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Nov 22 11

By Thomas Leupp

In the 2006 animated blockbuster Happy Feet, an alienated emperor penguin named Mumbles found empowerment through tap-dancing, and in so doing managed to both attract a mate and stop the overfishing that imperiled his Antarctic habitat. Directed by George Mitchell - the same George Mitchell who gave us the post-apocalyptic Mad Max trilogy and the almost despairingly bleak Babe: Pig in the City - Happy Feet paired its broadly conventional narrative with a darker sensibility not often seen in talking-animal fare.

The film's sequel, Happy Feet Two, finds Mitchell (co-directing with Gary Eck) both more jovial and more easily distracted. The story begins straightforwardly enough, with Mumbles (Elijah Wood), now grown-up and by all appearances well-adjusted, ceding the mantle of self-discovery to his son, Erik (Ava Acres). Boogie fever has swept the once dance-averse penguin nation, but in a cruelly ironic twist, Erik has inherited none of his father's nifty moves. But just as Happy Feet Two appears intent on recycling its predecessor's basic storyline, the film abruptly changes course and embarks on a series of detours that seemed geared more as fodder for throwaway gags and showy set pieces than anything else. The disparate narrative elements, while enjoyable in isolation, never quite coalesce into a meaningful whole, leaving us entertained but unfulfilled.

As before, Happy Feet Two features a variety of buoyant song-and-dance numbers, with Alecia Moore (aka P!nk), lending her formidable pipes to spirited re-workings of "Rhythm Nation" and "Under Pressure," among others. Robin Williams returns for double duty as both Ramon, a diminutive, oversexed Latin lover, and Lovelace, a fiery Southern-preacher type. (Lovelace later adopts a Rastafarian dialect, allowing Williams to achieve the rare culture-caricature trifecta.) His voracious scenery-devouring is all the more impressive given the grandeur of the scenery. Not to be left out of the quasi-Vaudevillian comic shenanigans, Hank Azaria lays on a thick Scandinavian shtick as Sven, a charismatic Arctic émigré who presents himself as the only penguin in the world who can fly. Azaria is a hoot, but the film's best moments come courtesy of the cast's highest-profile additions, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt, voicing Bill and Will (respectively) two tiny krill in search of meaning at the bottom of the food chain.


Nov 22 11

By Matt Patches

It's easy to hate on the Twilight movies. They're the epitome of indulgent, fan-servicing filmmaking, alienating anyone on the outside of their cultish fanbase. With consistent, navel-gazing screenplays by series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (adapted from the equally shallow source material from author Stephanie Meyers), there's little reason to think future installments could ever transcend their predecessors.

But whereas Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse contently burrowed themselves under the forlorn faces and over-dramatic moping of stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner, director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Kinsey, Candyman 2: Farewell to the Flesh) unearths a saving grace in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1: pure insanity, from which blossoms color, comedy and scares. The movie is one giant wink to the camera—and it serves the melodrama of Twilight tremendously.

ALTThe first half of the not-quite-epic Twilight conclusion kicks off with the wedding of Bella (Stewart) and Edward (Pattinson), a long-awaited event Condon manages to spin into an authentically nerve-wracking and touching sequence. Finally, a Twilight movie with an obvious purpose—Bella and Edward have been waiting since Movie One to consummate their relationship (waiting until marriage), but lingering at the end of every daydream, every loving gaze, every sweet nothing, is the gut-wrenching fact that Bella will give up her humanity. Breaking Dawn - Part 1 confronts this dead on, with an overtness absent from the previous movies.

While the script is still committed to visualizing Bella, Edward and Jacob's uncinematic inner monologues, Condon peppers every scene with the zest of ridiculousness, saving Breaking Dawn from ever dragging. Edward cracking a bed in half during his first sexual experience is just the beginning—the movie features everything from demon-fearing Brazilian housekeepers to body horror straight out of a Cronenberg film to corny CSI-esque shots of vampire venom jetting through bloodstreams. In one scene, Jacob (Lautner) morphs into canine form to telepathically declare (in Lautner's brooding "tough guy" voice) that he is the true Alpha Male of the pack. The moment's hammy and trite, but Condon shoots it with all the over-the-top machismo exuding from the wolfpack. Subtle, no. Fun, yes.


Nov 22 11

By Matt Patches

Director Alexander Payne's (Election, Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia, accompanied by George Clooney's character, Matt King, summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction, unfortunately, is reasonable.

ALTWe pick up with King, an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty, in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle, aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear, King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma, forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young, socially-troubled daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family," but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.

With The Descendants, Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations, unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover, Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster), who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges), an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend, Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer), the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful, yet real, Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them, yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.

Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together, as they observe, experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character, but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script, by Nat Faxon, Jim Rash and Payne, gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic, visualizing his struggle, as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.


Nov 15 11

By Brett Buckalew

Few of the powerful men who helped shape America in the 20th century are as polarizing as J. Edgar Hoover, considering the peaks and valleys of his nearly half-century-long reign as the director of the FBI and his closely guarded private life. However, while there is much to debate about whether the heroism of Hoover's early career outweighs the knee-jerk paranoia that clouded the end of his run at the Bureau, and about what really turned on this lifelong bachelor, one aspect of Hoover's life is inarguable: this was a man who possessed a rare gift for establishing and maintaining order. Everything that fell under his control was meticulously kept in its place, from the fingerprints on file in the FBI's database to the cleanly shaved faces of his loyal G-Men.

It's an unfortunate irony, then, that J. Edgar, the biopic focused on this ruthlessly organized administrative genius, is such a sloppy, awkwardly assembled mess. Its lack of tidiness hardly suits its central character, and is also shockingly uncharacteristic of director Clint Eastwood. The filmmaker's recent creative renaissance, which began in 2003 with the moody Boston tragedy Mystic River, may not have been one defined by absolute perfection—the World War II epic Flags of Our Fathers, for example, is no better than an admirable mixed bag—but it comes to a grinding halt with J. Edgar, Eastwood's least satisfying and least coherent effort since 1999's True Crime. There's no faulting the attention paid to surface period details—every tailored suit and vintage car registers as authentic—but on the most fundamental level, Eastwood and writer Dustin Lance Black (an Academy Award winner for Milk, as off his game as Eastwood here) haven't figured out what kind of movie they want to shape around Hoover's life. For two-thirds of its running time, J. Edgar devotes itself to an overly dry recitation of facts about its title character, which is about as viscerally thrilling as reading Hoover's Wikipedia page, and then makes a late-inning bid for romantic melodrama totally at odds with the bloodless history-lesson approach favored by the preceding 90 minutes.

The non-chronological narrative structure Black adopts to tell Hoover's story only adds to the overall disjointedness. Star Leonardo DiCaprio is first seen caked in old-age makeup, as Hoover, conscious he's nearing the end of his tenure at the Bureau, dictates his memoirs to an obliging junior agent (Ed Westwick). As Hoover describes how he began his career, the movie jumps back in time to depict that origin, giving the false impression that the dictation scenes with old Hoover will act as necessary structural connective tissue. Instead, Black eventually abandons the narrative device altogether, leaving the movie rudderless in its leaps backwards and forwards through time. As a result, the shuffling of scenes depicting the young Hoover achieving great success alongside his right-hand man, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer), and those portraying the aging Hoover abusing his power by wire-tapping progressive luminaries (such as Martin Luther King Jr.) that he mistrusts feels frustratingly arbitrary. There's no real rhyme or reason to why one scene follows another.

DiCaprio does his best to anchor the proceedings with a precise, authoritative lead performance. Although his voice is softer than Hoover's, he mimics the crimefighter's trademark cadence with organic ease, and, more importantly, he manifests Hoover's unbending fastidiousness in a number of ingenious details, like in the way that Hoover reflexively adjusts a dining-room chair while in mid-conversation. But Black's limited view of Hoover as a tyrannical egotist—the script is close to a hatchet job—denies DiCaprio the chance to play a fully three-dimensional version of the FBI pioneer. Hoover is granted the most humanity in his scenes opposite Hammer's Tolson, which are by far the most compelling in the movie. Possessing no knowledge of the secretive Hoover's romantic life, Eastwood and Black speculate that Hoover and Tolson's relationship was defined by a mutual attraction that Tolson wanted to pursue but Hoover was too timid to even acknowledge. Hammer, so sharp as the privileged Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, is the only supporting player given much to do—Naomi Watts' talents are wasted as Hoover's generically long-suffering secretary, while poor Judi Dench must have had most of her scenes as Hoover's reactionary mother left on the cutting-room floor—and he runs with it. His mega-watt charisma is like a guarantee of future stardom, and he's actually far more effortless behind the old-age makeup than veterans DiCaprio and Watts manage to be.


Nov 15 11

By Matt Patches

ALTIn the opening scenes of the new "comedy" Jack and Jill, commercial director Jack Sadelstein (Adam Sandler) and his business partners take a break from the set of their Regis Philbin-starring Pepto Bismol commercial to discuss the prospect of landing Al Pacino for a new Dunkin' Donuts spot. Even with the pressure mounting, the idea of landing the A-Lister is the least of Jack's worries—his real stress stemming from his heinous twin sister Jill (also played by Sandler), who is scheduled to visit for Thanksgiving. We don't know much about Jill at that point, but even the prospect of spending a few days with his sibling prompts the cankerous Jack to chug an entire bottle of the commercial's pink antidiarrheal product.

Turns out, the medical cocktail was quite appropriate. By the end of Jack and Jill, kicking back an entire bottle of Pepto Bismol may be the first logical step to curing the gut-wrenching feeling induced by the movie's painfully lazy antics. To call the latest from Sandler's Happy Madison Productions (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grown Ups, Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star) a bad movie isn't strong enough. Nor is describing it as a complete void of comedy. And the movie doesn't even come close to a so-stupid-its-funny scenario. No, Jack and Jill is honest to goodness mental destruction—a collision of half-baked comedy sketches, violent potty humor, shrouded racism, shotgun celebrity cameos and unapologetic product placement. There is more coherency, care and consideration poured in to a child's spin art painting than any moment Sandler or director Dennis Dugan whip up for this film.

From the movie's very first moments to its obvious, ham-fisted conclusion, the mere presence of Jill sends Jack into a temper meltdown—and it's not hard to see why. Sandler's lady from the Bronx is a loud, abhorrent, self-loathing woman, an obtuse fish-out-of-water who sees no issue with stereotyping Jack's adopted Indian son or using phrases like "make chocolate squirties" after a night of chimichangas (may I recommend Pepto Bismol?). The script would like us to feel sympathetic for Jill as she's turned down by every man she meets, adding to her existing physical appearance woes ("I'm too fat!" she declares, before hopping up on a horse and crushing it under her own weight). Unfortunately, it's obvious that no one behind-the-camera actually gives a damn about her or any of the other characters to help realize that struggle honestly or humorously.

Knowing the movie can't entirely rely on Jill's flatulence to baffle its audience, Jack and Jill employs a number of shameless drive-by appearances from across the Hollywood spectrum to replace actual entertainment. Johnny Depp, Jared the Subway Guy, Shaq, Bruce Jenner, the Sham-Wow Guy and Drew Carey (who Jill meets while embarrassing herself on The Price Is Right) all stop by for a cheap laugh. Maybe that's a good thing—the cameos are nonsensical enough to distract from Jack and Jill's plot, one that trudges along at a glacial pace as Jill finds ways to stay at Jack's house and ruin her brother's life.


Nov 15 11

By Matt Patches

ALTNo one aspect of a filmmaking is more important than another. The look, the sound, the script, the performances—a great movie seamlessly gels its parts together and immerses you in the final product.

But director Tarsem Singh makes a strong case for the counterpoint. His films (The Cell, The Fall) are visually remarkable, expressing a creativity rarely found in the mainstream landscape. His latest, Immortals follows suit, bringing the stark contrast, bright colors and startling composition of a Caravaggio painting to life in the form of a mythological war epic. The movie's a feast for the eyes, but unlike a work from the treasured Renaissance painter, Immortals spreads across the big screen canvas without a single drop of soul.

The movie relies heavily on its lead pawn, Theseus (Henry Cavill), who finds himself imparted by the Gods of Hollywood to drag the chiseled marble cast members through random set pieces and meandering dialogue scenes intact, so the movie can payoff with a grand finale. As the illegitimate child of Zeus, Theseus lives a normal peasant life (taking care of his Mom and honing his 36-pack), until one day, when the bloodthirsty King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) strolls in and annihilates the town. Hyperion is on a search for the legendary Bow of Epirus, a weapon with the power to release the incarcerated Titans. Wiping Theseus' friends and family off the map doesn't really have anything to do with finding the bow...but it does give Theseus a reason to screw with Hyperion and find the artifact first. On a mission of vengeance, Theseus teams with a rough-around-the-edges criminal (Stephen Dorff) and a virginal oracle (Frieda Pinto) to locate the bow, alert a random group of soldiers of Hyperion's plans for war and take the ravenous madman down once and for all.

Immortals makes absolutely no sense—a fact that the filmmakers clearly have no qualms over. Unfortunately, the movie's not silly enough to overlook that fact. Unlike 300 (Zack Snyder's 2006 film that draws inevitable comparisons), Immortals wants to feel like a live-action video game/graphic novel while also dabbling in poetic storytelling akin to the famous myths it draws upon—a combination that results in a dense, sluggish narrative. Pretty, but dull.


Nov 07 11

By Matt Patches

When James Cameron changed the landscape of 3D stereoscopic filmmaking with his groundbreaking blockbuster Avatar, I'm sure he still had misgivings about the final product. He couldn't include a scene in which eggs are thrown towards camera. There was no moment where Jake smokes marijuana and blows it off screen. Not a single character pleasured themselves and released out into the audience. Maybe in the sequel.

Thankfully, for those looking for that immersive, corporeal experience, there is A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas, a foul, hilarious and surprisingly heartwarming holiday experience that utilizes its eye-popping technology to take gross out humor to a new level. If you're not already on board with the previous stoner antics of Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) from White Castle and Escape from Guantanamo Bay, it's safe to say that 3D Christmas won't be roping you back into the series, but for fans, the movie steps up the franchise's game. Writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg take the three years since the last film into consideration, putting the duo on opposite ends of the maturity spectrum only to have them reunite for a zany Christmas adventure. The results are rather touching.

ALT We pick up with Harold, now a suit-wearing, Wall Street type, bending over backwards to make Christmas perfect for his ball-busting father-in-law (Danny Trejo). Adding to the stress are his wife Maria, who is anxious to have a baby despite the couple's inability to do so, and his next door neighbor Todd (Tom Lennon), who would do anything to be Harold's best friend. Kumar is his antithesis—burnt out, baked and broken up over the termination of his relationship with Vanessa. When a mysterious package addressed to Harold lands on Kumar's door (he hasn't lived there in years), the medical school dropout takes a ride to his former cohort's white picket fence house. The package is exactly what you'd expect: an enormous joint. Admitting he doesn't smoke any more, Harold throws the weed away—only to see it magically return and burn down his father-in-law's Christmas tree.

Like its predecessors, Harold & Kumar 3D takes off from its wacky catalyst and shoots directly (and without regret) into outer space. Without hesitation, Harold and Kumar's quest for a Christmas tree takes them from a terrifying tree yard run by RZA, a coked-out Christmas party thrown by the teenage kids of New York's deadliest gangster and a holiday stage show starring—you guessed it—Neil Patrick Harris. The movie piles on gags and inside jokes (the movie winks at the camera with Star Trek and White House cracks), but few fall short thanks to their clever execution and two characters Cho and Penn help us give a damn about. Even in its lamest moments—Todd's baby finding her way into a variety of drugs is one of the movie's running gags—Harold & Kumar 3D still pops. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson squeezes every bit of silliness out the movie's various scenarios, adding a dash of nostalgia for fans, and making the entry worthy of the original. Even Harris outdoes himself (and the man road a unicorn in movie #2), riffing off his own homosexuality, which we learn is really just a play to get more woman to take their clothes off. Obviously.


Nov 07 11

By Matt Patches

Did Hollywood have anything to do with the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement? The whole thing seems a little bit convenient. Last month saw the behind-the-meltdown docudrama Margin Call and the sci-fi metaphor In Time. Now we have Tower Heist, a comedy that pits the blue collar staff of the Trump Tower against a thieving, Bernie Madoff-esque tenant. The movie's an Ocean's 11 for the 99%, with a sense of timeliness that makes the simple plotting and wisecracking that much more effective.

Ben Stiller stars as Josh Kovacs, overseer of all the goings-on at the Tower. He wakes up before dawn and heads home after sunset, spending his day catering to the occupants of the ritzy apartment complex and managing his eclectic crew—including former Burger King cook Enrique (Michael Peña), Jamaican maid Odessa (Gabourey Sidibe) and his slacker brother-in-law Charlie (Casey Affleck). The crew's greatest concern is multi-billionaire Arthur Shaw (Alan Alda), the penthouse resident, Tower board member and, thanks to attention paid, trusted friend of Josh.

Trusted...until the FBI busts Shaw for stealing millions, including the Tower employees' pensions.


Oct 31 11

By Matt Patches

ALT For nearly 100 years, experts in historical and literary fields have been debating the authenticity of William Shakespeare's master works. Was he really a storytelling genius who single-handedly crafted a vast body of poems and plays? Or were they actually the works of another unnamed author? Could a group of playwrights have written under a sole moniker? Director Roland Emmerich dives headfirst into this century-old debate with his new movie Anonymous, piecing together evidence to unravel the mystery with dramatic flair. Unfortunately, the only thing he discovers in the process is that the answers aren't that interesting.

The movie centers on Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans), a scholarly gentlemen forced as a youngster into the role of Earl of Oxford. While Edward prefers to spend his time waxing poetically and bringing theatrics to life for the adoring Queen Elizabeth (Joely Richardson), his caretaker, the sinister, mustache-twirling-without-a-mustache William Cecil (David Thewlis), authoritatively directs him on the path of the aristocracy. But that doesn't stop De Vere from toiling over his written work, spending years crafting plays and poems in-between canoodling with the Queen (for shame!).

As a grown man, De Vere finds himself married off to Cecil's daughter, battling the tired advisor and his hunchback son (Edward Hogg) all while continuing to write and attend the common man's theater. During one such excursion, the Earl crosses paths with playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto), who De Vere sees as the perfect representative to take ownership over his plays, hoping they can finally be brought to life on stage. Of course, Johnson realizes slapping his name on De Vere's works of genius would put the kibosh on his own career, so he hands them over to his horny, drunk, actor friend, William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall). The staged plays are a hit, but their appeal to the masses is a red flag to the court. Cecil commences a hunt for the true author of Shakespeares plays, landing De Vere in hot water.

Emmerich intertwines De Vere, Johnson and Shakespeare's quest for theatrical fame with political unrest and romantic subplots, but none of the story arcs have the spark of a real mystery/thriller. The director and his screenwriter John Orloff (The Guardians of Ga'hoole) aim to replicate The Bard's tragic, character-driven plays with their own story, relying on performance and dense dialogue to entrance the viewer. But Emmerich goes so far out of his way to restrain himself from his usual eye for end-of-the-world destruction (made famous in Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012…) that the movie trudges along without an ounce of intrigue. It's almost as if Anonymous strives to be purposefully boring, Emmerich attempting to deliver performance-first directing, but ending up with string of flat, sloth-paced back-and-forths. He does manage to squeeze a few action scenes into the mix—De Vere fends off an attacker in a thrilling, confined swordfight—but even the bigger moments feel muted.


Oct 31 11

By Thomas Leupp

I must admit I was a bit wary of Puss in Boots, Dreamworks Animation's spin-off of its blockbuster Shrek franchise. After its sparkling 2001 debut, the Shrek saga suffered a steady decline in quality over subsequent installments. While its final entry, 2010's Shrek Forever After, improved slightly over its decidedly mediocre predecessor, but it hardly whetted my appetite for Puss in Boots, which, to my eyes at least, appeared little more than a transparent attempt to further milk a barren brand.

Thankfully, I was wrong. Puss in Boots is a surprising delight, a lively and buoyant romp that all but ignores the stale franchise that spawned it. When we meet him in the film, the dashing rogue Puss (Antonio Banderas) is already an infamous outlaw. In search of his next score, he is lured by a beguiling rival, Kitty Softclaws (Salma Hayek), into an ambitious and risky scheme orchestrated by his former childhood friend, Humpty Dumpty (Zach Galifianakis), to steal magic beans from the murderous bandits Jack (Billy Bob Thornton) and Jill (Amy Sedaris).

The story is set in the fictional town of San Ricardo, a world far removed from Shrek's Far Far Away. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any Shrek references whatsoever in the film. The animation style is similar by necessity, but otherwise, Puss in Boots is very much its own animal: briskly paced, gorgeously animated and refreshingly devoid of the gratuitous pop-culture references and crude humor that marked the decline of its forebear. Story is sacrificed for spectacle, but that doesn't detract from the film's charm, much of the credit for which is owed to Banderas' vibrant voice work.


Oct 31 11

By Matt Patches

ALTFans of author Alexandre Dumas' 1844 serialized novel The Three Musketeers (or heck, fans of the 1993 Chris O'Donnell/Charlie Sheen Disney version!) beware: The latest incarnation bears little resemblance to the version you remember from high school English. Unless you sped-read through the reading in-between levels of your favorite video game—in which case, it might be exactly as you remember.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat, the Resident Evil franchise) orchestrates his Musketeers with the rhyme and reason of a confetti popper, loading his cinematic shotgun with familiar story beats, paper thin characters and anachronistic technology in order blast his audience all the way back to last weekend's Saturday morning cartoons. The movie opens with the titular swashbucklers, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) on a mission to crack Da Vinci's vault, where the legendary inventor's master work is kept hidden. After running, jumping, slicing, dicing and pressing every A+B+X+Y button combo imaginable, it's Arthos' lady friend Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich) who finally breaks in—only to steal Da Vinci's plans for a massive war machine and backstabbing the Musketeers in the process.

One year passes, and we pick up with young, son-of-an-ex-Musketeer D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman), who rides off to Paris in search of adventure. Before too long, D'Artagnan crosses paths with the burnt-out swordsmen, who see a little bit of themselves in the young lad who lays waste to 40 guardsmen after getting the stink eye (boy's got a bit of temper). The Musketeers return to form just in time, as the movie's handful of villains are all preparing to strike at exactly the same moment. The Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) has built Da Vinci's balloon-powered airship and secretly plans an attack; Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) convinces Milady to double cross Buckingham , planting the Queen's diamond necklace in the Duke's posession to incite war (but wasn't he already...? Nevermind); and Richelieu's number two Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen), who just likes to stab Musketeers in the face.

There's a whole lot of plot going on in The Three Musketeers, but the film's presentation is so scatterbrained, so rapid-fire, that none of the many throughlines ever click to make sense. But Anderson gets very, very lucky—thanks in no small part to a colorful cast that elevates the lazy storytelling with energy, humor and charm. Macfadyen is stoic and sharp as Athos, while Evans does his best to inject actual character into Aramis, glowing with friendliness and warmth around his fellow Musketeers. Stevenson's rugged Pathos adds much needed comedy, making up for the lame Planchet (James Corden), the Musketeers' Chris Farley-wannabe sidekick. Unfortunately, Lerman's D'Artagnan is a black hole of charisma—not helpful as he's the crux of the story.


Oct 25 11

By Thomas Leupp

Paranormal Activity 3 - the latest chapter in the low-budget haunted-house saga begun in 2007 by D.I.Y. filmmaker Oren Peli - is presented as a prequel to 2010's Paranormal Activity 2, which itself was a prequel of sorts to the first film. Taking the helm for the latest found-footage foray is the directing duo of Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, whose 2010 debut, the Facebook documentary Catfish, provided chills of a more existential variety. (It also encountered a fair share of skepticism about its authenticity, which, in an odd way, makes the filmmakers uniquely qualified to direct a film like this.)

Schulman and Joost know better than to tinker with a proven formula - the first two films grossed over $370 million worldwide combined - and their film for the most part employs the same straightforward premise and stripped down approach as its predecessors. The only real difference is the time period: Whereas the first two films took place in the recent past, Paranormal Activity 3 turns the clock all the way back to 1988, when young sisters Katie and Kristi purportedly first came into contact with otherworldly houseguests. (I say “purportedly” because nothing is ever certain in this genre.)

The girls' troubles begin shortly after their single mother, Julie (Lauren Bittner), invites her boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith, notable only for his resemblance to former Gonzaga point guard Dan Dickau) to move in with them. A professional wedding videographer with a host of camera and editing equipment at his disposal, Dennis is conveniently equipped to chronicle the events that ensue. What follows is standard Paranormal Activity protocol. It begins with a few seemingly innocuous late-night stirrings, followed by more ominous occurrences. Furniture gets rearranged. A light fixture falls from the ceiling. Soon the spirit - or whatever it is - grows more bold, befriending the youngest sister, Kristi, who nicknames it “Toby.” And just what does Toby want, exactly? If Kristi knows, she isn't telling.

The plot of Paranormal Activity 3 is pretty much rubbish, so I suppose we should be thankful there's only enough of it to provide context to the scares. The majority of them are exceedingly cheap, more the product of aggressive sound design than anything else - and yet still maddeningly effective. (There are a handful of truly devious jump cuts for which the filmmakers should frankly be ashamed.) You jump from your seat and immediately curse yourself for doing so.


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