Some weird casting choices aside, Baz Luhrmann's great American telenovela is surprisingly faithful to the Cliff Notes of its source material, coming across like a deeply earnest gazillion-dollar high school musical. It ain't Shakespeare but it ain't Showgirls either. Grade: B-
Star Trek's cinematic potential has always resided in its capacity for exploration and wonder, but the movies have frequently lacked the production values and manpower to sustain those goals. It's an emerging pity, then, that while the franchise has finally been invested with a generous budget it's also been entrusted to a man with a vocal and oft-repeated disinterest in its core values. Instead of exploration and wonder we have exposition and hormones, and a series of token references to various pre-reboot milestones that are as perfunctory as they are unearned. Grade: B-
Shane Black cynically sidesteps that whole Avengers thing with a stripped-down standalone Tony Stark episode that builds to a pretty vigorous climax. Grade: B
I have to hand it to director Joseph Kosinski: the science fiction forbears he cribs from are impeccable, and his synthesis thereof, while not unfamiliar, is executed with tremendous visual flair and an unblinking storytelling clarity that's increasingly rare for alien-invasion movies. This is sturdy, handsome, gratifying event filmmaking. Grade: B+
In terms of drug-inflected depictions of Florida as a mystical trash-hole, Magic Mike spoke to me more than Spring Breakers did, but I will say this for the latter: There's probably very little disconnect between the movie Harmony Korine thought he was making and the movie he actually made. That, too, is a skill. (Uh, so does this mean I have to watch Michael Bay's Pain & Gain in order to complete the Sunshine State trifecta?) Grade: B
In many respects, Semple's first novel reads like a rough draft of her second and more celebrated one, right down to the cardinal pairing of a drifting, privileged wife and a saintly, successful husband. The author's television-background flair for dialog is evident here, although the narrative is more haphazard and her characterizations not as generous. The casual mingling of real brands and imagined events that energized Bernadette feels forced and guidebookish here. ("Violet arrived at Kate Mantilini before one so she could score a booth. The busboy brought some of their fabulous sourdough bread.") There is also a curious preponderance of Los Angeles street names that recalls Saturday Night Live's Southland satire, "The Californians." Where the novel succeeds, it overdelivers, but where it falters, it's a slog.
While Sam Raimi brings marginally more conviction to Disney's latest force-majeure retelling of a fantasy classic than Tim Burton brought to Alice in Wonderland, the net result is still an overstuffed production that frequently strands its actors, dazed and dispirited, in an Oz that's more green-screen than emerald. Grade: C
A bracingly nasty, vintage-Verhoeven–nasty, Basic Instinct–nasty little thriller. Grade: B+
Artist: Benjamin Gibbard. Album: Former Lives.
Artist: White Sea. Album: Girls, Vol. 1 (Music From the HBO® Original Series).
Artist: The Words. Album: Demons (Single) – Single.
The prose is frequently duller than I would expect from Eggers, although it contains some beautiful fragments. The characters are equally listless. The story is a fitful mingling of The Sheltering Sky and Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe novels, lacking the former's cold clarity and the latter's vitality. The three hundred–odd pages lurch by.
In its gentle, lyrical first act, Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's magic-realist fable recalls one of Alfonso Cuarón's family movies: generous, full of invention, keenly aware of the impact visual stimulation can have on young minds. Once the Castaway-esque second act kicks in, the visuals continue to boast some of the finest, most carefully composed 3D I've ever seen, but the rigors of survival slowly sap the vitality of the fantasy. Grade: B+
Artist: Anthony Hamilton & Elayna Boynton. Album: Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack).
Artist: Vitalic. Album: Flashmob.
When Quentin Tarantino is dead set on entertaining the fuck out of you, it's hard not to be entertained the fuck out of. Grade: B+
Robin Sloan combines the relaxed technological fellowship of Douglas Coupland's Microserfs with the deceptively low-key topicality of William Gibson's Pattern Recognition. There's an ingratiating sliver of Joshua Ferris in there too, near the end.
Affable, eventful and cynical in that polarizing, You Know, For Kids!™ Stars Wars–prequel way, albeit executed with considerably more affection for the underlying material. I didn't mind it. Grade: B
Kathryn Bigelow delivers a steely, self-assured technothriller that oozes prestige but never quite achieves the brutal visual poetry of a Black Hawk Down, the sweeping social consciousness of a Syriana or even the buttered-popcorn pleasures of a Clear and Present Danger. Grade: B+
Artist: Wolf Rider. Album: For You – Single.
Artist: Lena. Album: Stardust.
I'm not familiar with the eponymous musical; however, I am familiar with Tom Hooper's films. I'm inclined to attribute this film's shortcomings to the musical and its strengths to the filmmaker. Grade: B-
Artist: The Hundred In the Hands. Album: Red Night.
If Roland Emmerich's disaster epics are self-parodies, then Karen Thompson Walker's end-of-the-world coming-of-age saga may be read as a full-circle parody of those parodies: an earnest, human-scale downsampling of global catastrophe. In chronicling the ordinary dangers of adolescence amidst supernatural upheaval, the novel shares some DNA with Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (albeit sparing its heroine the latter's sexual violence). Walker's fondness for simile and lyrical cataclysm also recalls Kevin Brockmeier's The Brief History of the Dead. The end result is a decent stab at science fiction wrapped in a pretty good sketch of teenage girlhood.
Artist: JJAMZ. Album: Heartbeat – Single.