I suppose when Gene Roddenberry dreamed up “Star Trek” in 1736 (I might have the date wrong, but it feels pretty long ago), he was hoping for a sweet ride of fingertip-rubbing merchandising potential. Toys, games, apparel. All the bases were covered by his popular space show.
In the high stakes Hollywood blockbuster poker game, Roland Emmerich is going all in with “2012.” A disaster movie to end all disaster movies, “2012” is an enormous moviegoing event guaranteed to make eyes bleed and ears burst with its sheer scale and thundering execution. To bend the dictionary a little, it’s positively ginormous. “2012” is also disturbingly repetitive, obnoxiously noisy, and almost pornographic in length. Instead of providing a comforting bowl of melted apocalyptic cheese, Emmerich wants to beat the living hell out of his audience instead, staging doom after doom, death after death, until it reaches a nauseating spin of sensorial overload. It’s cinematic waterboarding and there was more than one occasion during the film when I was convinced it was never going to end.
I like Richard Curtis. I really do. The man directed “Love Actually” for heaven’s sake, crafting one of the most charming and stark romantic comedies of the last 30 years. But his “Pirate Radio” is a flawed piece of work, at times utterly paralyzed by muddled whimsy. It’ll take some effort from the viewer to sort through this cluttered feature film, but the reward is an opportunity to witness profound respect for the power of music, articulated by a throng of gifted, uninhibited actors Curtis spends most of the feature trying to corral more than simply direct.
The karaoke scene. It’s become an epidemic. I’ve seen an inordinate amount of comedies over the last few years employ a karaoke bar as a comedic device, typically involving a fuddy-duddy character finding screechy vocal salvation at the hand of a memorable ‘80’s hit. If there’s anything that immediately signals lazy screenwriting, it’s staging slapstick at a karaoke bar. “Love Hurts” features such a scene. Actually, a few of them. However, it’s the least of the offenses contained within this dreadful comedy, which runs through a checklist of clichés to make it to a contractually obligated 90-minute running time. It’s a long 90 minutes.
Magnified with the type of divine emotional majesty few animation spectacles could ever hope to reach, Disney/Pixar’s “Up” is a triumphant masterstroke for the studio and their Teflon reputation. Declining the red-carpet invitation to manufacture mawkish, feebly scripted pathos, “Up” instead aims for and achieves a splendid merger of heartache and soaring spirituality. For their 10th motion picture, the Pixar squad has hit pay dirt yet again, only with “Up,” the production team manages to weave together whimsy and poignancy in a visually dazzling, high-flying marvel of an adventure. Conceptually, it’s not a trailblazer, but the execution is perhaps Pixar’s most confident and irresistibly moving since their 1995 masterpiece, “Toy Story.”
Out of all the Pixar films, “Monsters Inc.” has always struck me as the goofball uncle of the group. This picture is funny, gregarious, and makes the viewer feel welcome, but a film of substantial narrative weight? “Monsters” just doesn’t reach that special plateau, dramatically or comedically, even though it makes an admirable attempt. It’s an amiable picture with a colorful cast of neurotic characters, but the film always stood out more as an agreeable distraction when Pixar needed it the most, not something that represents their finest effort.
Well, it was fun while it lasted. The wonderfully wacky world of writer/director Richard Kelly drives off cliff with “The Box,” the filmmaker’s self-proclaimed shot at a “broadly commercial” film. Interestingly enough, there’s nothing at all commercial about the enigmatic picture, which meticulously traces over the same lines of surrealism, spirituality, and otherworldly interference that marked Kelly’s previous features, the cult smash “Donnie Darko” and the underrated brain-smasher, “Southland Tales.” I would never doubt Kelly’s conviction and personal belief that he’s challenging himself, but “The Box” doesn’t lie. It’s the same old set of eye-crossing ambiguities, only this time there’s something of a budget and a smudged pass at cinematic normalcy.
Of course, there will always be “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka,” the crown jewel of blaxploitation spoofs. Nothing will ever equal its invention or ability to surprise. However, “Black Dynamite” is a worthy challenger for the throne. Playing straight-up silly with ‘70’s filmmaking aesthetics, “Dynamite” isn’t consistent, but it’s damn funny at times. A feisty, gleefully harebrained spoof of all things “Shaft” and “Superfly,” “Dynamite” is a jubilant ode to the firm cinematic pimp hand, which, in this picture, smacks bad guys around and tickles the audience with the same devotion.
It’s a tale told joyfully and told often, gobbling up film, stage, and audio adaptations with incredible regularity. Charles Dickens’s 1843 novella, “A Christmas Carol,” has been reworked and reheated time and again, and who could blame anyone for trying? Perhaps the perfect tale of rekindled morality set against the backdrop of the most enchanting of holiday seasons, “Carol” is brought back to life for another cinematic go-around, this time through the eyes of writer/director Robert Zemeckis and the efforts of his motion capture (mo-cap) animation tools. While shadowing Dickens’s work as much as it can, the latest “Carol” takes a bold technological leap forward, permitting a newly abstract take on a perennial saga of remorse.
The Madeafication of African-American storytelling from Tyler Perry and his imitators has been a depressing downward spiral, reducing important social topics to countrified nonsense, often chased with a heavy wallop of misguided religious justification. Though “presented” by Tyler Perry (and Oprah Winfrey), “Precious” restores some much needed horror to abuse of all kinds, lending weight to self-esteem issues instead of playing them off as melodramatic screenwriting requirements. This is a lacerating tale of desperation and evolution, and while director Lee Daniels should do himself a favor and muzzle most of his visual instincts, he permits the material to lead the charge, creating a harrowing environment that makes for a hypnotic sit.
Jon Ronson’s 2004 book, “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” was a nonfiction look at the U.S. Military’s effort to harness psychological manipulation as a new form of warfare. Again, nonfiction. The film version of the wily tale has rightfully selected an accelerated route of absurdity to depict the inherent weirdness, permitting the viewer a chance to enjoy the oddity without the crippling burden of a real-world hangover. Blithe and teeming with actors having the time of their lives, “Goats” is a hilarious, freewheeling descent into the abyssal madness of the military machine.
“The Fourth Kind” is being sold to the public on the wings of a gimmick. This is not a first for Hollywood, joining the likes of “White Noise” and “The Haunting in Connecticut,” which used marketing angles based upon the suggestion of truth to sell an exhaustively fictional multiplex event. However, “Fourth Kind” is far more aggressive, flat-out daring the audience to believe this alien abduction tale. It’s the kind of chutzpah that all but promises a scintillating, skin-crawling motion picture, but “The Fourth Kind” is actually quite stunningly ineffective for all the hot air it generates.
It appears the trilogy is now complete. After creating starring vehicles for his characters Ali G (2002’s “Ali G Indahouse”) and Borat Sagdiyev (2006’s smash “Borat”), the time has come for Sacha Baron Cohen to allow Bruno an opportunity to carry his own picture. “Bruno” will likely be welcomed by an adoring audience fully equipped to endure the traditional blast of Cohen-approved smut and merciless social commentary, especially after “Borat” turned his obscure antics into box office gold. However, don’t hold sudden international success against Cohen’s superb modus operandi, who once again tears into a clueless world seeking to mock, celebrate, and disgust anyone who will welcome him.
Have you’ve ever visited a restaurant and thought, “Gee, this place could use more unreasonable intimidation?” Well, do I have a place for you. Located within Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the 50’s Prime Time Café is a throwback eating escapade to the family dinners of old, where mom, dad, and the kids would stifle their rampant sexism and racism and gather around the television to revel in the latest Tinseltown entertainment, scarfing down the most fundamental of dinner dishes with eyes glued to the tube. Disney provides the rose-colored glasses, and all the guest has to bring is a generous wad of cash and the ability to enjoy a good-natured teasing while digesting.