If you’re more interested in golden statuettes than gallant superheroes, you can come out of hiding and back into the movie theaters – the season of summer blockbusters is over.
This weekend, a whole slew of highly anticipated films are premiering:
* “The Ides of March”: An “impeccably acted and grippingly paced” political thriller that revolves around a young campaign press secretary’s involvement in a political scandal that threatens to upend his candidate’s shot at the presidency.
* “Real Steel”: The film about boxing robots defies expectations, “proving it doesn’t matter what the genre is if genuinely talented and dedicated people are pulling the strings instead of hacks.”
* “Intruders”: The parallel stories about two families whose lives have been upended by disturbing apparitions is a psychological thriller that’s “creepy and atmospheric… well written and stylishly directed.”
“’Drive’ revels in sensory detail,” writes Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum. “It’s a visually and aurally edgy Euro-influenced American genre movie about the coolness of noir-influenced American genre movies about the coolness of driving.”
Let’s start over. “Drive,” a new movie starring Ryan Gosling as a stunt driver-turned-getaway-driver-turned-knight-in-shining-armor, premieres in theaters this weekend. And – if you couldn’t tell from the aforementioned review – critics are raving.
Time Out New York’s Joshua Rothkopf calls the film “some kind of masterpiece.” Hollywood News’ Sean O’Connell agrees, saying, “This genre film does what it does so well, and with such impressive directorial finesse, you won’t mind stepping into the criminal muck and covering yourself in the blood and filth of some ice-cold thieves.”
What more could you want from “a hyper-stylized blend of striking images and violence [that] represents a fully realized vision of arthouse action”?
“Drive” opens in wide release this weekend.
If “blood and filth” isn’t your idea of box-office entertainment, these movies are also opening:
» “Straw Dogs”: The film about a Hollywood screenwriter and his wife who return to her small Southern hometown only to confront old conflicts is garnering mixed reviews. While Roger Ebert found it “visceral, disturbing and well-made,” Roger Moore thought “Straw Dogs” was “a pretty unpleasant wallow in the obvious.” Opening in wide release.
» “I Don’t Know How She Does It”: Sarah Jessica Parker attempts to balance marriage, kids, and a demanding career in this “endless, painfully predictable” film that Brian Orndorf calls “insipid wish fulfillment.” Opening in wide release, if you aren’t deterred by a 25% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
This weekend, the “paranoia-fest [that’s] a straightforward ticking-clock thriller,” “Contagion,” opens in theaters nationwide. The plot follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills its victims within days, spreading panic as quickly as disease.
Critics are praising the film for being what many of its predecessors were not – believable and intelligent. “Taut with energy from start to finish, ‘Contagion’’s portrait of a global epidemic is just the right mix of scary, informative and emotionally powerful,” writes Film Journal International’s Sarah Sluis.
Richard Roeper agrees, stating simply, “’Contagion’ is a brilliantly executed disease outbreak movie.”
Going to the movies this weekend? You might think twice about sitting next to the sneezing guy on the bus.
Sigourney Weaver with a perm and a machine gun. Facehuggers and Chestbursters. Ridley Scott. The “Alien” franchise, which was released in 1979 and has spawned numerous novels, comic books, video games, toys, and other media and merchandise, holds its place more than thirty years later after its debut as one of the most iconic extraterrestrial thrillers of all time. Rumor has it a fifth sequel could be in the works.
The phrase “I’m sorry, Dave” has never sounded more ominous than when Hal, the only computer to make AFI’s list of “Greatest Villains of All Time,” utters it in a gentle monotone in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece film, “2001.”
Although not technically set in space, the complete isolation of a submarine crew 1,000 feet below the water’s surface, cut off from all outside communication, rivals that of deep space. Decompression chambers, a mysterious sphere, and a slew of bloodthirsty jellyfish don’t make the setting any more welcoming – or human – than a galaxy far, far away.
What doesn’t this film have? Astronauts gouging their own eyes out, screaming curses in Latin, and fighting in vain against a sinister force they describe as “pure chaos, pure evil” are details that only begin to scratch the surface of one of the most depraved – not to mention violent – films of its genre.
No list of horror movies set in outer space would be complete without mentioning the crowning jewel of its genre, “Leprechaun 4.” The movie that’s garnered an impressive zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes needs no more explanation than this tidbit of plot synopsis: “While the rest of the crew attend to [the narcissistic princess] Zarina, Kowalski urinates on the Leprechaun’s dismembered leg.”
The remake of the 1973 made-for-TV movie is based on a tried-and-true horror plot: Young couple undertakes renovation of their Gothic mansion. Isolated only child (IOC) hears whispers promising friendship from within the mansion walls. IOC, being an IOC, seeks out the source of the promises and accidentally unleashes a horde of demonic creatures. IOC tries to warn her family. No one believes her. End scene.
“Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” is garnering a mish-mash of reviews that run the gamut from scathing to laudatory. On one hand, critics like the Orlando Sentinel’s Roger Moore say the film is “a literally hair-raising piece of modern-style old school Gothic horror” capped off by a finale that’s “perfectly chilling.”
On the other hand, there are reviews from critics such as Owen Glieberman, who calls the film “a plodding, derivative gothic potboiler,” and Steve Persall, who says, “That creaking sound during ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ isn’t a door opening ghostly; it’s the groaning cliché of a haunted house and stupid people who don’t know when to leave.”
Citizen Kane, this is not. But if you’re in the mood for goosebumps, you could do worse than “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”
Sparkly Edward. Aristocratic Bill Compton. And now… Colin Farrell?
That’s right. The Irish troublemaker joins the ever-growing club of pop culture vampires by starring as Jerry, everyone’s favorite vampire-next-door, in a remake of the classic comedy-horror classic, “Fright Night,” which opens in wide release this weekend.
The plot of the 1985 cult classic follows a typical boy-meets-neighbor, neighbor-turns-out-to-be-vampire, nobody-believes-the-boy-so-he-must-destroy-the-vampire-himself story arc. But unlike so many film remakes, the new “Fright Night” not only stands up to the legacy of its predecessor, but, many critics say, surpasses it.
Film reviewer Mark Dujsik calls the film a “superior reassembling” of the original – a sentiment echoed by the Washington Post’s Sean O’Connell, who says, “It improves on the premise it has been handed, producing a modernized version of a decades-old story that’s superior to its predecessor in virtually every aspect.”
Will you spend a few bucks this weekend to see the film critics are calling “sharp-tounged” and “refreshingly straightforward and self-deprecating?” Or would you rather pop in the old VHS tape and press rewind?
Also opening this weekend:
» “Conan the Barbarian” : Another remake of a classic film, but one that isn’t going over so well with critics, who are calling it a “ham-handed adventure flick in eye-deadening, wallet-draining 3-D” that’s the “very definition of the dumb summer flick.” Opening in wide release.
» “One Day” : Not a remake, but a book-to-film adaptation – one that critics aren’t buying. Called “flat, excruciatingly predictable… and melodramatic,” reviewers warn, “Long before the credits roll, you may find yourself wishing your life could flash before your eyes, to end the monotony of this relentless turning of calendar pages.” Opening in wide release.
Set under the blazing Mississippi sun, “The Help” is attracting some heat of its own — based on buzz so far, it’s sure to to burn up box offices this weekend.
"The Help," a film adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 novel of the same name, tells the story of two African-American maids (Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer) who work in white households, and the aspiring young journalist (Emma Stone) who dares to tell their story. Critics concur that the movie delivers a powerful emotional punch — but some wish the blow was a little less blunt.
The New York Daily News’ Elizabeth Weitzmen calls the film “impactful in parts, but noticeably lacking in Stockett’s instinctive nuance,” while David Denby of the New Yorker says that “The Help” is “in some ways, crude and obvious, but … parts of it are so moving and well acted that any objections to what’s second-rate seem to matter less as the movie goes on.”
Praise for the lead actresses is unanimous. Slate’s Dana Stevens calls leads Davis and Spencer “tremendous.” David Edelstein gushes that Davis “gives this too-soft movie a spine” with her “tough, beautifully judged performance.”
Does this movie’s simple story do justice to its complicated setting? See “The Help” this weekend to decide for yourself.
Also opening this weekend:
»”Final Destination 5”: The fifth installment of the teen horror series finds yet another group of teens doomed to bizarre, grizzly deaths. One critic calls Final Destination 5 “the best sequel in the bunch,” while others condemn the “anemic installment” to the franchise that’s purely “content with giving viewers more of the same.”
»”30 Minutes or Less”: From the makers of Zombieland comes another wacky action-comedy. This time, a pizza delivery boy (Jesse Eisenburg) must rob a bank after being kidnapped by two thugs. Claudia Plug says the movie “wallows in stupidity without making the bromance bonds believable,” but with a run time of only 83 minutes, critic Gary Thompson praises “30 Minutes or Less” as “fast, foul and frequently funny.”
Producers are plotting multiple sequels. An actor’s performance is prompting critics to question whether motion-capture roles can be nominated for Academy Awards. And “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” hasn’t even opened in theaters yet.
The origin story of the super-intelligent primates begins, as many science fiction tales do, with a scientist. Will Rodman (James Franco) is searching for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. He tests a “cure” on a chimpanzee named Caesar (Andy Serkis, of Gollum fame), and, lo and behold, something goes wrong. Caesar acquires human-like intelligence, escapes the lab, genetically engineers his fellow chimps, and does what any logical man-ape would do: forms an army to overthrow humanity.
As silly as the premise may be, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is garnering impressive critical praise. Screen International’s Tim Grierson calls the film “a taut, emotionally satisfying origin story” that’s “far more rewarding” than other summer blockbusters. Contra Costa’s Randy Myers agrees, characterizing it as “an entertaining picture [that] rises to the occasion and resoundingly exceeds expectations.”
And MSN Movies’ Glenn Kenny is succinct: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is “very nearly close to completely awesome.”
What more could you want from a summer movie about smart monkeys?
"Rise of the Planet of the Apes" opens in theaters in wide release this weekend.
» "The Change-Up": A modern-day “Freaky Friday” tale that replaces mom and daughter with promiscuous single guy and buttoned-up married guy. It “follows the basic conventions of the switched-identity genre, if more profanely, changing up not much at all.” Can you guess what happens at the end? Opening in wide release.
» "The Whistleblower": Rachel Weisz is Nebraskan police officer who takes a job working as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and discovers “a dangerous reality of corruption, cover-up and intrigue.” It’s been called “a grisly, authentic, meticulously researched, pulse-quickening political chiller” with strong reviews across the board. Opening in wide release.
Q: What do you get when you mix six-shooters, a grizzled Harrison Ford, and the O.K. Corral with flying saucers, neon laser beams, and an amnesiac Daniel Craig?
A: “Cowboys and Aliens.”
The film, which opens this weekend, is about… cowboys. And aliens. Fighting. And, according to critics, that’s pretty much all there is to it.
“You want cowboys and aliens in the same movie?” Keith Phipps of the AV Club asks. “This one’s for you. If you want anything beyond what the title promises, look elsewhere.” And many reviewers, including ReelViews’ James Berardinelli, find fault even there: “Cowboys & Aliens is a mashup of a mediocre Western and a mediocre science fiction story,” he writes – a sentiment echoed by Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir, who chimes in, “The movie never makes much of a case for its own existence; it’s a mediocre western clumsily welded to a mediocre alien shoot-‘em-up.”
That’s four votes for “mediocre,” if you’re keeping track.
However, some critics say, the failings of the hybrid genre are irrelevant. Brian Orndorf calls the film “an entertaining slice of summer escapism” and Chris Bumbray adds that it’s a “fun-filled summer blockbuster.”
That’s two votes for summer fun. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
“Cowboys and Aliens” opens this weekend in wide release. Who do you think will be the victor?
Also out this weekend:
» “The Smurfs”: Currently garnering an impressive zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the gang of pocket-sized, blue cartoons isn’t receiving a warm welcome from critics. MSN Movies’ Glenn Kenny sums it up with his review: “…the adults who take [the kids] to see the movie won’t feel too good about themselves, or their existences, or the state of life on the planet, as the lights go up.” That’s smurfing harsh. Opening in wide release.
It wouldn’t be summer without a slew of superheroes, villains, and damsels in distress battling to rid the streets of crime/achieve global domination/look vulnerable in spandex on the silver screen. Following a jam-packed summer roster of x-men and glowing rings, the latest offering, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” opens in wide release this weekend.
For those unfamiliar with the Marvel comic, the basic premise of “Captain America” is this: regular-Joe Steve Rodgers volunteers to participate in an experimental program (never a good idea in the world of comics), which inevitably results in his transformation into a Super Soldier, “Captain America.” He scoops up a sidekick and hot date and together, they battle an evil empire (the fascist HYDRA organization) that is, of course, spearheaded by an evil villain, Red Skull.
Hero? Check. Villain? Check. Damsel? Check. The only thing missing is popcorn.
“Captain America: The First Avenger” is being received by critics, on the whole, as one of the better superhero movies of late. The New York Times’ A.O. Scott says the film has “a winningly pulpy, jaunty, earnest spirit,” and Steve Persall, of the St. Petersburg Times, praises director Joe Johnston for keeping things “relatively simple and pleasantly stupid,” as a superhero movie should be.
That’s not to say that the film will be considered for an Academy Award anytime soon – “Overall, it’s a lot of fun before it gets somewhat bogged down,” says NY 1-TV’s Neil Rosen, and Chris Bumbray concedes it’s “not a perfect film, but a damn fun one.”
“Friends With Benefits” : Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis star in this “sexy and funny” film about two friends who decide to add sex to their routine hang-outs. (Wait, didn’t this movie come out a few months ago? And wasn’t it called “No Strings Attached”?) The film “evaporates from memory,” according to the Miami Herald’s Rene Rodriguez, but, OK! Magazine’s Phil Villarreal points out, it establishes Justin Timberlake as a talented actor, “given the fact that his character is only an extreme mega-douchebag, rather than the tremendous, mind-blowing super-douche he usually plays.”