Movie Reviews 

Guardians of the Galaxy

by Alan Rapp on August 1, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Guardians of the Galaxy
  • IMDb: link

“What a bunch of a-holes.”

Guardians of the GalaxyChoosing to go where no Marvel film has gone before, Guardians of the Galaxy not only opens the door to the wider Marvel Universe among the stars but also introduces some of Marvel Studios most memorable characters. I’ve been a fan of the current team since they got together back in 2008, but I had serious doubts about how well Marvel could incorporate a group of space misfits who include thieves, killers, a genetically-enhanced raccoon, and talking tree into a mainstream sci-fi/action film.

I’ve been less impressed by James Gunn‘s body of work up until this point than most (sorry, I’m just not a fan of Slither), but the co-writer/director proves to be the right choice to juggle the various bizarre elements of the script while infusing it with an offbeat sense of humor which fits the characters and cast well. There are some groanworthy moments here or there, such as having Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) dance for the film’s baddie Ronan (Lee Pace), but thankfully they are few and far between as Gunn makes most of the right calls in dealing the team of oddball heroes.

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Wish I Was Here

by Alan Rapp on July 28, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Wish I Was Here
  • IMDB: link

Wish I Was HereTen years ago Zack Braff wrote, directed, and starred in a little film called Garden State. Over the next decade the actor continued to work in front of the camera but other than directing a few episodes of Scrubs left the work behind the camera to others. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Braff returns to the big screen with Wish I Was Here which features many of the same quirks of his Garden State while focusing on sensibilities that have evolved over time.

Despite having a similar slice-of-life take on a character not too far removed from his own (here Braff stars as a struggling actor with an overworked wife and demanding children), Wish I Was Here is far less effective than Garden State. Co-written by Braff’s brother Adam, the new feature provides some great individual moments (including reminding us that Kate Hudson can act when called upon to do something more than braindead romcoms), but fails in becoming more than the sum of its parts by offering an overly simplistic ending to a messy (and increasingly cliched) life seemingly freed of all troubles in under two-hours.

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Lucy

by Alan Rapp on July 25, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Lucy
  • IMDb: link

LucyFalling back on a long debunked myth Hollywood fell in love with years ago that somehow a person only uses 10% of their brain, the latest movie from writer/director Luc Besson casts Scarlett Johansson as a completely unexceptional young woman whose mind is opened up by a designer drug allowing her to access more and more of her “unused” brain. The result feels very much like a script where only a fraction of 10% of a person’s brain power was used to write it.

Unapologetically becoming more and more like The Matrix as Lucy’s intelligence grows and gives her access to the hidden code of the world (which is never adequately explained despite the narration by Morgan Freeman‘s character) and various super powers, Besson’s story never differentiates between the ability to absorb knowledge and knowledge itself. Just because Lucy suddenly has a bigger brain doesn’t mean she still wouldn’t have to learn the knowledge or skills (including advanced computer coding and foreign languages) to properly use them.

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Planes: Fire & Rescue

by Alan Rapp on July 18, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Planes: Fire & Rescue
  • IMDB: link

Planes: Fire & RescueLast year’s Cars spin-off starring Dane Cook as a cropduster with dreams of becoming a world-class racer came and went without much fanfare. Made by Disney rather than Pixar, Planes certainly had the feel of far too many of Disney’s straight-to-video sequels (despite the movie actually getting a theatrical release). I found the first film to be more than a little clunky, and certainly the weakest of any of the movies set in the Cars universe, but it still had enough charm and beautiful animation to keep my interest. Planes‘ sequel feels much the same with some uneven writing and cheap fart jokes. However, along with its impressive look, the sequel does celebrate the service of firefighters and offer a nice lesson for its target audience.

Planes: Fire & Rescue returns Cook as cropduster turned world-famous racer Dusty Crophopper whose career is put in jeopardy thanks to nonrepairable damage to the plane’s gearbox. In an attempt to help out an old friend, and keep the local airstrip open, Dusty signs up to train as with a fire and rescue team hoping to become certified as a firefighter.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

by Alan Rapp on July 12, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • IMDb: link

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a surprise hit in attempting to reboot the Planet of the Apes series by explaining how the seeds of humanity’s destruction were sewn and the steps which led the apes to eventually become the dominant species on the planet. The first film has a few plot holes that still nag me, and although I enjoyed Rise of the Planet of the Apes it hasn’t been a story I’ve returned to or have given much thought to seeing expanded in sequels.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of the first film with the sly observations on gun violence, race relations, and how militant individuals can spur on a war which isn’t necessary or beneficial for either side. It also has the same types of nagging plot issues that Rise was saddled with as the script relies on some awfully stupid decision making by characters acting against their own interests (such as including a militant human, a one-note character played by Kirk Acevedo, who just shot one of the apes as part of a diplomatic mission the success on which humanity’s survival hinges).

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Can a Song Save Your Life?

by Alan Rapp on July 2, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Begin Again
  • IMDb: link

Begin AgainWritten and directed by John Carney, Begin Again is simply a joy to watch. At times this tale of the mismatched pair of a record label exec (Mark Ruffalo) whose life is swirling around the drain and a young singer-songwriter (Keira Knightley) dealing with crushing rejection of her now-successful longtime writing partner and boyfriend (Adam Levine) comes dangerously close to being too cute for its own good. Thankfully Carney’s choice to ground the film in serious issues such as heartbreak, betrayal, estranged families, and politics of the music business balances the film’s hopeful tone and message to prevent the movie from ever becoming too cliche or sappy.

While Ruffalo provides both angst and humor, Knightley is the soul of the film. Having only seen her sing in short segments of The Edge of Love (a movie worth seeing more for her performance more than anything else), I was thrilled to find a her lilting voice the perfect match for the indie songwriter thousands of miles from home dealing the emotional yo-yo of immediate heartbreak and at the same time a once-in-a-lifetime record offer.

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Transformers: Age of Extinction

by Alan Rapp on June 27, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Transformers: Age of Extinction
  • IMDb: link

Transformers: Age of ExtinctionI’m not a fan of Michael Bay‘s Transformers movies. In fact I’ve hated every single one. Transformers: Age of Extinction is not an exception, but on the sliding scale of horrific awfulness that is the Bay Transformers franchise it’s the least objectionable of the lot. Lazy, inane, and almost completely without merit, the latest Transformers film didn’t so much anger me as leave me increasingly confused and apathetic to the “storytelling” that was unfolding before my eyes.

The first film ruined a beloved childhood toy and cartoon franchise by centering the film not on the transforming robots themselves but a lazy 80s teenage sex comedy between Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox and lots of (pointless) robot porn. The sequel lowered the bar with a plot that makes Highlander 2: The Quickening sound plausible involving Transformer reincarnation and various inanity including a sexbot, racist robots, more American flag waving, and even more (pointless) robot porn.

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Jersey Boys

by Alan Rapp on June 20, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Jersey Boys
  • IMDb: link

Jersey BoysFrom the big musical numbers, to the characters stopping at times to directly address the audience and the staging of much of the action, Jersey Boys feels every bit the adapted stage jukebox musical which spawned it. Fans of The Four Seasons are likely to enjoy themselves, although 134-minutes of Frankie Valli‘s recreated high-pitched crooning in stereo surround started to wear on me before the credits rolled.

Choosing to go mostly without bigger names to sell the film, John Lloyd Young steps in to play the role of Valli which won him a Tony Award for his performance on Broadway. Vincent Piazza, Erich Bergen, and Michael Lomenda round out the group in this mostly by-the-numbers look at the rise and fall of the 60s group who produced a number of hits including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” Walk Like A Man,” and “Rag Doll.”

A tale of a bunch of Jersey guys who made good, Jersey Boys is your typical modern musical which feels more like a greatest hits of Frankie Valli’s life and music than the true story behind the band.

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22 Jump Street

by Alan Rapp on June 14, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: 22 Jump Street
  • IMDb: link

22 Jump StreetThe first film’s rebooting of the 80s television show with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as a pair of screw-up cops sent in undercover as high school students turned out to be a surprisingly self-aware dumb-fun action-comedy. Those who enjoyed 21 Jump Street and were left wanting more of the same should enjoy the sequel (which even the script by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman admits, on multiple occasions, is basically the exact same story all over again).

Poking fun not only at the pair of cops attempting to pass themselves off as college freshman but also sequels in general this time around, 22 Jump Street sends officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) to college to track down a new designer drug WHYPHY. Offering the same friendship and fallout dynamic between partners as 21 Jump Street, the sequel also gives gives Schmidt a new love interest (Amber Stevens) while working Ice Cube into a slightly larger role this time around. It’s not a great film, and you’re certainly going to have to put your brain on hold, but it does provide plenty of dumb fun.

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How to Train Your Dragon 2

by Alan Rapp on June 13, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • IMDb: link

How to Train Your Dragon 2Picking up five years after the events of the first film, How to Train Your Dragon 2 finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) dealing with new challenges including his father‘s (Gerard Butler) plans to hand over the kingdom of Birk to his son, an enemy (Djimon Hounsou) creating his own army of dragons to conquer the world, and the unexpected return of Hiccup’s mother Valka (Cate Blanchett) who disappeared and has been presumed dead since Hiccup was a baby.

Returning the original cast of characters including Astrid (America Ferrera), Gobber (Craig Ferguson), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Tuffnut (T.J. Miller), and Ruffnut (Kristen Wiig), the sequel leaves time for the events of the the television show to take place without forcing the viewer to have seen the series to make sense of the current state of events. Blanchett’s addition of Valka, a woman more at home with dragons than her own son, and that of Hounsou as the film’s new villain Drago Bludvist prove to be excellent choices, but the heart of the film remains Hiccup and Toothless.

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