24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Critical Mass

'The Three Stooges' draws laughs, shrugs and rebukes from critics

April 13, 2012 |  1:24 pm

The Three Stooges

"The Three Stooges," a new comedy based on the vaudeville trio, has been a passion project for brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary," "Dumb & Dumber") for years.

Reviewers of the film, which opened Friday, tend to fall into three camps: those who find it lighthearted and funny enough to appeal to Stooges fans and newcomers alike, those who find it harmless but mostly unnecessary except for aficionados, and those who find it a complete waste of time.

Among the first group is L.A. Times film critic Betsy Sharkey, who says "it's almost impossible not to be won over by the eye-poking, head-slapping, nose-twisting shenanigans that pepper nearly every scene." The film isn't ironic or winking, just silly, and it "simply requires that cynicism be temporarily shelved and the thinking side of the brain shut down." The Farrellys, Sharkey says, are "a good fit" for the material, and two of the three lead actors — Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, "the film's anchor," and Will Sasso as Curly — perform admirably. Sean Hayes is less successful as Larry, but the film remains "a very amusing escape."

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'Battleship' propelled by action cliches, early reviews say

April 13, 2012 |  5:00 am

Battleship
Battleship, a board game with no characters or plot, might seem like odd source material for a movie. Then again, recent blockbuster franchises have sprouted from toy lines ("Transformers," "G.I. Joe") and a theme park ride ("Pirates of the Caribbean"), so perhaps it's not much of a stretch. Early reviews of "Battleship," which opens in some foreign countries this week and May 18 in the U.S., indicate that although the film does indeed offer some semblance of a narrative (briefly: humans vs. aliens on the high seas), the storytelling takes a back seat to the explosions.

In the Birmingham (England) Post, Alison Jones says director Peter Berg is channeling Michael Bay, and she characterizes "Battleship" as "'Pearl Harbor' by way of 'Transformers.'" Jones adds that "No action movie cliche remains unmilked in a movie so jingoistic it practically bleeds red, white and blue." Berg, however, does have a sense of humor, and "his decision to just embrace the machismo" earns the film some bonus points in her opinion.

MSN Movies UK also invokes the ghost of action movies past, calling Berg's film "a long, loud and very spectacular actioner that does on the sea what 'Independence Day' did in the skies." But because the film has "an obsession with artillery," most of the characters fall flat: "it's hardly surprising that 'John Carter's' Taylor Kitsch gets lost in the crush as a disgraced officer shocked to find himself in charge of the human resistance." At least pop singer Rihanna has fun as "a spunky munitions ace."

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'American Reunion': Critics not nostalgic for reheated 'Pie'

April 6, 2012 |  4:53 pm

American Reunion
Thirteen years after the bawdy high-school comedy "American Pie," nearly the whole gang has gotten back together to relive the good old days in the sequel "American Reunion," including horndog Jim (Jason Biggs), sensitive jock Oz (Chris Klein) and party animal Stifler (Seann William Scott). For most movie critics, though, this reunion is safe to skip.

Tribune film critic Michael Phillips calls the latest film "a rather tired sequel" with an entirely predictable story line. ("The plot you know, even if you don't," Phillips promises.) Although "American Reunion" occasionally "rouses itself to deliver," as in a post-credits scene featuring Eugene Levy (a.k.a. Jim's Dad) and Jennifer Coolidge (Stifler's Mom), "the movie's cinematography and editing are pure hack work, drab and jumpy and jammed with full-face close-ups. Not good for comedy."

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'Mirror Mirror': Snow White tale is fair (not fairest), critics say

March 30, 2012 |  2:21 pm

Mirror Mirror
The first of two Snow White films this year, "Mirror Mirror" outfits the classic fairy tale with some humorous elements (Julia Roberts as a catty evil queen), some modern updates (Lily Collins' Snow White wields her own sword) and some visual flair courtesy of director Tarsem Singh ("The Cell," "Immortals"). Many movie critics are finding the film to be, well, fair.

In a positive review for The Times, Sheri Linden calls "Mirror Mirror" a "visually inventive interpretation" of the familiar fairy tale that manages to avoid "shortchanging the requisite froufrou or sugarcoating the story's dark Oedipal heart." Roberts pulls off "an exceptionally entertaining evil monarch" and leads a game cast, including Collins, "a convincing foil," and Armie Hammer ("J. Edgar"), who lets "his princely flag fly." Linden adds that director Singh's "singular knack for spectacle" is mostly put to good use and owes much to "Tom Foden's lush and witty production design and the splendid costumes by Eiko Ishioka."

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times similarly declares "Mirror Mirror" "a sumptuous fantasy for the eyes," with the caveat that it's also "a pinball game for the mind, as story elements collide and roll around bumping into each other." Beyond the impressive visuals and a show-stealing turn by Roberts, Ebert says there's not much depth: "The dialogue is rather flat, the movie sort of boring, and there's not much energy in the two places it should really be felt: Between the Queen and Snow White, and between Snow and the Prince."

TIMELINE: Snow White through the years

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'Hunger Games': Jennifer Lawrence reaps praise from critics

March 23, 2012 |  1:55 pm

The central figure in the film "The Hunger Games" and its source material, Suzanne Collins' young-adult novel about a post-apocalyptic society where teenagers are forced to engage in an annual televised death match, is 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a brave, resourceful and reluctant competitor. Katniss, as played by Academy Award-nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence ("Winter's Bone"), is also the focus of many of the film's reviews, and most critics agree she's up for the task.

In his positive review for The Times, Kenneth Turan calls the film "an involving popular entertainment with strong narrative drive that holds our attention by sticking as close to the book's outline as it can manage."

Among the relatively minor changes made by the screenwriters (Collins, director Gary Ross and Billy Ray), Turan commends the most prominent one: "elimination of the book's first-person structure, which allows for scenes ... that were not in the novel." Above all else, the film succeeds based on the strong lead performance by Lawrence, "an actress who specializes in combining formidable strength of will with convincing vulnerability."

PHOTOS: Meet the main cast of 'The Hunger Games'

Slate's Dana Stevens writes that "The Hunger Games" film adaptation "isn't quite as crackingly paced as the novel, but it will more than satisfy existing fans of the trilogy and likely create many new ones." She adds, "The key to making this adaptation work was the casting of Katniss Everdeen," who Stevens notes appears in nearly every scene. Luckily, "The film's producers nailed it in picking Jennifer Lawrence ... who carries the whole film on her sturdy shoulders." Among the film's stumbles, Stevens says, are the dumbing down of the character Gale (Katniss' male best friend, played by Liam Hemsworth), the cleaning up of the character Haymitch (Katniss' mentor, played by Woody Harrelson) and the narratively unsatisfying cliffhanger ending.

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'21 Jump Street': Channing Tatum-Jonah Hill bromance disarms critics

March 16, 2012 |  2:31 pm

Though ostensibly based on the '80s cult TV series of the same name, the new action-comedy "21 Jump Street" also draws heavily on buddy-cop conventions, "Superbad"-style high-school high jinks and the grand tradition of the stoner bromance (see also: the "Harold & Kumar" films, "Pineapple Express"). For all its raunchy familiarity, the film, which stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as rookie cops going undercover to bust a drug ring in their old high school, is charming critics.

Times film critic Betsy Sharkey writes that "21 Jump Street" has "an endearing, punch-you-in-the-arm-because-I-like-you-man charm" and that Hill and Tatum display "great goofball gusto." Both actors — "rock hard" Tatum and "squishy soft" Hill — "bring a kind of vulnerability to their characters that makes whatever mayhem they are up to OK." Sharkey notes that the film is not only about but also created by a buddy pair: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller ("Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs"), who "clearly understand the push-and-pull and hyper-competitiveness that make guy friendships both complex and stupid."

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'John Carter': Critics not over the moon for Mars action epic

March 9, 2012 |  2:07 pm

John Carter

One of the big questions raised by the new science-fantasy adventure "John Carter," based on the old pulp stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and starring Taylor Kitsch (TV's "Friday Night Lights") as a Civil War hero transplanted to Mars, is whether director Andrew Stanton (Pixar's "Finding Nemo" and "Wall-E") and his team could bring something new to an old and influential story. For movie critics, reactions have been mixed.

The Times' own Betsy Sharkey describes the film as "hit and miss, and miss, and miss." Sharkey laments that "a great story" has been "badly sucked dry" and that "Stanton can't find a way to make Burroughs' now-familiar fantasy themes feel fresh." Part of the difficulty, Sharkey notes, is that so many films have already mined Burroughs' work over the years: " 'Star Wars,' 'Star Trek,' 'Avatar,' 'Superman,' to name just a few." And unlike Kitsch's movie counterpart, the actor does not manage to save the day — so effective on "Friday Night Lights," he "simply fades here," Sharkey says.

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'The Lorax': not quite what the doctor ordered, critics say

March 2, 2012 |  4:52 pm

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The 2008 animated film "Horton Hears a Who" fared somewhat better than the live-action versions of 2000's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (a box-office hit) and 2003's widely panned "The Cat in the Hat."

And reviews are mixed for "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax," now playing in theaters. The animated feature tells the story of a boy searching for a real live tree in a deforested plastic land.

The Times'  Kenneth Turan (watch review below) finds that "The Lorax" strays too far from the source material. Although the film maintains the book's ecological message and offers "lively and colorful" visuals, Turan writes that "this movie version adds a whole lot of other stuff, most of it not very good and not in keeping with the spirit of the Seuss original."

PHOTOS: "The Lorax" premiere

"To expand Seuss' slim volume to theatrical feature length," Turan says, "a whole lot of plot and heaping handfuls of characters needed to be invented." Those plot elements and characters feel "forced" and "unpleasant," he concludes.

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'Act of Valor' offers steely action, wooden acting, critics say

February 24, 2012 |  4:38 pm

Act of Valor

The new action movie "Act of Valor," about an elite squad of commandos trying to foil a deadly terrorist plot, brings a novel addition to the genre: real Navy SEALs. The movie stars active-duty SEALs in the lead roles and grew out of military recruiting efforts, eventually becoming a feature film. According to movie critics, the film betrays its origins, offering crackerjack action scenes but also stiff acting and a thin story.

The Times' own Kenneth Turan writes that "Act of Valor," co-directed by Mike "Mouse" McCoy and Scott Waugh, "still has some of that promotional film feeling to it, plus a healthy dose of worshipful mythologizing." Turan says the SEALs "are certainly impressive in combat situations" and "the split-second logistics of SEAL operations, not to mention the gear they have at their disposal, is also remarkable." Alas, "impressive as all this is, it can't hide the fact that these total warriors can't really act, a situation that may not matter in combat but has to be characterized as a drawback in a motion picture."

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'The Secret World of Arrietty' is another Ghibli gem, critics say

February 18, 2012 |  6:00 am

The Secret World of Arrietty

Legendary Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki ("Spirited Away," "Kiki's Delivery Service") and his animation house Studio Ghibli rarely miss the mark, and their latest effort, "The Secret World of Arrietty," appears to be no exception. Based on Mary Norton's beloved 1952 novel "The Borrowers," about a family of miniature people who live in a world hidden from ordinary humans, "Arrietty" has garnered excellent reviews.

The Times' Kenneth Turan calls "Arrietty" "impeccable," a film that "will make believers out of adults and children alike." Turan notes that although Miyazaki did not direct the film, he did conceive it, write the screenplay and hand-pick director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who makes his feature debut. The film, Turan writes, features many Ghibli trademarks, "including a reverence for the natural world and the ability to reproduce it in ravishing, hand-drawn animation detail," as well as "an intrepid female hero" (the eponymous Arrietty, voiced by Bridgit Mendler in the U.S. version). Turan commends Yonebayashi for injecting peril and depth into its charming story, and most of all for creating "a special and marvelous world for audiences to enter."

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