Watching this middling effort — not hating it, not loving it — is most interesting for what it reveals about the two stars, Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Both men have undeniable presence. But Stallone can act, and Schwarzenegger can’t. If he wanted to, Sly could probably coast solely on how that marvelous face has evolved with age. Of course he looks older, but there’s a vitality and a twinkle that put you immediately on his side, coupled with something approaching believability in his roles. Arnold, on the other hand, is lovable because he’s… well, a sort of Teflon personality. The wooden delivery, the pulled-smooth skin, even the farcical political career somehow add up to a personality we forgive more than enjoy. So there are worse ways to spend a couple hours (that could have been trimmed 30 minutes) watching them together in a prison escape flick that hasn’t much more to offer, save for ultra-evil warden Jim Caviezel. And this review is already far longer than the movie deserves. — Jeff Schultz
There are very few movie stars anymore. Many stars that burned bright years ago have faded as their projects became lazy and audiences tired of their schtick. Denzel has not only managed to maintain his star status, he’s only gotten better by bringing something unique to his roles and picking projects that you know will be better than most. 2 Guns has a clever script, great performances (Paula Patton excluded), and fantastic chemistry between Washington and Wahlberg. Supporting players Bill Paxton and Edward James Olmos are equally awesome playing bad guys who are REALLY bad. Guns hits the bullseye and you get more than you hoped for…which is rare these days. Check it out!
The first Thor was dark, brooding, humorless and not up to the Marvel standard set by Iron Man, The Avengers and Captain America. Consider all those problems fixed. THOR: THE DARK WORLD is thrilling, captivating and most surprising, filled with laughs. It’s tough to combine that with Universal apocalypse, but Alan Taylor makes it work. Taylor is the perfect choice for a Thor movie. He’s directed some of the best episodes of GAME OF THRONES, and in tone Thor is closer to that HBO series than the rest of the Marvel universe. Chris Hemsworth seems more comfortable in his Asgardian skin this time (and he shows it off for the ladies). Hemsworth isn’t just hunky, he’s a very fine actor (see my review of RUSH). Tom Hiddleston returns as his brother Loki, someone not to be trusted. But Thor must rely on him to save the 9 worlds. Hiddleston is fantastic. He bring the perfect tone to the sneering, malevolent personality that is Loki. He doesn’t completely redeem himself for nearly destroying New York in The Avengers, but he comes close. What also makes this work is that it is focused more on Thor and less on Natalie Portman’s Jane. Sure, she is a vehicle in the story. But this is more about Thor finding out who he really is and what his place is in the Universe. I really loved this movie, to the point of saying out loud to myself several times, “Wow, this is great”. It’s not as good as the first Iron Man or The Avengers, but it’s very close to Captain America in tone and execution. Thor swings his mighty hammer and nails another winner for Marvel. — Alan Yudman
ENDER’S GAME throws a lot of themes at the audience. Is war sometimes necessary? Are children forced to grow up too fast? Is any sacrifice too big for the greater good? Can adults be trusted? That seems to indicate the movie does not know what it is about or maybe that is an unfocused mess. That’s not necessarily the case here. But it dances on that edge. Asa Butterfield is Ender Wiggin. He is a the best hope Earth has for defeating the Formics, a race of ant-like creatures that invaded 50 years earlier and would have won if not for the heroic and brilliant efforts of one commander. War strategizing has now been turned over to children (mostly teens). They are the only ones whose minds are open enough to learning and adapting. Ender has extreme abilities that are spotted by Harrison Ford’s Colonel Graff and nurtured in a very Big Brother kind of way. Ender races through training and by the 90-minute mark he is ready to lead Earth’s forces. Along the way he is bullied and retaliates in very calculating ways that eventually end in extreme violence. He is not comfortable with this side of himself and tries to tamp it down as best he can. I can’t say much about how it all plays out for fear of spoiling it, but there several satisfying plot twists and one at the end that seems a complete left turn. The cast is capable and filled with great actors in addition to Butterfield and Ford (Viola Davis, Sir Ben Kingsley, Hailee Steinfeld and Abigail Breslin to name a few). Gavin Hood does fairly well adapting a novel that the author Orson Scott Card once said was unadaptable. The problem here is that a lot of moral touchstones are approached and dealt with all too quickly. Sometimes you think, “wait, so that’s solved?.. ok, that was quick.” The effects are good, but nothing special or that hasn’t been seen on the big screen before. It looks good, but that’s fine because the movie isn’t about the effects. In the end you leave the theater thinking that ENDER’S GAME was good, but you also know that it won’t stick with you very long.–Alan Yudman
Nasty and hopeless, long, rambling and complicated. A movie with a dream cast and crew founders on its screenplay, the writer’s first. Cormac McCarthy is one of our greatest living novelists. But his thrillers, violent as they are, are highly literary. Characters in books don’t have to talk as they do in real life. When they talk like that in movies, it can be groanworthy. Here, almost every major character philosophizes, constantly and at length. They sound like French intellectuals. The ideas are interesting, but they read better than they sound. It takes a deft actor to keep this kind of dialogue from sounding silly. Surprisingly(?), the world-weary wisdom rolls quite nicely off Brad Pitt’s tongue. Ditto Bruno Ganz (natch). And especially Javier Bardem, who is the only one to find a warm spark of humanity amid the soulless darkness. A big nod, too, to prison inmate Rosie Perez, who has the least guile and packs a lot of punch in her one big scene. I followed most, not all, of the plot, and although downbeat endings can be fine, this one didn’t satisfy — as opposed to the adaptation of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, for which the Coen brothers, not McCarthy, wrote the screenplay. — Jeff Schultz