While explaining his business model to the soon-to-be corporate spy Adam Cassidy (Liam Hemsworth), tech magnate Nicolas Wyatt (Gary Oldman) relays a timeless adage: "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." That puts 'Paranoia' director Robert Luketic somewhere between the two superlatives, constructing his smart phone-enabled thriller out of every existing blueprint in history while winding up with an entertaining, functional finished product. The twists are inevitable, the turns come from a mile away, but a surprisingly charming and humble Hemsworth (no brooding 'Hunger Games' machismo here) becomes a reliable interface for the old mechanics. It makes sense to pair him with the aging Harrison Ford — if Hemsworth was around in the '70s, the two would be competing for all the same roles.
Reverence for comic creator Mark Millar runs through the veins of 'Kick-Ass 2.' The affection is often on the nose: One minute, crime fighting high schooler Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) is seen in front of a poster for Millar's 'American Jesus.' In a later flashback, his Dad hangs a piece of 'Superior' art on Dave's wall. The tips of a the hat are a blockade for writer/director Jeff Wadlow, whose passion for Millar's source material disables him from streamlining 'Kick-Ass 2' into a functional action movie.
There are too many moving parts, from Kick-Ass' attempts to form a DIY Justice League, to vengeful mob son Chris D'Amico's (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) emergence into New York's first supervillain, to the awkward high school story of Hit-Girl (Chloe Moretz). Balancing the schizophrenic story is a chore for Wadlow and the audience, and yet 'Kick-Ass 2' still manages to deliver a smattering of fun, living up to the tonal roller coaster ride of the original.
'Lee Daniels' The Butler' is an eight-course meal of movies served all at once. The entree is a searing racial drama, haunting in its depiction of America's stained history. The other seven courses, delivered without grace, flatten the taste. Fine ingredients — a rousing ensemble and sporadically sharp script — can't make up for a cook's sloppy work. 'The Butler' is a mishmash of prestige qualifiers, unfit to dish out, but plated nonetheless.
When 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief' came out in 2010, it looked suspiciously as if the would-be franchise, based on Rick Riordan's best-selling teen adventure books, was going to get 'Golden Compass'-ed -- stopped after one installment and left to languish. But the first adventures of title hero Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) -- born to a mortal mother and the Greek God Poseidon made $226 million worldwide, never mind home video.
So, we get a second helping of Percy's adventures, which mix the home-away-from-home setting and grow-up-fast themes of 'Harry Potter' with some all-American gumption and a little Greek dressing on the side. With a new writer and director -- and what seems like a budget spent more on computer effects than human actors -- 'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' is exactly the kind of film that was made for me to take my teen and tween nieces to, not for me to enjoy. There's some bloodless peril, not even a whiff of romance and plenty of spirited action.
'We're the Millers' is a vexing film. It's just funny enough to keep from being truly bad, but too preposterous and predictable to be anything close to good. For every laugh there's something that will make you want to hurl an object at the screen. When it flubs, it flubs hard, allowing each of the four main characters a chance to embarrass themselves. And yet, if you wait 'til the next scene, there's the possibility that whoever just served up a would-be joke in a humiliating fashion will do something inspired. As such, 'We're the Millers' wins some respect for at least being a very odd moviegoing experience.
Sutter Keely is the kind of laid-back, party-hard guy you'd love to hang out with in high school. But when the party ends, where does his life begin? 'The Spectacular Now' answers this question with heart-breaking poignancy, where even the moments of levity are motivated by a particularly sweet kind of teenage sadness.
Here's one of my favorite jokes of all time. There's no punchline, it's just a sentence. "I've been rich and miserable, and I've been poor and miserable. And I'll tell ya: rich is better."
I don't know if this is what director Neill Blomkamp had in mind as the ultimate message of 'Elysium,' his visually stunning follow-up to 'District 9,' but beneath the dazzling spectacle, there isn't much else beyond that aphorism to cling to.
Beautiful, rich people casually participating in hideous, terrible things and occasionally having explicit sex -- stop me if you've heard this one before. If it sounds like a Bret Easton Ellis story, that's because it is. 'The Canyons,' scripted by Ellis and directed by Paul Schrader (writer of 'Taxi Driver' and director of 'American Gigolo'), tells the languid story of a manipulative trust fund kid, his failed actress girlfriend (Lindsay Lohan), and the love rectangle that leads to obsession and violence.
There's the old quote repeated by John Lennon, "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." '2 Guns,' starring the formidable Denzel Washington and the affable Mark Wahlberg, feels like the type of movie big stars make when they are in-between the projects they'll end up being proud of. '2 Guns' isn't terrible – it's just rare to see a movie content with “agreeable in-flight entertainment” as its highest achievement.
'Smurfs 2' is pretty much unbearable, but then again I am a guy with no children whose favorite 2013 so far is a toss-up between 'Stoker' and 'Only God Forgives.' To paraphrase Roger Ebert, I’m as sure of the fact that there is an audience for this sequel as I am that I’m not a member of it, but does that excuse how overmodulated and mind-obliteratingly stupid Raja Gosnell’s sequel is? It seems like it can’t. And yet, there’s a massive difference between abominable entertainment made for “everybody” and abominable entertainment made mostly for kids. All of which is why 'Smurfs 2' is the kind of terrible that almost deserves to be excused, because it’s designed to make children laugh at stupid hijinks with bright colors and broad gags rather than tell a story that anyone over the age of five hasn’t seen 5,000 times before, much less care about.