After the venomous reaction to his 2008 horror picture, “The Happening,” writer/director M. Night Shyamalan retreated to the comfort of a big-budget special effects extravaganza, picking an adaptation of the cult animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” as a way to increase his box office chances while fostering his idiosyncratic filmmaking vision. Instead of blockbuster glory, “The Last Airbender” (it seems the “Avatar” part of the title was already spoken for) manages to cripple the filmmaker further; it’s a joyless, stilted adventure picture, petrified by Shyamalan’s glacial touch and his odd refusal to simply kick back and enjoy the inherent spectacle of the source material.
After the nausea brought on by 2008’s “Twilight,” I was stunned to find myself moderately intrigued with the next chapter of the saga, 2009’s “New Moon.” Director Chris Weitz found something resembling a pulse to the vampire vs. werewolf proceedings, pushing the paralytic material to contentedly mediocre, but encouraging results, ending the event with a cliffhanger -- a question of lifelong commitment that promised the “Twilight” series would soon lead to more challenging demands of drama. Instead of a film with fertile conflict and legitimate swoon, “Eclipse” returns the franchise to square one, booking a bullet train to dullsville as director David Slade replaces Weitz’s careful, mournful movement with clunky battle cry theatrics that appear more in line with a shoddy SyFy Channel movie.
Doing laps with Tom Cruise in “Days of Thunder” and experiencing the pain of the afterlife with Bill Cosby in “Ghost Dad.”
“Don’t Look Back” pairs two titans of the European film market: Monica Bellucci and Sophie Marceau. So, turn down the lights, kick back with a bottle of wine, wear something comfortable, and spread around a few candles. It’s time for some lovin’. Oh, wait, this is a horror film? Really? Well, it seems for their introductory co-starring effort, the actresses have selected a dark psychological chiller for themselves, which spends most of its running time keeping the talent in a state of quivering distress, even going as far as to distort their faces. It’s most certainly not time for some lovin’.
Ever wanted a film to work so badly, it involved the crossing of both fingers and toes? Ever wanted to have as much fun as the cast onscreen, watching helplessly as the talent kicks up a giggle storm, clearly enjoying the heck out of one another? The experience of watching “Grown Ups” is a sustained squeeze of agony, observing an easygoing, star-studded, summertime comedy stumble through a series of ridiculous, stillborn scenes that barely add up to a movie. Here, the audience is made to watch Adam Sandler’s summer vacation video, which displays how much fun he had, and how little of that merriment and camaraderie translated to the screen.
It’s fantastic to see Tom Cruise back to being enthusiastic and jittery in “Knight and Day,” though it’s a shame the film doesn’t support that soaring effort. A strangely strained spy caper, “Knight and Day” has its share of derring-do, explosions, and flirtation, but director James Mangold doesn’t shape a scintillating feature out of the ingredients. Instead, there are a few key stunt sequences that are smoothly rendered, but the film as a whole lacks a pulse-pounding, swoony mood of adventure and romance. Still, it does have Cruise, and he’s almost worth a recommendation alone for his spirited efforts.
“Dogtooth” recalls the wondrous heyday of the Dogme 95 film movement, once spearheaded by Lars von Trier. Though enjoying some degree of polish, “Dogtooth” nevertheless approaches the concept of dehumanization with a gritty, free-flowing tone, permitting the film a genuine sense of surprise. It’s a grotesque illustration of inhumanity and feral instinct, but “Dogtooth” is an absolutely hypnotic motion picture, attaining a nauseating sense of self-destruction in a thrillingly art-house manner that’s been absent from the screen for far too long.
I’ll give “Wild Grass” this much: it successfully summons a disturbed, frazzled state of mind. The mental blur carries this French import from legendary director Alain Resnais an incredible distance, assisting a special Euro discombobulation that makes it easier to swallow the often surreal nature of this unrequited love story. Meaningful? Romantic? Full-throated? Perhaps not. Yet, “Wild Grass” evokes the mania of a spinning brain wonderfully, presenting a polite jolt of anxiety to an otherwise impenetrable motion picture.
What happens when you cross a film containing carnivorous trees, angry moths, and a lead actress billed as “Beverly Hills” with a group of ace comedians doing their best to make light of a dire moviegoing experience? Well, it means Cinematic Titanic has returned. Roughly four months after their last effort, “The Alien Factor,” the troupe has surfaced again to deliver 90 minutes of consistent laughs with “Danger on Tiki Island,” a wildly incoherent, bizarre horror film that provides the flood of awful the riffing gang needs to successfully land some satisfying bellylaughs.
The comic relief is provided by Dax Shepard, Jon Heder, and Will Arnett; there’s a punchline where a needle is literally scratched off a record; a character exclaims “My bad!” after a piece of destructive slapstick; the screenplay makes absolutely no sense; and Danny DeVito plays a horny sausage salesman. See, this is what happens when Hollywood gives a romantic comedy to the director of “Daredevil,” “Ghost Rider,” and “Simon Birch.”
Eating after midnight with “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” and slipping on a yellow coat to protect the streets from danger with “Dick Tracy.”
Pixar cautiously entered the sequel game 11 years ago with “Toy Story 2,” a development that was somewhat forced upon the company, but proved to be an artistic and financial success. Now the beloved animation house is beginning to make sequels a full-time business, with follow-ups to “Cars” and “Monsters, Inc.” in the production pipeline. However, priming the franchise machine is “Toy Story 3,” a long-awaited second sequel that reunites beloved characters with a frazzled plot that exploits every ounce of plastic neuroses it possibly can. The third time isn’t exactly the charm for this friendly series of films, but this next step in the evolution of Buzz and Woody is dutifully manic and frequently engaging.
“Jonah Hex” isn’t necessarily a bad film, it’s just nothing at all. Oh, there’s plenty wrong with this big screen adaptation of the DC Comics western hero, but it’s hard to stay angry with the film when the fingerprints of studio intervention are all over this movie, which has been whittled down to a scant 74 minutes in length. It’s hard to accomplish anything richly cinematic in 74 minutes, much less create a persuasive adventure for a character who’s been kicking around the world of funny books since 1972.
After leading a nation of art-house cinemas into the land of mumblecore, the Duplass Brothers, Jay and Mark, try to up the ante some by enlisting a few Hollywood stars for “Cyrus.” A more sedate, straightforward comedy of discomfort and jealousy, “Cyrus” is a mixed bag of dramatic speeds, with the filmmakers struggling to locate a soul to a one-joke premise aching for a more profound funny bone.
With “The Killer Inside Me,” the audience enters into the mind of a rather causal murderer, a man who’s been stewing in the reassuring juices of his vile “sickness” for his entire life. Director Michael Winterbottom makes the viewer feel every blink of that life in this sluggish, slow-motion adaptation of Jim Thompson’s lauded 1952 novel, which enjoys the art of stillness, frittering away any natural suspense to linger on a miscast lead actor well out of his range.