It all started with that phone call in the trailer for 2008’s Taken. Liam Neeson’s intimidating, measured voice calmly relayed a “particular set of skills” to the unfortunate thugs who kidnapped his character’s daughter. Audiences were sold and an unlikely 50-something action hero was born.
Into the Woods can’t see the dark forest for the trees. The film gets so caught up in the minutiae of its clever constructs and unique spins on classic Brothers Grimm tales that the fun eventually fizzles and themes grow elusive and ineffectual.
Being over-the-top and simultaneously aware of its own ridiculousness isn’t enough to sustain the buzz from an ambitious opening musical number and a game cast that’s up for a rollicking time. When things turn solemn and the “…happily ever after” myth is shattered, it feels more like tacking on than subversion. The protracted third act makes us long for a more traditional ending, if only because it means the movie would be a half hour shorter, not necessarily because we care about the grim fates of some of the characters.
Clint Eastwood’s portrait of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle may as well be titled Call of Duty: American Sniper. Not to further highlight Kyle’s unambiguous dedication to his missions in the Iraq War – which isn’t left in doubt here, but because the repetitive pattern of deployment-battle-sniping plays out like a videogame, eventually leading to a couple of big bosses that need to be taken out. Perfunctory stretches back stateside with his wife and growing family are mere cutscenes, highlighting commonplace laments of the military household before shipping out for another tour. It’s a cycle that never finds discerning commentary or meaningful human interest.
The true life story of Louie Zamperini is remarkable. The movie version is efficient and satisfactory. Unbroken respects the man it’s based on and communicates his tale in a way that resonates on a surface level. The film is well-scripted, directed, and acted, but it can’t shake the biopic and POW genre familiarities. Painting in broad strokes, director Angelina Jolie deserves credit for not relying on heaping helpings of sentimentality to force a response, though there’s a detachment that makes the events feel more like a checklist than a harrowing journey.
It can be difficult for a remake to justify its existence, and the 2014 version of Annie offers only sketchy modernization to differentiate itself from the 1982 film and 1977 Broadway musical. Changing the name of Daddy Warbucks, turning the character into a cell phone mogul, and integrating social media isn’t nearly enough to avoid a stale sense of familiarity. The superficial contemporary spins from director Will Gluck and his co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna are uninspired in their concept and flat in their execution. It also doesn’t help that the cast (of a musical) is populated with non-singers and non-dancers.
Chris Rock’s status as one of the best stand-ups of his generation, perhaps ever, isn’t in question. Thus far, however, his winning mixture of insightful social commentary and incising wit hasn’t translated to film. His previous directorial efforts (Head of State, I Think I Love My Wife) largely sacrificed the comedian’s observations for more standard slants, while his slumming with Adam Sandler in the Grown Ups movies is probably fun for them but definitely not for us. The quasi-autobiographical Top Five is the closest Rock has come yet to capturing his on-stage magic, and though the film is often funny, it’s also disorganized and broad in its judgments.
Atom Egoyan is trapped in a malaise that mirrors his usually weary protagonists. 20 years ago, the filmmaker reached the apex of his brand of analytical drama with The Sweet Hereafter, successfully mixing sober tragedy and dysfunction with a grim tone. Something’s been lost since his mid-90s heights, however. Earlier this year came Devil’s Knot, a forgettable take on the unforgettable West Memphis 3 case, which was also wholly unnecessary on the heels of the three fascinating Paradise Lost documentaries. Now comes The Captive, which encapsulates the decline from observant intensity to made-for-cable melodrama by starting as a gutting study of a horrific situation, only to weasel out of messy situations with convenient catharsis.
The Pyramid is a monument to stupidity. Ominous opening text tells us a documentary crew went to Cairo in 2013 to film a team of archaeologists and, “this is what happened to them.” But what starts as strictly found footage hokum with the establishing of a cameraman, wearable head cams, and a robotic rover, shifts to unaccounted-for sources, including jarring God’s eye view shots. As horror movie approaches go, positing as found footage only to ditch the style for more conventional chills is unadvisable and undermines any urgency that had been established. The Pyramid never justifies its tactics and, worse, each method employed is handled horribly.
Late Phases shows its cards early, establishing a sketch of a main character and the monster he’s pitted against. The setup shows promise with a no-nonsense, bloodthirsty, practical effects werewolf stalking a retirement community, but instead of using the unique setting for metaphor and/or mayhem, the film grinds in its transitions between tame terror and flaccid drama. The man-in-suit is amusing for all the wrong reasons, while the dime-store theater is stretched well beyond its depths. It all makes for an experience that taxes one’s patience instead of their nerves. There’s little that elicits a reaction other than boredom, save a few unintentionally laughable dialogue selections and perplexing story choices.
Bad Turn Worse proudly wears its noir influences on its dusty sleeve, using a desolate Texas setting for a familiar story of characters getting wrapped up in a web of crime that’s impossible to untangle cleanly. What’s not so familiar is the trio of teens at the center of predicament who are too naïve to be hard boiled but cognizant enough to be desperate.
Just in case the 20 years between movies clouded your memory, Dumb and Dumber To includes some helpful split screens in the closing credits that highlight its recycled gags from the 1994 original. Most of the material hasn’t aged well and/or was handled much better the first time around. The frustrating thing is a lot of the new stuff works in an idiotically inspired way, thanks to the game duo of Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Part of the joke is that our lovable 30-something dimwits from Dumb and Dumber haven’t matured, but it’s not quite as fun (and a little uncomfortable) to watch 50-somethings bumble around and unleash a more mean-spirited brand of stupidity on the unsuspecting.
Superheroes have taken over the multiplex and the rush isn’t slowing anytime soon. Comic titans DC and Marvel recently unveiled schedules for a dizzying amount of films to be released over the next half-decade; announcements that were met with squeals of glee from insatiable fans. Amid the perpetual hero hype it makes sense that Disney, which acquired Marvel Entertainment a few years back, would be eager to combine that mania with their acclaimed animation work. Enter Big Hero 6, an obscure Marvel Comic team that, with some liberal tweaking of the source material, is ripe for Disney retrofitting. The film isn’t a revolutionary comic-to-screen adaptation and feels too familiar at times, but it’s an entertaining adventure set in an interesting near future world that’s a joy to explore.
There are plenty of frightening things knocking about the local Wal-Mart, but Hasbro’s Ouija board – in the toys and games aisle right between Scrabble and Boggle – isn’t one of them. The mass-produced novelty made of common cardboard and plastic is not a vessel for contacting the spirit world but makes for a satisfactory piece of spooky entertainment for tween slumber parties. That’s clearly the target demographic for Ouija, a smorgasbord of homogenized horror that relies on jump scares and a rote haunted house story to supply the shocks. Predictably, the results are more tiring than terrifying.