Mila Kunis

Mila Kunis waits to be saved by Channing Tatum in the tedious and horribly written “Jupiter Ascending.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros Pictures

In “Jupiter Ascending,” released Friday, directors Andy and Lana Wachowski attempt to combine a space opera, an action-adventure spectacle and political power struggle into one epic film. Instead, they cram three separate stories into one mediocre and confusing movie. The Wachowski siblings have cobbled together a poor excuse for a sci-fi spectacle, failing to repeat the success they generated from “The Matrix.” 

Far off in space, the ancient, alien Abraxas family claims ownership over the Earth and several other planets. When the matriarch of the Abraxas clan dies, siblings Balem (Eddie Redmayne), Kalique (Tuppence Middleton) and Titus (Douglas Booth) fight for supremacy and total control of their inheritance. On Earth, a young woman named Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis) learns that she genetically matches the trio’s deceased mother, making her the Earth’s owner. With the help of genetically modified ex-soldier Caine (Channing Tatum), Jupiter attempts to survive the onslaught of the jealous heirs who seek to claim her birthright.

Watch the trailer for "Jupiter Ascending" here:

“Jupiter Ascending”’s biggest problem is the Wachowskis’ unfocused story. It’s clear that “Jupiter” isn’t aiming to be a serious drama, but the logic the Wachowskis insert into this universe is, at times, just nonsensical. For instance, Jupiter learns she is a descendent of the royal family because bees refuse to sting her. 

The story is packed with an absurd amount of subplots. As a result, the pacing is an absolute mess. By itself, Jupiter’s conflict with the three siblings would have provide enough story for an entire trilogy — much less a 120-minute film. But on top of the sibling squabbles, the Wachowskis also throw in love triangles and spend copious amounts of time developing minor characters. 

It’s disappointing that the story is mediocre, as some of the Wachowskis’ ideas do have the potential to be fascinating. The notion of a galactic royal family in control of the Earth is an intriguing concept. The Wachowskis let their original storyline fall to the wayside as they focused on less interesting characters and plot points. 

Kunis can’t do anything to save the dull, weakly written Jupiter. Despite being heir to the entire planet, Jupiter never rises above the textbook damsel-in-distress. Caine saves her countless times, but even his role as a protector doesn’t make his character any more interesting. Tatum is reduced to a scowling grunt, and it’s difficult to take him seriously when he wears eyeliner and prosthetic ears. Meanwhile, Redmayne gives a bizarre performance as main antagonist Balem, rarely speaking above a whisper — except when he shrieks loudly during moments of displeasure. 

The movie’s visuals served as a rare bright spot in what was otherwise a mediocre movie. The Wachowskis demonstrate their knack for creating massive worlds and spectacles through beautiful cities and environments that hover around in space. Even though practically every effect is computer-generated, the result is still dazzling. 

“Jupiter Ascending” is a great looking movie with clever ideas, but it is crippled by dim characters. In its attempt to be an over-the-top galactic adventure tale, the film forgets to flesh out its main characters — and loses the chance to deliver a clear, focused story. What could have been a promising space adventure is instead an incompetent, disappointing mess of a movie.

This film image released by Disney Enterprises shows James Franco and Michelle Williams in a scene from “Oz the Great and Powerful.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Disney’s motivation to return to the world of “Oz” for another film was likely driven not by any creative urge, but by the boatloads of money that Tim Burton’s reimagining of “Alice in Wonderland” hauled in. Thankfully, director Sam Raimi has an innate ability to create an engaging fantastical world and retain his directorial voice without descending into self-parody, something that made Burton’s take on “Wonderland” nearly unwatchable. Raimi’s distinct directorial stamp works wonders for “Oz the Great and Powerful,” an effortlessly entertaining and endlessly imaginative film.

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is a prequel to the classic 1939 film, focusing on Oz (James Franco), a schlocky, selfish magician who lacks the resolve to settle down with dream girl Annie (Michelle Williams), preferring to follow his aspirations of unquestionable greatness. Whisked away from Kansas by a tornado, Oz finds himself in the magical land that shares his name.

Ever since his disastrous stint as Oscar host, James Franco has brought a holier-than-thou attitude to his performances in blockbuster films, but he’s refreshingly subdued in “Oz.” Franco’s slow transition from small-time magician to leader of men (and munchkins) is played with amusing reluctance and heartfelt sincerity, but he’s less effective when embodying Oz’s inner showman, alternating between infectious confidence and unimpressive cheesiness with frustrating consistency.

The trio of witches that drive the conflict in “Oz” are realized by an impressive female ensemble. Michelle Williams is pure grace and wispy dialogue as Glinda the Good, but she’s just as effective and tender as Annie, Oz’s real-world love interest. Rachel Weisz plays Evanora with coiled frustration, barely able to hold back her contempt for Oz. Mila Kunis has the most challenging role of the three as Theodora, the young witch who discovers Oz upon his arrival. Kunis brings an innocence to the role that is slowly shattered as she becomes increasingly infatuated with the womanizing Oz, and her arc is where the film’s story becomes increasingly problematic.

As anyone familiar with the “Oz” mythology is aware, Kunis’ Theodora eventually transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West. Although she has the spunk necessary to embody the role, Kunis struggles to register behind thick coats of unconvincing makeup, something that only serves to underline the shortcomings of the film’s story. While the awakening of Oz’s inner hero is more inspired than your standard origin story, the dynamics required to get Theodora seeing green are strained manipulations of character logic.

Throughout the film, even when the story teeters on the edge of nonsense, Raimi never fails to inject his own personal touch into the proceedings. Raimi’s Oz is flooded with creativity, and the film overflows with imaginative designs and characters. One of the allies that Franco’s Oz picks up during the film is a small girl made of china, and Raimi pulls the impressive feat of making a delicate CGI character the film’s emotional core. “Oz” is most fun in the brief moments when Raimi lets some of the tricks he came up with on the “Evil Dead” trilogy loose, staging genuinely harrowing beats in the midst of an immersive fantasy world full of beautiful colors and gorgeously scoped images.

While Disney was clearly inspired by “Alice in Wonderland,” Raimi draws from a very different source: his 1992 horror-comedy “Army of Darkness.” The films share many common elements, from structure to how conflicts are resolved to character beats, and it’s a joy to see Raimi working to bring freshness to such familiar territory. While “Oz the Great and Powerful” struggles to make sense at times, it’s a pleasure to watch thanks to an interesting cast, a stunningly realized setting and the simple joy of having Sam Raimi behind the camera.

Published on March 8, 2013 as "'Oz' misses 'Great and Powerful,' but achieves 'good'". 

(Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Seth MacFarlane has always had a distinct comedic style, full of non sequiturs, pop culture references and casual tastelessness, developed in his small empire of animated programs broadcast by Fox. With his transition to the big screen, one might hope that MacFarlane takes this chance to refine his sense of humor and develop as an artist, but unfortunately “Ted” is more of the same from the humorist. The film is just exaggerated and blown out to accommodate the requirements of the R rating, and anyone hoping for more will be sorely disappointed.

In addition to directing “Ted,” MacFarlane lends his voice to main character, an animated teddy bear who is brought to life when a young John Bennett (played as an adult by Mark Wahlberg) makes a wish for a best friend. Nearly 30 years later, Ted and John are still friends, content to sit around smoking pot and watching television, even as John’s four-year relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis) teeters on the edge of disaster thanks to John’s immaturity.

There’s one quality that stands out throughout “Ted,” and it’s laziness. The film only really knows how to tell three kinds of jokes: casually “edgy” racist humor, fart jokes and pop culture references. “Ted” comes back to these three tropes over and over, and by the end of the film, things have taken on a mean-spirited abrasiveness. The script lacks ambition, and seems uninterested in telling its own story. Things happen to the characters, but the film’s ending betrays every narrative development that’s transpired. Instead, the finale lays out the film’s themes in a few neon-lit lines of dialogue and fades to black.

The film is full of illogical story gaps and character decisions, right down to its foundations. John and Lori are four years into their relationship before the film starts, but the problems she develops with Ted’s shenanigans seem like the sort of issue you bring up before you move in with your boyfriend and his stoner teddy bear. Kunis uses her natural charm to bring some nuance to Lori’s stereotypical nagging girlfriend, but Wahlberg isn’t so lucky. He’s basically playing your average Judd Apatow-esque man-child, but without any of the heart or conscience that makes that character so affable, and the result is an irritating character who makes an endless stream of bad decisions.

There’s one subplot in particular that sums up everything wrong with “Ted.” Giovanni Ribisi shows up, playing a truly creepy fan of Ted’s named Donny, with an overweight son (Aedin Mincks) who desperately wants the teddy bear for himself. Seeing as the film’s central conflict involves John’s need to get rid of Ted to move on with his life, this subplot practically serves up the film’s ending on a platter: John passes Ted along to another young boy wishing for a friend, and moves on with his adult life. Sure, it’s a little “Toy Story 3”-ish, but it’s a lot more interesting than the way the film treats Donny and his son as monsters, easy punchlines for easy jokes, and it’s a narrative detour that puts all of “Ted”’s problems into focus. It’s a film that wants to be about growing up, but it’s really just a string of cheap jokes.

That’s why “Ted” may be the worst movie of the year, or at least the one I hate the most. It’s one thing when a film is lazy, and its humor proves that “Ted” is certainly that, but it’s another when a film is just repulsive and morally rotten, and that’s what dooms it. The film has a few funny moments, but its characters are so predictable in their illogical mistakes, its plot so uninterested in its own stakes, and its spirit so thoroughly hateful and unpleasant, that it’s not worth watching in any shape or form. Avoid it at all costs.

Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) fend off the cliches of romantic comedies in “Friends With Benefits,” which releases in theaters today.

Photo Credit: Screen Gems | Daily Texan Staff

Here’s the thing about “Friends With Benefits” director Will Gluck; he’s a director with a gift for coaxing impressive comedic performances out of his casts, but he’s also entirely too clever for his own good.

“Friends With Benefits,” much like Gluck’s previous film “Easy A,” has some legitimately funny moments. However, it got all too pleased and bogged down in mocking other movies in its genre, constantly pointing out flaws in typical romantic comedy only to become one in its final 10 minutes.

And almost every romantic comedy trope makes it into the film. The central couple, played by Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, cutely meets at an airport as she tries to woo him into a ridiculously swanky job at GQ. Both are newly single, and both are so frustrated with the opposite sex that they swear off relationships forever (in several repetitive and needlessly expository scenes where they list off their neuroses). They decide to enter into a sex-only relationship, keeping their emotions separated from their physical activity, but for reasons dictated by plot and the gods of romantic comedy lore, that obviously doesn’t work out.

The entire film is built around Timberlake and Kunis, and the two prove to be a winning combination. They give lively, charming performances, and their chemistry is tangible enough to drive the film toward its inevitable conclusion. Not to mention they’re both hilarious.

In fact, most of “Friends With Benefits” is honestly funny. Timberlake and Kunis surprise with their sharp delivery, and Woody Harrelson is a comedic force of nature as a flamboyant sports writer. Gluck has an undeniable touch for establishing a quick, easy comedic rhythm within a scene and does his best to pack the film with jokes that work more often than not.

It’s because the film is so funny so often that it’s actually enjoyable for most of its runtime, even as its cast goes through the motions of a cliche narrative. Unfortunately, its last 10 minutes segue all the way into romantic comedy territory, complete with the big romantic gestures and forced pop soundtrack that were mocked earlier in the film. While Gluck unsuccessfully tries to make the drama work in a sort of ironic way, Timberlake and Kunis are convincing enough as these characters that even the substandard final moments aren’t excruciating.

“Friends With Benefits” works for a lot of reasons, but the biggest are by far the leading actors. They’re likable, charismatic and show off unexpected comedic chops here. For fans of romantic comedies, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. For guys who find themselves dragged to romantic comedies, you could certainly do worse than “Friends With Benefits.”