There's an old expression about how all great art comes from suffering. Writer/director Destin Cretton may not agree with that statement, but his new film 'Short Term 12' is a great testament to it. It is set in a group home for troubled teens, where kids who have been discarded by life are saved and cared for -- at least until they turn 18 and get discarded again. These kids know suffering, and they transform that anguish into fuel for their stunningly beautiful art -- a phrase that applies equally well to the film itself.
Watching Hollywood's endless parade of genre remakes, sequels and ripoffs can get pretty discouraging -- enough to convince you there's no undiscovered country left out there; that it's all been done before and filmmakers will keep repeating themselves over and over again until the end of time. Thank goodness, then, for something like 'You're Next,' which is scary and fun, and, best of all, fresh and original. It restores your faith in the future of horror movies.
'White House Down' has the disadvantage of being the second 'Die Hard'-in-the-White-House movie of 2013 after 'Olympus Has Fallen,' and the advantage of being superior to its predecessor in every conceivable way. It's better directed, better written, and better acted. The action is better, with more impressive special effects; the production design is better, with a much more convincing replica of the White House; the camerawork is better; with clear, lucid images. Where 'Olympus Has Fallen' was grim and stern, 'White House Down' actually embraces the silliness of its premise. It's more exciting and more faithful to the 'Die Hard' formula. This is still basically a shameless ripoff popcorn movie, but it's a shameless ripoff popcorn movie popped to near-perfection.
College is not an obvious setting for a Pixar movie. For all the vaunted animation studio's reputation for producing mature, adult children's films, college lends itself to a more immature brand of adult humor -- the kind with lots of nudity, profanity, and outrageous drunken antics. Sure enough, Pixar's 'Monsters University' brings new meaning to the phrase "safe school" -- this G-rated riff on 'Revenge of the Nerds' and 'Animal House' (they probably thought about calling it 'Monster House' at some point, right? They had to) doesn't push any envelopes in terms of content or humor. It's basically a formula college comedy, minus the raunch, in the world of 'Monsters Inc.' Nevertheless, it's a formula executed by some very talented animators, who've produced a lively, if mostly forgettable, movie.
"Superman! Champion of the Oppressed, the physical marvel who had sworn to devote his existence to helping those in need!"
That's how the Man of Steel was described in his very first appearance, from the untitled cover feature from 1938's Action Comics #1 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. This week, the Man of Steel comes to 'Man of Steel,' the new big budget extravaganza directed by Zack Snyder ('Watchmen') and produced by 'The Dark Knight' director Christopher Nolan. It will no doubt feature the greatest cinematic representation of Superman the physical marvel to date. But the greatest cinematic representation of Superman, champion of the oppressed, may still be 'Superman and the Mole-Men,' a mostly forgotten 1951 feature that is the first superhero film to hit movie theaters.
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 term "product placement" feels insufficient to describe the role of Google in 'The Internship.' This is not so much product placement in a movie as movie placement in a product. For two hours, viewers are treated to a series of bright, high-energy sales pitches for the San Francisco search engine and its vast array of products and services -- Google Play, Google Drive, Google Helpline, Google Maps and, of course, plain-old Googley Google -- plus, occasional attempts at comedy from Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson while they stand in front of giant Google logos. Shameless? Absolutely. But that wouldn't be such a problem if 'The Internship' wasn't so mirthless, as well.
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.
'Frances Ha' is the movie I imagine Woody Allen would make today if Woody Allen wasn't 77 years old and ensconced in an impermeable bubble of wealth and fame. Unlike Woody's recent films -- some of which are actually pretty entertaining -- Noah Baumbach still feels in touch with, as David Bowie puts it in a song that makes an effective appearance in the film, modern love. His characters live on the Lower rather than the Upper East Side. They watch television instead of Ingmar Bergman movies. They struggle to make ends meet as artists but poo-poo potential jobs at 'Saturday Night Live' because "it's gone so downhill."