The third and biggest-budgeted sword-and-sandal action movie to arrive this year, 300: Rise of an Empire unfolds in 480 B.C., but it might as well be "K.C.," or Known Commodity. Such is the laid track that this punishingly brutal follow-up to Zack Snyder's influential 300, which told the story of the battle of Thermopylae and a group of Spartan soldiers' valiant but ultimately futile defense against a marauding army of Persian invaders, unfolds upon. With its low-angle shots, ominous thunderclaps, glistening pecs and bellowed celebrations of freedom, Rise of an Empire peddles a very particular, fetishized form of masculine hero worship in telling the story of a concurrent naval campaign, but all in service of little more than a state-of-the-art showcase for unremitting violence.
Snyder and Kurt Johnstad's script, based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller after the first film's success, is a mélange of familiar bits and half-cooked motivations ladled over graphic bloodletting. There is absolutely a place for this sort of faux-historical entertainment — for bombastic films of representational value — but Rise of an Empire lacks the characterizations and intrigue to make it work. This film could be fun, or it could be grisly and of more consequence. Instead, it's like watching someone else play a videogame. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Warner Bros., R, 103 minutes)
It's easy, on a theoretical level, to imagine 59-year-old Kevin Costner looking at the post-Taken action flick paydays of Liam Neeson, two years his elder, and saying, "Hey, why not me?" It's less easy to understand anything else about the mishmash that is 3 Days To Kill, an incredibly inane shoot-'em-up from director McG that mistakes self-satisfaction for vicarious entertainment. Co-written by Luc Besson, 3 Days To Kill is much more of an action-comedy than its advertising lets on — though that may be a smart bait-and-switch given that tonal clumsiness and a stunning lack of attention to detail are the film's two most consistent traits. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Relativity Media, PG-13, 117 minutes)
Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop, from 1987, was a singular work of pop art, blending together an intriguing sci-fi concept, biting satire, considerable action violence, social commentary and more. It sparked various sequels and spin-off properties and now, more than 15 years later, a reboot from respected Brazilian-born director José Padilha that uses the same basic conceit as a framework to explore the place of drones and militarized robotics in modern society. At a recent Los Angeles press day, star Joel Kinnaman spoke at length about the challenges of acting in a restrictive full-body suit, and how to strike a balance between homage to the original RoboCop and something different. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
Written by Eric Neumeier and Michael Miner, and directed by Paul Verhoeven with a hearty ribbon of satirical social commentary, 1987's RoboCop is a touchstone film from its decade, as well as a pop-art genre hybrid — ultra-violent, but also surprisingly smart and thought-provoking. The new remake, starring Joel Kinnaman in the title role and Michael Keaton and Gary Oldman in key supporting roles, retains the near-future Detroit setting of the original movie but also uses the same basic conceit as a framework to explore the place of drones and militarized robotics in modern society, explains director José Padilha. For the feature piece interview with him, from ShockYa, click here.
In December, I had a chance to visit the Los Angeles set of Joe Dante's independent horror-comedy Burying the Ex, as it was winding down principal photography, to observe a day's shooting and chat with some of the cast and crew. My one-on-one conversation with erstwhile Twilight franchise costar Ashley Greene, about the peculiar delights and challenges of playing a scorned female zombie, is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read if interested.
From the opening jazzy riffs of musical accompaniment to Love Is In the Air, about bluebirds and the spring, it's clear that director Alexandre Castagnetti's French import, starring Ludivine Sagnier and Nicolas Bedos, is going to be a cinematic approximation of lives less ordinary. And so it is. Its story treads well-worn ground, certainly, but this robust exercise in romantic comedy formula has such pleasing, engaging performances and such a breezy, deft touch with push-and-pull gender dynamics that it escapes the over-determined nature of its final reel and by and large trumps most like-minded American product. Lovers of buoyant, improbable love stories will love Love Is In the Air. It has vivacity and enough authenticity to make us believe its sweet fabrications. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Variance Films/Focus World, R, 96 minutes)
Lest one think that all the playboy comedies tangentially inspired by 1996's Swingers, about entertainment industry aspirants and the "beautiful babies" of which they're in hot pursuit, had finally dried up, witness writer-director Herschel Faber's Cavemen, a blockheaded, sigh-inducing retread, starring Skylar Astin and Camilla Belle, that evinces neither any particular originality nor freshness of telling. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Well Go USA, R, 86 minutes)
In actress-turned-director Maggie Kiley's engaging feature debut, Brightest Star, New Zealand native Rose McIver plays Charlotte, one of two young women that Chris Lowell's recent college graduate has a relationship with as they all attempt to navigate their early twenties. I recently had a chance to speak to McIver one-on-one and in person, about the movie, her new life in Los Angeles, accents and ambition. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
Discerning moviegoers certainly have many reasons to be wary of cinematic adaptations of toy brands. And given their enormous name recognition with the elementary school set, it would be easy to assume that The Lego Movie, based on the popular tiny interlocking plastic bricks, is little more than another slick cash grab with a boilerplate narrative and anything-goes sensibility. But the film, a smoothly blended concoction of spry sensory pleasures and considerable heart, is a terrific family-friendly adventure with sincere verve and pop. Co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street) mine a deep reservoir of genuine pan-generation feeling absent in most adolescent-targeted entertainment, while also working in sly digs at consumer culture, and paying homage to Legos' enduring appeal to retro collectors. For the full, original review, from Screen Daily, click here. (Warner Bros., PG, 100 minutes)
Riding around Hollywood in a stretch limousine with actresses Crista Flanagan, Samantha Colburn, Desiree Hall and Eddie Ritchard, it seems oddly appropriate, almost fated, that a hitch truck with a single, upright port-a-potty — almost posed, in glorious artistic exhibit — pulls up next to us at a stoplight. After all, the women of Best Night Ever — a debauched road trip movie which finds a bride-to-be and her three friends descending upon Las Vegas — grapple with unwanted bodily excretions, Jello wrestling and much more in the film. (They also get kicked out of strip clubs, get mugged, kidnap a valet, get boozy, take drugs and croon some 4 Non Blondes, for good measure.) I recently had the chance to catch up with the ladies, and talk with them about their movie, women's relationship to scatological humor, cupcakes and strip clubs, and what they really think of Las Vegas. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
Actor Chris Lowell has an expansive list of small screen credits, including Life As We Know It, Private Practice and the role for which many people still most remember him — Stosh "Piz" Piznarski on the CW's Veronica Mars, a role he'll reprise later this spring in the big screen spin-off. He also has a starring role in a new movie in theaters now: Maggie Kiley's striking Brightest Star, about a young man's post-college romantic and occupational wanderings. I recently had a chance to talk to Lowell one-on-one and in person, about his new film, twentysomething ennui and what he thinks of how the Veronica Mars movie came to be. The conversation is excerpted over at ShockYa, so click here for the read.
A predetermined audience demographic shouldn't be the guiding principle behind creative decision-making, but it's so hard to get a clear read on the target viewer for At Middleton, a bittersweet adult romance starring Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga, that that thought is the one which keeps returning to one's mind for the duration of its running time. A bewildering dramedy in which two temperamentally contradictory parents meet while accompanying their teenage children on a college visit, this unusual film alternately charms and frustrates, in nearly equal measure.
At Middleton has a workable, if fanciful conceit, but co-writer-director Adam Rodgers and his writing partner Glenn German deliver a screenplay with a lot of exposed seams. And yet when Garcia and Farmiga rip into one of the five or six scenes in the film that really work and connect, none of that matters. This is most roundly evidenced in a sequence in which their characters, after getting busted eavesdropping on an acting class, are given an improvisational exercise by the instructor, and then proceed to lay their souls bare. It's a master acting class in miniature, and it makes everything else almost worth one's time. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Anchor Bay Films, R, 100 minutes)
The clarion call of a grander moral calling anchors the documentary We Are the Giant, and in large part saves it from its own overstuffed passion. Profiling a handful of activists involved in Arab Spring uprisings in Libya, Syria and Bahrain, the film mixes unsettling firsthand protest footage with involving stories of self-sacrifice. For the original capsule review, from Paste, click here. (Passion Pictures/Motto Pictures, unrated, 90 minutes)
Metaphor and opacity get a workout in The Wait, an inscrutable drama of commingled supernatural and psychological elements, starring Chloë Sevigny and Jena Malone as at-odds sisters coping with the death of their mother. Writer-director M. Blash marshals considerable atmospheric forces, but his film collapses under the weight of oblique logic and plotting, lacking in either effective emotional payoff or the more skilled observational touch of a rumination on loss. The Wait leaves viewers poised on a precipice, waiting for a revelation or catharsis that never comes. For the full, original review from Screen Daily, click here. (Monterey Media, R, 97 minutes)
In sports, relationships and indeed life, sometimes it's the little things that end up mattering most — the hustle down the first baseline on a routine grounder, the changed windshield wiper blades as an unsolicited favor for a loved one, and the extra-pass proofreading of a job search query letter. Lest we forget, such can be the case with cinema, too. For all the Hollywood obsession with high-concept and special effects, sometimes there's something enchanting about a simple story simply told, and a movie of small rather than grand gestures.
Case in point: the pleasant and enchanting Brightest Star, a narratively slight but well acted and keenly observed romantic dramedy about a twentysomething guy's amorous fumblings and occupational uncertainty. Starring Chris Lowell, Rose McIver and Jessica Szohr, debut director Maggie Kiley's Brightest Star isn't a movie of conventionally structured catharsis. But it does understand, on an intuitive level, the enormous weight of young adult ambivalence, and how that can be a suffocating thing in its own right. And sometimes there's warmth and value in such reflection. For the full, original review, from Paste, click here. (Gravitas Ventures, unrated, 80 minutes)
Solid acting and filmmaking technique breathe a good bit of life into triple-hyphenate Blake Robbins' The Sublime and Beautiful, a Slamdance Film Festival world premiere and narrative feature competition title. But there's ultimately not enough of distinguished merit to save the movie from a screenplay that trades in rote, plodding dramatic developments and say-nothing symbolism. While not without a couple moments of nicely observed quiet heartache, too much of this impressionistic tale of survivor's guilt — built around a drunk driving accident that robs a small town couple of their three children — is balanced alongside meandering story beats that resonate as vague, indistinct, phony or some combination thereof. The result — a work of enervated, representational moping — is an enormously frustrating viewing experience. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. For more information on the film, click here to visit its website. (Vitamin A Films/Through a Glass Productions, unrated, 93 minutes)