Eva Green seizes control of “300 rise of an Empire” the moment she comes on-screen and never lets go and the movie is better for it. She plays the wonderful villainess Artemisia — head of the Persian Navy and the power behind the throne held by the golden king. She plans an invasion of Greece and their small Navy. But the Greeks outfox the larger force, and Artemisia grows more and more fierce. She nurses a life long grudge. The Greeks imprisoned her and sold her to Persia where the Persian King rescued her and turned her into a world-class warrior. She faces Themistokles played by Sullivan Stapleton. The two foes share wonderful chemistry — their meetings and fighst induce gasps from the audience. “Rise of an Empire” looks great–literally a graphic novel. The story spills out with high drama some of it a little more than campy. Fans of the original “300″ will find a lot to like in this second story of which I imagine will be many more to come. Does it deliver what it promises? Ancient battles fueled by vengeance. Is it entertaining? High drama. Is it worth the price of admission? To watch Eva Green at work.
Liam Neeson has enjoyed a lot of success playing action characters in “Taken” and “Taken 2″—so he builds on that success in “Non-Stop.” In this scenario he’s an Air Marshall who boards a trans-Atlantic flight and begins getting texts demanding $150 Million Dollars or someone will die every twenty minutes. The suspects include Julianne Moore and a cast of sinister looking characters. It is fun to see both Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary on “Downton Abby) and Lupita Nyong’so (12 Years a Slave) out of character as by the book airline attendants. The script sets up a ticking clock right away, and when the bodies start dropping the tension increases. Oh one more thing—there’s a bomb on board—leading to a thrilling landing sequence that compares to Denzel Washington’s upside down maneuver in “Flight.” “Non-Stop” basically sets up a who done it mystery on a speeding airplane. It zips along and has pretty good tension and a nice cast of characters. However, once you walk out of the theater it starts to hit you. This story makes no sense. Does it deliver what it promises? Thriller on an airplane. Is it entertaining? Zips along with plenty of tension. Is it worth the price of admission? Not a must see.
“Three Days to Kill” hopes to mix outrageous action with family comedy and misses the mark on both. Kevin Costner plays a CIA spy longing to retire. But how can he resist when sultry Amber Heard gives him a assignment promising a miracle cure to the cancer that will end his life possibly in a few months. Speaking of cancer, once Costner gets that diagnosis, he returns to his ex-wife — played by the very cool Connie Nielson and daughter Halee Steinfeld. Soon Costner juggles his hunt for global terrorists with the problems of his teen age daughter. The action goes over the top, I think in a move to get laughs. The contrast between the assassin’s work and his family life hopes for ironic comedy. Sometimes “Three Days to Kill” finds a laugh or two, but mostly it just plays on and on leading up to a clunker of an ending. Costner’s daughter says he has three days to kill. This movie has appeal mainly for those with a couple of hours to kill. Does it deliver what it promises? Run of the mill action comedy. Is it entertaining? Occasionally. Is it worth the price of admission? No rush needed to see this.
“About Last Night” — an update of the 1980s Demi Moore Rob Lowe comedy romance — wrestles with the question of relationship in the age of the hook up. The original told its story with nudity, sexual heat, and playwright David Mamet’s signature language. The update (both movies are based on Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago”) tells the same story with laugh out loud humor, and bubbly chemistry between comic actor Kevin Hart and the delightful Regina Hall. The two encounter each other on a drunken night, go home together, and gradually turn into a couple–all the while coaching Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant in forming a relationship. This remake replaces Mamet’s language with Hart’s energetic one liners. I think viewers won’t mind. The “R” rating comes from gritty coarse language and a lot of bedroom scenes and situations but avoiding the kind of nudity found on premium cable. “About last Night” spells big things ahead for Hart and Hall — maybe a sequel about their marriage after 20 years? Does it deliver what it promises? Two guys meet girls. Two guys lose girls. Two guys get back with girls. Nice comedy romance. Is it entertaining? Hart and Hall steal the movie. Is it worth the price of admission? A good bet for Valentine’s weekend.
“Endless Love” remakes a 1980′s Brooke Shields classic with poor results. Alex Pettyfer plays the blue-collar but super smart high school hunk who captures the heart of beautiful virginal blonde Gabriella Wilde. Incredibly, she has managed to make no friends in high school or to go out on one date or do anything in her school years due to her family’s grief over the loss of her perfect big brother. As soon as Alex and Gabriella get together, her father objects and tries every trick in the book to drive them apart. The father role goes to the usually good actor Bruce Greenwood with Joely Richardson as her mother and Robert Patrick as Alex father. Greenwood especially suffers from a laugh out loud script. ”Endless Love” lacks surprise or any sparks or much of anything to interest us. I think this “Endless Love” looks to make a few quick bucks over the Valentine’s Day weekend. Does it deliver what it promises? No sparks in this remake. Is it entertaining? Laugh out loud. Is it worth the price of admission? Might be a good place for high school kids to sit in the dark.
The RoboCop reboot gets a boost from the low expectations of most viewers. So it is with great surprise that I tell you “RoboCop” 2014 is better than expected, thanks to state of the art special effects and a really good cast. Policeman Joel Kinnaman (best known from AMC’s “The Killing”) plays the honest Detroit cop blown to smithereens while investigating internal police department corruption. This happens as greedy industrialist Michael Keeton (great to see him again) needs a change in the law that will allow robot police to patrol American streets, making him billions. Scientist Gary Oldman comes up with the idea of a marriage between a human and a machine to give the robot a conscience and win over the public. So the scientist and the industrialist scoop up what’s left of Kinnaman and turn him into RoboCop. Except there’s a few flaws, including the fact that to get him operational they take out the part of his brain with a moral conscience. Pretty soon Abbie Cornish as his wife rekindles Robocop’s human spirit and the revenge begins — sort of like Frankenstein all over again. This story gets an occasional boost from a hilarious turn by Samuel L. Jackson as a cable TV blowhard, demanding a change in the law to allow RoboCops on American soil. Somewhere around the ninety minute mark Robocop starts to run out of gas and the filmmakers start pouring on the clichés, such as the final scene with the bad guys on a skyscraper roof waiting for a helicopter rescue while holding RoboCop’s family hostage—a scene that looks like a hundred other movies. Does it deliver what it promises? Better than expected sci-fi classic reboot. Is it entertaining? Kinda fun. Is it worth the price of admission? For sci-fi action fans.
“The Lego Movie” has a grand time poking fun at itself, at other movies, at historical figures, at just about anything you can think of and the fun comes at break neck speed. Chris Pratt voices Emmet — an everyman construction worker who takes pride in following instructions — just like the complicated Lego toys today that come with detailed instructions. But something wicked is afoot. President Business — voiced by the great Will Ferrell — plans to blow up the Lego universe to rid the world of creative chaos and create an ordered — order following — glued together Brave New World. Seems everyone doesn’t follow instructions and the resulting creativity drives this guy crazy. Pratt as Emmet is mistaken for the special one anointed to save the world from domination. Guided by the soothsayer Vitruvius — voiced by Morgan Freeman — he joins the usual motley crew including valley girl Wyldstyle — voiced by Elizabeth Banks — and her annoying boyfriend Batman — voiced by Will Arnett. Along the way they encounter Superman, The Star Wars Crew, the Green Lantern, an overactive kitty, and Abraham Lincoln on a flying marble throne. The animation looks great. I watched in 2 D and I have a feeling 3 D is awesome. Speaking of awesome, Lego world rocks to the delightfully silly song “Everything is Awesome.’ What fun. Does it deliver what it promises? Kids movie for adults. Is it entertaining? Hilarious. Is it worth the price of admission? Great family fare.
George Clooney wants us to know that culture is important. He delivers many speeches about culture in his new movie (which he also directs) “The Monuments Men.” Based on the true story of the art historians recruited during World War Two and assigned to find and return art plundered by Hitler’s troops and shipped to Germany. Clooney gathers a great group of actors including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Hugh Bonneville — best known as Lord Grantham on “Downton Abbey” (great to see him in a different role.) The story skips around Europe — France, Belgium, and Germany and touches on the real sacrifices the men make: two of them die in battle. Sometimes the film goes overboard, getting a little preachy and sentimental and even over explaining why we should appreciate these men and their assignment. That heavy-handedness prevents “The Monuments Men” from greatness. But the result remains good — a grand story of sacrifice and culture and the importance of art in our lives. It makes me want to read the book of the same name and it makes me admire Clooney even more. He wears his heart on his sleeve in “The Monuments Men” and it’s a good heart. Does it deliver what it promises? World War 2 story of unusual heroes. Is it entertaining? A little heavy-handed but easy to watch. Is it worth the price of admission? Better than the usual February movie.
“Labor Day” arrives in time for Super Bowl Weekend — not the best time to release a movie. Kate Winslet plays a depressed single mother living in a small town in the 1980s. She and her son – on a rare outside the home shopping trip – encounter Josh Brolin, an escaped murderer on the lam. He essentially kidnaps them forcing them to take him to their remote run down house. But once inside Brolin wins them over, working around the house, changing the oil in the car and playing catch with the kid. He wins over Winslet — even awakens her — with the emotional support she lacks. Of course we learn Brolin didn’t murder on purpose. +”Labor Day” has plenty of tension as we wait for his capture and for the outcome of the romance. In spite of the creepiness of the story, the movie at times is actually fun — even a pleasure — to watch. The much buzzed about scene of the three of them making a peach pie lives up to expectations and plays a bigger role in the story. I caught a few hints of “Ghost” and “The Shawshank Redemption” and that’s not a bad thing in a movie. Just one caution. You’ll laugh at yourself thirty minutes after you leave for buying even a minute of this. Does it deliver what it promises? An unlikely romance. Is it entertaining? Better than expected but seriously…a murderer on the lam? Is it worth the price of admission? Maybe if you’re planning to skip the Super Bowl.
The character created by Tom Clancy returns to the screen in an origin story. Chris Pine accepts the assignment of playing Ryan as a young man. We meet him as a student in the London School of Economics watching the 9/11 attacks in a public hall. Stirred by the attack, he joins the Marines and gets on the hero track until a missile shoots him out of the sky. Somehow he survives and wakes up in rehab where his doctor, played by Keira Knightley, inspires him to health and ultimately moves in with a promise to marry. While in rehab, Pine catches the eye of CIA veteran Kevin Costner who recruits him for the agency, placing him in a Wall Street investment firm. The Russians hatch a plot to destroy the world economy and attack the U.S. Costner sends Pine to Moscow where he encounters Kenneth Branagh, who not only directs but also plays the villain. Ultimately ‘Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” boils down to a Russian tour where our hero sneaks into buildings, downloads files, chases bad guys and saves his beloved from the bad guys. I am not a fan of cyber thrillers or plots that require a lot of shots of files downloading. “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” lacks spark — a so so standard issue spy thriller. Does it deliver what it promises? Mediocre thriller. Is it entertaining? Nothing new. Is it worth the price of admission? If you must.