It should be impossible for a movie to be both enthralling and boring, but somehow 'To the Wonder' pulls it off. It contains sights -- of picturesque Oklahoma sunsets and impossibly serene European beaches -- so beautiful they awaken you to the glory of the world around us. And it also contains passages -- of Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko running and twirling through fields, and then rolling around in bed, and then fighting and screaming, and then running and twirling in that field again -- so repetitive and tiresome that they nearly lull you to sleep.
"Let's hope this still works," says David (Shiloh Fernandez) as he puts a key into the door of his family's old cabin in the woods. But of course he's not just talking about the key; he's talking about the idea of remaking 'The Evil Dead,' the 1981 cult classic that launched the careers of writer/director Sam Raimi, producer Robert Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell and remains close to the hearts of discerning horror fans everywhere. Between the original film and its two sequels, 'Evil Dead II' and 'Army of Darkness,' Raimi, Tapert, and Campbell created one of the most iconic horror franchises of all time. But that was thirty years ago. Times change; tastes change. And in the interim, 'Evil Dead' has been ripped off by so many other movies its plot smells about as fresh as a fruit cellar full of rotting cat corpses. Forget hoping it still works; you'd need the mother of all prayers, and maybe a blood sacrifice or two, to make an 'Evil Dead' remake click.
James Franco might not be the best actor working in movies today, but he's almost certainly the most fearless. His choices are as unpredictable as they are gutsy. He'll try just about anything: television dramas ('Freaks & Geeks'), soap operas ('General Hospital'), comedies ('Pineapple Express'), and big blockbusters ('Spider-Man,' 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes'). His latest role, in Harmony Korine's 'Spring Breakers,' might be his craziest and most daring to date. He plays Alien -- pronounced "A-Leen" in Franco's South Florida drawl -- a drug dealer and aspiring rapper who likes to boast that he's from another planet. Franco's performance is suitably extraterrestrial: hilarious, disturbing, deranged, poignant and endlessly quotable. In an instant classic scene, Alien shows off all his prized possessions -- machine guns and money and nunchucks and 'Scarface' DVDs on constant repeat -- while screaming "Look at my s---!" Alien's orders are superfluous; any time Franco's onscreen, you can't take your eyes off him.
"I don't want to be a good man; I want to be a great one." So says Oscar, a humble (read: crummy) magician in a traveling circus circa 1905, just before a magical tornado sweeps him and his hot air balloon away to a land that just so happens to share his nickname: Oz. In 'Oz the Great and Powerful,' Oscar (James Franco) finds exactly what his heart desires; the chance to be a great man, wealthy and powerful, the ruler of a beautiful kingdom. And the kingdom does look damn good, and most of Oz's adventures in it are pretty entertaining as well.
The third row of an IMAX screen is a sufficiently disadvantageous perspective to give you a taste of the way the hero of 'Jack the Giant Slayer' sees the world. From that angle, even regular-sized humans loom ominously overhead; you can imagine how big the giants look. But that's about as impressive as the surprisingly crummy 'Jack' gets.
Nell Sweetzer (Ashley Bell), the heroine of 'The Last Exorcism,' was a great tragic figure; a sweet, innocent girl inexplicably hounded by a nefarious cult and a vicious demon named Abalam. With 'The Last Exorcism Part II,' Nell's story grows even sadder -- by extending it into this superfluous and perfunctory sequel that casts her as a quivering, helpless victim and strips away almost everything that made the first film such an unexpected delight. Gone is the effective found footage gimmick, gone are the profound questions about faith, gone, most surprisingly, is most of Bell's impressive contortionist act. This time, she does as much contorting on the poster as she does in the film itself.
In 1982, Walter Hill directed '48 Hrs.,' with Nick Nolte as a loose cannon cop and Eddie Murphy as a fast-talking criminal. The oil-and-water chemistry worked, the movie was a hit, and an entire genre -- the buddy cop movie -- was born. Hill has had a long a varied career in Hollywood, directing tough, lean action movies and Westerns and producing the 'Alien' franchise, but '48 Hrs.' and the myriad imitators it birthed will always be his biggest legacy. That fact alone makes his new movie, 'Bullet to the Head,' interesting, since it's Hill imitating himself, with his first return to the genre since 1990's 'Another 48 Hrs.' The mixed results probably won't inspire a resurgence of buddy cop movies, but they're not terrible either, with enough Walter Hill flair to make some moments quite memorable, even if the movie as a whole has its problems.
'Parker' is not Jason Statham's best movie, but it may have his defining onscreen moment, a perfect, succinct summation of everything pleasurable about his onscreen persona. His character, a thief and con man named Parker, has returned to his hotel room in Palm Beach. He's surprised by an assassin; since this is a Jason Statham movie, an elaborately choreographed fight scene ensues.
The assassin's weapon of choice is a knife and after he gets Parker in a headlock, he tries really hard to get Statham's face acquainted with the finer points of his blade. The knife keeps inching closer and closer to his eyeball -- so to save himself, Parker sticks up his hand and willingly lets the assassin stab him through his palm. The sacrifice gives him just enough of breather to gain the upper hand. That is The Cinema of Jason Statham in a nutshell: action and indomitable determination. His characters are all men who'll stop at nothing to win; an echo of Statham's onscreen work ethic -- he'll stop at nothing to entertain you. Even in a vehicle as average as "Parker," Statham still delivers an intensely committed performance.
You don't have to be on drugs to enjoy 'John Dies at the End' -- I wasn't and I did -- but it certainly wouldn't hurt. Its frenzied, cockeyed logic, brain-twisting philosophical discussions, and bargain basement psychedelic special effects would all look better high. 'John Dies at the End' is kind of like 'Ghostbusters' if 'Ghostbusters' was about a pair of slackers who take weird drugs to see and kill ghosts rather than a bunch of Columbia University scientists. Through their extensive use of a mysterious and possibly sentient substance known as "Soy Sauce," Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) are able to see into the future, the past, and alternate universes, and even to commune with the dead. They occasionally save the world, pharmacological stupors permitting.
In his recent autobiography, Arnold Schwarzenegger describes his part in 'The Last Stand' as "a great, great role." He plays Ray Owens, a former LAPD cop who retired to his hometown in Arizona after his partner got crippled in a botched drug raid. Now the local sheriff, he and a few bumbling deputies are all that stands between the Mexican border and a ruthless drug kingpin. "The sheriff knows if he succeeds," Schwarzenegger writes, "it will mean everything to the town. His reputation is on the line. Is he really over the hill or can he do it?"
Dirty Harry would love 'Gangster Squad,' a movie about cops who operate so far outside the law they make Clint Eastwood's signature detective look like a pencil-pushing dweeb. Assembled by LAPD police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte), and supposedly inspired by a true story, the members of the so-called Gangster Squad operate as judge, jury, and executioners. They don't arrest their targets; they "wage war" against their enemy, mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). In their quest to bust up Cohen's rackets, the Gangster Squad brandishes about a billion guns and not a single badge. Hell, even Dirty Harry waited until the end of his movie to toss his away.
In theory, 'The Impossible' is an uplifting film about a family that faced unimaginable horror and survived. In practice, 'The Impossible' is a grim slog through tragedy with a small kernel of happiness waiting at the end -- and that kernel of happiness is so coated with thick, gooey sentimentality that it's awfully hard to swallow.
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