When the same story is being developed into two different movies, there are pros to being first out of the gate. For instance, if the audience has only limited interest in the story, they might see yours just to get it out of the way and then skip the second; your movie gets to set the standard against which the next is compared; some people might see trailers for the second movie and think it's just yours coming out on DVD or something.
Of course, these are pros in a vacuum. Jobs happens to be the version of Steve Jobs's life story that was not written by Oscar-winning scribe Aaron Sorkin, and not based on Walter Isaacson's well-regarded biography, but that does star someone who made his name on That '70s Show.
Jobs covers a limited amount of Steve Jobs's life — his college years, his struggles setting up his company and making it a success, and then, after a jump forward, his triumphant return to it in the late '90s. So if you've always wanted to see those moments in a great American's life performed by a former male model who now makes a living telling dick jokes opposite Jon Cryer, give Jobs a rent!
When it comes to the "Cornetto Trilogy" — the three films written by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, directed by Wright, and starring Pegg, Nick Frost, and a repertory company made up of some of the leading stars of contemporary British comedy — reasonable people can disagree about whether Shaun of the Dead (the first installment) is better than Hot Fuzz (the second) or vice versa. But we will probably all agree that The World's End is the worst.
Pegg headlines End as Gary, a degenerate addict still pining for the victories of his youth in the idyllic small town of Newton Haven. He decides he needs to recapture his former glory by reuniting with his four best friends from the old days (even though none of them has spoken to him in years — for good reason) and making another attempt at an epic crawl through all the town's pubs. For some reason, the other guys all agree, and all immediately regret it, because Gary is a mess and hanging out with him is no fun. Less fun is the fact that no one in town seems to remember them from their adolescence, and that all the pubs have had their old character renovated out of them. Things get even worse from there.
I thought we all agreed Zack Snyder's Watchmen was a miss in the annals of superhero movies, and yet here he is again, taking on Superman.
The latest of many, many versions of the Superman story, Man of Steel finds Kal-El, son of Krypton, being sent forth by his father Jor-El (Russell Crowe!) to Earth as his home planet dies. In Kansas, Kal-El is adopted by the Kents (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane!), who rename him Clark and raise him as the human boy he definitely isn't. In time, he grows up and becomes a journalist and part-time superhero, until Krypton's General Zod (Michael Shannon!) starts coming around trying to wreck up Earth.
I thought Bryan Singer's Superman Returns was pretty bad (you probably did, too, since that was the end of that reboot of the franchise), but its 76 percent on Rotten Tomatoes makes it a veritable masterpiece compared with Man of Steel’s 56 percent. Could it be that audiences are getting tired of seeing cities destroyed and countless (fictional) civilians brutally killed just so superheroes can get into fights?
If you were intrigued by the recent VOD release of Olympus Has Fallen but wished it had been helmed by someone with a longer track record in the disaster genre and starred two of our most square-headed movie stars, good news! Here comes White House Down.
Roland "Independence Day" Emmerich directs the tale of John Cale (Channing Tatum), a U.S. Capitol cop assigned to the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins) who's hoping to make a jump to Secret Service agent. Unfortunately, his White House interview with former college "friend" Carol (Maggie Gyllenhaal) doesn't go well because she still remembers the worst of him from the old days; even more unfortunately, while he's there (and his daughter is taking the tour), terrorists break in and start wreaking havoc. Fortunately, John has more tactical know-how than you might think, and springs into action, finding the president (Jamie Foxx) and joining forces with him to find the incursion.
As the second "White House under siege" movie of summer 2013, White House Down seemed like an also-ran next to Olympus Has Fallen, but having seen both, I can tell you with authority that this one is much more stupid fun. (And much more stupid, but maybe that's what you're in the mood for.) If that's not enough to sell you: Tatum doesn't stay in his suit jacket and dress shirt for long.
Coming off his success directing Bridesmaids — a huge surprise of a huge hit, since it belongs to the fairly small category of R-rated, female-driven comedies — Paul Feig could have sought out a look-alike script, about another pair of longtime friends at a crossroads in their relationship who, maybe along the way, experience gastric distress in an incongruously fancy location and/or behave badly enough to get kicked off a plane. (Lord knows someone has probably written those.) Instead, Feig stayed in the R-rated, female-driven milieu, but made a left turn into buddy-cop comedy.
The Heat revolves around lonely, straitlaced FBI agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), who's sent from New York to Boston to work on a case involving an elusive drug kingpin. Once she arrives, she has an extremely unfortunate first meeting with her BPD counterpart, Detective Shannon Mullins, who's as rough and ragged as Ashburn is tight-assed and rigid. Through a series of comedic set pieces, the two figure out how to work together — and, more importantly, learn to like each other.
There's not a whole lot to the plot, but you probably won't care: Bullock and McCarthy commit 100 percent to their performances, including physical comedy and extreme salty language (the latter only from McCarthy) that would trip up lesser actors. This isn't particularly cerebral material, but it's funny and definitely the most risk-free VOD bet this week.
Wesley Morris: "My skepticism going in had to do with The Heat being a movie with two female characters that easily could have been played by a pair of men. But these two are like workplace sexism's toxic side effects. Ashburn is the ambitious professional who lives only for promotions. Mullins is the anti-feminine ballbuster. Nobody likes either of them. And they don't like each other until they do. This is generic genre stuff with a realish female friendship at its center: It's a bra-mance."
Haunted houses are a staple of horror films, but this one comes with a little extra zing: It's based on real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), whose supernatural escapades previously inspired (the many versions of) The Amityville Horror.
In this story, which takes place in 1971, Roger and Carolyn (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) move with their daughters into a craggy old house in Rhode Island where, sure enough, strange and inexplicable things start happening; they call on the Warrens to investigate. Diagnosis: witch-ghosts.
It's the relatively near future. The Earth is in turmoil. What's ruining everyone's good time — the catastrophic effects of climate change? Economic collapse? Oh my, no: It's all the giant lizards that keep swimming out of an interdimensional fault in the floor of the Pacific Ocean. But the humans aren't beaten yet: As we all know, the only way to fight giant lizards is with giant robots!
I don't want to oversell it, so I'll just say Pacific Rim is all the things anyone could want from a summer action movie. The giant lizards — called kaiju — are truly enormous, and both the look of their scales and the devastation they wreak is rendered with the appropriate care. The human characters may not be drawn as carefully, but it's hard to care; they each have a reason to be committed to the kaiju cause (loved ones killed by kaiju, generally) and one other characteristic. Frankly, that's as much as you care to see before the action moves back to robots fighting lizards — something, fortunately, you never have to wait too long for.
Like the Ocean's franchise before it, The Hangover started with a wild caper in Las Vegas; made its sequel more exotic by setting it overseas; and then humbly returned to Vegas for its threequel. Two years have passed since the gang (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, and junior gang member Justin Bartha) went to Bangkok; the nutty series of events that take place here include a giraffe's death causing a huge highway accident, the death of Jeffrey Tambor's patriarch, and a trip to take Galifianakis's Alan to rehab that, naturally, goes horribly awry.
All the marketing for The Hangover Part III — the latest installment in the hugely successful comedy franchise — promised that it would wrap up the series; between Cooper's recent Oscar nomination and Galifianakis's public disdain for the franchise, this probably will mean the end for the Wolfpack.
That said: a considerable portion of this installment's events revolved around Ken Jeong's Chow, who breaks out of Thai prison and starts causing havoc back in the U.S. Could he find himself at the center of a new series of (maybe straight-to-tape) The Hangover Presents sequels? Whenever that actually happens, remember who predicted it first.
When This Is the End debuted, Grantland's own Girls in Hoodies reviewed it for their podcast, with Molly Lambert drawing attention to the movie's casual homophobia and reliance on rape jokes, both of which are present and neither of which I can defend. That said: It really made me laugh.
This Is the End finds several showbiz bros — Seth Rogen (who wrote and directed with Evan Goldberg), James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride, all playing "themselves" — holed up at Franco's new mansion after the apocalypse interrupts his housewarming party. There are, of course, a series of comic/action set pieces, like the carnage the first apocalyptic disaster wreaks on Franco's star-studded soirée, the guys' inventory of the actually useful supplies they happen to have on hand, and a genial attempt to pass the time by shooting a trailer for a possible sequel to Pineapple Express. But the story is really about how helpless and ill-equipped these idiotic man-children are to survive the situation, and watching it, I really felt that the joke was on them, in the best way.
Say you've just finished directing (and writing) one of the highest-grossing movies in history — a superhero super-epic that super-redeems you from past underperformers. How do you possibly follow up that kind of astronomical success? ... Well, fine, you work on a TV spin-off of your franchise. But in addition to that, you conceive a microbudget adaptation of a Shakespeare comedy and shoot it in black-and-white. At your house.
Joss Whedon's new Much Ado About Nothing is pure, uncut catnip for his fans. From Buffy, there's Alexis Denisof and Tom Lenk. From Angel (in which Denisof also starred), there's Amy Acker (also of Cabin in the Woods). From Firefly, there's Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher. From Dollhouse (and Cabin), there's Fran Kranz. And from The Avengers, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., and all the movies that led up to The Avengers, there's your old friend Clark Gregg. Should he have played Benedick instead of Denisof? Probably. But you can't have everything.
It's not that all movies need to be extremely gory, OK? I'm not an animal. I'm a respectable person — a Canadian person, for God's sake — who abhors real violence. But when approximately every other scene in your movie requires someone to kill a zombie with whatever happens to be at hand, then your movie shouldn't be PG-13, PERIOD.
That said: Now that I see that someone else agrees with me about all the squelchy dismemberments that were sorely missing from World War Z's theatrical cut, and that same someone has made an unrated cut available on demand, some of the weirder shots in the movie make more sense. Oh, that's why that one zombie seemed to be getting dispatched juuuuuust below the bottom of the frame, or why that other thing (no spoilers) happened juuuuuuuust to the left of the screen: Those moments were actually framed and shot properly, for adults, and then they got bowdlerized and cropped for all the parents who brought their 13-year-olds to see the zombie apocalypse minus the aftermath of heads getting smashed in. I mean, I'm guessing. Like I said: We didn't see it in the theater.
My unslaked blood lust aside, World War Z is OK. Brad Pitt does his best, and Peter Capaldi helped lift my flagging spirits in time for the fairly tense climax. But I have yet to see any zombie movie that has improved upon 28 Days Later … or the Dawn of the Dead remake, and this one certainly didn't.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when it comes to Star Trek movies, the even-numbered ones are good and the odd-numbered ones are crap. When J.J. Abrams took over the franchise, of course he must have wanted to put his own stamp on it, so he flipped the equation. If you're good at math, you know that means this latest one — Abrams's sequel to his 2009 reboot, led by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock — is not so hot.
If you're looking for a reason to watch it, and the promise of a wholly gratuitous shot of Alice Eve in her space-undies isn't enough (if you think it might be, let me save you two hours and 12 minutes of your life: here), Benedict Cumberbatch is pretty good. Cumberbatch — who I assume changed agents in the past five years or so, because yes, you've seen him in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and War Horse and heard him in The Hobbit and on The Simpsons — plays the mysterious John Harrison, subject of a dangerous search undertaken by our crew, and if you don't know what happens after he gets to the Enterprise, don't look him up on IMDb because someone there thought it was a good idea to ruin the only interesting surprise in the movie. Cumberbatch has three more Oscar-begging movies coming out between now and the end of the year — The Fifth Estate, 12 Years a Slave, and August: Osage County — plus a third season of the BBC's tremendous Sherlock early in 2014, so if you're not familiar with him … well, actually, watch the first two seasons of Sherlock on Netflix. He's fine enough in Star Trek Into Darkness, but Sherlock is much more fun.
For an actor, a role that requires him or her to learn a few sleight-of-hand tricks is probably enticement enough to take a role as a magician; it's fun, it's showy, and it's something to replicate at a party. But the four leads of Now You See Me — Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco — get to learn cool illusions AND use those skills as vigilantes helping to make victims of the 2008 financial crisis whole again. What performer could resist a pitch like that?
Now You See Me revolves around The Four Horsemen, as the magicians are known, taking direction from the mysterious, anonymous benefactor who brought them together. Mark Ruffalo plays the FBI agent tasked to investigate them when one of their illusions turns out to involve theft of cash from a very real French bank; Mélanie Laurent is the French cop who joins him. The two have an enjoyable mood-mismatch chemistry, but the illusionists are obviously the real stars: Franco holds his own among the Oscar nominees and winners, and Eisenberg has maybe never talked faster than he does here. It's fun if you don't subject it to too much scrutiny — and a sequel is coming, so you might as well see how the story begins.
The Great Gatsby was probably about due for a new film adaptation: The one from the '70s, starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, and Sam Waterston, is no one's favorite movie, and today's high school students trying to get out of their assigned reading deserve a cinematic crib sheet featuring actors they actually recognize and who aren't their parents' age.
Baz "Moulin Rouge" Luhrmann's take on the material isn't likely to be remembered much more fondly than Jack Clayton's 1974 edition, if Rotten Tomatoes is to be believed. At least Clayton's locations were, if not actually on Long Island, passably similar, unlike Luhrmann's weird Australian fantasia of 1920s New York. And Clayton's version isn't in 3-D because why would it be. If you don't feel like expending two hours and 22 minutes of your precious long weekend on this, TribecaFilm.com’s "Old Sport" supercut will probably give you the gist well enough.
If kids' movies have taught us nothing else about scientist parents (and they haven't), it's that eventually those scientists are accidentally going to shrink down their kids and send them on a wild adventure dodging gigantic human feet amid intimidatingly tall blades of grass in what used to be a perfectly normal lawn!!! Science!
Epic, arguably the most lazily titled movie of 2013 since Identity Thief, jumps off from the same inciting event as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (quick pedantic sidebar: no, you SHRANK the kids), but drops its female lead into a fantasy world where animals talk, tiny humanoids ride hummingbirds, and there's some kind of a war going on between ... tribes, I guess. The movie is chockablock with voice talent your children will adore, from Christoph Waltz to Pitbull! I kid — it's from the creative team behind Ice Age and Rio, so whatever, your children will probably like it fine, and it'll give you something to nap to for 90 minutes or so.