Movie Reviews 

Maleficent

by Alan Rapp on May 30, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Maleficent
  • IMDB: link

MaleficentOffering a new live-action take on Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of the original tale’s villain, Maleficent is a pleasant surprise that works better than either of the recent disappointments, Mirror Mirror or Snow White and the Huntsman, both of which failed while attempting a similar approach to the retelling of Snow White.

Not without its own issues, most of which can be traced back to film’s lethargic opening act explaining Maleficent’s (Angelina Jolie) past and the series of events which led to her inevitable heel turn, Maleficent works largely due to the performances of Jolie and Elle Fanning (as the girl who would become known as Sleeping Beauty) and the film’s impressive style and design. Jolie is perfect for the role, relishing every moment on-screen, although the movie doesn’t really start moving until after Stefan’s (Sharlto Copley) betrayal which leaves the most powerful member of the fairies hell-bent on revenge on the man who stole far more than her heart and ultimately choose power over love.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

by Alan Rapp on May 24, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: X-Men: Days of Future Past
  • IMDB: link

X-Men: Days of Future PastHoping to bridge the gap between the success of X-Men: First Class and the more star-studded original X-Men films, and wash the taste of how horrifically that series ended, 20th Century Fox brought back director Bryan Singer and decided on adapting one of the long-running comic’s most popular stories for the big screen. The task set before Singer was no small one but the director steps up with X-Men: Days of Future Past and, in a Geoff Johns-ian effort of making disparate (and often inane) pieces fit, finds a way to deliver the best X-Men movie to date.

Opening in a dystopian not-too-far future the film sets up its basic premise of the time travel of a character’s mental consciousness in an opening action sequence involving Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and Iceman (Shawn Ashmore) along with several mutants we haven’t seen before: Bishop (Omar Sy), Warpath (Booboo Stewart), Blink (Bingbing Fan), and Sunspot (Adan Canto). What we learn is that Kitty can send a X-Men’s mind back in time to his younger self to warn of coming dangers and change the outcome.

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Chef

by Alan Rapp on May 23, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Chef
  • IMDB: link

ChefAlthough the storyline doesn’t veer far from well-established basic themes we’ve seen in countless films over the years involving reinventing your life, father-son dynamics, road trips, and overcoming adversity, with the right ingredients and cast writer/director/star Jon Favreau delivers a sumptuous treat as delectable as the various food on display. Calling on the help of a handful of his old Iron Man buddies, Favreau offers up his best film yet in front of, or behind, the camera.

When we first meet Carl Casper (Favreau) he’s a successful but unhappy head chef. Estranged from both his ex-wife (Sofía Vergara) and son Percy (Emjay Anthony), in a refreshingly honest take on a divorced family that doesn’t go for cheap hate-filled diatribes, Casper’s only brightspot his his enjoyable but mostly empty relationship with a waitress (Scarlett Johansson) which obviously isn’t going anywhere. With Johansson taking more and more roles as the sexy lead it’s great to see her step back into a more understated role reminding us that the actress can do more than just look good in tight pants and kick ass.

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  • Title: Belle
  • IMDB: link

BelleInspired by the 1779 painting of mixed-raced aristocrat Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) beside her white cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon) with whom she was raised by her uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson), Belle is an interesting look at a woman who grew up in lavish luxury but still searched long and hard for her true place both within her family and the wider world to whom she was seen as (at best) an outcast.

With no diary to draw directly from and only scattered reports of what the woman’s life would have been like under her uncle’s roof (such as not being allowed to dine with guests), screenwriter Misan Sagay certainly takes liberties with the story. At its best Belle is a strong character drama although it also devolves at several points into a time-period-specific romance novel. The rougher moments of Sagay’s tale are saved by the terrific performance of Gugu Mbatha-Raw who infuses the character with passion, strength, and a dogged determinedness which serves her well (but also gets her into spots of trouble).

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Godzilla

by Alan Rapp on May 14, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Godzilla (2014)
  • IMDB: link

GodzillaGodzilla returns to the big screen in an American film for the first time since 1998. Although better than Roland Emmerich‘s much despised film, while outdoing the director known for CGI disaster porn, the new version of Godzilla isn’t without its own issues. As a summer popcorn flick the new Godzilla may satisfy in the short term but it’s unlikely to entice me to return to its story anytime soon (if ever).

Opening in 1999 in the Philippines where an ancient monster is awoken before it makes its way to Japan unseen (this happens more than you’d expect in the film) and destroys a nuclear reactor to feed on the radioactivity for the next 15 years, the film jumps forward to present day where the scientist in charge of the facility (Bryan Cranston) still struggles with what really happened. Although much of the extended opening centers around Cranston (which could be trimmed considerably), the movie’s main character is the scientist’s son Lieutenant Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a bomb disposal expert whose skills will come in quite handy before the end of the film.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2

by Alan Rapp on May 2, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Amazing Spider-Man 2
  • IMDB: link

The Amazing Spider-Man 2Building on the groundwork laid two years ago in The Amazing Spider-Man, the sequel returns all the core members of the first film (minus the Lizard) while continuing the story of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and the harsh lessons which frame Spider-Man’s mythology.

Although needing to spend the time setting up two different villain origin stories, one of the aspects of the sequel I most enjoyed was the fact that it never lost focus that this is primarily Peter Parker’s movie. Jamie Foxx is adequate as Electro, a super-villain with the power to absorb and control electricity, even if he’s given a rushed paint-by-the-numbers origin that relies on the introverted electrical engineer going from confused super-powered freak just trying to understand what has happened to him and deal with his new taste for all things electric to full-on super-villain a little too quickly for my tastes. The same could be said for Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) whose relationship with Peter doesn’t have enough time to develop and deteriorate to the point that the script needs to earn its eventual payoff.

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Transcendence

by Alan Rapp on April 19, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Transcendence
  • IMDB: link

TranscendenceThe question about Transcendence isn’t if its eventual flaws will eventually cause you to lose interest but when. I’ll admit I was surprised, despite the ridiculous nature of what screenwriter Jack Paglen‘s script considers science, that by relying on some intriguing ideas and a solid cast the film kept me interested far longer than I expected. Of course that was before the movie went completely off the rails and crashed in a hideous and head-scratching mess.

Putting human intelligence in a machine is hardly anything new. Well before the invention of computers and the Internet sci-fi and horror authors were playing on the idea. The premise Paglen begins with is sound enough as several of the leaders in artificial intelligence are attacked by an a quasi-religous, sorta anti-technology (but not really) terrorist group. Although Will Caster (Johnny Depp) survives the initial attack, with only months left to live his wife (Rebecca Hall) and best friend (Paul Bettany) use their combined research to create an artificial intelligence out of his mind.

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Draft Day

by Alan Rapp on April 12, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Draft Day
  • IMDB: link

Draft DaySet over the course of a single day, Draft Day offers the opportunity for sports-film go-to-guy Kevin Costner (now a little too long in the tooth to star as an actual player) to star as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns on the team’s biggest day of the year. Fighting the recent death of his father, an aggressive new head coach (Denis Leary), an owner (Frank Langella) demanding a “big splash,” his own beliefs on the right move and the player he wants to draft (Chadwick Boseman), and the news that his not-so-secret girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant, Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) will struggle through the day to do what he believes is best for the team.

The script by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph along with the framing of cinematographer Eric Steelberg captures the pressure, size, and scale of the moment Sonny finds himself in the middle of when he makes a questionable deal to trade for the number-one pick to draft “a sure thing” in quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Although I think the script does falter a bit in Sonny’s final moves, straining believably, the story director Ivan Reitman sets out to tell is enganging, well-paced, and a hell of a good time.

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

by Alan Rapp on April 4, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • IMDB: link

Captain America: The Winter SoldierPicking up some time after the events of The Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans) has grown more accustomed to the current world while going to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. Despite being well-suited for his new role, Steve Rogers has become increasingly uncomfortable with cleaning-up Nick Fury‘s (Samuel L. Jackson) messes including working alongside the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in the film’s opening action sequence involving the hijacking of a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel by Algerian pirates.

Returning home with a few choice words for Fury, and contemplating leaving government service all together while hanging out with his new friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Captain America finds himself in the middle of the action, and a vast conspiracy, following a brazen attack on Nick Fury in broad daylight on the streets of New York and the discovery that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been infiltrated by HYDRA. Not knowing who to trust, and with the help of only Black Widow and the Falcon, he’ll also have to deal with a mysterious assassin known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan).

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Noah

by Alan Rapp on March 28, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Noah
  • IMDB: link

NoahObsessed with the story of Noah since he was 13 years-old, writer/director Darren Aronofsky finally sees his vision of a quasi-fantasy/religious take on the biblical tale of the Genesis flood crash into the big screen today like a tidal wave. Sadly, as the characters of Aronofsky’s films usually learn, obsession leads to trouble.

Noah is certainly a labor of love and quite a bit of talent went into the creation of Noah, the ark, and the flood which washed away the sin of man from the face of the Earth. Equally certain, despite the skill on display both in front and behind the camera, is the fact that Noah is a mess on the level of Waterworld. Its grand expectations and epic scale simply can’t find a way to balance its stark character study of a man fighting to do the will of his God against the film’s more fantastical and sci-fi elements which include fallen angels in the form of giant rock creatures, the existence and use of magic, and never-ending storyline that keeps going long after it’s jumped the rails and taken a nosedive into the watery abyss which consumes so many (nameless) characters.

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