When The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was officially announced in 2007, it sent shockwaves of giddiness through theme park enthusiast circles, J.K. Rowling admirers, and fantasy movie fans. Here was a remarkable opportunity to live the Harry Potter life, not just sit passively while pages turned or images swung across the big screen. The barriers were finally being kicked down, as Universal Orlando proclaimed to the world they were going to build their very own Hogwarts right in the middle of Central Florida.
“The A-Team” was a successful NBC television show that ran from 1983-1987, enthralling kids with explosions, sprays of gunfire, slapstick, and a celebratory display of heroic teamwork. The show was undeniably primitive, but triumphantly charismatic, held together by diverse, exciting thespian efforts from George Peppard, Dirk Benedict, Dwight Schultz, and the one and only Mr. T. Now there’s a big screen adaptation from director Joe Carnahan, who takes recognized elements of the franchise and inflates his own twisted balloon animal of a picture, laying the violence and militaristic camaraderie on thick to bring an iconic ‘80s action show into the decidedly more cynical year of 2010.
1984’s “The Karate Kid” is a classic. It’s timeless, and has been enchanting audiences for the last 26 years with its purity of heart, meaty characterization, flavorful acting, and victorious deployment of underdog formula. It’s a heartwarming, beautifully realized motion picture, created during an era when such lofty displays of sincerity could still be treasured and celebrated by the mass audience. There was no need for a remake. However, a brand name is a brand name, so Hollywood has decided to dust off the original screenplay, change a few names and locations, and reheat the premise with a new cast, hoping to entice the nostalgic and indoctrinate the young. Frankly, I feel bad for anyone taking their first taste of “The Karate Kid” with this mechanical, charmless update.
It’s “Liberal Guilt: The Movie” in Nicole Holofcener’s latest endeavor, the dramedy “Please Give.” An odyssey into the itchy folds of shame and privilege, the picture slices to the bone, presenting a community of characters struggling with their perception of limited moral fiber, while some flaunt their curdled nature. It’s a parade of unlikable, flawed folk interpreted with equal parts horror and sympathy in the filmmaker’s screenplay, assuring something obnoxious when, in fact, the film seldom bubbles with disgust, electing to understand the brittle nature of the bleeding heart mentality.
There’s a delicate environmental quality to “Crazy Like a Fox” that’s often more inviting than the drama unfolding. A bristly story of heritage and community, the picture is a bizarre combination of broad comedy and stinging sentiment, helped along by a sharp cast and a wonderful view of the Virginian wilderness, which takes a much-deserved supporting role in this itchy, exasperating film.
Leaping back into the DeVille with Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte for a completely unnecessary “Another 48 Hrs.”
Over the last few years, Katherine Heigl has faltered mightily picking romantic comedies. With “27 Dresses” and “The Ugly Truth,” the actress submerged herself into pure stupidity, slapping feminism across the face by playing a chain of subservient female characters who set aside self-worth for the chance to seize a man. With “Killers,” Heigl stares down Ashton Kutcher, another vapid thespian with limited acting mobility. The two make a pretty pair, but they’re not a rousing big screen match, ineffectively teaming up in this unconscious, insistently unfunny action comedy.
When is a sequel not truly a sequel? When it’s “Get Him to the Greek,” a spin-off feature pulled from the womb of the uproarious 2008 comedy, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Knowledge of “Marshall” isn’t necessary to partake in the “Greek” debauchery, but it helps to locate the proper mood for this frequently hilarious, oddly poignant road movie, which once again captures actor Russell Brand in his most appealing form: tongue-floppingly lascivious.
Like your Viking stories with a hefty side of the abstract? “Valhalla Rising” is filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn’s dreamlike interpretation of the battle between man and earth, taking those brave enough to accept the challenge of this film on a journey outside the reassurance of reality. It floats a vicious tale of Vikings and warriors in a still sea of the unknown -- a metaphysical realm of nightmares and stamina that comes together rather splendidly, but only for those moviegoers with a heightened sense of art-house adventure.
Up against imposing art-house competition such as Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” at this year’s Academy Awards, Juan Jose Campanella’s “The Secret in Their Eyes” stunned crowds by taking home the trophy for Best Foreign Film, thus guaranteeing it a substantial U.S. release it probably wouldn’t have enjoyed if denied Oscar gold. I’m not fully convinced the victory was justified, but this is a structurally sound, splendidly acted thriller, achieving a continuous swirl of suspicion other directors would slap their own mothers to achieve.
The comic strip “Marmaduke” has been a staple of newspapers since 1954, leaving the producers of the film adaptation over 50 years of canine antics to help build a screenplay. So, naturally, they invent a series of urine and fart jokes to best service the enduring legacy of the rascally Great Dane. In all, “Marmaduke” isn’t quite the bleed-from-the-eyes moviegoing experience the heinous marketing suggests, but there’s an overpowering amount of laziness here that detracts from the core of good-natured mischief the character should be displaying.
2007’s “Rec” was a marvel of a horror film, portraying piercing POV scares with an unreal strain of screen anxiety, shaping a monumental genre exercise in sheer cinematic terror. Of course, it was quickly dumbed down into an excretal American remake titled “Quarantine,” but directors Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero weren’t content to let the story die there. “Rec 2” shouldn’t logically work, but the raw creativity of the filmmakers lights up the screen, reworking the premise of handheld horror into a fierce, raging mix of “Aliens” and “The Exorcist.”
“Splice” takes at look at the world of genetic manipulation, not through the eyes of science, but through the mechanics of a cheesy, easily winded horror film. Walking boldly in the mighty footsteps of David Cronenberg, “Splice” is aching to creep out the room with its symphony of goopy creatures and psychosexual situations, but the film is perhaps too timid and verbose to truly lunge forward and gleefully disturb.
With “Ondine,” writer/director Neil Jordan pits the conventions of fairy tales against the harshness of the real world. It’s a picture of mystery and possibility, but reveals itself to be quite distant when the mood strikes. For a film that holds such admiration for the magic of fables, it’s a little strange to find “Ondine” so emotionally aloof, despite the best efforts of the exemplary cast to breathe some kindness into its flooded lungs.
Nothing provides the foundation for a tender romantic comedy quite like the adult film industry. Attempting to marry the art of love with the business of sex, Julie Davis’s “Finding Bliss” is a tone-deaf motion picture that sours a perfectly ripe opportunity to slap around the world of porn, forgoing satire to make googly eyes with characters unworthy of such warm contemplation.