Movie Reviews 

The Wind Rises

by Alan Rapp on February 28, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Kaze tachinu
  • IMDB: link

“All I wanted to do was to make something beautiful.”

The Wind RisesOver a lifetime in animation Japanese film director Hayao Miyazaki has made a name for himself as one of the premiere filmmakers of his generation. Although I haven’t always loved his films, I found Princess Mononoke too bizarre for my tastes and a bit unwieldy with its 133-minute running time, it’s impossible to come out of any Miyazaki film without a profound respect for the talented man who brought them to the screen.

For his final film Miyazaki delivers a love story to aviation in the fictionalized biography of Japanese aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi (Hideaki Anno), a young man with dreams of building beautiful flying machines who would design the Mitsubishi A5M and Mitsubishi A6M Zero which Japan used during WWII. Adapted from the novel by Hori Tatsuo, The Wind Rises may not quite be the all-ages adventure some might be hoping for, but it beautifully captures the fire of imagination that drives Jiro in his designs and the lively but ill Naoko (Miori Takimoto) whom he falls desperately in love with. As he approaches his life’s ambition he feels the other great love of his life slowly fading away.

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3 Days to Kill

by Alan Rapp on February 21, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: 3 Days to Kill
  • IMDB: link

3 Days to KillIt would be easy to simply call 3 Days to Kill as a bad movie and move on, and I certainly wouldn’t blame anyone one for doing so. The inconsistent thriller concerning the final mission of dying spy Ethan Renner (Kevin Costner) dealing with apartment full of an extended family of squatters, reconnecting with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld), and working for a sexy spy (Amber Heard), immediately after promising his wife he was done with the the agency, to find and kill a target known only as The Wolf (Richard Sammel), is one hell of a B-movie mess.

Costner, who has had some notable voice issues earlier this year causing him to pull out of planned appearances, could give Christian Bale‘s gruff Batman voice a run for its money with his gravel monotone performance here. Despite making assurances he’s given up the life, and without explaining to his wife and daughter how killing dozens of people where they live in Paris might come back to haunt them, Renner agrees to slowly kill his way to The Wolf and his top lieutenant The Albino (Tómas Lemarquis).

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Robocop Redux

by Alan Rapp on February 13, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Robocop (2014)
  • IMDB: link

RobocopReleased in 1987, Robocop holds a special spot in the pantheon of 80′s action movies for anyone who has seen it (and its various lesser sequels and spin-offs). Written by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner (by far the best script either has done), director Paul Verhoeven‘s satirical, violent, and over-the-top tale of a critically wounded Detroit police officer turned into the first cybernetic soldier by an ominous corporation with its own agenda gets an obligatory, and completely unnecessary, remake. Thankfully this one fares better than the last Verhoeven film Hollywood decided to remake.

Missing the original’s biting wit (none of those terrific commercials this time around) or primal sense of justice and revenge, and substituting a PG-13 gruesomeness for the original’s R-rated violence (meaning we get a much smaller body count but several shots of scientists poking around inside of the still-human pieces of our hero), the new film makes several interesting choices that allow the story to take a slightly different path than the original.

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Everything is Awesome

by Alan Rapp on February 8, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The LEGO Movie
  • IMDB: link

The LEGO MovieWith a mix of stop-motion and CGI effects (some purposely cheesy enough to show you the string holding figures in frame) The LEGO Movie delivers an energetic and enjoyable story with a nice message for kids. A cynical person would note that the film is basically a 100-minute commercial to sell the various (mostly over-priced) specialized sets and figures that make up the LEGO franchise. However, the movie (for the most part) puts the story and characters first while also promoting the basic message of the building blocks that allow you to build anything you can imagine.

Beginning with an awkward opening scene involving a wizard (Morgan Freeman), the film’s villain Lord Business (Will Ferrell), and a prophecy about “The Special,” the movie gets off to a bit of a shaky start (although it does eventually backtrack to put the events into context). Jumping years in the future we’re introduced to our hero, unremarkable construction worker Emmet Brickowoski (Chris Pratt), who finds the mythical Piece of Resistance which can prevent Business’ plans of destruction.

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The Monuments Men

by Alan Rapp on February 7, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Monuments Men
  • IMDB: link

The Monuments MenOriginally planned for a Christmas release, The Monuments Men finally makes it into theaters this weekend. Directed and co-written by George Clooney, who also stars as George L. Stout, the film is a war-time picture highlighting an unusual group of heroes. Based on true accounts, The Monuments Men tells the story of Stout and other over-aged art experts and connoisseurs who were put together by Franklin D. Roosevelt to save priceless art being plundered and destroyed by the Nazis during WWII.

The group of Monuments Men includes Matt DamonBill Murray, John Goodman, and Bob Balaban, along with Englishman Hugh Bonneville, and Frenchman Jean Dujardin. A little bit Ocean’s Eleven and a little bit old school war film, Clooney’s latest project begins with Stout stumping for the need for such and organization and recruiting old friends on what many in both Washington and on the battlefield see as nothing more than a fool’s errand. From basic training through searching abandoned German salt mines after the end of WWII, the film follows the fate of the unusual band of art experts and historians turned soldiers and the treasures they seek.

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  • Title: Labor Day
  • IMDB: link

Labor DayI’m a Jason Reitman fan. Young Adult made my Top Films of 2011, as did Juno a few years earlier. I consider Thank You For Smoking the best satire (by far) of the past decade, and Up in the Air was easily my favorite film of 2009. With a combination of wit, talent, and an eye for casting, the writer-director has produced some terrific films over the past few years. Sadly, Labor Day is not one of them.

Based on the novel by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day lacks Reitman’s usual flourishes or the trademark edge of the director’s previous work. Although competently acted and well produced, neither the director nor its stars (Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Clark Gregg, and Gattlin Griffith) can save the movie from trashy romance novel themes about the nicest escaped murderer (Brolin) this side of Mayberry and an implausible love story that is impossible to take seriously (but also not quite cheesy enough to laugh at or enjoy). It’s with neither malice nor spite, but with a heavy heart, that I dub the film the best produced Lifetime Movie for Women ever made.

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

by Alan Rapp on January 17, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
  • IMDB: link

Jack Ryan: Shadow RecruitIt’s been more than a decade since the last movie based on Tom Clancy‘s thinking man’s action hero Jack Ryan opened in theaters. Far from a box office bomb The Sum of All Fears still failed to relaunch the franchise with Ben Affleck in the starring role. 11 years later Hollywood tries again with Chris Pine taking over the role in a Jack Ryan origin story that is the first of the five films to not be based off one of Clancy’s novels.

Although it plays with the timing of various important events, the screenplay remains close to Ryan’s origins from the Clancy novels. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit offers a quick look at the series of events that led him from earning a Doctorate in Economics to his stint in the Marine Corps and his eventual injury and recruitment into the CIA by Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner). The film also spends quite a bit of time developing the relationship between Ryan and Cathy (Keira Knightley), a phsycial therapist earning her medical degree who helps in his recovery and rehabilitation following the helicopter crash that nearly left him paralyzed.

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Lone Survivor

by Alan Rapp on January 10, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Lone Survivor
  • IMDB: link

Lone SurvivorBased on Marcus Luttrell‘s (Mark Wahlberg) personal accounts, Lone Survivor chronicles a mission in the Hindu Kush mountain region of Afghanistan to find and kill high ranking Taliban member. Of the four-man initial team, and the first group sent in to retrieve them, Luttrell would be the sole survivor.

After a brief introduction to life on the base and the various Navy SEALS (most of whom will play only ancillary roles to the main tale) the film moves forward with the introduction and deployment of Luttrell, Murphy (Taylor Kitsch), Dietz (Emile Hirsch), and Axelson (Ben Foster). Arriving at their destination without incident, the mission takes a turn for the worse when they are discovered by three locals.

Cut off from HQ, and with no standing orders for such a situation (something which seems a tad odd), the foursome argue over how to proceed knowing any chance of their mission succeeding means the death of the old man and two boys which the team is unwilling to do.

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Her

by Alan Rapp on January 10, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Her
  • IMDB: link

HerSet in the near future, the latest from writer/director Spike Jonze is as much about an unusual love story as an examination of ever evolving technologies which increase the very real chance at something like this occurring. When we first meet Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) he’s a miserable human being. Still not over the impending divorce of his wife (Rooney Mara), and spending every day composing letters and cards for other peoples’ loved ones, Theodore is depressed and very much alone.

His life changes when he decides to purchase a new top-of-the-line operating system which offers him the chance to begin a relationship with a woman he will never meet. Designed to evolve and change like a human being, adapting to those she comes into contact with, Samantha (voiced by an unseen Scarlett Johansson) proves to be just the breath of fresh air Theodore needs. Although there’s no chance of any sort of physical relationship (other than an awkward attempt with a surrogate), Theodore falls completely for Samantha whose love rehabilitates him.

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August: Osage County

by Alan Rapp on January 10, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: August: Osage County
  • IMDB: link

August: Osage CountyAin’t family dysfuncion fun? If you could condense a single message from the two-hour running time of August: Osage County this, it appears, is all the film has to say. Having not seen the play of the same name by Tracy Letts I don’t know if the source material was any deeper, but since Letts alone adapted the play for the big screen I’m betting he didn’t make many significant changes.

The movie’s plot centers around the various troubled, bitchy, deceitful, and argumentative women of the Weston family who all return home to (theoretically) help their cancer-ridden mother (Meryl Streep) after their father (Sam Shepard) runs off and leaves her only a Native American nurse (Misty Upham) for support, because apparently Indians and racially-inappropriate comments from seniors are hilarious.

What follows, of course, is a series of fights, disagreements, the airing of family laundry and secrets, and the long overdue discovery by the entire group that they are all far better off separated by great distances.

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