The ABCs of Death If you're a fan of horror, you've gotta like this film's premise. Each of the 26 different directors that participated was given a letter of the alphabet and asked to pick a word that began with that letter. They were then instructed to create a short film about death that related to that word. Given the concept, it's no surprise that the shorts tend to be quite graphic. Even the intro scene that rolls during the opening credits — blood filling the floor of a room and washing a group of letters together that spell out the movie's title — is pretty grisly.
From A to Z, there's not a bad film in the bunch. The movies range from an extremely graphic depiction of a stabbing (Nacho Vigalondo's A is for Apocalypse) to a subtly spooky story about a group of parents who warn their kid about the boogeyman (Adrián García Bogliano's Bigfoot). In Marcel Sarmiento's particularly brutal Dogfight, a man gets in a brutal brawl with a dog. The film takes place in an industrial warehouse and is so graphically violent and bloody, it makes Fight Club look tame by comparison. It also has a particularly clever twist at its conclusion. In Jorge Michel Grau's Ingrown, a hostage contemplates her death between puking and bleeding out in a bathtub, silently thinking, "I'm the one who isn't anymore." And in Libido, a couple of guys are strapped to chairs and forced to watch extreme sexual acts as some kind of sordid punishment. In Quack, one of the funniest shorts, Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett inventively find a way to make their characters die at the hands of duck.
Despite the wide range of motifs, nothing here is the least bit tame. Each film offers its own distinctively intense vision and that's what binds this fantastically perverse collection of movies together. Capitol Theatre. (Jeff Niesel)
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone An awkward loner as a child, Burt Wonderstone discovers the power of magic when his absentee mother buys him a kit as a birthday gift. After watching a how-to video hosted by iconic old school magician Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin), the boy is hooked. Burt (Steve Carell) grows up to become a professional magician and signs a big contract at Bally’s, bringing his lifelong friend and partner Anton (Steve Buscemi) along with him. The two perform the same glitzy routine for years but eventually the crowds start to dwindle and Bally’s owner Doug (James Gandolfini) turns to edgy street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey), a guy who does extreme things like serving as a human piñata and holding his urine for days, to take their place. The two briefly try to update their act, but eventually go their separate directions; their assistant Jane (Olivia Wilde) even signs on with Steve. Burt, however, rediscovers his love for magic when he meets childhood hero Rance Holloway (Alan Arkin) and they work to put together a new routine that will get Burt back on top. Better suited to movie-going families than adults expecting something along the lines of Steve Carell comedies such as The 40 Year Old Virgin or Dinner for Schmucks, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is both a loving tribute to magic and a send-up of all styles of entertainer now populating Vegas.
Oz the Great and Powerful Neither great nor powerful, Sam Raimi's (Evil Dead, Spider-Man) film about the Wizard of Oz is as much a remake as it is a prequel. And it ultimately succeeds on neither count. James Franco hams it up as Oscar "Oz" Diggs, a Kansas carnival magician who gets in a bit of trouble after seducing the strong man's girlfriend. In order to escape, he hijacks a hot air balloon and winds up in the world of Oz. Much like the original film, Oz the Great and Powerful begins in black and white before Oz is transported to a world of brilliantly bright colors and exotic wildlife (all of which looks quite tremendous in 3-D). He initially meets two beautiful witches — Theodora (Mila Kunis) and her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz) — and is originally smitten before the beautiful Glinda (Michelle Williams) tells him that they're no good and he must take on the role of a wizard in order to save the kingdom of Oz. While Raimi undoubtedly intended the film's stilted dialogue to mimic the original film's script, Franco struggles to make Oz seem like something more than a spaced out stoner. In fact, all the best laughs go to the smart aleck Finley the Flying Monkey, who's voiced by Zach Braff. Raimi does a decent job of making his story consistent with the 1939 classic; he just fails to provide a compelling reason for the $200 million makeover. (Niesel)