The bottom line on “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” is this: if you found any morsel of entertainment value out of 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” then “Wolverine” will be painless to digest. If you found “Last Stand” to be a drooling cinematic rape of a near-brilliant franchise, “Wolverine” is going to feel like further salt in the wound. While I recognize the multiple fandom violations of “Last Stand,” I found it to be a lively thrill ride with an abundance of mutant vs. mutant action to sufficiently numb the brain. “Wolverine” is less triumphant as multiplex junk food, but still retains a satisfying lunacy and even more mutant monkey business to relish.
“Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” is a Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy that would be better off without Matthew McConaughey. It’s come to a point in this performer’s career where his inability to alter his natural spray-tanned ooze has rendered his acting tiresome and ineffective. Combine that with a desperately unimaginative screenplay, and “Ghosts” is a flavorless feature that’s easily and welcomingly stolen by the vibrant supporting cast.
The easy sell for “Battle of Terra” is to compare the film to “Wall-E,” blended with a heaping teaspoon of the “Star Wars” prequels. This latest go-around with an independent CG-animated epic certainly holds lofty sci-fi aspirations, but it’s executed with unexpected grace and patience that lends the thematic objective a genuine weight. “Battle for Terra” isn’t blessed with the most luxurious animated resources around, but it’s a mature, active piece of storytelling and a nice surprise in the cluttered family film multiplex sweepstakes.
With two direct and developed lead performances from Michael Caine and young Bill Milner, it seems unfair to watch their efforts wasted on an uneven, unsatisfying picture like the tear-jerker “Is Anybody There?” It’s a simple case of acting trumping splintered storytelling, with most, if not all scraps of character vulnerability and empathy emerging from the measured talents of the actors, not the interminable, shapeless motion picture.
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Traditionally, I’m not a pie guy. I’ll walk over a blazing pile of jagged coals barefoot to get to cake, but pie is a meal capper that’s certainly worthy of appreciation, but rarely desired beyond a slight this-is-dessert-so-live-with-it interest. The Great American Pie Festival shimmies over to Celebration, Florida every year to champion the boldest architects of the sweet treat, turning a lakeside corner of the small Rockwellian town into a makeshift street fair with shopping, games, and pie gorging available for all. It’s a chance for pie to stand up and show the masses it can walk the walk and talk the talk just as proudly as those sycophantic goofballs cake and cookies. Today, pie is at last king.
After two failed shots to nab Oscar gold with “Dreamgirls” and last year’s underwhelming “Cadillac Records,” Beyonce Knowles is ready to get her hands dirty. Summoning the spirits of the dearly departed blaxploitation genre, Knowles has selected “Obsessed” as her initial step to becoming more than just a rabid prestige hunter and ideal object of stunt casting agents. This is the lauded singer’s first starring vehicle, and she’s chosen wisely. What better way to show some imposing box office muscle than to headline a trashy, empty calorie thriller that plays with racial bugaboos and DTV slasher conventions for a cheap, conversation-with-the-screen response. Oh my, this picture is junk food, but worse, it’s an absolute toothless bore.
“The Soloist” strikes me as a very special film handicapped by unfortunate marketing. Dreamworks seems unfairly bound to promote the feature as a feel-good snapshot of redemption, spotlighting the road-tested appeal of the privileged white man taking a handicapped black soul under his wing, guiding him to unimaginable greatness. “The Soloist” is not that film. Under no circumstances is this picture a perverse “Radio 2.” Put the marketing aside, block the promotion out, and absorb this feature for what it truly is: a masterful observation of genius trapped inside unimaginable distress. The studio would like to sell a candied inspirational story, but director Joe Wright avoids the sugared path at all turns, producing a stunning, transcendent celluloid event that fuses the tranquility of classical music with the unyielding frailty of humanity.
Love him or hate him, Mike Tyson is a frighteningly magnetic figure of intense debate. He’s been a hero and a scoundrel, a champion and a convicted felon, yet he’s managed to stay in the public eye as one of our more iconic sporting figures since he was a disillusioned teenager taking the boxing world by storm. I wouldn’t consider “Tyson” to be a carefully drawn documentary as much as it is a lung-heavy conversation with the superman as he nervously sums up his highs and lows, with director James Toback hoping to provide a lucid explanation of the lifelong inhospitable behavior and unhealthy motivation somewhere along the way.
A few years back, writer/director Dito Montiel crafted “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.” It was a flawed but beautifully impassioned picture that isolated a feisty independent film spirit, embroidered with improvisational acting and Montiel’s commitment to emotional authenticity. “Saints” came from the heart. “Fighting” is the more studio-minded follow-up, which also attempts to deploy Montiel’s gritty sense of emotional honesty, only this time it’s in service of a brain-dead motion picture that blends the filmmaker’s aesthetic interests with an insultingly formulaic screenplay, and it’s all frosted with overwrought performances that should’ve been tightly leashed from the get-go.
Author Bret Easton Ellis made a name for himself broadcasting the lurid ‘80’s hobbies of the rich, affected, and occasionally homicidal in books such as “Less Than Zero” and “American Psycho.” “The Informers” was Ellis’s 1994 wandering ode to the hollow core of the decade, favoring extensive depictions of soulless characters trying to maintain a sense of perspective while juggling immorality, often mistaken for true purpose. It should come as little surprise to read that the feature film adaptation of “Informers” doesn’t quite know how to sneak up on such unrelenting misery and dry satiric stabs.
I’m somewhat torn over the Disneynature release, “Earth.” One side of me thinks a chance to sit down with Mother Nature and observe the majestic movement of life on our planet is a wonderful event, especially for younger audiences today feeling a little disconnected with their surroundings. The other side of me is miffed that “Earth” is a retooling and polishing of footage from the landmark, eye-popping BBC series, “Planet Earth.” Indeed, if you’ve seen the television program, you’ve already seen “Earth.” However, is the lure of a big screen viewing enough to swallow a second helping?
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It was my first voyage to the FX International Convention, an enormous event in Orlando that brings out considerable crowds to experience a sheer wall of merchandise, celebrity apathy, and a legion of hungry comic book artists clamoring for the almighty dollar. It’s a monetary free-for-all that bravely thumbs its nose at today’s economy, presenting a buffet of celluloid heroes and plastic, “Made in China” divinity that demands persistent cash machine attention.
Because in space, nobody accepts credit.
Me? I loathed 2006’s “Crank,” finding the orgy of violence, film school reject camerawork, and hyperactive editing obscenely obnoxious. I didn’t buy into the feature as pop art or as a supposed anti-establishment bonbon to savor with pierced-brow relish. Instead, I rejected its every move with increasing disgust. 2 ½ years later, and now there’s a sequel. A sequel! Yes, “Crank” turned a tiny profit and built a rabid cult following in the intervening years, and the faithful are being rewarded with another swirling round of brain-melting inanity, coated in tacky “style” and 8-bit sophistication. Yes, it’s supposed to be dreadful, but it turns out that “Crank: High Voltage” is genuinely insufferable.
Forget all about the age-reversing hocus-pocus that’s going on during “17 Again.” The real fantasy at play in this picture is the concept that Zac Efron is supposed to be the younger version of Matthew Perry. Sure. If you can hurdle that whopper, “17 Again” is a generously spirited comedy that’s more victorious as a debutant ball for Efron’s big screen career than a true gut-buster. The picture charms easily and makes a decent pass at a heart. Considering the director and the iffy premise, I think the idea of “17 Again” being anything other than migraine-inducing is worth a few minutes of applause and smiley reflection.
Adapted from the six-hour-long 2003 BBC miniseries, “State of Play” manages to compact meaty portions of intrigue and thrills into two snappy hours. A study of political power plays, calamitous sexual impulses, and the twilight of newspaper journalism, “State of Play” is riveting, sublimely acted, and sincerely intelligent...at times.
“Mutant Chronicles” is best described as an ultraviolent sci-fi actioner crossed with steampunk sensibilities and flecked with religious overtones. Confused? Well, so is director Simon Hunter, who gives the visual scheme of the picture everything he’s got, crafting a handsome gorefest only to be undermined by budget constraints and a laughably crude screenplay the actors seemed embarrassed to recite. “Chronicles” is ambitious, and that counts for something, but bites off more than it can chew, leaving the finished product loaded with arresting sequences in search of more mature writing.