If you loved Sylvestor Stallone and his outrageous gang of action geezers in 2010's The Expendables and lined up for the 2012 sequel, then The Expendables 3 is all for you. Stallone and his AARP gang of mercenaries, including Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews and Arnold Schwarzenegger are back for more lame mayhem. And it's PG-13 instead of R-rated. Their mission this time? They must stage a prison break for one of their own, Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes). If it's wacky and confusing to you, you're not alone. A CIA contact played by Harrison Ford suggest that new blood be brought in, and so we get fresh faces Kellan Lutz, Glen Powell, boxer Victor Ortiz and mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey. Any life in this movie, directed by Aussie Patrick Hughes comes from Antonio Banderas as a talkie assassin and Mel Gibson as a Gonzo-mad villain. But that's not enough to salvage this tired series.
The film version of Lois Lowry's Newberry Medal-winning 1993 novel The Giver is slow. Like dial-up slow. I can't overstate the slog of the pacing enough. It's also dwarfed by the slew of dystopian YA novels that have since become big film franchises. Even though The Hunger Games is so far the only one worth watching. there's also Divergent, The Host and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.
I, however, held out some hope that The Giver would be pretty good since Lowry's novel is basically the one that started it all, and it's a great book at that. Lowry wrote of a future society that has eradicated all pain, suffering and war by repressing emotions and making everyone worship at the altar of Sameness. So, you know, Hollywood.
There certainly is an air of earnestness in The Giver. Australian filmmaker Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Quiet American) is no Hollywood hack. Even his big-budget projects (Clear and Present Danger, Salt) have no room for risible BS.
The Giver is also a passion project for one of its Oscar-winning stars, Jeff Bridges, who first optioned the rights to the novel in 1995 intending for his father Lloyd Bridges, to star. Now Jeff himself takes the title role of the old man who keeps the memories of the old world in all their shocking beauty and terror. The other Oscar-winner, Meryl Streep, sporting a scary wig, is the Chief Elder, who rids the world of anything old or inconvenient and makes sure that what The Giver knows will never get out. Except to his replacement, which would be Jonas, a child of the new society (whose parents are Katie Holmes and Alexander Skarsgard) and he's ready for whatever society assigns him. And so his burden is to The Receiver of all of The Giver's knowledge.
Of course in the novel Jonas was only 11, but onscreen he's played by 24 year old Brenton Thwaites, so as to attract the swooning ladies, and thus his pals Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are also older. Even Taylor Swift pops up in a cameo as a potential Receiver before Jonas that fell through for reasons that are not worth spoiling.
As Jonas is given the memories of color, art, literature, music, fashion and sex, the film's visual palette literally goes from dull gray to vivid color. This film is that obvious. Chalk that up to the script from Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide who've never met a cliche they didn't like. Lowry's novel had real bite, the film has only dull edges that make it pale in comparison to movies like The Hunger Games, which is a shame because Lowry got there first.
Star Helen Mirren and the food looks exquisite. The Hundred-Foot Journey would be perfect summer escapism were it not for the cultural stereotyping, not to mention the lame cliches and tedious pacing. But it doesn't turn your brain to jelly like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It goes down easy. Taken from the 2010 novel by Richard C. Marais, The Hundred-Foot Journey is set in a picturesque French village that basically has only one restaurant. That would be the Michelin-starred Le Saule Pleurer, an elegant and delightful boite run by widow Madame Mallory (Mirren) who runs it with an iron fist and a goofy Gallic accent. She's flabbergasted at the newly arrived Kadam family, led by a strict father (Om Puri, wonderful) who decide to open up an Indian restaurant called Maison Mumbai that is, you guessed it, only a few hundred feet across the street. Soon it's a war between Indian spices and French sauces, as well as the Madame and the patriarch. This all leads to peaceful co-existence eventually, but not before some bone-headed racial antagonism. Papa has a chef son, Hassan (Manish Dayal), who falls hard for Madame's sous chef, Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon), and so Hassan ends up training with Madame, which works out so well he becomes the culinary toast of Paris, and a douchebag. The movie, for all its beguiling delights, is often weighed down by its top-down plot. Director Lasse Hallstrom showed similar issues in his plodding 2000 film Chocolat. Here he has the good fortune of two terrific actors in Mirren and Puri, who skillfully take us over plot hurdles and make a digestable film into something lovely. Watch Linus Sandgren's camera admire and caress the cuisine on display like an ardent lover and you won't be able to resist.
Perhaps I'm just suffering from generational bias, but I have an aversion to a movie that settles on the notion that its audience to all have no sense of patience. It's weird too how a film has no sense of taking any time at all and yet still has some pretty laborious pacing. Guess that's the Michael Bay effect, the hack director who produced this clanging mess. We all know these heroes-in-a-half-shell: four turtles exposed to a toxic substance that mutates them, along with their rat father and mentor, Splinter. It all began with a late-80's comic series from creators Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman that led to three feature films, an animated movie and three cartoon series, among other things. As for this reboot? It's a gender reversed Transformers, with Megan Fox shouting out names of CGI characters as reporter April O'Neill instead of Shia LeBeouf. There's an inspired comic sequence that opens the film, but after that it's all lame action and cringe-induing one-liners. No. Just, no.
It's very likely before last week you never heard of Guardians of The Galaxy, the Marvel comic series that up till now has been pretty obscure while Spider-Man, X-Men and The Avengers get all the accolades. And so maybe you think a big-budget movie about a bunch of not-so-iconic Marvel characters is no day at the movies.
And you'd be dead wrong. Guardians of The Galaxy is a treat, pure and simple. Through dazzling storytelling and amazing characters, it takes all of the comic book movie cliches and turns them on their heads. It's a cosmic blast of fun, shamelessly silly and hilarious. That's one reason to love it.
Another reason is the terrific cast, who are up for anything. Start with Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, who calls himself Star Lord, since no one else will. Peter was zapped into outer space at the age of nine after the death of his mother and spent his life bounty hunting all over the cosmos under the employ of Yondu (a blue-skinned and excellent Michael Rooker).
If you love Pratt as goofy Any Dwyer on tv's Parks and Recreation or as the voice of Emmett in The Lego Movie, or his many supporting roles in smart films like Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty and Her, you won't want to miss him here. Whether he's blissfully dancing to vintage 70s pop hits on his cassette player (his 'O-o-h Child is wonderful) or showing his chops as a first class space warrior, Pratt nails the role, comedic and dramatic-wise. This is Pratt becoming a full-fledged movie star.
And kudos to director James Gunn, the man behind little-seen but much-loved screen gems Slither and Super, for making his first epic and epic blast. The script Gunn co-wrote with Nicole Perlman tests Peter's mettle with a huge task: collect big money and save the galaxy by stealing back a strange orb from the evil Kree warrior Ronan (Lee Pace), who wants to use its near-nuclear power for, well,you already know.
Peter gets reluctant aid from four misfits like him. Zoe Saldana is all stealth and sexy as green-skinned Gamora, and assassin and also the daughter of a much-feared galactic despot that Peter hits on despite his rep for bedding enemy alien chicks. 'That was one time,' Peter says.
WWE star Dave Bautista brings real ferocity and gravity to Drax The Destroyer, the tattooed hunk of muscle who wants Ronan's head for killing his wife and child.
The scene-stealers however, are computer-generated. If you find Vin Diesel to be an actor who defines wooden you may never stop laughing at him as the voice of Groot, a walking tree whose only line of dialog is 'I am Groot'. But Diesel gets the last laugh since he wrings those three words for humor and unexpected heart.
Then there's Bradley Cooper as Rocket, a snarling, gun-toting raccoon who mouths off to anyone and everyone. Cooper gives the rodent a surprising air of depth and definitely is having a great time taking the piss out of everyone around him.
Guardians of The Galaxy is all-around great fun. Though it sometimes threatens to spill over with characters and incident, there's no mistaking the thrill of this blockbuster. Even a sequel sounds exciting.