movie reviews May 2014

Jodorowsky's dunethe amazing spider-man 2Neighbors godzillalockeonly lovers left alivex-men: Days of Future Past


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X-Men: Days Of Future Past
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

It took fourteen years and seven movies, but the X-Men franchise finally jumped the shark.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past sends Wolverine back in time, mashing up timelines, casts and characters from the original films with those of 2011's prequel, X-Men: First Class. Like any number of sci-fi TV shows that send someone back in time to save the future, it's loaded with never-ending exposition, mumbo-jumbo about quantum mechanics, and reminders to each other, and the audience, about how important this all is. Character and motivation are largely replaced by overly familiar CGI set pieces, yet returning director and franchise originator Bryan Singer, brings a momentum to the proceedings that often manages to compensate for the episodic, talky script.

The convoluted story presents a dystopian future in which humans have been enslaved and mutants are hunted down and killed by seemingly invincible super-robots called Sentinels. The few remaining mutants — an aging Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), Storm (Halle Berry), plus a handful of youngsters we'll never get to know — are determine that the only hope for humanity, and mutanity, is to send surly Wolverine's consciousness back to into his 1973 body so he can stop radical Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing the inventor of the mutant-targeting Sentinels, Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), whose assassination will trigger the adoption of the Sentinel program.

Of course, to accomplish this, Wolverine will need to enlist the aid of the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who at the end of First Class, were hardly on speaking terms.

And that's the Cliff's Notes version.

Despite a consciousness transmission process that doesn’t seem to have evolved much beyond the Vulcan mind-meld and a ‘70s setting that seems more a pastiche of clichés (lava lamps, bell-bottoms, a peace-sign-waving Nixon), Wolverine's encounters with the young, drug-addicted Dr. X and an already imprisoned Magneto, should be moving and resonant. The script, however, hasn't the time to develop them. Instead, characters simply tell us about themselves, spout lines about peace and hope then barrel on to the next action sequence.

Only two characters manage to rise above such character shorthand. True to the political overtones of the comics and the ‘70s, Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique convincingly embodies the period's "by any means necessary" social radicalism of people of color, even if, in her case, that color is blue. The moments the camera lingers on her eyes convey the rage and resentment that the rest of the cast merely talks about. It’s probably not coincidence that when escaping from a botched terrorist attack, she adopts a disguise more than a little reminiscent of Angela Davis.

Evan Peters, meanwhile, single-handedly steals the show as Quicksilver, a cocky teen speedster who provides the most entertaining set piece in the film. Racing through a kitchen to divert several speeding bullets, he nevertheless makes pit stops along the way to taste soup, snatch a hat, and set up baddies for slapstick pratfalls once time resumes.

After a frankly ponderous finale, time, the future, even deceased colleagues have been restored. And to be honest, it all feels a bit too easy. Where’s the price to be paid? What’s the analog for Erik Lehnsherr’s Auschwitz tattoo? (PG-13) Rating: 3 (Posted on 05/24/14)


Only Lovers Left Alive
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Why independent film’s own prince of darkness Jim Jarmusch has only just now released a vampire movie at what seems to be the tail end of the genre’s popularity is anyone’s guess. But Jarmusch’s immortals, played by Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, are far from the sparkly vampires of young adult fantasy. In fact, angst is entirely replaced with a world-weary ennui, which adds a philosophical facet to the well-worn genre but at times makes for very boring viewing.

Sequestered in a blighted neighborhood in Detroit, Adam (Hiddleston) is a reclusive rock star whose only company comes from Renfield-like fanboy Ian (Anton Yelchin) who tracks down vintage musical instruments and whatever else Adam requests in exchange for wads of cash. Adam’s immortal beloved, Eve, (Swinton) makes her home amid abundant textiles and rare books in Tangier, but reluctantly leaves it to reunite with Adam in Detroit.


In Jarmusch’s screenplay, vampires are a lonely breed. Adam, in particular, disdains ordinary humans, which he refers to as “zombies,” especially those who make unwelcome pilgrimages to his house in hopes of glimpsing their hermitic idol. Other than Ian’s visits, Adam’s only other contact is infrequent trips to a hospital to buy blood from the lab of a shady doctor (Jeffrey Wright).

This anxious seclusion, combined with Adam’s condescension, makes Adam seem pathetic and lacking in vital inner resources. Eve handles her limitless time better, enjoying her books and regular meetings with Elizabethan poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), also a vampire and her source for vials of untainted blood. But even her interests are problematic, resulting in too many scenes where nothing actually happens.

But even Jarmusch knows that set design by itself isn’t enough. So when he does exercise an actual plot point, he brings in Eve’s little sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), a destructive tornado of a bloodsucker. Her hunger can’t be sated with bloody aperitifs, and her recklessness forces Adam and Eve to flee Detroit.

Still, this active interlude doesn’t make up for the name-dropping, literary allusions and the general fetishizing nature, as if the only desire left to vampires in this day and age is to become collectors. So, despite the rich decay of the sets and an amazing performance from Swinton, who is once again transformed into a beautiful, mythical creature, Only Lovers Left Alive will leave you cold. (R) Rating: 2 (Posted on 05/24/14)


Locke
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

Most people would consider the premise a nightmare: being stuck in a small car for a long trip with someone who yaks on the phone the entire time.

It sounds even less promising as a film subject: one location, one actor on screen — just his face and shoulders, one cramped generic car interior, and one continuous period of time. No flashbacks. No other locations.

And on the surface, nothing much seems to be happening.

The character, Ivan Locke, is making an 85-minute drive south from Birmingham to London. As he drives, he takes and makes calls on his hands-free Bluetooth mobile car system.

Oh, and his life is falling apart.

He's driving away from the construction site at which he is scheduled to supervise a multi-million dollar foundation pouring the next morning. He'll not be back for it.

He's driving to a London hospital where a woman he barely knows from a previous project is about to give birth to his child.

And his wife doesn't yet know about it.

The drive, then, comprises a series of conversations — or arguments — as Locke is cajoled then fired by his boss, attempts to prepare his increasingly drunken assistant for the morning's pour, confirms morning arrangements with police and councilmen, pleads with his wife not to overreact, and reassures his sons, all while talking the woman in hospital through an increasingly problematic delivery.

From these circumstances, writer-director Steven Knight (screenwriter for Dirty Pretty Things and Eastern Promises) has fashioned a riveting character study and existential exploration that observes how a man faces his past, his mistakes, his responsibilities and wrestles with circumstance to take control of his fate. Throughout the night drive, like his namesake, the 17th Century English rationalist philosopher, Locke clings to reason as a means to meaning and control. After all, in his job, he provides a foundation. He solves problems. He fixes things.

Key to the success of the movie is Tom Hardy, whose Ivan Locke is the image of unfaltering calm and resolve. We hear it in Ivan’s well-modulated reassurances — to his boss, his assistant, his wife, his sons, and the mother-to-be. We see it in his eyes as he stares back at himself in the rearview mirror. At times, he waxes philosophic on the grades of concrete or the permanence of the structures he builds. In other moments, he angrily lays blame on those not present.

And as the trip unfolds, we get more and more indications of the root of Locke's demeanor, though never any out-and-out exposition.

Like the lights flashing by in the passing darkness, the rain trails on the windshield, and the glow of dials that surround him, every detail changes the picture and is reflected across that broad implacable face speeding through the night. (R) Rating: 4.5 (Posted on 05/21/14)


Godzilla
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

This earnest franchise reboot is clearly intended to rescue the reputation of Japan’s King of the Monsters from a slow descent into ignominy and camp, most strikingly with the notoriously misguided 1998 U.S. remake. To that end, the film takes itself quite seriously and attempts, like one of its obvious influences, Jaws, to graft onto its monster high jinks a meaningful human drama.

The script — attributed to Max Borenstein, based on a story by David Callaham (Doom, The Expendables) but with a disparate plot suggesting a great many more contributors — cobbles together elements from the best-known sci-fi-creature-feature-dino-flicks of the past 35 years. Yet despite an impressive cast and remarkable digital effects, the result is a surprisingly dull Monster Mash-up.

The film opens in 1999 — ironically, the year after Matthew Broderick’s disastrous encounter with the reconstituted lizard — as a mining operation in the Philippines uncovers a huge underground cavern. The wall structure suggests ribs and bones, bringing to mind the breeding ground of Ridley Scott’s original Alien. Of course, lacking the nuance of Scott or designer H.R. Giger, this turns out to be a colossal ribcage, containing a couple of huge egg pods, one of which has hatched. Meanwhile, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are working at a Japanese nuclear plant when it is suddenly destroyed by something big enough to have footsteps that register on the Richter scale.

Fifteen years later, his wife's death in that disaster has left Joe on a one-man crusade to prove it was no accident, his tiny Tokyo apartment strewn with newspaper clippings, maps, and charts. Breaking Bad's Cranston does a convincing job as the "true believer"; like Roy Neary in Close Encounters or Kevin McCarthy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, he's the one guy who knows something's out there. Unfortunately, he dies soon after the creatures reappear, leaving viewers with only giant monsters and screaming anonymous victims.

Godzilla, himself, seems like a guest star in this movie. Most of the plot revolves around the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), two huge critters resembling the Arachnids in Starship Troopers that trample buildings and wolf down nuclear missiles like Jujubes. In almost random fashion, the action lumbers from Honolulu to Las Vegas to a final showdown in San Francisco.

The script attempts to preserve an element of human peril by focusing on Joe's son Ford, a Navy bomb disposal expert, and his small nuclear family. However, they never rise above stereotypes: as Ford, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Kick-Ass 2) seems to conceive of courage as blank-faced stoicism while, as Ford's wife, Elizabeth Olsen alternately frets or offers ironic hope with statements like, "It's not the end of the world." The son, more a prop than a character, doesn't even merit a line.

The rest of humanity simply exists to run or die beneath the rubble. And sadly, a high-powered cast, including Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn, and Ken Watanabe, are wasted, staring in awe at the CGI effects and making doleful pronouncements.

Director Gareth Edwards (Monsters) offers some impressive set pieces, but, ultimately, this King of the Monsters is not too far removed from the men-in-suits wrestling matches of the ‘60s and ‘70s: all monster; no humanity. (PG-13) Rating: 2.5 (Posted on 05/21/14)


Neighbors
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

Neighbors might have been grudgingly amusing if it featured the same gross out gags that dominate every other comedy these days.

Thankfully, Judd Apatow protégé Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five-Year Engagement) has more on his mind than simple raunch. There’s a poignant undercurrent about getting older and taking responsibility that makes the gags about getting high and lactating (don’t ask) work.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne star as Mac and Kelly Radner, a 30-something couple who want to think of themselves as still young and “hip” even though they own a home, hold steady jobs and have a baby girl.

Their self-perception is crushed when they discover that it’s no longer possible to spontaneously attend raves or have a toke with an infant and a day job. Even engaging in the sort of activity that produced their daughter becomes problematic because Kelly’s body hasn’t quite recovered from her pregnancy. It’s also hard to get in a romantic mood with your own offspring staring in your direction during lovemaking.

The Radner’s domestic life becomes even more complicated when a college fraternity moves into the house next door. While Mac and Kelly try to ingratiate themselves as fellow partiers to their new neighbors, they are correct in dreading the arrival the young men next door.

The president Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron) lives under the delusion that his organization invented beer pong and — worse — should take the same pride in doing so that Jonas Salk might have taken in developing his vaccine. Unlike his wingman Pete (Dave Franco), who takes breaks from partying to study, Teddy and many of his brothers confuse being noisy and wasted with a worthy life goal.

Naturally, this leads to repeated showdowns between the frat rats and the Radners. In order to ensure their daughter gets her sleep, Mac and Kelly stoop to increasingly underhanded schemes to keep their neighborhood quiet.

Because the Radners have more than their own happiness in mind, they are sympathetic even if their desperation gets the best of them. It’s also easy to indentify with anyone having to face up with mortality and the fact that parenthood doesn’t allow for shirking obligations.

Efron and Byrne have solid comic chops and play off each other well. What’s pleasantly surprising is discovering that Efron has more to say for himself than “Hey, look at my abs!”

His Teddy is so determined to party his way into glory on the frat house wall because his life doesn’t look that promising after graduation. In addition to the fact that he might not even earn a diploma, the real world doesn’t look up to him the way underclassmen do.

Efron manages to make the thickheaded Teddy almost likable despite his mean-spirited “bros before hos” attitude. A constant look of fear helps Teddy seem like more than an inebriated thug.

Screenwriters Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien come up with plenty of disgustingly silly gags throughout Neighbors, but they also give Lisa Kudrow and Christopher Mintz-Plasse some choice if sadly brief roles.

The storyline is loose and almost freeform, but Cohen and O’Brien manage to come up with enough inspired and guilt inducing gags to make Neighbors earn a warm welcome. (R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 05/16/14).

Haiku
Neighbors

Rogen and Efron
fight over noise levels but
ignore all good taste.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2
Reviewed by Mike Ireland

Much like its identity-challenged hero and parade of villains, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't know what it wants to be — love story or summer blockbuster, character sketch or flashy CGI-fest, dark vision or wacky comedy. In an effort to satisfy all tastes and expectations, the filmmakers go with answer d) all of the above, resulting in a messy, sprawling film that tries to do too much and succeeds at too little.

Sure, POV scenes of Spidey free-falling into action from atop a skyscraper or swinging through New York streets are exhilarating. But these are merely a consequence of technological advancements from the days when Sam Raimi helmed the franchise, and, like most of the film's effects, they're so overused, they gradually lose their ability to evoke a sense of wonder.

Impressive effects, however, go a long way to disguising the film's diffuse plot. Lacking the origin story that focused 2012's series reboot, Spider-Man/Peter Parker has a lot more on his plate this time around: high-school graduation and decisions about his future; the on-again-off-again relationship with girlfriend Gwen Stacy; an investigation into his abandonment by his parents; his best bro's development of a fatal illness; the origin stories of three new super-villains; and the death of a close friend.

That's a heck of a week, and the script by the team of Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (the Transformers and recent Star Trek films) and Jeff Pinker and James Vanderbilt barely manages to cram all of it into the film's nearly two and a half hour running time. Not surprisingly, plots and characters are routinely sketched-out in a couple of scenes.

Poor Jamie Foxx's transformation from nerdy OsCorp tech guy Max Dillon to super-charged nemesis Electro is reduced to a broad riff on Jerry Lewis's Nutty Professor shtick. Likewise, the reuniting of Peter Parker with childhood friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) should be touching, but stuffed into a couple of scenes, it relies on a sort of shorthand — a joke and a heart-to-heart by the East River barely registering as a relationship. Paul Giamatti as Russian Mobster-turned-armored-super-villain Rhino is given even less development, resorting to mugging and an over-the-top accent to make any impression at all.

All of which is fine if director Marc Webb, who helmed the first entry in the new series, intended this installment as a broad, cartoon-y romp. But other elements of the film — the truth about Peter's parents, the Peter Parker-Gwen Stacy love story — are approached with a serious, even grim, tone. The result is a mish-mash that never finds a central story or a consistent tone.

Amid endless car crashes, explosions, and Matrix-style slo-mo shots, we're left with Andrew Garfield who, as Spider-Man, comes off smart-alecky, not wise-cracking and, as Peter Parker, vacillates between cheap "Big Gestures" (writing "I Love You" in webbing on the Brooklyn Bridge) and mopey self-indulgence. No wonder Gwen wants to get away to England for school. As portrayed by Emma Stone, she's brainy, witty and brave without any super powers. Best of all, she's recognizably human. (PG-13) Rating: 2 (Posted 05/06/14)


Jodorowsky's Dune
Reviewed by Beck Ireland

Regret can be a powerful force, and the urge toward restitution even more so. Not surprisingly, director Frank Pavich's new documentary came dangerously to becoming a revival instead of an examination. Traces of that version remain in the final cut, particularly in the interviews with fanboy movie critic Devin Faraci and directors Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Only God Forgives) and Richard Stanley (Hardware). However, it's Pavich's main subject, Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, The Holy Mountain), who delves deepest into the meaning and lessons of an unfulfilled dream and refuses to let the film rest on nostalgia or ruminate too long on what could have been.

In telling the tale of Jodorowsky's recruitment of “spiritual warriors” to satisfy his vision of a film version of Frank Herbert's 1965 epic sci-fi novel Dune —without Jodorowsky's having even first read the book — Pavich is exceedingly meticulous. He begins at the most fitting place: the beginning, and then allows the story to unfold organically and chronologically. It's an almost unbelievable journey of myth-like proportions, involving legends of film in their nascent careers as well as icons of pop culture. You couldn't make this stuff up.

After achieving cult status for his previous films, Jodorowsky, living in Paris in the 1970s, teams up with producer Michel Seydoux to make a film that he believes will change the world. Going strictly on gut instinct, he begins assembling a team of talented artists. The one requirement is that they're simpatico with Jodorowsky's vision.

He brings together artists such as Jean Henri Gaston Giraud a k a Mœbius, H.R. Giger, and Dan O'Bannon, who he chose over a more seasoned Hollywood professional. Together, they spend years working up pre-production plans for the film that culminate in a storyboard for every shot, which resembles an oversize comic book. Jodorowsky also convinces Mick Jagger, David Carradine, Orson Welles and even Salvador Dali to sign on.

But despite these ambitious plans or even because of them, not a single studio will touch the project. And this becomes the second theme of Pavich's documentary. While he allows several industry insiders speculate on the effect the film could have had on the industry, some go so far as to posit that it may have been preceded Star Wars as the first major blockbuster, Jodorowsky himself is much more reserved about its thwarted possibilities. As he muses over a rare extant storyboard book, he philosophizes not on regret or rejection. Instead, he delights in the opportunities and connections the project forged for him. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5 (Posted on 05/06/14)

 



Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com
Beck Ireland can be contacted at beck.ireland@gmail.com
Mike Ireland can be contacted at mike.e.ireland@gmail.com


 

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