Screens


Screens

by Jeff Boam

 

Opening this week

Non-Stop
Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore
Though the title sounds like an apt description of the Taken series’ gratuitous glut of sequels (the 3rd chapter will reportedly arrive in early 2015), it actually refers to a commercial airline trip with no layovers … or, as frequent flyers call it, inevitably getting bumped from a flight. Here, 61 year-old action star Liam Neeson is the one doing the bumping — as in heads. In this PG-13-rated actioner, an air marshal (Neeson) springs into action during a transatlantic flight after receiving a series of text messages that put his fellow passengers at risk unless the airline transfers $150 million into an off-shore account. The Plus: The player. After years of supporting gigs in blockbusting franchises (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, The Chronicles of Narnia, Batman Begins), Neeson emerged as a one-man Expendables, doling out some fisticuff and box office ass-whoopings in Taken ($145 million), The Grey ($51 million) and Taken 2 ($139 million) before landing a reported $20 million payday for Taken 3. Oh, and starring gigs in The Clash of the Titans and The A-Team certainly didn’t hurt either. Here, Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously collaborated with Neeson on the action hit The Unknown ($63 million), directs Moore (Carrie), Scoot McNairy (Killing Them Softly), Michelle Dockery (PBS’s Downton Abbey), Shea Whigham (HBO’s Boardwalk Empire) and current best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyongo’o (12 Years a Slave). The Minus: The competition. The LEGO Movie built a wall around disaster flick Pompeii at the box office. If anybody can topple the blocks, it’s Neeson … if only he didn’t have to go up against Jesus.

Son of God
Diogo Morgado, Amber Rose Revah
For those of you who read the international bestseller, the movie is finally here! In this PG-13-rated drama culmed together from footage from the History Channel mini-series The Bible, the life story of Jesus (Morgado) is told from his humble birth through his teachings, crucifixion and ultimate resurrection. The Plus: The material. Husband and wife executive producing team Mark Burnett (producer, Survivor) and Roma Downey (star, Touched by an Angel) gifted The History Channel with heavenly smash ratings when The Bible, a 10-hour mini-series, aired last year. Before the sequel, A.D.: Beyond the Bible, bows on NBC, the pair decided to go theatrical with this 135 minute rehash of Bible footage solely featuring Jesus. The Minus: The quality. The Passion of the Christ proved that Christians hold a lot of sway over the box office. Of course that particular film proved a hit with most critics as well, unlike The Bible. Here, according to The Hollywood Reporter, the producers chose to nix any footage featuring Satan because the original telecast caused a storm of controversy due to the Devil’s debatable resemblance to President Obama. Still, with church groups reportedly renting out theaters for screenings left and right, this edit probably won’t affect Son of God’s box office much.

 

Now Playing

Pompeii
Kit Harrington, Emily Browning
** — Pomp and Circumvent
Ashing in the face of famed ‘70s producer Irwin Allen, Pompeii takes Gladiator and pits it somewhere in between the Shake ‘n’ Bake twofer of classic H’Wood disaster movies Earthquake and Towering Inferno. In this PG-13-rated disaster flick from Paul W.S. Anderson (the Resident Evil franchise), a slave turned gladiator (Harrington) races against time to save his true love (Browning), who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator (Kiefer Sutherland) as Mount Vesuvius erupts around them. That description alone should make you want to board the Poseidon immediately and go see it, but the actual experience inspires less adventure and more displeasure as you pretty much watch a B-Movie with a 9 figure budget unfold before your eyes. When it comes down to it,  why does Asylum, producers of such direct-to-video mockbusters as Transmorphers and Titanic II, catch such flak when such a supposedly A-List production house like Filmdistrict is pretty much providing the same blockbuster-aping product at a much higher ticket price? The story is a rehash of other modern classics, the dialogue seems cut and pasted from some other not-so-classics, and the final cut boasts some weapons-grade special effects, but at what cost? Audiences have already begged for a gladiator’s death by the time the volcano finally explodes. It seems like Anderson has the Midas Touch … everything he touches turns into a muffler (thank you, Henny Youngman). From derailing the Alien franchise (AVP: Aliens Vs. Predator), to unnecessarily remaking Death Race, to crappily adapting The Three Musketeers, his schlocktastic CV reads like it belongs on USA’s Up All Night circa 1991. Kiefer Sutherland seems to be the only one having fun, cashing a paycheck and snarling his way twice through a line like “Kill them … kill them all!” It’s the kind of mustache-twirling performance that Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington should take note of if he wants a long career … because you can’t take a melodramatic love story set against the burning of a Roman Empire city in 3D seriously.

3 Days to Kill
Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld
** — Jack Ryan: Shadow Rebuke
There are worse ways to kill time than watching Kevin Costner’s predictable latest, but this bland bang bang flirts so much with boredom that the viewing feels like it’s taken you 3 Days to watch. In PG-13-rated actioner, Costner plays a dying Secret Service Agent trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Steinfeld) who gets offered an experimental drug that could save his life in exchange for one last assignment. It seems like it was just weeks ago that this column raved that Kevin Costner was the best part of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit and lobbied for him to be given another shot at being an action hero. Well, be careful what you wish for. Oh, there are some clever tweaks to the recycled story but it’s not enough to save moviegoers from a mission called tedium. A dying father trying to reconnect with his family. A contract killer working one last mission. A sexy handler with a duplicitous agenda. Yes, you’ve seen these boxes checked off before (perhaps not mixed into one watered down cocktail but still). Thanks to a winning lead, you almost want to throw 3 Days to Kill a bone … but it’s ten days shy of being a Costner Days flick we actually care about: Thirteen Days. Though this actor certainly deserves a Liam Neeson-style career rejuvenation a la Taken or The Grey, the participation of McG as director (Terminator Salvation, This Means War) and Luc Besson as screenwriter (Columbiana, The Family) seems to present him with a John Travolta-style career misstep like From Paris with Love instead.

RoboCop
Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman
**1/2 — Half Man. Half Machine. Half Hearted.
Not your canon fodder’s RoboCop, this modern update proves somewhat enjoyable but entirely unnecessary when it comes to reinventing the bionic wheel. In this PG-13-rated remake, the multinational conglomerate OmniCorp realizes their vision for a part-man, part-robot after police officer Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) — a loving husband, father and good cop — gets critically injured in the line of duty. Oh, it’s fun beyond your wildest dreams … if it hit screens in 1995. Here, however, it’s just a big budget remake of a darkly comic and brutally violent cult hit whose leftovers — when reheated — feel redundant in the wake of better sci-fi thrillers. RoboCop — with its marquee cast firing on all melodramatic cylinders — feels derivative not of the blueprint but of machinations that came in the stead of the 1987 original. There’s explosively exciting action and dramatics beside but it’s ultimately just Déjà Goo all over again.

The LEGO Movie
Voices of Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks
**** — Attack the Blocks
A bustling toybox of crackling wit and imagination, The LEGO Movie defies the odds and gives moviegoers as fun an afternoon as is humanly possible for a blockhead … and that’s meant as a high compliment. In this PG-rated animated comedy, an ordinary LEGO minifigure mistakenly thought to be the extraordinary MasterBuilder (Pratt) is recruited to join a quest to stop an evil LEGO tyrant (Will Ferrell) from gluing the universe together. I mean, these are Interlocking bricks, right? How funny can this flick be? In all honesty, it’s got more laughs than most of the modern blockbusting animated flicks put together because it knows just what it is: a major motion picture based on a plastic plaything. The LEGO Movie ends up to be a sarcastic triumph, tearing itself down with tongue firmly in cheek but also successfully integrating a multi-pop-cultural world of superheroes, wizards, presidents and Star Wars characters into one funtastic joyride.

 

Small Screens

Gravity
Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
**** — The Right-On Stuff
In this PG-13-rated sci-fi thriller new to DVD, a medical engineer (Bullock) and an astronaut (Clooney) get stranded in space. Truly defining the lyrics “It’s lonely out in space,” this Rocket Wo-Man saga proves so spine/bone/mind-chillingly real that even a few hair-brained scripted moments won’t detract from the authentically harrowing and hair-raising chills. Utilizing less computer SFX and more wireworks and models, this space-borne thriller truly makes filmgoers feel every pulse-pounding tic of their perilous space walks amid showering debris. Some poorly chosen supposedly character-building moments ground audiences, albeit briefly. Still, director Alfonso Cuaron deserves the Oscar even if Gravity’s Best Picture chance gets lost in space.

Orange is the New Black
Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon
“I Wasn’t Ready”
**** — Orange You Lucky
In this Netflix series based on the book by the same name by Piper Kerman, a happily engaged New Yorker (Schilling) gets sent to a women’s federal prison for transporting a suitcase full of drug money across international borders for her now ex-lover (Prepon) a decade ago. What’s technically a dramedy actually turns both genres on their heads with a non-deloused frank look into modern class and race relations. The one-liners and funny situations prove side-splitting just as the very authentic character’s emotional carnival ride proves uncomfortably off-putting. Black humor bleeds through an environment teeming with potentially violent hair-trigger situations, but these moments brilliantly get offset with real heart thanks to creator/head-writer Jenji Kohan (Weeds).