SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) Is Light Comic Fun

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Right off the bat, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017) wins accolades for not being another origin story.

We know how Peter Parker became Spider-Man.  We don’t need to see it happen again.   The film skips this back story and as such plays like a breath of fresh air. And that’s just for starters.  SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING has a lot more going for it, making it yet another Marvel superhero hit.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING actually doesn’t open with Spider-Man at all, but with construction worker Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton).  Toomes and his crew are working clean-up after the massive battle between The Avengers and alien invaders, but he’s pulled off the job by secret government higher-ups, which to Toomes, means money lost, something he needs to support his family.  Bitter, when Toomes realizes his crew still has some of the alien technology in their scrap heap, he decides to keep it, to help even the odds with the elites.

The story jumps eight years ahead where we meet high school sophomore Peter Parker (Tom Holland), ecstatic about his fighting alongside Iron Man and the other Avengers in events seen in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016).  In fact, Parker’s mentor is Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) himself, who serves as the voice of reason and caution for the young superhero, reminding him to keep out of trouble and help out with the local little jobs; in short, to be the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.  Stark leaves his best buddy Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to keep tabs on Parker, which he does with a tracking device that informs him of Parker’s every move.

Parker finds himself terribly distracted at school, as he’s constantly waiting for that call from Tony Stark to join the Avengers.  He’d like to date Liz (Laura Harrier) but he’s always running away as Spider-Man for one reason or other.  Things grow more complicated when his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon, in a scene-stealing performance) discovers that Peter is Spider-Man, and can hardly contain his excitement.  He wants to tell everyone they know, but Peter reminds him that that is not a good idea.

Eventually, Spider-Man crosses paths with Adrian Toomes, who’s been stealing alien weaponry and selling it on the black market.  Toomes has built himself a flying bird suit from the alien technology and flies through the skies as the Vulture.  And when Peter can’t convince Happy or Tony Stark that the danger from Toomes is very real, he suits up as Spider-Man and takes on the villain on his own.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is basically the Spider-Man story re-told from the perspective of The Avengers.  Ever since Marvel released THE AVENGERS (2012), the superhero films which have followed have pretty much all been tie-ins with that massive Marvel hit.  As someone who loved THE AVENGERS, I like all these tie-ins, as the universe that Marvel has built around these characters is a good one, and the story that continues to evolve remains compelling.

So, pretty much every move that Peter Parker makes in this movie is dominated by his obsession with wanting to join The Avengers.  It’s a far cry from the story told in the Tobe Maguire film, SPIDER-MAN (2002).  But SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING still works because in spite of the AVENGERS connection it keeps to the original spirit of the character in the comics.

As such, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is an extremely light film.  The humor is on target throughout, and a bulk of this movie spends its time with Peter Parker and his high school friends, and these scenes work because both the writing and the acting are superb.

And in a strange juxtaposition, you have this light comical tale intertwined with another darker story featuring one of the better villains we’ve seen in a Marvel movie in a long time, Adrian Toomes/the Vulture, played by Michael Keaton.  It’s an odd combination, but it works.

One of the reasons it works is Toomes’ heavy-handedness makes for a superior foe for young Spider-Man.  You have all these high school scenes, and so you’re half expecting a high school student for a villain, but instead you have Toomes, a guy who is one of the more serious villains we’ve seen in a superhero movie in a long while.

Toomes is also the perfect antithesis to Tony Stark.  In Stark, you have the rich playboy running around playing superhero, while Toomes is the working class man who worked all his life but couldn’t make good for his family, and so he takes an opportunity, albeit an illegal one, to provide tons of money for his family.  It’s thinking that reminded me of Bryan Cranston’s Walter White in TV’s classic BREAKING BAD (2008-2013).

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is blessed with a solid cast.  Tom Holland actually debuted as Spider-Man in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), and it was an awesome debut. Holland continues his success here.  His Peter Parker is young, very young, which is perfect because he comes off as a genuine high school student.  His scenes with his friends are among the best in the movie.  And his wise-cracking Spider-Man is still a hoot to watch, although truth be told, I don’t think he has any moments in this movie as out-of-this-world amazing as the fight sequence in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR.

As Peter’s best friend Ned, Jacob Batalon really stands out.  He enjoys a bunch of scene stealing moments, the high school geek whose dream comes true when he finds himself actually working with Spider-Man, someone who knows the Avengers.

Laura Harrier is fine as Peter’s eventual girlfriend Liz, but it’s Zendaya who really stands out here as one of their quirky friends, Michelle.  She’s not in the movie much, but when she is, you can’t help but notice her.  She enjoys many fine little moments.

Robert Downey Jr. has a decent amount of scenes here as Tony Stark, but ultimately, even though he’s always fun to watch, he doesn’t get to do a whole lot.  Don’t look for Iron Man to rush in to save the day.  This is Spider-Man’s movie.

Jon Favreau has plenty of screen time as Happy Hogan, as he’s left in charge of keeping an eye on Peter.  Favreau is always fun in this recurring role, which goes all the way back to IRON MAN (2008), and he’s enjoyable yet again here.  Favreau is a talented guy.  He also directed IRON MAN (2008) as well as a lot of other movies, including THE JUNGLE BOOK (2016) and CHEF (2014), in which he also starred.

Chris Evans also shows up as Captain America, in a very humorous bit featuring promotional videos shown at the high school.  Want to teach the merits of physical education?  Pop in a promotional video featuring Captain America!  These videos provide some funny moments.

And Gwyneth Paltrow even makes a brief appearance as Pepper Pots.

But it’s Michael Keaton who really stands out here as Adrian Toomes/the Vulture. First of all, Keaton is a phenomenal actor who keeps getting better with age.  What I liked most about his performance as Toomes is that he makes the guy real.  Toomes is not out to take over the world or the universe. He’s not a shadowy villain without a clear-cut agenda.  He’s a real person with a real goal: after years of playing by the rules and not getting anywhere, he’s broken the rules to better support his family.

And Keaton is more than up to the task of making this guy believable. He also provides a real hardness to the character.  When he says he’s going to kill Spider-Man, you believe him.  In a way, it’s a performance that almost seems out-of-place here, because the rest of the film is so light and comical, while Keaton is dead serious in his scenes.  But it does work and works well, because ultimately it gives young Spider-Man a true test of his mettle.

Keaton gets one of the best sequences in the movie, when Toomey confronts Spider-Man near the end, and he speaks about what they have in common, that they’re both common folks who need to change the rules in order to succeed in life.  At one point, Toomey says, “I know you know what I mean.” It’s a line that resonates, both from Keaton’s delivery and from the knowledge we have of Peter’s life with his Aunt May, as they struggle to make ends meet, making Toomey’s line true.

And speaking of Aunt May, Marisa Tomei is quite effective as the younger sexier aunt of young Peter Parker. So much so that Tony Stark even quips about how hot she is.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING was directed by Jon Watts, who comes off as an old pro here.  The film fits in with the rest of the Marvel movies seamlessly, in spite of the fact that this is the first superhero flick that Watts directed.

The pacing is good, the special effects decent, and the battle scenes are entertaining.  The sequence at the Washington Monument is probably the best action sequence in the film, and the scenes where Peter Parker has to scale the monument and realizes it’s higher than anything he’s climbed before is so effective it’s nearly vertigo-inducing.

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING was written by six screenwriters, some of whom have extensive comedic credits, which comes as no surprise, since humor is a strength here.

There’s also an upbeat music score by Michael Giacchino, who’s written a ton of scores over the years, including the superior score to last year’s stand-alone STAR WARS movie, ROGUE ONE (2016).

While SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING is available in 3D, I saw a 2D print and liked it just fine.

And yes, there are after credits scenes, two to be exact.  The one at the very end after all the credits does provide a laugh-out-loud moment, so it’s probably worth waiting for.

All in all, I really liked SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING.  Is it as good as Marvel’s best?  No.  Is it as good as this year’s earlier superhero hit from DC, WONDER WOMAN (2017)?  Not quite.  But I liked it better than the previous two Marvel entries, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, VOL. 2 (2017), and DOCTOR STRANGE (2016).

It’s light, it’s fun, and it features a gritty hard performance by Michael Keaton as one of the better Marvel movie villains yet, the Vulture, whose plans to better his family life are destroying a neighborhood, making him the perfect foe for our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

Best Movies of 2016

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La La Land (2016)Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in LA LA LAND (2016

 

Here’s a look at my picks for the Top 10 movies of 2016.  Of course, while I do see a lot of movies— 58 this year, and that’s just theatrical releases—  I’m not able to see every movie that comes out, and so this list is limited to only those movies I have seen.

We’ll start with #10 and count down to #1:

 

10. THE INFILTRATOR

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Excellent performance by Bryan Cranston powers this crime drama which tells the true story of how U. S. Customs Official Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) went undercover to take down a  Columbian drug lord.

 

9. THE JUNGLE BOOK

Loved this remake of Disney’s animated THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967), and I’m a huge fan of that original 1967 animated classic.  Special effects here were amazing, and I really liked how director Jon Favreau made this family friendly film a serious hard-hitting adventure.

 

8. DEADPOOL

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The role Ryan Reynolds has been waiting for.  Sure, this vulgar, violent tale isn’t for everybody, but the humor is spot-on.  My second favorite superhero movie of the year. Best part is it is so unlike other traditional superhero movies.

 

7. CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

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My pick for the best superhero movie of 2016.  Plays much more like THE AVENGERS 2.5, rhis exciting tale pits Team Captain America vs. Team Iron Man, and the rift between these two friends comes off as real and believable, something that the similarly themed BATMAN V SUPERMAN:  DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) failed miserably at.  The scenes with newcomer Tom Holland as Spider-Man are off-the-charts good.

 

6. EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

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Hilarious comedy-drama starring Hailee Steinfeld as a seventeen year-old dealing with life as a teenager.  Things get complicated when her best friend starts dating her older brother.  Topnotch script and direction by writer/director Kelly Fremon Craig.

 

 

Now we get down to my picks for the Top 5 movies of 2016:

5. HANDS OF STONE

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Critics panned this movie, but I absolutely loved this boxing pic about boxing champ Roberto Durant.  Edgar Ramirez  gives a spirited performance as Roberto Durant, and he’s supported by a fine cast which includes Robert De Niro, Ruben Blades, and Usher Raymond as Sugar Ray Leonard.  Excellent movie, much better than critics gave it credit for, although admittedly I am a sucker for boxing movies.

 

4. HELL OR HIGH WATER

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Easily could be my pick for the best movie of the year, this impeccably made crime drama follows a Texas crime spree by two brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Foster) with an old Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) hot on their trail.  Features fantastic peformances by the three leads.  Jeff Bridges is amazing as always, and the same can be said of Ben Foster, and it’s also fun to see Chris Pine get to do a whole lot more than when he plays Captain Kirk in the rebooted STAR TREK movies.  Riveting direction by David Mackenzie, and a phenomenal thought-provoking script by one of my favorite screen writers working today, Taylor Sheridan.

 

3. SULLY

Easily the most efficient film of the year, SULLY, starring Tom Hanks, and directed by Clint Eastwood, clocks in at a brisk 96 minutes, and not a minute is wasted.  It tells the emotionally riveting true tale of pilot Chesley Sullenberger, aka “Sully,” and his decision to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River.  It’s an amazing story because all the passengers on the plane survived, and the film makes things even more compelling as it follows the subsequent investigation by officials who questioned Sully’s decision to land in the water in the first place.  SULLY features another remarkable performance by Tom Hanks, and yet another superb directorial effort by Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood is 86 years old, and yet SULLY plays with as much energy, oomph, and emotion as if directed by someone half that age.  I left the theater incredibly impressed.

 

2. MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

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This film could also have been my number one pick of the year.  MANCHESTER BY THE SEA is a finely acted drama, led by two powerhouse performances by Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, about a man Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) thrust into a life-changing situation as he finds himself having to care fo for his deceased brother’s sixteen year-old son.  His life in a shambles due to an earlier traumatic event, Lee knows he’s not the man for the job, but since there is no on else, he pushes himself to live up to his brother’s wishes and care for his nephew. Atmospheric direction by writer/director Kenneth Lonergan, with a script that is as honest and believable as they come.

And now, for my pick for the Number 1 movie of 2016:

 

 

  1. LA LA LAND

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My pick for the Best Movie of 2016 also happened to be the last movie I saw in 2016, LA LA LAND.  What a fabulous way to end the calendar year!  LA LA LAND is an absolutely wonderful movie.

I  loved the energy writer/director Damien Chazelle brings to this one.  The opening dance number on a gridlocked L.A. freeway dazzles, and the film never looks back.  Emma Stone gives the best performance of her career to date, imbuing her struggling actress character Mia with so much raw emotion and quirky pizzazz she’s one of the liveliest characters I’ve seen on screen in a long while. Ryan Gosling is just as good as jazz musician Sebastian in this uplifting almost magical musical which follows Mia and Sebastian through a romance in which they help each other achieve their artistic dreams before reality ultimately sets in, forcing them to make decisions which affect their future.  A remarkable movie and genuine crowd pleaser.

Hands down, LA LA LAND is the Best Movie I saw in 2016.

Okay, that about wraps things up for today.  Thanks for joining me in 2016, and here’s to another fine year of movies in 2017!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bryan Cranston Leads the Way in THE INFILTRATOR (2016)

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If you’re a Bryan Cranston fan, you’ll love THE INFILTRATOR (2016).

THE INFILTRATOR tells the true story of how U.S. Customs Agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) took on the drug cartel led by Pablo Escobar and won. It’s 1986, the heart of the “War on Drugs” as waged by then President Ronald Reagan, and Mazur comes up with the idea to take down the drug lords not by going after the drugs but by following the money.

And so Mazur and his partner Emir (John Leguizamo) set up an elaborate money laundering scheme where Mazur impersonates a Mafia money guy in order to infiltrate the drug business.  They work their way to the higher-ups, which in this case means a man named Robert Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) and of course the ultimate prize of Pablo Escobar.

Along the way they meet with their share of undesirables, and the stakes grow increasingly high, as Mazur and his “wife” Kathy (Diane Kruger) infiltrate Alcaino’s home and family.  One false slip of the tongue and they’re dead.

THE INFILTRATOR is a well-made and highly entertaining movie.

While there’s lots to like about this one, the best thing is the acting, led by Bryan Cranston. While it may not be as crafted an effort as the one Cranston gave in TRUMBO (2015), nor as powerful as his five season stint on BREAKING BAD (2008-2013), it’s still a thoroughly captivating and entertaining performance.  Cranston gives Mazur an admirable confidence without sacrificing his vulnerablities and fears that go with the territory.

Cranston has that presence where he can hold your attention the entire time he’s on screen.  While there were many things I enjoyed about THE INFILTRATOR, the main reason I enjoyed it was because of Bryan Cranston.

The rest of the acting is also very good.  John Leguizamo is a natural as Mazur’s wisecracking unpredictable partner Emir.  It’s always fun to see Leguizamo when he’s not voicing Sid in the ICE AGE movies.

The women here also fare very well.  I really enjoyed Diane Kruger as fellow agent Kathy Ertz who joins the undercover ruse as Mazur’s wife.  She becomes a prominent player in the second half of the film, and she’s excellent.

Juliet Aubrey is also very good as Mazur’s real wife Evelyn.  She takes what could have been a cliched role- the worried wife- and makes her a three-dimensional and very sympathetic character.

Benjamin Bratt makes the most of his brief screen time as drug cartel leader Roberto Alcaino.  While there’s little doubt that Alcaino is a dangerous man, Bratt surprises in how sympathetic and likeable he makes Alcaino, making Mazur and Kathy more uncomfortable the more they get to know him, because they grow to like him.

Elena Anaya is equally as good as Alcaino’s wife Gloria.  Like Alcaino, she welcomes Mazur and Kathy into her family, adding to the difficulty of their continuing the sting.

The film is loaded with all sorts of unsavory characters, and as a result there are a bunch of noteworthy supporting performances here.  Among them are Yul Vazquez as bisexual drug man Javier Ospina who can’t seem to take his hands off anyone in the movie, especially the men.  It’s a weird and mesmerizing performance by Vasquez as there’s something almost vampire-like about Ospina.  And in a neat movie homage, at one point in the film Ospina mentions THE GODFATHER movies, and later, when he learns the truth about Mazur, he tells him, “You broke my heart,” which is the famous line uttered by Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) to his brother Fredo when he learns his brother betrayed him in THE GODFATHER PART II (1974).  It’s not clear that Mazur gets the reference, but the audience does, making the moment frightening and menacing.

Speaking of vampires, Joseph Gilgun plays a lively character named Dominic, a convict who Mazur springs from jail so he can act as his personal protector.  Dominic is there to watch Mazur’s back, and he does.  Gilgun curently plays a vampire on the frenetic TV show PREACHER (2016), a nutty character named Cassidy, and Gilgun is just as wild here in THE INFILTRATOR.

And Olympia Dukakis is wonderful in two key scenes as Mazur’s Aunt Vicky, the latter where she also gets to take part in the sting operation.

Director Brad Furman previously made RUNNER RUNNER (2013), a thriller starring Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, and THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011),  a drama starring Matthew McConaughey, both okay movies.  I enjoyed THE LINCOLN LAWYER better than RUNNER RUNNER which struggled to remain believable.  THE INFILTRATOR is probably his best movie yet, a stronger film than these other two.

It’s an interesting screenplay by Ellen Sue Brown, based on the book by Robert Mazur.  In addition to the obvious drug war plot, the story also makes a point of painting a sympathetic portrait of drug villains Roberto and Gloria Alcaino.  They speak of family and loyalty, and they welcome Mazur and Kathy into their home.  At one point, Roberto asks Mazur who the biggest money launderer in the United States is, and he tells Mazur it’s the U.S. government, which while publically waging the war on drugs, privately welcomes drug money into its banks.

The film also makes a point of including bank executives as the villains here.  We see top bank officials listen to Mazur tell them point blank that his money comes from cocaine dealers, and yet they don’t bat an eye.  They simply welcome the money.  So, there is definitely an anti-business/banking element to this story, a la THE BIG SHORT (2015).

While the plot is not overly complicated- U.S. Customs official sets up sting to take down drug cartel- there are a ton of characters in this film, coming and going at any given time, and so one really has to pay attention or else risk being lost.

The actual pace is somewhat slow.  Do not see THE INFILTRATOR expecting an action movie.  It’s not.  It’s a drama and a thriller.  It’s also a movie where the dialogue drives the tension, and  most of the suspense comes from this dialogue, as you keep expecting Mazur and his fellow agents to say the wrong thing and then pay the price.

The film takes place in 1986 but curiously the hairstyles, clothes, and look of the whole thing reminded me of a decade earlier, 1976!  The grainy print gives the film  an authentic feel, but of the 1970s not the 1980s.  I felt like I was watching SERPICO (1973) rather than MIAMI VICE.

But these are small matters.

I really enjoyed THE INFILTRATOR.  It’s a nail-biting suspense drama and showcase for the acting talents of Bryan Cranston and a stellar supporting cast.

I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

—END—

GODZILLA (2014) – The King of the Monsters Deserves Better

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Godzilla 2014 poster 2 THE HORROR: GODZILLA (2014)

Horror Movie Review by Michael Arruda

 

He’s the King of the Monsters, and has been since he debuted in his first feature film 60 years ago in 1954. I’m talking of course about Godzilla, and he’s back on the big screen in GODZILLA (2014), a stylish reboot by director Gareth Edwards.

For some, this movie is being hailed as one of the best in the series, a phenomenal motion picture that deserves four stars. For me, it’s an okay giant monster movie that in spite of the creative talents of its director, suffers from a lackluster story, dull characters, and way too little of the main star— and I’m not talking about Bryan Cranston.

I’m talking about Godzilla. The King of the Monsters just might need a new agent after this one.

GODZILLA opens in 1999. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) send their young son off to school and then head off to work at the local nuclear power plant. On this fateful day, there is a nuclear accident and Sandra is killed.
The action switches to present day, where the adult Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has just returned to his family after a tour in the military, but before he can even settle back in with his wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and young son, he receives word that his father has been arrested in Japan. Ford decides to go off to Japan to help his dad.

To Ford’s dismay, he learns that his father is obsessed with trying to prove that the nuclear accident which killed his mother was not the result of a natural disaster but of something else that the government is covering up. Of course, it turns out that Joe Brody is correct, that there has been a major cover-up, that the true cause of the disaster was a giant monster called the MUTO, an acronym for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism.

There are two MUTO, a male and a female, and they are a threat to the world, which is why suddenly Godzilla emerges from the depths of the ocean to defeat these monsters, to make things right. Who knew Godzilla was so thoughtful?

While the strength of any Godzilla movie has never been its story, I thought the plot to this latest GODZILLA movie was considerably lame. The reason for Godzilla’ appearance is all right, and admittedly it’s consistent with a lot of his appearances in the Toho films, in that he shows up to defeat the bad monsters and save the world, but this was mostly the case in the silly Toho films from the 1960s and 1970s.

In the Toho Godzilla movies from the 1990s and 2000s, Godzilla was a bit more menacing, and so I expected more from this 2014 film in terms of Godzilla. Not that Godzilla is back to his silly superhero self. He’s not. He’s rather scary looking here. However, he doesn’t do much in this film that makes him frightening to humans. In fact, the military spares him throughout, since they’re constantly advised by Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) that Godzilla might be their best bet to defeat the MUTO. I found the military’s easy acceptance of this theory farfetched.

The best Godzilla movies are the ones where you’re not too sure about Godzilla. He’s fighting those bad monsters, sure, but he’s destroying cities and killing people, too. In this movie, Godzilla comes off like the savior of the world. I almost expected to see a halo around his head.

Godzilla’s screen time is also limited. No surprise, since director Gareth Edwards did the same thing with his earlier monster movie MONSTERS (2010), a stylish film that skimped on the monster scenes. Similarly, Edwards does some stylish things in GODZILLA, but Godzilla and the MUTO monsters are featured minimally.

The screenplay by Max Borenstein is disjointed and uninspiring. Its multiple storylines never quite seem to gel with each other, and there isn’t one strong narrative holding it all together, mostly because the main storyline is nothing special. Strangely, the Godzilla plot seems to be the least important part of the entire movie, playing second fiddle to the MUTO and the Aaron-Taylor Johnson storylines. The Bryan Cranston subplot is not much more than an afterthought.

Bryan Cranston is a terrific actor, and he could have been the glue that held this narrative together, but he’s simply not in it enough. His role is very, very small.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ford Brody is rather dull, largely because we never really get inside his head. He’s putting his life on the line to stop Godzilla and the MUTO, while also trying to get back to his family, yet he doesn’t seem scared at all. He should be terrified.

Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife Elle does seem terrified, and when she’s frightened, she’s very good, but that’s about all she does in this movie, act afraid.

Ken Watanabe as Dr. Serizawa gets some of the worst lines in the movie, delivering such simple utterances as “Godzilla must fight the MUTO,” and “Godzilla will save us.” And the camera always seems to be closing in on his face for some dramatic revelation, but all he has to say is silly nonsense like “Let them fight.”

David Strathairn, who I usually like, is wasted here as Admiral William Stenz. He’s one of the more ineffective military leaders you’ll see in a monster movie. The monsters are running rampant destroying cities left and right, and Strathairn’s Admiral is in his command center listening to Dr. Serizawa utter his absurd lines of dialogue.

And while the CGI effects look good, I wasn’t blown away by them. I thought Godzilla looked decent, but honestly, he didn’t look any better than the man-in-suit TOHO films from the 90s and 2000s.

I didn’t see it in IMAX, but I did see it in 3D, and I wasn’t impressed with the 3D effects at all.

GODZILLA never drew me in to a level of fear or suspense or even excitement where I was psyched to see the final battle between Godzilla and the MUTO. We continually see the monster stuff happening from a distance without getting in close, and I just didn’t get the sense of the human fear, loss of life, and destruction. Director Edwards’ idea of showing us the destruction caused by the monsters is a headline scrolling across the bottom of a television newscast saying “Honolulu destroyed. Thousands missing.” In terms of effective storytelling, that just doesn’t cut it for me.

But I do like Edwards’ style when he does decide to show us things. Godzilla’s first appearance is a good one, although it’s brief. I thought the sequence on the train where Aaron Taylor-Johnson has to save a young boy while the monsters are attacking all around them was effective, as was another scene involving a train, when the military is transferring a bomb across a fog shrouded bridge and the MUTO attacks them.

I also liked the attack scene on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. So, there were moments I definitely liked. But there just weren’t enough of them.

This combined with a lack of Godzilla, no interesting characters other than Bryan Cranston’s brief role, and a mediocre story that never wowed me, made GODZILLA a major disappointment for me, an uneven film that failed to make me forget the TOHO productions which inspired it.

The King of the Monsters deserves better.
—END—

 

GODZILLA (2014) – Preview

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Godzilla 2014 posterGODZILLA (2014) – Preview
By Michael Arruda

GODZILLA (2014) opens in theaters today, Thursday, May 15.

Here’s a preview:

Let’s start with the cast.

With Bryan Cranston fresh off the extremely popular BREAKING BAD TV series, GODZILLA has at its center an actor who can easily anchor a story. If you’ve seen BREAKING BAD, you know what I’m talking about. He’s also lent fine support to many movies as well, so having him in the cast of GODZILLA is a huge plus.

GODZILLA also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson who played Kick-Ass in the hit movie KICK-ASS (2010) and in its sequel KICK-ASS 2 (2013). He also starred in the Oliver Stone thriller SAVAGES (2012), a film that wasn’t that well received, but I liked it a lot. Taylor-Johnson was especially good in it.

Then there’s Elizabeth Olsen, who I enjoyed in the otherwise awful horror movie SILENT HOUSE (2011). The film stunk, but Olsen was good. Rounding out the cast are Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn. The movie definitely has a talented cast.

It’s directed by Gareth Edwards, who also directed MONSTERS (2010), a film I wasn’t crazy about because the titled monsters didn’t really appear in the movie all that much. That being said, it was a very stylish movie, so I’m looking forward to seeing what Edwards will do with GODZILLA.

Max Borenstein wrote the screenplay, with music by Alexandre Desplat, who’s written a ton of music scores including the scores for THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014), ARGO (2012) and THE KING’S SPEECH (2010).

I have high hopes for the special effects since there are enough people on the Visual Effects team to fill a dictionary.

So, the talent is there.

The trailers have looked great, and Godzilla in the brief times we’ve seen him in the trailers looks impressive.  GODZILLA has the potential to be one of the best films in the series.

The only thing now is for the actual movie to be released.  And that happens today.

Welcome back, Godzilla!

—Michael

 

Matthew McConaughey’s Dynamic Performance Drives THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)

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The Lincoln Lawyer posterBlu-ray Review: THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011)
By
Michael Arruda

Matthew McConaughey won the Best Actor Oscar this year for his performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB (2013), and if you haven’t been paying attention, you might not have noticed that McConaughey has been steadily working his way through some pretty decent roles the past few years.

Take his role in THE LINCOLN LAWYER (2011), for example, where he plays Mick Haller, a smooth talking cooler-than-ice defense attorney who becomes the victim of an even smoother criminal.

I caught THE LINCOLN LAWYER on Blu-ray the other day, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. I especially enjoyed McConaughey’s dynamic performance as the indefatigable Mick Haller. McConaughey easily carries this movie from beginning to end.

In THE LINCOLN LAWYER, defense attorney Mick Haller (Matthew McConaughey) never met a client he didn’t like, or wouldn’t accept payment from, and he operates out of the back seat of his Lincoln town car, thus the film’s title, THE LINCOLN LAWYER. He’s none too popular with the local police department since he has a strong record of keeping even the most guilty-seeming clients out of jail.

When a young man Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) accused of beating up a hooker personally asks for Haller to defend him, Mick thinks nothing of it, even though his friend and investigator-partner Frank (William H. Macy) tells him something about the guy rubs him the wrong way. But Mick is used to out-talking and outwitting everybody, so he takes on the case without fear, although he does wonder why Louis would ask for him when his mother Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher) is exceedingly rich and powerful and has an entire legal team at her disposal.

Mick prepares his defense with the argument that Louis is the victim of a scam by the hooker and an accomplice intent on setting up Louis for the crime so they could reap the benefits of an enormous settlement.

Things play out as planned until Frank uncovers some unsavory information about Louis that connects him to one of Mick’s prior cases, and suddenly Mick realizes why Louis chose him as his defense attorney, but this realization comes too late, as Mick’s family and friends are threatened, and Mick finds himself having to defend a man he knows is guilty not only of this charge but of a far more serious one.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER is a fun thriller with a likable character at its center. Attorney Mick Haller might not seem like the most likeable guy, but his energy is infectious, and he oozes confidence and charisma. As such, you can’t help but like the guy, and so when he’s targeted and double-crossed by another sly character, one who’s far more sinister than himself, you’re definitely rooting for him to succeed, and you want to see how he’s going to outsmart his adversary.

McConaughey imbues this guy with charisma and charm. His Mick is not a jerk or a weasel. He’s simply a player in the legal system, and he believes that all clients deserve to be defended. He just happens to be very good at what he does.

Taken as a whole, the film is somewhat uneven, as in addition to its main plot, which is good, it throws in a less than believable subplot involving Mick’s ex-wife Maggie (Marisa Tomei) who works for the District Attorney’s office. No, they don’t face each other in court. In fact, they’re hardly adversaries at all, and tend to get along splendidly as they work together to raise their young daughter. They work together so well it makes you wonder how they got divorced in the first place.

Tomei is fine in the role, although ultimately she doesn’t have a lot to do, and is saddled with some awful lines of dialogue, like when she looks at her sleeping daughter and turns to Mick and says, “At least we did one thing right.” No, by all accounts you two do a lot of things right. Why aren’t you still together?

Ryan Phillippe is icy cold as the defendant Louis Roulet who tries to outsmart his attorney Mick, but he’s a much more one-dimensional character than Mick and nowhere near as satisfying. The more the story goes along, the more we realize Louis is no match for Mick and it’s only a matter of time before his plan blows up in his face.

Even colder than Phillipe is Frances Fisher as Mary Windsor, Louis’ powerful and manipulative mother. I wish she had been in the movie more.

William H. Macy is very good as Mick’s friend and investigator, Frank, and Macy delivers his usual strong performance. Laurence Mason is also very good as Mick’s driver Earl, who helps Mick with more than just driving.

The film also features decent performances by Josh Lucas as the prosecuting attorney who’s in way over his head taking on Mick, John Leguizamo as Val, the bondsman who introduces Mick to Louis, Michael Pena as Jesus Martinez, the former client of Mick’s who is now in jail in spite of his claims of innocence, and Bob Gunton as Cecil Dobbs, the head of Mary Windsor’s legal team.

Strangely, only Bryan Cranston fails to impress, as he’s stuck in a brief throwaway role as police detective Lankford. It’s the first time I’ve seen Cranston in a movie without being wowed, but this has less to do with his performance than with the brevity of the role.

For the most part, the screenplay by John Romano, based on the novel by Michael Connelly, succeeds. Its main story is very good, as the battle of wits between Mick and Louis is compelling.

Director Brad Furman does a nice job at the helm, making this one as slick and as polished as Mick’s Lincoln. Furman would go on to direct RUNNER, RUNNER (2013), starring Ben Affleck, and I found both films very similar in terms of quality.

Matthew McConaughey is the best part of THE LINCOLN LAWYER. While the rest of the film is a mixed bag, its talented cast and decent story make this one a more satisfying “mixed bag” than most.

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