Movie Reviews 

  • 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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Bad Words

by Alan Rapp on March 28, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Bad Words
  • IMDB: link

Bad WordsAs with most of the Bad Santa imitators which have popped up in recent years Bad Words is, at best, a mixed bag. Far better than the unfortunate (and best forgotten) Bad Teacher, this film directed by and starring Jason Bateman about a middle-aged man-child entering a national 8th grade spelling competition to deal with his own personal issues certainly provides its share of laughs along the way.

When we first meet Guy Trilby (Bateman) he’s already worming his way into a qualifying round of a local spelling bee with the help of a blogger (Kathryn Hahn) and a loophole in the guidelines which allows anyone who has not yet graduated from the eighth grade entry into the bee.

To call Trilby a self-serving prick isn’t really doing justice to the man determined to make a mockery of the competition on national television much to the dismay of countless parents and those in charge of the spelling bee (Philip Baker Hall, Allison Janney). By the time the film gets around to revealing Trilby’s reasons (which are as self-serving as every other piece of his character) it doesn’t really matter as nothing could possibly justify the actions we witness.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

by Alan Rapp on March 27, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • IMDB: link

The Grand Budapest HotelFor his latest film writer/director Wes Anderson takes his trademark style to the fictional Republic of Zubrowka and a once-proud mountainside resort known as The Grand Budapest Hotel with a rich history to share. Relying heavily on narration, the film struggles a bit to get going by beginning in the present and slowly peeling back layers (each jumping 20 years or so into the past) until we finally arrive in the pre-World War II 1930s and the story of fastidious old-school concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his the new lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori).

During the overly-elaborate and unnecessarily complicated (although certainly not boring) first 20-minutes or so as the movie introduces an elderly author (Tom Wilkinson) beginning his own flashbacks to his time at the hotel as a younger man (Jude Law) when he happened to meet the elderly version of Zero (F. Murray Abraham) and thus learned his story, Anderson relies on a variety of his usual bag of tricks involving beautiful cinematography and set design highlighted by the use of some marvelous miniatures.

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Muppets Most-ly Wanted

by Alan Rapp on March 21, 2014

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Muppets Most Wanted
  • IMDB: link

Muppets Most WantedAfter the success of 2011’s big-screen relaunching of the Muppets franchise, director James Bobin and co-writer Nicholas Stoller return (along with Christophe Beck who once again writes the songs) for a mostly enjoyable sequel that sadly lacks the heart of the previous film.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Muppets Most Wanted. It works as a wacky caper comedy, albeit not nearly as well as The Great Muppet Caper, with the trademarks of The Muppet franchise including cameos, running gags, frog and pig romance, and several fun (if not that memorable) songs. But ranking it against the Muppets other four major theatrical releases I would place it solidly last behind The Muppets Take Manhattan.

Picking up directly following the events of The Muppets, Muppets Most Wanted begins with the group hiring Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) as their new agent who helps his boss, escaped thief Constantine (Matt Vogel) swich places with Kermit (Steve Whitmire) to use the Muppet’s world tour as cover for a series of robberies.

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