Reviews of Recent Movie Releases


Another reason for mutant pride

Matthew Vaughn and a superb cast reinvigorated the franchise with cool retro style and globe-trotting intrigue in 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” The series’ original director, Bryan Singer, continues that momentum in the vigorously entertaining “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” While it’s more dramatically diffuse than the reboot and lacks a definitive villain, the new film is shot through with a stirring reverence for the Marvel Comics characters and their universe. And it ups the stakes by threatening nothing less than the genocide of the mutant population, among them faces old and new.

Hardcore followers will have a geek field day dissecting the challenging pretzel logic of writer-producer Simon Kinberg’s screenplay, from a story by Jane Goldman, Kinberg and Vaughn, who had originally planned to direct. The central premise comes from the 1981 Uncanny X-Men comic “Days of Future Past,” in which Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) uses her consciousness transference powers to go back from a dystopian future and rewrite history.

Perhaps the film’s standout sequence features the much-discussed new addition of Peter Maximoff, aka Quicksilver (“American Horror Story” regular Evan Peters). The rights dispute that kept the character out of previous films has been resolved, allowing him to appear in both the “X-Men” and “Avengers” franchises, albeit without cross-referencing. His super-speed skills are conveyed by shooting at 3,000 frames per second, notably when Peter runs around the walls during a fabulously staged Pentagon break-in, whimsically accompanied by Jim Croce singing “Time in a Bottle.”

It’s hard to imagine fanboys having too much to grumble about here, as Singer has pulled together an ambitious, suspenseful screen chapter that secures a future for the franchise while facilitating continued reinvention. Audiences should sit tight through the end credits crawl for an enigmatic signoff scene that provides a taste of the next installment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

“X-Men,” a 20th Century Fox release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “sequences of intense sci-fi violence and action, some suggestive material, nudity and language.”

— David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

‘Blended’ bland mix of unfunny, boring

Badly made and poorly written, “Blended” is a rehash of Adam Sandler’s 2011 comedy “Just Go With It,” only without Jennifer Aniston and without laughs. It not only gets the big things wrong. It gets the small, easy things wrong.

A few examples: On several occasions, Sandler and Drew Barrymore are shown having a conversation. He says something, and she laughs uproariously ... but the audience watches in complete silence. Over and over, we have the spectacle of people laughing at each other’s unfunny jokes. It’s like eavesdropping on boring people.

Throughout the movie, references are made to Sandler’s being fat and sloppy, but he has actually taken off weight and looks younger and trimmer than he has in years. He doesn’t look remotely overweight. Later, there’s a key scene in which Barrymore walks into a room wearing a flattering dress that knocks everyone out . . . except the dress isn’t much, and she doesn’t look any better in it than she does in anything else. These are strange, imprecise moments that connote sloppiness. Take an extra half hour to devise a genuinely witty laugh line. If the leading man isn’t overweight, cut the fat jokes. And if the leading lady has to knock people out, invest the time to put her into a decent dress. Another thing: Don’t go for cheap laughs that undermine the characters. Twice someone suggests that Sandler’s character doesn’t wash. That’s a nifty detail to be thinking about when watching a romantic comedy.

The script may be the main culprit, but there is simply nothing in Sandler and Barrymore’s interaction to make an audience want to see them together. Moreover, it’s not even clear who’d be getting the worst of it. Neither of these actors, who have been quite appealing before, are particularly winning here, and blending them (or sticking them into the same food processor) doesn’t help at all.

There are not too many movies like “Blended” that make acting in motion pictures seem like a dispiriting activity. As a viewer, when I pass through unhappiness at sitting there to actual pity for the people on screen, something is very wrong.

“Blended”, a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “crude and sexual content, and language.”

— Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Hamm’s film is corny, but fun

Let’s face it, there’s something about a baseball movie that just invites corniness. The hardest hearts soften at the mere sound of a cracking bat. It’s hard for a filmmaker to resist laying the syrup on too thick.

And so it is with the Disney film “Million Dollar Arm,” which makes a direct, uncomplicated, er, pitch for your heart — a pitch that will probably hit its mark, despite your best instincts telling you this movie should really be subtler at almost every turn.

But there’s a high-quality cast, which starts with Jon Hamm, who by virtue of his well-known charisma, makes a good case for his future film career, now that his days as Don Draper on TV’s “Mad Men” are sadly ending.

The best parts of the story are actually not about Bernstein, but about the two young Indian men he brings to America in hopes of creating the next international baseball sensation — and opening up a huge, untapped market in the world’s second most populous country. Back in Los Angeles, Bernstein gets to work setting up a Major League tryout despite the fact that they’ve barely touched a baseball.

Will the two players overcome their lack of training, their nervousness, and the cynical baseball press corps to have their moment of glory?

Uh, have you ever seen a baseball movie?

“Million Dollar Arm,” a Walt Disney Studios release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America “for mild language and some suggestive content.” Running time: 124 minutes.

— Jocelyn Noveck, Associated Press

Chilling ‘Godzilla’ reboot upholds monster’s legacy

No one can blame Gareth Edwards for admittedly feeling nervous when asked to helm a remake of the biggest monster movie of all time. Sure, the only other film he had directed happened to be 2010’s “Monsters.” But this time, it was Godzilla.

Well, the latest iteration of the 60-year-old franchise is in capable hands. Edwards’ “Godzilla” is a well-paced 3-D spectacle that pays chilling homage to the artful legacy of the original 1954 film — Ishiro Honda’s “Gojira” — while emerging as its own prodigious monster movie. Created as a symbol of the nuclear threat following America’s atomic attacks on Japan in World War II, Godzilla’s reappearance suggests the nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. in the Pacific after the war were really meant to hold the radioactive dinosaur back.

Screenwriter Max Borenstein, working from a story by Dave Callaham, doesn’t bombard us with multiple narratives or a multitude of characters. When we finally see Godzilla — just shy of an hour into the film — the anticipation has built to such a degree that we expect to be awe-struck. And we are. The tallest of any Godzillas before him, this one stands 355 feet high — about 30 stories — with glistening, scaly skin and dorsal fin spikes down his back. His terrifying yet textured roar shakes the theater.

Aiming for a realistic take on how we might react to an invasion by giant creatures, Edwards makes sure our view of them rarely shifts from the human perspective.

Honoring the eerie music of the original, this film’s score by Alexandre Desplat (“Argo”) is equally menacing, rich with horns that complement the consistently serious tone of the movie.

Edwards’ version of “Godzilla” remains the ultimate monster movie. The legacy has been upheld.

“Godzilla,” a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence. Running time: 123 minutes.

— Jessica Herndon, Associated Press



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