are stretching the story as far as they can because the original Dr. Seuss book is only 45 pages long. Even though the movie itself is only an hour and twenty minutes, it feels like an eternity watching it. There is a tremendous amount of meaningless filler, and very little actual story. So much so that you could show up literally to the last twenty minutes of the film and understand everything that’s happening. There’s also the lack of a central character, basically the movie spends too much time in a flashback with Ed Helms’ character “The Once-ler” that we forget completely about the movie’s supposed real protagonist “Ted” played by Zac Efron. Which brings me to my next point, Zac Efron was a poor choice to voice Ted, he literally sounds like a thirty year old man and it was quite disturbing hearing such a mature voice coming out of a kid’s animated body. The Lorax’s one chance to redeem itself in its overall message about protecting trees, and the environment was muddled by its condescending nature. Many times children are aware when there’s a really obvious moral lesson being shoved down their throats, which I would think does very little to influence them. The Lorax relies on too many cheap gags for laughs, instead of creating characters with depth that can be convincingly funny. I would suggest staying away from this movie if you can, even if you have children there are far better movies you could watch with them.
21 Jump Street (2012) - Directed by Phil Lord, Chris Miller - Rating: 5/5
After viewing the trailer for the first time, it seemed like “21 Jump Street” had the potential to be a very funny and entertaining movie. Of course trailers have been known to stretch the truth at times, but in this case the movie delivered on almost every level. Jump Street is mainly about two clueless rookie cops that are forced to join an undercover task force that infiltrates local high schools and colleges. First I’ll start with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, their characters are so well developed as caricatures of the “Jock” and “Nerd” stereotypes that we feel like we know these guys even before they say a word to each other. That’s really what this movie does best as a comedy, it takes all too well known high school stereotypes that are perpetuated through other movies and television series, and completely flips it on it’s head. Suddenly the Jock, doesn’t fit in with the cool kids anymore and is forced to hang out with the nerds, and vice versa with the Jonah Hill’s nerd character finally being accepted as one of the cool kids. Getting to see high school through their unique perspectives provided a lot of hilarious moments such as Tatum struggling through chemistry class, and Hill trying to compete in track and field. This may be the best performance I’ve seen from Tatum, as his comedic timing and instincts are surprising superb. The supporting characters are great as well, Rob Riggle and Ellie Kemper are great in their respective roles as the gym and chemistry teachers. Some of the drawbacks of the film are the underdeveloped sub plots of the high school drug trade, and had we’d seen a little more backstory, it would have made for even more dramatic resolution in the end. Ultimately, 21 Jump Street’s best quality is its self awareness, with it’s ridiculous plot, and spoofing of many great cop action films.
Friends With Kids (2012) - Directed by Jennifer Westfeldt - Rating: 4/5
I was apprehensive about the premise of this movie at first, essentially it’s about two seemingly platonic friends who decide to have a kid together because they want children but not all the headaches that come with a relationship. I wondered how the movie would deal with the obvious objections of others in terms of how the child would benefit from this situation. I should mention that this movie is a romantic comedy and isn’t meant to be taken too seriously, but given the nature of the story I can imagine it still turning people off. I will say though the movie is actually pretty good. It definitely has it’s funny moments, as well as emotional ones. At times those moments can seem really forced, as if the movie is trying too hard to get the audience to buy into the fact that the main characters really care about one another. It’s pretty obvious by the natural chemistry the actors, Adam Scott and Jennifer Westfeldt (who also wrote and directed the film) have together that the characters they’re playing will eventually end up together. However, those forced moments seem few and far in between to be really considered a negative. One thing I didn’t understand was why was Kristin Wiig was in this movie? She’s a very talented, funny person who was way underused in Friends With Kids. She has only a few onscreen moments, and when was onscreen she was almost always in a serious and somber mood. Not that Kristen Wiig can’t or shouldn’t do serious roles, but this is a comedy after all, and when you have probably the funniest person in the cast not being funny… it’s a little odd. The film raises some interesting points about friendships and relationships, and how as long as two people love each other there’s no reason that they couldn’t raise a child together, whether gay or straight, married or not married. As a romantic comedy it succeeds in getting the audience to want the two leads to end up together, through thick and thin they’ll be together because of their love for each other.