Movie Reviews 

Mockingjay Part 2

by Alan Rapp on November 20, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
  • IMDb: link

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 concludes the adventures of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a dead-eyed girl from District 12 whose only heroic action over the course of the series took place near the beginning of the first film. I don’t know if the original books on which the movies were based are any good, but the films themselves are one (small) step above torture porn with the least-interesting love triangle ever conceived thrown in for good measure. Do we care who Katniss ends up with? Not really. And because the movies have shown her to be largely unimportant as anything more than a symbol it’s hard to invest any emotion in her journey or its outcome.

Picking up immediately following the events of the last film, Katniss licks her wounds and plans her revenge against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) for turning one of the men she kinda, sorta, loves (i.e. leads on) into a brainwashed killing machine. The fact that Snow is the head of a corrupt government with the blood of thousands on his hands isn’t much of a concern for our heroine who has decided murdering an old man with her own hands is the only form of justice she is willing to accept.

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Spectre

by Alan Rapp on November 6, 2015

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  • Title: Spectre
  • IMDb: link

SpectreFirst introduced in Dr. No more than 50 years ago, and not heard from since the pre-credit sequence of For Your Eyes Only, SPECTRE represented a global terrorist organization focused on achieving their own goals. The rebooted Bond films, which began with Casino Royale, finally get around to reintroducing us to the classic villains and their leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) in the fourth movie of the series appropriately enough entitled Spectre.

I’ve never quite warmed to the rebooted Bond which stripped away several important pieces of the Bond films in rebranding our hero as more thug than spy. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed large parts of both Casino Royale and Skyfall but they’re middling entries to franchise that don’t compare to the best of Connery or Moore. And if Spectre has a major flaw its that while attempting homages to previous entrants to the franchise it constantly reminds the audience of aspects of better films we’d rather be watching. Everything from Blofeld’s new secret lair to the close-quarters fight aboard a moving train against an evil henchman (Dave Bautista) hearkens back to better moments from better films.

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The Peanuts Movie

by Alan Rapp on November 6, 2015

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  • Title: The Peanuts Movie
  • IMDb: link

The Peanuts MovieBlending together several storylines from Charles M. Schulz‘s comic strip, director Steve Martino and writers Bryan Schulz, Craig Schulz, and Cornelius Uliano offer up a tale that despite its modern 3D CGI characters still feels old fashioned (in all the best ways).

Although at 93 minutes The Peanuts Movie feels a bit long, particularly in the final half, the screening I attended appeared to be the rare family film to entertain both kids and parents alike. Included in the storylines are Charlie Brown‘s (Noah Schnapp) self-confidence issues and crush on the Little Red-Headed Girl (Francesca Capaldi), Snoopy‘s (Bill Melendez) battles with the Red Baron, and Lucy‘s (Hadley Belle Miller) psychiatric service and crush on the piano-playing Schroeder (Noah Johnston). We also get a talent show, Charlie Brown’s attempts to fly a kite, Peppermint Patty (Venus Schultheis) and Marcie (Rebecca Bloom), Linus (Alexander Garfin) and his trusty blanket, Sally‘s (Mariel Sheets) relationship to her big brother, a book report, and plenty of opportunities for the old blockhead to make mistakes, rise to the occasion, showcase heart, and learn valuable lessons.

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Burnt

by Alan Rapp on October 30, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Burnt
  • IMDb: link

BurntIt didn’t make me hungry. That’s an interesting response to have towards a film centered around food. Our story stars Bradley Cooper as talented chef, recovering addict, and all around asshole Adam Jones who basically blackmails the old friend (Daniel Brühl) he screwed over in his last job into hiring him as the chef for a mediocre London restaurant. Jones’ motives are two-fold. First, he honestly does want to make amends to those he’s wronged in the past. At least as important to him, however, is the chance to reclaim glory in the hopes of achieving the prestigious three Michelin star rating as one of the best restaurants (and chefs) in Europe.

I joke that the food on display didn’t wet my appetite but Burnt deals with a different side of the retaurant business by focusing as much on its burdens, costs, and obsessive personalities struggling to work behind the scenes as it does about creating the food. Even when the film puts the food first the perspective is always more about the presentation of the meal than the meal itself. Although the film constantly tells us that Jones is culinary genius it rarely shows us actual examples of this on-screen.

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Bridge of Spies

by Alan Rapp on October 17, 2015

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  • Title: Bridge of Spies
  • IMDb: link

Bridge of SpiesSet in a smaller world during a darker time, the latest collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks takes place at the height of the Cold War and is inspired by the real events concerning Brooklyn lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) who found himself thrust into the middle of international intrigue by agreeing to defend Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) in an American court of law. Spielberg’s humanism is certainly on display in a film that feels a bit like a throwback to his movies from the late 90s and early 2000s.

While dealing primarily with Donovan and the effects and consequences of his defense of Abel, Bridge of Spies also introduces two subplots which eventually will be woven into the main storyline. The first of these concerns U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) recruited by the CIA and shot down over the Soviet Union. And the last concerns an American economics student (Will Rogers) studying overseas during the erection of the Berlin Wall who gets in trouble while trying to help the daughter of his professor out of East Germany. Although competently presented, neither is as engaging as Donovan’s tale.

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The Martian

by Alan Rapp on October 16, 2015

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  • Title: The Martian
  • IMDb: link

The MartianAdapted by Drew Goddard, Andy Weir’s novel about an astronaut left behind and stranded alone on Mars isn’t exactly what I was expecting from a Ridley Scott film. With more heart and humor than Scott’s usual fare, the film actually reminded me of a mashup of the space disaster from Ron Howard‘s Apollo 13 with the lone man survivor of Robert ZemeckisCast Away with a bit of MacGyver thrown in for good measure as our protagonist is constantly forced to think outside the box in order to survive a series of challenges that make his continued survival less and less likely.

When we meet botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) he is just one member of a crew of astronauts (Jessica Chastain, Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, and Aksel Hennie), but things quickly change when a storm causes the group to leave the planet prematurely. Mistakenly leaving Watney behind, the crew begin their slow trek back to Earth. With the limited resources and safety of the outpost (neither of which were meant to be stretched for extended uses), Watney has to find a way not only to alert NASA that he’s still alive but find away to live on a desolate world until help can reach him.

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Sleeping with Other People

by Alan Rapp on October 2, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Sleeping with Other People
  • IMDb: link

Sleeping with Other PeopleWriter/director Leslye Headland‘s indie romcom doesn’t stray far from the basic formula of the genre. After meeting, and loosing their mutual viriginity to each other one steamy night in college, Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey’s (Alison Brie) paths cross again years later. Despite their mutual attraction, the two agree to keep things platonic given Jake’s womanizing ways and Lainey’s hang-up on an old college ex (Adam Scott) who she still carries a torch for despite how awful he’s treated her over the years.

There’s little to no surprise in Headland’s script and when Sleeping with Other People works it does so on the talent and likability of its stars and supporting cast that includes Scott, Amanda Peet, Jason Mantzoukas, Andrea Savage, Natasha Lyonne, and Margarita Levieva (in an opening cameo so good she nearly steals the entire film). We know where Jake and Lainey are going, how long it will take to get there, and can guess (pretty accurately) on the stops they’ll take along the way. Thankfully the movie’s cast keeps the predictable story from becoming stale and boring. It’s far from a must-see, but if your girlfriend is determined to drag you to a romcom you could do far, far worse.

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Everest

by Alan Rapp on September 18, 2015

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  • Title: Everest
  • IMDb: link

EverestBased on a true story, Everest recounts the events of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster. There have been plenty of mountain climbing movies over the years and Everest does little to break from the pack. Working against the movie is the extended opening which plays like a Travel Channel infomercial attempting to sell the audience on traveling to Nepal to climb the world’s biggest mountain with the help of experts like Rob Hall‘s (Jason Clarke) Adventure Consultants.

The climbers themselves are the typical hodgepodge of one-note characters you always expect to see in movies like this with a couple of stand-outs (Clarke, John Hawkes, and Josh Brolin) while the rest (Martin Henderson, Tom Goodman-Hill, Naoko Mori, Michael Kelly, among others) quickly fade into the background. The movie picks up a bit once the climbers begin their ascent of the mountain in earnest and the disaster porn part of the plot kicks in.

The film, and the scale of the undertaking, is certainly helped in IMAX 3D. As a theatrical experience Everest does have something to offer (even if the story feels more straight-to-DVD). It’s certainly not a must-see, but it works as escapist entertainment.

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Black Mass

by Alan Rapp on September 18, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Black Mass
  • IMDb: link

Black MassBlack Mass is a semi-successful film highlighting the amazing story of Irish-American mobster Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) and his rise to prominence in South Boston in the 70s and 80s as the head of the Winter Hill Gang in large part thanks to his role as an FBI informant for Agent John Connolly (Joel Edgerton). What should be a thoroughly engrossing character study becomes a by-the-book gangster movie that entertains but doesn’t due justice to the source material.

Screenwriters Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth adapt the non-fictional account of events from Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill’s book that is highlighted by Depp’s performance under heavy make-up as the charismatic violent sociopath. There’s certainly more to the story than we get here, and I do have to wonder how much director Scott Cooper left on the cutting room floor. I expected far more about Bulger’s rise to power, which we hear the FBI talk about constantly but we don’t see evidence of over the course of the film. The filmmakers’ focus on the lives of Whitey Bulger and his closest associates leaves the larger canvas left half finished.

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The Scorch Trials

by Alan Rapp on September 18, 2015

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials
  • IMDb: link

Maze Runner: The Scorch TrialsThe sequel to The Maze Runner swaps out a complicated maze for an equally ill-defined desert landscape full of zombies for our surviving heroes to navigate. During a brief rest in a military complex obviously run by the same organization which experimented on them in the maze, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and his friends meet a group of kids from other mazes and begin to uncover the truth about why they are so important to WICKED.

While the others are content to be kept prisoner in a safe place with three square meals a day and their own cot, Thomas befriends a boy from another group (Jacob Lofland), and, after discovering the truth about the continued experimentation, helps his friends escape into the barren wastleand outside the facility known as “the Scorch.”

In the same way that The Maze Runner declined to explain how putting kids in a death maze helped make them more valuable to WICKED, screenwriter T.S. Nowlin glosses over how a zombie virus is responsible for turning a major American city into the middle of the Sahara desert.

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