The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from the past, “X-Men: First Class,” in order to change a major historical event and fight in an epic battle that could save our future. . (2014)

Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies are somewhat faithful to the comics but really botch some character arcs. Everything got further butchered with Brett Ratner’s The Last Stand, which somehow made The Dark Phoenix Saga into a boring mess. I believe First Class to be the best of all the X-Men movies (go back and re-visit the first two films- they don’t hold up so well), and so I was excited to see what would happen in Days of Future Past, one of the best X-Men stories.

For the most part, I was relatively bored. Singer had a chance to retcon some things (like the fetish leather outfits), but his dark future takes mundane darkness to the extreme. The assembled cast is all sorts of impressive, but save James McAvoy, no one gets much of an arc (notice a theme here?). I think after this film, I’m done with the series, regardless of how Apocalypse turns out.

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In Summer 2014, the world’s most revered monster is reborn as Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures unleash the epic action adventure “Godzilla.” From visionary new director Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) comes a powerful story of human courage and reconciliation in the face of titanic forces of nature, when the awe-inspiring Godzilla rises to restore balance as humanity stands defenseless. (2014)

For all the flat out of awesomeness of the third act, Godzilla has a bit of a human problem.

To be fair, that has always been the case with The King of Monsters movies. Gareth Evans has assembled a very talented cast who–with the exception of possibly Bryan Cranston–all act as if they’re in a different movie. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s stoic soldier character is incredibly flat and he has virtually no chemistry with his wife, Elizabeth Olsen, who is given very little to do. I’ve been impressed with Olsen’s prior performances, but big action tentpoles do not serve her talents well (perhaps she’ll fair better in next years Avengers sequel, where she’ll be reunited with Taylor-Johnson again). Ken Watanabe carries every scene with a “my God” expression on his face, and is unintentionally awful.

Am I being hard on a movie that’s about giant monsters fighting? Perhaps, but consider this: though Gareth Edwards took a very respectable approach to making a blockbuster by pacing the reveals and the overall structure akin to Jurassic Park, the audience is stuck dealing with humans we’re not invested in for the majority of the runtime. I appreciate that he made an effort to make the non monster scenes have some weight to it, but I just wished the tone was more consistent throughout the performances.

There are instances where it feels as if Evans is just being a tease with showing Godzilla, but it really makes it all that more impactful when he goes full out in the final half hour or so. I especially enjoyed how almost every monster shot was from the human’s perspective. As silly as it sounds, it added a dose of reality to a monster movie. Without cameras zipping around in every which direction, we remain tethered to one perspective for the fights, and that goes a long way from setting Edward’s film more interesting than a lot of the other maniacally shot and edited blockbusters.

In this version of Godzilla, a lot of buildings get smashed but it’s not an overly excessive amount of city damage. Edwards seems aware of the Michael Bay ADD explosion-fest that has dominated action movies over the last decade, and wants to maximize impact when something does go down. The manner in which the fights are staged is likely my favorite thing in Godzilla, as it feels like a throwback to the originals in stunted movement while also being damn near perfect CGI.

And how about Godzilla as a hero? I know it’s been done before, but it’s just flat out great. We’ve seen so many times an us vs. them scenario where the military is going in to take down something they don’t understand, but when Godzilla shows that he’s on our side, he becomes a genuine badass. I was actually more invested in him as a character than any of the humans. I just have one request when they make the next one: give me Mothra!

Seth Rogen, Zac Efron and Rose Byrne lead the cast of Neighbors, a comedy about a young couple suffering from arrested development who are forced to live next to a fraternity house after the birth of their newborn baby. Neighbors is directed by Nick Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek). (2014)

Some slight spoilers below…

Though Neighbors provides a bunch of hearty laughs, I can’t remember the last time I saw such a poorly scripted comedy. In one scene, the leading couple get into their first fight of the film and indicate that they’re going to separate and possibly get divorced. It almost comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t make sense with everything that led up to it. In literally the next scene, they get back together, rendering a whole ten minutes of the film pointless. Neighbors has a strong central conflict, but this one was inserted solely for the sake of upping the dramatic stakes in the second act.

There are some larger points made about coming to terms with being parents and giving up the fun that comes without being younger and without those responsibilities, but they don’t resonate whatsoever. It seemed as if Neighbors shoehorned in these portions because, you know, movies are suppose to have themes and big ideas. I just have big objection to these films doing by the numbers screenwriting 101 plot points if the actors or director aren’t going to be invested in them.

That being said, there is some surprising, new talent in Neighbors. Jerrod Carmichael is a revelation, and has some of the funniest lines in the film. And there’s Zac Efron, who should no longer be held back because of the perception of being a High School Musical alum. He’s got a lot of charm and plays the snaky aspects of his character well. I miss the range Seth Rogen showed in Observe and Report, but he does stretch his shtick a bit in Neighbors. And hats off to Rose Byrne, who I’ve never particularly liked, but gives the best performance in the movie.

Neighbors is uneven and a lot of the jokes don’t land whatsoever. It’s not necessarily a bad movie, but not one that I could strongly recommend.

Featuring the voices of Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, “Frozen” is the coolest comedy-adventure ever to hit the big screen. When a prophecy traps a kingdom in eternal winter, Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction. (2013)

Everyone and their mother sung the praises of Frozen before I had the opportunity to watch it. Could it really be that good? Yes! I so thoroughly enjoyed the songs, characters and even the animation style that I’ve previously had aversions to. Josh Gad (who is another Book of Mormon alumn with composer Robert Lopez) is the highlight as Olaf.

Depicts the struggles of a compassionate twenty-something contending with some unexpected life developments while working as a supervisor at a home for at-risk teens. Grace (Brie Larson) has dedicated her life to helping kids who have slipped through the cracks of the system. Committed to her job and in love with kindhearted co-worker Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), she’s still struggling to make sense of her own troubled past when she learns that her life is about to change forever. (2013)

Based on the logline of Short Term 12, you’d think you would be in for a PSA type film with some big message. With what little I knew about this movie, I at least assumed it would be just that. I am so happy to say that not only am I wrong, but Short Term 12 is one of the most consistently excellent films I’ve seen in a while.

I’ve always been a fan of Brie Larson (for full disclosure, I have a super duper crush on her too), but she’s never been as good as she is here. Her chemistry with the outstanding John Gallagher Jr. is incredibly natural. The teen actors are hands down the best young ensemble I’ve seen put to film. Though I could do without the fluffy score, I’m glad Joel P. West didn’t go overboard with schmaltz.

Short Term 12 is partly so good for all the beats it doesn’t do. I feel strongly that you would have to be downright cynical to consider this melodramatic or preachy (though I imagine some will). I mentioned earlier that the film is consistent– when’s the last time you saw a film without one false note or performance that minute to minute, act to act was just across the board good? That’s what Short Term 12 is for me, and I can’t recommend watching and watching with a tissue in hand enough.

We’ve always known that Spider-Man’s most important battle has been within himself: the struggle between the ordinary obligations of Peter Parker and the extraordinary responsibilities of Spider-Man. But in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker finds that a greater conflict lies ahead. It’s great to be Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield). For Peter Parker, there’s no feeling quite like swinging between skyscrapers, embracing being the hero, and spending time with Gwen (Emma Stone). (2014)

Oh, Mark Webb.

Count me as one of the many fans of 500 Days of Summer. Webb made a solid and original romantic comedy led by two charming performances. That’s one of the things he does well as a director– get good performances at of his actors. So what happened in The Amazing Spider-Man 2? This film is a train wreck that sets comic films back twenty years, all the way to the days of the awful Schumacher Batman & Robin film.

Spider-Man 2 fails in virtually every way: the script is so ham-fisted, jumbled and inconsistent in tone that it feels as if the audience is watching a quick succession of random scenes. The way in which they changed how Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man completely undermines what makes the character who he is. And Jamie Foxx… what are you doing? Paul Giammatti at least plays Rhino as a cartoon buffoon and it works. But Electro/Max is so incredibly over the top that I cringed whenever Foxx was on screen.

The score may be one of the worst I’ve heard in all of film. Just abysmal. I’m not really offering anything constructive or worthwhile here, and it’s because I have such a large disdain for this film. I can not recommend it by any means, not even as a “hate watch”- it just won’t entertain you at all.

Steve Rogers continues his journey as the super-powered American soldier who’s grasping to find his place in a modern world after being frozen in ice since WWII with this Marvel Studios sequel. Chris Evans returns to star, with Community director/producers Joe and Anthony Russo helming. (2014)

For movies involving superhero characters, I’m not sure what will top the joy of seeing the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes come together for the first time in The Avengers. All the meticulous planning that Marvel and Kevin Feige put in to making the seemingly impossible work ended up reaching a level of success they may not have even anticipated. The reason I didn’t use the term “superhero genre” up top was because these Marvel comic heroes and villains are just the jumping off point for working within various tropes and established genres (such as the magical world of Thor and the technology driven world of Iron Man). In the case of The Winter Soldier, it’s a spy/political thriller that just happens to featured costumed heroes. But in so many ways, it’s more than that: This entry of Captain America is a straight up damn good movie.

The Russo Brothers displayed a fine sense of filming action on the TV show Community, but I did not know they were capable of doing it on such a big canvas. For whatever reason (I can’t at least identify why from a storytelling perspective), Steve Rogers is a lot more lethal this time around in hand to hand combat. The big set pieces are pleasently original and for once it seems like Marvel hasn’t gone the cheap route. But the action alone wasn’t going to make this a great movie: in addition to fantastic performances across the board, The Winter Soldier has real stakes the audience can invest in.

The easy thing to do would be to just throw in a few curveballs and plot twists and call it a thriller out of the mold of the 70s Robert Redford classics. Though in the third act (Marvel so rarely- with the exception of The Avengers- gets these right) there are some twists that felt one step too many, the majority are earned and in turn cause the characters to reevaluate their motives, their actions, themselves, and each other. That’s plain old good storytelling! And I make that point of emphasis not to disparage the superhero films that came before, but to highlight that this can be the new standard.

The Winter Soldier does have the benefit of having a few previous films within the Marvel Universe help set up the aforementioned stakes, but it’s still a success in its own right. All Marvel movies feature some form of humor to acknowledge the inherent silliness, but the humor here is a lot sharper and smarter than any of their previous entries. In addition to action, the Russo brothers know how to pull off comedy very well.

In my mind there’s no two ways about it: Chris Evans is and will always be Captain America the way that Christopher Reeves will always be Superman. There are fine performances from Anthony Mackie and Scarlett Johansson, but Evans is the anchor of the movie and puts in his best performance as Cap of his three appearances. The Winter Soldier may not have the cultural impact of The Dark Knight nor the unforgettable cinematic experience of The Avengers, but it is by leaps and miles the best film that just happens to feature superhero characters.

A man is chosen by God to undertake a momentous mission of rescue before an apocalyptic flood destroys the world. (2014)

The idiom “your mileage may vary” is incredibly applicable to a film such as Noah, so let me get a few things out of the way: I am not religious and I only had a cursory knowledge of the story of Noah’s Ark (I’ve forgotten whatever I learned years ago in Hebrew school). With that in mind, I found Noah to be a strangely rewarding cinematic experience. Darren Arnofsky’s gone big before, such as in The Fountain–which I strongly disliked but need to revisit– but due to the biblical nature of this story, he’s playing with his biggest canvas yet.

Noah doesn’t feel like your average historical blockbuster. There are touches of Arnofsky’s previous works present, such as the repetition of key shots, which give it a unique feel from the opening frame. It’s mostly The Watchers that struck me as something different. As the general audience has been inundated with CGI monster and creature after the next over the last fifteen plus years with similar designs, The Watchers visuals really stood out to me. They truly felt as if they came out of a Ray Harryhausen film, all stop-motion and unnaturally moving. Though not all of the CGI works, but I’m especially appreciative that Arnofsky opted to build a practical ark.

I’m not going to put a spoiler alert on a portion of The Bible, so I will say I was taken aback by Noah’s actions in the third act. From a screenwriting perspective, it’s almost the ultimate conflict to present, a sort of religious Sophie’s Choice. Russell Crowe, who early on the film takes a calm yet determined demeanor in playing Noah, doesn’t choose to play the latter part of the movie with batshit crazy eyes or screaming. Rather, he presents Noah as a man almost possessed by a duty that he must fulfill. Though no one gets the opportunity to shine here–the performances are largely wooden, as if the actors were afraid to inject these historical figures with any real personality–I really appreciated Crowe’s turn in Noah.

The score was so largely forgettable that I had to think back to remember if there were any pieces of music throughout. Perhaps that’s a good thing, in that Arnofsky didn’t go for something grandiose that would distract from the narrative. There are parts that were silly but nothing felt preachy, which I appreciated. Noah is far from perfect, but it’s a worthwhile viewing, regardless of your mileage.

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper) has lost everything — his house, his job, and his wife. He now finds himself living back with his mother (Jacki Weaver) and father (Robert DeNiro) after spending eight months is a state institution on a plea bargain. Pat is determined to rebuild his life, remain positive and reunite with his wife, despite the challenging circumstances of their separation. All Pat’s parents want is for him to get back on his feet-and to share their family’s obsession with the Philadelphia Eagles football team. When Pat meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a mysterious girl with problems of her own, things get complicated. Tiffany offers to help Pat reconnect with his wife, but only if he’ll do something very important for her in return. As their deal plays out, an unexpected bond begins to form between them, and silver linings appear in both of their lives. (2012)

Color me surprised: Silver Linings Playbook exceeded my expectations, in spite of them being set very, very low. Especially in this phase of David O. Russell’s career (i.e. anything from The Fighter and forward), everything about the movie looked like Oscar bait. And yes, everyone gets their opportunity to cry and scream and rant for that perfect Oscar clip. That being said, Playbook was a lot more fun than I anticipated and wasn’t as schmaltzy as I thought it’d be (though the ending felt like a copout). I still hope David O. Russell will make another turn with his career and step away from films like this.

He thought it was over. After fighting his way out of a building filled with gangsters and madmen – a fight that left the bodies of police and gangsters alike piled in the halls – rookie Jakarta cop Rama thought it was done and he could resume a normal life. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Formidable though they may have been, Rama’s opponents in that fateful building were nothing more than small fish swimming in a pond much larger than he ever dreamed possible. And his triumph over the small fry has attracted the attention of the predators farther up the food chain. (2014)

I was fortunate enough to attend an advance screening for The Raid 2: Berandal, and also a Q&A with the director and stars afterwards. I have so much to say about the film, but I feel as if my friend Derek Jimenez did a fantastic job of summing things up:

Think about the best thing that’s ever happened to you.

Whatever it is, really focus on it.

Let the memory wash over you, take you back to that moment where that giddy tightness floating around in your belly rushed up to your heart & tripled it’s pace, rendering you speechless, senseless, & generally unable to function. The thing that finally connected the abstract concept of elation to the physical experience of it.

Do you remember? Has the feeling been reinvigorated? Is it coursing violently through your veins like wildfire? Are you living it again right this second, experiencing all of the things that simply can not be conveyed to another human being because the happiness is so all consuming and omnipotent that you couldn’t possibly do it justice by explaining it with words!?!?

Good.

Because The Raid 2 is the martial arts action film translation of that – bottled up & sprayed out in an extravagant balls to the wall frenetically bad ass brutal as fuck adrenaline fest that will make you remember what it’s like to be the happiest person on the face of this planet.

So Kung fu your ass down to the nearest cinema & prepare to have your face bashed in & your mind boggled by the sheer audacity of a film that grips the shit out of you and doesn’t let go for all 148 impossibly short minutes of run time, and seems far too good to be true.