“Jack the Giant Slayer” (Action/Adventure: 1 hour, 54 minutes)
Starring: Nicholas Hoult, Eleanor Tomlinson, Stanley Tucci, Ewan McGregor and Ian McShane
Director: Bryan Singer
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, some frightening images and brief language)
Movie Review: Jack (Hoult), a young farmhand, unknowingly creates a passage to the land of the giants after magical beans grow into a large beanstalk that reaches into the sky. This reignites a long battle between humans and giants. To save a kingdom and its Princess Isabelle (Tomlinson), who Jack fancies, Jack becomes a slayer of giants.
As entertainment, this is energetic. It is an adaptation of Jack and Beanstalk, the English folktale. The visual effects and action should be enough to keep any audience member charmed, yet its visual effects overpower and make characters flat.
Hoult is convincing as an actor. He always makes sure he fits his role uniquely and convincingly. His boyish charm works here.
Actors Tucci and McGregor are good, too. However, this action-adventure does not allow their roles to be the meaty material these fine actors could bring into play.
This exists mainly because they are overshadowed by overdone visual effects. The computer-generated imagery is too plentiful.
Still, Jack manages to be an adequate enough treat for those looking for light entertainment and easy-on-the-brain exploits. Singer (“X-Men,” 2000) has directed better, but “Slayer” is good enough to suffice in the interim.
Grade: B- (He should slay most audiences.)
“Quartet” (Drama/Comedy: 1 hour, 38 minutes)
Starring: Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins, Billy Connolly and Michael Gambon
Director: Dustin Hoffman
Rated: PG-13 (Strong language, crude humor and sexual innuendo and suggestive material)
Movie Review: While nothing powerful, Dustin Hoffman directs this film, his first, with gusto. It features several prominent people who are tenants at Beecham House, a place for retired musicians. Life at the retirement home is status quo until the arrival of Jean Horton (the legendary Dame Maggie Smith). She is a diva and the former wife of Reginald Paget (Courtenay), one of the residents. This disruption comes just as the Beecham House prepares for its annual Verdi Festival to celebrate Verdi’s birthday.
“Quartet” is good film. This exists mainly because of its seasoned cast.
Smith is phenomenal, no matter the role. She has been charming international audiences for decades. She deserves plenty of admiration for her turn here. She forever remains captivating.
Courtenay provides some of the film’s best dramatic moments. His scenes with Smith are fascinating.
Collins is energetically fantastic, and she plays a woman losing her memory superbly. Connolly and Gambon are pure humor. Connolly is especially endearing. He easily steals scenes as a promiscuous old man with plenty of jokes. The cast is the reason to watch this film. They play their roles with zeal. They are impressive. Hoffman directs them like a master craftsman.
“Quartet” is a neat independent film. It is equal parts drama and comedy. The drama is weaker because the story inserts comedy at random moments. The dramatic and comedic moments clash at times. This is the great fault of this otherwise inspiring photoplay.
Grade: B (A commendable grouping.)
“The Last Exorcism Part II” (Horror/Thriller: 1 hour, 28 minutes)
Starring: Ashley Bell, Julia Garner and Spencer Treat Clark
Director: Ed Gass-Donnelly
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, sexuality and thematic elements)
Movie Review: This is follow-up to 2010’s “The Last Exorcism” (Director: Daniel Stamm), which was nominal. If the prequel was supposed to be the last exorcism, why does this one exist?
Sequels are always in demand when prequels made money. This sequel is a waste of time and not nearly as effective as its prequel.
Nell Sweetzer (Bell) has found a new place in Louisiana, a happy life. Her situation does not remain that way. The evil force that haunted and possessed her years ago has returned with a sadistic plan. It turns out the demon is in love Sweetzer and wants to seduce her.
Talk about the stalker you do not want. Sweetzer is in the worst relationship. Bell plays the character with a certain creepiness that screams institutionalization is needed, yet everything around her fails to be noteworthy or memorable.
Grade: D- (Please be the last.)
“Phantom” (War Drama: 1 hour, 38 minutes)
Starring: Ed Harris, William Fichtner and David Duchovny
Director: Todd Robinson
Rated: R (Violence)
Movie Review: Ed Harris plays Demi, the captain of a Soviet submarine. He is a commanding officer secretly suffering from seizures. His medical condition surfaces at an inconvenient time. Demi and his crew execute a classified mission under the directions of a rogue KGB group, led by Bruni (Duchovny). The Russian sub’s mission is a secret, even to the crew of the submarine, but their mission has something to do with the United States and a nuclear weapon.
This film’s biggest faux pas is that it does not create a setting to match its story. It is based on true events, but the crew does not feel like a Russian group. Instead, this feels like a slight documentary and drama that fails to convince.
The cast is a group of swell actors. They do their best, but this screenplay allows little time to know the characters in a way that feels non-American. Sometimes, the application of foreign accents helps the setting. If only the players employed a Russian accent — at least, this would feel like it was about a Soviet submarine.
Instead, this feels like just a story, and it does not stand out as a prominent production about military heroes and zealous government operatives.
The conclusion is perplexing because it tries to bring meaning to what transpired via artistic license. If the story and the actions of the characters do not do this, a quasi “in memoriam” tribute is no good either.
Director Robinson (“Lonely Hearts,” 2006) is known for his documentaries mainly. Robinson never embraces the needed will to make this the drama it needs to be.
Grade: C (An intriguing story made unconvincing.)
“21 & Over” (Comedy: 1 hour, 33 minutes)
Starring: Miles Teller, Skylar Astin and Justin Chon
Directors: Jon Lucas and Scott Moore
Rated: R (Profanity, alcohol-drug usage, nudity, crude humor, sexuality, sexual innuendo)
Movie Review: Miller (Teller) and Casey (Astin) take their good friend, Jeff Chang (Chon), out for a night on the town. Chang has just turned 21, and the three men celebrate. They drink, and Chang drinks more, getting very intoxicated. Miller and Casey haul a mostly unconscious Chang around town, hoping to have Chang back home and sleeping before his medical school interview. Their night becomes an adventure, one with dangers and discoveries.
Think of this as a mix of “The Hangover” (2009) and “Weekend at Bernie’s” (1989). “21 & Over” is a poor man’s version of those movies.
Multiple characters drop the “f-bomb” multiple times, as if they are accomplishing something meaningful. This is one of many asinine elements this poorly written script offers.
The characters have forced epiphanies. They appear to sober up quickly when needed. The plot allows one character to become intoxicated, Jeff Chang. Meanwhile, this gives Miller and Casey adequate reason to execute lame comments about life around them. Their observations are pitiful moments of ill, misguided humor.
The plot is an adolescent piece written and directed by Lucas and Moore, their directorial debut. It is a scatterbrained attempt to recapture some part of youth. It is a failed attempt.
Grade: D (Overdone adolescent material.)
“Snitch” (Drama/Action: 1 hour, 52 minutes)
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Susan Sarandon and Jon Bernthal
Director: Ric Roman Waugh
Rated: PG-13 (Violence and drug related content)
Movie Review: Director Waugh (“Fellon,” 2008) directs this film that is based on a true story. John Matthews is a father who goes undercover for the DEA to free his imprisoned so, Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron). Matthews’ task will not be easy. A Mexican syndicate, a gang of thugs and an aggressive U.S. District Attorney (Sarandon) are pulling his strings.
Johnson is an admirable guy as an actor. He is easy to like in films, but his portrayal of characters as leading man leaves room for improvement. This is especially true in dramas.
If “Snitch” showed as an action film, Johnson would be solid as a rock. He is never convincing as a leading man in a non-action production. Here, he is not alone. The other characters here lacking in that respect too.
The plot has honorable intentions, but it is not a compelling movie making. The story is the main focus here, and its plot is weak because it does not inspire one to care for the characters.
Grade: C (Not a worthy snitch)
“Dark Skies” (Horror/Science-Fiction: 1 hour, 37 minutes)
Starring: Keri Russell, Jake Brennan, Dakota Goyo, Kadan Rockett and J.K. Simmons
Director: Scott Stewart
Rated: PG-13 (Thematic elements, sexuality, sexual innuendo and strong language)
Movie Review: Lacy (Russell), Daniel (Hamilton), Jesse (Goyo) and Sam (Rockett) are The Barretts, a suburban family. Their lives become a nightmare after a series of disturbingly strange events happen to each of them. Edwin Pollard (Simmons), an expert on the phenomenon, enlightens The Barretts. He tells them they are being visited by beings not from Earth.
“Dark Skies” nicely makes extraterrestrials the new bogeyman. Supposedly, many people have an illogical fear that aliens are out to get them. This has spun a new form of fear to exploit for cinema.
Chances are sentient beings exist somewhere in galaxy who are as intelligent as humans. Are they on Earth? They could be. However, if they could make here, crossing vast light years of space, they are probably more intelligent than humans.
However, aliens coming to Earth just abduct humans for the last 100 years is about like driving to from Valdosta to Tallahassee to go Taco Bell.
“Dark Skies” makes itself a horror with plenty of thrills. In this sense, it is very entertaining. It is creepy by playing on one’s own fears.
The problem is that aliens are not necessarily scary when compared to humans, but this horror/sci-fi piece does manage to generate some gratifying moments. It is riveting if nothing else.
Another flaw is that this film is quick ride. Viewers may not be ready to get off once the ride is over. While noted as a flaw, this is also what makes the film interesting. You want to observe more, so some of the audience may feel 20 minutes more is needed. Some moments move too quickly and needed more explanation.
Instead, this film’s ending leads to more questions than answers. Those answers are wanted. This is the smartness and weakness of “Dark Skies.”
It presents an intriguing plot that avoids the pitfalls executed by many horror genre films. This is its brilliance, yet it irritates as much as it entertains by not supplying more substance.
Grade: B- (Iffy, but very engaging.)