Movie Reviews 

47 Ronin

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: 47 Ronin
  • IMDB: link

47 RoninIt has been said the story of the Forty-seven Ronin is the definitive Japanese tale dealing with themes on honor, revenge, and the code of Bushidō. Although the events described in the tale actually took place, over the years the story has morphed into something between legend and a morality tale, however the new film certainly takes the licence to add a far more fantastic spin on the proceedings.

The crux of the original tale is the centers around the greed and deviousness of Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) who uses the strict rules of his land to disgrace the rival lord in the neighboring province. The film’s version increases the level of machination by Kira by several degrees adding the use of a witch (Rinko Kikuchi), poison, mind control, and dark magic to force Lord Asano’s (Min Tanaka) rash actions.

By striking Kira, or in the film making an attempt on his life while under enchantment, Asano’s honor is lost, his lands are given to his rival, and his samurai are exiled from province.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2013

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  • Title: The Wolf of Wall Street
  • IMDB: link

The Wolf of Wall StreetBased on Jordan Belfort‘s own accounts, The Wolf of Wall Street stars Leonardo DiCaprio as an aspiring stockbroker whose discovery of penny stocks, and how they could be used to earn a broker far more profit than an investor, led to his meteoric rise and eventual downfall. Reuniting with DiCaprio and choosing The SopranosTerence Winter to adapt Belfort’s book, director Martin Scorsese‘s three-hour comedy highlights the absurdity and tragedy of Belfort’s life on Wall Street while making a pretty strong argument for the entire industry’s inherently-flawed nature which only feeds on humanity’s worst impulses.

Three hours is too long for a comedy, any comedy, but I’ll give credit to Winter and Scorsese for producing the funniest movie I saw all year. Part of this is due to the nature of the story and how Scorsese chooses to frame it for maximum effect and part is in the casting. Jonah Hill (as Belfort’s best-friend and partner) and Matthew McConaughey (in the far smaller role of Belfort’s mentor) both provide bizarre, but also often hilarious, moments.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2010)
  • IMDB: link

The Secret Life of Walter MittyAs was true of the 1947 film starring Danny Kaye, the new version of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is loosely based on the short story of the same name by James Thurber about an otherwise unexceptional man who daydreams heroic realities rather than deal with the far less exciting truth of his humdrum existence. As with Kaye’s film, the lesson of the film is Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) finally having a real adventure and learning up to stand-up for himself in the world outside of his imagination.

Set in the final days of Life Magazine‘s print edition, Walter spends most of his time daydreaming about what he’d like to actually say to his ridiculously-bearded new boss (Adam Scott) and a fellow co-worker Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) whom he’s fancied from afar for some time. The loss of the negative for the magazine’s final issue forces Walter out of his comfort zone, with a little prompting from Cheryl (both the real and Walter’s imagined versions), to seek out the photographer (Sean Penn) and find the missing negative.

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Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

by Alan Rapp on December 25, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
  • IMDB: link

Mandela: Long Walk to FreedomAdapted by sreeenwriter William Nicholson, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is a solid biopic based on the autobiography of Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba). After a brief montage of his life as a child and a glimpse at his role as an attorney in Johannesburg, the film focuses primarily on the events that led to his involvement with the ANC as a leading voice in the fight against apartheid (without getting too specific about his exact role when the organization moved away from nonviolent resistance) and his eventual imprisonment of 27 years for his crimes.

The highlight of the film is the performances, particularly Elba taking on such a daunting role and Naomie Harris as Mandela’s wife Winnie who we see faced several of her own hardships. During the early part of Mandela’s imprisonment the film’s focus momentarily shifts to Winnie’s various battles against the government including her own incarceration. The film introduces the idea of how Nelson and Winnie both react differently to their situations but, as with other aspects of the story, the theme is presented but never fully developed.

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Inside Llewyn Davis

by Alan Rapp on December 20, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Inside Llewyn Davis
  • IMDB: link

Inside Llewyn DavisOver the years the Coen Brothers have used setting, music, and tone to tell a variety of tales. Lacking the broad comedic strokes of Burn After Reading or the darker undertones of No Country for Old Men and their True Grit remake, the brothers’ latest is a more straightforward and personal character study of life of a struggling artist. Thinking over their filmography you can say the Coens have produced funnier, stranger, more disturbing, and perhaps even more memorable films, but this immersive drama ranks as one of their best.

Set primarily in the Greenwich Village folk music scene of 1961, Inside Llewyn Davis follows the life of Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a known and liked (or at least tolerated) folk singer in his small circle and a real son of a bitch to nearly ever single person he knows. Over the film’s 105-minute running-time we witness Davis nomadically travel with his guitar, a carton of unsold records, and a friend’s cat as his only prized possessions.

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Saving Mr. Banks

by Alan Rapp on December 20, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Saving Mr. Banks
  • IMDB: link

Saving Mr. BanksWritten by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith, and based off pieces of the life of P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), Saving Mr. Banks is half of a really good film. The story is broken into flashbacks of Travers’ childhood and decades later when Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) was attempting to buy the rights from the author’s children’s books to make Mary Poppins.

Although there is much to enjoy in the later Disney years (despite the oversimplification of Travers’ stubbornness) the film gets bogged down in the weight of the constant flashbacks which may offer a peek at the real story that first created Mary Poppins on the page but ignores much of the life story of the woman who wrote her.

The scenes involving the young Travers’ () drunken but imaginative father (Colin Farrell), troubled mother (Ruth Wilson), and larger-than-life aunt (Rachel Griffiths) fall in the realm of Dinsey-ized melancholy, but the scenes in California between the equally stubborn Disney and Travers provide its magic.

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American Hustle

by Alan Rapp on December 20, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: American Hustle
  • IMDB: link

American HustleFor this 70′s tale of con men (Christian Bale and Amy Adams) in over their heads writer/director David O. Russell reunites with Silver Linings Playbook stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Part character study, part insane and over-the-top adventure, American Hustle offers audiences one of the year’s best films.

After a brief introduction to Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and his mistress and co-conspirator Sydney (Adams), the pair are busted by up-and-coming FBI hot-head Richie DiMaso (Cooper) who decides to use the pair to pull in even bigger fish. Regardless of danger or consequences, and against the orders of his boss (Louis C.K.), DiMaso pushes Irving and Sydney into going after both the mob and local politicians, beginning with Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) who is interested in rebuilding Atlantic City.

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Anchorman 2: The Legend Falters

by Alan Rapp on December 18, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
  • IMDB: link

Anchorman 2: The Legend ContinuesThis sequel, like milk, was a bad choice. Nine years in the making, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues feels every bit like a hastily slapped together cash grab whose every bright spot comes directly from jokes referenced or reused from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Most forget that the first film wasn’t a box office hit and only found success on home video and cable. The far inferior sequel will send droves into the theaters only to learn they never need to see it a second time. Some sequels are bad enough to make you reconsider your feelings about the original. This is that kind of movie.

Picking up the story of anchorman Ron Burgandy (Will Ferrell) a few years after the first film, Ron splits from his wife (Christina Applegate) and young son to go on the first of two boring personal journeys before reuniting the news team for new jobs at a 24-hour news network. Despite bringing back Steve CarellPaul Rudd, and David Koechner the sequel only offers Carell his own subplot with a secretary (Kristen Wiig) every bit as mentally challenged as Brick.

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The Desolation of Smaug

by Alan Rapp on December 13, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • IMDB: link

The Desolation of SmaugThe quest of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his dwarves to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor under the Lonely Mountain continues in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Captured by elves, attacked by orcs, and journeying into the depths of the lost kingdom, the sequel is more successful than The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey but still suffers from director Peter Jackson taking his damn sweet time with unnecessary subplots and a host of new characters to introduce.

Of all the new faces in the second of three films needed to adapt a 300-page children’s book, Evangeline Lilly stands out. In Tauriel we finally get a prominent female elf who is more warrior than ethereal plot device (Cate BlanchettLiv Tyler). The plot thread of Tauriel forced to balance here duty to her king (Lee Pace) and Legolas (Orlando Bloom) against her unexpected feelings for a dwarf (Aidan Turner) is one of the film’s most-successful storylines.

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Captain Phillips

by Alan Rapp on December 13, 2013

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Captain Phillips
  • IMDB: link

Captain PhillipsBased on a true story, Tom Hanks stars as Captain Richard Phillips whose cargo ship was hijacked in April of 2009 while making a supply run down the Somali coast to Mombasa, Kenya. The latest from director Paul Greengrass and screenwriter Billy Ray (who adapted Phillips’ own accounts for the film) can be broken up nearly equally into two halves. The first-half of the film deals with the set-up, rising tension, and attack of the Somali pirates (Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Mahat M. Ali). It’s here Greengrass is at his best with the focus on the looming attack and its immediate aftermath.

The film’s second-half, although still well-made, lacks the same focus as the pirates kidnap Phillips and the cargo ship’s lifeboat in hopes of ransoming the captain to make up for the less than profitable venture. From here Captain Phillips jumps around quite a bit from Phillips’ captivity, to the Naval Destroyer called in to deal with the situation, to the crew still aboard the cargo ship, and finally to the SEAL team eventually called on to bring an end to the situation.

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