For a while now, studios have been setting release dates for their upcoming films YEARS in advance. However a new trend in Hollywood is taking this practice to a ridiculous level. Studios are "grabbing the date" by announcing untitled projects (often ones that haven't even been discussed) with openings way in the future. For animation giants such as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Blue Sky and Sony Pictures Animation that means setting release dates as far out as Christmas 2018!
This is INSANE! But there is a pattern: SPA found success last year with the late-September release of "Hotel Transylvania" and several of their upcoming releases (including "Hotel Transylvania 2" and this year's "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2") will open that weekend.
DreamWorks was originally set to release three animated films this year (as they did in 2010), but "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" was pushed to next March. This July's "Turbo" will be their final film of 2013. However, they're going to try to make-up for lost time with multiple releases in 2014 and 2015.
Since 20th Century Fox now distributes both DreamWorks and Blue Sky animated films, they have decided to go crazy and secure 10 prime dates on the 2017 and 2018 calendar for "Untitled Fox/DWA/Blue Sky" films. They don't even know what films are going where or when. They just want the space! What's even more interesting is that Blue Sky has never released more than one film a year, and the studio already has other projects in the works.
And yes, Disney and Pixar are taking part as well. While it's more interesting to guess if any of Pixar's projects are anticipated sequels or prequels ("Incredibles 2", "Toy Story 4"?), this trend has really gotten out of hand. Does it really mean anything to anyone that there's going to be animated movies opening on dates such as November 23, 2016, March 10, 2017, and December 21, 2018? It's hard enough just to keep track of this year's schedule let alone one in five years!
So what if Pixar and DreamWorks going head-to-head on June 17, 2016 with an untitled film and "How to Train Your Dragon 3"? You can't take any of this seriously because almost all of the dates and films are going to get changed between now and 2018.
It would be much more fun if things went back to the way they used to be: studios developing films years in advance (in secret) and then surprising fans with announcements (like Pixar sorta did with 2015's "Finding Dory"). But the competition for dates and box office dollars has gotten so hot that booking dates five years in advance is probably the norm from here on. But, with more and more animated films coming-out (because of their potential to be big money makers) the potential for some getting lost in the shuffle is greater than ever.
"Man of Steel" is "300" and "Watchmen" director Zack Snyder's Superman origin story. Let me re-phrase that: it's Zack Snyder's LONG, overly action-packed, Superman origin story.
We begin, where else but on the planet Krypton. Russell Crowe's Jor-El and his wife send away their new, naturally-born son Kal-El off to Earth because their planet is about to self-destruct. The evil General Zod (Michael Shannon) kills Jor-El and vows that someday he will track-down Kal-El and the all-important codex that he possesses.
Once on Earth Kal-El becomes Clark Kent. And that means Clark Kent is Superman! (sorry, I couldn't resist). As a boy Clark is confused as to why he has super powers. His guardian father (Kevin Costner) shows Clark the spaceship that brought him to Earth. Once he's old enough Clark (played by British actor Henry Cavill) leaves home, and wanders around the country doing odd jobs and trying to avoid situations in which he has to use his strength and super abilities. And he still has many questions. Some of them are answered when he discovers an even larger spacecraft trapped in the ice. Jor-El re-appears (even though he's dead - this is science fiction afterall) and explains a lot to Clark and to us. Clearly Crowe's contract called for more than simply a cameo role.
Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is also investigating the strange object frozen in the ice. Here's where she and Clark/Superman meet for the first time. Of course, Ms. Lane wants to know more about this mysterious man, so she puts the pieces of Clark's life together, tracks him down and becomes a key ally for Superman as he tries to defeat Zod, who's come to capture Kal-El, wipe-out all life on Earth and re-build Krypton in its place.
It may seem like there's a lot going on in "Man of Steel", and there are some slight twists to the classic Superman story. But this version is pretty straight forward. And don't worry - there's plenty of time for everything since the film runs two and a half hours. Snyder does a nice job of immediately pulling us in with an effective action sequence that also serves as the set-up. The rest of the first half of "Man of Steel" is dominated by dialogue, but these are also the most effective parts of the film. Normally I'm not a fan of the use of multiple flashbacks, but they work here, providing glimpses of events from Clark's past that have shaped him as a human who's not really human. Both Costner and Diane Lane are very believable as Clark's parents.
Sadly, it's the action scenes, which dominate the second half of "MOS", that end-up ruining the movie. The final hour and a half is basically Superman (and joined later by the US Army) fighting General Zod and his army. The film becomes simply a series of clashes, crashes, explosions and battles, with tons of destruction. There is more shattered glass in "MOS" than in any film I can remember. And most of the confrontation sequences go on WAY too long. It doesn't help that Snyder shows no imagination with the visuals, something he's known for with his other films. There's nothing impressive on-screen here, including Superman's flying effects. If you can't get some "wows" from a flying Superman you've really failed as a director. Cavill and Adams are pretty good in their scenes together but we aren't given enough time to care about them or their growing relationship.
Christopher Nolan (who's credited with producing and co-writing "Man of Steel") was incredibly successful with his vision of the Batman story because those films were both dark and fun. To quote The Joker from "The Dark Knight": Mr. Snyder, "Why So Serious?" There isn't one attempt at humor or a single light-hearted moment in "MOS". Someone needed to remind the director that the best superhero action films are entertaining (i.e. - "The Avengers", the "Iron Man" trilogy). Even one "It's a Bird, It's a Plane..." line would have helped.
And yes, this is comic book material, but there are too many problems with basic logic in this script, including two whoppers in the final 5-minutes.
"Man of Steel" is rated PG-13 for all the action/violence and some language. It's appropriate for kids 12 and up. I really had high hopes for this film, so, for me, this is one of the biggest letdowns of the summer.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "Man of Steel" gets a C-.
"This Is The End" marks the directorial debut of comedian/actor Seth Rogen and longtime writing partner Evan Goldberg. The two also co-wrote this screenplay. They decided to go all-out and make a raunchy, creative, offensive and at times quite funny adult comedy about a subject that isn't so funny: The End of the World.
The best thing about "This Is The End" is that the film is filled with Hollywood stars playing themselves - at least by name (you'd like to think that these people aren't like this in real life - but you never know). This allows the characters to poke fun at themselves and their movies - both the successes and the flops. On this level - as a satire of young Hollywood and celebrity - the movie works quite well.
The first hour of "This Is The End" is, at times, very entertaining. The plot couldn't be more basic: Rogen and long-time friend Jay Baruchel ("The Sorcerer's Apprentice") show up at James Franco's new house in L.A. for a party, which is filled with film and TV stars, providing a nice, authentic feeling. Soon weird things start happening, including blue lights sucking people up into the sky and a giant sinkhole that appears in front of Franco's house. Many of the celebs fall into the hole to their death, some in comical ways. But a handful - Rogen, Franco, Baruchel, Craig Robinson ("The Office") and Jonah Hill - all survive, and they have to figure out what's going on and how to deal with what could be either a major earthquake or The Apocalypse. There are some great gags and tons of sarcastic dialogue.
But then things start to go downhill, not only within the film but with the film. The jokes start getting less clever and more crude. And many of the scenes drag on way too long, as we begin to realize that Rogen has run out of jokes to complete his project. "This Is The End" really pushes the envelope of the adult comedy genre. In fact, it makes last summer's Seth MacFarlane hit, "Ted" look like "Sesame Street". It's too bad that Rogen went over the top with the offensive material because it wasn't necessary.
In the final act, even weirder things start happening, many of which make no sense, as Rogen and Goldberg scramble to try come up with a way to bring things to a satisfying conclusion. But they don't succeed. The duo began with an off-beat idea and deliver some outrageously funny moments (the "Pineapple Express 2" trailer is hysterical). But by the end, "This Is The End" sinks to a goofy and bland conclusion.
Once again, I want to stress that "This Is The End" is rated R for adult content and language, nudity, consistent sexual references, drug use and graphic violence. This is not a film for kids or younger teens.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "This Is The End" gets a C+.
If you Google Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, you'll find that 2005's "Wedding Crashers" is still one of the most popular films of their careers. Since that film came out audiences have wanted more of these guys together on screen. Now, after eight years, they have re-collaborated (yes, that is a word) for "The Internship".
Vaughn and Wilson play Billy and Nick. They're two watch salesmen who learn that their boss (played by John Goodman) is shutting down the company. Suddenly without jobs, Billy and Nick are desperate to find work. Nick takes a job at his brother-in-law's mattress store, but isn't happy there. And Billy's girlfriend leaves him because he can't pay the bills. So, to try something new, Billy applies him and Nick for a summer internship with Google.
Once accepted, they head to Google headquarters in San Francisco (the company must've LOVED having its logo in practically every scene) and they quickly learn what we know long before the set-up wraps-up: that these two adults, who know very little about computers, are not going to fit in with the other interns, who, of course, are computer savvy college students. All the interns are broken-up into teams and Nick and Billy end-up in a group with other misfits. Then everyone learns that the team with the highest score at the end of the summer - based on a series of challenges - will become full-time Google employees. So Billy, Nick and the rest of their gang have to overcome the obstacles and beat the odds in order to win their new jobs.
After dealing with boxing robots in "Real Steel" and statues that came to life in the "Night at the Museum" movies, director Shawn Levy returns to a straight comedy. But, unfortunately, "The Internship" becomes as predictable as a robot and, at times, is as lifeless as actual statues. The set-up showed a lot of promise. The comic potential of having Vaughn and Wilson in the Google environment was big. And there's a surprise cameo about 15 minutes in that provides hope of the hilarity to come.
But things then start to go downhill quickly. Vaughn is credited for the story and co-wrote the screenplay. The big mistake he and fellow screenwriter Jared Stern make is structuring things around the "competition" idea. This is so basic and so over-done. We know the outcome before it even begins. What could have helped was some editing. Too many of the scenes go on WAY too long. This would have been OK if these scenes were actually funny. Problem is, Vaughn and Wilson rambling-on throughout predictable and often very dated situations (there's a long "Harry Potter" Quidditch match that will just not end) only makes things worse.
At times, prominently in one section toward the middle, "The Internship" pushes its PG-13 envelope. This will likely please fans of "Wedding Crashers", but much of it is in bad taste.
However, there are a few bright spots: Rose Byrne ("Bridesmaids", TV's "Damages") brings a nice change of pace to the obligatory love interest role as workaholic Dana, who Nick spots on his first day at Google and immediately falls for. And there are a few laughs here and there (I chuckled when the FOX Sports theme song pops up), and humorous supporting appearances by Josh Gad ("1600 Penn"), comedian Rob Riggle and the surprise cameo I mentioned earlier.
"The Internship" is rated PG-13 for adult language and content. And I must say this is a tough film not to like: A solid cast in a setting with plenty of comic potential. But if you ever need to search for this movie on Google enter the phrase "no originality or big laughs" and it'll appear at the top of the page.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "The Internship" gets a disappointing C.
"After Earth" stars Will Smith and real-life son Jaden, who also play father and son in this sci-fi action/adventure set 1000 years after humans had to abandon Earth after we, the humans, destroyed it, apparently do to wars and pollution (as an early montage shows). This incredibly unoriginal premise is not a great way to start. Our new planet is Nova, and this is where young Kitai is training to be a ranger, hoping to eventually be an even better one than dad, who is the commander of the group that keeps the planet safe. Cypher is well respected and is now returning home to his wife and son, whom he hasn't seen in quite some time.
To get to know his son a little better Cypher decides to bring Kitai along on a routine mission, the last one before he retires. I can't imagine anything will go wrong! Sure enough, the spaceship is forced to crash land on a quarantined planet, and, amazingly, Cypher and Katai are the only survivors. What are the odds of that?! It turns out they're back on Earth (again, the odds!) and all the creatures have been bred to hunt and kill humans. Since Cypher is hurt badly, Kitai has to go journey several miles on foot and find the tail section of the ship where the all-important signaling device is stored that they can use to alert a rescue crew.
And so, for the remainder of the film, we have the boy batting wild creatures and the elements while dad is talking to him and watching him with all of this sophisticated equipment that somehow survived the crash. Too bad the signaling device in the front of the plane doesn't work. But then we wouldn't have had a movie.
There's plenty of blame to go around for the problems with "After Earth". Let's start with the story, which Will Smith himself is credited for. This guy is very talented and a Hollywood giant, but coming-up with story ideas clearly isn't one of his strengths (at least not this time). It's obvious that Smith wanted to make an action movie with his son, pitched this story and got the film made. And when you're as rich and powerful as Will Smith all of this is possible (he even made sure that Jaden got top billing - that's a supportive father!) But, in the end, it all comes down to the finished product.
It was cute to see the two of them together in "The Pursuit of Happyness". Here is feels more like a bad family movie project.
The other person who needs to get credit for this mess (and I can't believe I've waited this long to bring him up) is director M. Night Shaymalan. Since become an over-night sensation with 1999's "The Sixth Sense", Shaymalan has been involved in nothing but disasters, including 2010's Razzie winner for Worst Picture, "The Last Airbender". Because of this, "After Earth" isn't even being promoted as a Shaymalan film (he also helped write the script). But it's impossible to hide him from the film. The weak story-telling, uninspired action scenes that lack any suspense or drama, shallow characters and flat dialogue have all become his trademark. And the special effects in "After Earth" are completely unimpressive. Thankfully this movie is not as painful to watch as "Airbender", but pretty close.
"After Earth" is rated PG-13 for the sci-fi action/violence and some disturbing images. It's appropriate for kids 12 and up. I try avoid using the word "boring" when describing a movie, especially a sci-fi action adventure. But, unfortunately, it fits perfectly here.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, "After Earth" gets a D+.