It seemed unlikely, but J.J. Abrams did it when he captured my interest with Star Trek in 2009. For most of my life, I really hadn’t given the franchise much attention. But his combination of a fantastic cast, solid plot, and great action proved to be the perfect combination to win over naysayers and even the most difficult critics. Now, with the release of the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams tackles perhaps his biggest challenge as a director—repeating that success.
J.J. Kelley and Josh Thomas, documentary filmmakers who last made Paddle to Seattle: Journey Through the Inside Passage (2009), return to familiar territory with Go Ganges! (2012). This time around, instead of kayaking from Alaska to Seattle, Kelley and Thomas take a much more ambitious challenge: traveling to India and following the renowned Ganges River from the glacier-filled source (near the Himalayas) all the way to the ocean (at the Bay of Bengal). A quick Wikipedia search finds that the river is 1,569 miles long, and is the world’s second-greatest river by water discharge. By rickshaw, paddleboat, scooter, and finally by foot, Kelley and Thomas make their way south, interacting with locals and gaining a deeper appreciation for what the river means to the Indian people, both religiously and for basic natural survival.
It is amazing to think that in the last five years, Iron Man has gone from being just another character on the comic page to the crown jewel in Marvel’s movie stable. In large part this success has been achieved by the iconic title performance by Robert Downey Jr., but the series has also produced some of the most consistently fun comic movies to come out in the last few years. This all reached a fever pitch with last year’s release of The Avengers, so it only feels logical that the first film to try to pick up the mantle after that would be the latest adventure in the Iron Man saga, Iron Man 3.
I’m not a huge fan of 3D, and I am especially not fond of the current trend to retrofit older movies with it. But when I heard that they were releasing both Top Gun and Jurassic Park in 3D IMAX, I completely bought in to the hype. Large-scale fighter jets and sweaty 3D pilots? Check. “Multidimensional” T-Rex? Double check. My wildest dreams weren’t coming true or anything, but I was pretty darn excited about it. Both films rock my world, so I was predisposed to be happy, but which movie utilized the technology better? Read on to see which film reigned supreme!
The temptation to name off all the films Oblivion clearly lifts from is strong. Yes, as I watched it, nearly half a dozen other titles popped to mind. Director Joseph Kosinski, along with screenwriters Karl Gajdusek and Michael Arndt, fill this story with visual and plot references that are too familiar to go unnoticed. I will refrain from naming said references in order to keep major secrets hidden. Granted, Kosinski’s direction is apt, the art design impressive, and the performances feel authentic. On a pure surface level, the film is well made, with sufficient entertainment value. The filmmakers come very close to getting away with borrowing recycled ideas, but this seems like it was aimed at an audience that has never seen a science fiction film before. For those that have, I wonder if they’ll be able to shake how unoriginal it is.
I don’t know if Andrew Niccol’s The Host is one of the worst movies of the year, or one of the best. It is bad—hilariously bad. The writing is stilted, the acting flat, and the plotting damn near incomprehensible. Stephenie Meyer, best known for introducing the world to the Twilight book series, returns with a story that is one part Nicholas Sparks romance and one part Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s one of the those movies that makes you scratch your head thinking, “What the hell is happening?” It is so absurd and ridiculous that I found myself laughing. This is one entertaining movie, but maybe not in the way the filmmakers intended. Surely they must have known they were making a comedy, right?
A theory is forming. Adding Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. “The Rock,” to your film franchise will deliver it safely into the arms of adoring fans. The theory is limited to only two franchises at this point: The Fast & Furious films, and now G.I. Joe. To backtrack, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was seen as a bit of a mess as far as a take on the comic book, cartoon, and toy franchise was concerned. While fun, it didn’t come off as much of a live-action adaptation as fans wanted. With G.I. Joe: Retaliation, new series director Jon M. Chu, a professed fan of the comic and cartoon, has brought an almost holy-faithful return to the characters and storytelling that made the series famous in the mid ’80s. And then there’s Dwayne Johnson.
Young men in love with life, hard drinking and drugging, sexing it up with as many people as possible, always being restless, going at a pace as quick as they bodies will physically allow: that’s what the Beats were about. Getting as much from life as you can and simultaneously examining it along the way—a whole generation of people in the calm following World War II were trying to find themselves. This also invited a good deal of selfishness as well. While fun, there was also sadness. For them and for countless others after, the writing of Jack Kerouac became holy scripture. Previously thought unfilmable, Kerouac’s most famous book, On The Road, has become a new film, and it is much better than you would expect.
There has been a steady diet of fairytale films with a modern twist lately. Whether the main characters are hunting vampires or playing with the tropes of the genre, it seems writers and directors have been keen to tackle this material from a cynical perspective. It comes as a nice relief that Sam Raimi’s Oz the Great and Powerful leans toward a more classical approach, while still maintaining freshness for a modern audience. No one is winking at the camera or performing in a tongue-in-cheek style. What happens to these people and how they react is quite earnest. It’s needed here, especially with how the film is set up to be a direct prequel to one of the greatest films of all time, The Wizard of Oz (1939). Those are some mighty big ruby slippers to fill—pardon the pun.
I’m continually surprised at how underappreciated it feels like Bryan Singer is. Despite having directed one of the best thrillers (and my favorite movie) in The Usual Suspects, and helping to resurrect the comic book movie with his work on X-Men, he is generally overlooked when people discuss the best directors. Heck, I’m not even sure most people would know of him by name. This isn’t even factoring in his underappreciated film work (Apt Pupil) or his impressive body of TV work (producer on shows such as House—including directing the pilot). So it is amazing to me the general disinterest there seems to be towards his newest project, Jack the Giant Slayer. Now, I will concede that I wish Bryan Singer spent more time working on more unconventional projects, but any time he produces something, it is an event movie for me.