Friday, February 6, 2015


Opening this weekend:

Jupiter AscendingJupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) is an immigrant from Russia—she was actually born aboard a ship at sea, like Marina in Pericles—now stuck working as a housecleaning drudge in Chicago. Then alien goblins try to kill her, but she’s rescued by a hunky wolf guy (Channing Tatum) who, with the help of an old ally (Sean Bean) spirits her off to space.

There she learns that she’s somehow the heir of a galactic royal family and that, essentially, Earth belongs to her. There’s a creepy, whispering Prince (Eddie Redmayne), however, who wants our planet for nasty commericial purposes and thus wants Jupiter dead. Wild battles and chases ensue, as well as romantic yearning between Jupiter and Wolf Guy.

This sci-fi fairy-tale from The Wachowskis pillages freely out of sources ranging from Cinderella to Barbarella to Star Wars, from Flash Gordon to Brazil to The Wizard of Oz to The Graduate. The movie is long, and the exposition is so dense that I was lost at times. But I liked it anyway (so did The Kid, who remarked when it was over “It was too long, but I wouldn’t change anything,” a first-rate piece of paradoxical movie reviewing). I especially liked the look of it, a sort of Victorian whimsicality with spaceships like dragonflies or Alexander Calder mobiles, and haywire paper-pushing bureaucracies in the midst of space-age cities.

Kunis, whose hard-around-the-edges Eastern European beauty is softened by dark peepers big enough to have been painted by Margaret Keane, goes for as much bemused comedy as she can. I liked how she reacts to her new situation as galactic princess with something like irritability, as if she’d been stuck with a volunteer committee chairmanship when she was out of the room.

Seventh SonFor some reason, according to this movie, the seventh son of a seventh son is likely to show special aptitude for fighting monsters and other forces of darkness. Shaggy old Jeff Bridges is Gregory, one such warrior, referred to as a “Spook.” Having lost his apprentice of ten years, he purchases a new one, Tom (Ben Barnes), from the poor kid’s family, and quickly has him tangling with giants, shape-shifting bear-men, sabre-tooth cheetah women and witches who can change into harpy-like dragons with more ease than most women can change for dinner.

The leader of these nuisances is Julianne Moore, with whom old Gregory has a history—he sealed her in a pit for decades. She’s out now, and it’s fair to say she’s pissed.

This fantasy, based on a book by Joseph Delaney and set in a vague fairy-tale past only a little grungier and more convincing than the one in which Into the Woods took place, seems to be trying for the feel of a Harryhausen-style episodic adventure. To the extent that, for me, this is possible without the idiosyncratic charm of stop-motion animation, Seventh Son succeeds, at least intermittently. The story is boilerplate and the dialogue mostly insipid, and the younger actors don’t exactly bristle with sophistication and chemistry, although the ingénue, the Swedish Alicia Vikander, is quite beautiful.

But the monster scenes are strong, as are the veterans in the cast. Moore is an elegant, flirty menace as the Witch Queen Mother Malkin. Bridges continues to speak in that same pouty-lipped manner that he did in The Giver. Maybe it’s just how he talks now; in any case it makes him sound amusingly petulant.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of WaterThe stakes are high in this second feature treatment of the adventures of Stephen Hillenburg’s insistently cheery denizen of the deep—it follows 2004’s The Spongebob Squarepants Movie. The top secret recipe for Krabby Patties vanishes, and it’s revealed that these burgers, which the title character spends his days happily flipping, aren’t just the livelihood of his avaricious boss Mr. Krabs, they’re also the glue that holds Spongebob’s hometown of Bikini Bottom together.

As soon as the town becomes aware of the Krabby Patty shortage, mob rule and apocalyptic violence commence almost immediately. To the extent that Bikini Bottom may be seen as an allegorical Anytown, this movie suggests, not for the first time in the cartoon’s history, a certain skepticism about how durable civility is in human affairs.

Spongebob and the diminutive, cyclopean villain Plankton must team up to recover the recipe, which is now in the hands of a manic pirate captain (Antonio Banderas in a live-action strand). Teaming up is tough on Plankton, to whom the concept of cooperation is so alien that he isn’t even sure how to pronounce the word “team.” The ensuing saga involves time travel, space travel, a dolphin with a clipped British accent and many other aspects.

Too many, perhaps. It’s possible that this sort of relentless, undiluted silliness works best for five to eight minutes at a stretch, and doesn’t sustain well at feature length. In any case, Sponge Out of Water comes off as, of all things, overambitious, and it drags a little. The Kid (who may, admittedly, be getting a bit too cool for this sort of thing) thought the film was too long, and that the climatic live action/CGI confrontation between Spongebob and his pals and Captain Banderas should have been arrived at sooner. I thought that it had plenty of laughs, but I’ll grant that shaving eight to ten minutes from the movie’s length wouldn’t do it any harm. The Sponge could stand to get out of the water a little more quickly.


  1. This is so annoying. Based on everything I've read, I had written off JUPITER, or at least decided it could wait until released on Bluray. Of course, you have to go against the grain and now I'll have to check it out on the big screen. Actually, I'm glad to hear it's not the crime against cinema others have made it out to be. The Wachowskis have at least always been ambitious in whatever they're doing. This Netflix show they have coming out sounds like a real trip as well.

  2. Sorry, Phil--the reviews have been mostly negative, so caveat emptor; I just thought it had a bit more liveliness & imagination than most sci-fi-fantasy stuff that I see, & I got a kick out Mila Kunis. Plus, my kid liked it.