The Wall (2017)


Everything is more intense when you’re under fire.

(2017) War Drama (Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli. Directed by Doug Liman

 

In the desert, there is not much beyond scorching sun, deep blue sky and wind-whipped sand. It is dusty, hot and dry. Humans can survive there but far from comfortably. It is a terrible place to have a war.

And yet we’ve spent the last 16 years and counting in the desert at war. In this movie, it is 2007 and the war in Iran is “winding down” as the opening credits inform us. Remembering that this is the era of the infamous “Mission Accomplished” faux pas of George W. Bush, the movie begins on a wry, humorous note. We see that there are two Marines – Shane Matthews (Cena), a sniper and “Eyes” Isaac (Taylor-Johnson), his spotter – observing a pipeline construction site. Their banter is the kind between brothers or bar buddies; occasionally vulgar, snarky for certain but affectionate nonetheless.

All the men working on the pipeline are dead. The spotter thinks they are all head shots; the sniper is not so sure. If the former is right, then there is a highly skilled sniper in the neighborhood. If the latter is correct, then it was likely an insurgent patrol that surprised the construction workers and is likely long gone. The two men have been sitting in the hot son in full camouflage for 22 hours. Matthews has about had enough. There has been no movement. Nobody is there.

He heads down to the construction site to make sure and to request that the two be picked up and returned to base. There is a crack-thump and down goes the Marine. His buddy runs out to help him and crack-thump he’s hit as well. Isaac is forced to take shelter behind a crumbling wall, one which is barely standing on its own and threatens to come down on top of him if the wind gets too high.

He is forced to take the bullet out of his own leg in a squirm-inducing moment and then needs to look to the survival of himself and his buddy who appears to be unconscious or dead. The outlook is grim; the radio antenna has been damaged so all he can pick up are people who are close by; his canteen has also been shot and the water drained out. The dehydration combined with his serious wound is likely to kill him before base camp comes looking for them.

At first things take a turn for the better; Isaac gets in contact with a patrol team who must be close by but when they keep asking for his exact position, he begins to get suspicious, suspicions which are confirmed when the man on the radio tells him that he is the sniper who has shot him. The two strike up a conversation; it turns out that the sniper is the legendary Juba, who has 75 confirmed American kills to his credit. He seems eager to get to know Isaac who wants nothing more than to figure out where Juba is so that he can shoot him.

It becomes a game of cat and mouse with Juba threatening to shoot off the face of Matthews if Isaac doesn’t answer the questions that Juba poses, the most important being “Why are you still here?” That’s a question Americans have been asking as well.

Liman has constructed a taut three-person movie that keeps the viewer on the edge of their seats from minute one. It’s a short but sweet movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome and although there is a bit of a lull in the middle, mostly keeps the tension at a high level throughout. The movie is shot so well you can almost feel the sand getting in your eyes.

There is an authentic feel to the film from a military standpoint. I’m not ex-military myself but the characters act as I would think well-trained Marines would; they are imperfect and have their moments when they let their guard down but nonetheless they (particularly Taylor-Johnson) act with a sense that the training has kicked in as the situation is assessed, immediate needs seen to and a plan to get out of a bad situation put together. We see all of this from the comfort of our theater seats (or our living room sofa as the case may be) and likely feel quite grateful that it is not us cringing beneath that poorly constructed wall.

Cena spends most of the movie lying face down in the dirt but this is maybe his best performance of his fairly brief acting career. The WWE superstar has always impressed me with his screen presence but over time he has developed some real acting skills. I’m not sure he’s at the level of a Dwayne Johnson yet but as wrestlers turned thespians go, he certainly has the tools to construct a pretty satisfying career and maybe more down the line.

Taylor-Johnson has been in my opinion on the fringe of breaking it big with some fairly good performances in fairly good movies, but nothing has really brought him to the A-list quite yet. Much of the film rests on his shoulders as he is interacting with a voice on his radio more than with a live actor as Cena is mostly unconscious in the film. That takes a lot of chops and fortunately Taylor-Johnson has them. We shall see if this finally puts him over the top and gets him that role that will elevate him into the next level.

This is a movie in which sound plays an unusually important part and Liman’s sound team comes through in spades. From the sound of the wind whipping the sand around, the crack-thump of the gunshots and the metallic bangs of the construction site, the sounds make the movie. We really don’t have a lot to look at other than endless vistas of sand and the half-finished construction site. We need the additional stimulation and we get it.

Amazon Studios helped to produce this, likely with a goal of getting their Prime users to watch this at home, but this is one of those rare movies that I think despite having an intimate setting should be seen in a theater where the outstanding sound work and impressive visuals will work best. This hasn’t gotten a ton of buzz amongst indie film fans but it deserves some. This is a very strong movie that is worth seeking out and at least here in Orlando is playing in enough theaters that there’s no excuse not to find it.

REASONS TO GO: The expected route is not taken. Taylor-Johnson and Cena; who knew? There is a lot of authenticity to this film.
REASONS TO STAY: The middle third is a little bit slow. Juba as a disembodied voice lacks menace.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of salty language and a fair amount of war violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nicholas Irving, the Army Rangers sniper who served as technical adviser for the film, was nicknamed “The Reaper” during his tour of duty.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/12/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 65% positive reviews. Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Phone Booth
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: The Last Shaman

New Releases for the Week of May 12, 2017


KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

(Warner Brothers) Charlie Hunnam, Jude Law, Djimon Hounsou, Eric Bana, Aidan Gillen, Freddie Fox, Astrid Bergés-Frisbey, Annabelle Wallis. Directed by Guy Ritchie

A new take on the Arthurian legend from iconoclastic director Guy Ritchie. When Arthur’s father, the King, is murdered his power-mad brother seizes the throne. Arthur is forced to flee and live a life in the alleys and streets of the capital, but all that changes when he pulls a sword from the stone. Now he must face his history and seize his legacy. The trouble is that Arthur isn’t all that eager to do either.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a promo and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D
Genre: Fantasy Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, some suggestive content and brief strong language)

A Quiet Passion

(Music Box) Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, Duncan Duff. Emily Dickinson is one of the most beloved and acclaimed poets in American history, but few know all that much about the reclusive woman who passed away in 1886. What was she like? What prompted her to write such beautiful poetry? Why did she never marry? Legendary director Terence Davies takes on the story of one of the most revered figures in American literature.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, disturbing images and brief suggestive material)

Absolutely Anything

(Atlas) Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Robin Williams (voice), Monty Python. A group of eccentric aliens bestow an ordinary man with virtually unlimited power – the ability to make anything he wishes come true. As he struggles to control his power, observed from space by the aliens, he starts to rely more and more heavily on his loyal dog. Now, however, with a beautiful woman literally in the palm of his hands, he finds himself forced to choose between the girl and the dog. The movie is notable as for being the last film in which the late Robin Williams appears (he is the voice of the dog) and as a reunion for the surviving members of Monty Python, whose Terry Jones directed the film.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Sci-Fi Comedy
Now Playing: Premiere Fashion Square

Rating: R (for language including sexual references, and brief nudity)

Lowriders

(BH Tilt/Telemundo) Gabriel Chavarria, Demian Bichir, Eva Longoria, Melissa Benoist. East L.A. is a world unto its own. Danny is a talented street artist who has his own goals and dreams; his father and brother are part of the car culture of East LA, fabled Lowriders who have built a street rep over the years. Danny gets caught between their world and his own and must choose between family and future.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs

Rating: PG-13 (for language, some violence, sensuality, thematic elements and brief drug use)

Snatched

(20th Century Fox) Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack. A young woman is getting ready to go on the vacation of a lifetime when her boyfriend abruptly dumps her just before they are due to leave. With her options limited and not wanting to give up her vacation, she reluctantly invites her uptight mom with her. When they are kidnapped, the two polar opposites realize they must work out their differences and lean on each other if they are to escape from their captors.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content, brief nudity, and language throughout)

The Wall

(Roadside Attractions/Amazon) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, John Cena, Laith Nakli. Two Marines are investigating a construction crew’s ambush by a sniper. Convinced that the sniper has left the area, they prepare to be evacuated from the area when the sniper, who has patiently out-waited them, opens fire, wounding both of them and pinning one behind a crumbling wall. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as the sniper talks to them over their radios and with food and water running out and no way to communicate with their base to get help, forces the Americans into a desperate act. Doug Liman, who directed The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, is the man behind the camera here.

See the trailer and a clip here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for language throughout and some war violence)

Nocturnal Animals


It isn't always ghosts that haunt us.

It isn’t always ghosts that haunt us.

(2016) Thriller (Focus) Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Robert Aramayo, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, India Menuez, Imogen Waterhouse, Franco Vega, Zawe Ashton, Evie Pree, Beth Ditto, Graham Beckel, Neil Jackson, Jena Malone. Directed by Tom Ford

 

Regret follows us through life like the shadow of a hawk paces a wounded groundhog. The road not taken sometimes is the road we should have taken – but once we make that turn, that off-ramp is gone for good.

Susan Morrow (Adams) is the curator of an art gallery who has just opened a new installation, involving overweight, middle-aged naked women dancing suggestively in pom-pom and drum majorette outfits. It has brought out all of the shallow, self-involved, condescending L.A. art whores. In other words, it’s a great big success.

Not so successful is her current marriage to Hutton Morrow (Hammer), a venture capitalist whose venture has overwhelmed his capital. The failing business has put an intense strain on the marriage, for which hubby compensates for by fooling around. Men!

Out of the blue, Susan gets a manuscript from her first husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal) whom she had surmised was teaching college and had given up on the writing career that had attracted her to him in the first place. Their break-up was about as brutal as the end of a relationship can get. Now he has written a novel and dedicated to her, claiming in a note that she inspired him to write this – even though their marriage ended nearly twenty years earlier and they hadn’t spoken since.

As she reads the manuscript, she is oddly affected by it. It is a brutal story of a somewhat mousy man named Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal) driving down a dark deserted Texas road with his wife Laura (Fisher) and daughter India (Bamber) when a quartet of Texas rednecks run them off the road. They finagle the wife and daughter into his car after repairing the flat tire on it and drive off with her; Lou (Glusman) drives Tony off into the desert and leaves him there. Later on Lou returns with the gang’s leader Ray Marcus (Taylor-Johnson) who try to entice Tony back but he hides in terror. They drive away.

Tony makes it back to civilization and calls the cops. The laconic Texas Ranger-type detective Bobby Andes (Shannon) takes over the case. Eventually they find the nude corpses of his wife and daughter, dumped near where they had dropped off Tony. Andes promises that they will get the guys who did this.

As the years go on, the dogged Andes eventually figures out who done it but Andes has a bit of a time sensitivity going on – he is dying of cancer. It is unlikely that based on the fairly flimsy evidence that they have that Ray Marcus and his gang will ever be brought to justice. That leaves revenge, but does the weak Tony have the stomach for it?

There are three distinct stories here – the novel, which takes up most of the movie and is a kind of Texas noir; Susan’s current story in which her life is filled with disappointment, regret and sadness, and the back story of Edward and Susan – how they met and how they broke up. All three tales are put together into a cohesive whole and show that Ford, who is better known as a fashion icon, is also a marvelous storyteller.

This is not an easy role for Amy Adams, who is so lacquered up with make-up that she almost looks like art herself. It isn’t one of the most emotionally forthcoming performances of her career, which makes it all the more impressive; she does an awful lot with an awful little here. Gyllenhaal continues to make a case for himself as being one of the most distinguished actors of our time. There is a great deal of nuance in his performance; his character is perceived as weak but he isn’t in the traditional sense. There is a strength that comes through particularly later in the film.

There are also some stellar supporting performances. Shannon as the crusty detective is all tumbleweeds and BBQ brisket as the Southwestern law man, while Laura Linney is virtually unrecognizable as Susan’s patrician snob of a mom. Both of them dominate the screen when they are on, Linney unfortunately for merely a single scene.

The ending is deliberately vague and will leave you with a WTF expression on your face. My wife and I had decidedly different reactions; she loved it and thought it perfectly suited the movie. I felt that it was inconsistent with how the character behaved and felt petty and vindictive. I also had problems with the opening credits that played lovingly on the nude women; it felt exploitative to me.

Ford, who made his Oscar-winning debut with A Single Man may need to dust off his tux again come February but this is less of a slam dunk than his first film. I think that there is a possibility that there will be some Oscar consideration here, but there is some heavy competition coming its way despite this having been a fairly down year for Oscar-quality films. How the Academy reacts remains to be seen, but this is definitely a must-see for those who want to make sure they get an opportunity to see every film that is likely to get a nomination.

REASONS TO GO: Ford deftly weaves three different stories together. The film boasts fine performances from top to bottom.
REASONS TO STAY: The opening scene and ending are absolute deal-killers.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence, graphic nudity, a pair of offscreen rape-murders, menace and salty language.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Focus paid $20 million for the distribution rights for the film at Cannes, the highest ever paid for any film at any festival to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/29/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Words
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Stagecoach: The Story of Texas Jack

New Releases for the Week of November 24, 2016


MoanaMOANA

(Disney) Starring the voices of Dwayne Johnson, Auli’i Cravalho, Jemaine Clement, Alan Tudyk, Temuera Morrison, Rachel House, Nicole Scherzinger. Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements

A plucky teenage girl (are there any other kind at Disney?) sets out on a dangerous quest across the Pacific to save her people. Aiding her in her quest is the once-mighty demigod Maui who teaches her the way to become a master navigator. Together they’ll face mighty monsters, impossible odds and at times, each other. The one thing that Moana finds on the way to fulfilling her people’s prophecy is the one thing she most wanted to and never expected to – herself.

See the trailer, interviews, and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for peril, some scary images and brief thematic elements)

Allied

(Paramount) Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Lizzy Caplan. An American spy during the Second World War meets a comely French Resistance fighter on a mission and the two eventually fall in love. Reunited in London after the mission is over, they marry and begin a family. That’s when the bombshell drops (and I don’t mean the Blitz) – his wife is suspected of being a Nazi double agent and he is given the order to take her out permanently.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, promos, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: War Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, some sexuality/nudity, language and brief drug use)

Bad Santa 2

(Broad Green/Miramax) Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Tony Cox, Christine Hendricks. Willie Soke, the worst Santa ever, is back and his evil elf sidekick Marcus has a scheme to rob a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve. Along for the ride is Thurman Merman, the irrepressibly optimistic and naive boy (now a young man) and Willie’s horror show of a mom who turns everything she touches to ca-ca. Not helping matters is Willie/s lust/love for the charity’s director, a curvaceous and prim lass with a libido that just won’t quit.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, and some graphic nudity)

Dear Zindagi

(Reliance) Alia Bhatt, Shah Rukh Khan, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Tahir Raj Bhasin. A budding cinematographer looking to create the perfect life for herself encounters a free-thinking extrovert who teaches her to see life just a little differently – that the joy is in life’s imperfections.

See the trailer and promos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

Nocturnal Animals

(Focus) Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson. A woman trying to put her life together after a dysfunctional marriage and a brutal divorce is sent a book by her ex-husband that is violent and graphic – and dedicated to her. Knowing that she did something terrible to her ex, she doesn’t know what lengths he’ll go to for his vengeance.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Tuesday)
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for violence, menace, graphic nudity and language)

Rules Don’t Apply

(20th Century Fox) Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Annette Bening. When Midwestern beauty queen Maria Mabrey comes to Hollywood in 1958 under contract to the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, she is met by his personal driver. Both devoutly religious, they of course fall instantly forever, threatening to break Hughes’ cardinal rule of his employees having no relationships whatsoever. When Hughes  begins to fall for the actress, both Mabrey and the driver are drawn increasingly into his bizarre world.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements and drug references)

Avengers: Age of Ultron


Hawkeye takes the heat.

Hawkeye takes the heat.

(2015) Superhero (Disney/Marvel) Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Andy Serkis, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Hayley Atwell, Idris Elba, Linda Cardellini, Stellan Skarsgard, Claudia Kim, Thomas Kretschmann, Julie Delpy. Directed by Joss Whedon

As Uncle Ben from the Spider-Man series was wont to say, with great power comes great responsibility. It also makes sense that with great power comes great ego. When you have god-like powers (or are an actual god), the tendency would be to think that your powers make you right. When you get a roomful of such beings who may disagree on certain things, how possible is it for them to work together?

Avengers: Age of Ultron picks up from the pieces of HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD as shown in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and continued in the television show Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD as the Avengers are mopping up certain HYDRA bases trying to find Loki’s scepter which Thor (Hemsworth) is eager to restore back to its place in Asgard.

Despite heavy resistance from HYDRA and their leader Baron von Strucker (Kretschmann), Captain America/Steve Rogers (Evans) leads the Avengers to their goal and retrieves the scepter as well as capturing von Strucker. Von Strucker has been using the scepter to experiment on humans, bestowing on twins Quicksilver/Pietro Maximoff (Taylor-Johnson) and the Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff (Olsen) superpowers; in Quicksilver’s case super speed, in the Witch’s case the ability to enter minds and to shoot red hex blasts from her hands. She implants a suggestion in Iron Man/Tony Stark (Downey) to sow discord among the Avengers, somewhat successfully. After all, the conflict was essentially already there.

Stark uses the scepter to kick start an artificial intelligence he calls Ultron which is meant to be a program that protects the planet from alien invaders, an event from Marvel’s The Avengers that so traumatized Stark that it has literally become his greatest fear that the next time invaders come he won’t be able to stop them. However, Ultron (Spader) decides to make himself a body and after quick consideration comes to the conclusion that the best way to protect planet Earth is to remove the human beings from it and to start anew, preferably with metal constructs as the dominant species. That Stark doesn’t tell his fellow Avengers what he’s up to (although The Hulk/Bruce Banner (Ruffalo) assists him reluctantly) further stirs the pot.

As you might guess, this doesn’t sit too well with the Avengers who go out to stop Ultron, who has recruited the twins to his side. They get wind that Ultron is visiting Ulysses Klaw (Serkis), an arms dealer in the African nation of Wakanda to retrieve as much vibranium as he can get his metal hands on and each are given a kind of dream courtesy of the Scarlet Witch that stops them in their tracks and further makes the team wonder if they can function properly. Afterwards, with their gaudy New York headquarters compromised, they retreat to a farm owned by Hawkeye/Clint Barton (Renner) and his wife (Cardellini) to lick their wounds. Thor heads off to find out the meaning of his dream, enlisting old friend Erik Selvig (Skarsgard) to help him.

In the meantime romance begins to blossom between Banner and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Johansson), and Nick Fury (Jackson) arrives to give the team a pep talk. Thus they head out to stop Ultron, even though it might cost them their lives. And Ultron plans an extinction level event to take out the entire planet. Can the Avengers stop a being that may be smarter and stronger than they are collectively?

Believe it or not, that’s just the bare bones outline of what’s going on in this movie; there are tons of subplots going on as well. Along the way we get more insight into the characters of Hawkeye and the Black Widow (which are welcome) and extended battle sequences which after awhile, truthfully, begins to feel repetitive.

Whedon was able to weave all the different characters together in the first Avengers movie in a way that brought disparate elements into a congenial whole. He is less successful at it this time, which I think has more to do with an attempt to tell a story with so many moving parts, meant to not only influence events in Phase II of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also lead directly into the next Phase. In many ways, this is the worst review I’ve ever written; there’s so much Marvel-centric jargon here that it’s nearly impossible to really sum up the movie without going into detailed background, so much so that to really do it justice the review would end up being novel-length. Therein lies the rub for the movie; whereas Marvel’s The Avengers didn’t require a lot of explanation, this one does.

Still, the battle sequences are plenty amazing and while there are so much of them that after awhile there may be some overload particularly among audiences who aren’t young and male, they are all impressive enough to make for wonderful summer entertainment. I’m also liking Whedon’s attempts to illustrate the team’s dysfunction, their self-doubts and the realization that even if they succeed the collateral damage may be unfathomable. Whedon goes well out of his way to depict these warriors as human beings chock full of frailty; it doesn’t always work but at least it makes the movie more interesting than just a mere smashfest.

This sounds very much like a negative review and maybe it is; after all, Marvel has been setting the bar high with their cinematic universe and the last two films in the series have been absolutely outstanding, year-end top 10-worthy features. This doesn’t quite reach that bar but maybe it doesn’t have to. For those looking for ideal summer blockbuster entertainment, this more than fits the bill. It’s the kind of movie made for hot days, cool theaters and freshly popped popcorn. It’s the kind of movie that you’ll want to see with friends and go out for pizza afterwards. And yeah, it may not be the best Marvel film ever but it isn’t the worst either and it more than gets the job done.

REASONS TO GO: Plenty of superhero goodness. Looks at the inherent dysfunction of a team of powerful beings.
REASONS TO STAY: Feels less focused than the previous Avengers.
FAMILY VALUES: All sorts of comic book violence and mayhem, and a couple of suggestive comments.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Juggling all the characters in this film was so grueling and exhausting that Whedon elected not to direct the next Avengers movie, scheduled for 2018. Instead, Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘s The Russo Brothers will take on the next two-part Avengers: Infinity Wars.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/16/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 66/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Spider-Man 3
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT: My Life in China

Godzilla (2014)


Oh no, there goes San Francisco, go go Godzilla!

Oh no, there goes San Francisco, go go Godzilla!

(2014) Action (Warner Brothers) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn, Sally Hawkins, Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Carson Bolde, Richard T. Jones, Victor Rasuk, CJ Adams, Patrick Sabongui, Jared Keeso, Luc Roderique, Eric Keenleyside, Garry Chalk, Ken Yamamura, Hiro Kanagawa, Jill Teed. Directed by Gareth Edwards

Sixty years ago, Toho Studios in Japan debuted a monster movie unlike any other. As the only country ever to have a nuclear bomb used in war against them, Japan had a unique relationship to the Atomic age. That movie, Gojira which was retitled Godzilla, King of the Monsters with some scenes featuring Raymond Burr added in to appeal to American audiences, was not just a monster movie but also a parable about the nuclear age. The wild popularity of the film would spawn 27 sequels (in which Godzilla became a protector of children and a symbol for Japanese cultural weirdness), a godawful American remake and now this.

Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Watanabe) and his assistant Vivienne Graham (Hawkins) enter a cavern accidentally entered into by a mining company in the Philippines back in the 90s. They discover a gigantic skeleton with two parasitical cocoons inside. One of the parasites has evidently hatched.

Meanwhile in Japan, American nuclear scientist Joe Brody (Cranston) is concerned about some unusual seismic readings. He sends his wife Sandra (Binoche) to check on the structure to make sure that the reactor they are both working at is intact. Then, all hell breaks loose and a portion of the suburbs of Tokyo are leveled and irradiated.

Cut to present day. Joe and Sandra’s son Ford (Taylor-Johnson) has just returned from Afghanistan/Iraq to his nurse wife Elle (Olsen) and son Sam (Bolde) to their San Francisco home and he looks to get past his bomb disposal career and back into mainstream civilian life when he gets news that will take him back to Japan where he and his father will discover that what happened that fateful day was not what the world has been told…that something has emerged from the bowels of time and threatens all of humanity. Something that is headed for the United States…and there’s more than one…

Since the trailer debuted online, fandom has been foaming at the mouth for this to come out and for the most part, the movie doesn’t disappoint. I doubt you’ll see a more high-energy spectacle all summer long than this. Monsters rampage, buildings fall, people scream and get trampled and crushed by falling masonry. Edwards was going for a certain degree of realism, at least as realistic as you can get when dealing with 350 foot tall reptiles and their insectoid foes.

For the most part that realism is achieved. We get the sense of what it would be like to be in a situation where gigantic creatures were wreaking havoc in an urban environment. The digital wizards at WETA come through again, creating a new vision of Godzilla that is far more terrifying than the stunt man in the rubber suit stomping on a model of Tokyo. This Godzilla moves majestically, even gracefully but with terrifying resolve. His foes are Giger-esque nightmares that will resonate with those who had Starship Troopers-inspired freak-outs in their youth.

What Godzilla lacks is a human touch. Taylor-Johnson, who has done high-profile roles in Kick-Ass and to better effect in Nowhere Boy plays Ford the military man with all the warmth and personality of a wood chipper. His action hero persona is generic, indistinguishable from other performances in similar roles but unlike classic action heroes, there’s no hint of humor or anything human. It’s as if neither the actor nor the director wanted to upstage the imaginary beast.

Other than Cranston, whose obsessive scientist is played with clenched teeth and wild eyes, few of the main characters seem to modulate much beyond infernal calm. Watanabe comes off as a cut-rate Mr. Miyagi, dispensing nuggets of Zen-like wisdom while contributing precious little to the film. I also have to say that Dr. Serizawa’s assertions that Godzilla exists “to restore the balance of nature” is a bit ludicrous at best and makes for awkward movie moments.

Still, this is directed magnificently. Godzilla doesn’t make an appearance until nearly halfway through the film and even then he is scarcely glimpsed until the final third of the movie. Once things get going however, the action is relentless and on an epic scale. It’s hard to use the word “breathtaking” in an era in which visual effects seem to re-set the bar with every blockbuster but it sure comes to mind here. Edwards, who has since been given one of the upcoming standalone Star Wars films to direct (as well as the inevitable Godzilla sequels) is undoubtedly going to be one of the big names in Hollywood for years to come.

So while this isn’t the perfect summer movie, it scores in all the right places to make this the movie to beat this summer. Da Queen, who is not a big monster movie fan in general, loved this movie and if that’s any sort of measuring stick, you will too.

REASONS TO GO: Excellent creature and action effects. Has everything you’d want in a summer action film.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacks any notable characters other than the monsters. “Balance of nature” subplot goes off the rails a little bit.

FAMILY VALUES:  Plenty of destruction and mayhem, creature violence and some scary sequences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dr. Serizawa was named after one of the lead characters in the original Godzilla in 1954.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/24/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 73% positive reviews. Metacritic: 62/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Cloverfield

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: The Double

New Releases for the Week of May 16, 2014


Godzilla

GODZILLA

(Warner Brothers/Legendary) Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston. Directed by Gareth Edwards

The king of all monsters returns to wreak havoc with coastal cities as well as to face malevolent creatures of human creation that now threaten our very existence. Judging on the reaction to the most recent trailers, this is one of the most anticipated films of the summer.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D (opens Thursday)

Genre: Sci-Fi Action

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence)

Dom Hemingway

(Fox Searchlight) Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke. After being released from serving twelve years in prison, a safecracker with a larger-than-life personality sets out to make up for lost time. Setting out to reclaim an old debt, a brush with death leads him to try to re-connect with his estranged daughter but in his own inimitable fashion. This played at the recent Florida Film Festival and it’s single screening was completely sold out.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Dramedy

Rating: R (for sexual content, nudity, pervasive language, some violence and drug use)

Locke

(A24) Tom Hardy, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Bill Milner. Like every working day, Ivan Locke left the office  for the drive home. Blessed with the perfect family, his dream job and a successful career, he should be at the high point of life. However in a 90 minute drive, it all comes apart and a single phone call will force him to put everything on the line.

See the trailer, interviews, a featurette and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for language throughout)

Million Dollar Arm

(Disney) Jon Hamm, Bill Paxton, Lake Bell, Aasif Mandvi. When a sports agent loses his biggest client to a rival agency, he knows that his business is in serious trouble. A chance viewing of a cricket match from India leads to the brilliant idea of staging a nationally televised competition of finding the first major league players in India. Two finalists are at last selected and as they are brought to America to learn the game, the odds are against them as cultural differences and an unfamiliarity with the game may prevent them from achieving their goal.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-Roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: True Sports Drama

Rating: PG (for mild peril and some suggestive language)

Only Lovers Left Alive

(Sony Classics) Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt. An underground musician, dissolute and discouraged over the deteriorating state of humanity, reunites with his enigmatic and more optimistic lover. Their romantic idyll is interrupted by the arrival of his wild and out of control little sister. Oh, and did I mention they’re all vampires? The latest from acclaimed director Jim Jarmusch.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for language and brief nudity)