It's been four years since we've seen Angelina Jolie in anything and the last time we did it was in one of the biggest box office failures of the year. I understand that she's a mother of 40 kids and when you're married to Brad Pitt you don't have to be the bread-winner but c'mon, Angie! We miss you! Well, we miss seeing you because as far as your movies go, you actually don't have a stellar record of making good ones. I know it's hard to believe but pull up her IMDB page and check it out for yourself. She's someone we love as Hollywood royalty without ever really earning it. That's not to say she's not a great actress because she is. In fact, she's one of the only great things about Maleficent.
The titular character of this re-telling of Sleeping Beauty is interesting. It's been 55 years since Walt Disney made this (which was a box office and critical failure at the time, mind you) and 317 years since the original source material was published. Out of all the Disney villains, Maleficent consistently ranks at the top, which is why Disney decided to make this film. However, when you go down the predicatble and dissapointing road of telling a story from a villain's perspective and make them a misunderstood softy-at-heart, you strip away everything that we loved about them in the first place.
See, there are villains that we love to hate and villains that we just plain hate; both are excellent for a story. But when you make the villain the star and then also make them the sympathetic hero, it's not what we love about the character anymore. Sure, they look the same and talk the same but they don't act the same. That choice was crippling for this film. Make Maleficent dark and twitsted and complicated. I know it's Disney and they were even aiming for a PG rating (which I'm shocked they got), but if those are your guidelines, then don't make it.
Director Robert Stromberg seemed to throw any original vision he might have had out the window and instead tore pages from the playbook of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, HBO's Game of Thrones and even a little of James Cameron's Avatar. That type of unoriginality should've been expected by a guy like Stromberg who never directed a single thing before this but was an Oscar-winning visual effects master. He's used to having people tell him what their vision is and never had to come up with one himself. I can't blame him for doing it this way since he's had over 20 years of experience doing just that.
Maleficent also wasn't helped by a good script either. It has the slowest and soggiest middle I've seen in months, has shockingly sparce dialogue and crams in unwatchable scenes of levity provided by the three fairies. Despite all that, Angelina Jolie is pretty great in it. Her brief performance that features Maleficent's wings cut off is agonizingly sad for a PG-rated film. Maybe I'm reading into it too much but I wonder if she pulled from her real life and what it was like to part with her breasts after her double mastectomy. Knowing that she went through that makes that scene simply heartbreaking and perhaps the only magic found in an otherwise very forgettable film.
Let's all pretend for a second that we're not a tad exhausted with X-Men films. Out of all the Marvel comic book characters, The Uncanny X-Men was the series that I got into the most as a kid. I knew all the main characters and probably half of the 100 or so secondary characters. I loved them for the action and appreciated the allegory for Civil Rights as I got older. But even I have my limits and Fox has squeezed so much blood from the franchise that even vampires are saying "okay, enough is enough."
Imagine that X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine didn't happen. If you take those three terrible films out of the canon you're left with a film series that has been stellar. Days of Future Past acts as a sequel and prequel to all of them but primarily the good ones that are left, X-Men, X2: X-Men United and X-Men: First Class, which I regard as one of the best superhero films ever made. This is based on a storyline in the comic books that came out in the early '80s and is regarded as one of the best comic books ever made (although they tweaked it to accomodate which stars were more box office bait). The film recognizes the gravity of that and does a damn good job of living up to the legend.
One of the most impressive things about it is that director Bryan Singer (the first two X-Men films, Superman Returns) convinced the entire cast of the original films and from First Class to return and star in Days of Future Past, which takes place in the 1970s and the 2020s. That cast consists of Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Jennifer Lawerence, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. It also features cameo performances from almost anyone who's ever played a mutant in any of the better films. Simply pulling that off is impressive enough.
Since the movie involves time travel and alternate futures it might challenge some of the more passive viewers but I was impressed at how unconfusing they laid it all out. The script is smart, witty and exciting. The action sequences are some of the more impressive in the entire X-Men series, including one with a soon-to-be fan favorite Quicksilver that has one of the funniest and coolest scenes I've seen from any superhero movie ever. The unfortunate part is that these moments of violent eye candy are too far apart.
Days of Future Past has a runtime of over two hours and is book-ended by awesomeness. The middle of the film slows down to a near crawl and actually gets a little boring at times. For some reason, First Class kept my attention the entire time despite being an entirely new cast from what we've seen. I can only credit that to Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake), who is a much better director than Singer. I know that it was only fair that the man who started the series (and some could argue the reign of the comic book movie) 13 years ago be the one that's allowed to finish it. Singer does a fine job and Days of Future Past is a great film; it just makes me wish I could get Kitty Pryde to send me back in time so I could get Vaughn to direct this instead.
Before the screening of Blended began, I was talking with some of the other film critics that I was sitting with. They are professionals and know what they're talking about; I, on the other hand, am not. We were discussing Adam Sandler and his body of work. I was being my usual charming self and was completely admitting that I'm biased against him and was going into this movie on the assumption that it was going to be as lousy as almost everything else he's ever done. I know that's not how a film critic should act but I just couldn't help myself. Despite all the chips that have accumulated on my shoulder for my opinion that never has someone made so much money on such little talent as Adam Sandler, the movie wasn't as bad as I thought.
I like Drew Barrymore. She's not a good actress and never was but there's something adorable about her. Sandler is such a black hole of talent, however, that he sucks her appeal out of her and into himself where it's crushed into nothingness. The two of them are completely unbelievable as a romantic couple, just as they were in 50 First Dates. That's not to say that they don't have chemistry; they do in the same way that brothers and sisters do. It's good that you rarely see them kiss in Blended because when you do it's kinda icky.
The film is about two single parents who hate each other at first but through a wacky coincidence find themselves forced together on an African vacation and, sure enough, find out that they and their families are just what the other needed. Sure I spoiled the ending a bit but if you don't see the entire movie spilled out in front of you in the first five minutes than you're a halfwit with no gauge for predictable patterns. Just because it's as formuliac as Algebra doesn't mean that there isn't anything positive in it. I thought it was nice to see Sandler and Barrymore stop pretending to be young, hip lovers and embrace the fact that they're both in their 40s and play those older parent stereotypes.
Director Frank Coraci has a certain style to his movies and that style is mainly suck. He's responsible for films such as Here Comes the Boom, Waterboy, Zookeeper, and The Wedding Singer. He's not bad at trying to replicate the directing style of Tamra Davis, who is the director who did Billy Madison. That style of completely wacky, nonsensical comedy is not super easy to pull off and Coraci handles it but only in that he's copying her brand of film.
Despite fleeting moments that made me chuckle, the film had all the heart and humor of a commercial. The entire thing felt like a two-hour-long episode of any crappy show you'd see on The Disney Channel. I would be a jerk if I didn't say that the whole theater did laugh at a lot during the screening. I know that Sandler has his audience and for what they like (mainly fart jokes and people falling down) Blended has it all. I don't get it though. It's not my sense of humor and frankly, I can't understand how it's anyone's who has graduated from 8th grade.
Four years ago Gareth Edwards directed a film called Monsters, which was about a journalist escourting a woman to the safe zone in the U.S. after an alien invasion. The film was made for a very modest budget but looked like it was made for a massive one. It was hailed by critics and took on a loyal cult following. I hated it and thought it was boring; granted, that might have been because I watched it on my iPhone on a plane but I feel like I got enough sense of it to know it wasn't for me. But Edwards impressed the right people with it because they gave him that massive budget to see what he could do to blow new blue, misty fire into Godzilla.
As much as I like monster movies, Godzilla never did much for me. I understand that they're not well-made and that's part of their charm. However, liking something because it's ironic or mastering the hipster art of appreciating things because they're bad was a skill I didn't aquire till a few years ago. That being said, this version of Godzilla is pretty good. The anticipation was high on the Internet, primarily from ardent loyalists to the canon, but after a slew of impressive trailers, even people like me got goosebumps. That might have worked against it.
See, nothing is sadder than when a trailer is better than the movie and that's what we have here. If you want to make a shallow monster/disaster film, that's totally fine with me. I forget them the second after I see it but I enjoy them while I'm watching. But the trailers promised more than that and Edwards had the reputation to deliver. Combine that with the casting of Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad, Drive), Ken Wantanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins) and Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, An Education), all of which have won awards, I expect a script that is more than chaos. It isn't.
That's why someone like Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Savages, the Kick-Ass movies) is the lead. He's not a bad actor but he's not a good one either. He's someone you would expect to see in a movie like Godzilla, much like Shia LaBeouf before he mistook himself for something important. He, along with the gorgeous Elizabeth Olsen (Marcy Martha Mae Marlene, Oldboy), play the same husband/wife team you see in every disaster film. That's because Godzilla, at its core, is nothing new and nothing different.
Make no mistake however that the imagery that Edwards shows is pretty spectacular and fun. A lot of time and cash was spent making the destruction of San Francisco and Las Vegas look as real as possible and they succeed. I wish I could tell you why the destruction scenes are more than just a giant lizard pushing buildings over but that would spoil one of the most pleasant surprises for a lot of people. In what is shaping up to be a rather bland summer so far, Godzilla is a nice appetizer for what will hopefully be the main courses of Hollywood blockbusters still to come.
Typically, when I see a 3D movie I end up with a massive headache. Neighbors isn't in 3D but it's a film that is so funny, that made me laugh so hard, that I got a headache comparable to visual trickery that scrambles my cones and rods. It's not often I'm glad my head is pounding but this is an instance where it was totally worth it.
Director Nicholas Stoller is a much better writer than a director, although I'm not really a fan of much of what he's done. I know everyone loves Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall but to me they were both "meh" at best. However, what he has done is write two amazing scripts for The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted and, because his treatment of them matched my unconditional love for those felty puppets, I will forever give him a pass. I'm thrilled that I don't need to cash that in with Neighbors because it's one of the funniest films I've seen in at least a year.
It stars Seth Rogen and the gorgeous and hilarious Rose Byrne (Bridesmaids, Insidious) as 30-somethings who have a 6-month-old baby. Zach Efron leads a pack of wild dogs in the form of a frat who move in next door to them after their old house burned down. It's easy to see why the war between them starts. On the surface, this is one of the most predicatble, cliche plots ever but there is a heart and soul to this film that transcends anything that resembles it that came before. It would be easy to make the parents the good guys and the frat brothers the bad guys but that's not what happens. The world they live in is painted shades of grey and neither are outright victims or deserving of retribution.
What makes it even more enjoyable is that the film has something to say. For anyone 18-24, the Efron character shows that partying all night and sleeping all day only leads to being a loser for life. For anyone 25-35, the Rogen/Byrne characters show a dead-on representation of being in that hazy age range where you still feel young but you're not. That's where I'm at in my life and everything that couple complained about and loved about their lives rang 100% true to me and even made my eyes sweat a bit.
I wish I could recommend Neighbors for everyone but I can't. The movie is R-rated and that's a really hard "R." There are more boner jokes and gags in the film than there were in Magic Mike. The party scenes are gratuitous and enough profanity to be on par with Wolf of Wall Street. But in the same way that 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad tested the limits of taste while still appealing to a larger audience because of the tenderness within the characters and stories, Neighbors soars. It's worth whatever pain you get from laughing. Trust me.
Two years ago, when the first Spider-man came out, I said in my review that I feel like I can't enjoy it simply on principle. At that point the Sam Raimi version had come out less than a decade before and here we were, sitting in a theater watching basically the exact same story all over again and just accepting that Sony and Columbia Pictures did that to us and it was fine. Well, I've gotten over my bitterness toward that and a legion of trailers that made this one seem pretty cool helped to win me over. I'd be lying if I didn't feel like a fool because it's far from what is needed to make a relaunch of a franchise so close together worth it.
Director Marc Webber (no pun intended but I wonder if that last name got him the job) is the master behind (500) Days of Summer, which I consider one of the best romantic comedies of all time. He seems great at what he does provided that he's making adorable romance on screen in a hipster fashion. I'm not sure action movies are right for him because what we have with Spider-man 2 is a film with an exhausting two-and-a-half hour runtime that feels like it was done by two different directors. You have some incredible action sequences that feature some of the best CGI FX that I've ever seen and some scenes of young love being pulled away from each other in futile attempts. It's possible to make both of those work in the same film but Webber didn't pull it off.
Stars Andrew Garfield (Amazing Spider-man, Social Network) and Emma Stone (Zombieland, Crazy Stupid Love) are dating in real life and that authentic chemistry shines like the North Star. The two of them are pretty intoxicating to watch in their playful and amusing banter. You buy into their love for each other because it seems to not be acting. The problem is that that is most of the film. The dynamic between the "we-want-to-be-together-but-just-can't" overstays its welcome by almost an hour and you end up with an action film with very little action.
Jamie Foxx, Paul Giamatti and Dane DeHaan (Lincoln, Chronicle) all play villains. You're probably thinking that sounds like a lot. It is but Giamatti, in what is the worst performance of his career (and yes that includes Big Fat Liar and Big Momma's House), is barely in the film thankfully and only shows up in perhaps five minutes of screen time. Foxx plays Electro and the choices made for his character are clever and well executed but Foxx does a rather poor job portraying any sort of menace. One of the best aspects about the movie deals with him though in that he voiced his own rambling, angry rap that's whispered in Electro's Theme and it's the only time I can remember a piece of the soundtrack adding to a character's profile.
That brings us to DeHaan. For a while, I've enjoyed him in almost everything he's done. He's very good at playing the reluctant and manic baddie and he is at his best in Spider-man 2 as The Green Goblin. His zombie-like blue eyes and slick smile makes you trust and pity him despite knowing how awful he becomes. His arc is also one that Webber did a fine job displaying for us but spends so much time on it that you end up resenting it as well.
I loved Spider-man comics as a kid but I think that was the problem; I loved them when I was a child. Spider-man is definetly the bunny slope when baby-stepping into the world of comic books. Making that into a film is perfectly fine but you have to handle the tone correctly. Raimi made a light, funny, colorful, cartoonish version in 2002. The problem with Webber's approach is that it's dark, realistic, sinister and not fun. You can get away with that when making film versions of Batman, Superman, Hulk, or X-Men but doing that to Spider-man feels like a left shoe on a right foot. When you couple that with a tipped scale in favor of talkie-talkie in a movie that promised web-slinging and combat, you failed to catch the fly, Webber.