Welcome to NICKPICKSFLICKS. I am your host for the evening, America's sweetheart, Nick Spake.
DVD Picks of the Week
5 Stars= Totally Rocks
3 Stars= Rad
2 Stars= Bad
1 Star= Terrible
Zero= Total shit
Just Reviewed Man of Steel-June 14h
Just Reviewed This is the End-June 12th
Just Reviewed The Kings of Summer-June 7th
Just Reviewed After Earth-May 31st
Just Reviewed The Hangover: Part III and Epic-May 24th
Still funnier than Richard Pryor in Superman III ***1/2
There’s no denying that Richard Donner set the bar for the Superman franchise with his 1978 film. The icy landscapes of Planet Krypton, John Williams’ vigorous musical score, Christopher Reeve’s iconic performance, every aspect of Donner’s movie remains definitive. Since then, most interpretations of Superman have either drawn inspiration from or paid homage to the original classic. One has to give Director Zack Snyder and Producer Christopher Nolan credit for taking “Man of Steel” in the complete opposite direction. Where Donner’s “Superman” was light, funny, and colorful, “Man of Steel” is dark, serious, and brooding. The film presents a vision of Superman that’s new and bold with a satisfying payoff.
There have been countless renditions of how Clark Kent became Superman. “Smallville” even managed to stretch the story out for ten seasons. Although Screenwriter David S. Goyer revisits many familiar plot points from Superman’s origin tale, he also manages to structure the narrative in a refreshing, nonlinear light. Occasionally it feels like you’re hearing this story for the first time, which is no easy feat.
The real appeal of “Man of Steel” is its performers, particularly Henry Cavill as Superman himself. Cavill isn’t as cheerful or humorous as Reeve, but he does capture the turmoil of being an alien lost in a world of humans. Superman is often depicted as such a flawless character that people forget he’s capable of being confused, lonely, and morally conflicted. “Man of Steel” is truly a human story about the need to belong and finding your place in the world, or universe. In that sense, this interpretation of Superman is very different, but also very true to the character’s emotional core. Plus, he no longer has the dorky red underwear over his pants.
After over thirty years of feeling alone, Clark Kent finally meets a fellow Kryptonian named General Zod, played by Michael Shannon. In search of a new planet, Zod and his exiled followers plan to wipe out earth and build a new Krypton. This is a much more complex version of Zod, who was previously portrayed by Terence Stamp. Where that Zod primarily wanted to seize control, Shannon actually gives the character a fair deal of depth and an understandable motive. We sympathize with this guy who desperately wants to preserve his species and their legacy. But it’s his methods of achieving his goal that establish him as a villain.
Since the performances and characters are so strong, one would expect a heated rivalry between Superman and Zod. Unfortunately, most of their scenes just consist of physical violence with little tension. Where that dynamic is a bit of a disappointment, “Man of Steel” more than makes up for it with the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane.
Amy Adams is perfection as the plucky reporter with a knack for getting into trouble. Although “Man of Steel” stays true to the nature of Lois, the character is something much more here. She’s not just the love interest or the damsel in distress. She’s someone willing to put herself in the line of danger for others and Superman’s link to the human world. This movie takes more chances with the Lois and Clark relationship than any other incarnation, resulting in a romance and friendship that’s surprisingly believable. It’s one of the first times we see why Superman needs somebody like Lois in his corner.
In addition to the three leads, Kevin Costner and Diane Lane provide much of the movie’s heart as the Kent’s. Russell Crowe is a powerful figure as Clark’s biological father, Jor-El, who acts as a guardian angel to his son even beyond the grave. Laurence Fishburne creates a unique Perry White, who gets to be at the center of the action for a change. For all its superb performances and character moments, “Man of Steel” should be right up there with the best “Superman” movies. There are some issues, though, that hold it back from achieving greatness.
Snyder has made some stupid, but fun, movies like “300” and some flat-out stupid movies like “Sucker Punch.” “Man of Steel” may be Snyder’s best directorial effort, but he still succumbs to some of his more annoying habits. The camera is constantly shaking and the editing is so fast that it makes it hard to appreciate the jaw-dropping special effects. On top of all that, the cinematography is relentlessly cloudy, often making the entire picture look like a flashback. These reoccurring grievances aren’t enough to ruin the experience, but they do prevent “Man of Steel” from ranking alongside Donner’s film or the equally outstanding “Superman II.” The movie could have been stronger had Nolan stepped into the director’s chair. As it is, however, “Man of Steel” is an exciting and thoughtful reboot with potential to inspire a promising new series.
My only friend, the end ****
There’s one question that “Independence Day,” “2012,” “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Cloverfield,” “The Core,” “War of the Worlds,” and other disaster movies never acknowledge: Where are the celebrities during all this mayhem? Aside from Bill Murray’s hilarious cameo in “Zombieland,” we never get to see what the rich and fabulous are up to during the apocalypse. There aren’t any scientists, soldiers, politicians or everyday people in “This Is the End.” James Franco and friends are the film’s focus as they try to survive the end of the world and each other.
Seth Rogen plays Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel plays Jay Baruchel. They’ve been friends since childhood, although Baruchel has been feeling some animosity towards the more successful Rogen as of late. The film starts off as a typical stoner comedy with the two going to a party at Franco’s new pad. Then suddenly, and I do mean suddenly, all hell literally breaks loose. The good are beamed up to heaven while the wicked are left behind to burn. Rogen and Baruchel seek refuge in Franco’s house along with Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride.
Last year we got “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” an apocalypse movie that was equal parts comedy and drama. “This Is the End” is a full out comedy and it certainly delivers the laughs despite its grim subject matter. A lot of this humor is derived from how all these real life actors are willing to poke fun at their egos. Franco is naturally the self-appointed leader of the group, Hill is the conceited narcissist, Baruchel is the modest outsider, and McBride is the selfish SOB nobody can stand. While they’re playing exaggerated variations of themselves, you never doubt them for a second in these roles.
Along with the six leads, there are several classic brief bits involving Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd, and a totally whacked out Michael Cera. Not every bit in the movie hits it out of the part. There’s one scene involving Emma Watson that starts off with promise, but ultimately works up to an uninspired conclusion. On occasion the film runs the risk of becoming an extravagant special effects picture with CGI demon penises flying at the screen. For the most part, however, “This Is the End” is more about jokes and interactions. On that basis, the chemistry between these incredibly funny guys is always dead on.
“This is the End” marks the directorial debut of Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who previously wrote “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” together. In many respects, their film is much like “Tropic Thunder,” only with real actors as apposed to fictional ones. This makes for some great inside jokes and references, most notably when Rogen is called out for botching “The Green Hornet.” They even manage to work in a clip from the “Pineapple Express” sequel we’ll never see. The funniest bit of all has got to be the ending. I won’t spoil it for you here, but lets just say it blows Destiny’s Child’s surprise Super Bowl appearance out of the water.
With exception to some missed opportunities and overblown CGI, “This is the End” is one of the funniest movies of the summer and another winning collaboration between this filmmaking team. Let’s hope the world doesn’t really come to an end any time soon. If the end is near, though, wouldn’t it fun to spend it with some of the funniest men on the planet?
Building a rocket, or fighting a mummy, or climbing up the Eiffle Tower, discovering something that doesn't exist, or giving a monkey a shower ****1/2
Whether you had parents that were distant or parents that were overbearing, we all likely dreamed about running away from home while growing up. These unrealistic fantasies likely involved hitting the road with one or two good friends and building a safe haven somewhere in the wildness. Naturally, we all quickly woke up from this daydream, realizing that we’d never make it on our own. “The Kings of Summer” exists in an offbeat world fueled by our youthful daydreams. The end product is funny and quirky, but also wise and nostalgic with something meaningful to say about coming of age.
Nick Robinson gives a breakthrough performance as Joe, a young man who is having trouble seeing eye to eye with his controlling father, perfectly played by the stone-faced Nick Offerman. Joe’s best friend is Patrick, played by Gabriel Basso, a wrestler with a walking brace. Patrick is equally fed up with his corny, annoying parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evans Jackson). The two buds decide to leave society behind and build a house in the woods using whatever material they can find. Also tagging along is a pipsqueak classmate named Biaggio, played by Moises Arias, who wields a sword and leaves the tags on his pants. He’s a bit like if Dwight Schrute from “The Office” and Abed from “Community” had a son together somehow.
While “The Kings of Summer” might not be the most practical film, none of it ever feels false. That’s probably because the rapport between Robinson, Basso, and Arias is so genuine. We identify with each of these characters and understand their desire to get away from it all. The fact that they succeed in making a perennial daydream a reality only adds to their appeal. Of course once they get out into the woods, matters don’t entirely go according to plan. At first it’s a ton of fun, being on their own. As time goes by, though, the friends face betrayal, confrontation, and learn what it truly means to grow up.
The supporting cast is great too. Eric Moriarty stands out as Kelly, the girl Joe would like to be more than just friends with, and Allison Brie is wonderful as always as Joe’s supportive older sister. The parents easily could have been restricted to one-note, but that never becomes the case. They’re all hilarious and likable in their own ways, even Joe’s sourpuss dad. Although they aren’t the best parents in the world, they’re certainly believable ones.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and first-time screenwriter Chris Galletta have made a winner. Their film is a splendid cross between “Stand by Me” and “Moonrise Kingdom” with maybe a little “Phineas and Ferb” in there. What they nail above all else is the magic of summer. Although we all like to dream about having grand summer adventures, we usually spend a majority of this period cooped up in a house. But our best summer memories are the ones that take place outside, exploring the woods, swimming, camping, hanging with friends, and finding love. “The Kings of Summer” flawlessly depicts this enchanting sentiment.
Fear is a choice...um, no, that's stupid.**
Most of the ads for “After Earth” have neglected to mention that M. Night
Shyamalan co-wrote and directed the film. Movie studios finally seem to be realizing that having Shyamalan’s name plastered above the title will no longer sell tickets. If anything, it will have audiences fleeing from the theater in revulsion. Whenever it looks like Shyamalan can’t embarrass himself any further, he always comes out with a new film that’s even more atrocious than the last. At least with his previous debacle, “The Last Airbender,” Shyamalan hit ground zero. There’s no way he could possible make a film even more poorly written, effortlessly acted, and bleakly directed, right?
“After Earth” thankfully isn’t as unbearable as “The Last Airbender,” “The Village,” “The Happening,” or “Lady in the Water.” So is having your arms and legs amputated and head decapitated. Even with some nice visuals and an intriguing premise, the film still suffers from many of Shyamalan’s infamous reoccurring blunders. Hilarious moments that are intended to be serious, totally forced, unnecessary flashbacks, whiny younger characters, and a weak twist ending. For all those that love to rip on Shyamalan, don’t worry, there’s plenty of material to work with here.
The film takes place 1,000 years in the future. Earth has been abandoned due to a severe case of who gives a crap. Will Smith, who also came up with the story for “After Earth,” is General Cypher Raige. He’s a stern, no nonsense member of the Ranger Corps, a peacekeeping organization that travels the galaxy. To describe Smith’s character as stern may be misleading, though. This guy is so emotionless, passionless, and one-note that he could be an android. That’s not a criticism of Smith, who has great range as an actor. The real fault lies in how lamely Smith’s character is written and directed. Not even the most charismatic man alive could make him interesting.
Will Smith is really only a supporting player anyways. The true star is Smith’s real life son, Jaden Smith. He plays Raige’s teenage boy, Kitai, who wants to be a ranger like his papa. Regrettably, Kitai isn’t the most physically gifted soldier. The exposition is so rushed, however, that we never even see Kitai struggling during training. To grow closer to his son, Cypher decides to bring Kitai along on a mission. Matters go haywire, however, when their ship crash-lands on the abandoned earth. Both of Cypher’s legs are broken, leaving it up to Kitai to travel across the terrain to find a distress beacon.
Jaden Smith has proven himself to be a capable young actor. He was great alongside his dad in “The Pursuit of Happyness” several years ago. Unfortunately, the only notes he’s given to work with here are distressed, irritable, and annoying. The whole father son dynamic between Jaden and Will feels so hollow and unnatural, which is a real feat seeing how they’re actually related. “After Earth” could have been a thrilling and colorful adventure about a parent and child coming together. But Shyamalan’s vision is too drab, too serious, too predicable, and too boring keep anyone invested.
To give Shyamalan credit, “After Earth” is a nice looking movie. His visual style has improved since “The Last Airbender,” which was so darkly shot you could rarely tell what was going on. On occasion we get a nicely written moment between Will and Jaden. That’s probably thanks to the film’s other writer, Gary Whitta, who wrote “The Book of Eli” and the forth episode of “The Walking Dead: The Game.”
The problem with “After Earth” is that Shyamalan is simply out of his element. He’s not a science fiction/action adventure director. With his best film, “The Sixth Sense,” he established that he’s best at subtly creating suspense and physiological fear. That’s the complete opposite of a special effects extravaganza like “After Earth.” Why would Shyamalan even take on this kind of material? Maybe he received so much criticism for “The Happening” that he wanted to do a 180. All that’s for certain is that Shyamalan is going through an identity crisis and needs an intervention. If he ever wants to get back on track, he needs to recognize his mistakes, go back to the drawing board, and rediscover his voice.
The wolfpack strikes back ***1/2
The first “Hangover” had an original setup, one great laugh after another, and was liked by pretty much everyone. “The Hangover Part II” was a carbon copy of the original, had about three laugh-out-loud moments, and was hated by pretty much everyone. Even if you’re in the minority that actually liked “Hangover II,” there’s no way anyone could possibly think it was better than the original. So how does “The Hangover Part III” fare compared to its predecessors? Is it as funny as the first film or is it as redundant as the second? It’s somewhere in the middle. The wolfpack’s final curtain never quite reaches the heights of the original comedic masterwork, but for some truly hilarious moments, you’ll be glad you saw it.
Zach Galifianakis carries much of the film as Alan, who has hit rock bottom. He’s gone off his medication, lost his father, and gained national attention for accidentally decapitating a giraffe. His family and friends are convinced that he needs to be in a rehabilitation facility. Alan agrees to go as long as Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms), and Doug (Justin Bartha) accompany him. Since this is the wolfpack, though, things don’t exactly go according to plan. They’re taken hostage by a gangster named Marshall, played by John Goodman, who is looking for Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow. Marshall gives the wolf pack three days to track Chow down or else Doug is going to get the ax.
After the second film did so well at the box office despite it’s lazy nature, Director Todd Phillips easily could have swindle his audience again with a rehashed plot. Luckily, he listened to the complaints of his fans and strived to breathe new life into this franchise. Along with co-screenwriter Craig Mazin, Phillips constructs a fresh story that leads to many unexpected surprises and laughs. The screenplay additionally thinks of clever ways to tie in events from the first two pictures and bring everything full circle. Granted, the characters never actually have a hangover in “Hangover III,” but who really cares?
For everything that works in “Hangover III,” however, there are some aspects that fall flat. John Goodman’s character is mostly humorless and feels better suited for a Martin Scorsese crime drama. The same can said be about the bad guys in “Identity Thief,” another film Mazin wrote. “Hangover III” brings back some fan favorites from the first film, like Heather Graham’s escort with a heart of gold, but she’s sadly underutilized. Cooper and Helms, meanwhile, often get lost in the shuffle while Galifianakis and Jeong steel the show. The final act in particular leaves you expecting a bombastic showdown of epic proportions. Instead, we get a pretty weak, disappointing anticlimax.
Despite its shortcomings, “The Hangover Part III” will leave its audience wondering what’s going to happen from beginning to end. Although there are some moments that go too far and other moments that don’t go far enough, there are still a lot of comedic setups that hit bullseyes. The hysterical final scene alone is well worth the price of admission. This is a flawed, but ultimately fitting, conclusion to the wolfpack saga with just enough new ideas and laughs. Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line we’ll get a spinoff featuring Alan and Melissa McCarthy as a pawnshop owner he romances here. Now that’s a recipe for comedic gold.
Colin Farrell, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, and Beyonce, together at last ***
If you grew up in the early nineties, you probably remember an animated feature from 20th Century Fox called “FernGully: The Last Rainforest.” It was the environmentally conscious movie every 90s kid saw, and yet, nobody really liked. The film’s intentions might have been good, but even the youngest children seemed to find its blatant green message overly preachy. The fact that “FernGully” was lacking in any interesting characters or magic didn’t help. “Epic,” which was also coincidentally distributed by Fox, is a bit like “FernGully” if it had smarter, more imaginative filmmakers backing it. While it’s not a massive improvement, “Epic” is at least fun, energized, and subtle with its environmental themes.
Jason Sudeikis gives an unrecognizable voiceover performance as an absent-minded professor named Bomba. Convinced that an advanced society of little people is living in the forest near his house, Bomba spends almost every hour checking the security cameras he’s rigged outside. Everybody thinks that the doc is completely bonkers, including Mary Katherine, his teenage daughter voiced by Amanda Seyfried. It turns out there are in fact tiny people inhabiting the forest known as Leafmen. Their leader is a noble warrior named Ronin (Colin Farrell), who is sworn to protect the forest from the evil Boggans, creepy-crawly bug-like creatures. Mary Katherine is shrunk down to the size of a pushpin and gets caught up in the war between the feuding little societies. It’s up to her to protect a flower that will either bring green back to the forest or destroy it upon blooming.
On her journey, Mary Katherine encounters an overly confident Leafmen warrior named Nod (Josh Hutcherson), who naturally acts as the love interest. Seyfried and Hutcherson have a nice chemistry, creating spunky, perfectly likable leads. The screenplay additionally takes the time to give them weight and develop a compelling romance. If there’s one qualm with these characters, it’s that they’re noticeably modeled after the leads from “Tangled.” Nod is the spitting image of Flynn Rider while Mary Katherine looks an awful lot like Rapunzel minus the golden locks of hair. That doesn’t make the characters bad, but it does feel kind of lazy on the animator’s behalf.
The supporting comedic relief is cute enough with Aziz Ansari as a slug, Chris O’Dowd as a snail, and Steven Tyler as a larger than life caterpillar. Beyonce Knowles does a respectable job as Tara, the wise ruler of the forest who is refreshingly a queen as apposed to a princess. The only character that’s kind of disappointing is Mandrake, the Boggan leader voiced by Christoph Waltz. Anyone that saw “Inglourious Basterds” knows that Waltz can play a great villain. Although he does his best here, Waltz isn’t given a ton to work with. Mandrake just isn’t very complex, humorous, or even menacing. To be fair, though, at least the bad guys in “Epic” aren’t humans that run an evil corporation.
From “Captain Planet” to “Avatar,” almost every environmental entertainment singles out the silly humans as one-dimensional villains. “Epic,” however, is courteous enough to leave human greed and corruption out of the equation. The whole environmental message is actually pretty tamed compared to other movies. At its heart, “Epic” is an action adventure that will make kids appreciate the earth without shoving morals down their throats.
While the little big universe of “Epic” isn’t up their with “The Secret World of Arrietty,” it is certainly a detailed and lively one. The aerial sequences are particularly exhilarating as the Leafmen soar over the trees via hummingbirds. Much of this can be attributed to the keen direction of Chris Wedge, who made the first “Ice Age.” Wedge and his team have produced a film with solid characters, a solid story, and solid animation. “Epic” is just an all around solid film. That’s more than can be said about most environmental pictures that are targeted at kids or adults.
To boldly blow up what no man has blown up before ****1/2
On paper, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” is one of those movies that should have crashed and burned. A reboot of a beloved franchise with younger, lesser-known actors stepping into the shoes of an iconic cast of characters. The fact that Abrams went on record stating that he was never a huge “Star Trek” fan didn’t bode well either. Against all odds, though, Abrams not only produced a great “Star Trek” picture, but quite possibly the best “Star Trek” ever made. That’s right, even better than “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.”
Of course that’s a personal preference. A fair deal of Trekkies, or Trekkers to be politically correct, might argue that Abrams’ film betrayed the essence of the original “Star Trek” series. The film’s epic action sequences felt more like something you’d see in a “Star Wars” movie than in a “Star Trek” movie. Regardless, it’s hard to complain when the action set pieces were some of the most dazzling and intense of modern blockbusters. Plus, it’s not just the colorful eye candy that made Abrams’ “Star Trek” so outstanding, but also the rich collection of ideas, characters, and philosophies. Isn’t that what “Star Trek” has always been about? Just about everything that made Abrams’ film great is on display in it’s follow-up, “Star Trek: Into Darkness.”
Chris Pine continues to do an ideal job as James T. Kirk, who has learned much as captain of the USS Enterprise. The only thing Kirk has yet to learn is how to handle defeat. It doesn’t help that Zachary Quinto’s always-logical Mr. Spock undermines Kirk’s reckless tactics around every corner. Kirk and Spock are forced to put their differences aside when Benedict Cumberbatch’s John Harrison, a Starfleet agent gone bad, bombs a branch of the United Federation of Planets. It’s up to Kirk’s crew to track Harrison down and boldly blow stuff up in the process.
Like William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy before them, Pine and Quinto share a heartfelt, funny, and intriguing dynamic that’s equal parts friendship and rivalry. Quinto in particular does a first-rate job at giving a lot of depth to a character that at times appears completely emotionless. Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin meanwhile persist to shine as the supporting characters we all know and love. There is a dull romance subplot and a couple news characters that are somewhat underdeveloped. “Star Trek: Into Darkness” more than makes for those minor shortcomings, however, with its villain. Cumberbatch is perfectly menacing and complex as John Harrison, who will play a key role in the destiny of our heroes. For all those that haven’t already read the spoilers online, I won’t ruin the big twist regarding this character. Lets just say he’s not an actor posing as a terrorist ala “Iron Man 3.”
Once again, Abrams has done for “Star Trek” what Christopher Nolan did for Batman and what various directors have done for James Bond in recent years. Creating a reboot that’s true to a franchise’s roots and presenting it in a fresh light. The chemistry between the actors is unparallel, the story is inventive, the stakes are high, the in-jokes will appeal to die-hard fans, and the action sets the standard for this summer movie season. If you loved Abrams’ first “Star Trek,” you’re going to love this one too. If you have issues with the direction Abrams has taken this franchise, then there’s an Internet forum for you to complain on.
On the heels of his success with “Star Trek,” Abrams is now set to direct “Star Wars: Episode VII.” If Abrams’ new “Star Wars” is half as good as these two “Star Trek” pictures, it will more than make up for George Lucas’ prequel trilogy. Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line Disney will acquire the rights to “Star Trek” and Abrams will get to direct the ultimate fanboy crossover.