The Silver Bullet ~ The Spectacular Now

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Synopsis: A hard-partying high school senior’s philosophy on life changes when he meets the not-so-typical “nice girl.”

Release Date: August 2, 2013 

Thoughts: Yet another reason why you should never be late for a movie…because you may wind up missing a preview like The Spectacular Now.  Like The Way, Way Back the preview suggests a film that feels fresh and bold with a strong cast of young talent that doesn’t wind up feeling like something we’ve seen before.  Miles Teller (Rabbit Hole) and Shailene Woodly (a knockout in The Descendants) are the romantic leads in a cast that also includes Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kyle Chandler.  From the same writers as the dynamite (500) Days of Summer, I found a certain magic to the trailer…leading me to think/hope this could turn out to be a sleeper hit come August.

The Silver Bullet ~ Frozen

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Synopsis: Fearless optimist Anna teams up with Kristoff in an epic journey, encountering Everest-like conditions, and a hilarious snowman named Olaf in a race to find Anna’s sister Elsa, whose icy powers have trapped the kingdom in eternal winter

Release Date:  November 27, 2013

Thoughts: Disney’s update on the classic fairy tale The Snow Queen is sadly not going to be hand-drawn but should continue on in the footsteps of its non-Pixar animated slate that has been doing solid business the last few years (Tangled, Wreck-It-Ralph).  Right now, however, snow and ice are the last things that any summer loving movie-goer wants to think about in the middle of June.  I’m also getting a strong Ice Age feel from this teaser trailer that makes me hope a full preview with more substantial material is released  in short order.  Also interesting to note is that aside from lead Kristen Bell (Hit and Run), the voice talent assembled features a healthy roster of Broadway talent with the likes of Idina Menzel (Wicked), Jonathan Groff (Spring Awakening), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon, and June’s The Internship), and Santino Fontana (Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella).  Could this mean Frozen has some music numbers thawing out…we shall see.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Lego Movie

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Synopsis: An ordinary LEGO minifigure, mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder, is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant from gluing the universe together.

Release Date:  February 7, 2014

Thoughts:  Though I believe with the release of The LEGO Movie we are one step closer to seeing Lincoln Log: The Film or Yo-Yo: The Musical, I must admit that I’m interested to see how well this film will play to larger audiences.  Bolstered by an impressive roster of voice talent including Elizabeth Banks (People Like Us) , Chris Pratt (Zero Dark Thirty), Will Ferrell (The Internship) I’m hoping that the movie itself is easier to watch than the trailer.  While more than a few waves of nostalgia will wash over you as various LEGO characters are introduced, it does look like any number of homemade YouTube videos.  Let’s see if the final product is more animated than it appears because I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to make it through the film without my head imploding.

Movie Review ~ Man of Steel

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A young itinerant worker is forced to confront his secret extraterrestrial heritage when Earth is invaded by members of his race.

Stars: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Antje Traue, Ayelet Zurer, Christopher Meloni, Russell Crowe, Michael Kelly, Harry Lennix, Richard Schiff

Director: Zack Snyder

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 143 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review:  I love 1978’s Superman: The Movie.  I figured I’d get that out of the way off the bat so you know where I’m coming from.  Richard Donner’s big budget epic was bolstered by the tagline: “You’ll Believe a Man Can Fly”…and audiences did…in droves.  Capturing the all-American charm of one Clark Kent aka Superman, Donner’s film successfully moved characters that had long lived on the pages of comic books and a television show to the silver screen with impressive results. 

So perhaps it was a bit too much to hope that 2013’s Man of Steel could provide some of that same magic in kicking off yet another reboot of the superhero with a giant S on his chest.  The trouble is that this updated hero is too aloof, too troubled a searching soul to mine any joy out of the proceedings.  It’s a chilly film with precious little in the way of true blue charm and moxie.  Instead, it’s largely a showcase for director Zack Snyder (Sucker Punch, Watchmen) to puff his special effects chest out and screenwriter David S. Goyer (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises) to put a Bruce Wayne-style glum-ness on the picture. 

Perhaps that solemnity also comes courtesy of producer Christopher Nolan who successfully reshaped the Batman franchise into a lean and mean money making machine.  What worked for Nolan and Goyer on the Batman films unfortunately doesn’t work here and mores the pity because several other key elements of the film are strikingly on point.

Take Henry Cavill for instance.  The Brit is possessing of a well toned eight pack to go along with his All-American features and cheekbones that could cut kryptonite.  The script never allows him to emerge too far from his gloomy gus hole but there are moments especially near the end where we can see a glint in Cavill’s eye that brings a little Christopher Reeve to mind.  In his newly redesigned suit, which does look better than the near neon colors in previous Superman films, Cavill is a convincing hero that has real potential.

I also found a lot to like about Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as refreshingly earthy incarnations of Jonathan and Martha Kent, Superman’s earth bound adoptive parents that provide stability even when his powers threaten to overwhelm their found child.  Most of their performances are relegated to flashbacks and much of the film is presented in a non-linear fashion as Clark wanders from job to job, only moving on when his powers put him in danger of being discovered. 

Costner has some of the best scenes in the film as he alternatively counsels his son and quietly fears for him if the outside world knew what he can do.   I’ve often found Costner to be too mannered of an actor, always holding back what he’s really feeling but here he’s given nice material that helps him shine. 

The same can’t be said for poor Amy Adams (The Master) who is terribly miscast as ace reporter Lois Lane.  Though it’s well documented she has auditioned/lobbied for this role on three occasions, it’s a shame she didn’t do more with the role when she finally got a crack at it.  I missed the plucky verve that Margot Kidder to the role and it’s something I’m disappointed Adams didn’t tap into more – that being said she’s light years more interesting than Kate Bosworth was in 2006’s Superman Returns.

I’m still not totally sure how I feel about Michael Shannon (The Iceman) as Superman’s main nemesis Captain Zod.  Talking out of the side of his mouth and sounding like he has a Lifesaver he wants to keep under his tongue, Shannon is an unlikely choice for the role and even wearing a costume that looks like a hand me down from KISS he manages to give the character more depth than was probably necessary.  Russell Crowe’s (Les Miserables) Jor-El can’t hold a candle to the “I can’t believe this works as well as it does” casting of Marlon Brando in Donner’s film but there’s a solid whiff of nobility given off by Crowe…and thank the Lord he doesn’t sing in this one.

Snyder is known for putting a rich visual spin on his films and that’s what almost saved his disastrous Sucker Punch from being totally relegated to the waste bin.  In Man of Steel the special effects gets the better of him though with too much of the film looking more cartoony than visually impressive.  Sure, the flying sequences are solidly entertaining and some of the larger action sequences (including a much too long go-for-broke finale) look mighty fine but it only adds to a strange hollowness to the entire film.

I may be a bigger fan of Superman than any other comic book character so I was very much looking forward to seeing where the next generation of Superman movies will take us.  This wasn’t the movie I really wanted to see and that’s a bummer…but then I remember that I wasn’t totally taken with Batman Begins either when I first saw it.  Time will tell if Cavill and company will find a way to truly take flight in their next outing but it’s possible that with more focus on the good and less on the glum a better franchise starter will emerge.

The Silver Bullet ~ Getaway

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Synopsis: Brent Magna must get behind the wheel and follow the orders of a mysterious man to save his kidnapped wife.

Release Date:  August 30, 2013

Thoughts:  Though star Ethan Hawke is on a bit of a hot streak lately after appearing in a trio of successful films over the past year (Sinister, The Purge, Before Midnight), he may have trouble coming out on top of this hokey looking action thriller that also features Jon Voight, Jon Voight’s questionable European dialect courtesy of Villian Accents Inc., and a performance from Selena Gomez that may be destined for the Razzie Awards.  Though muscle cars and a slick grit may help sell this film to overly forgiving audiences at the end of the summer, I’m not so sure that Getaway should be anything you get involved with.

The Silver Bullet ~ 300: Rise of an Empire

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Synopsis: The Greek general Themistocles battles an invading army of Persians under the mortal-turned-god, Xerxes.

Release Date:  March 7, 2014

Thoughts: It’s hard to believe, but this sequel is arriving a full 7 years after the original surprise blockbuster was released.  I found the first film a hyper-surreal thrill ride filled with ample amounts of blood and bared flesh and in the years since the movie has inspired countless inferior knockoffs and quite a few new ab workouts for those wanting to get into Spartan shape.  Director Zack Snyder was busy with Man of Steel so the directing duties went to Noam Murro…a relatively green director helming only his second feature film.  Even with Snyder staying on as producer and screenwriter, it remains to be seen if the unproven Murro can really sail this ship.  Bolstered by some interesting female leads in the form of Eva Green (Cracks, Dark Shadows) and Lena Headey (The Purge), this sequel is highly anticipated and should be a nice blockbuster of 2014.

The Silver Bullet ~ Diana

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Synopsis: The last two years of Princess Diana’s life: her campaign against land mines and her relationship with surgeon Dr Hasnat Khan.

Release Date:  TBA 2013

Thoughts: The world’s fascination with all things Royal continues with a look at the life of the people’s princess in a biography that feels several years too late to the game.  Releasing in time for prime award season, Diana will be up against another film about a princess who died before her time when Nicole Kidman (who happens to be Watts’ best friend and fellow Australian) takes on Grace of Monaco.  Although admittedly hard to tell from this teaser trailer, Watts just doesn’t say “Diana” to me and it’s not just because Watts only resembles the late Princess of Wales if you squint.  There was such a mysterious air to the real life royal that I’m not sure could ever really be captured.  Final judgment of course must be reserved when more footage is released but so far…I’m not convinced.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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Synopsis: The Dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf have successfully escaped the Misty Mountains, and Bilbo has gained the One Ring. They all continue their journey to get their gold back from the Dragon, Smaug.

Release Date:  December 13, 2013

Thoughts: I’d like to say I was one of the relative few that accepted Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with a forgiving embrace but alas I couldn’t give myself over to a film that was long in the tooth and overstuffed with material that wasn’t needed.  Though a technical marvel that made some huge steps for filmmaking, there was a strange void that was never filled by anything that flew across the screen.  The second installment is being prepped for release in December and here’s hoping that Jackson and co. went back to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy of films and re-examined what made them so special.  The heart and soul from those films was missing from Part 1 of The Hobbit – let’s keep our ringed fingers crossed Part 2 rights some wrongs.

Movie Review ~ The Purge

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A family is held hostage for harboring the target of a murderous syndicate during the Purge, a 12-hour period in which any and all crime is legalized.

Stars: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Adelaide Kane, Max Burkholder, Tony Oller

Director: James DeMonaco

Rated: R

Running Length: 85 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5.5/10)

Review: There are times when I’m in a movie theater where I start to bargain with myself before the lights go down.  The internal conversation before The Purge went something like this… “C’mon Joe, it’s your day off mid-week and you don’t really have much to lose taking in a home-invasion thriller with an interesting concept.  At best you’ll be surprised at the (pardon the pun) execution and at worst your eyes will get a nice workout as they roll in your head.  If the movie is half-way good you’ll come out on top.”  Well, The Purge is one half of a good movie, a par-baked pizza of a film that looks nice when you open it but the more you digest it the less appetizing it becomes.

Running a scant 85 minutes, The Purge has a first act that is nothing if not engaging.  Opening with security footage of some very bad people doing very bad things the audience is reintroduced to the concept that most will know going in: in the very near future the US Government has sanctioned one night a year where for 12 hours any and all crime is legalized.  You can murder your boss, make an unfortunate soul fodder for target practice, loot your local Best Buy, or if you choose to you can avoid it all by sitting back in your home under the protection of the latest and greatest security system…if you can afford one.

That’s what the Californian nuclear family at the center of The Purge is doing…and they know they’re secure within the walls of their manse because Dad (Ethan Hawke, Sinister) is the top-selling agent of the top-of-the-line security system on the market.  He’s outfitted their entire gated community, netting quite the bucks for his efforts and early on we see that the neighbors, while thankful for the protection, don’t love the fact that Hawke and his family have benefitted from the cost of their peace of mind.

Like most families the children have a boatload of issues.  Daughter (Adelaide Kane) is boy crazy and unhappy with her dad for keeping her away from her older boyfriend.  Son (Max Burkholder) is at that awkward age when communication comes best through methods that he has control over.  Dad and Mom (Lena Headey) do their best to keep the peace…though nothing is presented that puts any new spin on family dynamics.  Casting wise, the four actors make for a believable family.

When the Purge commences the family goes about their night inside as gunfire is heard and the television shows the horrors happening outside the tightly sealed doors and windows.  Then the son sees a black man yelling for help in the street and before anyone knows it, he’s opened the gates and let the bloodied man in.  It isn’t long before a group of preppy hunters have tracked the man to the house and begin their own attack in their quest for blood.

What happens after that is best left for the viewer to discover but trust me when I say that it’s at this point the movie starts to go downhill in a curiously rapid fashion.  Though the lead maniac (Tony Oller) possesses a chilly charisma that thinly masks some serious crazy there’s nothing distinctive about anyone else that comes knocking.  Actually, the film is edited so that you never get a true idea of how many people Hawke and family are up against.

Even with its short running time, the middle of the movie has some major pacing problems as the family looks for the man who has disappeared into the house so they can give him up to machete wielding psychos at their door.  That’s when you realize that the film has squandered an earlier opportunity to give the viewer an actual layout of the house so we can get our bearings.  There’s a lot of discussion about a new addition to the house and its general square feet but most of the movie looks like it was filmed in one or two hallways and bedrooms.

Though director James DeMonaco’s script raises some interesting questions about violence in our society, suggesting that what the Purge was really designed to do was aid in the further separation of the haves from the have-nots, it chickens out at the end with a lackluster run-of-the-mill final act where seemingly smart people do infuriatingly stupid things.  Morals only come into play when it’s convenient and a soapbox is handy to stand on.  Worse, no one really seems to understand the message that DeMonaco was going for in the first place.  Close but no cigar award goes to Headey who at least makes the most out of a role that doesn’t give her much to fight for.

I’m not sure that the first 45 minutes of The Purge is good enough to make you leave the theater satisfied but perhaps in the sequel (which was quickly greenlit after the low-budget but handsomely made film made back its budget in midnight screenings alone) there could be a better through-line that marries the societal questions on violence with a more thrilling output.