Friday, October 23, 2015


Opening this weekend:

The Last Witch HunterKaulder (Vin Diesel) a centuries-old warrior with miraculous regenerative powers, is the title character, enforcer of the uneasy secret truce between witches and humans. His liaison, a priest (Michael Caine) is placed under a death-like curse by witches seeking to revive their long-dormant Queen. With Caine’s priestly protégé (Elijah Wood) and a sympathetic young witch-woman (Rose Leslie) at his side, Kaulder stalks New York trying to prevent this, and to bring the old padre back to life.

I’m a sucker for this sort of nonsense, plus I’ve always liked Vin Diesel, so if this was going to work for anybody, I’d probably be a good bet. But this movie tried my patience. Despite—or maybe because of—the impressive wall-to-wall special effects, the movie generates little suspense or sense of awe. The actors, while too veteran not to be proficient, can’t find a way to make us invest in the characters.

The whole affair is reminiscent—too reminiscent—of earlier movies like Highlander and Blade. But with NYC as the backdrop to a story of the return of an ancient evil goddess, The Last Witch Hunter really came across to me like a less compelling version of Ghostbusters—it’s Ghostbusters without Bill Murray or the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. That’s not to say it’s without comedy, but most of its comedy is unintentional.

Jem and the HologramsThis one is based on a syndicated Hasbro/Marvel TV cartoon from the mid-‘80s. As far as I can remember, I never heard of it before I started hearing about this movie. In the cartoon, the heroine, Jerrica, was a rock star behind a holographic persona projected from her earrings. In this live-action adaptation, Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) just hides behind a pink wig and shades to front a glam-pop quartet rounded out by her sister (Stefanie Scott) and two foster sisters (Aurora Perrineau and Hayley Kiyoko). The girls live with their kindly Aunt (Molly Ringwald), and the band’s mascot is a cute little bleepy-bloopy robot, Synergy, a legacy from Jerrica's late inventor father. The villainess is a record exec (Juliette Lewis) who is trying to separate Jem from her sisters.

Apparently the cartoon was a big deal to some girls back in its time, but it’s hard to imagine this slack, scattered movie having the same meaning for girls today. The young actresses are sweet, and the director, John M. Chu, shows some ingenuity is staging the numbers. A couple of the songs are quite catchy of their kind. But there aren’t enough of them. Bafflingly, this movie forgoes music in favor of more meandering complications to the silly plot, interminable narration and meaningless feel-good bromides about believing in yourself and following your dreams.

The movie also intercuts many of the big scenes with homemade online video clips—musicians performing, or Jem fans expressing their love. It’s an interesting idea, and while it doesn’t really work—it doesn’t add drive or momentum to the scenes—it should be said that the people in these videos are, on the whole, more interesting than the slick, artificial movie to which we keep going back. Jem’s characters aren’t much more substantial than holograms, and there’s something irksome about the free ride the movie takes on the real human beings in those videos.

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