Movie Review: “Noah”

Starring
Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Anthony Hopkins
Director
Darren Aronofsky

Just as the Bible speaks in many ways to many people, so does Darren Aronofsky’s epic “Noah,” a story about a man, his giant ark and the lengths a family will go to when facing the world’s first apocalypse.

Tackling a story of pre-apocalyptic earth in the before and after stages is nothing new, but Aronofsky knew that he had to pull out all the stops in dealing with the planet’s first biblical disaster. Luckily, he had Russell Crowe to work with. After a brief but eye-catching history lesson (via fast motion) from the time of creation through the questionable dietary choices in the Garden of Eden, to the slaying of Abel by Cain, we arrive at the tenth generation of man, where a young Noah (Dakota Goyo) witnesses his father being killed just as he is about to bestow his birthright, a glowing snakeskin sleeve, upon him.

Years later, an adult Noah (Crowe) is living a happy but isolated life with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons, Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth) and Japheth (Leo Carroll). But if life (and Twitter 3:16) has taught us anything, it’s that you can avoid people, but not their mistakes. Noah receives a vision, one of great death by flooding. The Creator (The “G-word” is never said in the film) has decided that his experiment with mankind has gone completely off the rails, as everyone is a poster child for the worse sins imaginable against the planet and themselves.

Unfortunately, visions aren’t the same as having a phone call, Skype or even text messages, so Noah seeks out clarification from his granddad Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Thanks to his guidance, and getting slipped a mickey, Noah gets a clearer vision: the planet is about to be destroyed by a flood. He is to construct a giant ark with a sample of the planet’s animals and witness the first-ever heavenly version of a reboot. Aiding him in his quest is Ila (Emma Watson), an injured orphan girl who becomes his adopted daughter and love interest of Shem. He’s also greatly assisted by fallen angels turned giant stone creatures called the Watchers, who also sinned against the Creator and seek redemption.

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Movie Review: “Sabotage”

Starring
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Mireille Enos, Terrence Howard, Olivia Williams, Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau
Director
David Ayer

Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t wasted any time since announcing his return from retirement, cranking out movies with the prolificacy of someone who knows that the clock is ticking on his Hollywood career. But despite recent appearances in “The Expendables 2,” “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan,” Schwarzenegger has yet to make a film that measures up to some of his more iconic roles. The actor’s latest project, “Sabotage,” certainly had the promise to be that movie. Directed by David Ayer, who’s pretty much become Hollywood’s go-to guy for gritty cop films, this modern-day twist on Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” shares the same basic premise used for one of Schwarzenegger’s biggest hits, “Predator.” It also boasts one hell of an ensemble cast for a seemingly generic action thriller, which is why it’s so disappointing that that’s exactly what “Sabotage” turned out to be.

Schwarzenegger stars as John “Breacher” Wharton, the head of an elite DEA task force that’s taken down some of the biggest drug lords in the world. His team is comprised of some colorful characters – each with their own silly codename like Monster (Sam Worthington), Grinder (Joe Manganiello) and Sugar (Terrence Howard) – but they’re the best at what they do, oozing with so much confidence that they manage to steal $10 million during their latest raid on a Mexican cartel safe house. When they go back to retrieve the hidden money, however, they discover that it’s missing, replaced by a single, ominous bullet. Before long, members of Breacher’s team start to get picked off one by one, with homicide detective Caroline Brentwood (Olivia Williams) assigned to track down those responsible. But while the brutal murders appear to be the work of the cartel, the surviving agents begin to suspect that someone from within their own ranks is hunting them.

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Movie Review: “Divergent”

Starring
Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Kate Winslet, Ashley Judd, Jai Courtney, Zoe Kravitz, Maggie Q, Miles Teller, Ray Stevenson, Tony Goldwyn
Director
Neil Burger

The young adult craze (“Twilight,” “The Hunger Games”) has recently crashed (“Beautiful Creatures,” “Vampire Academy,” “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones”), and the media has decided that the fate of future young adult film adaptations will live and die on the box office returns of “Divergent.” This is patently unfair, of course; “The Hunger Games” sold 14 times as many books as “Vampire Academy,” so why should anyone expect anything less with their film adaptations? Answer: they shouldn’t, but somehow this is now “Divergent’s” problem. The good news is that “Divergent” should fare much better than the three ‘crashed’ movies. It’s intriguing, and asks valid questions about when we can reasonably expect a young adult to know who they truly are, and why we tend to punish people who prefer to think for themselves, but it has some issues as well, namely an absurd amount of exposition, a rigid story structure, and a lack of emotional impact.

Set in dystopian post-war Chicago at an undetermined time, all residents of the city are divided into five factions. Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) is a member of the selfless Abnegation faction, but she faces a big decision in the next few days. As a 16-year-old, she, along with her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and all other 16-year-olds, will choose whether to remain in their current faction or join a new one. Both Beatrice and her brother defect to other factions, with Caleb choosing Erudite (smart, fact-driven) and Beatrice choosing Dauntless (brave, fearless). As a “stiff” (A derogatory term for Abnegation), Beatrice has her work cut out for her, but she proves to be more resilient than most had expected, and a lot of that has to do with the results of her pre-ceremony exam, where she was found to be Divergent, meaning that she exhibited the qualities of more than one faction. Her examiner (Maggie Q) warns her against telling anyone that she was Divergent, and Beatrice (who rechristens herself Tris in Dauntless) quickly discovers why: the fluid (read: non-conformist) tendencies of Divergents have branded them as the enemy of Chicago’s faction world, and they are hunted and killed when exposed.

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Movie Review: “Muppets Most Wanted”

Starring
Ricky Gervais, Tina Fey, Ty Burrell, Steve Whitmire, Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz
Director
James Bobin

Hats off to the sequel that begins with poking fun at its inherent shortcomings – in a musical number, no less – then proceeds to surpass its predecessor in nearly every way. “Muppets Most Wanted” has a plot that will challenge the kids without boring their parents, better songs (by a country mile), and a healthy dose of self-awareness. The main appeal of the Jason Segel-scripted “The Muppets” was its innocence and a longing for a less cynical time, but for the franchise to remain so naïve to the real world would have been disastrous. “Muppets Most Wanted” finds that ideal middle ground between their world and ours.

The story begins, in a behind-the-curtain manner, at the very end of the previous film, as the first of many cameos calls a wrap on the first film and the Muppets are left pondering what to do next. In steps agent Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais, and he insists it’s pronounced ‘Badgie’), who suggests that the Muppets do a European tour. What the Muppets don’t know is that Badguy is a world-class thief, as well as the right-hand man to Constantine, the world’s most dangerous criminal mastermind and a dead ringer for Kermit the Frog. Constantine escapes from his Siberian prison, while Dominic sets up Kermit to be mistaken for recent escapee Constantine. Kermit is sent to Siberia, and Dominic and Constantine revolve the Muppets’ European tour around the locations of the artifacts that will enable them to pull off the ultimate heist. Strangely, no one suspects that Kermit has been replaced, though certain members of the group smelled a rat from the beginning. Why doesn’t anyone listen to the drummer?

Speaking as a parent, one of the great things about “Muppets Most Wanted” is how it shows kids the dark side of always getting what they want, which is that it comes at the expense of getting what they need. Kermit has always been a father figure to the members of his troupe, and that role is magnified here when he’s replaced with a cold careerist who wins them over by indulging their egos. The plot may mandate that the rest of the Muppets cannot tell right away that Constantine isn’t Kermit, but in their hearts, they know that this newfound freedom and lack of discipline is wrong. Parental win!

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Movie Review: “Cheap Thrills”

Starring
Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, David Koechner, Sara Paxton, Amanda Fuller
Director
E.L. Katz

While SXSW captured headlines recently for a rapper getting arrested for starting a riot and a pop icon being voluntarily puked on, one of the fruits of last year’s festival is hitting theaters this week with the appropriately named “Cheap Thrills.”

The cult classic in the making by first-time director E.L Katz starts off innocently enough, just like a crime drama or an episode of “Dr. Drew.” Loving husband and new father Craig (Pat Healy) is about to have one of the worst mornings ever as he rips an eviction letter off his door on the way to work. That’s not the only eviction he’s treated to, though, as he’s also fired from his job as a low-end auto mechanic. Instead of going home, he drowns his sorrows in the nearest dive bar he can find.

Of course, bars in the morning are filled with nasty drinks and even nastier characters, one of which is Craig’s old high school buddy, Vince (Ethan Embry), a collection agent who brags that he once broke a guy’s arm in front of his daughter for $80. And you thought collection calls were bad.

The two are approached by Colin (David Koechner), the type of guy that screams “I make good money in sales and can prove it.” He’s quick to hand out a handshake and, more importantly, free drinks alongside his trophy wife Violet (Sara Paxton), who has ten times the sex appeal and one tenth the need to talk. Before you can say “Fear Factor,” Colin is daring the pair to do crazy things for money. It starts out tame enough, like seeing who can down Tequila shots the quickest or get slapped by a cocktail waitress, but things take a turn at a nearby strip club where Craig takes the worst kind of dare by punching a bouncer. Our hero awakens in Colin’s home with a bloody nose and the introduction of Phase 2 of their night of Dollars for Dares. This time, the stakes are in the thousands and get as dangerous and seductive as their hosts.

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