Monday, April 21, 2014

Transcendence (2014) review

‘Transcendence’ serves as the directorial debut for Wally Pfister, but while this may only be his first foray into directing, Pfister has already made a name for himself as one of the best cinematographers in the business. In the past decade, his cinematography work has been nominated for four Oscars and he finally won the Oscar for Best Cinematography in 2010 for his work on ‘Inception’. While he has worked on a few other films in his career, including ‘The Italian Job’ and ‘Moneyball’, he has mainly been known as director Christopher Nolan’s go-to cinematographer, having done all of his films since ‘Memento’ (excluding the upcoming ‘Interstellar’ due to his work for this project). Nolan himself serves as a producer for the film so it’s safe to say that there’s a lot riding on this one. Pfister has long-worked with one of the best directors in Hollywood so perhaps with this, he could successfully move into directing and become the next Nolan. After all, this film’s premise seems very much in line with what you might expect from a Nolan film. Unfortunately though, this ends up being one of the most disappointing films of the year.

Artificial Intelligence researcher Will Caster (Johnny Depp) has been striving to develop a machine that can achieve technological singularity, in which A.I. would progress to the point where it becomes smarter than any human on the planet, resulting in radical civilization changes. While Will is hard at work at accomplishing this goal with the help of his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) and their friend Max (Paul Bettany), an extremist group known as R.I.F.T. (Revolutionary Independence From Technology) launches a series of attacks on numerous A.I. facilities. Will himself gets shot by one of its members and while he does survive the shooting, he and Evelyn learn that he attracted radiation poison as a result of it and will eventually die in a few weeks. Looking to save him, Evelyn decides to upload Will’s consciousness to a computer and with Max’s help, they are successful, allowing Will’s spirit to live on so that he can continue his work. However, soon Will starts to gain a bit too much power, and Evelyn is soon forced to consider whether or not to shut him down before he becomes way too powerful.

Going in, the biggest problem regarding whether or not this movie would turn out any good probably had to have been whether or not the science behind it was really smart or really dumb (or in the case of the former, potentially even a bit ‘too smart’). But in the end, that’s not this movie’s biggest problem. Its biggest flaw is that it is really, really boring. This is one of those films where nothing really happens and yet strangely enough things do happen in regards to the plot. This film does have an intriguing premise and does raise some interesting questions about whether or not technology should advance to the point where it becomes superior to us and potentially could even become a major threat to us. The story they present here is a good case of that. It’s just that as a movie, ‘Transcendence’ runs at a very slow pace. As for the actual science within the film itself, I can’t really say whether or not it’s handled well because I can admit that I’m not that big of a computer expert. But for the record, I just want to recount something that happened after I saw this film in the theater. Some guy seated a few rows in front of me apparently began to rant about the film once it was over. So with that in mind, I’m guessing that at the end of the day, this premise wasn’t really handled that well.

But there are good things in this film. One good aspect in particular is the cinematography. While Pfister isn’t the cinematographer here (that duty instead belongs to Jess Hall), this film really has some gorgeous visuals so it’s clear that Pfister is an expert when it comes to getting some excellent shots, even when he isn’t directly behind the camera. Also, this movie does have a good cast; however, the characters themselves are rather bland. In some cases, some members of the cast are woefully underused; particularly Nolan regulars Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy who really don’t get anything to do here other than relaying exposition. Of this cast, two performances stand out. The first is Johnny Depp, who gives one of the more subdued performances of his career and that’s a nice refreshing change from what we usually see from him these days. Also, that’s saying a lot considering that for most of the movie he’s just on a computer monitor. The other standout is Paul Bettany because while, like I said, most of the characters are rather flat his character Max has the most depth out of any character in this film. One could argue that perhaps he should have been the main character. He isn’t, but for what it’s worth, he does a very good job here.

I really hate to say it, but ‘Transcendence’ ended up being really disappointing and that is really sad considering who is involved here. Wally Pfister is a great cinematographer and I do think that he has potential to be a great director. However, he probably should have gone with a different ‘first film’ as ‘Transcendence’ is, ultimately, not that good. Despite a very intriguing premise, the film itself is very boring and that’s kind of ironic considering that things technically do ‘happen’ within the film. The big problem here is that there are a lot of moments when the film begins to drag, and the characters are also pretty flat as well so we are not really emotionally attached to any of them. The cast does a good job, especially Johnny Depp and Paul Bettany, but in the long run they can’t save this train-wreck of a film and from what I hear, the original script by Jack Paglen was much better than what ultimately became of it on screen. What happened to that script? Well, we might never know.

Rating: 2/5

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Draft Day (2014): Short Review (200th Post!)

I know what most of you are probably thinking when it comes to this film. How can a film based around the NFL Draft and the behind-the-scenes events that occur both before and during it possibly be any entertaining? Well, you may be surprised to find that ‘Draft Day’ is actually a pretty entertaining film. The main reason for this is because the film runs at a pretty fast pace so there weren’t really any moments when the film began to drag. Also, for a film centered on the NFL Draft, the whole film is actually pretty appealing to both fans and non-fans of the sport, mainly because it’s not just about the NFL Draft. It’s also the story (albeit a fictionalized one) of a man, Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner, who gives a rock-solid performance here), the GM of the Cleveland Browns, who is pressured to turn the team’s bad luck around and tries to do whatever he can in order for that to happen. Yeah, it does sort of feel like a commercial for the NFL and like most films of this genre, it is rather predictable at times. But, in the end, ‘Draft Day’ was surprisingly better than I expected. Costner and director Ivan Reitman turned out a pretty solid sports film.

Rating: 4/5

(This, my 200th post on the site, was originally supposed to be a Q&A but as of right now, that post has been postponed indefinitely. However, I’m still doing one in the future so with that said… if you have any movie-related questions that you want me to answer, please go to ( where you can submit your questions.)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Oculus (2014) review

I’ll openly admit that I’m not the biggest fan of horror movies. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen a few of the really good horror films, like ‘Scream’ and ‘Evil Dead’, but for the most part they’re just not my thing. Also, it might have something to do with the recent trends that have been going on in horror films, like the numerous remakes of horror classics that, for the most part, end up being rather terrible or when these films favor gore and jump-scares over legitimately scary moments. However, if a film does get pretty good reviews from critics and if it looks interesting, then I might see it. ‘Oculus’ is a good example of that. This film is a feature adaptation of a short film, ‘Oculus: Chapter 3- The Man with the Plan’, which was directed by Mike Flanagan, who returns to direct this adaptation of the story. Now, I haven’t seen that short film, but this film’s premise, as well as its solid reviews from critics, interested me… but in the end I think I would have been better off with the short film. That’s because while there are some good things in this film, for the most part I’m pretty meh on it.

Eleven years earlier, Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites) was sent to a mental hospital after an incident where he shot and killed his father Alan (Rory Cochrane) after witnessing him kill his mother Marie (Katee Sackhoff) but also for believing that the whole thing occurred because of a supposed supernatural entity that resided within an antique mirror in their house. After he is released from the institution, he reunites with his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) who has had to live on her own following the incident. While Tim looks to move on from all of this, Kaylie isn’t ready to leave the past behind. In the years since he was taken away, she has been investigating further into the matter and has discovered similar incidents have occurred to the previous owners of the mirror. With this in mind, she looks to prove that Tim and their father were innocent and that the mirror was responsible for the murders. However, this doesn’t turn out to be as easy as they think it will be, and they soon find themselves trying to figure out what is real and what’s not.

Now like I said, there are some good things in this movie. For one thing, it is well-acted from all who were involved. Gillan, Sackhoff, Thwaites, and Cochrane all did good jobs and I did find Gillan’s character to be a pretty interesting horror film female lead; someone who is a bit obsessed but nevertheless committed to the goal she wants to achieve. However, the biggest standouts of the cast are actually Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan, who play the younger selves of Gillan and Thwaites’ characters. These two kids steal the show and in the end, the best thing about this whole film is its cast in general. There are some pretty creepy scenes throughout the film, particularly in the second half of the film. Without really giving anything away, it is at this point where the flashback scenes to when Kaylie and Tim were kids start to ‘merge’ with the present day and it makes the whole thing very interesting on a psychological level and I will admit that the ending did sort of catch me off guard.

But unfortunately, a lot of this film falls rather flat in many areas and many of the good aspects of the film that I just mentioned are part of a ‘double-edged sword’. I said that the best scenes in the film are towards the second half of the film, and that’s because the first half really drags on. It might just be a case of translating a short film into a feature-length film, but for the first hour or so, not much happens here. A certain scene in the trailer involving Sackhoff’s character and the mirror is the moment where the movie does get interesting. However at the same time, it also gets a bit confusing because the past and present start to blend together so closely that it comes to the point where it jumps between these two periods of time just seconds apart over and over again. It’s not too ridiculously complex but at the same time it means that the narrative structure for the film is a bit of a mess. And then we come to that ending… I did say I didn’t expect it but that’s because I haven’t seen a lot of horror films. I saw this with my friend Matt, who has seen more horror films than me, and I agreed with him in that the ending was kind of a cop-out and from what I’ve been hearing, it’s intended to set up for a potential sequel. Ehh…

I really want to like ‘Oculus’; it’s an interesting premise and it has a really good cast to back it up… but unfortunately it has a couple of noticeable flaws, and most of them actually do stem from some of the good aspects of the film. The film doesn’t get interesting until the second half and that is after a rather slow first half. There are some genuinely creepy moments in the film and it gets pretty interesting on a psychological level, but at times it also gets a bit confusing as the past and present start to come together at once, resulting in a pretty messy narrative. Finally, while the ending did catch me off guard, it also sort of feels like a cop-out with the purpose of continuing things through a sequel. I mean, if you do like horror films, then you’ll probably like this film. However, as someone who isn’t that big a fan of the genre, this one didn’t really do much for me and that’s a shame because I was actually sort of looking forward it but ultimately, it comes off as a bit of a disappointment.

Rating: 2.5/5

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: SPOILER POST


The following post contains spoilers for ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier. If you have not yet seen the film, please refer to my ‘Spoiler-Free’ review of the film (link provided below) as I’ll be discussing the film’s key moments in detail here. You have been warned!!

This is the third Spoiler Post that I’ve done for a film on this site. The first was for ‘Iron Man 3’ in regards to the controversial Mandarin twist. The second was for ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, which revolved around the reveal of the identity of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, Khan and then the moments in the film that mirrored the events of 1982’s ‘Wrath of Khan’. I didn’t do one of these posts for either ‘Man of Steel’ or ‘Thor: The Dark World’, mainly because I felt that there wasn’t really much to talk about in regards to spoilers for either of those films. I realize that I could’ve possibly done one for ‘Man of Steel’ giving the events that happen at the end of the film, but ultimately I decided not to do one. ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ on the other hand definitely requires one of these posts. Compared to those other two films, there is a lot to talk about in this film, much of which regarding the events in the movie that really set the stage for the future events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So let’s talk about them…

First, there’s what is perhaps the biggest plot point in the entire movie; S.H.I.E.L.D. gets overrun by HYDRA. Yes, the organization led by the Red Skull in ‘The First Avenger’ still exists and has worked its way through the roots of S.H.I.E.L.D. After Nick Fury is supposedly killed (emphasis on ‘supposedly’) by the Winter Soldier, Cap is branded a fugitive by Alexander Pierce for not sharing information that Fury had given him. This results in Cap and Black Widow having to go on the run from S.H.I.E.L.D. and try and figure out just what is going on. Around the midway point of the film, they go to an old military camp in New Jersey that just so happens to be the same location where Steve trained with the army in ‘The First Avenger’. There, they find an old S.H.I.E.L.D. underground base where they also find a supercomputer that preserved the consciousness of HYDRA scientist Armin Zola (Toby Jones, reprising his role from ‘The First Avenger’, albeit in computer form).

Through Zola, Cap and Black Widow learn that after Cap had captured him during World War II, Zola was recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. and while there, he began to plant the roots that would eventually lead to HYDRA taking over the organization many years later, with many members of S.H.I.E.L.D., including Pierce and the members of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s strike team (including Brock Rumlow (Frank Grillo; Crossbones in the comics), who despite being critically injured at  the end of the film ultimately survives), being secret agents of HYDRA. Their goal here is to use the latest S.H.I.E.L.D. project, ‘Project Insight’ to their advantage, which revolves around three new Helicarriers that would be in the air 24/7 thanks to new engines suggested by Tony Stark (Remember that scene in Avengers where he fixed the engine but then got bounced around by it? Now you know why…). Anyway, these helicarriers are linked to satellites, and HYDRA’s plan is to use them to wipe out all of their enemies which in their case means millions upon millions of people that they view as ‘threats’. Of course, Cap, Black Widow, and their allies aren’t going to let that happen so during the climax of the film, they infiltrate the Helicarriers and override their controls to make them fire upon each other, destroying them before they attacked anyone else. At the same time, Black Widow exposes HYDRA’s plan to the world resulting in S.H.I.E.L.D. falling into disarray.

And that’s really the big thing here in regards to the role that S.H.I.E.L.D. will play in future movies. I mean, I have the feeling that they will be back even after all that happens in this movie, but they won’t be as involved as they were during ‘Phase One’. It’s also going to be interesting to see how ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will continue after the events of this film. For the record, at the time I’m writing this the 17th episode ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ hasn’t aired yet so we’ll have to see how it all turns out there. I also really liked how HYDRA was still around, even though they were seemingly defeated during World War II. It really played well into the political thriller aspects into the film’s story as well as the overall character and story arc for Steve Rogers, showing how he was finding himself at odds with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s actions because as it turns out, HYDRA was still around and considering one of the post-credits scenes (which I’ll get to in a bit), they’ll be playing a much bigger role in the next few MCU films. Needless to say, things are going to get interesting in the MCU.

Now let’s talk about the Winter Soldier and his role in the film. Of course, in my review, I mentioned who the Winter Soldier was because even if Marvel wanted to keep his identity a secret, I’m pretty sure most comic book fans knew who he was and even if you’re like me and you haven’t read any of the comics, this isn’t that much of a surprise if you see who’s playing him and reference the cast list for the ‘The First Avenger’; it’s Bucky. In my review, I said that I wished that he was in the film just a little bit more. For the record, I’m not saying he’s completely underused; it’s just that he’s ultimately not the main villain of the film (despite being in the film’s title) and more of a HYDRA henchman. Also, the relationship between him and Cap is only focused on during the second half of the film. However despite all that, the filmmakers did do a really good job at developing that relationship between these two (even in the amount of the time that they gave it) and how Cap was working to help Bucky regain his senses. I particularly love the line that Steve says to him while the Helicarrier they are in is falling into the river saying that no matter what, he will be with him ‘until the end’; that’s an excellent character moment between these two and I look forward to seeing where this story, and their relationship, will go in the next ‘Captain America’ film.

Now let’s discuss the two post-credits scenes for the film. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the post-credit sequences so far for Phase Two have been rather lackluster. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but I will admit that the sequences for ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Thor: The Dark World’ haven’t been amongst the studio’s best. The final scenes for these two films, while entertaining, are sort of just filler and don’t really add much to the story even though ‘Iron Man 3’s end credit scene did bring a close to the narrative structure of that film. The mid-credits scene for ‘Dark World’, on the other hand, did set the stage for what’s to come in the future, but perhaps more so for ‘Avengers 3’ considering the route they’re going for ‘Age of Ultron’. However, I wasn’t that big a fan of the visual look that they were using for this scene; a scene that, for the record, was directed by ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn and one that ‘Thor 2’ director Alan Taylor wasn’t too fond of using. Needless to say, it made me a little worried about what is now the next (and most risky) film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

However, the two post-credits scenes for ‘Winter Soldier’ are pretty darn good, both of which do a great job at setting up what’s to come in the next few MCU films. The first one specifically sets the stage for ‘Age of Ultron’ with the scene itself directed by Joss Whedon. It gives us our first look at three new characters; Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and his two ‘prisoners’, the Twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Also, while it is reported that Loki will not be appearing in ‘Age of Ultron’, we do see that Strucker possesses Loki’s scepter so who knows? Maybe Loki will make an appearance in the film in some shape or form (no pun intended) but as of now, I’m just speculating. Of course, this scene also raises speculation on how the MCU will handle the incoming ‘mystical’ elements of their universe, which have only really been explored through the ‘Thor’ movies. With the addition of Scarlet Witch and perhaps Dr. Strange down the road (Anyone else notice his name getting dropped by Agent Sitwell?), it’ll be interesting to see how this will connect with the MCU as a whole because as is, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is still fairly grounded in reality. In fact, this movie as a whole is the most ‘grounded’ of all of the MCU films.

The second post-credits scene appears to be intended to be a set up for the next Cap film. At the end of this film, it seems like Bucky regained some of his memory as he saves Steve from drowning after the Helicarriers are destroyed but he then disappears. This leads to Steve and Falcon planning to look for Bucky so that they can help him regain his memory. The final scene in the film returns to the Smithsonian, where Steve briefly went to near the beginning of the film and then later to ‘steal’ his old WWII costume back (the latter scenario also giving us another fun cameo from good old Stan Lee (Excelsior!)). The camera moves to the memorial exhibit for Bucky before turning around to reveal that Bucky himself is right there in what looks like the beginning of his journey to remember who he really is. Maybe in the next Cap film, he takes Steve’s place as Captain America, something that he does do in the comics at one point. There have been recent reports about how Chris Evans is looking to move into directing so maybe that’s exactly what’s going to happen for ‘Cap 3’ but again, this is all just speculation at the moment.

And that’s really all I have to say about ‘Winter Soldier’ for the moment. Like I said in my review, it’s an effective political thriller and also a very exciting superhero film. Based on what happens in this film, I’m eager to see where the MCU is heading next considering the possibility of a reduced role for S.H.I.E.L.D. and, at the same time, an increased role for HYDRA. Will Bucky get his memory back? May he eventually become the next Captain America around the time of the next ‘Captain America’ film? At this point, this is all up in the air but one thing’s for certain; things are definitely going to change because of what happens in this film. ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is one of my personal favorite entries in the entire MCU but ‘Winter Soldier’ might just be the better film. It’s not only one of the best sequels ever but also one of the best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe period.

(Also, because a scene with Agent Sitwell and Senator Stern (Garry Shandling) has apparently led to the start of a new meme… well, I couldn’t resist doing my own take on it…)

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) review

2011’s ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is one of my personal favorite films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I will admit that I may be a little biased about this seeing how I first saw the film the day after I watched the terrible ‘Captain America’ film from 1990 (the less said about that one, the better) but ‘First Avenger’ has stood out as one of the best films in the MCU. It is, in many ways, an old school summer blockbuster with the modern tricks, showcasing director Joe Johnston’s talents for period pieces in a film that was mostly set during WWII. Also, the film did an excellent job with the portrayal of the character of Captain America AKA Steve Rogers. While I may not have read any of the comics these films were based off of, I’ve heard many say how he’s one of the less interesting characters in the Marvel universe. That certainly wasn’t the case in the film, as it gave us a character that we could root for before he was subjected to the superhero serum but was someone that maintained his patriotic sense of duty and honor as well as a likable persona after he became Captain America. Of course, that was mostly thanks to Chris Evans’ terrific performance in the role.

Like his fellow Avengers, Cap would return for ‘The Avengers’ and while it wasn’t a major element of the film, it did give us our first look at how Steve was trying to adapt to the new world he now lives in, having been reawakened from an icy slumber to find that he had been asleep for more than 70 years. The journey of this ‘fish out of water’ continues in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ where a lot has certainly changed, not just from the time period in which the story takes place but also behind the camera. Taking over for Joe Johnston for this film are brothers Anthony and Joe Russo. Marvel has been known for making some bold decisions in regards to the directors they hire (including Joss Whedon and Shane Black, to name a few) but this is certainly one of the most interesting choices they’ve made so far. That is because this is pretty much the Russo brothers’ first major action film. They’ve mainly been known for their work on television, mostly for comedy shows; they’ve each directed (sometimes as a duo, other times by themselves) a handful of episodes for the cult hit series ‘Arrested Development’ and ‘Community’. It may seem like an extremely ‘left-field’ choice for Marvel, but let me tell you, these two certainly delivered.

‘Winter Soldier’ takes place two years after the events of ‘The Avengers’. Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) AKA Captain America has been living in Washington D.C., where he not only continues to work for the organization of S.H.I.E.L.D. but also tries to adapt to his new life in the modern world. The latter goal hasn’t really been that easy as he continuously finds that it has been harder to trust people now than back when he was living in the 1940’s. But he soon finds himself facing a brand new threat when S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is critically injured in an attack led by a mysterious assassin known only as the ‘Winter Soldier’ (Sebastian Stan). Now finding himself on the run from not only this powerful enemy but S.H.I.E.L.D. as well, Steve teams up with agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) AKA Black Widow and former Pararescueman/war veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) AKA ‘The Falcon’ in order to stop the Winter Soldier but in the process, they discover a much darker plan occurring within S.H.I.E.L.D. itself that spells doom for millions of people.

The first thing to note about this film is that it is very much different from ‘The First Avenger’ in many areas, specifically its overall style. ‘The First Avenger’ was, of course, an old-school World War II action movie. This film is, as advertised, a political thriller and as such, it’s a pretty damn good one at that with a plot that is full of plenty twists and turns. That’s especially in regards to how this film really sets the stage for what’s to come down the road in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, perhaps even more so than any of the previous MCU films. It definitely leaves you wondering what’s going to happen now considering what happens in this film. This genre of film also blends well with the character arc of Captain America as he continues to discover how much things have changed in the 70+ years he’s been ‘asleep’; in other words, it’s a ‘fish out of water’ story both figuratively and literally. But even with the passage of time, Cap still retains his strong sense of honor and patriotism, which shines through just as it did in the last two films he was in. True, it may not mesh well with the current world he now lives in but to paraphrase a quote from Coulson in ‘Avengers’, sometimes we ‘might just need a little old-fashioned’.

I also have to give a lot of credit to the Russo brothers for their work on this film because for a duo who have mainly been known for working on comedic shows, the direction here is fantastic, especially in the action scenes. This film has some great action set pieces and some pretty good camera work as well. It’s interesting I say that because like how the whole movie is very much different than ‘First Avenger’, that can also be said for the cinematography during the action sequences. Upon rewatch, I find that ‘The First Avenger’ had some of the best action from not just any recent superhero film, but any of the action films to have come out in recent years, mainly because Johnston kept the camera steady during the majority of the action scenes allowing us to see most of the action. Here, the cinematography is more in line with the handheld camerawork style that has been really popular these last few years. However here, they do it well as it’s not to the point where the camera work is so shaky that we’re unable to see just what the heck is happening onscreen.

Now in his third appearance in the role of Captain America, Chris Evans gives probably his best performance in the role to date. He was already doing an excellent job in ‘The First Avenger’ and ‘The Avengers’ but he’s really at his best here now that he’s had two other movies to really fine tune his performance. The same can be said for Scarlett Johansson, who also makes her third appearance in the role of Black Widow in a MCU film. Evans and Johansson have excellent chemistry, the relationship between their characters is a really good one without really going the way of a ‘romantic’ connection, and after all of this, who doesn’t think Marvel should do a Black Widow movie? Come on Marvel, make it happen! The returning ‘vets’ from previous Marvel films, including Samuel L. Jackson in what is easily his most substantial role to date as Nick Fury, are excellent as well. As for the new additions to the cast, the biggest standout here would be Mackie as Falcon. Like with Black Widow, he has excellent camaraderie with Cap and the scenes of him in action are pretty damn cool. Robert Redford also does an excellent job here as Alexander Pierce, a senior leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. and friend of Nick Fury.

Finally, we come to the titular ‘Winter Soldier’ for whom this film is named after. I do sort of wish that he was in the film just a bit more (you know, because his name’s in the damn title) especially considering that he’s not really the main villain here. But for what it’s worth, they still do a really good job at handling his whole character arc/relationship with Captain America. Normally, I don’t spoil important plot points like this, but this is something that many comic book fans know about and for those who aren’t comic book fans like me it wasn’t exactly that big of a secret considering who’s playing him. For you see, the true identity of the Winter Soldier is that of James ‘Bucky’ Barnes, Steve’s best friend from his World War II days who had apparently died during the events of ‘The First Avenger’ but as soon as the title for this film was announced, many of us knew that this wasn’t the case. Again, I do wish the character was given more to do but Sebastian Stan does do a very good job with what he’s given and I’m hoping they’ll dive more into this storyline with ‘Captain America 3’.

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ was one of the best films of Marvel’s Phase One. ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ is both one of the best films of Marvel’s Phase Two and one of the best MCU films period. For one thing this film, probably more so than any other MCU film, really sets the stage for the future path of the MCU. But on its own, ‘The Winter Soldier’ is an effective political thriller and a very exciting superhero film. You really have to give a lot of credit here to directors Anthony and Joe Russo, who proved that they could do an action movie (I have no argument against them directing ‘Captain America 3’ now), one that has great action sequences and cinematography but also one with excellent writing and performances. Is it the absolute best film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, even more so than ‘Avengers’? Well, I’ll have to watch this film again to see where it will ultimately stand compared to the other films in the MCU, but no matter what, it’s definitely going to end up being one of their best. DC, I’d take notes if I were you.

Rating: 5/5!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

2014 Preview: April

Welcome back to Rhode Island Movie Corner’s year-long preview of the films set to come out during 2014. This is Part 3 of 11 (formerly 12) and today we’ll be looking at the lineup of films hitting theaters this April, including the first of four superhero films (all by Marvel, by the way) that are set for release this year.

APRIL 4- Marvel starts off the month with the sole release of the weekend.

*The Marvel Cinematic Universe returns with ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, the follow-up to both 2011’s ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ as well as ‘The Avengers’. This new film is directed by brothers Joe and Anthony Russo, who are mainly known for their work on the show ‘Community’. Chris Evans reprises his role as the titular Captain America who in this film teams up with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, also reprising her role from previous MCU films) to deal with a new enemy- the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan). Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, and Hayley Atwell (among others) reprise their roles from previous MCU films alongside Evans and Johansson and are joined in this one by Anthony Mackie as ‘The Falcon’ and Robert Redford as Alexander Pierce, a senior leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.

APRIL 11- We got a trio of films this weekend; a sports film, a horror film, and an animated sequel.

*One of two major sports films hitting theaters these next two months, ‘Draft Day’ is directed by Ivan Reitman (‘Ghostbusters’, ‘Twins’). Kevin Costner stars as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who looks to land the number one draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft in the hopes of turning the franchise’s luck around. The film also stars Jennifer Garner and Denis Leary.

*Blumhouse Productions, the studio behind ‘Paranormal Activity’ and ‘Insidious’ returns with their latest horror flick, ‘Oculus’. Karen Gillan (‘Doctor Who’) stars as a young woman who tries to prove that her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) wasn’t responsible for shooting their father, who in turn had killed their mother. Instead, they look to prove that these murders were caused by an evil entity that possesses an antique mirror that they own.

*2011’s ‘Rio’, from Blue Sky Studios, was a solid hit both critically and commercially when it first came out. This weekend, Blue Sky returns to this franchise with ‘Rio 2’. The majority of the cast from the original film (including Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx, and George Lopez among others) return for this film, which sees the main characters Blu and Jewel (Eisenberg and Hathaway, respectively) leave Rio for the Amazon where they come across Jewel’s father Eduardo (Andy Garcia). Newcomers to the cast include Garcia, Bruno Mars, and Kristin Chenoweth.  

APRIL 18- The most crowded movie week of April sees four new releases, including a Disney documentary and the directorial debut of a long-time cinematographer.

*Since 2008, Disney has been producing a series of documentary films under their newly established ‘Disneynature’ banner. Their newest film, ‘Bears’, hits theaters this weekend. It will focus on two mother bears and their journeys with their young cubs. The film is narrated by John C. Reilly.

*Last year’s ‘A Haunted House’ performed solidly enough at the box office (on a low budget) despite very negative reviews from critics (including one from me; if you recall, this was my pick for the fifth worst film of 2013… but moving on.). It gets a sequel, ‘A Haunted House 2’, which again follows Marlon Wayans’ character Malcolm as he moves in with his new girlfriend and her family but again has to deal with paranormal occurrences, including the return of his possessed ex-girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins).

*The following film opens two days early on April 16th; ‘Heaven is for Real’ is an adaptation of the 2010 novel of the same name by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. It centers on the four-year-old son of Burpo (played in the film by Greg Kinnear), a pastor from Nebraska, who goes through a near-death experience but comes out of it saying that he had gone to Heaven.

*‘Transcendence’ marks the directorial debut of Wally Pfister, most known for being director Christopher Nolan’s go-to cinematographer, having done all of his films since 2000’s ‘Memento’ (excluding the upcoming ‘Interstellar’; Nolan is also an executive producer on this film). Johnny Depp stars as an A.I. researcher looking to create a machine that achieves technological singularity, a moment when artificial intelligence has become smarter than humans. When he is targeted by a group of extremists and is fatally injured, his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) proceeds to upload his conscience into a computer, allowing him to continue working on his vision. The film also stars Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, and Kate Mara.

APRIL 25- The month closes out with two films; a romantic comedy and an action film starring the late Paul Walker.

*One of the last films to star Paul Walker before his untimely death this past November, ‘Brick Mansions’, produced by Luc Besson, centers on a cop who infiltrates a drug lord’s gang in an attempt to take him down. This film is a remake of the 2004 French film ‘District 13’ (also produced by Besson). The film also stars parkour founder David Belle (who also starred in ‘District 13’) and RZA.

*‘The Notebook’ director Nick Cassavetes’ newest film is ‘The Other Woman’, a romantic comedy starring Cameron Diaz as a woman who learns that her boyfriend (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is cheating on her, but actually begins to befriend his new ‘lover’ (Leslie Mann). Then, the two of them find that they’re both being cheated on and team up with the third woman (Kate Upton) in order to get back at the man in their lives.

And those are the films that are coming out this April. Check back next week for Part 4 where we’ll be looking at the lineup of films hitting theaters in May AKA the first major summer blockbuster month of the year.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Noah (2014) review

One of the most controversial films of this past decade, if not of all time, was 2004’s ‘Passion of the Christ’, directed by Mel Gibson. The tale of the final 12 hours of Jesus Christ’s life sparked much debate due to its extremely violent content; regardless, it was actually a big hit commercially as it grossed over 600 million worldwide. This year we have ourselves another religious-based film that has also caused some controversy; ‘Noah’, an adaptation of the ‘Noah’s Ark’ narrative from the Old Testament. This film has already been banned in a few countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia. However, in the case of ‘Noah’, the controversy is not on the violence, but on the ‘creative liberties’ that were taken by director Darren Aronofsky in regards to his vision of the story; bottom line, it is a very bold take on the story of Noah’s Ark but controversy aside, this is still a pretty damn good film that is not only visually stunning but one that also gives us a fascinating different take on the story. It may not be completely accurate when compared to the original story but it is much more character driven than what some people might expect.

The titular Noah (Russell Crowe), the descendent of Seth, one of Adam and Eve’s offspring, receives a prophetic vision that God (referred to in this film as ‘the Creator’) plans to destroy the world by way of a massive flood in order to rid the world of the many misdeeds that mankind has committed over the years since Earth was first created. Noah realizes that the Creator had chosen him specifically to be the one who would save those who were innocent and so, with the help of his family; his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), their three sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and their adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), Noah begins to build an ark in order for them to survive the storm. However, he soon finds himself dealing with his nemesis, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), the same man who killed Noah’s father years ago who poses a threat to the safety of both him and his family both before and after the flood begins.

Like I said, there definitely are some creative liberties taken in telling this story. Probably the most notable aspect of these liberties is the portrayal of this group of characters known as ‘Watchers’ who help Noah and his family (these characters have been absent from the marketing). But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this adaptation of the story is how it is much more character driven than what one might expect. I mean, religious or not, we all know the story of Noah; he builds an ark, two of each kind of animal get on it, then Noah, his family, and the animals spend 40 days and 40 nights on the boat before the waters recede. But there’s much more to the story in this version, like how much burden is placed on Noah to perform this deed that the Creator has given to him or how sometimes he doubts whether or not he and his family are worth keeping alive. The latter dilemma especially becomes relevant during the final half hour of the film. I won’t spoil what the scenario is, but it does involve another ‘task’ that the Creator wants Noah to do and a pretty damn dark one at that. That’s another thing about this movie; it may be PG-13 but it can get pretty brutal at times. Regardless, it’s a fascinating character study showing how no one’s perfect and that there is darkness in all of us.

Religious aspects aside, this movie is very visually stunning and that’s mainly for two reasons; both the visual effects done by Industrial Light and Magic and the cinematography by Matthew Libatique. This film also benefits from a strong cast from top to bottom. Russell Crowe gives one of the best performances of his career as Noah, really capturing the personal struggles and sometimes anguish that the character goes through. Just like how the movie itself can get dark, this is not the Noah that some might expect but even with that in mind, Crowe is fantastic here. Equally terrific here is Emma Watson who, like Crowe, also gives one of the best performances of her career here, as she provides quite a bit of the emotion that arises during the final half of the film. Everyone is very good as well; Jennifer Connelly, despite sort of being stuck in a role that just has her stand around, works well alongside Crowe and Ray Winstone is quite intimidating at Tubal-Cain, a role that is actually a bit more substantial than what one might expect from watching the trailer.   

‘Noah’ is no doubt going to be one of the most controversial films of the year, but I get the feeling it won’t just be for the religious aspects of the film. For many, this will not be the Noah that they are familiar with. In fact, the trailers aren’t really conveying the real nature of the film at all. At times, this film can be very dark mainly in regards to some of the moral dilemmas that Noah faces during the course of this film, particularly the one he struggles to deal with right at the end of the film. But at the same time, these darker moments in the story make it a fascinating character study of how one man dealt with the monumental task of protecting the innocent while also questioning whether or not he is among those worthy to live. This is sort of a hard film to recommend because if you are a very religious person, you may find yourself not liking the way this story is told here. However, from a film perspective, ‘Noah’ is visually beautiful, well-acted, and well-directed. Again though, it won't be for everyone.

Rating: 4/5