Get your magic beans ready to fight hunger, prevent nuclear war, cast out the devil, and become knee-walking drunk.
The Usual Suspects duo of director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie re-team with Jack the Giant Slayer, an interesting take on the beanstalk legend. The film stars Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy; Warm Bodies) as the young farmhand who, in this telling, kickstarts a long-dormant war between humankind and giants. Ewan McGregor co-stars as a knight, with Ian McShane as the king, Eleanor Tomlinson (Alice in Wonderland) as the princess, and Stanley Tucci as comic relief. The trailer looks damn corny, especially Hoult’s “I’m Jack!,” but Singer’s involvement gives the film more appeal than it perhaps deserves. Budgeted at $170 million, Jack seems destined to lose money, especially with Oz the Great and Powerful a mere week away. Will it deserve such a fate? I’ll find out Friday morning.
In the tradition of Food, Inc. comes another insightful documentary on eating, A Place at the Table. Featuring the encouragement of Jeff Bridges and a Michelle Obama appearance, the film looks at hunger in the the U.S. and the various actions being undertaken to combat the issue. Socially conscious documentaries play directly to my values, so the film is an easy sell for me and many in Asheville as well. That doesn’t mean I expect it to last longer than a week at the Carolina, but it could happen. Look for my review on Friday.
A decade ago, submarine movies were having a moment. Since U-571 and K-19: The Widowmaker, however, the genre has been in a bit of a lull. Phantom looks to inspire another revival through its story of a Soviet captain (Ed Harris) whose nuclear sub is overtaken by a rogue KGB faction led by David Duchovny’s Bruni. Inspired by true events (a label that didn’t work out too well for Snitch), the film also stars ubiquitous character actors William Fitchner and Lance Henriksen. Writer/director Todd Robinson previously shepherded John Travolta and James Gandolfini in the ’40s crime thriller Lonely Hearts, which I haven’t seen but looked interesting. His follow-up could be a lot of fun, or it might be a big dirty commie mess.
The week’s requisite horror film, The Last Exorcism Part II joins the Final Destination sequels atop the list of awkward titles. Ed Gass-Donnelly’s film abandons the faux-documentary angle of the 2010 original for more traditional means, but brings back Ashley Bell as the tormented Nell. The latest chapter finds her attempting to rebuild her life after being loosed from demonic possession and not having much success. As usual, the PG-13 rating is an immediate red flag, raising concerns as to just how scary the film is allowed. My guess is not that much, but I’d love to be surprised.
The big two-one of Jeff Chang (Justin Chon, The Twilight Saga) is the focus of 21 & Over, a raunchy comedy from the writers of The Hangover. Drunk beyond belief, Jeff Chang (spoken in the trailer like a double name) is guided from one booze-and-boob-filled party to the next by his friends Miller (Miles Teller, Rabbit Hole) and Casey (Skyler Astin, Pitch Perfect). My sources inform me that there is still an audience for this kind of movie, but not personally knowing anyone who goes to see them, I remain skeptical.
Fleeing the Scene
The real question is, “What’s hanging around?” Zero Dark Thirty, the 2013 Oscar Nominated Short Films, Warm Bodies, Beautiful Creatures, and Escape from Planet Earth are all outta here, leaving Amour and Silver Linings Playbook as the last Oscar winners standing.
The Master and Holy Motors, two of 2012’s best films, go from confusing audiences in theaters to doing so in living rooms. Also highly recommended is Chicken With Plums, from the makers of Persepolis, and the Oscar-nominated documentary How to Survive a Plague, a well-made and inspiring yet almost impenetrably insiderish look at the efforts to combat the AIDS epidemic.
Somewhat less appealing is the dialogue-light The Loneliest Planet, a beautifully-shot film with a poetic first half and a super boring second. There’s also the Gerard Butler inspirational surfing movie Chasing Mavericks, for which I have yet to receive my vaccinations.
On Netflix Instant
Many excellent new additions this week, beginning with top-notch documentaries The Imposter and Side By Side. Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary, Undefeated, is also available, as is the Coldplay Live 2012 concert film and ESPN’s look at Michigan’s Fab Five basketball team. On the narrative side is the pleasant indie comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, the John Krasinski/Olivia Thrilby rom-com Nobody Walks, and the gritty coming-of-age drama Hick, starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Blake Lively, and Alec Baldwin.
Friday, March 1 marks the monthly deluge of not new but still appealing titles. Among these are the wonderful Amelie; a double dose of Craig Brewer with Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan (joining the Footloose remake); the immortal Ghost Dad (which, sure to be a trivia question, was directed by Sidney Poitier); plus my and probably Michael Douglas’ introduction to Catherine Zeta-Jones, The Mask of Zorro. Friday also offers me yet another chance to finally see Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, a film for which I own the soundtrack and ate many gorditas with the Taco Bell chihuahua thinking I would see the movie, but never actually did.