Seventeen summers ago, Will Smith gave us the catch phrase "welcome to Earth" and then punched an alien in the face. This time he's the invading alien (kinda) and his new line "this is Earth" is much more doom and gloom than swagger. An international icon, father and potentially the next great crazy celebrity, Will Smith is finally ready to pass the baton to his son Jaden.
But it isn't a baton he's using in 'After Earth' (an original sci-fi film based on a story of Smith's own creation) but a C-40 Cutlass – a doohickey kinda like Darth Maul's lightsaber, which springs out different blades depending on what you need. Actually, we never quite know how the Cutlass in 'After Earth' works, but it is one of a number of really nifty gizmos that populates the half-baked mythos of this film.
With 'Star Trek Into Darkness,' Abrams' follow up to the 2009 'Star Trek' reboot (or continuation of the series, if you are Spock Prime) he has solidified his position as a master of propulsive, visceral filmmaking. Dude knows where to put the camera, when the music should swell, when the characters should zing each another or when they should project pathos to the cheap seats. The 'Star Wars' films are mostly gut and little brains and, unfortunately, that is what we have here. The movie still works as an exemplary thrill ride – I laughed, I cried, I cheered – but woe be to anyone who gets caught in a conversation afterwards trying to explain the overly complicated and, at times, silly plot. If you expect something a little sharper out of 'Star Trek' you may come away with some mixed emotions.
My disdain of the 'Scary Movie' franchise came early. I distinctly recall seeing the 'Scary Movie 2' poster, which featured Kathleen Robertson wearing a t-shirt that says "I See Dead People." This isn't a joke. It's just a reference. It isn't clever, it isn't witty - it's just saying a thing from another movie. It's not funny.
Almost 10 years later, 'Scary Movie 5' still suffers from this debilitating problem. There is absolutely nothing funny about going 'Inception'-style into Christian Grey's S&M room and having Mike Tyson show up. Yet, if you are somehow able to ignore the lowest common denominator pop culture appearances (I hesitate to even call them jokes) there are a great number of truly amusing gags and examples of rapid fire dialogue zings. Put bluntly: when the film is freed from the shackles of its referencing mandate, there's some good, dopey humor in here. Much to my surprise, I laughed out loud a good half-dozen times.
Let's not kid ourselves about this. Part of consuming Hollywood entertainment is that, on some level, we like these people. It's strange, but I probably like Tina Fey and Paul Rudd more than actual live humans I've met and have to deal with on a regular basis. Yes, I recognize that I only know them through the characters they play (and that includes their "as themselves" appearances on Letterman's couch or the Golden Globes stage) but their finely sculpted personas of vibrant, clever, likable people automatically gives them lift in any project they choose. When they star together in 'Admission' - a romantic comedy that is just a little bit smarter than the other leading brands - and one where they find a degree of happiness together, well, this puts the movie far off the likability charts.
'21 and Over,' despite being the directorial debut of the odious 'Hangover' writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, isn't quite the bro-fest you might think it is. Yes, it definitely treads a bit into date rape jokes and offers an easy layup to any and all homophobes in the audience (more on this in a bit) but, by some miracle, more scenes than you might expect will actually make you laugh. Despite a premise that has the blur of a Xerox of a Xerox, there are individual sequences that are, surprisingly, clever and endearing.
Funny is, of course, subjective. I find Woody Allen funny but there are plenty of people who find him about as amusing as being slowly asphyxiated in plastic bags from CVS. Still, I'll hazard to guess that there is no one who will find Melissa McCarthy obnoxiously singing along to Kelis' not-at-all-current "Milkshake" funny. Especially when 'Identity Thief' - a new "comedy" with McCarthy and Jason Bateman - goes to quite successful lengths to make you HATE her character. And you just might wind up hating this movie too.
'Mud' is a great story, but not a particularly great film.
Dripping in regional specificity and broad metaphor, Jeff Nichols' new film feels more like a big, fat American novel you get assigned in 10th grade than the follow-up to 'Take Shelter.' That earlier film's ominous tone and psychological portraiture is traded-in for large, gestural story beats that itch to be broken down and discussed for their symbolic meaning. When you are done explaining just what Boo Radley represented, then you can sink your teeth into Joe Don Baker's character "King."
Ed. note: What are the Top 20 Movies of 2012? We asked our film critic Jordan Hoffman (who previously put together a list of the Best Movies of the first half of the year) to compile a list of the Best of 2012 of all the many movies he saw this year.
Pop culture enthusiasts can be forgiven if they approach Peter Jackson's J.R.R. Tolkien prequel trilogy thinking about 'Star Wars.' Will this next (but previous!) chapter in one of Fandom's key franchises broaden the cinematic universe we love so much, or will this be another case where they should have let enough alone?
Well, as is so frequently the case in life, I can't give you such a black and white answer. For starters, we may not be able to fully analyze 'The Hobbit' until all three chapters are in. Nevertheless here we are and 'An Unexpected Journey' does, indeed, have a lot going for it. It is also saddled with tangents, jabberjaw scenes that never end and far too many beats whose sole function is to remind you how much you love the original 'Lord of the Rings' films.
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