Movie Review: “Get on Up”

Starring
Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd, Craig Robinson
Director
Tate Taylor

Every movie trend has its fans. Monster movies, disaster movies, chick flicks, tearjerkers, conspiracy thrillers, they all have people who love them regardless of their financial viability at the box office. No one, however, misses the biopic, films based on the life of a famous person. In fact, after “Walk the Line” and “Ray,” people were so done with biopics that most people passed on arguably the best biopic of that era, even though it expertly lampooned the biopic structure and had a damned good soundtrack to boot (“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” we still love ya, baby). To further prove this point, earlier this year, Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” sank like a stone, despite the fact that the musical of the same name sells out everywhere it goes, and last year’s Princess Diana film starring Naomi Watts fared even worse. No one misses the biopic.

Everyone misses James Brown, though, which is why “Get on Up: The James Brown Story” has something those other movies didn’t: instant swagger. It actually has a couple of things the others don’t, namely a non-linear timeline that would give Doctor Who pause, and it does the unthinkable by occasionally breaking the fourth wall, at times to hilarious effect. The story line is too slight, opting for depth of event coverage over depth of character, but thanks to a, um, showstopping performance by Chadwick Boseman, “Get on Up” is quite entertaining despite its flaws. It is also genius counterprogramming to this weekend’s box office juggernaut, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Someone at Universal should get a bonus for that decision alone.

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Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker
Director
James Gunn

Marvel Studios has a history of taking some big risks, from the men behind the camera to those in front of it, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is perhaps their biggest one yet. Not only is the comic book on which it’s based an unknown quantity to most moviegoers (if Iron Man used to be considered a B-list character, then the Guardians are on the D-list), but James Gunn isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of to direct a big-budget comic book movie. Despite his lack of experience, the bigwigs at Marvel clearly saw something in his earlier work (the horror comedy “Slither” and the superhero satire “Super”) that suggested he was the right man for the job, and Gunn has definitely repaid their faith in him by producing the best possible version of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film and one of the most purely fun Marvel movies to date.

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, a member of an intergalactic group of thieves and smugglers who was kidnapped from Earth as a young boy. When he’s sent by his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) to steal a mysterious orb, only to double-cross him in order to keep the artifact for himself, Quill becomes the target of a power-hungry alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who’s made a deal with the Mad Titan Thanos (the purple-skinned figure teased at the end of “The Avengers”) to give him the orb in exchange for destroying his enemy’s home planet. After he’s captured and thrown into prison, Quill teams up with a quartet of fellow misfits – deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven bruiser Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), gun-toting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) – to mount an escape. But when the group discovers the true power of the orb, they agree to stick together a little longer in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to August

august

This has been one of the worst summer movie seasons in recent memory, and while it would take something really special to turn it all around, there are a few new releases this August that could at least make it a little less forgettable, including Marvel Studio’s most ambitious film to date, new installments of “The Expendables” and “Sin City,” and the return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen.

“GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY”

Who: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel
What: When space adventurer Peter Quill steals an orb coveted by a treacherous villain, he must find a way to rally a quartet of ragtag rivals to save the universe.
When: August 1st
Why: A few months ago, most people had never even heard of “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but that’s quickly changed following the launch of the film’s marketing campaign, which suggests that director James Gunn (perhaps Marvel Studio’s biggest risk yet) has absolutely nailed the offbeat tone of the comic book. This has been on my must-see list ever since it was announced, and that excitement has only grown with each new reveal, from the casting of Chris Pratt in the lead role, to landing Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper to voice the movie’s CGI characters, to the strong buzz emerging from early screenings that have pegged it as one of the studio’s best films to date. In other words: get ready to be pleasantly surprised.

“GET ON UP”

Who: Chadwick Boseman, David Andrew Nash, Nelsan Ellis and Viola Davis
What: A chronicle of James Brown’s rise from extreme poverty to become one of the most influential musicians in history.
When: August 1st
Why: The music biopic is one of the most formulaic subgenres. They’re essentially all the same – a rags to riches story where the subject overcomes some kind of personal demon, usually drug addiction) – and Taylor Tate’s “Get on Up” doesn’t appear to buck that trend. The fact that the script was written by Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (the sibling duo responsible for the excellent “Edge of Tomorrow”) instills some hope that it won’t be a complete waste of time, but James Brown’s life doesn’t really interest me, and the decision to cast Chadwick Boseman as the Godfather of Soul feels a little weird after playing another black icon so recently in “42.” What’s next for the actor? Movies about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Jesse Owens?

“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES”

Who: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub
What: Four mutant warriors fight to save their city from an evil kingpin.
When: August 8th
Why: There’s plenty of reason to be concerned about the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film – after all, we’ve seen what producer Michael Bay did to the “Transformers” franchise and director Jonathan Liebesman doesn’t have a very good track record – but the kid in me still can’t wait to see the Turtles back in action on the big screen, even if they don’t exactly look like the ones from my childhood. In fact, they look downright ugly with those oversized frog lips, leading me to wonder how that design ever made it out of the concept stage. The decision to cast a Caucasian actor as Shredder is also a bit worrying, as is Megan Fox’s involvement, but maybe, just maybe, it won’t be so bad.

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Blu Tuesday: Noah and The Other Woman

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Noah”

WHAT: Noah (Russell Crowe) receives a message from the Creator to build an ark that will harbor the innocent (his family and the planet’s animals) from the impending apocalyptic flood designed to cleanse the world of wickedness. But when the self-appointed king of mankind, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), learns of Noah’s plans, he leads a massive army to overtake the ark and seek refuge from certain death.

WHY: This isn’t the first time that Darren Aronofsky has tackled something as ambitious as “Noah,” but unlike his experimental time-traveling drama “The Fountain,” this movie already had a built-in audience of sorts with varying ideas of how it should be told. And since Aronofsky has taken more than a few liberties with the source material – including a race of fallen angels called the Watchers that look like stop-motion rock monsters straight out of Ray Harryhausen’s workshop – he’s received a fair share of criticism for his efforts. As someone who isn’t religious, it’s difficult to be too damning of how Aronofsky has interpreted the text, but while it’s not quite the sacrilegious disaster that many feared, it isn’t very good either. Though Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson deliver some good performances, you don’t really care about any of the characters, expect perhaps Watson’s orphaned Ila. The decision to turn the story into an epic adventure movie with a big battle sequence as its centerpiece was likely intended to add a little excitement to the proceedings, but it’s still a fairly dull affair that’s hampered by the lame attempts to make it an allegory for the current state of our planet.

EXTRAS: Sadly, there’s no audio commentary by director Darren Aronofsky, but the Blu-ray does include a two-part featurette on the construction and filming of the ark and a behind-the-scenes look at location shooting in Iceland.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

“The Other Woman”

WHAT: During a surprise visit to her boyfriend’s house, Carly (Cameron Diaz) discovers that he’s already married to suburban housewife Kate (Leslie Mann). The two eventually bond over their shared hatred for Mark (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), and when they learn that he’s cheating on both of them with another woman (Kate Upton), they team up with her to plot their revenge.

WHY: “The Other Woman” is one of the worst movies you’ll see this year – the kind of film that gives female-centric comedies such a bad name that it’s no wonder Hollywood doesn’t make them more often. Though not quite as misogynistic as some have claimed, it’s basically just a bunch of girl power drivel that doesn’t empower its women so much as make the two-timing Mark such a massive asshole that his punishment seems justified. (For the record, poisoning someone is not cool, no matter what they’ve done to you.) The movie also thinks so little of its female characters that they’re not given any depth beyond generic labels like “wife,” “lawyer” and “boobs,” while poor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is forced to do some pretty embarrassing stuff involving female hormones and laxatives. The biggest problem, however, is that none of it is funny. Director Nick Cassavetes seems to think that he’s making a light and fun romp about women getting sweet revenge, but there’s nothing entertaining about a couple of insecure women bickering with one another for 109 minutes, especially when it’s as mind-numbingly stupid and boring as this.

EXTRAS: There are some deleted scenes and a gag reel, but that’s all.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

Movie Review: “Lucy”

Starring
Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-Sik, Amr Waked
Director
Luc Besson

There’s an episode of “Phineas and Ferb” where the gang is in Tokyo, and a J-pop music video breaks out. As they’re leaving (still dancing, of course), Candace looks at Isabella and says, “I have no idea what just happened.” The final third of Luc Besson’s “Lucy” prompted a similar reaction. It is just barely connected to the events that preceded it, morphing from a story loosely in the vein of Besson’s (great) 1994 film “The Professional” into something along the lines of this year’s (not great) “Transcendence.” If anything, Besson made an outstanding case against the notion that humans should try to maximize their brain power. Sure, we might become brilliant, but we’d also become crashing bores.

Lucy (Scarlett Johannson) is scraping by in Taipei, partying too much and studying too little. Her drinking buddy Richard (Pilou Asbaek) asks her to deliver a briefcase to businessman Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik, who looks like a Korean Russell Crowe). When Lucy refuses, Richard forces her to do it by handcuffing the case to her wrist. She delivers the suitcase, only to discover that it contains a new, powerful synthetic drug, and she will be forced to smuggle one of the packages of the drug inside her body for distribution elsewhere. She is assaulted shortly after the package has been placed inside of her, and the package breaks. As the drug flows through her body, Lucy’s ability to tap into the farthest resources of her mind expands. The now-enlightened Lucy uses her newfound intelligence, as well as her ability to manipulate the space around her (levitation, force fields, etc.), to get even with Mr. Jang, while simultaneously contacting Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) to show him that his theories on the subject of brain usage are dead on the money.

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