Tag Archives: taylor adams

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/

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

THE LEGO MOVIE (PG, 2014)

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I was going to start this review with “I can’t believe I liked a movie based on a toy,” but then I remembered that I enjoyed TRANSFORMERS.

So… I can’t believe I liked another movie based on a toy.

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an anonymous construction worker in a perfect (vaguely fascist) Lego metropolis where the coffee is $37 and the number one sitcom is “Where’s My Pants?” Every day is choreographed to an excruciatingly catchy Tegan and Sara song and overseen by the Orwellian President Business (Will Ferrell), sold separately. When Emmet stumbles onto a mysterious artifact, he sets in motion an ancient prophecy that could save – or destroy – not just his Lego universe, but all of them. He soon allies with an ensemble cast including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and Batman (Will Arnett). And Abraham Lincoln. And pirates. And a unicorn-cat thing.

I promise, it’s funny.  Funnier than anything I’ve seen in a long time. THE LEGO MOVIE boasts a razor-sharp script and a canny sense of the absurd, hurling joke after joke and challenging you to keep up. Chris Pratt’s empty-headed but sincere hero is a standout comedic performance in a cast full of them. Who’d have known a movie about a toy brand would have more laughs than both HANGOVER sequels?

Visually it’s stunning, although not always for the right reasons. Every inch of the Lego world is lovingly animated, right down to the authentic smudges and imperfections on the pieces. Even the dust and smoke is made of tiny bricks. It’s imaginative and vibrant, but also a little overwhelming. Every frame is crowded with so many small touches of genius, and it’s all edited so blisteringly fast, that THE LEGO MOVIE sometimes looks like a colorful headache. But it’s a headache worth having.

This excess of creative passion is why I like this movie so much. It overachieves. It works hard. The plot is lightyears ahead of competing fare, eventually launching its third act into a sort of CABIN IN THE WOODS-ish meta-narrative. Few movies are brave enough to even try this, and even fewer stick the landing. To be fair, THE LEGO MOVIE does stumble a little bit toward the end, when the cleverness reaches a sort of critical mass, the fourth wall falls, and the story grinds to a halt so we can be force-fed a moral about the importance of individuality. Cue the hugs.

The real moral is “buy Legos.” It’s the funniest, best Lego commercial ever.

stars

 

By: Taylor Adams

THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (R, 1967)

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Sergio Leone’s THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY is exactly what a western should be: gritty, violent, and full of double-crosses. There’s no shortage of quotable lines but most of the storytelling is visual; alternating between extreme long shots of the scorched world and extreme close-ups of the hard men that inhabit it. Even today, it’s stunning to look at.

The titular characters are three freelancers united in pursuit of a stash of Confederate gold. The “Ugly” is Tuco (Eli Wallach), an impulsive Mexican bandit currently on the run for God-knows-what. The “Bad” is Angel Eyes (Lee Van Cleef), a sadistic bounty hunter with his own twisted moral code. And the “Good” is Blondie (Clint Eastwood), a mysterious gunslinger in full-on Clint Eastwood mode. He’s not much “better” or more heroic than the other two – he’s just smarter and a quicker shot. In this Mars-like world of rock and sky, that’s all that counts.

Watching these three characters trip over each other to reach the gold first is a delight, especially since they so frequently depend on each other. Tuco knows the name of the cemetery the gold is buried in. Blondie knows the grave. Angel Eyes knows neither, so he needs both men alive. Every alliance is fragile, calculated, and temporary, and there are more betrayals here than a game of RISK.

And Leone doesn’t sugarcoat it – this is a deeply cynical film populated by selfish people. While the rest of the country is fighting the Civil War, these guys are fighting for their own wealth. The ongoing war is just part of the terrain to them and later, an obstacle, in the form of a futile battle of attrition over a shabby bridge. Blondie and Tuco arguably do the right thing here – but this “right thing” conveniently aligns with their shared goals. What if it hadn’t?

It’s often darkly funny, too. Eli Wallach’s Tuco is a strangely relatable antihero, whether he’s throwing a body under a moving train or fighting off a bounty hunter from a bathtub (after which he delivers one of the film’s best lines). There’s enough oafish comedy in Wallach’s mannerisms to make him appealing, and enough cold efficiency in his gunfighting skills to make him dangerous. An early gun store robbery is mesmerizing because we never quite know what he’s capable of. All three players are well-drawn and well-performed, but Tuco is easily the most developed. Good and Bad are archetypes pulling together for the inevitable standoff, the outcome of which we have little doubt. But Ugly? We don’t know where he’ll be standing.

Or if he’ll be standing at all.

It’s entertaining as hell, and it’s a classic for good reason. Westerns just don’t get any better.

Check it out this Saturday, February 15th, at 4pm on ThisSpokane. Or see an encore on February 19th or 28th.

stars

 

Review By: Taylor Adams

F/X (R, 1986)

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Don’t mess with Hollywood special effects guys.

The villains in F/X make this mistake, and spend the next ninety minutes paying for it in increasingly hilarious ways. This is a clever popcorn thriller with some great payoffs.

Our hero is effects wizard Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown), reluctantly recruited by the Justice Department to fake the assassination of DeFranco, a New York mob informant. Compared to goblins and car flips, this looks like easy money for Rollie – just a restaurant, some blood packs, and a .38 loaded with blanks.

Or… were they blanks?

Now Rollie is on the run, DeFranco is really dead, and the Justice Department is “tying off loose ends.” Hunted by corrupt spooks and a detective with an agenda of his own (Brian Dennehy), Rollie must untangle the conspiracy and learn who framed him and why. Along the way he uses every trick in his arsenal (accumulated over a long career of gory B-movies such as “I Dismember Mama”) to outwit his pursuers, and eventually, fight back.

The script is entertaining and well-paced, serving up a constant supply of problems, solutions, and even few major twists. Early on, F/X surprised me by killing of a character I assumed to be protected by plot armor, and a late double-cross involving Dennehy’s detective had me laughing. The tone walks a careful tightrope – dark enough to build real suspense, but light and goofy enough to be fun.

Dennehy is great as a Dirty Harry-esque cop, but it’s Bryan Brown’s show and he makes a charmingly unconventional action hero. He’s basically an ordinary guy with an extraordinary talent for deception, so the obligatory shootouts and fistfights are handled creatively. Being an eighties film, Rollie’s portfolio is refreshingly free of the high-tech stuff we’ve grown so accustomed to in recent movies. It’s strictly hardware – mirrors, latex masks, pyrotechnics, and good old superglue – and F/X is all the better for it as we watch Rollie jerry rig a lethal surprise with little more than the contents of his trunk.

Sure, his tactics are so immaculately timed and staged (particularly in the final thirty minutes) that he seems to possess some mild form of precognition. Many of his ruses depend on the bad guys reacting in a very precise way – and not, for example, putting an additional bullet into an apparently dead body just to be sure. But why pick at improbabilities? It’s a piece of entertainment, not a thesis paper. At one point in F/X, Rollie literally kills a man with a balloon.

A balloon.

To see how he accomplishes this, check out F/X this Saturday at 9pm on ThisTV (or catch an encore on February 25th or 27th).

stars

 

 

Review By: Taylor Adams