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.
Who knew that beloved and ubiquitous pop songs had their own underdogs? '20 Feet From Stardom,' the preternaturally crowd-pleasing documentary that made its debut at this year's Sundance and is guaranteed for all sorts of awards recognition, shines the spotlight on the voices that have “ooh”-ed and “lah”-ed through the soundtrack of popular music. I wouldn't go overboard and call it a masterpiece, but for entertainment and “stand up and cheer” value, it's top of the charts.
I believe a man can fly -- and beat the living hell out of Michael Shannon for close to 40 compounded minutes in ways hitherto unseen on film. But Zack Snyder's 'Man of Steel' is no mere slugfest. It goes for broke, faces the legend and tackles the iconography of one of modernity's largest-shared myths, Kal-El of Krypton, on its own terms. It is among the finest "franchise reboots" of all time, which may sound like a bit of a backhanded compliment until you realize that this is, in fact, a genre unto itself. It manages, somehow, to be "the same but different," a new film that everyone under the yellow sun knows from beginning to end. It is the film of summer 2013.
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.
It wasn't until around 40 minutes into 'The Bling Ring' when I realized that, in no way, was this movie supposed to be "fun" or even "enjoyable." That's when I let down my guard, one that had instinctively risen as soon as I encountered the film's despicable characters. And that's when I realized this movie was a little bit brilliant.
Unlike 'Spring Breakers,' which butters you up with ebullience before crashing your mellow with its frenzied social commentary, 'The Bling Ring' is a dark and surprisingly plain-spoken peek at vapid and defiantly unlikable people. Once you break past the wall of resistance – a reasonable response might be to just up and leave the theater after 20 minutes – something of a transformation occurs. As an anthropological work, Sofia Coppola's true-crime tale of high school bandits stealing the designer shoes and gaudy jewelry of the TMZ crowd, is actually a remarkable, albeit dark and depressing affair. It is a challenging work and a unique film.
There are no spoilers in 'Fruitvale Station.' Ryan Coogler's debut film, which won prestigious awards at both the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals, opens with the actual cellphone camera footage of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old black man, who was pulled off a BART train in Oakland, CA after reports of a scuffle. Late night rowdiness and nervous police officers quickly devolved into chaos and the next thing you know Grant, already in custody, gets a bullet in his back from close range.
With the shot still ringing in our ears, the movie rewinds 24 hours to share with us the joys and struggles of Grant's last day on Earth. It's not a subtle film, but it's an emotional one. The weaknesses during certain moments of the script are more than compensated for by the remarkable performances of Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz and Octavia Spencer. What's key to the film's success is how the three roles you've seen a thousand times before – the troubled young man, the baby mama and the suffering mother – are spun to ensure that this isn't just another tale from the hood.
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.
Seventeen summers ago, Will Smith gave us the catch phrase "welcome to Earth" and then punched an alien in the face. This time he's the invading alien (kinda) and his new line "this is Earth" is much more doom and gloom than swagger. An international icon, father and potentially the next great crazy celebrity, Will Smith is finally ready to pass the baton to his son Jaden.
But it isn't a baton he's using in 'After Earth' (an original sci-fi film based on a story of Smith's own creation) but a C-40 Cutlass – a doohickey kinda like Darth Maul's lightsaber, which springs out different blades depending on what you need. Actually, we never quite know how the Cutlass in 'After Earth' works, but it is one of a number of really nifty gizmos that populates the half-baked mythos of this film.
'Fast Five' attempted - and quite successfully I might add - a reboot of sorts for the entire 'Fast and Furious' franchise, turning a series of movies about car racing into one exciting heist film. It was big and brash and sweaty and a complete success. So where do you go from there? 'Fast and Furious 6' attempts to answer that question by adding an -er suffix to all those adjectives above. Bigger, brasher, sweatier.
'Fast and Furious 6' is like 'Fast Five' on nitrous - director Justin Lin hits that proverbial turbo boost to go bigger, faster, stronger - and at times, that is a great thing. But when the NOS runs out, the drag race just turns into a drag.