The summer blockbuster season has come to a halt for the time being - so I'd like to take this time to hand out some accolades, give a few hugs, throw out a few shoulder shrugs and (this is my favorite part) poke a few films in the eye.
TOY STORY 3 A+
Starring the voices of: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, Estelle Harris and Michael Keaton
Bottom Line: The toys are back in town! TOY STORY 3 cements the series as, arguably, the greatest film trilogy of all time. Exceptional storytelling, depth of character, richness of emotion, exciting adventure, thrills, enchantment and laughter – it dazzles at every single turn. Kids will love it. Parents will adore it and probably shed a few tears (I didn’t – those were just my allergies acting up). It’s the best movie I’ve so far this year and deserves the first open Oscar slot for Best Picture of 2010. They definitely took this thing beyond infinity!
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger and Michael Caine
Bottom Line: Satisfyingly intricate, approachably intelligent, ground-breakingingly vivid, thunderously action-packed, mind numbingly intense and thrillingly heart-pounding. It’s not without its flaws – like maybe it should have lightened up a bit and how exactly does the science of dream sharing work – but if you can surrender yourself to a little of the non-logic then you’re in for a masterfully made and riveting piece of cinema. Second best movie I’ve seen all year – a surefire Best Picture contender come Oscar time.
THE KARATE KID A-
Starring: Jackie Chan, Jaden Smith and Taraji P. Henson
Bottom Line: A subdued Jackie Chan and a charismatic Fresh Prince Jr. not only deliver a beautifully poignant love letter to the imagery and culture of China but, and this is the most important part, a family friendly (ages 7+ recommended), crowd pleasing, summer feel good flick that’ll make you stand up and cheer…and maybe even strike the Crane pose!
THE A-TEAM B+
Starring: Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Sharlto Copley, Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson
Bottom Line: Out of control, over the top and cheesy – it’s also one of the reasons movie theaters are open during the summer. Turn your brain off and enjoy this big, bright, shiny, non-stop, laugh out loud, high-wattage, big budget, blow ‘em up, double-cross, Hollywood, explosion-filled, well acted, chase fest. It’s basically the cinematic equivalent of drinking a double red bull and vodka thru a straw made of licorice. I pity the fool who misses it…
SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD B+
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Anna Kendrick, Jason Schwartzman and Kieran Culkin
Bottom Line: The best movie of the weekend that will, unfortunately, make the least money. The story is simple but the style in which this visually gripping, eye-poppingly rich, comic-book-come-to-life comedy action flick moves makes for an exciting, vivid, exhilarating and entertaining time at the theaters. Or I guess I could have just said ‘it’s really fun’.
IRON MAN 2 B+
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Jon Favreau, Mickey Rourke, Sam Rockwell, Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson
Bottom Line: If the first movie was a brand new suitcase packed for an overnight stay – then IRON MAN 2 is that same suitcase, two years later, packed for a month long trip. It’s been broken in, has a bit more character and is now packed with so much stuff you have to sit on it to zip it shut. More action, more story, more characters, more special effects, more stuff – all good things in this case – and all good things that add up to a sequel that, although not as fresh as its predecessor, manages to deliver the high-action, popcorn-fueled thrills of summer.
Starring: Angelina Jolie, Liev Schreiber and Chiwetel Ejiofor
Bottom Line: SALT goes good with popcorn. If THE BOURNE IDENTITY, NO WAY OUT and THE FUGITIVE had a baby girl that wasn’t quite as smart or sophisticated they’d probably name her SALT. It’s basically what you should expect from a summer blockbuster: big stars, slick production, hectic chases, surprising twists, explosions, gunplay and any other high intensity stunt you’ve come to expect from a Saturday morning cartoon. It’s way over the top but it works for the most part. The adrenaline is high, the leaps in logic are wide and Jolie and her non-ugliness keeps things moving along at a breezy 100 minute pace. If last week’s INCEPTION with Leonardo DiCaprio was a steak dinner then this is a Quarter Pounder with Cheese (not as good for you, but it still tastes pretty good).
DESPICABLE ME B
Starring the voices of: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand and Julie Andrews
Bottom Line: ENJOYABLE ME! A witty, funny, energetic movie that’s entertaining for older kids as well as adults. The animation is crisp and clean, the characters interesting and it may even tug on your heartstrings a bit – not to the extent that Woody and Buzz tugged on our heartstrings just two short weeks ago – but there’s some tugging none-the-less. Lump this one in with HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, SHREK FOREVER AFTER and TOY STORY 3 (the best movie I’ve seen in 2010) and you’ve got an impressive year for animated movies thus far.
KNIGHT AND DAY B
Starring: Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz
Bottom Line: Don’t try to overanalyze the plot and you should actually have quite a bit of fun with KNIGHT AND DAY. The story is ludicrous but that’s part of the fun and the charismatic star wattage of Cruise and Diaz keeps this fast-paced, laugh-out-loud, globe-hopping, action-packed romantic adventure comedy thriller afloat. Yes, it’s preposterous and over the top but it’s so entertaining it’ll make you want to hop on a nearby couch and declare your joy for it…
SHREK FOREVER AFTER B
Starring the voices of: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and Antonio Banderas
Bottom Line: Too many pop-cultural, then-current-day, inside-Hollywood references… That’s what dates SHREK, tarnishes SHREK 2 and ruined SHREK THE TURD…excuse me, THE THIRD. I was fully prepared to dislike this one but they left all that fluff behind and decided to let the comedy unfold by simply telling a story with solid characters, dialogue and situations. It never hits the emotional depths of movies like UP, TOY STORY or FINDING NEMO (to name a few) – but it’s funny, adventurous, charming and succeeds at entertaining both kids and adults alike. Hey now, you’re an all-star…finally!
Starring: Will Forte, Ryan Phillippe, Kristen Wiig, Val Kilmer, Powers Boothe and Maya Rudolph
Bottom Line: Oh, awesome – another minor SNL sketch turned major motion picture (he types with tongue planted firmly in cheek). Yeah, I know it looks ridiculous – and it is – but they sort of make it work in a pretend-to-take-the-corny-material-and-thin-premise-seriously kind of way. It’s a silly, vulgar, easily offensive, juvenile, shocking, sophomoric, crude-mannered, present day, ‘80’s homage, comedy-action flick that’ll make your eyes both roll and tear from laughter.
PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME B-
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Gemma Arterton and Alfred Molina
Bottom Line: It’s PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN with deserts instead of oceans, princes instead of pirates, Jake Gyllenhaal instead of Orlando Bloom and, unfortunately, no Capt, Jack Sparrow-like character to help liven up the story. …which I guess makes it more like THE MUMMY movies than anything else. The script isn’t sharp and the video game based story is muddled but it still manages to be a somewhat exciting, easily digestible, swashbuckling summer movie romp that makes for a halfway decent place to eat popcorn for 116 minutes.
GET HIM TO THE GREEK B-
Starring: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand and Sean Combs
Bottom Line: The script lags from time-to-time but it still remains a sex, drug and rock-n-roll fueled, heavy R-rated laugh riot of wit, wisdom and raunch…with a little heartfelt camaraderie thrown in for good measure. If you can appreciate movies like THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, KNOCKED UP, THE HANGOVER and FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (since that’s where this movie’s main character, Aldous Snow, is derived from) – then you’ll happily rock out with GET HIM TO THE GREEK.
DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS C+
Starring: Steve Carell and Paul Rudd
Directed by: Jay Roach (who also directed MEET THE PARENTS and Austin Powers 1, 2 and 3)
Bottom Line: When it’s not making you slap your knee in laughter it’s begging you to check your timepiece – as you wonder why you’re watching an almost two-hour long comedy. It’s quirky, but forgettable. Well intentioned, but poorly structured. Well acted, but with uninteresting characters. And for all its laughingly ridiculous circumstances, it never expertly sustains or re-raises the level of absurdity like, say, DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS or WHAT ABOUT BOB. It’s clever, you will laugh – but DINNER should have been a winner and instead just leaves you hungry for more.
THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE C-
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina and Teresa Palmer
Bottom Line: All the good will earned in the first half through solid special effects, chemistry and laughs is completely swip-swapped for lazy storytelling, regurgitated visuals and yawn-inducing, save-the-world circumstances in the second half. I’d love to see this APPRENTICE weasel its way out of Donald Trump’s board room. Ya’ fired!
THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE C-
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Bryce Dallas Howard and Dakota Fanning
Bottom Line: This third installment of the popular book-based franchise benefits from having a better blend of emotion, romance and action. It’s my favorite of the bunch – but that’s like saying this piece of cat poop tastes better because it has more sugar on it. The acting is still awful, the dialogue still cheesy and the script still a mess – but the movie didn’t make me want to go home and bash my toes with a tack-hammer so... My hope is that one day crazy fans will admit that, like the vampires and werewolves that inhabit them, these movies suck and bite.
ROBIN HOOD D+
Starring: Russell Crowe , Cate Blanchett, William Hurt, Mark Strong and Max von Sydow
Bottom Line: They definitely missed the bull’s eye…but almost missed the entire target in Russell Crowe’s ROBIN HOOD. It essentially boils down to two hours and twenty minutes of ‘wait-and-see-if-it-gets-any-better-seat-fidgeting’ as director Ridley Scott tries to mirror the playbooks of much better movies like GLADIATOR, BRAVEHEART and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. He loses…and, aside from great acting and beautifully captured scenery, so does the audience as we’re never treated to the adventurous, spirited, merriment of the man with the bow. Say what you will about Kevin Costner’s cheesy and painfully-accented turn as the same character in the early 90’s – but at least his movie tried to have a little fun.
THE EXPENDABLES D+
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, terry Crews, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Eric Roberts, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis
Bottom Line: It’s exactly what you’d probably expect – a poorly written, edited, directed and acted blood-bath of an action movie. You may have a smidgeon of fun with it – but the thought will be gone by the time you leave the theater (maybe you’re hungry or perhaps, like me, you’ll get distracted by something shiny). Yes, it’s an impressive tough-guy lineup – but this star-studded, testosterone-fueled, cheese-fest just doesn’t enthuse. THE EXPENDABLES lands a lot of punches, draws a lot of blood but it won’t knock you out.
GROWN UPS D+
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello and Maya Rudolph
Bottom Line: More like ‘GROAN UPS’. Lots of talent, little laughs – you will laugh (at times) but you’ll also wonder why you didn’t wait to catch this poorly directed, predictable, half-hearted, goof-ball buddy-fest on cable in the very near future.
EAT, PRAY, LOVE D
Starring: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem and Viola Davis
Bottom Line: EAT, PRAY, LOVE...GAG, BARF! As the title clearly states - there’s eating, praying and loving. I guess what the title forgot to mention was that there is also boredom. It’s a chick movie, I know – and I will say that the scenery is lush and exquisite, the food looks delicious. But the only spirituality I experienced was when I prayed for it to end.
SEX AND THE CITY 2 D-
Starring: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon and Chris Noth
Bottom Line: There are a few laughs to be had and some poignant thoughts on early motherhood but SEX AND THE CITY 2 is a bloated and contrived mess that drags, annoys and lingers way too long in its almost 2 ½ hour running time. I enjoyed the first movie (B+) but this sequel felt so soulless, forced and limp that it, ironically, needed a dose of cinematic Viagra. Hmmm, but then the movie might have lasted 4-6 hours – and we’d have to contact our doctor and…oh, forget it.
THE LAST AIRBENDER F
Starring: Noah Ringer, Nicola Peltz, Jackson Rathbone and Dev Patel
Bottom Line: Director M. Night Shymalan gave us THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SIGNS and THE VILLAGE. Wanna know what the twist is in his latest movie: It’s worse than his latest two efforts, LADY IN THE WATER and THE HAPPENING.
MARMADUKE Not screened for critics
Starring: Owen Wilson, William H. Macy, Steve Coogan, Sam Elliott, Fergie and Kiefer Sutherland
Bottom Line: Based on the comic strip. Live action movie. The dogs talk, they dance, they have a great time. Big dog voiced by Owen Wilson. Kids will love it. Parents will hate it. Oh, and I didn’t see it because it wasn’t screened for critics…
KILLERS Not screened for critics
Starring: Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl
Bottom Line: Starring Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl. Not screened for critics…because it stars Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl
PREDATORS did not see
Starring: Adrien Brody, Topher Grace and Laurence Fishburne
Bottom Line: I’ve heard it’s an out-of-control, meat-and-potatoes, testosterone-fueled, mind-numbing action flick that didn’t really need to be made…but is surprisingly fun to watch at least once. Yeah, okay, I’m sold!
CHARLIE ST. CLOUD did not see
Starring: Zac Efron and Amanda Crew, Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta
Bottom Line: I’ve heard it’s a melodramatic, schmaltz-fest that relies far too heavily on close ups of Zac Efron’s despair-ridden yet blemish-free face. Critics are slamming it.
CATS AND DOGS: REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE did not see
Starring: Christina Applegate, Michael Clarke Duncan, Neil Patrick Harris , Sean Hayes, James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Joe Pantoliano and Bette Midler
Bottom Line: 75 minutes of wise-cracking house pets playing good guy spies and nasty villains. It’s getting neutered by critics so you may want to check the bottom of your shoes…just to make sure you didn’t step in this movie.