No big-budget action film about one kind of apocalypse or another is complete these days without a rapid-fire, melancholic montage at the beginning, invoking the present day, the beginning of these particular end times. “Snowpiercer,” “Edge of Tomorrow,” “World War Z,” and, of course, the end of “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011). So it goes with “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.” In a few fleet images atop a murmurous soundtrack, the deed is done, “simian flu” eradicates nearly all of mankind, and ten years have passed. A few humans, led by a former law enforcement officer played by Gary Oldman, are left in the center of San Francisco, while miles away, up in the mountains, under the trees, a civilization of super-smart apes begins to, well, dawn. Matt Reeves’ skills as a director, and orchestrator of talents, show a fantastic advance from “Cloverfield” and the fine “Let Me In.” Read the rest of this entry »
With “Snowpiercer,” the eminently talented South Korean genre-bender Bong Joon-ho (“The Host,” “Barking Dogs Never Bite,” “Mother”) aims beyond the fences again with his fevered free adaptation of Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette’s 1984 French graphic novel, “Le Transperceneige.” Bong and co-writer Kelly Masterson (“Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”) get a running start, depicting a worldwide attempt to forestall global warming on July 1, 2014, an experiment that freezes the planet. “The rattling ark” of a visionary industrialist’s vast, perpetual motion train that makes a circuit of the globe once a year is then the film’s allegorical setting. (In the novel, the train is 1,001 carriages long, to throw in another allusion.) For seventeen years, the Snowpiercer has stayed in motion. The oppressed of the farthest reaches of the tail of the train are prepared to revolt, to make their way to the front of the train, to…? They know no other world, not even sunlight glinted off the expanses of barren snow and frozen cities they circuit past. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Bay and his backers have spared no expense with the latest “Transformers” movie, but he can’t help but fall afoul of genre conventions and his usual over-reliance on computer-generated special effects. “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” picks up four years after the big guys left Michigan Avenue and Streeterville in ruins. To keep this from happening again, the feds are now hunting all remaining transformers, good and bad alike. An injured Optimus Prime comes into the possession of financially struggling widower-inventor Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg. Cade repairs Prime, the government finds out, explosions ensue. We spend the rest of the movie’s punishing 165-minute running time tracking Wahlberg as he tries to keep his daughter (relative newcomer Nicola Peltz) safe from the elite CIA unit that’s hunting them down. Cue robots, car chases, space ships, massive explosions and over-elaborate action sequences. Read the rest of this entry »
Mosul fell the morning I saw “The Rover,” another domino past Fallujah and Baiji and Tikrit. The rule of law is gone after a decade of the latest war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, Syria, the outer reaches of the post-Soviet Russia. Australian writer-director David Michôd’s second feature, “The Rover” fits right in. It’s bleak and sleek and the illustration of chaos capitalism in the hot, dry, remote outback of Flinders Ranges, South Australia seems less “ten years after the collapse” than what will be ten minutes away for too much of the present-day world. In the Cannes press kit, Michôd was direct about what is oblique in his assured, flinty storytelling: “’The Rover’ is set in an unspecified near-future, but is, in essence, a film about today. It’s about the rapacious capacity for under-regulated Western economies to destroy themselves and it’s about the inevitable shifting balance of global power. It’s about the seemingly intractable problems of human greed and environmental destruction and the despair these forces might elicit in struggling people. More than anything, it’s about the ways these factors affect the emotional lives of individuals.” Read the rest of this entry »
It must have been a good week to start sniffing glue again. Jesus, I wept. I made no friends with my laughter at a packed preview of “22 Jump Street.” That 112 minutes honestly comprised the most sustained amount of laughing I’ve done in years without being held down against my will and tickled. I’m not sure what hit me so hard—it could be the day of the week or the time of the day—but I became the incarnation of the legendary Inappropriate Laugher. (I was surprised no one near me moved to a different seat.) Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller found funny bones I didn’t know I had. In box-office success, the team’s roster of the past half-decade is stellar: “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs” (2009), “21 Jump Street” (2012), “The Lego Movie” and now this rambunctiously generous, relentlessly goofball mass of laughter. The visual style is loose and reaction-shot-friendly; a quick measure of how adroit the directorial team is with comedy timing at knowing when to hold and when to cut is how they weight reaction shots by Nick Offerman and Ice Cube. It’s a bit of bliss to realize that they’re simply after the funny in live-action, as well as in “The Lego Movie,” where animation requires more strategic planning. To do both all-family and hard-R scatology, and to do both well? That’s a rare protean gift among studio filmmakers today. Read the rest of this entry »
Don’t we all want a furious, jumbled intelligence like Doug Liman’s to fashion memorable pop? The director of “Go,” “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” opens the snap-pop-crackerjack visual static of “Edge of Tomorrow”—a title which sounds like a lost Powell-Pressburger film—with a teeming montage, an immersion more than exposition of how the planet has arrived at apocalyptic war. We’re battling voracious aliens called “Mimics” and a surge on the beaches of France, Operation Downfall, seems to be humanity’s only chance for survival against the onslaught from the edge of the world. The 2013 meteor showers in Russia’s Ural region are one shard of the opening’s epochal busy-ness as is the image of a mute, pop-eyed Wolf Blitzer next to a “United Defense Forces” general played by Brendan Gleeson: a cruel portrait in a fraction of a second.
At least one reviewer who’s kept closer watch on the franchise warns, “My advice to you is to not watch the previous ‘X-Men’ films before ‘Days of Future Past’ as the continuity problems will irritate you.” What I can offer is that “X-Men: Days Of Future Past” builds its own relatively coherent adventure without leaving non-aficionados in the dark. In other words, this largely 1970s-set installment functions as a standalone movie, and one that has several unexpected scenes of superhero glee that almost seem criminal to describe, and especially the period songs used to accompany them. Still, there are enough callbacks and hints of futures to come that a preview audience often purred in muted ruffles of chuckles, indicating director Bryan Singer and writers Simon Kinberg, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman did not neglect a key constituency. Read the rest of this entry »
Monsters! Second-time feature filmmaker Gareth Edwards’ investment in “Godzilla” is a nimble deployment of large-scale movie logic and illogic, spanning decades and bearing an unusually large cast of fine-to-galvanically-fine actors, including Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins. Edwards and screenwriter Max Borenstein don’t skimp on the nuclear cautions in so many of the twenty-eight Toho Co. “Godzilla” movies, with lovingly murmured mouthfuls like “The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control, and not the other way around,” with which Watanabe makes sullen wonder. Add the clean lines of the widescreen images of Seamus McGarvey, cinematographer of “The Avengers,” “The Hours” and “High Fidelity,” and a magisterially sour theme by the compulsively productive composer Alexandre Desplat and you’re talking one slick package. Read the rest of this entry »
Where did Spider-Man come from? What is Peter Parker’s primal trigger to become a vigilante for good? Wow! Can’t believe I stumped you! Yet another explanation’s ready for your perusal in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Despite moments of drab familiarity, there are gleaming little instants in director Marc Webb’s third feature, not confined to the goofy, charged chemistry between leads Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. We’ve landed in the middle of another series of Manhattan canyon aerial web-slinging adventures that look, and more distressing, feel increasingly alike. Fallen fathers and foul deeds pile up along with oh-so-many subplots and villains, a clutter of characters and clatter of boom-bang-boom.
The best moments, when Webb (“(500) Days Of Summer,” 2009) is able to pause the freight train, include a weightless instant in which Spider-Man, wending his way across Manhattan, arrives at the top of an arc, mid-air between skyscrapers, high above the asphalt, and there is a balls-rising-up, near-orgasmic pause before simulated gravity and emulated physics bring the boy down to earth.
“On your left,” Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) says on a run, rushing past a man who will become one of his closest allies in the warfare to come in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” For someone who will never master the intricacies of the “Marvel universe” of cross-pollinated properties and storylines, an almost immediate satisfaction in the fine craft of directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo (“Community,” “You, Me And Dupree”) came from how closely allied this superhero adventure is to 1970s American movies, down to the superb casting of Robert Redford, the face of 1970s paranoia classics like “Three Days Of The Condor,” “The Candidate” and “All The President’s Men,” as the enforcer of 2010s universal spying on the world’s citizenry. Read the rest of this entry »