"After Earth" – More than a decade after the triumphs of "The Sixth Sense", "Unbreakable" and "Signs", Oscar-nominated director M. Night Shyamalan is now better known for making big-budget schlock. His latest, a sci-fi movie starring Will Smith and his son, Jaden, does little to restore the director's reputation. The younger Smith plays Kitai, a wannabe soldier who crash-lands on a future Earth, which has been abandoned because of an environmental calamity. As Cypher, Kitai's injured father, Will Smith is heard more than seen. Confined to their ship, Cypher communicates with Katai while the boy navigates the planet's dangerous terrain. These scenes on Earth are often suspenseful and beautifully directed; the parts featuring a condor that shows motherly protectiveness toward Katai are so touching they made me long for the days when Shyamalan made terrific movies. But the premise, which sidelines a superstar in favor of his less talented son, is fundamentally flawed.
"The Heat" – Katie Dippold's surprisingly profanity-laced script for "The Heat" relies on worn-out cliches cribbed from a thousand cop movies and buddy comedies, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh out loud quite frequently. Melissa McCarthy plays a tough Boston cop who teams up with an uptight FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) to track down a drug lord. Bullock doesn't look like she's having much fun during the first half of the movie, but she sparkles when her character finally (and predictably) loosens up. The real treat here is the supporting cast; Thomas F. Wilson ("Freaks and Geeks"), Tony Hale ("Arrested Development") and Bill Burr ("Breaking Bad") all bring the heat.
"The Purge" – This box-office hit has one of the most astonishing scenarios of any movie this year. It's set in 2022. Crime is at an all-time low, and unemployment is at one percent. The government has established an annual night of “purging,” allowing people to do whatever they please (including commit murder) and making it impossible to call 911. With that rather stunning backdrop, "The Purge" settles into a home-invasion horror movie a la "The Strangers". Ethan Hawke does fine work as a family man fighting the urge to purge. Unfortunately, "The Purge" sometimes fails to live up to its premise. As one of the movie bloggers I follow on Twitter so aptly put it, the movie "really has that 'I'm a bad guy, I'm gonna stab you, just give me a second oh no I've been shot from behind' thing down pat."
Also new this month:
"Much Ado About Nothing" – Filmed in between shooting and editing "The Avengers", Joss Whedon’s modern retelling of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy will delight lovers of the Bard.
"Pacific Rim" – Guillermo del Toro’s ridiculously fun monster movie should be viewed on the biggest screen possible.
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Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. He lives in Wichita.