When it comes to Roland Emmerich movies, we hold these truths to be self-evident: they will be overlong, not terribly well acted, and loaded with melodrama that has the emotional weight of a Hallmark card. In the plus column, the man can stage one hell of a disaster sequence, and his latest movie “2012,” for better and for worse, is all of these things. It sports a ridiculous run time – two hours and 38 minutes, yikes – and the so-called teary moments fall flat, but the annihilation sequences he assembles are like nothing you’ve ever seen. That leaves the acting as the difference-maker, and surprise, it’s actually better than expected. Not across the board, mind you, but having a better actor than Dennis Quaid at the helm is a good first step.
The phrase “based on a story by Stephen King,” as a general rule, is far scarier than any movie that’s actually based on a story by Stephen King. Fortunately, “1408” is the first movie in years (decades?) to rise above its dubious distinction. It may not be run-to-church-and-repent terrifying, but it is relentless and unsettling, and as a bonus, it turns a Carpenters wedding staple into a murder ballad. That, my friends, takes skill.
There is only one woman who doesn’t end up raped or murdered. The ones who are spared rape – presumably, anyway; for all we know, they were raped before we witness their deaths – are nearly all slaughtered while topless. Far be it from me to sound like a feminist, but there are parts of “300: Rise of an Empire” that are disturbing on a number of levels. Zack Snyder, who opted not to direct the follow-up to his 2006 smash “300” but co-wrote the screenplay, will likely argue that these were dark days, and heinous crimes were committed, and we will not debate either point. However, when all of the naked victims are ‘D’ cups, it sends a mixed message, to say the least.
I had an interesting conversation with one of my fellow movie critic friends on the way out of “300.” He was just as excited to see it as I was, but afterwards, the first word he used to describe it was “lame,” that it was nothing but slo-mo swordplay and green screen work. I found this puzzling, since every trailer for the movie shows nothing but slo-mo swordplay and green screen work. Wasn’t the movie, then, exactly what the ads – the very things that got him so excited in the first place – proclaimed it to be? And if so, why was he so disappointed to get exactly what the movie promised?
Three years ago, the Onion A.V. Club ran a list of great films that are too painful to watch twice. That list has a new Number One. Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours” takes a hellish premise that Jigsaw himself would be proud to call his own – mutilate yourself or die! – and turns it into a moving and even amusing testament to what men will do to survive. Best of all, the movie is careful not to paint Ralston as a victim because, well, he’s not. He got himself into this mess, and while his escape makes for a hell of a story, it’s a story that could have been prevented a million different ways.
It is not easy to mix comedy with tragedy. Even Oscar-winning movies like “As Good As It Gets” had difficulty finding the right balance. “50/50” actually bests “As Good As It Gets” in a few respects, but rhythm eludes the movie from the very beginning. It hits all the right emotional chords, but it hits them like they’re targets in a drive-by shooting, fleeing the scene before the audience has had a chance to survey the damage and contemplate what’s just happened. In spite of this, “50/50” is a very entertaining and touching movie. With a different balance of love and death, though, it could have been something special.
The story of the Chilean miners who were trapped over 200 stories underground, and their subsequent rescue after a whopping 69 days, is one of humanity’s finest. It is a story of hope, courage, faith, and determination, and it had ‘major motion picture’ written all over it. Unfortunately, the word ‘major’ proves to be the biggest problem with the eventual motion picture. “The 33” had an intimate, claustrophobic film within its grasp, but chose to paint by numbers instead. They even recorded all of the dialogue in English. Ninety-nine percent of the characters are Chilean; this movie has no business being in English.
Movies, unlike albums, don’t have the luxury of being “growers.” They can’t start with the six-minute ambient piece and work their way to the big hit. They’re constructed like Now! compilations, front-loaded with the biggest hits and designed to bombard the viewer into submission. “30 Minutes or Less,” the new comedy from “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer, is built like Radiohead’s Kid A (it’s inferior to Kid A, of course, but go with us on this). The overall experience is a satisfying one, but it will try the patience of a saint along the way. Simply put, the first 30 minutes are brutal.
After watching “28 Weeks Later,” the only thing I wanted to do was take a shower and watch “American Idol.” Granted, it contained all the elements that these movies need to be effective: it was bloody, disturbing and relentless, but not in a thrilling way. Instead, it was exhausting and bleak, and made me feel dirty just watching it. To gore hounds, that may sound like a good thing. I assure you, it’s not. And yet, the movie has its good points. There is some truly frightful stuff here, but it’s not in a boo-eek way as much as a holy-shit-we’re-really-flawed-as-a-species way. If that gets you off, you are not welcome in my house.
One of the most overused expressions when describing a comedy is to say that it’s explosively funny. Most of the time, what that means is someone on screen is merely doing something out of character, which rarely makes sense in context with the rest of the story. It’s the laugh for the sake of a laugh, which is to say it’s a cheap laugh. Good comedy needs to be based, however tenuously, in reality.