The summer season is here, and greeting the mob of sweaty tourists at the Islands of Adventure is a small village of rapidly constructed buildings ready to be Potterized.
I hold severe reservations with “The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3,” and it’s not tied to the fact that this story has now been dragged in front of the cameras on three separate occasions. No, my objection is reserved for director Tony Scott, who once again submerges the hope of thundering screen tension under a thick layer of meaningless cinematographic bells and whistles. Over the last fifteen years, Scott has sacrificed his mojo to pursue an eruption of visual noise and “Pelham,” with its promise of delectable conflict and gritty New York locales, is another wasted effort from the ineffectual filmmaker, who’s become one of the most disturbingly inept stylists working in Hollywood today.
Taking inspiration from screen giants “2001,” “Solaris,” and perhaps even “Outland” (if you squint hard enough) comes Duncan Jones’s “Moon,” a cerebral potion of killer science fiction that deftly toys with futuristic worry to construct a terrifically understated nightmare. Evocative, riveting, and ultimately contemporary in a roundabout way, “Moon” is a superb mood piece, sublimely cradled by Jones, filtered through tireless work from star Sam Rockwell.
“Imagine That” is a benevolent enough family dramedy, but it does a better job solidifying Eddie Murphy’s obsolescence as a big screen superstar. To watch Murphy drown his cracking comedic instincts in lousy kiddie comedies over the last 10 years has been a depressing experience, but “Imagine That” goes one step further and renders Murphy boring. A painfully exaggerated concept trapped inside an especially bland movie, “Imagine That” removes the desire to see Eddie Murphy act onscreen ever again. I’d rather not watch him at all than see the man continue to torch his once imposing legacy of cinematic achievements.
Food. What was once an abundant, cherished source of nutrition and spirit has been turned into a cold, destructive big business by those looking to profit wildly by exploiting a necessity. The ambitious documentary “Food, Inc.” seeks to cover the wide range of food ills and agrarian perversions, hopeful to showcase a growing corporate movement that’s removed the purity of consumption to turn a fast buck, using abusive attitudes, fallible safety precautions, and unhealthy ingredients to keep the food flowing.
I’m just going to quietly regard the 2006 feature “School for Scoundrels” as a bad dream. While shooting itself in the foot with a cast of such world-renown, gut-bustin’ jesters like Billy Bob Thornton and Jon Heder, “Scoundrels” more importantly wasted the talents of director Todd Phillips in a major way, casting serious doubts on his developing abilities as an ace comedic filmmaker. “The Hangover” restores faith in Phillips and the vulgar passions of the R-rated comedy, assembling a smutty epic of irresponsibility that handles with a certain amount of routine, but still delivers huge on laughs and knowing cringes.
Running from 1974 to 1976, Sid and Marty Krofft’s “Land of the Lost” television series seized the imagination of a generation tickled to travel to far off dimensions, populated by the finest creatures a five-dollar production budget could buy. Far be it from me to pooh-pooh the ravenous nostalgia of others, but “Lost” was also borderline unwatchable; a glacially executed kids show that appeared more interested in locating creative ways to stall for 22 minutes than pursuing the more fantastical fringes of its own fantasia. Now comedy kingpin Will Ferrell steps up to the plate to reimagine “Lost” as a slickly budgeted, thrill-a-minute summer extravaganza, and while the film cheerfully dusts off Sleestaks, Chakas, and roaring dinosaurs to enchant the faithful, it seems the new film somehow lost access to an adequate script along the way.
When Nia Vardalos broke out of obscurity with 2002’s sleeper smash “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” it was cause for a celebration. Vardalos triumphantly beat the industry odds, manufacturing a legitimately lovely romantic comedy stewed in the juices of Greek culture, gradually surviving the weekly multiplex onslaughts to become a top-grossing phenomenon. The film even earned her an Oscar nomination for screenwriting. How’s that for a miracle? After the heat died down, Vardalos segued into the hospitable 2004 drag queen comedy “Connie and Carla.” It tanked. So, five years later, Vardalos has booked a return flight to Greece with “My Life in Ruins,” a film so agonizingly devoid of intelligence, inspiration, and surprise, it makes “Big Fat Greek Wedding” stand out as a now loathsome fluke.
Last winter, director Sam Mendes probed the ghoulish shades of marital woe with “Revolutionary Road,” a bracing, bitter pill of a drama that sternly underlined the fury of decayed commitment. “Away We Go,” debuting only a mere seven months after “Road,” takes a much kinder observational post. A story of a struggling relationship on the verge of solidifying through addition, “Away We Go” aims to humanize the universal fears of parenthood and commitment, using the structure of a road trip comedy to alleviate the suffocation that would normally squeeze tight a tale of domestic doubt. It’s Mendes attempting to lighten up his oeuvre, and the newly awakened tenderness suits him just fine.
“The Limits of Control” is an imposing spread of baffling puzzle pieces without any box art to employ as a guide to completion. The film demands attention on a marathon scale, yet rewards the intensive effort with copious amounts of abstraction and confusion, without ever inviting the viewer into this strange world of staring, contemplation, more staring, existentialism, and painfully elongated idiosyncrasy. Writer/director Jim Jarmusch has lumbered down this road of premeditated obscurity before, but never this ineffectively. “Control” is trying much too hard to play it perfectly cool.