Maleficent Review

ImageMost people know the gist of Sleeping Beauty: Evil witch places a curse on a King’s daughter. At adolescence, the curse makes her fall into a deep sleep after pricking her finger. Only true love’s kiss can wake her up. Prince kisses her, wakes her up, vanquishes evil witch… blah blah blah. Pretty standard fairy tale stuff. Maleficent is a retelling of that story, specifically Disney’s animated 1959 version, from a different point of view which makes the classic villain the protagonist.

Angelina Jolie plays the titular character and she was born for the role. It almost seems as if the original animated villain was modeled after her. Unfortunately, her performance may be the only bright spot in the movie. The script is flat at best. Gone is the sense of adventure that the original, or any other Disney animated film, brought. A beginning action sequence between an army and magical creatures seems present only to fill the summer movie battle quota. The middle of the film is just plain boring. Even Maleficent herself seems to have lost her edge from the animated version. She’s definitely likable, but at times she is just too nice.

The supporting characters in the film provide little assistance. Elle Fanning (Super 8) brings next to nothing to the role of Princess Aurora. Brenton Thwaites’ Prince Phillip seems to only be in the movie because he’s in the animated version and adds virtually nothing to the story. Sharlto Copley (District 9) plays King Stefan, a guy who seems hell bent on teaching all female viewers to never trust men again. He’s just plain heartless, and not even for a good reason. And the three fairies (Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, and Lesley Manville) are meant to be comic relief, but would probably only make an infant chuckle.

There’s probably a good portion of people who didn’t know this film was a remake of Sleeping Beauty before I just told you. My generation, those born in the 80’s to early 90’s, grew up in the Disney golden age. Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King; these are the tales we know. Which means that, more than likely, a vast majority of movie goers won’t remember Sleeping Beauty if they’ve seen it at all. In that sense, Maleficent feels like an original tale. And as such, it simply doesn’t resonate. Maybe its message of “True Love” would’ve been more impactful, had Frozen not done it less than a year ago.

FINAL GRADE: C, Wait for it on Redbox.

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

14 years ago, Director Bryan Singer started a mini-revolution with the first X-Men movie. Once upon a time, superhero movies were just special effects laden cash cows. But with X-Men, studios realized that the superhero genre could be visually appealing while also providing strong social commentary and important messages.

ImageUnfortunately for the X-Men franchise, the series lost its way when Singer departed following 2003’s X2. While it has its moments, Brett Ratner’s poorly executed X-Men: The Last Stand is a disappointment compared to its predecessors and the less said about 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better. But, as Professor X so eloquently states in this newest installment, just because you stumble, doesn’t mean you’re lost forever.

Bryan Singer makes his triumphant return to the franchise with its most ambitious film yet. Days of Future Past molds key cast members from the original trilogy (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore) with the brilliant cast of the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult). Time travel can be a tricky thing in science fiction, but Singer’s script uses it masterfully. Here, the remaining X-Men are now living in a dystopian future where robot Sentinels have triggered mutant holocaust. Their last hope is to send Wolverine (Jackman) into the past to lift young Professor X (McAvoy) out of searing depression and break young Magneto (Fassbender) out of prison in order to prevent Mystique (Lawrence) from assassinating a scientist (Peter Dinklage) and triggering their bleak future.

If you’re hoping to see X-Men 4, you might be a tad disappointed here. While the original cast provides some magnificent action sequences along with a few new characters (Fan Bing Bing’s Blink is my particular favorite), this is most certainly an X-Men: First Class sequel. That, however, isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. McAvoy and Fassbender are once again awe-inspiring. Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto is so passionate that you want to follow him even if you realize he’s a dangerous extremist. McAvoy’s performance as a broken Charles Xavier searching for a reason to hope again is arguably the best in series history. They are the glue that holds the eye popping special effects and action sequences together to form a story of faith and redemption.

There is more plot and emotion in this film than any X-Men movie before it, but it still fits in some of the best action sequences ever seen on film (Just wait til you see Evan Peters’ Quicksilver). Singer not only manages to fittingly bring closure to the original films, but also provide us with a platform to reboot and improve the series going forward. The superhero genre is super profitable, so it is here to stay whether you like it or not. In fact, this is the third one in two months. Yet, Days of Future Past still manages to remain refreshing. It’s fitting that a movie with a message of hope is exactly what the franchise needed to revitalize itself and the genre.

FINAL GRADE: A

GOJIRA!!! (Godzilla Review)

Remember that 1998 movie starring Matthew Broderick. Yeah, that one called Godzilla. Let’s pretend that never happened. Now that we’ve erased that from your memory, we can focus on what a Godzilla movie is supposed to be.

ImageIf you’ve ever seen an old Godzilla movie or are remotely familiar with the character, then you know that Godzilla isn’t about a giant T-Rex/Iguana hybrid thrashing through New York City for no reason while the military panics. Instead, throughout the course of the character’s lengthy film history, the creature has always been essentially a good guy. He is supposed to be a giant monster fighting against even more terrifying giant monsters while we, the people, are caught in the middle. Director Gareth Edwards and writer Max Borenstein seem to get that, and seek to return the series back to its roots in this reboot.

The character originates from Japan, which makes it fitting that the film opens with an American family living there. Bryan Cranston, of Breaking Bad fame, plays a nuclear physicist who is witness to the first onscreen disaster. He spends the next 15 years attempting to prove that the event was not a natural disaster as the government says. Cranston is brilliantly emotional when he is onscreen, but the majority of the film follows his son Ford, played by Kick Ass star Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The audience’s eyes follow Ford, a military lieutenant and bomb expert (go figure) as he treks from Japan to mainland California in hopes of getting back to his wife (Elizabeth Olson) and son, safe and sound. Ken Watanabe (Inception, Batman Begins) plays a Japanese scientist who fittingly understands the creatures and trusts that Godzilla is not the true enemy. With the exception of Taylor-Johnson, whose acting ability cuts on and off like the power in each damaged city, everyone in the cast is magnificent.

But perhaps the biggest fault in the film, is that it pays too much attention to its human characters. After all, the movie is called Godzilla. And yet, the creature itself is onscreen less than the villainous monsters (carefully kept secret throughout the film’s promotion) it faces off against. These movies are supposed to be about the destruction and monster fights, but the first half of the film barely contain either. Several creature battles are teased, only to have the narrative cut away to whatever the people are doing. Luckily, when the eerie moments and high octane destruction sequences do hit, they are as captivating as you’d hope. You just wish there was a bit more of it. Maybe they’re saving it for a sequel?

FINAL GRADE: B, Not bad. Worth seeing at least once, but no rush.

April-May Quick Reviews

It’s my favorite time of the year; Summer Movie Season. But before I start cranking out the weekly reviews on the big Summer blockbusters like Spider-Man, there are a few movies I’ve seen that I need to crank out some quick reviews for. Enjoy.

 

Rio 2

ImageNearly everyone is back in this sequel to 2011’s animated hit about two endangered blue macaw’s finding love in vibrant Rio de Janeiro. The film picks up with Blue (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) now raising their three children in the safe confines of a bird sanctuary run by their favorite humans Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro). A new adventure begins when Linda and Tulio stumble onto a whole world of Amazonian blue macaw’s led by Jewel’s dad, Eduardo (Andy Garcia).

The animation is beautifully vibrant and the music is often as fun as it was in the original. The opening number featuring Janelle Monae is specifically pleasing. But overall this movie comes off bland to even those with the shortest of attention spans. Characters from the original (Will.I.Am’s Pedro, Jamie Foxx’s Nico, Jemaine Clement’s villain Nigel… to name a few) are thrown in with little to no regard to the actual plot, making this movie feel about twenty minutes too long. Then there’s the plot itself; Blue trying to win over his father-in-law’s approval. Not exactly the freshest film concept. It almost feels like they could’ve sent this straight to Redbox with a different voice cast to save on the budget. No one would’ve noticed. FINAL GRADE: C

 

 

Transcendence

ImageJohnny Depp stars as a scientist Will Caster who creates the world’s first super intelligent, somewhat self aware, computer system. When a group of radical anti-techno terrorists assassinate him, Caster’s wife (Rebecca Hall) decides to upload his consciousness into the machine with the help of their friend Max (Paul Bettany). As the super intelligent Will grows, so too do the number of terrorists and government officials who believe that he is a danger to mankind’s existence.

The movie certainly means well and boasts a talented cast that probably had faith in the concept. But it can’t help but come off a bit dull in the end. Other than the three characters mentioned above, no one else, including Morgan Freeman and Cilian Murphy, really gets to do anything. It’s certainly worth viewing, as the movie raises several philosophical questions that certainly make you ponder ideas about human progression, technology, and what it means to be human. But given its cast and budget, its narrative in no way lives up to the potential of its concept. FINAL GRADE: C+

 

 

Neighbors

ImageSeth Rogen stars as Seth Rogen (basically) and is inexplicably married to Rose Byrne. The couple are proud parents of a ridiculously adorable baby girl and have just moved into their first home when they get new neighbors. Hoping for a nice quiet gay couple to move in next door, they are instead bombarded by a college frat, led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco, that just won’t stop partying. After the police are called on the frat, a comedic prank war ensues.

I admittedly thought the movie would be funnier, but in all fairness my expectations were asininely high (blame Bridesmaids and The Hangover Part 1). Many of the funniest scenes are in the trailer, but there are still plenty of surprises to make it worthwhile. Efron, Franco, and their Delta Psi Beta brothers are what make the movie. They’re pretty much hilarious from start to finish, but if you don’t like penis jokes or if you find Seth Rogen annoying then you might want to pass on this one. FINAL GRADE: B

 

 

P.S.

Tis come to my attention that I never clearly personified my grading scale. So, for your convenience and future reference:

A+ : Drop what you’re doing and go watch this movie. Then watch it again. Then buy it when it becomes available to own.

B+ to A- : Fantastic movie. Go see it as soon as possible.

C+ to B: Not bad. Worth seeing at least once, but no rush.

C- to C: Wait for it on Redbox.

D+ or worse: Don’t bother.

Not Quite So-Amazing Spider-Man 2 Review

Yep. Another superhero movie is here to kickoff the summer movie season… as if there weren’t enough of them. First up, is another Spider-Man movie… as if there weren’t enough of them.

ImageMarc Webb (no pun intended… I think) returns to direct the sequel to the 2012 Spider-Man reboot. His last outing, almost a complete retread of Sam Raimi’s original film, was saved by its two leads. I don’t think anyone will argue that Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone aren’t a step up from Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Still… it’s hard to shake the fact that Tobey and Kirsten did it first. Thus, yet again, it’s hard to watch this film and not rummage through it for reasons to care about its existence.

So let’s go ahead and get the negatives out of the way first, so we can end on a good note going forward into the Summer Movie Season. First off; the tone. With the creation of Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, the Avengers’ Universe, and the X-Men franchise, I’d have sworn we’d left the campiness and corniness back in the 90’s with Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. And yet, the bad puns and goofiness seem to pop up in this film far too often. In fact, the movie seems to go from silly to serious to heartfelt as if someone is flipping a switch in the projection booth.

“It’s my birthday… now it’s time to light my candles”… *proceeds to electrocute everything*… I mean, c’mon Electro, you can do better than that.

And then there’s the cast. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge Jamie Foxx and Paul Giamatti fan. But casting them in the clichéd, cookie cutter roles of Electro and Rhino is like hiring an architect to draw a stick figure. In fact, there were literally times where I felt like Foxx was going to turn into this guy.

But… Spider-man is here to save the day. Andrew Garfield is once again marvelous as Peter Parker. Comparing him to Tobey Maguire’s dinky turn as the titular hero is like comparing Christian Bale’s Batman to Adam West’s. Garfield is the embodiment of the character and makes you root for him and believe in him every time he’s on screen. Then there’s Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacey who’s just so darn adorable. Franchise newcomer, Dane DeHaan (Chronicle), is also not too shabby as Harry Osborne.

So what it all comes down to is: Is a good Spidey and a culpable love story enough to save a clunky script? Well, yes and no. For a superhero movie, the film is lacking on the action… which is weird, considering the movie is packed with three villains. And when it does hit, you’ll either love or hate the constant shifting in and out of super slow motion. But, considering it has a strong lead actor and a dramatic climax (perhaps shocking to non-comic aficionados who can’t guess the inevitable end), the movie isn’t a terrible way to spend a few hours and a couple of bucks. Unless of course, you haven’t seen Captain America 2 yet.

FINAL GRADE: C