Movie Reviews 

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

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  • 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

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  • 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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Interstellar

by Alan Rapp on November 5, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Interstellar
  • IMDb: link

InterstellarIf Christopher Nolan‘s sci-fi end-of-the-world epic feels a bit familiar it is. Borrowing obviously from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the recent success of an astronaut stranded in space in Gravity (both far better films), Interstellar showcases both Nolan’s strengths and weaknesses of the director when his subject matter lacks the originality of his best films.

An ambitious project to be sure, Interstellar‘s B-movie plot seemingly ripped straight out of 1950s sci-fi can only lead it so far. The strength of its cast can’t cover up the flaws in the nearly three-hour project whose length also effects the director’s decreasingly-effective bag-of-tricks such as the loud music blasts which may have worked in Inception but come off distracting and disorienting even obscuring dialogue in several scenes.

As a movie experience Interstellar has merit and is worth seeing. As a complete film experience I found it wanting and would compare it to the eerily similar Signs. M. Night Shamalan‘s equally ambitious project relied too strongly on performance, far-too-cute coincidences, and late twists (over a well-developed story) as well.

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Dracula Untold

by Alan Rapp on October 10, 2014

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  • Title: Dracula Untold
  • IMDb: link

Dracula UntoldWhat would you sacrifice to save the loves of the ones you love? That’s conundrum is central to the events of Dracula Untold which recasts Vlad the Impaler as a former child soldier drafted into the service of the Turkish Army. After making a name for himself for the brutal ways in which he left enemy soldiers on the battlefield, Vlad eventually returned home to Transylvania to resume his role as prince. After a decade of peace Vlad’s peaceful tranquility is shattered by the return of the Turks who demand 1,000 children including Vlad’s son to grow the ranks of their upcoming campaigns.

Casting Vlad as a tragic figure long before his transformation into the world’s most famous vampire, the film lucks out on the casting of Luke Evans who is better than the source material and somehow keeps the story together through its rougher patches. The other casting of interest is Charles Dance as the vampire who agrees to sire Vlad in exchange for being granted his own freedom from a curse that has kept him hidden the mountains of Transylvania for centuries. Dance’s villain is by far the creepiest part of film and the closest it ever reaches to being a real horror movie.

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Kill the Messenger

by Alan Rapp on October 10, 2014

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  • Title: Kill the Messenger
  • IMDb: link

Kill the MessengerBased on accounts written by Nick Schou and Gary Webb, Kill the Messenger offers a rather one-sided look at San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb’s (Jeremy Renner) investigation and publishing of a story concerning the CIA supporting the cocaine smuggling of Nicaraguan Contra Rebels and the sale of those drugs inside the United States.

After a brief set-up introducing Webb’s family and co-workers, the movie follows his journey uncovering the biggest story of his career, the initial success garnered by its publication, and his quick fall from grace as the media at large began to poke holes in the story (which the script suggests were at the behest of the CIA and the United States Government).

When Kill the Messenger is focused on the story itself it works well. When the focus shifts to Webb’s decline, making him, rather than his work, the story (going against the overall message of the movie), it starts to falter down dark conspiracies and paranoia. Unwilling to see the gloom to its inevitable conclusion the script by Peter Landesman simply stops offering an ultimately unsatisfying ending.

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The Equalizer

by Alan Rapp on September 27, 2014

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  • Title: The Equalizer
  • IMDb: link

The EqualizerBased on the 80s television show of the same name, The Equalizer stars Denzel Washington as a retired military officer with a mysterious past attempting to live a normal life. That normalcy is shattered when an acquaintance (Chloë Grace Moretz) is hospitalized by her pimp (David Meunier) sending Robert McCall in search of justice which will lead him on a one man crusade against crooked cops and the Russian mob.

Washington feels a bit out of place here in a script by Richard Wenk more befitting Steven Seagal in the prime of his B-movie action days. Unsure at times whether it wants to be a drama or old school action/revenge flick, The Equalizer is at its best when it allows McCall to take off the gloves and get to work (such as the movie’s climactic sequence involving several inventive deaths using various implements at the Home Depot where McCall is currently employed).

Eventually the ridiculous scope of what McCall’s quest gets the better of the screenwriter as the script ends in a ludicrous epilogue following the retail warehouse final battle. When it keeps McCall’s actions smaller, and a bit more plausible, the movie has more success.

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

by Alan Rapp on August 23, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
  • IMDb: link

Sin City: A Dame to Kill ForIt’s been nine years since Robert Rodriguez teamed with Frank Miller to bring Miller’s Sin City to life. Producing the most faithful comic book movie to date while still finding a way to add value and improve the source material with stylistic choices that continue to make the film visually unique nearly a decade later, I thought enough of the film to make it one of my Top 10 Films of 2005.

Since that time Hollywood has attempted to recapture the magic of Sin City with a series of comic book stylized movies, none of which have measured up. Despite Miller’s involvement The Spirit floundered. And although 300 was marginally passable, if completely ridiculous at times, the sequel was far from impressive.

Returning several of the original film’s stars, while doing some recasting here and there, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For isn’t as good as the original. The opening scene featuring Marv (Mickey Rourke) feels a bit rushed. It doesn’t give us Clive Owen for the post-op Dwight. And we don’t get nearly enough Rosario Dawson.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

by Alan Rapp on August 8, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
  • IMDb: link

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesDirected by Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) and produced by Michael Bay, it’s not really a surprise that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t a good movie. What is surprising is the fact it isn’t mind-numbingly awful, and at times it even borders on even being dumb fun and mildly entertaining.

Taking more than a few liberties with the comic, television, and toy franchise, the script by Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, and Evan Daugherty offers an origin story for our four amphibious heroes (who are mistakenly referred to as reptiles), their first meeting with Channel 6 reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox), and the start of their battle against the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).

Highlighting the fact that Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) are mutant teenagers, and downplaying he fact that they’re actually ninjas, the film makes some bizarre casting and script decisions that remove much of the oriental influence of the franchise.

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Hercules

by Alan Rapp on August 2, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Hercules (2014)
  • IMDb: link

HerculesBased on the comic book mini-series from writer Steve Moore and artist Admira Wijaya, Hercules removes the myth and legend of the figure choosing to cast Hercules (Dwayne “It’s Okay to Call Me The Rock Again” Johnson) as a weary nomadic mercenary rather than the true son of Zeus (although he certainly trades on the legend for his own profit) well after completing his legendary 12 labors. With a band of loyal warriors around him, Hercules’ legend has grown over time as his exploits have been exaggerated to the point that everyone believes the mythic warrior to be the unstoppable son of a god.

Director Brett Ratner‘s film reminds me a little of Antoine Fuqua‘s King Arthur which similarly removed the mythical trappings and magic surrounding a legendary figure in an attempt to focus on the man behind the legend and those closest to him. Hercules may not be as successful as Arthur, but The Rock is perfectly cast in the role and Ratner surrounds him with a strong supporting cast and impressive effects for a B-movie that’s better than expected.

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