Movie Review: “Million Dollar Arm”

Starring
Jon Hamm, Lake Bell, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Pitobash, Bill Paxton, Alan Arkin, Aasif Mandvi
Director
Craig Gillespie

For about seven years, Disney cornered the market on ‘true sports’ movies (“Remember the Titans,” “The Rookie,” “Miracle,” “The Greatest Game Ever Played,” etc.). Unfortunately, that seventh year was eight years ago, which makes “Million Dollar Arm” quite the fish out of water. Perhaps Disney thinks that this is the one that will start the next wave of true sports movies. They’d be mistaken, though: the movie is at least 20 minutes too long and spends too much time setting up the redemption of the lead character. It boasts solid performances from the supporting cast, and has heart and smarts to spare, but even this diehard baseball fan was looking at his watch before the credits rolled.

Sports agent J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is running out of options. The upstart firm that he started with friend and colleague Aash (Aasif Mandvi) is nearly broke and has no roster to speak of. When his chance at reeling in a big fish goes south, J.B. realizes that he needs an angle, something no one else has considered in terms of global scouting. Inspired by Aash’s love of cricket, J.B. decides to head to India to hold a competition to find the next great baseball pitcher in a country rich with athletic talent. The two finalists are Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal, who looks like an Indian Bruno Mars), and J.B. takes these two boys, who have never left the towns in which they were born, to Los Angeles, and expects that they will be fine on their own in a hotel. Hey, he’s a single guy, and he doesn’t have time to be an agent and a role model and a caretaker. He has deals to make and women to bed, people!

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Movie Review: “Godzilla”

Starring
Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, David Strathairn
Director
Gareth Edwards

How can a movie about giant monsters be so boring? That’s the biggest question surrounding Hollywood’s latest attempt to bring the King of the Monsters stateside. Though not quite as bad as Roland Emmerich’s farcical 1998 version, “Godzilla” is a bewildering piece of blockbuster filmmaking, stuck somewhere between an old-school monster extravaganza and a po-faced thriller that’s almost afraid to have too much fun. Gareth Edwards may have seemed like the perfect director to revive the scaly beast on the big screen – especially for anyone who saw his 2010 indie, “Monsters” – but it’s possible that he was a little too right for the job, because what worked so well in that movie doesn’t have the same effect here. Of course, it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to realize that a Godzilla film should probably have more, you know, Godzilla.

The film opens with a lengthy prologue set in 1999 detailing how a mining company in the Philippines inadvertently awakened something deep underground, prompting the massive creature to leave its hiding spot for Japan, where it leveled a nuclear power plant that killed hundreds, including the wife of American scientist Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston). 15 years later, Joe is still obsessing about what happened that day, convinced that it was more than just an earthquake. After he’s arrested for trespassing in the quarantine zone, his military son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) travels to Tokyo to bail him out of jail.

Joe is adamant that he’s uncovered more evidence that not only confirms his original claim, but proves that it’s about to happen again, and before he can say “I told you so,” a pair of insect-like MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) burst from their cocoons and begin to wreak havoc. The military plans to lure the radiation-fueled MUTOs to a single location (tough luck, San Francisco) using a nuclear missile in the hope that they’ll be destroyed in the blast, but when the long-dormant Godzilla rises from the Pacific Ocean, Japanese scientist Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) believes that nature has already provided them with all the firepower they need to stop the monsters. After all, Godzilla is a nice dude, and he’s more than willing to help.

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Movie Review: “Neighbors”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Director
Nicholas Stoller

Everything about “Neighbors” screams bro – had we been tasked with pitching the script to a producer, we would have said, “’Tin Men,’ with bros” – and then a funny thing happens: Rose Byrne comes along and wipes the floor with every man in the cast. She puts on a master class in comedy here, and in the process (unintentionally, for sure), she out-funnys the funny guy. This is okay, mind you, and in fact wouldn’t even be a problem if the movie had a coherent script, but it doesn’t. It’s a funny script, and it hits all of the right notes in the end, but the path it takes to get there is dubious, to be sure. Someone, anyone, should have gotten arrested.

New parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Byrne) have bought a new home, and love their idyllic grown-up existence. The house next door is up for sale, and to their horror, a fraternity moves in. Mac and Kelly, eager to maintain their youth while dealing with being new parents, try to play the part of the cool neighbors at first, but as the frat’s continuous late-night antics threaten to wake their baby girl, they call the police on them after their attempts to contact them go unanswered. The president of the fraternity, Ted (Zac Efron), declares war, and the two sides engage in a series of escalating stunts designed to put the other side down for good, yet they’re strangely chummy the entire time.

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Movie Review: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″

Starring
Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Dane DeHaan, Jamie Foxx, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Paul Giamatti
Director
Marc Webb

You wouldn’t think that it’d be possible to overpromote a movie, but Sony has done just that with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” spoiling virtually every major moment during the course of its marketing campaign, including the appearance of several characters that would have been a far better treat were they kept a secret. But while the knowledge that there would be multiple villains in the film left some fans dreading another “Spider-Man 3” fiasco, that’s only part of the bigger problem, because the movie is bursting at the seams with so much material that it borders on excess at times. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the rare comic book movie where the action is the least interesting element, but for all the things that the film gets wrong, it does just enough right to keep you entertained, even if it fails to capitalize on the promise of its predecessor.

Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has officially graduated from high school, but he has much bigger things on his mind than worrying about college, like how to ensure the safety of his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), when he spends his days fighting crime as Spider-Man. After growing tired of Peter’s indecisiveness about their relationship (due in part to the vow he made to her dead father), Gwen takes the initiative and dumps him for good, leading Peter to fill that void by diving back into the mystery of his father’s disappearance. But he’s soon distracted by the arrival of his childhood friend, Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), who returns home to assume control of Oscorp after his father’s death, only to learn that he’s dying from the same disease, which he believes can be cured by the spider venom that gave Peter his amazing powers.

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Movie Review: “Transcendence”

Starring
Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser
Director
Wally Pfister

With Easter just around the corner, it’s probably no coincidence that just as the furor over “Noah,” a man who had visions from God, has died down, we are treated to Johnny Depp taking the futuristic steps in becoming a god in “Transcendence.” A cautionary tale about the evils of technology by way of artificial intelligence gets the visual treatment by acclaimed cinematographer Wally Pfister (“Inception,” the Dark Knight trilogy) in his directorial debut, but this is more than just a big budget version of “Siri Goes Wild.”

Johnny Depp plays Will Caster, the leading scientist in the field of Artificial Intelligence. He’s brilliant to the point of being a bit bored with the non-scientific world, not that his flock of geek groupies seems to mind. (Eat your heart out, Reed Richards). Keeping him tethered to people, places and things is his loving wife, Evelyn (Rebecca Hall). She’s more than Will’s diplomatic arm candy, though. She’s arguably his intellectual equal.

While Will charges down the road towards creating sentient machines, his best friend and part-time conscience, Max (Paul Bettany), reminds him that just because you can play god doesn’t mean you should. Apparently, he’s not the only one who thinks society should pump the brakes on giving Cortina cyber synapses to work with. The anti-tech terrorist organization R.I.F.T (Revolutionary Independence from Technology) – led be Kate Mara’s Bree – subtly voices its opposition with a coordinated attack targeting the Casters’ former mentor, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), and killing his entire staff in the process. But Will isn’t spared when the group attempts to kill him as well, and they pull it off… somewhat.

After he’s poisoned by R.I.F.T. and given only days to live, Evelyn does the unthinkable and transfers Will’s mind into his living computer P.I.N.N. (You can’t have science without a couple good acronyms), the Physically Independent Neural Network. As Will tells a crowd before he’s shot, “Once online, a sentient machine will quickly overcome the limits of biology.” And he does just that, initially to the delight of his grieving wife Evelyn and the shock of his pal Max. Will is more than just a ghost in the machine, however, using his near-infinite knowledge to help change the world, effectively becoming a god. Yes, connecting to the internet can make you a god, but the Casters come to find that being a diety power couple comes at a price.

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