Evil Dead (2013)
Sam Raimi’s 1981 picture, “The Evil Dead,” is rightly regarded as a classic of the horror genre: a pitch-perfect, no-budget thrill ride suffused with terror yet tinged with knowing humor. Fede Alvarez’s “Evil Dead” is less a remake or sequel and more of homage to Mr. Raimi’s pioneering spirit and in fact to horror as a whole. Given the nature of this beast, it is wholly derivative; yet the fact that it still delivers what feels like a fresh take on a genre that has veered toward either torture or the paranormal in recent years is welcome and — in these meta, post-“The Cabin in the Woods” times — that is an impressive feat in itself.
Continue reading "Circle of Hellish Friends" »
The Imposter (2012)
Erik Wilson/Indomina Releasing
San Antonio, Texas, in 1994, mischievous 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared without a trace. For three years his family pined for him, searching, praying and holding out hope that he would one day be found alive and well. Then the seemingly miraculous happened as Nicholas appeared in Spain — afraid and alone, the apparent victim of a child prostitution ring. Except “Nicholas” was not whom he claimed to
be and so transpires an utterly beguiling and completely baffling journey into
the psyche of serial impersonator and eccentric con man Frédéric Bourdin.
Continue reading "Home Truths Will Out" »
The Expendables 2 (2012)
Whereas “The Expendables” somewhat benefited from the novelty of seeing the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis sharing the big screen in a dumb, explosive homage to the type of ’80s action films that made them household names, the same cannot be said for “The Expendables 2,” which is little more than a depressing embarrassment.
An overblown prologue reintroduces our mercenary mob that is up to its usual antics, this time embarking on a death-hungry, munitions-fueled rescue mission in Nepal. Goons are summarily executed in visceral fashion, while ears are aurally assaulted by gunfire and increasingly lame throwaway one-liners along the lines of “your ass is terminated.” If Mr. Stallone and Richard Wenk’s script wasn’t cringe-inducing enough, then the cheap ’80s look and feel beget the question of whether director Simon West chose to co-opt VHS as film stock of choice in order to transport his audience into some sort of meta nightmare.
Continue reading "Planet Hollywood" »
Erstwhile funnyman Seth MacFarlane — who in recent years has been tediously flogging that perennial dead horse “Family Guy” into the ground — has redeemed himself somewhat with his directorial feature debut “Ted.” Perhaps conscious of where his success stems from, Mr. MacFarlane dips his toe into live-action film while maintaining the core facets of what has made him such a star: namely, a razor-sharp script and quirky animation.
Continue reading "Bear, the Brunt" »
Kerry Brown/20th Century Fox
Revisiting the “Alien” universe was always going to be a risk for Ridley Scott. “Alien” was the film that cemented his reputation as a visionary auteur and is rightly regarded as a classic, a sublime example of atmospheric horror. Three sequels of varying quality established a sprawling world, one that Mr. Scott had long hinted that he was interested in exploring further — his interest particularly piqued by the mysterious Space Jockey, whose fleeting glimpse in his original work posed questions that have never been answered. While “Prometheus” puts that quandary to bed, its ambitions and scale are far loftier than merely acting as a prequel to the series — which proves to be a refreshing yet frustrating approach.
Continue reading "In Space No One Will Hear the End of It" »
The Raid: Redemption (2012)
Sony Pictures Classics
Artfully sadistic and elegantly hypnotic, Gareth Evans’s “The Raid: Redemption” is a master class in brutally stylistic and simplistic storytelling. Ostensibly a traditional cops-vs.-bad-guys frenetic beat-’em-up, Mr. Evans executed his tale with such flair and guile that this is far superior fare to comparable genre pictures. Mr. Evans’s appreciation of and fascination with the Indonesian martial art pencak silat ensures that every punch and kick hits the mark, subjecting his audience to a relentless assault on the senses.
Continue reading "Emergency Exit Through a Fiery Escape" »
Marvel's The Avengers/Marvel Avengers Assemble (2012)
Comic-book fans have eagerly awaited a cinematic outing for superhero troupe, the Avengers, ever since Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige announced in 2005 that Marvel would effectively take ownership of their universe and begin producing its own films. Five films later — two installments of “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor” — and the time has finally come for our heroic misfits to join forces and fight a common enemy in Joss Whedon’s “Marvel’s The Avengers” (released in Britain as “Marvel Avengers Assemble”).
Continue reading "Revenge Is a Party Platter Best Served Cold" »
This Must Be the Place (2011)
On paper, “This Must be the Place” is an intriguing proposition: This Italian-French-Irish co-production marks the English-language debut of Neapolitan director Paolo Sorrentino, utilizes eclectic filming locations — including Dublin, New York and New Mexico — and stars two of the finest actors working today — Sean Penn and Frances McDormand. It’s a crushing shame therefore that this cosmopolitan picture is such a muddled disappointment.
Continue reading "Rock of Age" »
21 Jump Street (2012)
Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures
Arriving hot on the heels of the critically maligned “Project X” comes writer Michael Bacall’s interpretation of the ’80s teen-cop caper, “21 Jump Street” — the show that thrust Johnny Depp into the limelight. One might be forgiven for letting out an audible groan in the expectation of more equally crass fare. But this is a completely different beast; and it’s a bloody funny one at that.
Continue reading "Too Cool for Old School" »
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
Five years ago in a review of “28 Weeks Later,” I extolled the virtues of Danny Boyle’s “28 Days Later,” describing it as “genre busting” and praising it for reviving and redefining the horror genre — even going so far as to call it “a wake up call” to the industry. Well, if Mr. Boyle’s intelligent and sophisticated zombie romp did indeed succeed in doing that, then Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s “The Cabin in the Woods” can only be described as a landmark, watershed moment in film history, because this is such an innovative, brave, inspired and original entry into the horror oeuvre that nothing will ever be the same again.
Continue reading "Remote and Controlled" »