Movie Reviews 

Fifty Shades of Grey

by Alan Rapp on February 13, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Fifty Shades of Grey
  • IMDb: link

Fifty Shades of GreyWell, at least the foreplay was mildly entertaining. The attempt by director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel to adapt E.L. Jamesnovel of the same name feels every inch a Hollywood adaptation of a trashy romance novel.

Fifty Shades of Grey, which could just as easily been titled “Porn for Women” or “Wild Orchid 3: The Seduction of Anastasia,” offers us the ridiculously named duo of college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Despite their initial attraction through a random plot device involving Anastasia’s roommate and an article for a school paper Ana doesn’t work for, the pair struggle to get together because of Christian’s aloof manner and odd sexual proclivities.

Through a mix of celebrated bad dialogue and nonerotic and unromantic sex scenes shot like music videos we, along with Ana, learn of Christian’s sadomasochistic tendencies as he offers her a way into his world. Overwhelmed by the attention of a hunky millionaire, Ana fights back her doubts in order to be with a man she’s quickly fallen for.

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Two Days, One Night

by Alan Rapp on February 13, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Deux jours, une nuit
  • IMDb: link

Two Days, One NightThere’s a little bit of Don Quioxte in Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne‘s French film Two Days, One Night. Marion Cotillard stars as a factory worker ready to return to work following a nervous breakdown only to discover that her coworkers, after being given the option by their boss, have decided they would rather have their yearly bonuses than her return.

Allowing Sandra to plead her case, her boss schedules another vote on the following Monday giving her two days to convince a majority of her 16 coworkers to change their minds and allow her to return. Championed by her husband (Fabrizio Rongione) and best-friend (Catherine Salée), Sandra begins a series of heartwrenching conversations with coworkers who, like her, need the money.

There are no real heroes or villains (with the exception of Sandra’s boss and one angry young man) in the film. Many simply are relying on their bonus to make ends meet and others simply don’t wish to give up money they feel they earned during her absence.

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Jupiter Ascending

by Alan Rapp on February 6, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Jupiter Ascending
  • IMDb: link

Jupiter AscendingJupiter Ascending is insane (and only occasionally in a good way). The latest from the Wachowskis casts Mila Kunis in the starring role as an illegal immigrant house cleaner who is actually the resurrected matriarch of one the galaxy’s richest families. Despite being born on Earth, and having no memory of her previous life, based on her DNA Jupiter is entitled to her former estates and riches which her galactic progeny (Eddie Redmayne, Douglas Booth, Tuppence Middleton) will do anything to prevent from happening.

Saved by a soldier spliced with a wolf on rocket shoes (Channing Tatum), Jupiter eventually finds her way into space to accept her inheritance which includes the planet Earth and everyone living on it.

Did I mention this movie is insane? Jupiter Ascending jumps the tracks fairly early, after a slow introduction to our protagonist’s pre-space-faring life, and becomes a constantly exploding runaway train that no one involved in the project lifts a finger to gain control of for the remainder of its 127-minute running time. Visually intriguing, the film is a mess of mashed-up sci-fi ideas borrowed from better films.

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A Most Violent Year

by Alan Rapp on January 30, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: A Most Violent Year
  • IMDb: link

A Most Violent YearI’ve never been a big fan of gangster movies. Writer/director J.C. Chandor A Most Violent Year, however, is more a character study than a focus on the questionable business practices of a successful immigrant businessman (Oscar Isaac) during one the most violent winter’s of New York City’s history.

All things considered, Abel Morales (Isaac) is actually a good guy whose ambitions to enlarge the business leave him vulnerable to attacks from his competitors and investigations by the police. He also must deal with the ruthlessness of his wife (Jessica Chastain) and the mistakes of one of his drivers (Elyes Gabel).

A Most Violent Year is a well-made film that, even if it isn’t as satisfying as I’d like, has plenty to recommend. The entire film is built around Isaac’s performance which doesn’t disappoint. Chastain is scary at times in the role of Isaac’s wife and the daughter of a gangster (whose name gets dropped often but never makes an appearance leaving a large piece of the couple’s lives unexplored). Scorpion‘s Elyes Gabel is put to good use as the eager but distrustful immigrant who wants nothing more than to become Abel.

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American Sniper

by Alan Rapp on January 16, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: American Sniper
  • IMDb: link

American SniperAdapted from the autobiographical story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, Clint Eastwood offers an old fashioned character study with strong patriotic leanings and not as much introspection as one might ultimately like. Bradley Cooper is terrific in the starring role of a soldier obsessed with serving his country and protecting his brothers-in-arms overseas while struggling with even the idea of life back home with his wife (Sienna Miller). The result is an engaging, if incomplete, story as Eastwood careful cuts away anything that doesn’t quite fit Kyle’s heroic narrative including an ending that leaves much unsaid.

Following the soldier’s own interests, the scenes that take place during Kyle’s four tours of Iraq which made him the most lethal sniper in U.S. Military history work better than the limited amount of time we witness him back home. While acknowledging the character’s hero complex, Eastwood mostly shies away from how the length of Kyle’s service effected him emotionally choosing instead to celebrate (one might even argue glorify) the man’s war record. Eastwood tells the story he wants well, even if the result begins to feel a bit too much like pro-military propaganda.

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Inherent Vice

by Alan Rapp on January 9, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Inherent Vice
  • IMDb: link

Inherent ViceIs hippie noir a thing? Set in 1970 Los Angeles writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson‘s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel of the same name follows the misadventures of pothead private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). Doc is hired by his former girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), whom he has never gotten over, to foil a plot involving the forced incarceration of her current married boyfriend (Eric Roberts) into a mental institution in his family’s attempt to grab his millions.

Filled with oddball characters with distinctive names, Inherent Vice is an intriguing blend of Pynchon’s writing with Anderson’s style featuring an all-star supporting cast of Josh Brolin as a L.A. police detective with an intense hatred for our P.I., Owen Wilson as a presumed dead musician whose wife (Jena Malone) hires Doc to discover the truth about his whereabouts, Hong Chau as “a small perfect Asian dewdrop” working at a massage profile where Doc is temporarily framed for murder, Reese Witherspoon as an Assistant District Attorney and another of Doc’s old flames, and Pretty Little LiarsSasha Pieterse as a young runaway with a drug problem supported by her doctor (Martin Short).

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The Imitation Game

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Imitation Game
  • IMDb: link

The Imitation GameCode breaking is an art as much as a science and never was it needed, or more artfully accomplished, than by the British during World War II. Set during the middle of Second World War, The Imitation Game follows an unlikely group of scholars, mathematicians, linguists, chess champions, and intelligence officers who were thrown together with the singular goal of breaking Germany’s unbreakable code known as Enigma. Enter Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) who might have been the biggest hero of the war if every advancement he made in cryptology (including the creation of the first computer) hadn’t been state secrets until well after his death.

Based on the novel by Andrew Hodges and adapted by Graham Moore, the film is anchored by Benedict Cumberbatch who lends a vulnerability to the abrasiveness of Turing whose own co-workers often struggled to get along with. In one of her most understated roles Keira Knightley stars as Joan Clarke, the lone female member of the team to break Engima, even if she had to officially work as a secretary in order to do so.

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Unbroken

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Unbroken
  • IMDb: link

UnbrokenMash-up The Bridge on the River Kwai and Rescue Dawn, while oversimplifying it for mainstream audiences, and you’ve got something that looks quite a bit like Angelina Jolie‘s directorial debut. Unbroken isn’t a bad film, but unwilling to color outside the lines Jolie takes a remarkable story and offers us a paint-by-number hero tale that only marginally entertains while struggling to celebrate a man’s inspirational journey as a prisoner of war during World War II.

After clips showing us what a punk kid he was before falling in love with track and field, the film centers around the war experience of former Olympian Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) whose Olympic moments and life following WWII are glossed over and ignored. Instead the screenplay by the Coen Brothers (in the most un-Coen Bros. script you’ve ever seen), Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson is a somewhat unfocused look at Louis’ life in war spending an inordinate amount of time focused on the weeks he was lost at sea before skipping ahead to offer highlights of his P.O.W. experience which by on-screen time you may mistakenly feel were of near equal length (rather than weeks on the raft versus the years spent in the camps).

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Into the Woods

by Alan Rapp on December 24, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Into the Woods
  • IMDb: link

Into the WoodsBased on the stage musical of the same name by Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods offers a fairy tale adventure featuring a host of well-known characters whose stories all begin to intertwine over three days in the mysterious woods filling the space between their various homes. The story begins when the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) learn their inability to have children was caused by a curse put on his family by an evil Witch (Meryl Streep). The Witch, however, offers the couple a way to break the curse if they can gather an odd assortment of items before the blue moon in three days time. And that, as you might expect, is where the other characters come in.

To gather the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold the Baker and his wife will come into contact with Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (Tracey Ullman), Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), and a pair of princes seeking true love (Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen).

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  • 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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