Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Wild
  • IMDb: link

WildBased on Cheryl Strayed‘s real-life experience of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, Wild stars Reese Witherspoon as the troubled new divorcee with no real hiking experience who latches onto the unlikely project of a 1,100-mile solo-hike as a means to deal with the mistakes of her past.

Adapted for film by Nick Hornby, Cheryl’s self-driven journey is inter-cut with scenes from her childhood and young adulthood involving her mother (Laura Dern), her promiscuity and drug use, and her relationship with her former husband (The Newsroom‘s Thomas Sadoski).

Director Jean-Marc Vallée offers an interesting character study of a flawed woman’s attempt to achieve a moment of greatness. Dreadfully slow in parts, and often lingering too long on some of its flashback sequences, Wild succeeds as a character-driven drama even if it all feels a bit by-the-book (so to speak). Similar in themes to Into the Wild, Strayed’s story speaks to a rebirth of sorts through nature although without a look forward as to whether or not the transformative journey actually led to lasting change.

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The Hobbit: Thank God It’s Finally Over

by Alan Rapp on December 17, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
  • IMDB: link

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five ArmiesPeter Jackson returns to give us the third (and thankfully final) installment of his bloated adaptation of a 300-page children’s book. As with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the best things about the final entry to the franchise are Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel and Benedict Cumberbatch providing the voice of Smaug. However, Smaug’s story ends fairly quickly (despite what the movie posters would have you believe he’s on-screen for all of 20 minutes) and the series by this point is so packed with characters (five separate armies worth) Lilly gets far-less screentime than you’d want from the movie’s most interesting character.

Since the Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers Jackson’s adaptations of the works of J. R. R. Tolkien have been a series of diminishing returns with a few bright spots (such as Smaug) that are increasingly obscured by the same CGI ogre action scenes and small character moments all of which have been done better in the previous films. And the stories aren’t easily wrapped up as Jackson continues his plodding pacing to fill yet another two-and-a-half-hour film. I enjoyed The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and I’ve liked moments from the three separate Hobbit films, but oh my God am I thankful it’s finally over.

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Exodus: Gods and Kings

by Alan Rapp on December 12, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Exodus: Gods and Kings
  • IMDb: link

Exodus: Gods and KingsThe tale of Moses is hardly new ground for Hollywood. Director Ridley Scott‘s version of the story is a mishmash of disaster porn and drama casting a mostly pale-white cast in the role of Egyptians and their Jewish slaves which, when not not off-putting, is occasionally unintentionally hilarious such as Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton (reminding me of crazy Marlon Brando from The Island of Dr. Moreau) as Egyptian royalty.

Exodus: Gods and Kings isn’t a bad film per se. It’s competently handled and I actually think it’s more successful than last year’s similar biblical big-screen epic Noah, but it fails to add anything new to the story to justify it’s $140,000,00 cost. The effects are effective but not memorable. And the addition of 3D adds a dimension but is far from enveloping.

The film’s most bizarre choice, which may create a backlash within its desired audience, is the decision to cast God in the role of a petulant and impatient child (Isaac Andrews) who forces Moses onto a path and then throws a tantrum when his prophet fails to move quickly enough.

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St. Vincent

by Alan Rapp on December 6, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: St. Vincent
  • IMDb: link

St. VincentSt. Vincent is a perfectly fine (if all-too-familiar) by-the-numbers dramedy about a grumpy old man’s relationship with a nice kid who, to absolutely no one’s surprise, will show his new friend isn’t as bad as everyone believes him to be. Comparable to last year’s Bad Words, it lacks the dark wit of Bad Santa or the soundtrack and amusing race sequences of Six Pack, and is far less moving than Up, but writer/director Theodore Melfi‘s film does allow space for Murray’s talent to flourish and finds a way to use Melissa McCarthy in a way which reminds us she is capable of acting when not stuck in crappy films such as Tammy, Identity Thief, or The Heat.

The premise is relatively simple, Murray stars as a grumpy bastard with a pregnant hooker girlfriend (Naomi Watts) and general disdain for nearly every other living person. Desperately needing money, Vincent (Murray) agrees to babysit his new neighbor’s (McCarthy) son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) after school. From there Vincent shares with the kid useful, but mostly inappropriate, knowledge that eventually raises the ire of Oliver’s mother and threatens her custody case with her ex-husband.

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The Homesman

by Alan Rapp on December 5, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Homesman
  • IMDb: link

The HomesmanProduced, directed, and adapted from Glendon Swarthout‘s novel by Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman is an odd little pet project with good intentions which eventually gets away from its creator.

Set in the mid 19th Century, Hilary Swank stars as tough-as-nails 31 year-old spinster Mary Bee Cuddy who would gladly trade a portion of her thriving Nebraska farm for the love of a man. Despite the danger, Cuddy agrees to take three local women (Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto, Sonja Richter) all driven insane by harsh western life back east and deliver them to a preacher who will reunite each with their families. Her time with the woman brings to the surface Cuddy’s own internal struggle to achieve the kind of life expected of her complete with husband and children.

As a companion she selects a surly claim jumper named George Briggs (Jones) who she saves from the noose and agrees to pay $300 dollars at the completion of their journey. Despite being the best thing about the film, Swank’s character is eventually overshadowed by Briggs whose madness and antics eventually take over the film.

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The Theory of Everything

by Alan Rapp on December 4, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Theory of Everything
  • IMDb: link

The Theory of EverythingTheoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is undeniably one of the brightest minds of our time, a fact that The Theory of Everything struggles to prove while being far more interested in the man’s personal life than his professional breakthroughs. The result is a strong romantic drama between Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Jane (Felicity Jones) that is far less insightful of the man’s work.

Dumbing down Hawking’s theories for the audience, the script by Anthony McCarten based on Jane Hawking‘s book spoon-feeds us extremely basic doses of Hawkings theories without ever examining the work that went into studying or proving them. Instead the ideas seem to come from nowhere, take little effort to prove, and are instantly lauded. Does that sound like the cut-throat world of academia to you?

More concerned with showcasing the effects and unique challenges presented to Stephen and Jane after his diagnosis of motor neuron disease, The Theory of Everything succeeds far better here getting the most of its stars (even if the film, intentionally or not, turns Jane into a martyr).

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  • Title: Birdman
  • IMDb: link

BirdmanWriter/director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s tale of a washed-up celebrity’s last chance to reclaim his career is a bizarre look at the life of a man who may, or may not, have super-human abilities who has bet his entire career on a Broadway production that is in continual struggle as opening night looms.

Making good use of Michael Keaton‘s role of Batman back in the early 1990s, Iñárritu casts the actor as Riggan Thomson best known for his role as a super-hero film series star who no one inside the industry takes seriously. Riggan is haunted by his former alter-ego Birdman who continues whispering to him in a gruff Batman tone voicing displeasure about the current state of the star’s life. In a script that ebbs and flows (and often gives us too many first-person walking shots down halls where nothing happens), Keaton keeps Birdman on track delivering his best performance since donning his own tights.

The rest of the cast and crew of the production fall into unremarkable (workmen, staff, etc.) or hopelessly neurotic (Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough) and egomaniacs (Edward Norton).

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Mockingjay Part 1

by Alan Rapp on November 21, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
  • IMDb: link

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1After two films of murder games by children building up to a rebellion stoked by class warfare the latest entry into The Hunger Games franchise offers only more build-up. Deciding to break the final book of the series into two parts, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 is nearly all set-up with no payoff in sight for at least a full year until next Fall (if ever).

Set an indeterminate period of time following the events of the last film, Jennifer Lawrence returns as reluctant hero Katniss Everdeen rescued at the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and recruited by the survivors of District 13 (the most well-funded and fully stocked secret underground rebellion in the history of cinema) to be the face of their revolution against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.

Mockingjay does offer something new as it delves into rebellion, propaganda, and the physical and emotional toll of Snow’s policies towards those who defy him. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, and Elizabeth Banks return as Katniss’ support system and Julianne Moore steps in as the leader of the rebellion with access to enough hair products to never have a single strand out of place.

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Laggies

by Alan Rapp on November 7, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Laggies
  • IMDb: link

LaggiesDirector Lynn Shelton‘s Laggies is an odd film that attempts to blend character study with rom-com tropes. It lacks the satiric wit and humorous mean-spiritedness of Young Adult but plays on similar themes of a protagonist struggling to grow-up. Andrea Seigel‘s script is kept afloat in its weaker moments thanks to an engaging performance by its star and a clear message about the struggles of finding oneself as an adult and the odd paths we take to get there.

As all her high school friends have gotten older, married, and started careers and families, Megan (Keira Knightley) is still living with her equally-procrastinistic high school boyfriend (Mark Webber) and working for her father (Jeff Garlin) in a dead-end job twirling a sign by the side of the road. The marriage of two friends, a proposal by her boyfriend, and the discover of her father’s extramarital affairs, all push Megan over the edge one night seeking comfort in the simpler problems of a high school student (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her friends.

Lying to her boyfriend about attending a life seminar, Megan disappears for a week moving in with Annika (Moretz) and her father (Sam Rockwell) who is thrown off guard by the entire bizarre relationship.

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Big Hero 6

by Alan Rapp on November 7, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Big Hero 6
  • IMDb: link

Big Hero 6Based (very) loosely on the comic of the same name, Big Hero 6 is Disney’s first animated feature film adapted from Marvel Comics. Taking quite a few liberties with the original story (including replacing the all-Asian proven group of warriors with a more diverse cast of would-be heroes), the plot involves a group of scientists in San Fransisco-ish city brought together by the genius younger brother of one of their former colleagues (Daniel Henney) who uses their combined know-how and the medical robot designed by his late brother named Baymax (Scott Adsit) to create a super-team.

Although the story is presented from the perspective of young Hiro (Ryan Potter) dealing with loss and an uncertain future, the big fluffy robot is the real star of the film providing most of the film’s big laughs. Rounding out the team are a perky chemistry wiz (Genesis Rodriguez), a high-speed adrenaline junkie (Jamie Chung), a neat-freak (Damon Wayans Jr.), and comic-book obsessed slacker (T.J. Miller) whose williness to go with Hiro’s super-hero concept helps get the others on-board.

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