Jupiter Ascending

Posted on February 5, 2015 at 5:55 pm

Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers
Copyright 2015 Warner Brothers

“Jupiter Ascending” was released in early 2015 but it was originally scheduled for release in the summer of 2014. It does feel like a summer movie. Somehow warm weather makes us more in the mood for explosions and less in need of superfluities like plot, character, and dialogue that never feels snicker-worthy. It is not quite up to snuff for this time of year. The story feels like a mash-up of sci-fi/fantasy movies past (especially “Terminator” and “Star Wars”), with a little “Cinderella” and “Princess Bride” added in for romance and some rage against the one percent to add some political heft. It is often downright silly, even snicker-worthy. It is well over the quota for just-in-time saves, both in the falling and about-to-make-an-irrevocable-decision categories.

And yet, it is fun, especially on a big, big screen. And there are even a few moments that are shrewdly conceived and hit the mark. The Wachowskis (“The Matrix” trilogy, “Cloud Atlas,” “Speed Racer”) specialize in vast, colorful, grandly conceived new worlds and in this film they mean that literally. We visit several planets, and each is visually complex, sumptuous, and wildly imaginative, often dazzling. If you’re in the mood for eye candy, head for the box office. Don’t wait to see this one at home.

Mila Kunis plays Jupiter, an illegal alien (get it?) from Russia, working in Chicago as a maid and living with her extended family. “I hate my life,” she says when she has to get up at 4:45 am for another day of scrubbing toilets. But like Neo and Speed Racer, she is special. Not for a particular talent or quality of character but because of her very essence. Like infinite monkeys banging away on infinite typewriters until one of them randomly produces “Hamlet,” it seems that throughout the universe there are so many humans that every so often the random accumulation of cells produces a genetic mix identical to someone who has already lived. Jupiter, whose father was a British astronomer killed in a robbery, turns out to be identical to an intergalactic royal, which makes her a threat to three battling siblings in a dispute over their inheritance. Yes, this is a story about inheritance and real estate. We might as well be back at Downton Abbey or in “King Lear.” The particular piece of real estate they are so concerned about: Earth.

One of the noble siblings wants her captured. Another wants her killed. Just as assassins are about to take her out, Caine (Channing Tatum), a pointy-eared hunk arrives to carry her off like Richard Gere at the end of “An Officer and a Gentleman.” Except that this is the beginning, and he will have many more opportunities to lift her in his manly arms as things develop. He has some cool toys, too, especially some wonderful shoes that operate like a hoverboard crossed with ice skates, so that he glides through the air.

There are some clangers ahead, like the fact that Jupiter’s special genetic makeup is recognized by bees. But there is some fun stuff, too, especially an extended sequence through a delightfully steampunk series of bureaucratic offices that show that even the most highly evolved civilizations we can imagine still have not found a way around petty rules and red tape. In the rare category of both clangish and fun is Eddie Redmayne as Balem (the names are all faintly Latinate, “Hunger Games”-style). If Mount Everest were built on top of wherever over the top lives, he’d be on top of that. But I got a kick out of his full-on commitment to petulant decadence turned up to 11.  And Gugu Mbatha-Raw shows that a spectacularly beautiful and talented woman can take a costume reminicient of John Candy in “Spaceballs” and make it work.

It’s long and messy and unforgivably silly in place, but somewhere under all the eye candy and under-written dialogue there are some interesting ideas about the true meaning of consumption and what, if we had all the time in the world, we would do with it.  I wasn’t sorry to spend some of my limited time seeing Channing Tatum treat the air like a 3D ice rink.

Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi/fantasy peril and violence, some graphic images including brief torture, characters injured and killed, rear nudity, some strong language, and drinking and sexual references.

Family discussion: If life requires consumption, how do we make responsible choices? How were the siblings different?

If you like this, try: “The Princess Bride,” “Looper,” “The Matrix,” and the “Star Wars” series

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3D Action/Adventure Fantasy Science-Fiction

Coming to Theaters: February 2015

Posted on February 1, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Happy February! Here’s some of what we’ll be seeing in theaters this month:

February 6

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water Everyone’s favorite residents of Bikini Bottom are back on the big screen with a 3D adventure, co-starring Antonio Banderas as a pirate.

Jupiter Ascending Anything from the Wachowski’s (“The Matrix,” “Cloud Atlas”) is guaranteed to have dazzling visuals.  Mila Kunis, Channing Tatum, and Eddie Redmayne star in a sci-fi/fantasy story about the battle for Earth.

Seventh Son Jeff Bridges stars in a sword and sorcery epic about the sole remaining warrior of a mystical order and a young hero born with incredible powers, the last Seventh Son (Ben Barnes).

Ballet 422 A 25-year-old member of the corps de ballet gets a chance to choreograph a major piece for the New York City ballet in this behind-the-scenes documentary.

February 13

Fifty Shades of Gray The steamy international blockbuster about the couple who experiment with the Red Room of Pain comes to screen in time for Valentine’s Day.

Copyright 2014 Castle Rock
Copyright 2014 Castle Rock

Rewrite  Hugh Grant plays an Oscar-winning screenwriter whose subsequent series of failures have left him with no job, no family, and no money.  He accepts a teaching position, intending to do as little as possible, but finds that the students, including single mom Marisa Tomei, have something to teach him about what matters.

The Last Five Years This sung-through (almost no dialogue) musical tells the story of a five year romance from his perspective (Jeremy Jordan) and hers (Anna Kendrick).

Kingsman: The Secret Service Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson star in this stylish spy story.

Old-Fashioned A serious-minded antique dealer meets a free-spirited young woman who is drawn to his views on faith.

February 20

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 The sequel to the raunchy comedy with returning stars Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry, Clark Duke, and Chevy Chase.  This time, they go into the future!

McFarland USA  Kevin Costner plays a track coach in his film inspired by the 1987 true story of novice runners from a predominantly Latino high school in McFarland, an economically challenged town in California’s Central Valley.

February 27

Focus Will Smith and “The Wolf of Wall Street’s” Margot Robie star in a story of two con artists.  Can they work together without conning each other?

Maps to the Stars Julianne Moore plays a fading movie star in this David Cronenberg-directed Hollywood satire, co-starring John Cusack, and Robert Pattinson.

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Opening This Month

Summer Movies 2014

Posted on May 1, 2014 at 8:00 am

godzilla-movie-posterHurry for summer movies!  Sequels!  Superheroes!  Cars!  Kisses!  YA books!  Gross-out comedies!  Quirky indies!

Summer movie season kicks off in a big way tomorrow with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”  Other comic book superheroes coming soon to a theater near you include “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (which unites both casts from the previous films).  Next week, we’ll get the new “Godzilla,” starring Bryan Cranston.

how-to-train-your-dragon-2And summer means sequels.  I’m very excited about “How to Train Your Dragon 2.”  I’ve seen some footage already and it looks amazingly great.  They don’t want us to call “Transformers: Age of Extinction” a sequel!  It’s a reboot, with a new cast including Mark Wahlberg (but Stanley Tucci is back).   “Dawn of Planet of the Apes” is a both a reboot and a sequel, if you know what I mean. “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For” is a sequel to the Frank Miller story, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin, and Mickey Rourke.  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back for more pizza and action.  “Think Like a Man Too” takes the gang to Las Vegas.  For families with young children, “Planes: Fire and Rescue” is coming from Disney.  I’m always glad to see another “Step Up” movie — this one is “All In.”  Angelina Jolie stars as “Maleficent,” giving us another look at one of Disney’s scariest villains.  And “22 Jump Street” looks very funny in a totally NSFW way.

YA novels come to the screen with the much-anticipated “Fault in our Stars” (bring a box of tissues, maybe two) and “The Giver.”


Quirky indies include Jon Favreau, returning to a small-budget, intimate story after the “Iron Man” blockbusters with “Chef,” and Daniel Radcliffe, Adam Driver, and Zoe Kazan in “What If.”


It looks like a great year for sci-fi special effects films.  I’m especially looking forward to the Wachowskis’ “Jupiter Ascending” with Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum and Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in “Edge of Tomorrow.”  And we’re getting a second Hercules film this year, this one starring The Rock.

And Scarlett Johansson continues her extraordinary year with Luc Besson’s “Lucy.’

Off-the-wall gross-out comedies include Melissa McCarthy’s “Tammy” with Susan Sarandon (as her grandmother!), “Sex Tape” with Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz learning to their dismay what “the cloud” means, and Seth Rogan and Zac Efron as feuding “Neighbors.”  Adam Sandler reunites with his best co-star, Drew Barrymore, in “Blended,” the story of two single parents who have a disastrous date and then find themselves and their children sharing space on vacation on an African safari.  I’m guessing there will be animal poop.

One of the most intriguing films this summer is “Boyhood,” filmed over a 12 year period so that it could follow the story of a young boy as he goes through adolescence, from Richard Linklater of the “Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight” series.

We’ll also get some great documentaries this summer, led off by the brilliant film I saw last week at Ebertfest, “Life Itself.”  I can’t wait to see it again.

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