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Mr. Brown Verses The Movies of May

Now that I'm out of school for the summer, I can turn my attention to the summer movie season that I have purposefully neglected for the sake of my studies. We're about halfway through it, and wow, I have never been this disappointed by the crop of blockbusters that have come out, and no other month but May has illustrated this trend. Sure, there are a few good ones, but for the most part, it's been good, but not great and just plain bad.  June has so far bucked this trend, bringing out This Is the End, the summer best film far and away, and the criminally underrated Man of Steel, both films which will be review this week. For now, here's the "Meh" of May.

Looking over a dead creature, or over the corpse of M.Night's career? You be the judge.
After Earth - Here's the good news: M. Night Shyamalan's science fiction flick about a father and son (played by real-life father and son duo Jaden and Will Smith) fighting for survival after crash-landing on the home planet that has been taken back by mother nature with a vengeance, is actually the best thing the once-promising writer/director has done since Signs, his last foray into sci-fi territory. The bad news: it's still not a good movie. What makes this latest outing by M. Night better than his latest stream of crap is that he's gotten better with using visual effects and staging an action scene, unlike last time where the director threw together terrible CGI and badly staged action pieces in the disastrous The Last Airbender. Here, the visuals of an earth remaking itself over a thousand years is nicely done, and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky does a wonder job capturing this new world and the new dangers that surround this place. Larger birds, temperatures that change rapidly, animals that have grown stronger and more hostile should all equal a thrilling and entertaining film of Man vs. Nature, right? It's a shame that M. Night can't run with this and resorts to pulling out cliche after cliche. Cypher Raige (Papa Smith) is a legend in the Nova Prime corps, but knows very little about his own son, Kitar (Baby Smith). Kitar is trying out to be a Ranger, but his arrogant nature prevents him from advancing. An incident earlier on causes a rift between Father and Son, until the pair are all that's left in a crash landing on Earth. Kitar and Cypher must work together and survive the elements in a race against time and the forces of nature and blah, blah, blah. Look, it's bad enough I had to play Guess That Science Fiction Film Reference with Oblivion, I didn't want to play again with this movie.  Even worse is that this movie goes through the motions - the Son learning to conquer his fears from the past, the Father watching the Son transform into a Man before his eyes - all without the charm of the charisma you'd expect from Will Smith, or from his son, Jaden, who does have a fraction of said charisma as could be seen in the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid. In Shyamalan's hands, they're reduced to characters who play the same emotional note for 100 minutes.

* 1/2 stars out of ****

The End...Thank God.
The Hangover Part III - Remember the first Hangover movie? You know, where overgrown frat-boy Phil (Bradley Cooper), neurotic dentist Stu (Ed Helms) and man-child Alan (Zack Galifianakis) took the the groom-to-be, Doug (Justin Barthra) on a boys' trip to Vegas before he gets married? Remember the crazy madness that the trio got into after they lost the groom, from getting tazed by disgruntled Vegas cops, to Alan getting knocked out by Mike Tyson, to bargaining with Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), the wild Chinese gangster? Remember how much fun you had watching that take on the morning after the bachelor party? Well, director and co-writer Todd Phillips sure doesn't remember, because he spent $80 million trying to tell the same joke again in The Hangover Part II in 2011 to less laughs and trying to duplicate what worked in the 2009 film and go bigger; and in 2013 any form of sheer wild-ass joy that was in the first film, and sort of there in the second outing has all but disappeared in Part III, leaving the audience with, well.....a hangover. The Wolfpack are taking Alan to a mental facility when they are rammed off the road by mobster Marshall (John Goodman) who takes Doug hostage, stating that if they don't find Chow in three days, he will kill Doug. Add more screen time for Jeong, a trip to Tijuana, gold bricks, and a final showdown in Vegas, and what you have is a dark comedy that isn't really funny or even enjoyable, but rather a bitter finale that's run out of ways and gags to keep the material fresh and the fun rolling. It's a shame that even Cooper, Helms and Galifinakis look tired to keep this successful franchise going, because their chemistry in the first Hangover movie was the glue that made it, in my opinion, one of the best comedies to come out of the 00's. Part III, much like the Matrix sequels and the Pirates franchise, should have stopped after the first film.

* star out of ****

"We're getting too old for this s#@t."
Iron Man 3 - Marvel Studios, fresh off of a professional and personal best with The Avengers, kicks off Phase II by going back to how it all started: actor Tony Stark returning to the role which catapulted him to one of Hollywood's biggest actors working, the self-described "Genius, playboy billionaire, philanthropist" Robert Downey Jr., .....or is it the other way around? I kid, but the actor has virtually become synonymous with the Marvel comic book character, much the same way Johnny Depp is synonymous with Captain Jack Sparrow. Put simply, there is no Iron Man franchise without RDJ. And yet, moving foreword, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe might be looking at more Marvel Studio features without him. Joss Whedon has stated that he'll be back for at least one more movie with The Avengers 2, but if this is the last solo movie featuring Stark and his alter-ego, then director/co-writer Shane Black's entry in to the franchise is a fine way to go out. It's the funniest, most exciting and most rewarding installment since Jon Favreau's Iron Man back in 2008, and it feels like a stand-alone movie that hasn't forgotten what happened after the events in New York. Speaking of, Stark hasn't either -  in fact he's become rather shaken by his near-death experience in fighting the Chitauri, so much to the point where we find out he's been building nothing but suits all this time. When a terrorist mastermind, only known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) tears apart his Malibu home, leaving him for dead and his latest suit, the Mark XLII low on power, he is left to his own devices as he must use his smarts and his limited resources to stop the leader of the Ten Rings from carrying out his next deadly plot. While actors like Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Don Cheadle as Rhodes (now classified as the Iron Patriot), Guy Pearce as Aldrich Killian a scientist who's developed a new experimental drug called Extremis, and Rebecca Hall, playing Tony's former love interest all turning in good work in supporting roles, this is Downey's show and he doesn't fail to miss the conflict that's been eating away at Stark after helping saving the world: what is he behind the suit of armor? Iron Man 3 might not have captured the comic book zeitgeist like Whedon's The Avengers did, but it's a sold installment to move Phase II along.

*** stars out of ****

The gang's all here.

Fast & Furious 6 - The Fast and Furious franchise has really pulled off an incredible feat: This is a film series that got better, despite three mediocre to poor installments (The Fast and the Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) previously. Maybe screenwriter Chris Morgan (who's been writing all the scrips since Tokyo Drift) realized how utterly ridiculous this whole series is, decided to take the simple concept of fast cars, action and T&A and turn them into heist films, instead of the original street racing films the first three were centered around. Maybe director Justin Lin figured out how to combine show-stopping action set pies and get the best out of actors who really can't act, but get the audience to care about the stakes they're in. Whatever happened after 2008, the series has really taken off and found it's grove in 2009 with Fast & Furious, and once again two years later with Fast Five. In Furious 6, Dominick Torretto (once again played by Vin Diesel) has retired from a life of crime, and the rest of the gang have gone their separate ways. But here comes Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) to pull him back into the criminal underworld: he needs Dom's team to track and capture Owen Shaw (Luke Evans), a ruthless ex-Special Air Services soldier-turned smuggler who's been stealing military software that he intends to sell on the black market to the right buyer. For Dom, it's a chance to find Letty (Michelle Rodgriguez), his former girlfriend who he believed died and truly reunite the large family that has been sprawled out throughout the franchise. Most of the cast returns, including Dom's right-hand man Brain (Paul Walker), her sister Mia (Jordanna Brewster), smart-ass Roman (Tyrese Gibson), weapons specialist Gisele (Gal Gadot) and her partner Han (Sung Kang), and tech wiz Tej (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) and the interaction between them is as playful and as fun as the last installment. The action set pieces have gotten more and more elaborate and a hell of lot more fun, but at the cost of Lin taking all known laws of gravity and physics out of the equation, especially in the 3rd act, in which the stunts become so ridiculous and over the top, that even the most ardent fan of the series will begin to roll their eyes and/or yell 'bullshit!' Still, Furious 6 is one of the most exciting, balls-to the-wall popcorn movies you'll see all summer, and that's a good thing.

*** stars out of ****


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