It was the film that broke Disney, both in spirit and in the savings account. After nearly 50 years of industry highlights, astounding audiences with storytelling perfection, The Walt Disney Feature Animation Studio ran into a brick wall with “The Black Cauldron,” almost in slow motion. It was a massive box office whiff from a studio used to hitting triples and home runs, brought about great professional misery for the animators working on the film, and essentially killed off the “Nine Old Men” era of Disney Animation, a business that would soon be reborn in the light of the Katzenberg/Eisner dawn. By all accounts, “Cauldron” was a disaster for everyone involved.
“Boogie Woogie” doesn’t know if it’s here to satirize or indict the modern art scene, but it certainly loves to remain in the sinister gray area it creates. A comedic look at the whirlwind nature of the art world, the film is only sporadically humorous, faring better as a perceptive jab at the egos, libidos, and nitwit audacity of a subculture that’s founded in handcrafted miracles, yet prides itself on excesses of status and power.
It’s been a rough year for filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan. If it wasn’t bad enough that his monster-budgeted adaptation of “The Last Airbender” was met with a collective raspberry from audiences last summer (thus killing what was left of his reputation), “Devil,” the first film from his “Night Chronicles” horror label, was the subject of immense derision during its recent marketing push, and now Universal Pictures has decided to dump it into theaters without showing it to critics -- a sure sign of studio panic and often a great indication of odious quality. It’s not very often that a film goes from trumpeted to trampled so quickly, but “Devil” is a special case.
I have little doubt that one day Emma Stone will be a mighty force in the entertainment industry. She’s a hearty, likable, sly actress with a genuine sense of humor, approachable sex appeal, and great command of sarcasm. In sea of CW-bred mannequins, Stone’s real, and her ability to project intelligence is a rare gift. Her brightness is wasted on “Easy A,” a so-called “teen comedy” that feels as though it was written by a fading Gen-Xer projecting his Hughesian daydreams onto a high school comedy of his own. It’s unfunny, glib, and woefully confused. However, it does retain the fresh services of Stone, but she can only carry this nonsense on her back for so long before the weight crushes her moxie.
A thoroughly uninspired animated effort, “Alpha and Omega” doesn’t head anywhere Disney, Dreamworks, or a thousand Saturday morning cartoons haven’t already been. A routine tale of anthropomorphized animals, slapstick, and forbidden love, the picture fails to offer enough weirdness or wit to keep chaperones awake, while kids deserve a more engaging matinee babysitter -- a feature with some genuine life to it, not just the family film basics slapped together with a money-grabbing coat of 3D to help it shine.
With the release of “Gone Baby Gone” in 2007, Ben Affleck climbed from an agreeable actor with a battered professional reputation to an unexpectedly elegant filmmaker, interested in dramatic dark spaces and disturbing questions of morality, stewing in the juices of his beloved Boston. “The Town” finds Affleck in a more mainstream mood, mounting a stout crime thriller that spotlights the turmoil churning within a soulful, somber crook. Almost impossibly, Affleck generates a spellbinding pulse to the proceedings, constructing a magnificently exhaustive suspense piece that effectively mines the anxiety of criminal behavior and the bleak prison of home.
I think we’ve seen pretty much all there is to be seen from the teen hornball genre, so I won’t sit here and proclaim “The Virginity Hit” to be some revolutionary work of comedic madness. It’s far from innovative, inhabiting the same coming-of-age concerns as many a motion picture before it; however, there’s a cordial sense of humor to the feature that doesn’t only make it endearing, but almost lovable, if smut can be prized like a Pixar movie. Low-fi in all the right ways, the feature is a genuine surprise for the early fall, taking known, beaten, dried elements and infusing them with a sunny day temperament, approaching cliché with a glad hand and snappy sense of humor.
When clichés are put into the right hands, spun with the proper velocity, they turn into Christmas presents. “The Peacemaker” is not a considerate, measured look at global terrorism or Eastern European woes. It’s an action movie, first and foremost, using a certain jig of political awareness to provide a fitting backdrop for breathless chase sequences and wrecking ball heroics. Though it hides under the guise of global commentary, the picture is best approached as a rocket sled experience, diligently pulling together mayhem while tiptoeing around sensitive cultural issues.
“The Experiment” is a film of immense movie stupidity. It’s an illogical suspense picture with ties to sociological history, but the filmmakers don’t even bother to bring some actual sense to the screenplay. Tiresome and poorly acted, the picture insists it’s a meaningful creation able to reflect the world’s woes, summoning brutality to make a point about callous human nature. Unfortunately, the feature misses a lasting significance by a country mile, stumbling around while attempting to pat itself on the back.
Unlike many features inspired by the world of video games, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” emerges from an extensive history of electronic adventuring. While directly funneled from a 2003 console release, “Prince of Persia” has been a leaping legacy of gaming since 1989, making it an ideal fit for a widescreen cinematic adaptation. However, the premise found its way into the sticky hands of producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who does what he habitually does to PG-13 action entertainment: makes it plastic, noisy, and easily dismissible.
At this point, I feel pretty darn guilty for ever thinking the original 2002 “Resident Evil” installment was any type of mindless fun. Two sequels sufficiently bled the premise dry, taking off into their own witless directions, with the last picture, 2007’s “Extinction” at least finding some environmental invention to play around with. Hoping the war was over, “Resident Evil: Afterlife” has arrived to recharge the franchise, with Paul W.S. Anderson returning as director and the whole shebang captured with 3D cameras to bring the adventures of Alice into your lap. It’s a polished effort, but astoundingly joyless and deathly dull, which seems par for the course when it comes to the “Resident Evil” movies.
The ingredients are there in “Animal Kingdom” to provide a more customary crime family saga, following a timid newcomer as he rises up in the ranks, finding a taste for bloodshed as his tribe grows in power, only to be brought down by eager cops. Thankfully, this script seeks a more menacing, mournful path, examining the chaos and extraordinary paranoia of a wicked brood, starkly assessing the corrosive effects of lawbreaking with a convincingly cinematic stance.
Assembled as a faux trailer to help enhance the tattered mood of 2007’s double feature event, “Grindhouse,” “Machete” was viewed as a way to create a triumphant Mexican hero in 2 1/2 minutes, possibly leading to his own feature as part of any potential sequel. Well, “Grindhouse” died an unjust death, but the character of Machete marches into his own adventure, retaining the low-down-dirty-shame production effort, but bringing along a few casting surprises to spice up this fully armed, gore splattered, amusing action explosion. It doesn’t precisely capture the miracle of “Grindhouse,” but it’s a fittingly head-chopping offshoot, smartly timed to feed on current immigration hysteria.