From beginning to end, J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a rip-roaring crowd-pleaser that is just a couple of missteps away from being a popcorn classic. Even for non-Trekkies, here is a movie that makes a point to build an impressive array of characters, creating a rare big-budget movie that is both riveting and often hilarious, frequently at the same time.
Anyone at all familiar with director Baz Luhrmann and F. Scott Fitzgerald's heralded novel already know exactly what this version of "The Great Gatsby" is going to be. The parties are sumptuous and popping with color, the lifestyle of Gatsby is both seductive and intoxicating - often filled in by a modern day soundtrack that keeps the film forcefully upbeat.
What we know about "Iron Man 3" before we walk into the theater is that the explosions will be loud and frequent, the special effects omnipresent, and the Tony Stark one-liners fast and furious. What we don't know is whether or not there will be a story worth investing in, as every once in a while a superhero movie just falls off a cliff into a boringly bland mess of action clichés.
There have been some great movies about the floundering of dimwitted criminals - Michael Bay's "Pain & Gain" just isn't one of them. While it's considerably more entertaining and palatable than Bay's recent "Transformers" smash-ups, here we have another example of a runaway action fiasco that doesn't try to be anything other than loud, chaotic and pumped up.
Joseph Kosinski's "Oblivion" certainly isn't without ambition and visual imagination. But even with the director's fairly remarkable recreation of a post-apocalyptic Earth, "Oblivion" is also an overblown mess, a bipolar melodrama that borrows from too many of its predecessors.
There is doubtless a better movie to be made about Jackie Robinson than "42," one that delves a little deeper into the true nature of racism and doesn't sanitize elements of his story whenever possible. But even though "42" is hamstrung by a disappointing screenplay and a need to be PG-13, it still pulls it together for stretches that should inspire genuine reflection on Robinson's stunning feat.
Complete with dinosaurs that still hold up and a better story than you might remember, "Jurassic Park" stands 20 years after its initial release as another one of Steven Spielberg's masterful adventure films. Even if it's not the classic that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Jaws" are, Spielberg's dinosaur blockbuster is fun, terrifying and thoroughly engrossing.
No matter the glitz and chaos, or the state-of-the-art special effects that dominate the screen, sometimes an action figure just doesn't make much of a movie. Though a moderate improvement on the dreadful "Rise of Cobra," "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" is a movie with nowhere to go, an action exercise made with Michael Bay's enthusiasm for explosions but not many signs of intelligence.
Colorful and well-intentioned, "The Croods" is a fun little family adventure that proves a movie doesn't have to be sophisticated to be entertaining. It may not have nearly the depth of the best animated films of the day, but "The Croods" is light and richly imagined, making for an experience that should engage kids without boring adults to tears.
If "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" proves anything, it's that having two great comedians in your cast doesn't guarantee a great comedy. Everything seems to be in place for some screwball magic - the over-the-top costumes, the goofy Jim Carrey antics, the outrageous plot developments that have no bearing on reality.
Much like the title character, "Oz The Great and Powerful" is a flawed and limited movie that shows just enough flashes of brilliance to get away with it. We might roll our eyes at the by-the-book plot or chuckle at the cartoonish antics, but director Sam Raimi brings a whirlwind of colors and imagination that makes for an exciting visual experience.
The visual imagination of Bryan Singer's "Jack the Giant Slayer" is something to behold - an ingenious combination of special effects, slick camera work and vibrant colors that are befitting of the beloved fairytale. But no matter how realistic the man-eating giants, the almost complete lack of story development eventually limits "Jack" from being more than a bombardment of chaos.
We've definitely seen this one before: The square guy who has to descend into the criminal underground to seek out justice. It used to be Charles Bronson and Steven Seagal, but Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson slides into the role in "Snitch" with a surprisingly natural performance, providing the backbone for a fun little thriller that avoids most of the usual pratfalls.
The "Die Hard" series has never been noted for realism, but there used to be an actual connection to the physical world that helped us digest some of the silliest of antics. In the fifth entry, "A Good Day to Die Hard," we're treated to a mess of explosions, uninspired catch phrases and plot turns that are not only fairly predictable but laughable.
Just about everyone loves a good thriller - director Steven Soderbergh seemingly most of all. His latest film, "Side Effects," is a topsy-turvy tale of money and deceit, a cynical examination of the dark business behind the countless anti-depressive meds that flood our veins and airwaves.