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May 2013

Helter Skelter

The Purge (2013)

Daniel McFadden/Universal Pictures

Arriving a bit late to the already swinging eat-the-rich party, James DeMonaco's "The Purge" has a go at tying economic unfairness, class war, home invasion movies and the Tea Party together into a big satirical whole. But the United States has been on the cinematic analyst's couch forever, and Mr. DeMonaco picks metaphors that are already worn smooth. Even smoother are the mechanics of the modern horror film, which "The Purge" embraces completely for long stretches of characters peering around corners in the dark and yelping at unexpected reflections in mirrors, before they set about each other with axes. The only slightly surprising subtext to find in such company is one the trailers have studiously avoided; not at all coincidentally, it's the one that's authentically conservative.

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Flirting During Disaster

This Is the End (2013)

Suzanne Hanover/
Columbia Pictures

When two Jewish filmmakers decide to make a comedy based on the biblical Judgment Day, questions about their motives naturally arise. After all, this isn’t nearly as benign as Barbra Streisand recording a couple of Christmas albums. While comedy in any form has often been a taboo-slinging free-for-all, what Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg are attempting with “This Is the End” could easily be perceived as sacrilegious. On the flip side, they could be accused of heresy if they were outright singing the Christian gospel.

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Nighness of the Moviemaking Dead

World War Z (2013)

Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures

The movie adaptation of Max Brooks’s “World War Z” has lowered expectations time and again. For starters, Hollywood’s indisputably most overrated director, Marc Forster — fresh off ruining James Bond for everyone — was attached to the project. Extensive rewrites and reshoots then followed, resulting in a bloated budget and a yearlong delay. All indications were that it would turn out terrible, so it’s a relief that the film is even remotely watchable. This is not to say “World War Z” isn’t the embodiment of filmmaking-by-committee of the worst kind. In fact, it is pretty much the cinematic equivalent of a zombie: brain-dead, soulless and merely going through the epileptic motions.

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Another Hair of the Dog

The Hangover Part III (2013)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Brothers Pictures

According to the tagline, there’s no wedding and no bachelor party — which means there is no point.

O.K., there is a point; but it’s not to make a riotous comedy. Instead, "The Hangover Part III" is a heist movie, where Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) must join forces with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) to steal $21 million worth of gold bars from a big fancy house in the hills above Tijuana. If they don’t, an angry drug kingpin (John Goodman) will shoot Doug (Justin Bartha). They have three days!

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White Chicks

The Heat (2013)

Gemma La Mana/20th Century Fox

Even though the buddy-cop subgenre gets an estrogenic makeover with “The Heat,” it’s no less chauvinistic — unless your idea of gender equality is that men shouldn’t have the monopoly on assholery. Look, it’s certainly a woman’s prerogative to be deplorable if she chooses. To think otherwise would be quite sexist itself. But “The Heat” derives its comedy from the most grotesque stereotypes imaginable of careerist women, as if the moral of the whole story is that women who are capable of being collegial while juggling family and ambition could never amount to anything.

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To Seek Out New Civilizations for New Life

Zade Rosenthal
/Paramount Pictures

“Star Trek Into Darkness” does a good job of building things up before descending irredeemably into a place where no one can hear you scream. At first glance, it has everything necessary to get our backsides onto the seats. It’s the latest in the long line of the “Star Trek” movies, and the second since director J. J. Abrams rebooted with some success back in 2009. But once you leave the theater, you realize how dark it truly was. The setup: While observing life on a planet leftover from “House of Flying Daggers,” Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban, whose brilliance in this part is underappreciated) set in motion a chain of events which require Lieutenant Uhura’s (Zoe Saldana) boyfriend Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) to be lowered into an active volcano. To save him, a whole bunch of rules are broken, which bring Captain Kirk back to Starfleet headquarters to be yelled at by Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and Admiral Marcus (Buckaroo Banzai himself, Peter Weller). The yelling is cut short when a villain named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who clearly studied at the feet of Alan Rickman’s performance in “Die Hard”) shoots them up. This sends our heroes on a secret mission to either kill Harrison, or maybe actually — since the only non-American lead character (a very uncomfortable Simon Pegg) reminds Kirk that they aren’t soldiers — instead bring him to trial. Oh, and there’s a blonde named Carol (Alice Eve) who at one point changes her clothes.

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The Pursuit of Haplessness

The Internship (2013)

Phil Bray/20th Century Fox

“The Internship” reunites Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn eight years after the Frat Pack blockbuster “Wedding Crashers.” Instead of crashing weddings for free food, free booze and hormonal women, this time they are crashing Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus for prospective employment and, O.K., free food. The freewheeling naughts have made way for the fruitless teens. Even those perpetual slackers who talk a good game can’t talk their way out of the paper bag that is unemployment nowadays. In the face of the rippling foreclosure and broken marriage, though, the Frat Pack keeps its sunny side up: Who cares if the Google internships are only open to college students? Let’s enroll in the University of Phoenix!

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Driving, a Hard Bargain

Fast & Furious 6 (2013)

Universal Pictures

Expectations are naturally low when you enter the sixth part of a franchise, unless you’re a J. K. Rowling fan and you’re watching "Harry Potter," and with "Fast Five" being such a lackluster affair, the expectations here are rock bottom.

To attempt to offer an outline of the plot would not only be pointless, but in a way would do the film a disservice. There is a story of sorts, involving some military bad guys and a MacGuffin (in the form of a world-ending microchip) but it’s so thin and clearly only there to allow the ridiculous action to happen, that it’s barely worth mentioning. All the gang are back — including one that was supposedly dead — and they’re all needed for one last job . . . again.

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A Very Personal Enterprise

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Zade Rosenthal/Paramount Pictures

With “Star Trek Into Darkness,” director J. J. Abrams and his cast and crew have crafted a follow-up film that feels like the second part of a two-part story. This new movie is not simply another voyage with the recast crew of the starship Enterprise; it also addresses and resolves some of the nagging concerns and problems some people may have had with the first “Star Trek” reboot film in 2009. The previous film, while funny and thrilling, was far from perfect, with the script feeling like a list of ideas cut and pasted together. A similar compilation approach has been taken with this sequel; but overall it feels far more cohesive than the previous entry, and it develops the main characters in important ways.

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Fly the Overfriendly Skies

I'm So Excited! (2013)

Paola Ardizzoni and Emilio Pereda/
Sony Pictures Classics

Hanging an apparent left turn from his recent forays into melodrama of various flavors, Pedro Almodóvar re-embraces high-camp farce with a vengeance in "I'm So Excited!," along with the chance to regrumble his annoyance at the current state of his home country. The result is occasionally something like oxygen starvation. In Mr. Almodóvar's very broad-brush comedy, a variety of hapless and horny characters cocooned in the business class cabin of a Peninsula Airlines flight set about coupling, confessing and — in the Kenneth Williams sense — carrying on. A raft of Mr. Almodóvar's regulars pass along the aisles, including Cecilia Roth as a former dominatrix with the dirt on Spain's elite and Lola Dueñas as a vaguely psychic virgin with a bad case of peninsula envy. Flagrant fragrant archetypes all.

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