Wes Anderson has finally done it. He's gone and created his own country.
Zubrowka, the fictional town at the heart of 'The Grand Budapest Hotel,' is positioned on the farthest Eastern edge of Europe's great empire. It is a melange of stylistic flourishes and decorative signifiers from a make believe 20th Century - a memory of a memory, a fastidious, whimsical take on real horrors - a storybook samizdat that entices with madcap adventure then goes in for the kill with existential dread. It is an incredible place to visit.
There comes a time when we must stop kidding ourselves. These 'Hobbit' films – with 'The Desolation of Smaug' representing the shank of the trilogy – are not real movies. These are exploitation films for Tolkien nuts, for enthusiasts of the original 'Lord of the Rings' movies and for audiences so hungry for high fantasy they'll gobble up whatever is served to them and ask for seconds.
As someone who has sympathy, but not empathy, for those who have such proclivities, I can get why someone might come away liking this picture. But that is more of an involuntary reaction to exposure to certain elements, not the summation of a film. Listen, there's a grey-bearded wizard who warns in low tones about a place that sounds like “Doggledoor.” And there's someone referred to as “Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror.” I love that geekorama stuff more than most. It's hilarious, and I'll probably refer to my cat as “Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror” for the next week. But this movie doesn't cohere – there's no forward momentum, no character development, no story happening. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fibber.
Is it a Quantum Field Generator or a a Soul Forge? It's both, and that's why 'Thor: The Dark World,' like 'Thor' before it, is one of the best films that blends sci-fi and fantasy. Add the humor, star charisma and nods to the wider Marvel Movie Universe and you've got 120 minutes of straight-up nerdy glee. If dorky blood flows through your veins, you will love this movie.
With piracy drama 'Captain Phillips,' Paul Greengrass ('Bloody Sunday,' 'United 93') has defended his ground as the go-to man for tragic, reality-based pressure-cooker films. The dude really knows how to get your palms sweaty, even when you kinda-sorta know how things are going to end up. Note to self: don't take your cargo ship through the Somali Basin if you don't have to.
Greengrass is also the director of the best two 'Bourne' movies ('Supremacy' and 'Ultimatum') and just as Matt Damon glided through those films as the steely, mixed-martial killing machine, Tom Hanks' center-seat performance here is a master class in keeping it cool.
I loved 'Rango,' the last time Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski offered up a madcap spin on the Western. I basically enjoyed 'John Carter,' last year's Western-infused would-be space epic, which, not coincidentally, was the last time Walt Disney stock holders had to reach for a shaker of Tums.
However, 'The Lone Ranger,' this new spazzed-out Western from Depp, Verbinski and Disney, takes unusual and unlikely measures to ensure that audiences have a miserable time. There are momentary flashes of amusement, but it is jumbled, tone-deaf and uninteresting. If I wanted to be kind I'd call it dull and ephemeral, but there are long stretches that seem to strive to be annoying - almost anti-entertainment. The only thing 'The Lone Ranger' has going for it is a long life as to go-to description how not to make a blockbusters movie - this generation's 'Last Action Hero.'
With 'Star Trek Into Darkness,' Abrams' follow up to the 2009 'Star Trek' reboot (or continuation of the series, if you are Spock Prime) he has solidified his position as a master of propulsive, visceral filmmaking. Dude knows where to put the camera, when the music should swell, when the characters should zing each another or when they should project pathos to the cheap seats. The 'Star Wars' films are mostly gut and little brains and, unfortunately, that is what we have here. The movie still works as an exemplary thrill ride – I laughed, I cried, I cheered – but woe be to anyone who gets caught in a conversation afterwards trying to explain the overly complicated and, at times, silly plot. If you expect something a little sharper out of 'Star Trek' you may come away with some mixed emotions.
I stand before you, humbled, and tasked with explaining, in comprehensible terms, just what the heck 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' is all about. Attaining comprehensibility, however, is a chore the filmmakers didn't wrestle with, doubling-down on pure adrenaline and big movie star charisma. It's a risky move and sometimes it works. Sadly, this is not one of those cases.
While there are chuckles to be had (I mean, that Cobra Commander helmet is just too incredible to dismiss) there isn't enough whiz-bang in this film to fully deflect the utter lack of a story or absence of intriguing characters. It is, surprisingly, the lesser of the two 'G.I. Joe' films, with Stephen Sommers' 2009 'The Rise of Cobra' featuring much more team spirit, pep and fun.
Ed. note: What are the Top 20 Movies of 2012? We asked our film critic Jordan Hoffman (who previously put together a list of the Best Movies of the first half of the year) to compile a list of the Best of 2012 of all the many movies he saw this year.
Pop culture enthusiasts can be forgiven if they approach Peter Jackson's J.R.R. Tolkien prequel trilogy thinking about 'Star Wars.' Will this next (but previous!) chapter in one of Fandom's key franchises broaden the cinematic universe we love so much, or will this be another case where they should have let enough alone?
Well, as is so frequently the case in life, I can't give you such a black and white answer. For starters, we may not be able to fully analyze 'The Hobbit' until all three chapters are in. Nevertheless here we are and 'An Unexpected Journey' does, indeed, have a lot going for it. It is also saddled with tangents, jabberjaw scenes that never end and far too many beats whose sole function is to remind you how much you love the original 'Lord of the Rings' films.
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