In Terrence Malick's The New World, Colin Farrell played a brave, burdened man who infiltrated a dangerous foreign culture, and fell in love with someone on the other side of the cultural divide. His feelings for her complicated his responsibilities, causing his heart to be caught in a tug-of-war when the British went to war with the Native Americans.
Now, in Michael Mann's Miami Vice, Farrell plays the same kind of character: brave, burdened, and loyal to his superiors as he infiltrates an international drug operation and falls for the girlfriend of the malevolent kingpin. Will he do his job and bring down the drug lord? Or will he abandon his duties and run away with the woman of his dreams?
Wait a minute … this is Miami Vice? Wasn't that television series about the partnership of undercover cops Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs? Isn't it supposed to feature fast cars, fast boats, and fast airplanes?
Well, yes, and Mann has brought back the speed, intensity, and action of the original. But this is not so much a remake as a complete reinvention. The 2006 Miami Vice doesn't stay in Miami for long—our heroes are quickly hurrying off to Paraguay and Haiti, where things get much darker and more violent than the television adventures ever did.
Oh sure, Crockett and Tubbs are still serious crime-fighters in serious suits. They still talk their way into a world of glamorous wickedness. Even the end credits song, a cover of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," contributes to this blast from the past. But where Don Johnson played Crockett as a high-spirited wisecracker, and Philip Michael Thomas played Tubbs as a sidekick too cool for stress, Farrell's Crockett and Jamie Foxx's Tubbs look like equal competitors in a sport of glaring and glowering.
The resulting film glamorizes law-enforcement officers who have very little discipline when it comes to their personal lives and relationships. It celebrates indulgent sexual affairs even as it concludes that such appealing adventures are costly. It's an exciting motion picture, stylishly captured in the groundbreaking digitial cinematography of Dion Beebe, but it's also profoundly confused.
You can read my full review of Miami Vice at Christianity Today Movies.
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) says, "Mann's stated intent of showing 'the first postmillennial examination of what globalized crime looks and feels like' is well and good, and perhaps undercover agents do sometimes blur the lines, but the film still feels like an empty exercise. … [The] humorless script is dull, while the plot beyond the general story arc is annoyingly dense, and at 133 minutes exceedingly long."
Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) says, "[T]his is definitely a darker, seedier, nastier version of the iconic show that once made pink shirts and pink flamingos all the rage. Even if these serious content concerns weren't enough to dissuade old TV fans from engaging (and they certainly are), the movie's straight-faced grimness probably would get the job done anyway. The subtly campy spirit of the original is simply nowhere to be found."
Stephen McGarvey (Crosswalk) says the movie is "too relentlessly dark, and almost completely boiler plate. Considering that Mann has given us unique police/crime movies like Heat with its clever 'cat and mouse' mind games between cops and robbers, or Collateral with its unusually terrifying premise, Miami Vice is pretty disappointing. There isn't anything there that fans of cop movies haven't seen a hundred times before. And there won't be much to which fans of the original will relate."
Though usually mad about Mann, mainstream critics are offering mixed reviews for his latest.
The "ant"-agonist of John A. Davis's film The Ant Bully is a young boy named Lucas who takes out his aggression on a labyrinth of ants in his front yard. Fed up with persecution, the ants concoct a potion to bring Lucas down to bug-size and teach him about the consequences of his behavior.
You may find that there's something familiar about The Ant Bully. The bugs in this film are stylized just like the ants of the 1998 animated feature Antz, which featured an all-star voice cast, including Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, and Gene Hackman. The Ant Bully features the voices of Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, and Meryl Streep, and it is winning a lot of fans amongst critics.
"Go to the ant, thou bully; consider her ways, and be wise!" writes Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies). "That, in a nutshell, is the lesson of The Ant Bully. … The screenplay … is as obvious and direct as they come. But the animation is a pure delight, especially if you happen to enjoy looking at the world through a microscope."
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) turns in a similar response, using the same scriptural reference (Proverbs 6:6). He concludes, "It might not hang with the best-looking films in the exploding category of digital animation, but Bully's world is bright, colorful, and detailed enough not to distract us from the storytelling. And what a fun, mostly positive, mostly kid-friendly story it is."
David DiCerto (Catholic News Service) writes, "The animation is imaginative and vibrant, highlighted by a terrific climax. … Annoying pop-culture references are thankfully absent. But, surprisingly, the A-list voice talent gives bland performances and the writing is less than sharp." He adds, "The film's subtext seems to be saying something about nations' abuse of power. … Of course any such political implication will be lost on the kiddies, whose antennae will be tuned to the story's simpler might-doesn't-make-right moral."
Lisa Rice (Crosswalk) says the movie "falls short. First, there's something unsettling to people of faith to see that Hollywood continues to rely on wizards and potions, alchemy and incantations to move a plot along. Have we not found more creative alternatives?" She's also uncomfortable with the way the ants praise their queen as "queen of queens," and say "Praise the mother." Finally, she says, "[T]here is something nebulously contrived, mechanical, and overdone about the story, and the writers seem to rely heavily on scatological humor to juice up their formulaic script."
Mainstream critics are pleased, if not enthusiastic, about The Ant Bully.
The Hoover family is on the move. They're aiming their yellow Volkwagen bus across the country in order to arrive at a beauty pageant, so that 7-year-old Olive (Abigail Breslin) can pursue her dream of competing in a beauty pageant.
It's actually more complicated than it sounds. The Hoovers are having a rough time. Sheryl (Toni Collette) is offering comfort to her suicidal brother, a Proust scholar named Frank (Steve Carrell). Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear), a motivational speaker, is at the wheel, and the heroin-addicted grandpa (Alan Arkin) is sharing the back seat with the teenaged Dwayne (Paul Dano). There's nothing like a road trip to bring a dysfunctional family together … but together for what? Harmony, or chaos?
Featuring the songs of Sufjan Stevens in the soundtrack, Little Miss Sunshine is winning the hearts of festival-goers, and now it's making its way across the country to surprise a larger audience.
Lisa Ann Cockrel (Christianity Today Movies) enjoyed it in spite of its familiar formula. "As its Sundance pedigree might suggest, Little Miss Sunshine has an eccentric veneer, but don't let that fool you. The script is far more conventional than its indie pop soundtrack (DeVotchKa and Sufjan Stevens provide the highlights) would have you believe, right down to unfortunate blips on the narrative radar involving porn magazines and state troopers that could have come straight from Super Troopers and a moment of sibling bonding that's all but gift wrapped. This said, there is a zany ethos to Little Miss Sunshine that, despite its most cliché d moments, stokes a lovely poignancy in this look at family life and the capacity for hope in the face of absurdity and calamity."
Little Miss Sunshine is winning a warm round of applause and welcome from mainstream critics.
Woody Allen enjoyed a return to critical acclaim last year with the troubling drama Match Point. Now, with Scoop, he's back in the territory of light comedy.
Scarlett Johansson stars as Sondra Pransky, a journalism student from the U.S. who encounters a ghost in London and learns crucial clues in tracking a serial killer. She teams up with a magician called Splendini (Allen), and gets to know an aristocrat named Peter Lyman (this year's busiest actor: Hugh Jackman.) With such an appealing cast, Allen has managed to score another hit with the critics, even if many of them do identify it as rather derivative of his previous work.
Peter T. Chattaway (Christianity Today Movies) calls it a "pastiche" of previous Allen comedies, but he liked it nonetheless. "Scoop is reminiscent of several of Woody Allen's films, but in a strange way, it harks back to films that were neither great nor lousy—and like those films, it is an enjoyable diversion, at least for those who are already fans of the Woodman. Some critics have complained that Scoop squanders the goodwill that Allen earned with the oh-so-serious Match Point, but I found that film disappointing and even a bit pretentious, whereas Scoop is exactly the sort of light fluff that it aspires to be. Or, to play on the title, it goes down easy like a scoop of ice cream, even if it's more like the soft stuff you get at McDonald's and not like a good helping of Breyer's. Scoop may not be as funny as Bullets over Broadway, which for my money is the best live-action Allen film of the post-Mia Farrow era, but it is also not as dull or tedious as some of his other films."
Frederica Matthewes-Green (Frederica.com, originally published in The National Review) says, "Scoop slips." She says it's "not very funny" and "not very suspenseful," and argues that Allen is repeating himself. "Perhaps he is searching for inspiration by asking himself which of his films got the best reviews, or gave him the most satisfaction. But films like this one only bring down his average from excellent to so-so."
Harry Forbes (Catholic News Service) disagrees, saying, "Shooting in the United Kingdom has given Woody Allen an artistic shot in the arm, and so it is that Scoop, the lightweight but entertaining follow-up to the excellent drama Match Point, proves another winner."
Christian Hamaker (Crosswalk) calls it "a dialogue-heavy comedy that runs out of gas long before it reaches the finish line. It's essentially two people talking, then three people talking—but it's only fitfully amusing." He does, however, praise Hugh Jackman's performance.
For the most part, mainstream critics enjoyed this Scoop.
John Tucker Must Die is a comedy about heartbreaking and revenge. When three young women decide to take revenge out on the arrogant basketball star (Jesse Metcalfe) who cheated on each of them, they find that he's a difficult man to humiliate. So they bait a trap for him by giving an extreme makeover to a girl who will probably break his heart and teach him a lesson.
Critics agree that this movie must die.
Bob Hoose (Plugged In) says, "John Tucker Must Die actually starts out with a cute, high school journal feel as Kate tells us of transferring from school to school and feeling like she was invisible in the midst of a crowd. But it quickly degenerates into a world of self-absorbed, sexually expert teens who lie to everyone including the completely clueless adults who play no role in their lives whatsoever."
"Though the overall tone is breezy, the humor has a spiteful edge," says David DiCerto (Catholic News Service). "Director Betty Thomas, however, undermines the film's basically positive—if muddled—message about honesty and personal integrity by introducing sexually charged innuendo and situations into the get-even scheme."
Mainstream critics are calling it "phony" and "unfunny."
More reviews of recent releases
Monster House: Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films) says Monster House "has a sense of wicked humor and perspective amid its cynicism." He praises its "[s]harp, clever dialogue, convincing characterizations, and effectively eerie twists."
Lady in the Water: Mickel K. Cardinell (Relevant) writes, "Lady in the Water is very much like a picture of the Christian Church. The plotline spends most of its energy finding the disciples who will usher in the kingdom. These disciples must all use the skills given to them by fate (or God?) to accomplish their purpose. If it were not for these disciples, the kingdom of peace could not take its place in the world. However, it is only as they come together as one body that they are able to fulfill this purpose."
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