It looked like Disney Animation was dead in the water for a while there. Sure, Pixar has had the company’s back for almost two decades now. In terms of movies that were solely produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios, though, it was a bit of a downhill spiral from “Pocahontas” in 1995 to “Chicken Little” in 2005. While there were some under appreciated gems in the mix like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” nothing took audiences by storm like “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King” did.
In “About Time,” Rachel McAdams plays the wife of a man that can travel through time. No, this isn’t a sequel to “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” but its impossible not to make the comparison. There are a few key differences between the two movies, though. For starters, this film is less about the time traveler’s wife and more about the time traveler himself. “About Time” also has the benefit of being more charming than the other McAdams time traveling romance. As far as time-related romantic comedies go, however, it’s no “Groundhog Day.”
You can probably tell whether you’re going to enjoy “All Is Lost” based on the film’s synopsis. Robert Redford plays a sailor on a voyage somewhere in the Indian Ocean. Without any exposition or explanation, he wakes up one morning to find that his yacht has crashed into a shipping container. The sailor has no way to contact help and little means of navigation. Even though the sailor manages to patch the hole up, his boat won’t last long with hazardous weather conditions on the horizon.
Seven years ago, director Paul Greengrass gave us “United 93.” Greengrass’ vision was bold and pulled no punches, easily making it the best post-9/11 film to date. Everything Greengrass brought to the table in “United 93” is displayed in “Captain Phillips.” This is another intensely shot, authentically edited true story about ordinary people forced to step up during a catastrophe. Is it the masterpiece that “United 93” was? Not quite, but that’s a really tough act to beat.
Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” just might have the most horrifying premise in all of movies. There are several other strong contenders like “Buried,” in which Ryan Reynolds was trapped in a coffin underground, and “127 Hours,” where James Franco was stuck between a rock and a hard place. But honestly, what’s scarier than being stranded in space with limited air and no communication with Earth? Going to outer space is in itself a fairly scary thought. The notion of anything going wrong up there is the worst nightmare imaginable. As the tagline to “Alien” says, in space no one can hear you scream.
Ron Howard admits he was no racing aficionado when he set out to make the Formula One thriller “Rush,” chronicling the tense 1976 world championship battle between playboy James Hunt and calculating Niki Lauda.
In “Prisoners,” director Denis Villeneuve is allowed the privilege few lesser known filmmakers have these days: The chance to not only make a multimillion-dollar American movie with A-list actors, but to also see his vision to the end. It would have been easy for the studio to step in and dumb this material down to another Hollywood thriller. Watching the film, you feel nothing short of grateful that the project was helmed by Villeneuve, whose “Incendies” received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. Give him an intelligent script by Aaron Guzikowski in addition to a faultless cast, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the most distinctive crime dramas since “Mystic River.”
Three years after “Insidious” introduced moviegoers to the Lambert family and its troubling connection to the spirit world, the stars and filmmakers have reunited for another installment. “Insidious: Chapter 2” picks up where the first story ended, but the sequel has enough scares, laughs and a story of its own to stand alone.
Typically whenever a movie succumbs to the redundant car chase, it means that the screenwriter officially ran out of story to tell. It’s clear that the people behind “Getaway” never had any story to start with, as the entire film plays out like an extended car chase from its opening scene to its ridiculous ending.
In “You’re Next,” Barbara Crampton plays quite possibly the smartest person in the history of slasher flicks. Not more than 10 minutes into the picture, her character hears a strange noise coming from upstairs. Her initial reaction is to immediately get out of the house and drive away. That’s it. Movie’s over. Goodnight, everybody!
On the movie poster for “Planes’” and in a number of its advertisements is the tagline “From Above the World of Cars,” with the latter three words are carried over into the film’s title sequence. The goal, of course, is to link the film with Pixar’s popular “Cars” movies and equate that Pixar brand quality with its skyward brethren.
Of all the movie villains we've met lately, few are stranger than Delacourt, Jodie Foster's evil, white-blonde, power-suited and power-hungry defense official in "Elysium," the much-awaited but ultimately somewhat disappointing new film from director Neill Blomkamp.
If “Bridesmaids” was the female version of “The Hangover,” then “The To Do List” could be considered the female version of “American Pie.” You could also call it the female version of “Superbad,” the raunchier version of “Easy A,” or the 1990’s version of “Sixteen Candles.” No matter what you compare it to, “The To Do List” still stands out on its own as a funny, cute, and gleefully vulgar comedy. Much of this has to do with the film’s star and first-time director/writer, both of whom we ought to be seeing more of in the future.
‘The Conjuring” provides its audience with a checklist of ways to know if you’re living in a haunted house. Dog turns up dead, check. Previous owner boarded up the basement, check. Doors constantly creaking open, check. Birds flying into the side of the house, check. Your wife keeps getting unexplained bruises during the night, check. One of your daughters sleepwalks, check. Another one of your daughters sees a creepy figure at night, check. Another one of your daughters has a play date with a little dead boy, check. Personally, I would have packed my bags and hit the road after the dog got the axe, but that’s just me.
In a cluster of big-budget extravaganzas about superheroes, zombies, robots, monsters, and things that blow up, two little comedies about the magic of summer have stood out this season. One of these films is “The Kings of Summer,” perhaps the most overlooked picture of the year, thus far. The other film is “The Way, Way Back.” Both of these movies are humorous and identifiable with a familiar, yet eternally meaningful, message about growing up. “The Kings of Summer” and “The Way, Way Back” additionally seem to exist in timeless eras, mostly devoid of new-aged technology and modern references. There’s just one key difference between the two coming-of-age tales.
You ever hear the saying, “This is about as much fun as watching snails race?” Well “Turbo,” the latest flick from DreamWorks Animation, is literally about a racing snail. It’s also about as fascinating as watching paint dry or watching grass grow. Sitting in the theater, you never feel like you’re observing an animated feature from the edgy, satirical, pop-culture savvy folks at DreamWorks. You feel like you’re watching a cartoon with a thin premise on Nickelodeon. In other words, save your time, save your money, and stream it for the kids when it’s on Netflix in several months.
It would be dishonest to call “Grown Ups 2” the most repellent high-profile comedy in recent memory. But that’s largely because few moviegoers have memories kind enough to have already erased 2010’s “Grown Ups” — which offered almost every loathsome quality of this installment, plus Rob Schneider.
I, for one, am officially fed up with movies about zombie outbreaks, mutant outbreaks, virus outbreaks, and outbreaks in general. To be fair, the end of the world/global epidemic genre can still be done well. The best recent example actually wouldn’t be a movie, but “The Walking Dead: The Game,” which packed in more drama, thrills and heartfelt character development than the AMC TV show of the same name. Compelling characters and genuine terror is missing from “World War Z,” however. It’s surprisingly hollow, surprisingly bland, and, most unforgivable of all, surprisingly boring.
There’s one question that “Independence Day,” “2012,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Cloverfield,” “The Core,” “War of the Worlds,” and other disaster movies never acknowledge. Where are the celebrities during all this mayhem? Aside from Bill Murray’s hilarious cameo in “Zombieland,” we never get to see what the rich and fabulous are up to during the apocalypse. There aren’t any scientists, soldiers, politicians or everyday people in “This Is the End.” James Franco and friends are the film’s focus as they try to survive the end of the world and each other.
There’s no denying that Richard Donner set the bar for the “Superman” franchise with his 1978 film. The icy landscapes of Planet Krypton, John Williams’ vigorous musical score, Christopher Reeve’s iconic performance, every aspect of Donner’s movie remains definitive. Since then, most interpretations of Superman have either drawn inspiration from or paid homage to the original classic. One has to give director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan credit for taking “Man of Steel” in the complete opposite direction. Where Donner’s “Superman” was light, funny, and colorful, “Man of Steel” is dark, serious, and brooding. The film presents a vision of Superman that’s new and bold with a satisfying payoff.
Whether you had parents that were distant or parents that were overbearing, we all likely dreamed about running away from home while growing up. These unrealistic fantasies likely involved hitting the road with one or two good friends and building a safe haven somewhere in the wildness. Naturally, we all quickly woke up from this daydream, realizing that we’d never make it on our own. “The Kings of Summer” exists in an offbeat world fueled by our youthful daydreams. The end product is funny and quirky, but also wise and nostalgic with something meaningful to say about coming of age.
Most of the ads for “After Earth” have neglected to mention that M. Night Shyamalan co-wrote and directed the film. Movie studios finally seem to be realizing that having Shyamalan’s name plastered above the title will no longer sell tickets. If anything, it will have audiences fleeing from the theater in revulsion. Whenever it looks like Shyamalan can’t embarrass himself any further, he always comes out with a new film that’s even more atrocious than the last. At least with his previous debacle, “The Last Airbender,” Shyamalan hit ground zero. There’s no way he could possibly make a film even more poorly written, effortlessly acted, and bleakly directed, right?
If you grew up in the early 90s, you probably remember an animated feature from 20th Century Fox called “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.” It was the environmentally-conscious movie every 90s kid saw, and yet, nobody really liked. The film’s intentions might have been good, but even the youngest children seemed to find its blatant green message overly preachy. The fact that “FernGully” was lacking in any interesting characters or magic didn’t help. “Epic,” which was also coincidentally distributed by Fox, is a bit like “FernGully” if it had smarter, more imaginative filmmakers backing it. While it’s not a massive improvement, “Epic” is at least fun, energized, and subtle with its environmental themes.
On paper, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” is one of those movies that should have crashed and burned. A reboot of a beloved franchise with younger, lesser-known actors stepping into the shoes of an iconic cast of characters. The fact that Abrams went on record stating that he was never a huge “Star Trek” fan didn’t bode well either. Against all odds, though, Abrams not only produced a great “Star Trek” picture, but quite possibly the best “Star Trek” ever made. That’s right, even better than “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Even though “The Great Gatsby” has gotten the movie treatment several times in the past, no film adaptation has ever really stood out as the definitive version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel. Director Baz Luhrmann’s film is certainly the most visually arresting interpretation of “The Great Gatsby” ever produced. Catherine Martin, who previous worked with Luhrmann on “Moulin Rouge,” “Romeo + Juliet,” and “Australia,” deserves multiple Oscar nominations for her hyper sets and eye-popping costumes. As wonderful as Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby” is to look at, the enchanting visuals are also ironically the movie’s downfall. In the midst of the art direction, costumes, and music, the story and characters that made Fitzgerald’s book a classic become a mere afterthought.
Along with Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Iron Man 3” is one of the rare superhero threequels that doesn’t disappoint. While Jon Favreau remains an executive producer and co-star, he passes on the directorial duties to Shane Black of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Black maintains all the action, humor, and character development that made Faverau’s first two films so enjoyable, while also incorporating his own unique signature. His film continues to raise the stakes and pushes its characters to their critical limits. In addition, “Iron Man 3” makes some hilarious commentary on the media’s role in terrorism with several inspired twist. The result is the darkest of the “Iron Man” trilogy and, ironically, the funniest.
Just about all the actors in “The Big Wedding” are severely typecast. Diane Keaton is a high-strung, divorced mother like in “Something’s Gotta Give,” Robert De Niro is the father of somebody getting married like in “Meet the Fockers,” Amanda Seyfried is a blushing bride like in “Mamma Mia,” Robin Williams is an eccentric minister like in “License to Wed,” Topher Grace is a deadpan, quick-witted nice guy like in “That ‘70s Show,” and Katherine Heigl is a needy single woman like in every movie she does. Even though the actors are in their comfort zones, not a single person feels natural in “The Big Wedding.” That’s probably because the film doesn’t understand its own characters or their motivations. Nobody behind the camera has any idea what they’re doing, resulting in one of the most awkward romantic comedies of recent memory.
"Oblivion” is another movie that seems better suited for a video game than a motion picture. Watching the characters engage in endless shoot outs and explore vast, abandoned terrains, all you want to do is get your hands on a controller. Since a movie is unequipped with game play, though, you’re forced to sit back and merely observe the story. Then again, most modern video games have more three-dimensional characters and smarter plots than “Oblivion.” This science fiction mystery from director Joseph Kosinski isn’t completely without some good ideas, elevating it above “Transformers” schlock. It’s just unfortunate those ideas never meld into anything that intriguing.
"42” is far from the first movie to explore racial tensions in sports. We’ve seen this subject depicted in other good films like “Remember the Titans” and “Glory Road.” There are plenty of recognizable figures on display here, such as the underdog nobody believed in, the one man willing to take a chance on that underdog, and the ignorant antagonists that wish to see that underdog fail. Familiarity aside, though, “42” executes just about everything wonderfully. This is a good-hearted picture, carried by sincere performances and passionate direction. Not only is it an inspiring story about overcoming prejudice, but an all around rousing baseball movie too.
Anyone who saw “Scream 4” likely remembers the scene where Hayden Panettiere lists off every horror remake to come out in the past decade, from “Halloween” to “Friday the 13th.” So many of these remakes failed due to a lack of passion on the filmmaker’s behalf. Making a good movie was only their second priority, right after cashing in on an exhausted franchise’s good name. The new “Evil Dead” movie is the rare exception. It’s obvious that director/screenwriter Fede Alvarez has great admiration for Sam Raimi’s beloved cult classic. Along with co-writers Diablo Cody and Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez produces the best contemporary “Evil Dead” movie possible.
Although it’s not much, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” really deserves credit where credit’s due. Its 2009 predecessor was one of the dumbest action movies of the past 10 years. In this sequel, director Jon M. Chu of those “Step Up” movies makes an attempt to incorporate some humor, creative action sequences, and impressive visuals. That doesn’t mean “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is a good movie, but at least it’s an improvement. The film could have gone down the route of the “Transformers” series, which only got worse with every entry.
DreamWorks Animation has always strived to tell stories that can appeal to all ages. Its latest animated comedy, “The Croods,” will surely be enjoyed by anybody who is under 10. Unlike “Shrek” and “Kung-Fu Panda” though, it lacks the wit and innovation for older audiences. Compared to most Saturday morning cartoons, the film won’t passionately annoy parents who get dragged to the theater. But in an era where more and more adults are attending animated features without accompanying children, “The Croods” feels like a step backwards for DreamWorks.
‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” starts off with a recipe for grade-A comedy. The cast includes names such as Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini and Jim Carrey. The director is Don Scardino of “30 Rock,” while Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis of “Horrible Bosses” penned the screenplay. The premise regarding rivaling magicians offers endless comedic possibilities. So how is it that the final product is just mediocre? It’s probably because the audience has to be constantly caught off guard in order for a magic show or comedy to succeed. In “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” the audience can pretty much predict everything that’s going to happen. This subtracts the elements of surprise and humor from the equation.
MGM’s “The Wizard of Oz” is the rare film adaptation that has officially become even more cherished than the timeless book that inspired it. Over the years, “The Wizard of Oz” has influenced numerous sequels, prequels, and reimaginings in just about every entertainment medium. Although there have certainly been some good additions to the “Oz” franchise, it’s unfortunate all of them must live in the shadow of an unbeatable classic. While nothing will ever top the Judy Garland version, the most we can ask from a modern “Oz” interpretation is that it remains true to L. Frank Baum’s universe while also sprinkling in something fresh. On that basis, director Sam Raimi sufficiently delivers in his vibrant and fun “Oz the Great and Powerful.”
Remember how director Todd Phillips just half-heartedly remade “The Hangover” in “The Hangover Part II?” Remember how lethargic, lame, and tedious it felt having to sit through the same movie over again with fewer laughs? That’s the best way to describe “21 and Over.” The film marks the directorial debut of Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writing team behind the original “Hangover.” They’ve basically recycled their smash hit comedy beat for beat. Where “The Hangover Part II” at least had three laugh-out-loud moments though, there’s nothing even remotely funny in “21 and Over.” It’s a comedic dead zone from its opening scene all the way through.
From “Snow White and the Huntsmen,” to “Mirror Mirror,” to “Hansel and Gretle: Witch Hunters,” to “Red Riding Hood,” the film industry has really been banking on adult-oriented fairytales as of late. Television has additionally gotten in on this fairytale fad with ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” NBC’s “Grimm,” and, to a lesser extent, the CW’s “Beauty and Beast.” So what’s been causing this recent outbreak of fairytale reinterpretations aimed at grown-up audiences? Perhaps it can be attributed to the concept of nostalgia. Since fairytales are typically the first stories ever introduced to us, everybody identifies with them. By giving these timeless tales a PG-13 spin, they can appeal to our inner child while also satisfying our desire for something more mature. “Jack the Giant Slayer” comes close to working as a fun fantasy adventure for childish adults and sophisticated kids. If only the familiar story had more of a twist to it.
In the same vein of “To Kill a Mocking Bird” and “Catcher in the Rye,” Rudolfo Anaya’s “Bless Me, Ultima” has evolved into one of the most widely beloved and challenged books of all time. In some high schools this best-selling Chicano novel is considered a mandatory reading. Other schools have banished the book for its use of profanity, references to witchcraft, and religious themes.
"Snitch” is a movie that knows what it wants to say, but fails to get its message across in a non conventional fashion. The film is loosely based on a “Frontline” documentary about Joey Settembrino, an 18-year-old who was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison for selling LSD. The government offered Settembrino a reduced sentence in exchange for the names of drug dealers high up on the totem pole.
In many respects, the Oscars feel like a sporting event as nominees tirelessly campaign to win and award analyzers place bets on which horse will cross the finish line. Even a loyal Oscar viewer such as myself is bound to make several incorrect predictions come Oscar Sunday. Regardless, I’m going to do my best to forecast who will be taking home the awards on Feb. 24.
“A Good Day to Die Hard” marks the fifth entry to the “Die Hard” franchise and the third film to come out in the last two months about a butt-kicking senior citizen. The original “Die Hard” is a definitive action picture that can still make audiences cheer even after multiple viewings. Whether you love or hate “Die Hard 2” and “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” pretty much everyone can agree that John McClane made a welcome return in the sensational “Live Free or Die Hard” a few years ago. The previous “Die Hard” got just about everything right from the absurdly insane stunts, to the humorous dialog, to Bruce Willis’ committed performance. “A Good Day to Die Hard” has just enough fun moments for die-hard fans to take a gander. Regrettably, it remains the least impressive outing of this series.
“Beautiful Creatures” is yet another addition to the unendurable genre of “Twilight” wannabes. The fact that “Twilight” could inspire so many shameless copycats in both the mediums of film and literature is a true testament to the moribund state of originality. Compared to the effortless “I Am Number Four” and the inexplicably laughable “Red Riding Hood,” “Beautiful Creatures” may not be the worst of the “Twilight” rip-offs. Heck, it’s actually a major step up from any of the five “Twilight” movies. But not even the occasional impressive set piece or clever twist can save “Beautiful Creatures” from its perceptible longing to be the next fantasy romance phenomenon.
After “A Walk to Remember,” “The Notebook,” “The Last Song,” “The Lucky One,” and “Dear John,” Nicholas Sparks is obviously running a campaign to become president of sappiness. His novels have inspired a number of hokey adaptations chock-full of one-dimensional archetypes and scenes ripped off from other romances. This guy loves seeing people get caught in the rain more than Michael Bay marvels at the sight of explosions. The latest picture from the novelist turned producer, “Safe Haven,” is every bit as cheesy and mushy as one would expect. It’s about as original as a Lifetime movie designed to brazenly manipulate our emotions. Maybe I’m becoming easier to manipulate, but this melodramatic cornball kept me completely invested from beginning to end.
Zombies are terrible characters. That’s not to say there haven’t been plenty of good movies featuring zombies like “28 Days Later,” “Shaun of the Dead,” “Zombieland,” and the George A. Romero classics. In those films, however, it was the human characters and their pursuit to endure the zombie apocalypse that kept the audience invested. Unlike vampires or werewolves, zombies have never been blessed with interesting back-stories, individuality, or moral dilemmas. Last summer’s “Chernobyl Diaries” left me asking why couldn’t there be a movie about a mutant/zombie who’s intelligent with character traits and motivation. Jonathan Levine, who previously made the wonderful “50/50,” responds to my question in “Warm Bodies.”
A playful, elegantly made little horror film, “Mama” teasingly sustains a game of hide-and-seek as it tantalizes the audience with fleeting apparitions of the title character while maintaining interest in two deeply disturbed little orphan girls. Being sold primarily on the name of its godfather, Guillermo del Toro, this Canadian-Spanish co-production from Universal is refreshingly mindful of the less-is-more horror guidelines employed by 1940s master Val Lewton, not to mention Japanese ghost stories, but the PG-13 rating might prove too restrictive for the gory tastes of male core genre fans. Still, less bloodthirsty female teens could make up the difference at the box office, as the film provokes enough tension and gasps to keep susceptible viewers grabbing their armrests or the arms of those next to them.
The Oscar season is customarily kicked off by the Academy president and a random star solemnly announcing the nominees in a drab ceremony. The Academy decided to shake up tradition this year, however, in one of the most cheerful Oscar mornings we’ve ever had. Seth MacFarlane, director of “Ted” and this year’s Oscar host, announced the nominees Thursday morning alongside the invaluable Emma Stone, who had the funniest bit at last year’s Oscar ceremony. MacFarlane and Stone made for an outstanding duo, engaging in playful banter about each of the categories. Even when one of their jokes didn’t quite hit the mark, MacFarlane and Stone still looked like they were having a genuine ball on stage. That’s more than can be said about Anne Hathaway and James Franco when they hosted the Oscars two years ago.
Dustin Hoffman’s directing bow at 75 finds a perfect match in the well-heeled subject of “Quartet,” a charming tale of aging musicians whose passion for life continues undiminished in a stately English manor filled with humor, caring and of course great music. This optimistic fairy tale about aging and the continuing possibilities it offers for emotional satisfaction should strike the fancy of older audiences who turned the British indie “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” into a breakout hit released around the world. Leading a cast of real-life musical veterans, Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay put the stamp of quality on a lush-looking production, albeit one that adheres to genre rules with an iron grip.
Simplistically cartoonish and even pulpier than “Pulp Fiction,” “Gangster Squad” won’t be remembered as one of the crime genre’s great cinematic outings. In all fairness though, the film isn’t trying to be the next “L.A. Confidential.”
In the eight years I’ve taken on the regular duty of reviewing movies, 2012 just might have been the best. It wasn’t easy compiling a top 30 list for a 12-month period of so many diverse, outstanding films. I found myself having to make some absolutely painful snubs, including “Flight,” “The Sessions,” “The Hobbit: An Expected Journey,” and a little cinematic masterpiece by the name of “21 Jump Street.” In the end though, I managed to narrow the list down to the 20 titles that best encompass 2012 in all its glory. If you’re still behind on the movies of yesteryear, consider this your ultimate movie guide to 2012.