Tag Archives: fox 28 review

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

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

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

LONE SURVIVOR (R, 2014) Review

LONE SURVIVOR (R, 2014)

Directed by Peter Berg

85695 The centerpiece of Peter Berg’s LONE SURVIVOR is a 40-minute running gunfight down the jagged cliffs of the Hindu Kush. It’s one of the most effective and bruising action sequences I’ve ever seen. This is both good and bad; nothing else in this sincere but clumsy film comes close to matching its power.

12Based on the memoirs of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell (same title), LONE SURVIVOR dramatizes the disastrous 2005 Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan.

Through faulty equipment, a thorny moral dilemma, and simple bad luck, Luttrell and three other SEALS find themselves cut off and vastly outnumbered by Taliban fighters on unforgiving terrain. By the end of the day, nineteen American lives have been lost.

5656Berg honors them all by exposing the meat grinder of modern combat in the film’s middle act. Bullets snap off rocks and thunk into trees. Ears ring.  Shattered bones pierce skin and lungs gurgle with blood. It’s visceral, intense, and merits comparison with the famous D-Day landing sequence in Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Prepare to wince. A lot.

And that’s the point. This film renders the battle so convincingly, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the real-life heroes that fought it. Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and the supporting cast hit the right notes here (sharp-eyed viewers will note the real-life Luttrell appearing in an early cameo). Particularly impressive is the sound design and stunt work, which makes you feel every onscreen injury.

With such a powerful depiction of combat, it’s too bad that the rest of the movie is only good. The script is workmanlike, bookending with clumsy voice-overs and an unnecessary framing device. It opens post-battle and recounts it via flashback, which tells us nothing that the title LONE SURVIVOR didn’t already. These bells and whistles unfortunately dilute some of the impact.

But the film’s biggest misstep is the third act. Anyone who’s read the memoir (that’s your cue to read it) can tell you the final leg of Luttrell’s true survival story is a fascinating example of local Afghan heroism. This is still included, but Berg also injects an unneeded climactic battle. Cars explode, AK’s are fired, and bad guys are stabbed in the nick of time, per Hollywood timing. Inventing a gunfight that never happened isn’t necessarily bad, but here it takes the focus off something that did happen. Whether the studio forced Berg’s hand or not, it’s a cheesy piece of revisionism on a true story that didn’t need revising.

Still, at its worst, Lone Survivor is watchable. At its best, it’s unforgettable. That’s a fair trade. After all, on the drive home, no one will be talking about the uneven storytelling – it’s the heroism of the men of SEAL Team 10 and the Afghan tribesmen that lingers long after the credits.

stars

 

By: Taylor Adams

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