Starring: Colin Farrell, Amanda Seyfried, Christoph Waltz
Directed by: Chris Wedge (“Robots”)
Written by: James V. Hart (“August Rush”), Tom J. Astle (“Get Smart”), Matt Ember (“Failure to Launch”), William Joyce (debut) and Daniel Shere (debut)
While the title is a drastic overstatement, “Epic” is sure to send the kiddos off with a smile and some good laughs. With that said, it’s important to warn those who are expecting a magical world filled with dynamic characters and a heartwarming storyline to wipe your expectations clean. “Epic” doesn’t reach those heights.
In “Epic,” teenager Mary Katherine, aka M.K., (Amanda Seyfried), who has recently lost her mother, must deal with the transition of moving in with her kooky and absent-minded father, Professor Bomba (Jason Sudeikis). Hard at work, the professor is trying to prove the existence of a secret world which inhabits tiny warriors who protect the forest, a theory M.K. isn’t buying. The only bright side to living in her new creaky home is spending time with her rambunctious, beat-up Pug, Ozzie. After accidentally letting Ozzie loose, M.K. ends up chasing him into the forest where she is magically shrunken into the secret world her father told her about – a world of fairylike creatures and talking animals.
Caught in the middle of a raging war between good (the Leafmen) and evil (the Boggans), M.K. finds her tiny self destined to protect the “chosen pod,” which now holds the good spirit of the forest, passed on by the slain Forest Queen, Tara (Beyonce). In order to defeat Mandrake (Christoph Waltz), leader of the Boggans, who is plotting to take over the forest, M.K. enlists the help of Ronin (Colin Farrell), the noble and trusty Commander of the Leafmen; Nod (Josh Hutcherson), a rebellious hero; and a couple of comic-relief sidekicks, Mub the Slug (Anziz Ansari) and Grub the Snail (Chris O’Dowd).
With so many opportunities to live up to its name, “Epic” never fulfills its destiny. Focusing a little more on the divided relationship between M.K. and her father would’ve been the easiest fix, but the film never takes full advantage when it has the chance. It barely grazes the surface of the father-daughter narrative and leaves the audience with unanswered questions.
Although unsuccessful at capturing the emotions of the entire story thanks to mediocre voice acting and a static storyline, “Epic” makes up in aesthetics with its whimsical animation and intricate battle choreography. But what truly slides in and saves the day, literally, are Mub the Slug and Grub the Snail. With their slapstick humor and memorable jokes, “Epic” is more enjoyable than it really should be.
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gary Oldman, Shiloh Fernandez
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”)
Written by: David Johnson (“Orphan”)
No matter what version you’ve heard, when it comes to traditional folklore and fairytales, there isn’t one that comes with more thematic baggage than “Little Red Riding Hood.” Whether as a parable on a young girl’s sexuality or simply a cautionary tale for kids about the dangers of wandering off the beaten path, most written adaptations over the last 300 years tend to follow the same narrative pattern before offering some type of intrinsic morale.
In “Red Riding Hood,” director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”) communicates none of the above, nor does she pretend to have the least bit of interest in capturing any of the enchantment, eeriness or menacing quality of the original fable. Instead, Hardwicke is out to tap into the 13-18-year-old tween demographic who funds these gothic soap operas with their babysitting money. “The Twilight Saga” might shamelessly placate the horror/fantasy world, but at least Stephenie Meyer’s vamps and wolfboys brood vehemently. In the passionless “Red Riding Hood,” you’re lucky to get a blank stare and whimper.
Set in the medieval, snow-covered village of Daggerhorn (fortunately not the most optimal weather conditions to show off werewolf abs), a bloodthirsty beast has killed a human after 20 years of feasting only on the livestock appetizers he is served. Amanda Seyfried (“Letters to Juliet”) plays Valerie, a pretty little thing caught in a love triangle with a poor woodsman (Shiloh Fernandez) and a well-to-do blacksmith (Max Irons). Paranoia sweeps across the village when werewolf hunter Father Solomon (Gary Oldman) rides in and deems everyone a suspect, including creepy, old grandma (Julie Christie).
Unintentionally hilarious (the “what big eyes you have” scene begs for ridicule especially), “Red Riding Hood” piles on the dreadful dialogue and unconvincing romance like salad-bar fixings. The only way it could have possibly been hokier is if the climax actually featured a computer-generated wolf dressed in granny’s nightie knitting a doily.
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Christopher Egan, Vanessa Redgrave
Directed by: Gary Winick (“13 Going on 30”)
Written by: Jose Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and Tim Sullivan (“Jack & Sarah”)
Would someone please set a romantic film in the City of Detroit? While the areas of urban decay might not send hearts fluttering as much as, say, the medieval architecture in Verona, Italy, at least it’s different. Instead, “Letters to Juliet” follows the trend set by predecessors from “Roman Holiday” to “Under the Tuscan Sun” and does it rather blandly.
While it may not be as feebleminded as the romantic comedy “When in Rome” from earlier this year, “Juliet” cheats by yanking out as many obvious plot devices from the narrative as it possibly can before relying on its picturesque setting as a crutch. There are only so many chateaus and vinyards one can handle before it feels like you’re watching an over-produced travelogue.
In “Juliet,” Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia!”) stars as Sophie, a fact checker for the New Yorker who aspires to be a journalist. During her “pre-honeymoon” honeymoon to Verona with her emotionally-detached chef fiancé Victor (Gael Garcia Bernal), Sophie stumbles upon a 50-year-old love letter hidden inside the walls of a courtyard where heartbroken women from all over the world come to write to William Shakespeare’s Juliet of Verona in a symbolic demonstration of hopeless romanticism.
When she finds out a group of women known as the “Secretaries of Juliet” actually answer all the letters left in the courtyard, Sophie decides she will reply to the letter Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) wrote decades ago. The correspondence ultimately connects Sophie with Claire and her disapproving grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan) who set off on an adventure across Italy to find Claire’s long lost love Lorenzo Bartolini (Redgrave’s real-life husband Franco Nero, who could be a stand-in for the Dos XX Most Interesting Man in the World).
Despite despising each other from the start, it’s evident Sophie and Charlie will begin to fall for each other although screenwriters Jose Rivera (“The Motorcycle Diaries”) and Tim Sullivan (“Jack and Sarah”) don’t want to take the innocence out of the relationship by having Sophie jump into bed with Charlie while ignorant Victor is off gallivanting at wine tastings and auctions. There no real chemistry between the two anyway.
The real human emotion comes from Sophie’s connection with Claire. Redgrave carries her own as a woman who has never forgotten her first love. Seyfried follows as closely as possible without looking too lost. Egan is dead weight without an ounce of likeability even when he transforms from snobby English jerk to perfect English gentleman.
Aside from the inconsistency in acting, what director Gary Winick (“Bride Wars,” “13 Going on 30”) fails to do is inject any romance into the subplots of the story, which weigh down Claire’s quest for happiness. It might seem easy enough to do especially when you have Shakespeare to work with, but Winick wastes the literary passion by pandering to the women in the theater who have a tissue box in their lap.
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson
Directed by: Atom Egoyan (“Adoration”)
Written by: Anne Fontaine (“Coco Before Chanel”)
It’s evident from the start how much director Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter,” “Exotica”) wants to keep the title character in “Chloe” as enigmatic as possible. It’s surprising, however, when he doesn’t pull back the curtain in the slightest to give us a glimpse of a real character. By the end, Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) – no matter how intriguing she is at first – never develops into more than a mere set piece in a cumbersome story.
Lacking drama, passion, and genuine seductive moments, “Chole” feels like a bargain basement romance novel with little spirit and intention. The story follows New York gynecologist Catherine Stewart (Julianne Moore) who suspects her college-professor husband David (Liam Neeson) is cheating on her with one of his students.
While there is some evidence of his infidelity, Catherine wants to be certain. She decides to do what any other woman would (yeah right) and hires Chloe (Seyfried), a high-class prostitute, to assist her with a social experiment on her husband. Catherine asks Chloe to present herself to David like any two strangers would meet on any given day, flirt a bit, and see if he takes the bait. As these rendezvous become more consistent, Catherine wants detailed reports of their meetings. Chloe obliges and reveals every steamy scenario that plays out between her and David.
But as the bizarre love triangle continues, director Egoyan wrestles with the exact tone he wants for the second half of the film. When Chloe begins to show interest in Catherine and then in Catherine and David’s disrespectful teenage son Michael (Max Thieriot), the air of sexual tension is slowly let out of the narrative as Chloe extends her screen time by adding needless mischief to the already far-fetched premise. Once “Chloe” hits the “Fatal Attraction” plateau it’s a lost cause.
“Chloe” would have worked much better as an intelligent character study, but instead Egoyan shifts back and forth from tasteful to tawdry without much explanation. While Moore, Seyfried, and Neeson do as much as they can with their characters, the script expands in too many directions for Egoyan to make sense of anything with a deeper meaning than just the sex itself.
Starring: Channing Tatum, Amanda Seyfried, Richard Jenkins
Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules”)
Written by: Jamie Linden (“We Are Marshall”)
There’s only so much a filmmaker can do to avoid over-romanticizing the film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. While a director like Lasse Hallstrom (“The Cider House Rules”) has proven in the past that he can create great chemistry between actors (Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron in “Cider,” Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche in “Chocolat”) , it’s not always about the lovey-doviness.
If that was the case, “Dear John” wouldn’t fare so badly. There are, however, intangibles that make a difference in whether or not a story succeeds. In “Dear John,” Hallstrom and screenwriter Jamie Linden (“We Are Marshall”) almost manage to get past most of the pitfalls of a sentimental romance, but the third act is so incoherent when compared to the first hour of the film, it’s hard to fully recommend it.
The film follows the lovefest between special forces soldier John Tyree (Channing Tatum) and innocent college girl Savannah Curtis (Amanda Seyfried) who meet at author Sparks’ favorite locale – the beach (see “Message in a Bottle,” “Nights in Rodanthe”) – during a two-week-long spring break.
The courtship begins easy enough, but, of course, there’s only two weeks to get these young lovebirds to the point where they can’t live without each other. Things begin to progress rather quickly like most cinematic romances. John is a man with a past, although not much is explained about what made him so troublesome before he shaped up in the Army. He lets Savannah deep into his life and even introduces her to his coin-collecting-reclusive father (Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins) who Savannah believes is showing signs of autism.
While John and Savannah’s relationship flies by fast, Hallstrom and Linden are able to make the love story believable and sweet enough without drowning it in too much sap. The father-son story between Tatum and Jenkins offers an affectionate element rarely seen in these types of films. It’s a heartwarming part of the narrative mostly because of Jenkins’ effortless performance, which is, unfortunately, thinly-written.
Where “Dear John” falters most is when John and Savannah are sent on their separate ways. John must return to military duty while Savannah goes back to college. Before they say their goodbyes, the two make promises to each other including keeping in contact through letters. The long-distance relationship is less interesting as letter pass back and forth and the narration becomes more and more like something you would find in the greeting card section marked “Missing You.”
When John proclaims to Savannah that “It’ll all be over soon and I’ll be back for good,” he doesn’t anticipate something like 9/11 happening. The tragedyaffects their plans to be together when John decides to reenlist with the rest of his platoon. From there, “Dear John” just delays the inevitable as the story becomes more and more melodramatic with each mail call. Hallstrom and Linden play the sympathy card for the final half-hour and unfortunately turn “Dear John” into an overemotional and manipulative mess.
Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons
Directed by: Karyn Kusama (“Aeon Flux”)
Written by: Diablo Cody (“Juno”)
Actress Megan Fox may be drop dead gorgeous, but there’s nothing pretty about “Jennifer’s Body.” The film is screenwriter Diablo Cody’s first script since winning the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for 2007’s slightly overrated “Juno.” (I still highly recommend “Juno,” but some of its pretentious dialogue bothers the hell out of me…”Honest to blog.”) Anyway, in “Body,” Cody and director Karyn Kusama (“Aeon Flux”) spew out as much unoriginality as the demon-possessed Fox does prickly, black vomit. It’s going for campy, but there’s really nothing too hilarious or scary to make it memorable. When a lesbian kiss between Fox and Amanda Seyfried is the only thing luring boys to the movie, you know you have yourself a guilty pleasure that’ll only be worth a few seconds on YouTube once the buzz dies down.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried
Directed by: Phyllida Lloyd (debut)
Written by: Catherine Johnson (“Sin Bin”)
The reason musicals like “Moulin Rouge!” and “Chicago” worked so well at the turn of the century was because directors like Baz Luhrmann and Rob Marshall had an eye for something uncommon. If that wasn’t the case, the return of the genre might have led us into Bollywood territory where the entertainment value drops as each new film mirrors the last.
In “Mamma Mia!” director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter Catherine Johnson go for a more conventional adaptation of the popular Broadway hit. In its own inconsequential way, the film version is the same spectacle as it is on stage, but with more to survive visually on the big screen.
When Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) uncovers her mother’s old diary, she is ecstatic to find out the book could hold the answer to a question she has been wondering her entire life: Who is my father?
The only problem is, her mother, Donna (Meryl Streep), was somewhat promiscuous during her formative years and slept with three men around the same time. This means, of course, that any one of them could be Sophie’s dad.
Set on inviting her father to her wedding so he can give her away, Sophie decides the most reasonable thing to do would be to invite all three men to the ceremony and sort it out when they arrive.
Although Bill (Stellan Skarsgard), Sam (Pierce Brosnan), and Harry (Colin Firth) have no idea the real reason they have been invited to the Greek island paradise, all three show up much to the chagrin of Donna, who hasn’t seen her ex-lovers in years.
Once you get past the giddiness of it all, “Mamma Mia!” has some high points during the musical interludes like ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” which is so darn catchy you’ll want to hear it again when it’s over. Still, it takes a while to warm up to the characters as they sing and flutter about, especially Pierce Brosnan who seems awkward during most of his vocal work. Then there are also a few misplaced songs and underwritten storylines. Why Winters’ tune is important enough to include in the film is beyond comprehension.
Most of the film’s flaws come from the direction of Lloyd, who seems to have everyone and everything moving nonstop without anywhere to go. If that’s what equals a high-energy musical, someone pump Seyfried and friends up with some sedatives and leave the musicals to directors whose only point of reference isn’t “Grease.”