There is a sex scene in '300: Rise of an Empire' that is an all-timer. Put it right up there on the shelf next to 'Don't Look Now,' 'A History of Violence,' 'Blue is the Warmest Color,' '9 ½ Weeks' and any of the others that make those best-of lists. Actually, put next to that insanity in the pool from 'Showgirls' (you know, with the dolphin statue?), because there's a level of playful absurdity that changes it from a representation of love (or, more accurately, lust) to something of a Broadway choreographer's interpretation of a fight. Like a 'West Side Story' rumble, but with Eva Green moaning and bent over a table with maps and war figurines. A rise of an empire, indeed.
The opening shot of 'Non-Stop' has Liam Neeson pouring whiskey in a coffee cup and stirring it with a toothbrush. He then reaches out to a photo of a young girl to stroke it with his fingertips. After this the phone rings and the caller ID reads 555. In other words, three of the biggest movie cliches, all in about sixty seconds.
Wes Anderson has finally done it. He's gone and created his own country.
Zubrowka, the fictional town at the heart of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' is positioned on the farthest Eastern edge of Europe's great empire. It is a melange of stylistic flourishes and decorative signifiers from a make believe 20th Century - a memory of a memory, a fastidious, whimsical take on real horrors - a storybook samizdat that entices with madcap adventure then goes in for the kill with existential dread. It is an incredible place to visit.
Much has been said about our recent cinema kowtowing to nerds. From the massive success of 'The Avengers' to the ill-fated sci-fi odes of 'Paul.' (Anyone remember 'Paul?') The nerds have won. But whither the spaz?
Take a moment to remember the spaz. The hyperactive, highly-excitable enthusiast who can barely stay in one place for longer than sixty seconds and makes a little bit of a mess of things with his chaotic energy. 'The LEGO Movie' is the film for that person. From its opening frame to its surprisingly heartfelt conclusion, 'The LEGO Movie' has a bright and brash, candy-colored go go go dynamism that crackles with a glorious alacrity set to the tempo of the classroom's biggest and most disruptive spaz.
In the late 1950s, American bodybuilder Steve Reeves somehow ended up in Italy and made a cheapo production of 'Hercules.' It spawned an avalanche of knockoff strongmen films -- some starring Reeves, some featuring a rather malleable new character named Maciste -- and are just wretched examples of boring cinema that, for whatever reason, I ended up seeing quite a bit of as a little kid. But to an 8-year-old back then, sub-Ray Harryhausen special effects and wafer-thin plots still managed to impress. Hey, it was a Sunday afternoon and a color TV.
It's easy to say “they don't make 'em like that anymore,” but the spirit of these garbage movies is alive and well in Renny Harlin's charmingly awful 'The Legend of Hercules.' Starring Kellan Lutz as a block of concrete that has to fake the classic British accent (even though Hercules is Greek), this is boring by-the-numbers dross from the artless Millennium Films, best known for 'The Expendables' films. It has maybe three good fight scenes and two moments that are so over-the-top bad you just have to laugh, and that makes for some undeniable entertainment. The best way to describe 'The Legend of Hercules' is as the fake movie that teenagers in movies go to see.
'The Wolf of Wall Street,' Martin Scorsese's most dynamic and spry film since 'GoodFellas,' is an up close and personal tour of a snarling den of unchecked depravity. Really, theaters should be handing out bottles of Purel with the tickets. What begins as jovial bad behavior spirals out into an excess and deviance rarely shown on the screen.
There are a handful of extremely funny, laugh-out-loud moments in 'Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.' One happens early – the reveal that David Koechner now runs a cut-rate fast-food joint that saves money by serving fried bats (or, as he calls it, “chicken of the cave"). Another is a retread from the first film – a battle royale of news teams from various networks, but this time even more extreme. There's also great humor in what I suppose passes for “the point” of this movie – that lowest common denominator attitudes like those of Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy are what inadvertently invented the cesspool of modern cable news.
Of course, what you will find funny is entirely dependent on your own taste, but these highlighted scenes (and several others, I must point out) really landed with me. It struck me later, as I was trying to piece together why the movie felt about six hours long, that these moments were all dependent on gags that could not have been ad-libbed. Ferrell, Koechner, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell and the rest of the gang are deservedly respected for their quick-thinking comedy chops. When they get together and riff, few can top them. The problem is that 'Anchorman 2' relies on this far, far too much. It's like a a dessert plate where mounds of fluffy whipped cream obscures the fact that, underneath, there's only a tiny bite of pie.
There comes a time when we must stop kidding ourselves. These 'Hobbit' films – with 'The Desolation of Smaug' representing the shank of the trilogy – are not real movies. These are exploitation films for Tolkien nuts, for enthusiasts of the original 'Lord of the Rings' movies and for audiences so hungry for high fantasy they'll gobble up whatever is served to them and ask for seconds.
As someone who has sympathy, but not empathy, for those who have such proclivities, I can get why someone might come away liking this picture. But that is more of an involuntary reaction to exposure to certain elements, not the summation of a film. Listen, there's a grey-bearded wizard who warns in low tones about a place that sounds like “Doggledoor.” And there's someone referred to as “Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror.” I love that geekorama stuff more than most. It's hilarious, and I'll probably refer to my cat as “Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror” for the next week. But this movie doesn't cohere – there's no forward momentum, no character development, no story happening. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fibber.
Christian Bale's disastrous comb-over/rug combo basically opens the film with a wordless monologue. Beneath that unnatural mop is the sharp mind of Irving Rosenfeld, a “from the feet up” con man making the leap from running legit (but boring) dry cleaning businesses to grifting down-on-their-luck rubes on bad bank loans. His operation starts taking off when he hooks up with Amy Adams, a natural businesswoman looking to reinvent herself. She does this with a name change, a phony British accent and, later in the film, by frizzing her hair out to preposterous proportions.
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