Author Archives: Taylor Adams

About Taylor Adams

Our film writer Taylor works in National Sales and watches way too many movies. This summer, be on the lookout for his debut thriller EYESHOT, published by Joffe Books. If you are interested in sponsoring Taylor's FOX 28 movie blog, please contact Katie Vantine at 509-448-2828.

X MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (PG-13)

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(Insert TERMINATOR 2 soundtrack here).
Well, we blew up the world again. In X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, humanity reaps its own destruction by inventing an army of giant, autonomous murder robots – so honestly, we kinda deserved it. The film opens in a charred post-apocalyptic future where a scattered mutant resistance (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Ellen Page) have hatched a convoluted time-travel plot to implant the consciousness of Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) into his younger body circa the 1970’s, before said autonomous murderbots can be funded by Congress.
The reason for funding them? The assassination of scientist Bolivar Task (Peter Dinklage) by mutant Mystique (blue Jennifer Lawrence).
Now awakened in a baffling age of lava lamps and waterbeds, Wolverine must track down the younger versions of his mutant cohorts (Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, and… good lord, just Google the rest) and rally them to stop bickering and save the future. And because this is an X-Men movie, no one will until the very, very end. Seriously, Wolverine’s task feels like herding super-powered cats. It’s not screenwriting – it’s crowd control.
Luckily, the action is terrific. Director Bryan Singer stages some memorable set pieces (the best one, a time-freezing Pentagon break-out, is almost worth the price of admission alone) and orchestrates teleportation portals and fire blasts with uncommon imagination and visual wit. Minute to minute, it’s entertaining and sharply produced.
But the writing struggles to get off the ground. X-MEN is overstuffed with franchise obligations and never has time to offer any compelling drama (heck, look at the poster – you could play Where’s Waldo on it). None of the well-cast actors get to do much aside from look pretty and perform a few crowd-pleasing mutant tricks. Because there’s a half-dozen central protagonists but no clear villain, and no one ever seems to be in true mortal danger, the tension plateaus halfway through. Your enjoyment here will depend on your investment in the previous entries. By the end, I found myself simply not caring.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST is great fan service but only an okay movie. If you loved Bryan Singer’s previous work in the franchise, you’ll have fun. If you’re a comic book outsider like me, proceed with caution.
DARK KNIGHT, this ain’t.
2.5stars
-Taylor Adams
Photo source: http://comicsalliance.com/new-x-men-days-of-future-past-trailer-video/

GODZILLA (PG-13)

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The last time an American studio tackled Godzilla, we got Roland Emmerich’s disastrous 1998 film, where the titular lizard was a ten-story velociraptor with Jay Leno’s chin. It was so singularly awful, it might be the reason aliens haven’t yet contacted us.
This year’s smarter, grittier GODZILLA, helmed by indie up-and-comer Gareth Edwards, is hell-bent on getting the fire-breathing antihero right. The setup is taut and promising as an unseen force levels a Japanese nuclear plant and site supervisor Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) suffers a tremendous personal loss. The official explanation is “uh… earthquake,” but Joe insists it was something else – and he’s soon proven right. Now two giant monsters are on the warpath (although they both look like the CLOVERFIELD monster with a staple remover for a head) and the world’s last hope may be a mysterious third creature rising from the ocean: an ancient apex predator from a forgotten time. Says one scientist: “Let them fight.”
And they do. Eventually. Be patient with this one, as Edwards saves the coolest stuff for the final thirty minutes. GODZILLA is directed with a remarkable sense of restraint and the beasts are revealed in only teasing glimpses at first, often limited by shaky, ground-level viewpoints. It can feel forced, as when an early showdown in Honolulu abruptly cuts to a child’s bedroom hundreds of miles away, but in doing this Edwards confidently avoids the numbing excess of Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS lineup. We’re forced to wait a little while to see the movie’s true stars in all their scaly glory, so when we finally do, it’s genuinely powerful.
Big chunks of this movie demand a second viewing. The promised monster brawl in San Francisco is a showstopper. A H.A.L.O. jump through layers of hellish smoke and ash unfolds like a cinematic oil painting. An airport lobby window becomes a widescreen panorama of fiery destruction. The action is quick, brutal, and carries a visible human cost.
Previous Godzilla iterations have been viewed as an exorcism of Japan’s post-Hiroshima demons, and this American spin seems to be after a different boogeyman: the whims of an indifferent Mother Nature. The big lizard can’t even step out of the ocean without triggering a devastating tsunami that kills thousands, and he barely seems to notice us because, collectively, we’re really not worth noticing. Godzilla is millions of years old. Can you blame him for not really caring about this strange little ant colony of concrete and buildings that sprouted up in the last thousand years? This humbling smallness, combined with a Spielberg-ish sense of awe, gives the movie its teeth.
Also, at one point Godzilla literally performs a Mortal Kombat-style fatality. So there’s that.
It’s B-movie euphoria assembled with A-movie talent. I had a big, dumb grin on my face through the whole thing.
stars3.5
-Taylor Adams
Photo source: http://screenrant.com/godzilla-2014-movie-posters/

NEIGHBORS (R)

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In NEIGHBORS, Seth Rogen plays something new: a responsible adult.
At least until the gleefully mean-spirited, escalating prank war begins. Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne are Mac and Kelly – frazzled new parents still settling into their quiet suburban lifestyle. When the vacant house next door is bought by the notoriously rowdy Delta Psi Beta fraternity, Mac and Kelly initially hit it off just fine with frat leader Teddy (Zac Efron). They even have a great time at Delta Psi’s housewarming party. Only problem is, the parties keep happening. Every. Single. Night.
One broken promise and a noise complaint is all it takes to torpedo Mac and Teddy’s friendship and trigger a devastating feud between generations.
But underneath the airbag chairs and Roman candles fired at cop cars, NEIGHBORS is actually a surprisingly insightful meditation on growing up. Both sides of the fence face dramatic life changes, and everyone struggles in their own way to hold onto past glories. Mac and Kelly are desperate to recapture the spontaneity of their youth and can’t even leave suburbia without a stroller and seventy-five pounds of baby gear. Meanwhile, Teddy’s graduation date looms and he has no academic achievements or career ambitions to speak of. Each side reminds the other of what they’re losing. Everyone stands at the edge of their own personal abyss in NEIGHBORS, and there’s real pain under the belly laughs.
Seth Rogen is reliably funny here, although I can never tell if he’s acting or just being Seth Rogen. Zac Efron is surprisingly sympathetic as a vacuous party animal facing the end of his world. And Rose Byrne comes out of nowhere, stealing scenes left and right with razor-sharp comic timing. She deserves her own movie.
It’s funny, but not quite as funny as it could have been. One of the best gags is marred by CG that could’ve been rendered on an N64. Some scenes lurch and stumble, like they weren’t written so much as engineered to be stages for the improvised genius of its stars. Sometimes this pays off spectacularly, but other times, those stars just don’t align and we’re left with a meandering story that feels bloated even at 97 minutes. NEIGHBORS offers frequent chuckles but not as many big laughs as the talent promises.
Still, it’s immature enough to be good fun and smart enough to touch nerves. Whichever side of the fence you’re on, you’ll probably enjoy NEIGHBORS.
stars

-Taylor Adams

Photo source: http://www.impawards.com/2014/neighbors.html

BRICK MANSIONS (PG-13)

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Okay. Maybe I was too hard on TRANSCENDENCE.
Quietly dumped into theaters last weekend, BRICK MANSIONS is an epic saga of a Detroit neighborhood, a stolen neutron bomb, and a whole lot of jumping and climbing. The Motor City (played by Montreal, for some reason) is depicted here as a dystopian urban sprawl where a good-guy cop (Paul Walker) must team up with a wall-running vigilante (David Belle) to track down a ticking WMD before it renovates several city blocks. Faced with an impending nuclear holocaust, this duo keeps finding excuses to get in badly-filmed fistfights with each other, at one point over a vehicle. Actual dialogue: “My van!”
Yep, BRICK MANSIONS is stupid. Deeply, profoundly stupid. It’s an eye-watering shot of 200-proof, triple-distilled stupid. If you asked Homer Simpson to make a movie, this 90-minute brain injury is more or less what you’d get. And there’s nothing wrong with that, by itself. Some of my favorite films are proudly mindless. Stupid movies can be liberating, if they’re directed with enough skill and gusto to help us forget logic and simply marvel at their grand, idiotic wonders.
BRICK MANSIONS isn’t.
And it commits the cardinal sin of action movies: the action sucks. Every fight scene is over-edited into a disorienting slurry. The choreography is fine and Belle’s spider-monkey parkour stunts are impressive, but the over-caffeinated cutting destroys any sense of rhythm or physical space. It could have been edited in a blender, whirling from one bizarre angle to the next with a frequency that even Michael Bay would call excessive. BRICK MANSIONS mistakes the 180-degree rule for a 360-degree rule, and then still somehow breaks it.
Worst of all, it’s utterly unnecessary. BRICK MANSIONS is a PG-13 remake of 2006’s R-rated DISTRICT B13 (a perfectly awesome French movie that didn’t need remaking) and accomplishes nothing except make the original look even better. This sanitized, Americanized version is just a copy of a copy, redrawn in crayon by a disinterested studio exec. Fingers crossed that FAST SEVEN is a better career sendoff for the late Paul Walker, because he deserves so much more than this Shakespearean exchange:
“My van!” “No, my van!”
Movies like BRICK MANSIONS frighten me because they suggest that IDIOCRACY is coming true.
stars
-Taylor Adams

TRANSCENDENCE (PG-13)

 

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The plot of TRANSCENDENCE hinges on Luddite terrorists that are tech-phobic enough to murder software engineers, but tech-savvy enough to lace their bullets with radioactive material.
That’s the first gut-punch to your suspension of disbelief, and it’s only ten minutes in. TRANSCENDENCE is just warming up.
Johnny Depp is renowned scientist Dr. Will Caster and he’s close to achieving his life’s work: creating a self-aware artificial intelligence, because we all know SKYNET went so famously well. On his way out of a public exposition-delivering appearance, Caster is ambushed and shot with a radioactive bullet by the aforementioned terrorists in a coordinated attack also involving computer bombs and a poisoned birthday cake (did Dr. Doom help these guys out or something?). Luckily, the resulting radiation poisoning gives a dying Dr. Caster just enough time to upload his consciousness onto his computer.
This new Cyber-Depp quickly escapes and infects the internet as a rapidly evolving, sentient computer virus with unknown goals. As the singularity incorporates every electronic device on earth, Caster’s former colleagues, the FBI, and even that terrorist group find themselves in an uneasy three-way alliance. Caster is clearly no longer human – but does he have any humanity left at all? And if not, can he even be stopped?
I wanted to love TRANSCENDENCE. Melding a human soul with software is heady, thought-provoking stuff, but the unfocused shotgun blast of a screenplay fails to cohere into much of anything. We’re left with a sprawling mess that introduces fascinating ideas and then immediately drops them to jaggedly rush into the next scene. The storytelling is as smooth as a dryer with a brick in it. It can’t even seem to decide on a genre – so we get a drama without enough character development and a thriller without enough danger.
Because the script is such a mess, the outlandish scifi concepts aren’t given the attention they need to work. At a breathless pace, TRANSCENDENCE introduces nanotechnology via raindrops, superhuman hybrids, and a climactic computer virus with baffling consequences. It’s just too much fi and not enough sci to ground everything. By the time the third act rolled around and Cyber-Depp started attacking everyone with magic CG tentacles, my mind had wandered back to the low-key narrative riddles of OCULUS, which was playing in the theater next door.
And that’s too bad, because TRANSCENDENCE also has some real strengths. The cinematography is starkly beautiful, the ideas are big, and the cast is terrific. If you adjust your expectations a few rungs, you can still salvage an okay time with this one. Some individual scenes work pretty well, and there’s no denying the coolness of the stuff on display.
But Michael Crichton could have written it way better.
And he’s dead.

2stars

-Taylor Adams

Photo Source: https://movies.yahoo.com/blogs/yahoo-movies/johnny-depp-goes-digital-in-new–transcendence–poster-180357010.html

OCULUS (R)

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As far as horror movie antagonists go, a homicidal wall-mounted mirror is pretty iffy. It’s hard to build tension when the villain could be killed by a baseball.

But OCULUS is up to the task. We follow Kaylie (Karen Gillan), a young woman obsessed with documenting an allegedly haunted mirror’s supernatural powers before destroying it. She’s rigged her parents’ old house with video cameras, alarms, and even a last-resort “kill switch” in the form of a swinging yacht anchor bolted to the ceiling. Excessive? Not really. For her, it’s personal – eleven years ago, her parents purchased the evil antique and went murderously insane. Her brother Tim was institutionalized after being forced to shoot his father, so this is present-day Kaylie’s chance to prove Tim’s innocence. These parallel stories melt into one as the mirror’s powers grow, blurring past into present and raising disturbing questions. Did Kaylie and Tim ever really grow up? Or are they losing their minds, too?

OCULUS toys with these ideas but doesn’t overdo it. Luckily, the script is too disciplined to lose its head up its own butt via INCEPTION-style plot convolutions. It’s a superb little ghost story that favors smart, psychological chills over loud noises and arterial splatters (although it has those, too). Because the mirror influences what its victims can and can’t see, even moments of apparent safety can hide horrific surprises. Imagine biting into an apple – and realizing it’s actually a light bulb when the shards crunch between your bloody teeth. This movie perfectly captures the icky discomfort of never quite knowing what’s real.

Karen Gillan makes a strong lead. Many horror films simply dump oblivious characters into harm’s way like it’s feeding time for whatever monster is named in the title, but Kaylie is scrappy, intelligent, and seemingly prepared for everything. It’s not until later, when there’s no turning back, that she realizes how badly she underestimated her enemy. As we learn that the mirror can hijack human thoughts (its other hobbies include killing houseplants and eating dogs), we begin to wonder if Kaylie’s myopic obsession is really of her own free will – or if it’s just another fishhook the mirror planted in her brain eleven years ago. Who’s targeting who?

Heck, a better title might’ve been: SERIOUSLY GUYS, JUST LEAVE THE MIRROR ALONE. This is a bleak story about puny humans tangling with an entity that exists beyond time, and Kaylie’s plan is, at best, a three-dimensional solution to a four-dimensional problem. Guess how well that goes.

For all its first-rate chills, OCULUS does need you to occasionally meet it halfway. Big chunks of the plot are open to interpretation and the mirror itself is never explained. There’s no origin story. It wasn’t bullied by the other mirrors in Fred Meyer’s home décor section or anything. It’s just evil.

But why dilute fear with logic? Accept this movie for what it is and you’ll find a nightmare worth having – a classy, devilishly entertaining creepshow that just wants to mess with your head.

And ruin apples forever.

stars3.5

-Taylor Adams

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (PG-13)

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CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER wants to be a political thriller, but it also wants its characters to fly around in wing-suits. It comes pretty close to having it both ways.
Picking up where Joss Whedon’s THE AVENGERS left off, our favorite recently thawed WWII-era super-soldier Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is struggling to fit into the modern world as an agent of the NSA-like S.H.I.E.L.D. Soon, he’s wondering if he’s playing for the right team. After all, when the good guys start planning preemptive attacks via giant floating super-weapons, are they still the good guys? As Rogers untangles friend from foe, he also searches for the mysterious “Winter Soldier,” an assassin with a metal arm (which at least narrows it down a bit). Thrusting a Greatest Generation hero into our post-9/11 debate between civil liberties and national security definitely makes for an intriguing setup, but in the end THE WINTER SOLDIER still boils down to the usual comic book fluff. Apparently even in this digital age of drone strikes and WikiLeaks, no problems exist that Captain America can’t just punch to death.
And that’s okay, because while THE WINTER SOLDIER may be an undercooked political thriller, it’s one hell of an action flick. The urban gunfights crackle with grit and menace. The audio direction is top-notch, using moments of unexpected silence to throw us off and build real suspense. And the fight choreography is a joy to behold, finding an impressive variety of ways for Captain America to beat people up with a shield. Many, many concussions are delivered in the name of freedom.
I could recommend this movie on the strength of these visceral action sequences alone, but it’s a solid piece of entertainment all around. Even those not already aboard Team Marvel will find plenty of thrills, laughs, and twists. Although THE WINTER SOLDIER is crammed with supporting characters, it juggles them confidently and never drags or feels bloated, even at 136 minutes. The titular villain has limited screen time but owns every second of it.
The only weak link in the cast is, shockingly, Golden Globe-winner Scarlett Johansson, who’s dull and zombie-like here as Black Widow. Apparently she was going for “tough” but overshot into “stoned.” And despite all the hot-button topics THE WINTER SOLDIER flirts with, it just doesn’t say enough to justify its political aims.
But who needs politics? This is a slam-bang action movie about the visual poetry of Captain America hitting bad guys so hard, they forget math.
stars
-Taylor Adams

NOAH (PG-13)

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Rock monsters. This movie has rock monsters.
Technically, they’re fallen angels – cursed by God to dwell on earth as towering, Ent-like beasts – but they’re one of several bizarre creative choices in Darren Aronofsky’s NOAH that never quite mesh with the biblical source material. It’s like watching THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and noticing that the first nail in Christ’s palm is being hammered in by Megatron.
Russell Crowe is Noah, an ordinary man charged with the daunting task of building a big you-know-what before an even bigger you-know-what reboots the earth. To be fair, mankind deserves it. This prehistoric world is a Cormac McCarthy-esque wasteland of stripped forests and roving cannibals. As Noah and his family construct the ark and the rain begins, a Cain-descendant warrior-king (Ray Winstone) takes notice and marshals his forces to attack. Now Noah must fend off both a desperate world that’s not ready to be exterminated, and his own decaying sanity.
Aronofsky is fearless in his retelling, taking one artistic gamble after another. Aside from the rock monster subplot (which doesn’t pay off), he visualizes the creation of the earth via still photography (which does). We also get glimpses of the garden of Eden, hellish panoramas, and a nifty spin on Darwinism. I was stunned by how often NOAH showed things that other films would have only alluded to.
Too bad so much of the first half feels like an artsy spinoff of LORD OF THE RINGS. The rock monsters are the most glaring problem (they were scrubbed from the trailers because they’re so breathtakingly stupid), but Aronofsky takes other fantastical liberties – including lizard-dogs, fire-rocks, and magic pregnancy tests – that are almost as distracting. Some viewers will find them flat-out insulting.
The second half, and the real focus of the film, is Noah’s personal struggle with the enormity of God’s task – and luckily it’s terrific. Crowe is utterly convincing as a flawed man caught between the apocalypse and the corrupted race that earned it. Emma Watson owns several heartbreaking scenes, and Ray Winstone manages to be both credibly evil and oddly persuasive. He is, after all, merely fighting for his life as the water rises. Wouldn’t you?
That’s what makes NOAH worth watching, rock monsters and all. It embraces the moral complexities of a story that ends in the deaths of millions. It dares to ask tough questions of its characters, and of us. God’s messages to Noah are absolute but not always clear, so where do you draw the line between faith and blind obedience? The climax resonates because it presents a situation where doing the wrong thing makes sense – and doing the right thing doesn’t.
It’s a brave and fascinating movie, but the book was better.
stars
-Taylor Adams

DIVERGENT (PG-13)

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I was certain I’d hate DIVERGENT. I expected a steaming bowl of doe-eyed teenage crap, fresh off the studio assembly line to kill time until Katniss’s next outing. I was ready to rip it apart. I was looking forward to ripping it apart. Heck, I had a thesaurus handy so I could find synonyms for “god-awful.”
But… DIVERGENT is actually pretty darn good.
This is coming from someone who hasn’t even read Veronica Roth’s source novel. I’m nowhere near the target audience. Generally, I only read books that have body counts. This technicality is the only reason I read John Green’s THE FAULT OF OUR STARS (uh… spoiler alert).
As far as I can tell, DIVERGENT is set in a world where HARRY POTTER’s Sorting Hat escaped Hogwarts and now runs post-apocalyptic Chicago. In the aftermath of an unspecified war, young adults are tested and sorted among five societal factions – such as the Erudite (scientists) or the Dauntless (soldiers). You commit to this through a grand public ceremony, where you slice your palm open and drip blood into a bowl. Couldn’t they just have you fill out a form or something?
Our hero Beatrice (Shailene Woodley) takes the test, but discovers she’s something else. Something called a “divergent.” This marks her for death, unless she can conform to this rigid world. But… does she want to?
Like all good fantasy/sci-fi, the world of DIVERGENT is an interesting lens to view our real one through. Just like college, you’re presented with a set of trades, you choose one, and then you’re locked into a lifestyle. You must succeed in your field or you become “factionless” – depicted as dirty, desperate and homeless. So basically, God help you if you major in Philosophy.
DIVERGENT hits all the right adventure/romance beats. The casting is spot-on (right down to the bit roles, like Jai Courtney as a sneering henchman), and the mandatory love story benefits from real chemistry between the leads. There are enough intriguing ideas, nifty visuals, and punchy fight scenes (pun intended) to make two and a half hours fly by.
It’s also clearly the first entry of a trilogy – for better and worse. As it builds its universe, this movie dumps a truckload of setups and offers precious few payoffs. Towering questions central to the premise – such as, “Why is there a hundred-foot fence around Chicago?” – remain unanswered. But the foundation is certainly there for the sequels to build upon. If you’re a fan of the book, see it. I think you’ll be pleased.
As for me? I have a bunch of synonyms for “god-awful” and nothing to use them on.

stars

-Taylor Adams

NEED FOR SPEED (PG-13)

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NEED FOR SPEED is a wheezing, dried-out corpse of a movie, reanimated by the black magic of EA Games.
Based on the popular video game (your first red flag), the film’s sole accomplishment is making 200-mph races boring. Clocking in at over two hours, it’s astonishing that a movie calling itself NEED FOR SPEED would be so, well, slow. Long stretches of time are devoted to soap opera angst and brutally unfunny comic relief. It’s either a tedious death march or a $10 nap, depending on how light of a sleeper you are.
The flimsy plot doesn’t justify the butt-punishing runtime. Our hero is Tobey (Aaron Paul), a legendary street racer wrongly convicted for the death of his best friend. The real killer is fellow racer Dino (Dominic Cooper), and we can tell because he wears black and uses slightly more hair gel. After serving two years in prison, Tobey must avenge his buddy, woo a pretty car broker (Imogen Poots), and bring Dino to justice. This all unfolds with the urgency of a slower-than-average glacier, in a parallel universe where cops don’t know how to use spike strips. Michael Keaton also appears occasionally, like he got lost on his way back to the nineties.
Nothing works here. The storyline feels like an exhibit of all the things they tell you not to do in Screenwriting 101, failing to deliver even the guiltiest of pleasures. The stakes are low, the car crashes are minimal, and the body count totals to one.
The cast does their best but it’s futile. Aaron Paul is a talented presence, so it’s a real bummer to see him out-acted by the car he’s sitting in. Dominic Cooper is miscast as the villain – we’re told Dino is a ruthless killer, but he looks more like the shift manager at a local McDonald’s. And Imogen Poots is wasted on a weak romantic subplot, wedged into the story with all the grace of a drunk driver hitting a curb.
In short? NEED FOR SPEED is awful. It’s so bad, I’m not even sure Jesus could forgive it. You know how some movies show bonus scenes during the end credits? So does this one – but I didn’t watch. I couldn’t take any more. I elbowed through the audience like a linebacker and left the theater like it was filled with tear gas. Life is too precious.
So in that respect, I guess I’ve failed as a movie critic. Maybe there’s a small pocket of brilliance hidden in the end credits. Maybe it turns into SCHINDLER’S LIST. I don’t know.
Even if this movie cured cancer, I would have a hard time recommending it.
stars
-Taylor Adams