Screened Out – Deadpool

By : Stephen Miller
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Ryan Reynolds, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller, Leslie Uggams

We knew we were in for something twisted. In early promos last year, Deadpool said, “Crime’s the disease; meet the cure! Okay, maybe not the cure, but more like a topical ointment to reduce the swelling and itch.”

The film Deadpool delivers! (I’ll even use the rare exclamation point.) It’s likely to fill current addicts to the brim with sick, bubbly joy, as it adds a few more adherents. This gory, action-packed flick punches home the perversion – clearly a niche missing from the current pantheon of noble comic book films.

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Screened Out – Rock the Kasbah

By : Stephen Miller
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Bill Murray, Zooey Deschanel, Bruce Willis, Kate Hudson, Leem Lubany, Scott Caan, Danny McBride

There are several charming bits in the comedy Rock the Kasbah. They pass like mere mirages, because there are no engrossing characters or riveting plot at the center. This is how lack of focus and pacing can suck a solid concept dry.

The combination should’ve been refreshing. Beloved Bill Murray leads a crew of solid comic actors in an intriguing setting – mostly in war-torn Afghanistan. The movie also touts a rock-n-roll sensibility, a rebellion that never comes to fruition.

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Screened Out – Blackhat

By : Stephen Miller
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Chris Hemsworth, Viola Davis, Lehom Wang, Wei Tang

At one point, director Michael Mann seemed unstoppable, with Thief, Heat, Collateral, and The Insider. Miami Vice and this film are doing major damage to his reputation, especially his ability to pick engaging projects. Blackhat is a paranoid techno-babble thriller – purposefully confusing and full of nonsense and dread – barely made better by Mann’s directing.

Some moments – like digital animation of a virus spreading through a computer system – are beyond cheesy. Plot points are ridiculous; if the cyber-terrorists’ overarching plan is correct, they’d never call attention to themselves by first blowing up a Chinese nuclear reactor.

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Screened Out – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

By : Stephen Miller
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Mickey Rourke, Josh Brolin, Eva Green, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Powers Booth

It was a dark and stormy night in Sin City – a night too much like the first time we wandered into this wicked, twisted cartoon town nine years ago.

This current chapter continues the nifty noir style of the first flick. Besides that, A Dame to Kill For doesn’t offer much reason to see it.

Some fans may appreciate even more film-noir and graphic novel violence-slash-visuals. Frame after frame is bold black and white – even animation – with lurid splashes of color. Mostly blood, some sex, but mostly blood. The characters are appealingly broad and cartoonish. The dialogue is of the scene-chewing variety: “She glides out of her coat like it was Christmas wrapping.” The gory story, however, is too scattershot. This little pic desperately cries for cleverness, cohesion.

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Screened Out: Manly Meh

By : Stephen Miller
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With On the Road, Jack Kerouac spun a novel of frenzied, rambling, bohemian brilliance. His story was a loosely fictional account of his friendship with sexy Neal Cassady, a charming, handsome, young ne’er-do-well.

SOOnTheRoadCassady led Kerouac on several cross-country trips in the late ’40s and early ’50s. Both men were aimless pioneers, explorers without new lands to conquer. Cassady wooed many a women (and a few men, including poet Allen Ginsberg), stole cars, did drugs and used his looks to get what he wanted.

At the same time, Kerouac was struggling to find a unique writing style. He typed this novel in long-form, jazz-infused sentences on a 120-foot, taped-together roll of paper. The groundbreaking product Kerouac created defined the Beats (a group he never wanted to belong to) and created generations of admirers who wanted to emulate those self-destructive travels.

This movie focuses on the relationships, but that’s at a great price – it mostly misses Kerouac’s mad genius.

The acting is pretty solid. Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) is fascinating as Dean Moriarty, the fictional version of Cassady. His swagger captures the conman perfectly. It’s easy to understand how so many fell under his sexual spell. Riley (Control) is less engaging as the fictional Kerouac, because his creativity is never given arc.

Such an unconventional book should’ve inspired unconventional filmmaking. By being too quiet, too small and too sensitive, the filmmakers missed the opportunity to render Kerouac’s world-changing language in movie form. | l |

SOGIJoeRetaliationWhat is it with spring and substandard action flicksIt’s as if, after Oscar season, everyone gives up Hollywood to the special effects people.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is like Jolt Cola for tweener boys. It’s brainless and bad for you, and only the most immature would find something enjoyable here. I cannot even recommend it after a breathtaking but pointless action sequence in the Himalayas, because it’s random, pandering and impossible.

If you care to, recall the first crappy film – through brain technology, an evil Cobra agent had taken over President Pryce. G.I. Joe soldiers Johnson and Tatum are unaware – spending hours playing video games, taking target practice, singing and bonding in scenes that feel like lead-ins to a gay porn flick. Then Tatum disappears. Johnson becomes the hero. Finally, Cobra wipes out a Joe station, and Johnson and a couple other survivors have to save the world.  And then Bruce Willis shows up.

This film has more tangents that a junior high geometry textbook.

Director Jon M. Chu has directed elaborate dance movies and Hong Kong actioners. This means maybe he doesn’t possess the ability to tell a coherent story arc with engaging characters. Sure, the source material is cheesy 80s cartoons and badly rendered comic books. If you’re going to spend millions of dollars to take us to the Himalayas and fly people around on ropes, however, first spend some of that money on a good, cohesive script. | l |

SOOlympusHasFallenOlympus Has Fallen…asleep. Apparently Bruce Willis wasn’t available for this caper that apes a Die Hard flick. It’s amazing how good some of the action is. It’s jaw-dropping that these respected actors signed on for this milquetoast plot with crappy, patriotic dialogue that would turn off even the most America-centric audience.Butler is a superhero secret service guy who’s demoted after a terrible accident. When President Eckhart and the White House are kidnapped by North Korean baddies,

Butler must step from behind his desk job to save America. Freeman, as leader of the Senate, becomes acting president, where he spouts inspiring, patriotic platitudes until freedom rings again.

The dialogue is so clunky it made me angry. The action, however, is watchable. Director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) seems to have a better sense this time of the special effects, but the great script and acting he once garnered from A-list actors has disappeared. Secretary of State Leo is a shame to the office (and this Oscar nominee is otherwise amazing in other films). Even Eckhart doesn’t seem fit for his presidential role, feeling more like a high schooler trying to perform older and more responsible.

Sure, it’s fun to watch cars blow up, the Washington Monument take a beating and portions of the White House explode. However, the story at the center is bland in that way that makes audiences disrespect America, or at least Hollywood. | l |


Screened Out: Meds, Magic and Mayhem, Oh My!

By : Stephen Miller
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“You have to stay until the end!” This is what friends say when a movie has odd plot twists. They also say it when the film is uneven or purposefully misleading.

The psychological thriller Side Effects may include these qualities, plus confusion, lethargy, suspense, violence, melodrama, double-crosses, and a whole list of other symptoms.

Mara is a onetime upper-class wife who is distraught over husband Tatum’s jail time for insider trading. After Tatum is released, Mara is so self-destructive that psychiatrist Law prescribes meds. As different drugs seem to destroy Mara’s consciousness and mental state, Law finds that Mara’s been seeing another doctor (Zeta-Jones) for years.

The docs try to help Mara as she becomes more despondent and dangerous, to herself and to others around her.The first scene tells us there is going to be bloodshed. So this is a mystery, but whether it’s about pharmacology business, Mara’s marriage, or something else entirely isn’t settled until very late in the film.

Director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, the Ocean’s films) is very skilled. He’s worked with most of these actors before. He’s announced this is his last cinematic full-length film. (He plans to retire at 50, after HBO shows his Liberace biopic.)

Is it good? Mostly, even with stumbles, tangents and misdirection – just think of it as a meandering melodrama. Is it worth seeing? Sure, just give your brain and the film the first hour to get used to each other. | l |

Perhaps I should be more lenient, because I enjoy elaborate chase scenes, 40-car pile-ups, and extraneous explosions as much as the next guy. However, the Die Hard franchise makes millions worldwide. They could’ve afforded a better script and director. This fifth installment replaces wit and sardonic humor with violence interrupted by fake “touching” moments. Yuck.

The plot: Bruce Willis goes to Russia to find his son. (Remember the wimpy kid from the third film?) Hunky progeny Courtney is embroiled in a scandal involving a Russian politician, an entrepreneur, and Chernobyl. What follows are chase scenes, wrecked cars, extensive weaponry, and things that go boom. That’s it.

The dialogue is horribly hackneyed. The action is often shot with handheld digital shaky enough to induce motion sickness. The plot makes massive leaps – apparently the CIA cares about uranium, and then they don’t. Fickle CIA!

I don’t know who deserves the most blame here. Director John Moore (Behind Enemy LinesMax Payne) simply has lousy taste in scripts. Also, his camera work is so wildly inconsistent, it feels like several films mashed together. Writer Skip Woods (WolverineHitman) can write action but is clueless about humans. Isn’t Willis’ iconic character supposed to be funny? I laughed twice. Willis is an executive producer here, and without him, there is no Die Hard film. He seems primarily concerned with getting a paycheck. Time to let this franchise die.

Two teens – a supernatural and a mortal – fall in love. No, it’s not Twilight (thankfully). It’s a witch (Englert) and a Southern charmer (Ehrenreich). At first, Beautiful Creatures doesn’t linger in languid love poetry, knowing the trick is to entertain audiences.

Witchy Englert is turning sweet sixteen, the time when all “casters”discover if they’re good or evil. She is also very powerful. Her transformation brings about the culmination of a 250-year curse born on a Civil War battlefield. Ehrenreich is the handsome, young man who beguiles her heart, and vice versa. Along for the magical carpet ride are some wicked and good family members (Irons and Thompson).

This is adapted from a teen novel, helmed by screenwriter/director Richard LaGravenese. He once was a legend (The Fisher KingThe Horse Whisperer). His wizardry with dialogue shows early on with Southern Gothic humor. The cast seems to have a blast.

Then there are the problems. The film quits being fun halfway through. Ehrenreich’s narration – so wonderful in the beginning – disappears altogether. What does hard-drinking, sexist poet Charles Bukowski have to do with any of this? The adults are humorless. Relationships – Âbetween the boy and his absent father, between the witch and her family – seem mere illusions.

I sat there thinking of a dozen small ways this brief entertainment could be better, tighter and more magical. After the sleight was performed, I thought, â┚¬Å”Nice trick, but I’m not entirely charmed.”