Drawing masses to the cinemas for a Greatest Hits package of Bible… MoreDrawing masses to the cinemas for a Greatest Hits package of Bible stories featuring the Son of God, this patchwork re-edit of a History Channel mini-series offering filmgoers a faith-affirming saga from the cradle to the grave of Jesus Christ sadly turns potential wine into water. If you've seen illustrated picture books of the New Testament for children, you've already seen and realized the breadth of this literal interpretation of a family friendly Bible story. Honestly, Monty Python's Life of Brian provides Christians with more Sunday School discussion points. Aside from a few tears and some blood stains, there's very little exploration of the human side of God's flesh form. What Mel Gibson did with the gritty but reverential The Passion of the Christ was awe-inspiring. What the abridged Jesus of Nazareth clone The Son of God does is simply duh-inspiring. Imagine the creator of earth revealing himself in human form to experience his creation's tragic failings. It would and should result in something more than a big-budget Little Golden Book.
In this PG-13-rated drama, the life story of Jesus (Morgado) gets re-told from his humble birth through his teachings, crucifixion and ultimate resurrection.
Looking like Barry Gibb after a teeth whitening, Diogo Morgado tries to inspire humbleness but often comes off looking smug. Of course, there's very little bread and fishes dredged up from the script, which presents a straight-ahead re-reading of Anglicized scripture rather than a truthful dramatization of some earth-shattering events.
Bottom line: Least Temptation of Christ
Flying just high enough to give moviegoers a business class amount of… MoreFlying just high enough to give moviegoers a business class amount of frills and thrills, Non-Stop finds Liam Neeson in top form even when the story takes a familiar flight pattern. Even when the action recipe gets followed to the ounce, however, the script offers up a few first-class twists that keep the action from becoming grounded (the ransomer's bank account is in our hero's name and a cleared suspect later reveals himself to be the villain). Not only does Non-Stop apart keep audiences guessing, but it's better than the blockbuster Taken twofer put together. Not that this is a high mantle, mind you, but it doesn't put viewers in the economy class with a shoot-'em-up that should've gone direct to video either.
In this PG-13-rated actioner, an air marshal (Neeson) springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account.
Like Fred Astaire hoofing it in top hat and tails and Jackie Chan prat falling his way through chop socky fisticuffs, H'Wood plays to certain actor's strengths time and time and time again, regardless of the looming threat of redundancy. Regardless of how unoriginal Taken and its sequel prove to be, Liam Neeson deserves his well-earned tenure as latter-day action star. He gets the job done brilliantly, looking every bit of his 61 years but convincingly doling out ass-whoopings at 10,000 feet. Non-Stop doesn't reach sky high levels of entertainment but definitely stands head and shoulders above his last collaboration with Jaume Collet-Serra, the horrid excuse for entertainment called The Unknown.
Bottom line: Taken to the Bank
Ashing in the face of famed '70s producer Irwin Allen, Pompeii takes… MoreAshing in the face of famed '70s producer Irwin Allen, Pompeii takes Gladiator and pits it somewhere in between the Shake 'n' Bake twofer of classic H'Wood disaster movies Earthquake and Towering Inferno. That description alone should make you want to board the Poseidon immediately and go see it, but the actual experience inspires less adventure and more displeasure as you pretty much watch a B-Movie with a 9 figure budget unfold before your eyes. When it comes down to it, why does Asylum, producers of such direct-to-video mockbusters as Transmorphers and Titanic II, catch such flak when such a supposedly A-List production house like Filmdistrict is pretty much providing the same blockbuster-aping product at a much higher ticket price? The story is a rehash of other modern classics, the dialogue seems cut and pasted from some other not-so-classics, and the final cut boasts some weapons-grade special effects, but at what cost? Audiences have already begged for a gladiator's death by the time the volcano finally explodes.
In this PG-13-rated disaster flick from Paul W.S. Anderson (the Resident Evil franchise), a slave turned gladiator (Harrington) races against time to save his true love (Browning), who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator (Kiefer Sutherland) as Mount Vesuvius erupts around them.
It seems like Anderson has the Midas Touch...everything he touches turns into a muffler (thank you, Henny Youngman). From derailing the Alien franchise (AVP: Aliens Vs. Predator) to unnecessarily remaking Death Race to crappily adapting The Three Musketeers, his schlocktastic CV reads like it belongs on USA's Up All Night circa 1991. Kiefer Sutherland seems to be the only one having fun, cashing a paycheck and snarling his way twice through a line like "Kill them...kill them all!" It's the kind of mustache-twirling performance that Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington should take note of if he wants a long career...because you can't take a melodramatic love story set against the burning of a Roman Empire city in 3D seriously.
Bottom line: Pomp and Circumvent
There are worse ways to kill time than watching Kevin Costner's… MoreThere are worse ways to kill time than watching Kevin Costner's predictable latest, but this bland bang bang flirts so much with boredom that the viewing feels like it's taken you 3 days to watch. It seems like it was just weeks ago that this column raved that Kevin Costner was the best part of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and lobbied for him to be given another shot at being an action hero. Well, be careful what you wish for. Oh, there are some clever tweaks to the recycled story but it's not enough to save moviegoers from a mission called tedium. A dying father trying to reconnect with his family. A contract killer working one last mission. A sexy handler with a duplicitous agenda. Yes, you've seen these boxes checked off before (perhaps not mixed into one watered down cocktail but still). Thanks to a winning lead, you almost want to throw 3 Days to Kill a bone...but it's ten days shy of being a Costner Days flick we actually care about: Thirteen Days.
In PG-13-rated actioner, Costner plays a dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Steinfeld) who gets offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment.
Though this actor certainly deserves a Liam Neeson-style career rejuvenation a la Taken or The Grey, the participation of McG as director (Terminator Salvation, This Means War) and Luc Besson as screenwriter (Columbiana, The Family) seems to present him with a John Travolta-style career misstep like From Paris with Love instead.
Bottom line: Jack Ryan: Shadow Rebuke
Crammed full of more Z-Grade slapstick than a Three Stooges marathon… MoreCrammed full of more Z-Grade slapstick than a Three Stooges marathon featuring Joe Besser, Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest actioner unfortunately laughs all the way to box office bankruptcy. No stranger to dumbed down shoot-em'-ups, the one-time Governor of California has certainly seen more Commandos than Terminators throughout his career. Talk of this being his comeback, however, is purely presumptuous. It's more like a rebound from an unfortunate breakup, with our puffy out-of-breath pensioner hero disappearing for long stretches with the supporting cast doing most of the heavy lifting. Hopefully, the title isn't as prophetic as all that. He deserves a better send off. Frankly, we all do.
In this R-rated actioner, the leader of a drug cartel (Eduardo Noriega) busts out of a courthouse and speeds to the Mexican border, where the only thing in his path is a sheriff (Schwarzenegger) and his inexperienced staff (Johnny Knoxville, Luis Guzman, Jaimie Alexander).
With his breakthrough The Good, the Bad, The Weird, director Kim Jee-woon found a successful formula integrating knockabout comedy into blood sport. With this bloody spectacle, however, such integration proves completely miscalculated. Both the jokes and bloodshed are presented in such an over-the-top manner that the laughs and winces come in the wrong places--you laugh at the bloodshed and wince at the jokes. And how is it that Schwarzenegger's small-town sheriff came from Texas, honed his skills in LA, returned home, and STILL has an impenetrable Eastern European accent? There's been a lot of suspension of disbelief over the years with the Austrian Oak, but such a gratuitous misstep can't be explained away.
Bottom line: Collateral Dammit
Not your canon fodder's RoboCop, this modern update proves somewhat… MoreNot your canon fodder's RoboCop, this modern update proves somewhat enjoyable but entirely unnecessary when it comes to reinventing the bionic wheel. Oh, it's fun beyond your wildest dreams...if it hit screens in 1995. Here, however, it's just a big budget remake of a darkly comic and brutally violent cult hit whose leftovers - when reheated - feel redundant in the wake of better sci-fi thrillers. Though not as tongue-in-cheek as a certain original 1987 gem, this update does have a timely sense of humor in the guise of a staunchly right leaning Glenn Beck-esque TV-host zealot played by Samuel L. Jackson. But the machine vs. mankind downgrade theme already played out so many times already on-screen that it'd make Phillip K. Dick spin around on his Blade Runner.
In this PG-13-rated remake, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp realizes their vision for a part-man, part-robot after police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) - a loving husband, father and good cop - gets critically injured in the line of duty.
Joel Kinnamen possesses chops enough to pass off himself as an ass-kicking cyborg. The problem is, the rest of the production can't make you care enough to go full Robo. Director Jose Padilha (Elite Squad) exhibits great vision when it comes to action but can't work beyond the been-there/seen-that confines of Terminator 2 and Alien. That's right, RoboCop - with its marquee cast firing on all melodramatic cylinders - feels derivative not of the blueprint but of machinations that came before and in its stead. There's explosively exciting action and dramatics beside but it's just Déjà Goo all over again.
Bottom line: Half Man. Half Machine. Half Hearted.
Though it doesn't exactly reach the heights of monumental filmmaking,… MoreThough it doesn't exactly reach the heights of monumental filmmaking, some Men of good standing nevertheless turn this history lesson into a warzone romp that's solidly entertaining. Owing more to Kelly's Heroes than Ocean's Eleven, director/star George Clooney's film plays out more like a zippy ensemble piece than seriously hard-hitting drama. This goes double for the running time, which whisks filmgoers right into the action and rarely lets up. A blessing and a curse, this whiplashed breeziness means you'll never get bored but you'll also never feel the characters' weary anguish at being homesick. I mean, they just got to Europe 20 minutes ago, right? Still, there are some truly teary moments courtesy of a letter narrated from the grave and a Christmas greeting broadcast over an Army camp loud speaker-expertly shot/edited brief moments that elevate the entire production within mere minutes.
In this PG-13-rated historical drama, an unlikely World War II platoon (Clooney, Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban) are tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners.
Without the letter-perfect cast, the golden moments would be for naught. What's funny is that Clooney doesn't do as well with out-and-out comedy (Leatherheads) as he does with funny moments interspersed in his dramas (Good Night, And Good Luck). Monuments Men never inspires a feeling that you should be taking these goings-on seriously. For better AND worse, it betrays more of a good-time Charlie Company vibe that just happens to tell a story worth hearing.
Bottom line: World War Zing
A bustling toybox of crackling wit and imagination, The LEGO Movie… MoreA bustling toybox of crackling wit and imagination, The LEGO Movie defies the odds and gives moviegoers as fun an afternoon as is humanly possible for a blockhead...and that's meant as a high compliment. I mean, these are Interlocking bricks, right? How funny can this flick be? In all honesty, it's got more laughs than most of the modern blockbusting animated flicks put together because it knows just what it is: a major motion picture based on a plastic plaything. The LEGO Movie ends up to be a sarcastic triumph, tearing itself down with tongue firmly in cheek as much as its builds itself up, but also successfully integrating a multi-pop-cultural world of superheroes, wizards, presidents, and Star Wars characters into one fantastic joyride.
In this PG-rated animated comedy, an ordinary LEGO minifigure mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder (Pratt) is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant (Will Ferrell) from gluing the universe together.
Hats off to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs co-writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Here, they've provided audiences with a cornucopia, cacophony, and cultural cocktail that's one of the best animated flicks to come along in awhile. The movie also boasts some eye-popping animation and use of 3D that's well worth the price of admission and some appropriate celebrity pipes that don't come off as stunt casting. Whip smart and smart alecky, they've already set a high mantle for family entertainment this year.
Bottom line: Attack the Blocks
Ripped from the national headlines, this locally bred American Horror… MoreRipped from the national headlines, this locally bred American Horror Story makes for a ridiculously engrossing documentary even if though it leaves an ill feeling in the pit of your stomach by proxy. Sadly, the true events prove too unbelievable to be mistaken for a narrative film--despicably stranger than fiction. The fact that Pennsylvania's justice system became a Draconian super villain to children would almost be deemed too melodramatic if sold as a drama. The staggering facts play out almost like a Dickensian tragedy, which makes this subject and its subjects well worth documenting. And aside from some stylistic gaffes, the documentation gets expertly presented.
This R-rated documentary looks behind the notorious judicial scandal that rocked the nation, exposing a shocking American secret where millions got paid and the justice system got waylaid.
Robert May produced amazing films from both the narrative (The Station Agent) and documentary realm (The Fog of War). These experiences obviously provided a brilliant training ground for shooting hundreds of hours of interview footage, securing actual news coverage, and compiling them both into an informational but digestible piece of pop culture. When the mother of a deceased victim confronts Judge Mark Ciavarella on the steps of a Federal courthouse, it comes as a jaw-dropping climax more powerful than something Herman Mankiewicz (Pride of the Yankees, Citizen Kane) could even craft-all because it smartly comes at the precisely perfect moment of running time. Of course, there are the missteps. To offset the monotonousness of watching endless interview footage, a child's constructions - paper dolls amid a cardboard suburb - gets integrated. At first, it perfectly offsets the very real tragedy of victimized youth. Then, when integrated too prominently and far too long during some segments, this device starts to lay this editorial voice on too thick. Also, the film leaves audiences with multiple codas, statistics well worth knowing...at first. The first three provide the perfect dropping off point for further inspection. But then, the information overload continues...ad nauseum. This statistical glut almost derails the whole experience.
Bottom line: Children of a Lesser Judge
A progressive payout as opposed to an instant lottery jackpot,… MoreA progressive payout as opposed to an instant lottery jackpot, Alexander Payne's latest spans an amazing breadth of characters and themes in unfurling a fascinating father-son story that counts as one of the writer/director's best trips yet. The state of Nebraska served as this Omaha native's setting before, from About Schmidt through Young Adult. And just like many of his films - Schmidt, Sideways, and Descendents before it - the story comes down to traveling homeward and reconnecting with the past. At first, the main character of Woody Grant comes off as infuriatingly selfish and headstrong. Only the narrative doesn't sell the audience short, slowly revealing our anti-hero as a put-upon wounded veteran with a tragic past--a man lamentably looking to leave more than a drunken legacy behind. At heart, it's a slow burn homespun tale but the production proves masterfully accomplished with so much blood red emotion that it bleeds through the black and white photography. Some people would mistakenly call it noir and a '70s throwback but that misconception simply comes down to the lack of color and an uncompromised vision on the palette. Smartly photographed in black and white, the picture plays out like an actual Midwest drive to Lincoln--a flat pallid landscape that can't help but speak anything but the truth.
In this R-rated drama from Alexander Payne, an aging, booze-addled ne-er-do-well (Dern) makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son (Forte) in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
This sympathetic rewinding of a dubiously true story comes as a masterful stroke of near genius powered by unforgettable performances from Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb. Sure, at times, the dialogue hits like a ton of bricks, as does the somewhat saccharine ending. Just because its title brings to mind a sea of corn, however, doesn't necessarily mean filmgoers get served up a mindful.
Bottom line: Bruce Almighty