Dark Shadows Disappoints

For a director and an actor to work together on several pictures is not uncommon. Woody Allen/Diane Keaton, Martin Scorsese/Robert DeNiro, Coen Brothers/Frances McDormand, and John Ford/John Wayne have all done it before. But the relationship between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp has always felt unique. Not because the stories are always original (in recent years, they’ve mostly been adaptations), but because of the artistry. In Burton’s cartoon-surrealistic worlds, Depp is a constant, willing, and able player. Razor-wielding barber? Sure. Boy with razor hands? Why the hell not? Depp dons powdery makeup and ungainly wigs with aplomb, creating memorable (if not all together successful) characters. And while Burton and Depp’s collaborative work—including seven live-actions and one animated feature—has achieved near perfection (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood), a few have simply been beautiful bores (Alice in Wonderland). Unfortunately, Dark Shadows is something new: a beautiful mess. Read more »

The Raven Is a Painful Reminder That John Cusack Is John Cusack

Time has not been kind to John Cusack. This is not to say that his appearance has deteriorated, but rather to say that he’s aged out of type. In the ‘90s, he embodied the angsty, quick-witted, single boy-men of Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity. (It never seemed like he was really acting.) But 12 years later, unlike the actor himself, Cusack’s acting remains unaged—inflexibly the same. Like in 2012 where he plays the quick-witted, single father during Earth’s destruction. Or in 1408, where he plays the quick-witted writer investigating a haunted hotel. He does not alter his voice, nor does he change his mannerisms or delivery. (As a friend so adroitly said to me the other day: “John Cusack can’t escape being John Cusack, no matter who he tries to play.”) In The Raven, Cusack portrays Edgar Allan Poe. Which is just Cusack with a goatee. Read more »

Spoiler-Free Review of Cabin in the Woods

In May 2009, co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel) completed production on Cabin in the Woods. Starring Fran Kranz (then costarring on Whedon’s not-good-enough series Dollhouse), Bradley Whitford (The West Wing), Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Eat Pray Love), Chris Hemsworth (the not-yet megastar of Thor), and several Whedonites, it was to be a statement on the horror genre devolvement—namely, the latest “torture porn” craze. But when MGM filed for bankruptcy in 2010, its future was left uncertain. After negotiations—and a brief, and gratefully unsuccessful, discussion about converting into 3D—Cabin in the Woods can finally be seen in theaters. And fans of horror and/or Whedon will not be disappointed. Cabin is a smart, genuinely scary film that feels utterly original. Read more »

Bully Bravely Reminds You That Bullying Really Sucks

Last week the highly publicized documentary Bully, opening in Philadelphia this Friday, had its rating slashed from R to PG-13. The Weinstein Company, the film’s distributor, noted the occasion with solemn approval. Thanks to the Motion Picture Association of America’s good sense, an anti-bullying dialogue could reach more classrooms, dinner tables, and, fingers crossed, lawmakers. Read more »

Jennifer Lawrence Is Perfect as Katniss Everdeen

In September 2008, the month when Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games was first released, another young-adult series—featuring a certain milquetoast “heroine” and her sparkly vampire—still reigned supreme. But for those of us who never gave a flyin’ flip for Team Sparkly or Team Shirtless, and who still mourned the completion of Harry Potter, Hunger Games was the perfect antidote. It was shockingly brutal yet unbelievably (even compulsively) readable. It immediately became a bestseller — mostly driven by incredible word of mouth. So when it was announced that director Gary Ross (Pleansantville, Seabiscuit) was to direct the film adaptation, the intense scrutiny began. But fans, rest assured: the Hunger Games movie is a superbly made, tremendously faithful adaptation that is worth seeing again and again. Read more »

Nostalgia Doesn’t Help 21 Jump Street Remake

Here’s the sad truth: Many who go to see 21 Jump Street won’t have any clue that it’s actually based on a TV show. The phrase “I said jump, down on Jump Street” will mean absolutely nothing to them. (Nor incite an urge to shout “jump.”) The connection between this movie and Johnny Depp will be lost. They’ll be confused why some audience members cheer at the brief cameo of Holly Robinson (Peete). They will not know who Richard Grieco is. (To be fair, many of us have also forgotten.) But it doesn’t matter. Those women (and some men) who had the Johnny Depp poster up in their rooms—smoldering eyes, denim vest, and all—will appreciate the nostalgia; the rest will laugh at the dick jokes. Read more »

Don Argott’s Last Days Here Made Me Cry

Last Days Here
Director Don Argott first came onto my radar in 2005 when he released Rock School, his Roger Ebert-approved documentary about the Paul Green School of Rock and its foul-mouthed namesake. After moving into the fine art world with Art of the Steal and nuclear fear mongering with The Atomic States of America, which screened at Sundance in January, he’s come back around to the glorious world of sex, drugs and rock-and-roll with Last Days Here—only in this documentary, that world isn’t so glorious. Read more »

Christmas Weekend Movie Guide

Thus begins one of the most important movie weekends of the year. On Tuesday, Oscar ballots will be mailed out—nominations announced four weeks later (on January 24). So this will be the final weekend for wide release films to make an impression. While Hugo, The Descendants, and The Help have been talked about for weeks, this will be studios’ last chance to make an impact. So here are my reviews of the big name releases this week. Read more »

The Worst Part of the Star-Studded, Garry Marshall-Directed New Year’s Eve

There are stupid movies and then there are stoopid movies. The stoopid movies are the ones that should be avoided at all costs — those of the Glitter or Gigli ilk — which after viewing make you feel like you’ve lost part of your youth. The stupid movies, on the other hand—as my friend so eloquently stated—are those that are rented on a rainy night when it’s just you and a box of wine. (Well, she said a glass of wine. But whatever). Like Death Becomes Her and National Treasure. They’re dumb, but that’s their charm. New Year’s Eve, Garry Marshall’s new holiday schlockfest starring every available actor who wasn’t in his craptastic Valentine’s Day, falls somewhere in between. Though probably closer to the stoopid end of the spectrum. Read more »

Thanksgiving Movie Guide: Starring the Muppets

It’s Thanksgiving, which means it’s time to be together. Watch the parade together. Make food together. Eat together. Watch a few games together. Drink together. Fight together. Go see a movie together. (Thankfully, though technically together, seeing a movie together requires absolutely no talking.) And this is a great Thanksgiving for films, especially family friendly ones. Here are a few of my suggestions. Read more »

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