Given the film's already squalid reputation, "R.I.P.D" is surprisingly alright. For about 25 minutes.
A giddy cartoon aesthetic and quartet of fun performances (Bridges, Reynolds, Bacon and Mary Louise Parker all outstrip the material easily) keep things competently afloat for a short while, but serious scripting deficiencies, hollow emotional beats and sub-par action quickly transform the movie into a Titanic style situation. The final hour is tedious and over-produced Hollywood bunkum, far too reliant on generic science-ficion tropes and repeat gags for comfort. The rules of the world aren't well demonstrated and often feel disjointed, and nobody has an onscreen dynamic that supersedes quips or unearned dewy-eyed sentiment. Given its dire box-office rejection, I can't really claim to be disappointed, but there's no doubt it boasts a cast deserving of much better.
After Earth (2013) - C-The best film Shyamalan has made since 2006 and not quite as unbearably awful as the vitriol of last June suggests. It has many problems, not least that Jaden Smith gives an appallingly amateurish leading performance, but there are oddly competent stretches as well. The screenplay is uneven and rife with ghastly dialogue and unearned allusions to high culture (clumsy "Moby Dick" references are scattered to underline the man vs. nature theme)but some of the action stuff is serviceable, whilst both the musical score and cinematography maintain a decent standard. I'm not saying it's good, but I reckon there are enough positives to render "After Earth" mediocre rather than deplorable.
The Bling Ring (2013) - C
Moments of sporadic inspiration are evident here, but the film is too distant and blunt to leave a deeper impression. Maybe the surface level message and repetitious format are meant to be indicative of the vapid teen protagonists, but even so it doesn't much help an audience engage with the piece sociologically, intellectually or even as entertainment. Cast are quite good, although characterization (particularly with the male lead) feels distractedly uneven. If you want a 2013 release that deals with material obsession, the corruption of the American dream and is based on a real crime, I would recommend Michael Bay's "Pain & Gain" much more readily.
Prisoners (2013) - B+
“Prisoners” is a compelling mystery with stellar performances, rich thematic undercurrents and sturdy procedural plotting. Gripping, harrowing and with some of the year's most graceful cinematography. Hugh Jackman makes a strong, early gambit for next year's Best Actor Oscar. It’s very impressive stuff.
Reviews by Daniel Kelly, 2013