Movie Reviews 

Digging for Fire

by Alan Rapp on August 28, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Digging for Fire
  • IMDb: link

Digging for FireMiddle-age apathy is the major theme of Digging for Fire as a husband (Jake Johnson, who co-wrote the screenplay along with director Joe Swanberg) and wife’s (Rosemarie DeWitt) separate weekend plans while on vacation let each work through the listlessness of their shared existence and eventually find their way back to each other. It’s a story that’s been done several times, sometime much better (like Massy Tadjedin‘s 2010 film Last Night) and more often far worse (any number of middle age brain-dead romcoms).

More archetypes than fully fleshed-out characters, neither Tim nor Lee are all that interesting. Tim is your typical mid-life crisis male wanting to spend time with old friends and recapture lost youth. Lee is worried about the future, her marriage, and loosing her sense of self under the weight of marriage and parenthood. Johnson and DeWitt give the characters a bit of a spark but it’s Tim’s unusual obsession with finding a bone and old revolver buried in the back yard of the home where the family is staying that proves to give the movie something unique to explore, if not something terribly original to say.

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Mistress America

by Alan Rapp on August 28, 2015

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  • Title: Mistress America
  • IMDb: link

Mistress AmericaWritten and directed by Noah Baumbach (and co-written by the movie’s star Greta Gerwig), Mistress America is an uneven comedy that has a tone and feel more befitting a stage play than even an independent theatrical release. That’s not to say it should be easily dismissed. Despite its issues, when the film gets it right it gets it just right (such as an extended sequence in a yuppie suburban home where the quick-hitting back-and-forth dialogue finally hits on every note). Taken as a whole, Mistress America is neither as good as its brightest moments or as bad as it valleys where the lack of laughs exposes just how thin a story Baumbach is working with.

Lola Kirke and Gerwig star as strangers in New York brought together by their parents’ impeding wedding. Tracy (Kirke) is struggling with both life in college and the big city, neither of which see fits in all that well. Brooke (Gerwig) is a force of nature whose outgoing personality masks her own litany of personal issues. Tracy, of course, immediately latches on to her first real friend in the city while Brooke is happy to share her knowledge and experience with a young would-be sibling who obviously adores her.

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American Ultra

by Alan Rapp on August 21, 2015

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  • Title: American Ultra
  • IMDb: link

American UltraThe tail end of the summer movie season is pretty much a crap shoot. While I was pleasantly surprised with the under-appreciated The Man from U.N.C.L.E., director Nima Nourizadeh‘s stoner-action comedy is more what I’ve come to expect from this time of year. American Ultra isn’t a bad film, but it’s not all-together a good one either. A hodgepodge of ideas from both better and worse movies, American Ultra is an occasionally enjoyable B-movie mess.

Jesse Eisenberg stars as stoner convenience clerk Mike Howell with a girlfriend (Kristen Stewart) too good for him, friends (most notably John Leguizamo) just as mentally-challenged, and a brain full of secret CIA training which has been locked away for years until the most over-the-top Topher Grace ever captured on film decides to have Howell killed by agents that make the bad guys in Hudson Hawk look like Bond villains.

Activated by the former leader (Connie Britton) of the project, Howell soon finds himself with the ability to instinctively kill in a variety of bizarre ways without ever understanding exactly how, why, or what he’s doing. Dumb, but at least it looks cool on camera.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

by Alan Rapp on August 14, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • IMDb: link

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Two things are immediately evident from watching Henry Cavill in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. First, there’s no disputing that the man is a bona fide movie star. Despite having issues with some of the projects he’s chosen (such as Zach Snyder‘s horrific re-imagining of Superman), there’s no doubt Cavill has “it.” Second, based on his appearance as con man turned super-spy Napoleon Solo, it’s obvious that he would make a terrific James Bond balancing the swagger and inner-bastard of the character with aplomb. Not since Connery have we seen a character like this on-screen.

And he isn’t the only one worthy of note. Armie Hammer‘s portrayal of the brutish Russian killer may be a bit one-note, but it certainly washes away the lingering bad taste of The Lone Ranger. Alicia Vikander proves to be a lovely third wheel while, much to my surprise, co-writer/director Guy Ritchie holds back on his usual frantic pace to deliver an equally humorous and cool film about Cold War spies that constantly impresses. Ritchie has struggled to adapt his high-octane style to period pieces in the past (see Sherlock Holmes), but that’s not the case here as only once does Ritchie’s grittier nature appear on-screen. Thankfully, he quickly remembers what kind of film he was hired to deliver.

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Still Craptastic

by Alan Rapp on August 7, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Fantastic Four (2015)
  • IMDb: link

Fantastic FourThe first pre-screening I ever attended as a critic was 2005’s Fantastic Four. It was, in retrospect, a brutal right of passage. One would hope that after a decade full of comic book films (the good, the bad, and everything in-between) 20th Century Fox would have learned their lesson and seen fit not to unleash such a travesty onto an unsuspecting movie-going audience yet again. One would be wrong.

Fantastic? After three movies somebody really needs to sue Fox for false advertising. The series made substantial improvements with 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer but still could only squeeze mediocrity out of one the best stories Marvel Comics has ever published.

Choosing to wipe the slate clean by adapting the Ultimate Marvel versions of the characters (an alternate timeline of the Marvel Universe I had little interest in going into this screening and even less on exiting), screenwriters Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater, and Josh Trank weave a tale of boy geniuses, alternate dimensions, and maniacal villains who are evil solely because the plot is dependent on them to be.

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Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

by Alan Rapp on July 31, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
  • IMDb: link

Mission: Impossible - Rogue NationWhile Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol and Mission: Imposible III may have more dramatic weight given the personal motivations that drive each film, director Christopher McQuarrie instead focuses solely on delivering an immensely enjoyable summer popcorn flick that feels like an old Bond film (complete with multiple locations around the globe and a swagger the Daniel Craig films lack) mixed with the sensibilities of Ocean’s Eleven. The result may or may not be the best in the franchise, but it is arguably the most fun film the series has produced.

What makes my enjoyment of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation all the more surprising is I’m not the biggest fan of the plot-framing device McQuarrie chooses to recycle in planting our heroes on the outside of their agency working essentially as rogue agents to save the day for those not smart enough to listen to them (here played by Alec Baldwin). The series tried it once, with Brian De Palma‘s bastardization of the original series, with mixed results. The plot is so common the Bond franchise has used it multiple times (License to Kill, Quantum of Solace, Diamonds Are Forever to name three – none of which would be considered among the series’ best).

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Grumpy Old Mr. Holmes

by Alan Rapp on July 17, 2015

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  • Title: Mr. Holmes
  • IMDb: link

Mr. HolmesAdapted from Mitch Cullen‘s novel A Slight Trick of the Mind, Mr. Holmes is an intriguing, if flawed, idea offering audiences a look at the retired detective fighting senility while struggling to remember the details of his final case decades before. I say flawed because despite a terrific performance from Ian McKellen removing the keen intellect from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s Sherlock Holmes also removes the character’s most definable trait leaving only a hollow shell in its place.

Taking place three decades after his retirement into the country to spend his time with his bees, a senile and grumpy Sherlock Holmes struggles to remember the details of his final case which he is certain Watson wrongly chronicled. His secluded existence is witnessed only by his housekeeper Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), her son Roger (Milo Parker), and the occasional visit from Sherlock’s doctor (Roger Allam). Returning from a trip to Japan at the opening of the film, which is chronicled in flashbacks inter-cut with those of his final case and his current retirement, Holmes strikes up an unexpected friendship with Roger who helps reignite the detective’s memory.

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Ant-Man

by Alan Rapp on July 17, 2015

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  • Title: Ant-Man
  • IMDb: link

Ant-ManAnt-Man marks a departure for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy, which takes place deep in outer space and far from the films that feed into The Avengers movies, every Marvel project to this point has centered around a classic Marvel character that fits a rather well-used pre-designed Silver Age mold. Rather than center another film around a genius scientist turned hero, Ant-Man casts Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) as the weathered former hero choosing instead to focus the plot of the movie on his less straight-laced successor Scott Lang (Paul Rudd).

The recently paroled thief struggling to put his life in order and spend time with his young daughter (Abby Ryder Fortson), Lang is offered a chance by Pym to become the new Ant-Man. With the help of the scientist and his daughter (Evangeline Lilly), and a few of his formerly incarcerated friends (Michael Peña, David Dastmalchian, T.I.), Lang stumbles through his training to learn what it means to manipulate both his size and mass along with the insects which he can now command thanks to to the proprietary Pym Particles and the suit’s helmet.

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Minions

by Alan Rapp on July 10, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Minions
  • IMDb: link

MinionsWhen I learned of a Despicable Me sequel starring only the Minions I was skeptical. Although hugely popular, how do you give a full-feature film to the oddball supporting characters who speak only a mishmash gibberish language and who had been used mostly for comedy relief (with heart) in both Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2?

Minions is a throwback of sorts to a type of comedy Hollywood has largely gotten away from in favor of character and plot-driven plots. The result is something that has at least as much in common with Airplane!, Austin Powers, or The Cannonball Run as it does either of the previous two films. Although the script has a basic plot involving the Minions search for a new super-villain to serve, its purpose is largely secondary to allow the characters room to thrive while setting up various sequences, gags, and stunts involving everything from the Minions putting on a full Broadway-style performance for yetis to a slew of 60’s pop-culture references.

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Terminator: Genisys

by Alan Rapp on July 3, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Terminator: Genisys
  • IMDb: link

Terminator: GenisysHe told you he’d be back. Given the crippling disappointment of Terminator Salvation, which if not for the existence of A Good Day to Die Hard would unquestionably be the worst action sequel ever made, it’s inconceivable that somebody thought making another Terminator movie was a good idea. No less shocking is the fact that Terminator: Genisys, despite several plot points and awful title, is actually fun.

Recognizing after four films and a TV-series how screwed-up the Terminator timeline has become screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Patrick Lussier deliver not so much a sequel as a reboot that jumbles the events of the first two Terminator films, heavily condensing them to occurring simultaneously in 1984 while introducing a face to SkyNet and new villain to hunt down Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) in 2017.

One of the (many) flaws of Terminator: Salvation was its headstrong determination for John Connor to run from who the previous films had molded the character into. Here John (Jason Clarke) is the once again the prophet general of the human resistance that defeats the machines in the opening scene but not before time travel can be introduced into the equation.

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