Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PG 13)

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There wasn’t much of a chance that I’d enjoy this film, and until I signed on to do review blogs for this website, I had fully intended to skip it. That being said, I did have some expectations going in based on past experiences with Michael Bay and my own childhood love of the series. Somehow the movie managed to disappoint me on both fronts.

 

I’ll say from the outset that they didn’t do everything wrong with this film; there are genuine moments of humor to be had. The problem is that for every minute of entertainment or every glimpse at an interesting idea, thereare ten minutes of boredom and an idea so stupid that it negates any cleverness they’ve achieved (with the exception of one scene that I will explain at the end). The net result is something that’s somehow more disappointing than a full on train wreck that has convinced me to never watch a movie associated with Michael Bay again.

 

Enough stalling, on to the review. Chances are you know what you’re getting into at this point. I doubt there’s a movie-goer out there that hasn’t heard of the Turtles, it was a cornerstones of my childhood built on a single stupid song. Four pet turtles get infected by magical science goop and become nighttime vigilantes battling against the evil Shredder and his Foot Clan. It’s a silly premise that’s pretty tough to take seriously and to the film’s credit, it doesn’t spend much time focusing on drama and moping.

 

The film fails in much the same ways that Bay’s Transformers franchise fails: not enough focus on the title characters. It’s nearly 20 minutes before we actually get to see our four pizza addicts, and they fade into the background for even more time after that. No, this is a story about April O’Neil, the frequent Damsel in Distress of the show. It’s a good choice in direction to make her an actual capable character who doesn’t need much saving throughout, but any points gained there are lost by the fact that she’s boring as heck and gets like no funny lines. Her sidekick is even worse. Played by actually amusing actor Will Arnett, it’s painful to watch him fail at every step to get a laugh. These two basically bumble around the movie checking off boxes in Generic Action Flick Bingo while failing to draw out more than a small chuckle or smirk at a particularly awful bit of dialogue.

 

The Turtles themselves do fare slightly better and often feel like actual characters, albeit hideous monstrosities that are in no way fun to look like. Many, though definitely not all, of their interactions are fun and the one scene that I’m gonna put at the end for spoilers is honestly rather brilliant. Michelangelo is obviously the one that got most the attention here, getting most of the funny lines and if you’re laughing hard during this film it’s probably because of him. He also gets the creepiest lines and frequently says things to and about April that go way past the realms of good taste and into restraining order territory.

 

Then there’s the villains and we get the one thing in the movie that actually takes me from bored to angry. Shredder was the single most memorable villain from my childhood and they turned him into the most generic of mechanical foes with a penchant for posing like Wolverine. Except for the one scene where you see him without the armor you never really feel like he’s a threat or even like a character. He just struts around the film growling and shooting swords that never hit anything important.

 

The only real saving grace in the movie for me was William Fichtner. He plays billionaire genius playboy philanthropist Erick Sacks, financier/lackey to Shredder. Fichtner hams it up in every scene, having fun with an obviously stupid plot and coming across as a man with a plan. Unfortunately, most of the fun to be had with Sacks falls apart when his motivations are revealed. This man is rich enough to build an unstoppable suit of power armor that launches magnetically controlled swords that instantly inflict slow-mo on the audience and never hit, has a skyscraper in the middle of New York City capable of supporting a generic final confrontation battle, has deep ties to the NYPD and no doubt plenty of congressmen in his pocket already and ya wanna know what his great motivation in all this is? He’s going to make money off of selling a cure to the horrible chemical weapon he’s going to release on the city that will be initiated at his own building. Nope, no way that plan could go awry.

 

Here are my final thoughts:

 

The movie bounces from boring scene A to boring scene B, with occasional clever references or painfully obvious comments about turtle soup that feel less like homages and more like weak fanbaiting. The characters are ugly, boring, or both and the only thing I have to say about Splinter is that he’s possibly the ugliest creature in the whole film. It’s nice to see them make April something other than a Damsel, but they forgot to include personality into the new character design. It suffers from a severe lack of actual ninja action and stealth, but that’s somewhat understandable since the only tool the team seemed to have to go off of was the teachings in a random self help book on ninjutsu that washed up in the sewers one day. Bottom line, avoid this movie in theaters and at most pick it up as a rental.

 

Now for the one thing I really did enjoy in the movie that I feel worthy of the spoiler warning, don’t read this bit if you want to have something to hold on to during the doldrums of much of the movie.

 

Last chance.

 

All right, so late in the movie, shortly before the final boring battle atop the skyscraper, we are treated to the surreal scene of a still shot with the titular characters all crammed into an elevator. There’s no dialogue, just the frequent ding of the elevator passing each floor. For no obvious reason Mikey starts smacking his nunchucks together in a beat, slightly awkward but a bit amusing. Instead of berating him into silence as has been the case for most of the film, Raph actually joins in, clanging his sai together in a counterpoint. Don and Leo join in and we’ve got a tiny little band playing in this cramped elevator and for one moment it’s entirely my turtles, the door reaches the top, opens up, and the boys charge out to meet their foe.

 

Then we’re back to the schlock that made up the rest of the movie and I’m back to wishing I was watching Guardians of the Galaxy again.

Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

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WARNING: Plot Spoilers Ahead!!!

Greetings Fans of Fox, I’m Dan, the new movie review blogger on this little chunk of the Interwebs. Full disclosure: this is actually the second movie I’ve gone to see for the sake of reviewing, the first was Lucy and that didn’t go so well. Suffice it to say that I didn’t enjoy it and I strongly suggest watching something like Hercules instead.

Today we have better fare: Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that made it completely clear in the trailers that it doesn’t take itself seriously. That’s an important trait in an action movie where two of the leads are a talking raccoon demolitionist and a sentient tree that only speaks three words. After a brief intro scene of dramatic back-story that makes you wonder if you’re watching the wrong film we’re launched forward 26 years to the present day to see what’s become of Peter Quill, our protagonist. What follows is something I’ve never actually seen on the big screen that completely destroys any lingering melancholy from the intro.

Guardians is not a complicated movie. Scrappy outlaws band together to fight a big bad. The motivations and personalities of every character is clearly established early on: Quill is essentially Han Solo and every scoundrel hero you’ve ever seen, Gamorra is the femme fatalle badass with a tortured past she’s bottled up, Rocket is the victim of inhumane experiments that left him with a huge chip on his shoulder and a bit of an inferiority complex, Drax is a musclebound wrecking ball who takes every sentence literally, and Groot is Groot. Much like The Avengers, Guardians spends much of the early acts having the characters spend more time fighting each other instead of working against the actual genocidal fanatic reaping a swathe of destruction in his hunt for them and the mystic mcguffin they’re carrying (spoiler to pretty much no one: it’s an Infinity Stone).

Also standing out is Michael Rooker as Yondu, Quill’s abductor/surrogate father/secondary antagonist for much of the movie. He’s a sort of pirate king running a band called Ravagers that’s apparently large enough to be known to the galaxy as a whole yet small enough that the entire fleet can spend its time running after a single renegade member. The relationship between Yondu and Quill is hilariously twisted, with Yondu repeatedly bragging about how he didn’t let his men eat the younger Quill when they first picked him up (though it’s revealed that they were actually there because they’d been hired to abduct him as cargo for his father).

I’ve spent four paragraphs avoiding talking about much of the plot because, honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of it. Good guys acquire the mcguffin, they figure out what it is, bad guy gets the mcguffin and gains phenomenal cosmic powers, good guys band together to get the mcguffin back, save the day and kill the bad guy. Along the way we get some fantastic set pieces, ridiculous outfits, and hilarious one-liners, as well as a jaw-dropping after credits cameo that’ll probably leave half the viewers scratching their heads in confusion as to who the character is, and the other half simply confused that they chose to have him show up.

All told, this movie is 121 minutes of ridiculous fun with one of the better soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It gets my full approval and you should go watch it. Also, it has Karen Gillan, which is more than motivation enough to see it in my book.

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