It's summer again, which means that there are more movies in theaters than there is time to see them. There are indie darlings, action hero blockbusters, and raucous comedies. There are even a few dramas in there to spice things up. Since you can't see all of the movies (you have a life, after all), I saw them all for you (me - no life) and can tell you which ones you should hit the theater to see and which ones can miss.
It's been almost exactly a year since I've done this form of quick-fire reviews, so pardon me if I'm a little rusty.
Joss Whedon's William Shakespeare's
Much Ado About Nothing
The Story: In Joss Whedon's modern-day adaptation of the Bard's classic comedy, soldiers return from battle and stay at the house of Leonato. There, amidst general revelry and party times, a few arrant knaves cause trouble and a few pairs of lovers connect, fall apart, and connect again. The main pair of these would-be lovers, Benedick (Alexis Denisof) and Beatrice (Amy Acker), spar and fight as much as they love, creating a template for the approximately one billion romantic comedies of the past 100 years.
Pros: The cast is fully invested in the material and are all completely great at their parts. Alias alum Amy Acker, in particular, is in fine form, and Fran Kranz as lovestruck Claudio and Clark Gregg as fun-loving yet instantly forlorn father Leonato give surprisingly layered performances. Much Ado is probably my second-favorite of Shakespeare's comedies (after A Midsummer Night's Dream), and its strengths, from the witty, banter-y comedy to the evocative plot-twists, are still quite present. Plus, it's a Who's Who of Whedonverse Alums, which is always a treat.
Cons: I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan, to be sure, but some of his directorial touches are a little unwelcome here. The black-and-white filming, the scant angles, and general laziness of the camera detract from the movie. Also, setting this particular play in modern times highlights some of the less timeless portions of the film, including odd opinions of war, race, and, most especially, purity and virginity. Some of the most dramatic moments read as comical when read through a modern lens.
Hit or Miss: HIT, most definitely, but you can probably wait until it's on DVD. Also, for my money, Kenneth Branagh's 1993 version of the same play (starring the wonderful Emma Thompson) is far-and-away a better film. It's sacrilege to say, but true nonetheless.
This Is The End
|Thank God we at least have weed.|
The Story: Jay Baruchel travels to L.A. to visit his old friend Seth Rogen, and together they head to a party at James Franco's house. When the Apocalypse occurs, Baruchel, Rogen, Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride must band together to survive. However, with mysterious creatures lurking all around them, water supplies running low, and Emma Watson stealing all their food, it's soon clear that not all of these 'friends' are going to get out alive.
Pros: Co-writers and Directors Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen have a lot of fun with an compelling topic with an interesting twist, and it's fun to see the A-List cast playing warped versions of themselves. Though the premise is larger than life, it's great that the heart of the story comes from the very human and real place of camaraderie and friendship. Bonds are tested amid cracker-jack dick and weed jokes, and surprise cameos from celebrities (who are more than willing to skewer their public image) heighten the comedy. In particular, Michael Cera and Emma Watson seem to be having a lot of fun, and the symphony of slaughter that starts the film acts as a real punch in the gut. I won't spoil the many cameos here, but it should suffice to say that basically half of Hollywood comes out to get murdered and lampooned in all kinds of interesting ways.
Cons: A lot of the film deals with the monotony of living out the final days of Earth, and that monotony translates a little too well to the screen. Though movies of this nature (bromantic comedies) tend to be a bit over-stuffed, this movie really drags in the middle. It picks up for a great final 20 minutes, but some of the middle section, involving an extended search for water and existential angst, really goes nowhere slowly.
Hit or Miss: HIT! It's a great time in the theater (having a bunch of people to laugh with is key), and, if you can get past some of the more juvenile humor, it's a well-acted-and-helmed movie that has as much heart as penis. And it has a lot of penis.
The Story: Coming almost 12 years after Monsters, Inc., this Pixar prequel follows our favorite monster duo as they brave the dangers and travails of college when they enroll in Monters University, which is complete with stereotypes such as: a hard-ass dean, a competition that defines manliness, a fraternity that's all heart and no talent, and a WMWG. Will Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) get past their differences, band together as a team, and win the big scare competition to prove the dean (Helen Mirren) and the big jock villain (Nathan Fillion) wrong? If you've ever seen a movie set in a college, then I think you already know the answer.
Pros: The writers and voice talent behind this pilot know that what we really wanted was a sequel, so they pack the film with as many references to the early film as possible, especially with Steve Buscemi's Randy, the original film's quasi-bad guy, who is back here as Mike's first, geeky roommate. The jokes land and are a lot of fun, and the competition that frames the last third of the film, while completely by-the-numbers, does still manage to have a few surprises. A terrifying librarian springs to mind.
Cons: the best Pixar movies work on a lot of different thematic levels that speak to adults as well as children. Movies like The Incredibles and Finding Nemo deal with growing up and trust, Toy Stories 1,2, and 3 deal with abandonment, jealousy, and PTSD. This movie, for the most part, really only works on one level: funny. On the Pixar "Scale of Awesome," it's not quite Cars 2 dumb, but it's not exactly Wall-E either.
Hit or Miss: If you have children, then HIT, because entertaining children is hard and it's especially hard to find something fun that also includes air-conditioning. If you don't, you can wait until it's on DVD or playing on TV. It's fun, but it's an imitation of a good movie, not an actual good movie.
The Story: Man of Steel follows the trajectory of many superhero origin tales, with young, misunderstood boy (Clark Kent) learning to hone and accept his gifts and save the world (and maybe make out with a lady reporter for a little while too). Following in the footsteps of fellow DC superhero Batman in The Dark Knight series, this reboot introduces us to a much more brooding and depressed Man of Steel than we've traditionally seen. His powers and moral compass set him apart from everyone else, and a lifetime of drifting and hiding have made him wary of strangers but still built like a truck. When a soldier from his home planet Krypton arrives on Earth in search of alien technology that only Clark has, everyone has some really difficult decisions to make.
Pros: One of the funniest things in Superman mythos is how nobody ever seems to realize that "bumbling Kansas yokel" Clark Kent is really a crime-fighting alien. For the people constantly befuddled by the fact that ace investigative journalist Lois Lane can't figure out her coworker is a hero in glasses, you'll be happy to know that Amy Adams' version is a little less gullible and a lot more 'investigatey.' Also, while he's not given much to do besides flex and brood, Henry Cavill turns in a really solid performance. He certainly looks the part. Russell Crowe, however, steals the show in one of his funniest and gravitas-filled roles to date (as Clark's birth father Jor-El). The film is also stylistically beautiful, with some interesting shots.
Cons: The movie is over-stuffed with plot, to the point where it feels more like three movies rolled up into one. There's a lot of promise in young Clark's search for meaning, his adventures as a young adult, and Lois Lane's search for the mysterious man who saved her life. However, all of the narrative interest is summarily wrapped up and dismissed half-way through the film, with the filmmakers deciding that all viewers want to see is Superman fighting the main villain of the film. That villain is Zod (Michael Shannon) who was also the villain in Superman II (in the original film series with Christopher Reeve). In an effort to give Zod as much of the story as possible, so many other events in the film are rushed, which is a shame; It makes the movie more about "brawn" and less about "brain", and it's boring. I honestly don't know what Clark's motivation in the film is at all, besides protecting Earth, and the filmmakers don't give us any sense of why he is so protective in the first place - he doesn't really seem to like the planet that much. Also, one of the main rules that Superman (and Batman, come to think of it) lives by is that murder of any kind is wrong. However, in the final battle, he literally causes the destruction of many buildings and roads, effectively killing millions of people in the process. It's hard to watch the violence and try to care about any of the other main characters, specifically Lois Lane. Why is she getting all the special treatment?
Hit or Miss: If you're going to see it, fine, but I think it's ultimately a MISS. It's got moments of promise, to be sure, but it's just so dark and depressing. Superman is supposed to be a fairly fun and goofy superhero. Much like his Marvel counterpart Captain America, Superman's aw-shucks Patriotism and can-do attitude set him apart, with his never wavering belief that he knows what's right. He's suffered more than most (with the death of both everyone on his home planet and his adoptive father), but he carries on, because he has to and because he wants to. It would have been nice to see more of that in this film.
There are scores more summer movies on the horizon, and, God-willing, I'll watch them all. I'll get back to you when I do.