Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Immigrant

"The Immigrant"

     Writer/director James Grey's latest film is a period piece set in New York City circa 1921. It stars Marion Cotillard as Ewa, a Polish immigrant fresh off the boat with her sister Magda. When they arrive at Ellis island, Magda is taken to the hospital to be treated for lung disease and Ewa is threatened with deportation. She is rescued by Bruno, played by Joaquin Phoenix, and thus begins a complicated relationship when Bruno doesn't turn out to be the savior he appears to be.

       Mr. Grey shoots the film in a sepia tone to help give the illusion of 1921 and with authentic sets and some CGI, viewing the film appears to be a genuine return to the past. The hardships of life on the lower east side of New York are many and  life does not go easy for Ewa as she struggles to earn money to help her sister. As the story unfolds, she meets Orlando the Magician, played by Jeremy Renner, who has a history with Bruno and offers Ewa a possibility of a better life.

        The three leads are the only "name" actors in the film and they are all excellent, especially Ms. Cotillard. She is perfectly cast as Ewa with her beautiful features and sad eyes, it's easy to feel her pain and anguish at the situation forced upon her. It's also easy to see how both Mr. Phoenix and Mr. Renner can fall in love with her.

         The story is a bit thin and moves slowly but it's Ms. Cotillard that drives the film and there are small pleasures in many scenes. The closing shot, in particular, is beautifully framed and leaves it's image well beyond the credits.


     Jon Favreau juggles producer, writer, director and star duties in the charming indie film that takes him back to his roots before "Ironman" and "Cowboys and Aliens". Mr. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a very talented chef who is in a creative rut. When he clashes over the menu with restaurant owner Riva, played by Dustin Hoffman, he ends up with a terrible review by food critic, Ramsey Michel, played by Oliver Platt.
     The consequences of that review start him down a path of change that restore his creativity and make him a better man. His journey involves a food truck and the help of John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony and in a one scene cameo, Robert Downy Jr. Also on the menu is Bobby Cannavale and Scarlet Johnansson as his co-workers at Riva's restaurant.
      It's a great cast in a light and breezy film structured as a feel good movie and it succeeds on all levels. The music is terrific as is all the prepared food and I guarantee you will leave hungry. Make a night of it...see "Chef" and then head out to your favorite Cuban restaurant.

X-Men: Days of a Future Past

     If you are a fan of the series, you will be pleasantly rewarded with this well crafted next chapter in X-Men mythology. If you aren't familiar with the series, skip this film as you won't have any idea what's going on. The plot concerns time travel and that can always be confusing but director Bryan Singer does an admirable job keeping the story together.
     The film is full of X-Men cast members from all the films so fans will be happy to see all their favorite characters, both past and present. However, the story is so complicated that many characters are sacrificed to one or two scenes and dont get their fair share of the action (poor Halle Berry).  Hugh Jackman stars again as Wolverine and he has the largest role since he is sent back in time to convince the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto to work together to stop an event that will change the course of history for the worst. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart reprise their roles as the older Magneto and Professor X and Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, once again play the younger versions. Jenniefer Lawrence gets a lot of screen time as Raven/Mystique since it is her actions in the past that need to be altered. New faces this time out are Evan Peters as Quicksilver, a cameo role but he gets the best scene in the film and Peter Dinklage as a mutant hating scientist ( also crucial to the plot).
       The CGI is first rate and the action sequences are terrific. Much of the humor in the film is provided at Wolverine's expense but it helps keep things from getting too dour. The climatic scenes switch back and forth between the future and the past and everything tends to mash together but it all makes sense in a comicbook universe sort of way. There are some surprise cameos as well that will keep the fans happy and as always, stay through the credits for a quick glance of things to come.
         So far, the X-Men win the battle of the summer blockbusters but I will withold final judgement until after "The Guardians of the Galaxy".


   What do Bryan Cranston, Julliette Binoche, David Strathairn, Ken Wantanabe, Sally Hawkins and Elizabeth Olsen all have in common?  Yes, they are all actors with serious acting credibilty and yes, they have all taken the money and ran for appearing in the newest remake of "Godzilla". Bryan Cranston plays a scientist who disappears from the movie before Godzilla even makes an appearance and Julliette Binoche plays his wife in a blink and she's gone moment. Ken Wantanabe and Sally Hawkins are scientists following the trail of the monsters but dont really do anything. Mr. Strathairn has the most screen time as an admiral commanding his fleet to shadow Godzilla as he swims from Toyko to San Francisco. And Ms. Olsen has the unfortunate sterotyped role of the worried wife and mother.
     The producers brought in these big guns to lure the public into thinking this was a serious monster movie. Well that's an oxymoron. What it really is, unfortunately, is a snorefest (except in Imax 3D, where the sound alone will keep you awake). The director, Gareth Edwards uses the "Spielberg" card by not revealing Godzilla to the audience until at least an hour into the film. Instead we get two strange looking monsters who eat radiation and are trying to find each other to mate.
     Godzilla has sprang from the ocean depths to prevent the other monsters from mating and then he leaves. That about sums up the plot. Much of Toyko and San Francisco get destroyed in the process (nice change from New York getting battered again).  Oh and I forgot to mention Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Mr. Cranston's son, Ford, who gets to globe hop at will chasing Godzilla too. 
      The CGI work is credible but Godzilla looks like he's put on a few pounds waiting for his remake. The 3D is wasted and while the fight scenes are fun in IMAX, there really isn't enough story here to keep you interested. Spoiler alert- I did enjoy how Godzilla kills the second monster.

   Yes, it was a man in a rubber suit but stick to the original.

Sunday, May 04, 2014

The Amazing Spiderman 2

       The summer movie season kicks off early with the continuing story of The Amazing Spiderman "Andrew Garfield" Edition. Bigger and louder than the first reboot (especially in IMAX 3D), this one featuring once again, Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Sally Field as Aunt May. The villains this time around are portrayed by Paul Giamatti, Dane DeHaan, and Jamie Foxx. 

         Mr. Garfield has a boyish charm that suits him well as Spiderman and he continues to have great chemistry with Ms. Stone. Jamie Foxx as "Electro" is asked to play him as a tragic figure but once he transforms, is little more than a one note villain. His two pivotal battles with Spiderman account for most of the action.  Paul Giamatti plays a Russian gangster transformed into "The Rhino" but has very little screen time. Dane DeHaan takes over the role of Harry Osborn and while he plays evil well, he doesn't have the exaggerated presence to embody "The Green Goblin" and frankly there is too much Osborn and not enough "Goblin".

           The sub-plot of Peter Parker's past is explored in too much depth and stretches the film past the two hour mark. Further lapses between action sequences also contribute to the feeling that the film goes on far too long.

            The action scenes are impressive (especially in 3D) as Spiderman swings through the concrete canyons of Manhattan and squares off against "Electro" in Times Square. You may want to bring earplugs if you see it in IMAX. Director Marc Webb (no pun there) alternates between lulling you to sleep and waking you up with deafening fight scenes.

            Spiderman purists may take issue with deviations on Electro's origin, "The Rhino's upgraded body armor, Gwen Stacy's fate, and a lack of J.Jonah Jameson but the entertainment value is still there. It's just not quite "amazing".