This is the way the world ends; not with a whimper but with an extended improv session featuring Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jonah Hill, Danny McBride and a fleet of other popular young comics. On an ordinary night in Los Angeles, the straight-up-biblical apocalypse begins. After the Rapture, our six heroes board themselves up in Franco's Hollywood mansion and wait for a rescue. It never comes. Supplies dwindle. Tensions mount. 'This Is the End.'
The magic of cinema and the magic of magic tend to cancel each other out. Once you convince someone they're seeing alternate realities, alien conquerers, and distant futures, pulling a rabbit out of a hat looks a little underwhelming. It is a cruel, sad truth that a single cut negates all the impact of the greatest act of sleight of hand.
So, a movie about magic needs to be about more than just magic. The silly but not entirely unpleasurable 'Now You See Me' is about showmanship. There are a lot of good actors in this movie, including Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Melanie Laurent, and Mark Ruffalo. They play illusionists, mentalists, hucksters, debunkers, billionaire industrialists, Interpol officers, and FBI agents, respectively(ish). All of them, no matter whether they're wool-pullers or wool-pullees, look like they're having a grand old time misdirecting us through a labyrinthine plot involving magicians, bank heists, and decades-old vendettas. For a while, the fun is infectious. I found myself chuckling at the outrageous character names -- Dylan Rhodes! Jack Wilder! Arthur Tressler! Thaddeus Bradley! J. Daniel Atlas! -- and grinning at the ludicrous twists. Like a mark at a good magic act, I knew I was being worked over and was enjoying every second.
'The Hangover' giveth and 'The Hangover' taketh away.
The first 'Hangover' made Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and especially Zach Galifianakis stars, and it elevated Todd Phillips from middling Hollywood director to name-brand comic auteur. But in the film industry, success that surprising and enormous demands more success; the beast must be fed. But as 'The Hangover Part II' and especially the new 'Hangover Part III' prove, it is very hard to make a good sequel to a truly original idea. 'Part II' went the rehash route, recycling the plot of the first movie so brazenly you almost had to admire its chutzpah. 'Part III' finally breaks with the formula a little (SPOILER ALERT: there is no hangover), but still doesn't produce anything even remotely worthy of the first film.
From the earliest days of his appearances in Marvel Comics' 'Tales of Suspense,' Tony Stark has always been modeled after aviator/inventor/industrialist Howard Hughes. With 'Iron Man 3,' Stark assumes a new dimension of Hughes' persona: that of the paranoid shut-in who, in his later years, became notorious for roaming his private floor of the Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas, freaking out about invisible germs and collecting jars of his own urine. 'Iron Man 3's' Tony Stark, played once again by the inimitable Robert Downey Jr.isn't quite that bad, but he's getting there.
After the events chronicled in 'The Avengers,' where Manhattan was nearly leveled by invading aliens and Tony himself was almost killed, he's become obsessed with upgrading his armor -- leaping all the way from the Mark VII to the Mark 42 in a matter of months. When anyone mentions New York or aliens, Tony gets panic attacks. There's a reason Daredevil, not Iron Man, is the Marvel hero known as "The Man Without Fear." Poor Tony is terrified.
I watch a lot of 'Project Runway.' My wife likes it -- and, yeah, I like it too. A show dedicated to fashion design that features creative and powerful women is a weird thing to think about while watching a Michael Bay movie but that's exactly what I did during 'Pain and Gain.' Bay could learn a thing or two from that show about editing. Not in the cinematic, cutting shots together sense; that he's got. This is a different kind of editing.
It's the kind that is often called out by the 'Runway' judges when they tell the contestants (I'm paraphrasing), "This is too busy. You need to edit. That blue fuzzy hat that looks like a tribble distracts from the gorgeous, ornately sequined dress. The dress is enough. You don't need the tribble hat. Edit."
A Michael Bay movie -- particularly 'Pain & Gain' -- is a sequined dress with a blue tribble hat.
My grandmother, Rhoda Singer, died earlier this year. She lived much of her life in Brooklyn and was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. Her favorite player was Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers' scrappy white shortstop who famously silenced a racist Cincinnati crowd by putting his arm around his black teammate Jackie Robinson during pre-game warmups.
I thought about my grandmother a lot while watching '42,' the new biopic of Jackie Robinson and his quest to break the color barrier in baseball. On an intellectual level, I can tell you a dozen things wrong with the movie, from its excessively preachy dialogue to its bloated length. But on an emotional level, I have to admit that this movie bypassed my brain and grabbed my heart, pulling each and every string contained therein firmly and repeatedly. It's a pretty good tribute to a great man. And when Pee-Wee and Jackie embraced on that field in Cincinnati I cried.
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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