Look, contrary to all rumors I am not a 13-year-old boy. While I can enjoy video games and action movies like the guys, I reach my limit when I watch a movie that is oh-so clearly targeted at pubescent boys (or older fanboys of a book series). Ender's Game
is just such a film. Not to say that the film doesn't have its moments, but I'm just really, really, really not the right demographic here, folks.
I'm not all-that familiar with Ender's Game
books. I have mainly only heard rumblings that its author, Orson Scott Card, is a raging homophobe. (Side note: he had nothing to do with the movie, apparently, and the studio is urging people to not let Card's awful views spoil your attendance at the movie.)
But, anyhoo. I digress. The movie takes place 50 years after an alien race almost wiped out Earth until a heroic pilot saved our planet. Now, children are being trained at a young age in the hopes of becoming the next Messiah to save the humans. Ender (Asa Buttefield) is a shy, weird little dude who also happens to be crazy smart and gifted in strategy and tactical maneuvers, so Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford at his gruffest) and psychologist Major Anderson (Viola Davis) have decided he's "THE ONE." They, therefore, ship him off to combat school up in space in the hopes of training him to become a great general.
Up in combat school, Ender is faced with more bullies, basic boot camp-type training, and a Quidditch/Paintball/Pong hybrid game in zero-g that somehow determines which child is the best leader/soldier/savior of the human race. So, basically, to sum up everything I just said: Ender's Game is essentially Harry Potter mixed with Star Wars mixed with children playing paintball mixed with The Matrix. Sure, many of those things came out well AFTER the books were published in 1985, but Ender's Game (the movie) might suffer the same troubles as John Carter did: so many people have ripped it off before its adaptation made it to the screen that it just seems completely recycled itself.
Okay, this isn't to say the movie is bad. It isn't. The visual effects are really quite cool. There are definitely some themes in Ender's Game
that are a wee bit heavy, making it slightly MORE intelligent than your average movie for teens. There are even some amazing actors in the film—I already mentioned Ford and Davis, and Sir Ben FUCKING Kingsley even pops up.
Buuuuuut...the movie is anchored by pre-pubescent boys that are just really hella awkward in their changing bodies, and it's super hard to take Ender seriously when he's facing off against Colonel Graff as he has the gangliest of mannerisms. Maybe I'm just being an asshole here, though?Ender's Game feels much like many of the blockbusters thrown our way this summer: bloated and kinda cold. It's not bad, but it sure ain't great. Did you hear that About Time is also opening this weekend? Go see that instead.—Darcie Duttweiler
Time travel and romantic comedy might not seem like a natural pairing, but writer/director Richard Curtis successfully merges the two genres to great effect in About Time.
The film explores the idea that falling in love is essentially the outcome of a series of good and bad decisions, imagining what it would be like if you could go back and erase all the awkward missteps along the way.
Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a well-meaning but decidedly un-suave romantic whose attempts to find a girlfriend have resulted in lifelong frustration. One morning, his father (Bill Nighy) reveals to Tim that he, like all the men in his family before him, possesses the ability to travel through time.
After getting over his initial shock, the endearingly clumsy ginger is given a crash course on the ins and outs of his ability: By shutting himself in a dark space, closing his eyes, and clenching his fists, Tim can shift back to any moment in his own past. He can’t go back before his own birth, and although he can leap back from the past to the present, he cannot travel beyond that point into the future.
Now, any plot involving time travel is bound to be convoluted to some degree, and Curtis has fun acknowledging and embracing that necessity. In response to Tim’s concerns about the catastrophic consequences of meddling with the past, his dad wryly tells him, “Oh, the butterfly effect? Well, we haven’t destroyed the universe yet!” He also cautions Tim against trying to pull a Biff Tannen
, listing examples of relatives whose attempts to use their gifts for financial gain only put them on the road to ruin.
It’s a funny, tongue-in-cheek setup that signals we’re not supposed to over-think this whole time travel thing. Of course, things get a little more complicated later on, and the film does break with its own logic at several points, but if you spend any time nitpicking the inconsistencies, you’re missing the point.
Anyway, after several amusing hiccups, Tim finally starts to get the hang of using his power to bail out of awkward situations, which proves to be a huge help in his romantic life. He meets Mary (Rachel McAdams), and through the process of trial and error, he manages to convince her he’s the man of her dreams.
It’s a safe bet that most would consider it a luxury to have a “do-over” option in the courtship process—just look at what it did for Phil Connors
! And like Phil, who initially sees his continual returns to the past as a curse, Tim comes to appreciate the ability to hit Ctrl–Z, undo his mistakes, and take advantage of missed opportunities.
Thanks to this superpower, he’s also able to bridge some of the emotional distance between him and his father, who has maintained a caring but somewhat prickly relationship with Tim before bonding with him over their shared gift.
At its heart, About Time
is a sweet but not overly sentimental rom-com that’s as much about a guy’s love for his family as his quest to find his soulmate.—Rob Heidrick
The Counselor should have been great. It’s hard not to get excited about the prospect of Ridley Scott taking the helm of Cormac McCarthy’s first original screenplay, directing a cast stacked with the likes of Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. It’s one of those films you really expect to enjoy, only to come away wondering how it’s possible for so much talent to be squandered in so little time.
The film is about 10 percent plot and 90 percent overwrought dialogue, giving rise to a scrum of potentially interesting characters who are ultimately given nothing to do. And then there’s Cameron Diaz, whose over-acted turn as a hypersexual cheetah fetishist is yet another sad chapter in her long résumé of poor performances.
Fassbender stars as the nameless Counselor, a criminal defense attorney whose clients are players in the Mexican drug trade. Blinded by his love for his fiancée (Penélope Cruz) and his desire to express that love in the form of a gigantic diamond, the Counselor agrees to act as the middleman in a convoluted scheme that involves shipping $20 million in cocaine from Mexico to Chicago. (The details of the plan are never made explicit, so we’re mostly left to guess about each character’s role in the arrangement.)
Bardem does his best to outshine the material as Reiner, the Counselor’s liaison to the Juarez underbelly and one of many characters who try in vain to warn the hero it’s never a good idea to get in bed with Mexican drug lords, even if it’s just a “one-time deal.” Pitt’s Westray is another slick operator who likes to spice up his criminal dealings with pop-culture references and clever turns of phrase.
Original screenplay notwithstanding, the film feels like an adaptation of one of McCarthy’s novels, and it falls into the same trap that many adaptations have before it: It tries to squeeze the prose for all its worth in fear of wasting a single drop of the artistry that went into crafting it. This comes at the expense of plot momentum and coherent pacing, which quickly devolve into afterthoughts.
Scott chooses to have several key plot developments unfold off screen, opting instead to half-explain them later within lengthy soliloquies. And despite spending so much time talking, the characters are devoid of any kind of background stories that might have added some much-needed contextual flavor to their ramblings.
It would have been easier to identify with the Counselor (or at least understand his intentions) if McCarthy had provided a better taste of the character’s past — a glimpse of some of his shadier clients and the extent to which he’s aware of what they’re capable of. Only then would we really know how much he realized he was putting on the line by inserting himself into that world.
I get what McCarthy was going for. He clearly has a love for his characters and wants us to feel the same affection by watching them engage each other in intimate repartee. We’re supposed to get to know them by sitting in on these improbably witty exchanges in which gangsters name-drop their favorite poets and Mickey Rourke films. (Drug lords — they’re just like us!)
Which is fine, I guess. And there are moments in the film when this actually works, particularly in smaller scenes that allow the characters to flex their personalities (but still don’t really move the plot forward). As usual, Bardem is best suited for that job, most notably in a scene in which he goes into gory detail in relating an anecdote about Diaz’s character getting intimate with a Ferrari. But overall, too much is mired in innuendo, and the viewers are tasked with filling in all the gaps themselves.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not opposed to doing a little bit of work to pull out the subtext. Heavy-handed flashbacks and other lazy shortcuts are poor substitutes for smarter, subtler storytelling. And it’s healthy to ask the audience to use its imagination every now and then.
But throw a guy a bone here. It’s important to keep in mind that film is a visual medium, and there’s a certain threshold where a movie starts to drown in its own dialogue.
In some sense, Ridley Scott has made a career out of toeing that line. He’s the master of slow-burning story arcs that build suspense through a series of quieter moments — Alien, Blade Runner, etc. But what makes those films great is their nuanced but authentic character development — we get to see Ripley and Deckard evolve in meaningful ways as they confront the hostile forces surrounding them. They don’t just talk (and talk and talk) about the cold realities of existence; they take matters into their own hands and fight battles they’re most likely going to lose.
The Counselor — both the character and the film — ultimately fail to do this.
— Rob Heidrick
The Fifth Estate, which sadly is not related to The Fifth Element, is a journalistic thriller about Wikileaks and the ivory-haired Aussie activist behind it, Julian Assange. (For those keeping track of estates, that’s:  clergy,  nobility,  commoners, and  press; and  blogs, or to focus on a particular site with a slightly more lofty goal than click-bait headlines and animated GIFs, Wikileaks.)
In case you’ve just come to from a three-year hibernation, Wikileaks is a site designed to provide anonymity to whistleblowers — a rag-tag, barebones website bent on speaking truth to power through the release of unedited documents damning the corrupt. The release of unedited documents is the main focus of the drama here.
And that unedited bit is important. After all, “editing is a form of bias,” Benedict Cumberbatch’s Assange reminds us, and the idea of complete objectivity in reporting without it is a myth — which is why the rest of this setence has not been edittidd for speling. Truff.
Game of Thrones, the late, great Cousin Matthew, Jason Bourne and more after the jump!
Here’s something I never thought I’d say after 1998: “Huh, I don’t want to get up and leave the theater when Jim Carrey is on the screen.”Other than the few and far between reminders that Carrey might not be completely content phoning it in all the way to the bank (2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
and 2008’s I Love You Phillip Morris
), the ’00s were rough for those who excitedly watched Carrey evolve from Fire Marshall Bill
to Lloyd Christmas
in their younger years.
And Carrey, while not the lead in Kick-Ass 2
is inevitably the focal point of discussion around this film for so many. The uninitiated will probably only know Kick-Ass 2
as the film Carrey made news for not wanting to do publicity for — saying he couldn’t in good conscience promote following the Sandy Hook tragedy.
Fair enough. There is violence here — we’re not talking a Django
-level body count, but it’s enough to make the faint at heart turn away. Bodies are crushed like half-full soda cans under cars and cops are cut down by a yard tool. But, if you’re the type who can find humor in over-the-top comic book violence, there are definitely a few scenes in Kick-Ass 2 that will leave your mouth open — either in laughter or shock. A great deal of these scenes revolve around a jacked ex-KGB agent who takes the villainess name of Mother Russia. (Think: Zangief
with boobs and an eye patch.)
Part 2 takes up shortly after the first
. High schooler-turned-vigilante Kick-Ass’ (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) work has inspired others to take up costumed justice calling — like The Dark Knight
but with the good guys being totally cool with maiming and murdering the bad guys. (Batman am disappoint
Carrey, with a Mickey Rourke impression and some sort of facial prosthetic, plays Colonel Stars and Stripes, a square-jawed lovable sociopath hell bent on vigilante justice with a penis-eating German Shepherd. The Colonel leads a ragtag team of would-be superheroes, a poor man’s Justice League, that takes in Kick-Ass after Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), his partner in anti-crime, takes an oath to hang her costume up for good. This leads to a Mean Girls side story for Hit-Girl that wraps up not so unlike (speaking of Carrey) Dumb and Dumber's
infamous bathroom scene.
This paternal “superhero” role gives Carrey even less screentime than Nic Cage got in the original Kick-Ass
, which is too bad, because if anyone could ever attempt to halfway fill those weird-ass shoes, it’s Carrey, who steals the scenes he’s in. Among the other pleasant surprises is John Leguizamo, who delivers some solid laughs as the Alfred to Red Mist’s — now the “Mother Fucker” (Christopher Mintz-Plasse aka McLovin) — Batman.
co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, X-men: First Class
) passes the directorial torch to Jeff Wadlow, who — as you may have ascertained from reading this sentence — is not Matthew Vaughn. Perhaps Vaughn passed because he knew that like the heroes that Kick-Ass inspires, it’s difficult for what comes after to ever match the original object.Kick-Ass 2
is juvenile, which isn’t necessarily bad, but fails to live up to the first, which balanced shock, intense action and superhero fantasy into a frenetic entertaining mix in a vibrant, over-saturated romp. Still, there are some laugh-out-loud moments and few scenes of eyebrow-raising gratuitous violence that warrant giving Kick-Ass 2
a chance if you go in with realistic expectations.
This raunchy comedy won’t have you rolling down the aisles in a laughing fit, but We’re the Millers does hit the occasional comedic high point.
Former Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis plays aging small-time Denver drug dealer Dave Clark, who happens to be the on hook to a drug kingpin (Ed Helms) after his stash and cash are stolen by some young punks. To pay back his debt, Clark must smuggle a “smidge” of marijuana across the border from Mexico. He devises the idea to parade as a wholesome unsuspecting family—because who would mistake an all-Ameican family for drug smugglers—with the help of local stripper, Rose (Aniston), the geeky kid next door, Kenny (Will Poulter) and a couch-hopping troubled teen, Casey (Emma Roberts).
What happens shortly after the misfit “family” members hop in their RV and take off on their journey should come as a surprise to no one. The foursome’s time together breeds a level of familiarity, which predictably leads to genuine care and concern for one another. This is where We’re the Millers may earn some appreciation from viewers.
All of the film’s stars do an apt job in their roles. Sudeikis is edgy and as sarcastic as ever. Young British actor Poulter adds a naïve charm to the film and provides a couple of the film’s most memorable moments (when a poisonous tarantula gets inside his pants, the results and his reaction is priceless). Emma Roberts held her own, though at times I felt as if she didn’t really add anything to some of the scenes she was in.
Aniston’s performance had a very endearing quality to it, especially in the scenes where her maternal instincts are on display. But what I’m sure most people are curious about is her prowess as a stripper. First off, she is in fantastic shape! It’s obvious she works very hard to keep her body in tip-top shape. Her strip tease scene was done tastefully, and was even injected with a bit of humor to continue with the film’s overall comedic tone. I will admit that at one point during her dance I thought to myself: “It’s weird watching Rachel perform a strip tease.”
This exaggerated comedy does suffer a bit from an uneven script, but not enough to mar an otherwise enjoyable experience filled at times with hilarity, as well as humanity.
-- Derrick Mitcham
I am ashamed to admit that I, at first, refused to watch District 9 because the trailers made it look too scary. When I finally caved and watched it, I was shocked at how expensive it looked and how much that movie said with so little. Elysium, director Neill Blomkamp's second feature, is almost the opposite: it has SO much going for it, and it sometimes squanders much that it has...but it doesn't mean it's not a dazzling movie to watch with engaging performances, gosh-wow visuals, and a Aesop fable-like moral propelling it forward.
The year is 2154, and two classes of humans exist: those who can live in the pristine Elysium orbiting the Earth with the ability to cure themselves should they ever fall ill, and the poor, unfortunate souls who are forced to live in an impoverished, polluted, and over-populated Earth and struggle to keep healthy. Matt Damon plays Max, an ex-con who's trying to stay on the straight and narrow path by taking a job in a factory. On an exceptionally shitty day, droids pull him aside merely for being a parolee and break his arm before he heads to work, where he accidentally gets exposed to lethal radiation that will kill him in five days time. Wee! Max then decides the only way he can survive is by sneaking onto Elysium and finding himself into a magical pod that can cure him--but in order to do that, he'll have to attach a heavy duty exoskeleton thingy to himself and hijack some codes out of a Elysian's head, not knowing that said codes could change the course of history...
Also along for the ride are Jodie Foster as a diabolical Defense Secretary of Elysium (one with a SUPER questionable accent) and Sharlto Copley as a rouge sleeper agent on Earth who's gone a little batshit insane and will stop at nothing to make sure Max doesn't reach Elysium alive. Of course, it wouldn't be a summer action movie if there wasn't a dame, and Alice Braga plays Max's childhood friend who, naturally, has a dying daughter of her own.
Now, Elysium is being billed as a thinking-man's summer action film, and this is definitely an accurate statement in that there is a bunch of political agenda wrapped into a sci-fi flick about the haves and the have-nots. There is gunfire and neato gadgets and space crafts and a bunch of really cool set pieces designed by the same dude who brought you dystopia at its finest in Blade Runner, all which add up to some pretty cool shit. There are even really fun hand-to-hand fighting and some really gross things happening to body parts, and while this is all really neat and exciting, at the end it all boils down to a climax everyone with a brain (or someone who watches a shit load of movies) can see coming a mile away.
But Elysium is a fun ride, nonetheless, with a decent performance by Damon, who spends most of his time limping around or passed out when he's not fighting Copley, who is (duh) one of the best things about this film. Can he just go around playing sadistic assholes for a living, please? It's the end of a kinda disappointing movie summer, and Elysium is definitely a nice little palate cleanser even with its faults. It's a great action flick for those who don't want to read into all the political mumbo jumbo, and it's a nice change of pace for those who are currently bored of all those comic book heroes at the moment.
-- Darcie Duttweiler
At first glance, The Conjuring may appear as just another entry in the haunted-house film genre. But don’t let the initial feeling of familiarity fool you; this film offers scares aplenty, and most surprisingly, nails them almost perfectly to frightening effect.
This tale is based on the real-life exploits of paranormal specialists Ed Warren—the only Vatican-recognized demonologist—and his clairvoyant wife, Lorraine. The pair made famous by their work on the renowned and much-disputed Amityville Horror case.
As the film begins, we see Mr. Warren (Patrick Wilson) and Mrs. Warren (Vera Farmiga) investigating the possession of an insanely creepy doll in the late 1960s. This opening scene sets the tone of the movie and paves the way for the events ahead.
Fast forward to 1970, and we’re introduced to the Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five daughters. The family has just moved into an old Rhode Island farmhouse that holds, unbeknownst to them, some dark secrets within its walls. Before they can even put out the welcome mat, mysterious events begin to plague the family—all the clocks in the house stop at the same time, mysterious knocking sounds echo throughout the house, sleeping girls are awaken in the middle of the night by a tug at their leg, etc.
These events prompt the Perrons to seek out the Warrens in hopes of finding an explanation for the strange occurrences.
Director James Wan (of torture porn film Saw) borrows many elements from classic horror films of yesteryear—Poltergeist, The Haunting, and of course The Exorcist. The setting and the score of the film really help illustrate the increasing tension throughout the film. At times, scenes go by with very little sound to no sound at all. This ramped up the fear factor, and often had me slinking down into my seat in anticipation of what was going to happen next.
Despite the majority of the film taking place in one location—the Perrons' home—I never bored of the setting. In fact, I think it was one of the strongest elements of the film. The house gives you the feeling that you’re in a place you know you shouldn’t be, but you go forward anyway because it’s hard to resist the old-world charm and mystery of the place.
All of the actors involved gave resounding and believable performances. Yes, I’m saying that about actors in a horror film! Taylor and Farmiga come off as the most compelling characters in the film. Their respective performances beg the audience to sympathize with them and root for them as they each battle their own demons—literally and figuratively.
The Conjuring is not going to win any awards for originality. It relies on a formula that has been used time and time again—most often unsuccessfully—throughout the horror film genre. What makes this a must see for fans of the supernatural is the way Wan delivers such a chilling tale while utilizing many of the same techniques that fail to deliver the thrills and chills in other scary movies. This movie shows that treading in familiar territory can feel like a new and refreshing experience.
Written and directed by Jim Rash and Nate Faxon (the Academy Award-winning writers of The Descendents), The Way, Way Back tells the tale of Duncan (Liam James), a 14-year-old boy forced to vacation at his mom’s jerk boyfriend’s summer home and who is angry, insecure, and devoid of friends as his mom seems to be having some sort of weird adult spring break. He crushes on the neighbor’s daughter (AnnaSophia Robb) and rides his bike to the nearby water park in order to escape. It’s there that he meets Owen (Sam Rockwell), the manager of Water Wizz who has a certain confidence and joie de vivre that is infectious to young Duncan after being marginalized and put down by mom’s boyfriend (Steve Carell).
The Way, Way Back isn’t anything new really. Adventureland and Little Miss Sunshine both lend heavily as inspirations. This film may be a fairly generic coming-of-age story, but it has one ace in the hole: Sam Rockwell. Sure, he’s playing a similar character he always tends to play: cocksure, wacky, slightly unstable, and unreliable but full of heart and loyalty. His character brings out the confidence in Duncan to stand up for himself and go for what he wants. There are also some great supporting characters, like Rash’s sadsack Louis and Allison Janney as the lush neighbor. Toni Collette plays Duncan’s mom in a way that makes you really miss The United States of Tara. She can say so much with just a single expression.
But, the movie can’t overcome its genericness and the not-so-great acting of Liam James, who’s forced to carry a movie on his shoulders. No amount of charming Sam Rockwell dancing can truly compensate (okay, that’s not entirely true...). You should still go see The Way, Way Back, but just know you’re not going into a movie that will surprise you in the slightest. Luckily, you have some Sam Rockwell to make you smile along the way.
Director Gore Verbinski and actor Johnny Depp may have hit the bull’s eye with the three Pirates of the Caribbean films and the animated Rango, but The Lone Ranger completely misses the mark.
In this revisionist film, Verbinski tells the tale of how the Comanche warrior with a tortured past, Tonto (Johnny Depp), and straight-laced Texas lawyer John Reid (Armie Hammer) came to meet and the adventure they share in their pursuit of justice. The two do not exactly see eye-to-eye upon their first encounter. But when Reid is left for dead after he and his fellow Texas Rangers are ambushed by the outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) and his gang, Tonto nurses the ailing lawman back to health and gives him his signature black mask to complete his vigilante makeover.
From here, the pair face-off time and time again against Cavendish, corporate tycoons driven by greed, and on many occasions, each other. This back-and-forth goes on for way too long (the film clocks in at 2 hours and 29 minutes), dragging the film down and making it all feel like a colossal bore. There were about five different incidents during the film where I said to myself: "I can’t believe it’s still going." It definitely would have benefited the film if it were an hour shorter.
I kept hoping that Depp would step up and serve as the film’s saving grace, but sadly that did not happen. His charm and ability to breathe the right amount of eccentricity into his characters continues with his portrayal of Tonto. Some of the silliest moments in the film come during his conversations with the spirit horse, and his attempts to feed the deceased crow that reigns from atop his head. With that said, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a less-flamboyant version of Jack Sparrow, minus the dreadlocks and pirate get-up, out in the Wild West.
Hammer was likeable enough, though his performance came off as very bland at times and then campy at others. Verbinski’s uncertainty as to how to frame the film as a whole might be partly to blame for that.
Helena Bonham Carter makes a brief appearance that adds little to the film. Though she does show off a fake ivory leg that conceals a hidden pistol, which should be good for a few points from gun enthusiasts.
Tonally, the film seemed to be all over the place. You could almost label it a parody for the way it satirized the source material. Yet there were some dramatic moments that added some tension to the film, as well as sociopolitical commentary on corruption and greed. It seemed Verbinski wanted to address a few too many issues at once.
I do think the film succeeded visually. The shooting locations chosen were visually striking and added great scenic value to much of the film. And there is something to be said for its authenticity. Real trains were built, as opposed to CGI locomotives, for some of the film’s best action sequences. About six miles worth of railroad track were actually laid as well.
In all, there are a few enjoyable moments to be had in The Lone Ranger. It’s clear that Verbinski was looking to recreate the magic and commercial success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, but this film simply does not meet the challenge. This is one film I hope the spirit horse leaves dead and gone once its time has come.