Philomena ****

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This simple true story of a woman’s quest to find her son is the only true tearjerker I’ve seen this year. Told with simplicity and at some points humor, the film never loses focus and builds until a satisfying end.

It’s sad and probably not as funny as you would expect from writer and star Steve Coogan, but I highly recommend it. It’s the kind of movie you could watch with your extended family. Essentially it’s a Liftetime type of story, so no guns or action scenes or anything – it’s pure drama but a very well done one. The main moral of the story is that the Catholic Church’s obsession with sex (or rather that sex is a sin) has ruined many lives. Philomena (Judi Dench) was just a teenager when she “got in trouble” and her parents made the mistake of sending her to a convent in Ireland. The nuns there operated it as a baby selling business all the while shaming and enslaving the young mothers they were entrusted with. Even after what they did to her, Philomena remains a devoted Catholic. Her discussions with the atheist reporter played by Coogan are entertaining.

One other thing worth mentioning is the ever present and emotional score by Frenchman Alexandre Desplat. Music in movies means so much to me, it easily pushed this to a 4 instead of a 3. It’s in my head as I’m writing this.

4 Guinness Harps Outta 5

X-Men 6 ****

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Bryan Singer delivers what is undoubtedly the best sequel so far to his now fifteen year old X-Men. I pity the fool who has never heard of the X-Men and walks into this flick. It just assumes you know who these people are. After six movies, everyone really should. Exposition is kept to a minimum, except when it moves this particular story forward. What an incredible concept! It also creates a very satisfying bookend to the whole X-Men series. I know they will make more, but if it ended here, I would be fine with that.

Wolverine again takes center stage as the main character, and thank God for that. His presence was greatly missed in the X-prequel, First Class. Marvel is firing on all cylinders right now. First we get a 4-star Captain America movie and now a 4-star flick that has a hundred different characters. No small accomplishment. By keeping Wolverine as the constant between a huge cast of heroes and villains, as well as two different eras in time, we never get lost.

The plot mostly made me think of J.J. Abram’s time traveling Star Trek reboot, but this one is done better. The script minimizes paradoxes by sending only Wolvie’s consciousness back to his 1970’s body, not his entire physical self. The fact that neither of the two time periods takes place in our present was very cool. As detailed as the sets, costumes, lingo etc, from the ’70s was… the dystopia of the future was even cooler. As this is a sequel to First Class, we spend most of the film in the past.

Days of Future Past is worth seeing if only because this large of an all-star cast will never be put together again. I honestly don’t know how they afforded it this time. These are some of the best actors alive playing roles that in other hands would have become pure camp. To make such an out-there comic book story seem so realistic and so adult is another feat in itself. Just one scene with a character who is essentially a pure rip-off of DC Comics The Flash totally trumps everything WB has done with their character on screen. Now that I’ve seen this, I don’t even need to see a Flash movie. Some of the other characters will be known only to X-Men readers, but that’s fine. You don’t have to do the back story for everyone. Do you learn about the childhood of everyone in the Dirty Dozen or the Magnificent Seven? Of course not – it’s totally unnecessary. All you have to know is that humans understandably fear and hate mutants because of their power and want them all dead.

Whether or not Singer’s career is destroyed by his latest sex scandal is unknown, but the man remains a master of the ensemble. I only have a couple of minor complaints: Wolverine needed to kill more people and the music by John Ottman was as bland as ice water… as usual.

One final thing of note is that while this is technically a “Marvel” film with characters from Marvel Comics, Fox makes it clear that their X-Men and Disney’s Avengers do not live in the same universe. The Avengers: Age of Ultron will also feature Quicksilver, played by a different actor and with a different appearance and origin story.

4 Naked Shapeshifters Outta 5

Book of Mormon ***

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I finally saw Trey Parker’s Broadway debut today on tour at the Detroit Opera House. I don’t really see the point of plays but supposedly Parker had a dream of writing one his entire life. I just kept thinking how much better it would have been as a movie. Instead of a sound effect and some waving cloth for a baptismal pond you could actually show real water! I imagine a musical film will come out someday after everyone has seen the play and Parker has a mansion made out of solid gold bars.

The show is a standard two hours with an intermission. There are more songs than I can count with little dialogue or action. As for the songs, they range in quality, but a couple hit the mark and are as funny as those Parker wrote for South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. However a few are not really laugh generators at all and more character pieces.

I kept waiting for the offensive songs to come but they never really do. The most “offensive” I suppose would be “Fuck You, God” but other than that Parker decides to spare the Mormons the true tongue lashing they so richly deserve. There is even an ad for the REAL Book of Mormon in the program!

The theme is essentially the same as the South Park episode “All About Mormons.” And that is: much like the tale of Noah’s Ark or Exodos, the story of Joseph Smith is simply too out there and unrealistic to be taken seriously. Yet Parker seems to say that there is value to be had in these stories if they are accepted as only being metaphorical. He compares them to other cultural myths of today such as The Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, and Star Wars. The dot Parker and Stone fail to connect is that if religious devotees know that there is no God or Heaven and it’s all just a metaphor then why have religion at all? There are such things as secular volunteer organizations like The Peace Corps and WorldTeach.

In the end I think the play format hurt the piece for all of the reasons that movies have made live theater obsolete. A movie version with some added scenes of dialogue and action could be very funny. Maybe they could be a little harsher too. It almost came off as pro-Mormon. The cast was great and their ability to go from acting to singing and dancing was flawless. The most impressive singer was probably Alexandra Ncube as the love interest Nabulungi.

3 Books Outta 5

Planet of the Apes 8

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Matt Reeves (director of Cloverfield) delivers an exciting well made follow-up to 2011’s Apes reboot. James Franco and Caesar’s relationship was at the heart of the first film and made for a more realistic movie. This one is pretty hard science fiction of the dystopian variety.

Probably the closest relationship in this movie is between Caesar and his son, both CG creations. The human star is Jason Clarke who is serviceable, but about as charismatic as a soggy carrot. He also starred in the one star suckfest Zero Dark Thirty. The film wastes countless minutes giving him and even his eye candy wife character (Keri Russell) not only lines, but lines about her back story like it matters in the slightest. Her character is involved in one plot point to justify her whole existence. Gary Oldman is underutilized as the leader of the human survivors and is given a three second back story. Caesar (Andy Serkis) does really have screen presence. Every scene he’s in is better. He and a few apes are the only ties to the first film. Both apes and humans have their obvious “loose cannons” who appear in every single apocalypse movie. Because being in the end times isn’t bad enough, you also have to deal with assholes. See: The Walking Dead.

I remember the music being better in the first movie as well. Other than the complete rip-off (called a homage) of Jerry Goldsmith’s score from the original film the music by Michael Giacchino is forgettable and uninspired. It could have really helped elevate this flick.

I have done this before and I will give this a star just for the vfx. They truly are unbelievable. The bar for animals has now been set. Noah’s Ark by ILM doesn’t come close to the detail and time spent on screen of Weta’s most epic fx fest so far. Kong was good, but that was one ape – this is hundreds – and unlike Kong, they’re in the movie the entire time.

Any fan of the original movies will get a kick out of it. I think they did miss an opportunity to make some real commentary, but the original themes are still there. Getting a movie as bleak as the originals made in the ’60s and ’70s is not going to happen in a $150 million Hollywood summer blockbuster.

Best of all, there was no Ape Lincoln in sight.  Smiley

4 Apepocalypses Outta 5

Non-Stop ***

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Despite being in his early 60’s, Liam Neeson continues his rise as the most bankable action star on the planet after The Rock. Non-Stop is a PG-13 single location thriller in which Neeson portrays an alcoholic U.S. Marshall. Someone on an unlucky trans-Atlantic flight wants to blow up the plane, but whom… and why?

It’s a decent mystery that doesn’t get revealed until the very end. Unfortunately the motives of the villains are abso-ludcrious and it’s kind of amazing that the writers couldn’t think of something more realistic. Despite some shoddy writing, at around 100 minutes the movie “flies by” at a fast pace and Neeson is on screen the entire tire, which helps immensely. As usual some Hollywood sentimentality is thrown in, but thankfully they don’t knock you senseless with it. The supporting cast of quality actors (Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, and Corey Stoll) help to elevate what could have been a generic pot-boiler.

3 Flying Head Shots Outta 5

Homefront ***

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Jason Statham’s most recent movies are on Netflix and you really can’t go wrong, In The Name of the King an exception. Statham confirmed in an interview that the screenplay, written by Sly, was originally meant to star John Rambo. Knowing that while watching it, it was pretty obvoius why Statham’s ex-undercover DEA character is so impossible to kill. It doesn’t help that the villain is James Franco.

Yeaaahh, not so scary but that’s my only complaint as it’s a rated R action flick with Statham breaking windpipes non-stop. It seems like it was meant to be a bookend to the Rambo series as he returns home to the U.S and encounters the same small town crazy people he did in First Blood. What could have been. Ah well the flick was a modest success so Sly is planning a sequel. Maybe Rambo will get a bigger send off.

3 Trucker Caps to Hide the Baldness Outta 5

Captain America 2 ****

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Marvel delivers one of their best movies yet with Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. More like a superhero Bond film than a CG effects-fest, it’s so nice to watch a movie like this without a CG glowing orb MacGuffin that everyone is trying to possess for it’s “ultimate powa!” This was part of the plot of the first movie, which was unfortunate. This sequel is realistic enough where you think it just might be possible.

The first thing I liked about it and the thing I like about Cap generally is that he is a super soldier, not the perfect soldier. An idealist who loves freedom, does not a good soldier make. The opposite of Cap is his nemesis in this story, The Winter Soldier. The film makes the courageous, but necessary point that one must be brainwashed (sometimes literally) to be able to follow orders, whether they are ethical or not. Fighting the Germans was one thing, but when the government asks Cap to make war on his own people (the modern relevance is shiver inducing) he flat out says “no.” That doesn’t go over very well with the government. The gov is represented by Robert Redford’s character Alexander Pierce, head of the World Security Council, which has authority over S.H.I.E.L.D. For those who aren’t familiar, S.H.I.E.L.D. is like the military, C.I.A., and N.S.A. rolled into one powerful autonomous agency. Nick Fury is a big part of this movie and they make it clear that without him leading the organization it would easily be corrupted.

So enough about the plot. There’s plenty of it. I can say that I was not bored at all during the story, unlike Thor 2. It’s a political thriller mixed with lots of kung fu, super fu, and gun fu. Any movie that hires George St. Pierre to play a bad guy who can actually go toe-to-toe with Captain America gets my approval. The identity of the Winter Soldier is a mystery in the film, and if you haven’t read the comics I won’t go into here, but needless to say it works. The only character that seemed tacked on was Cap’s sidekick Falcon. I like the character but he was a distraction. Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a starring role as well and makes herself much more useful than in Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. I don’t buy her as an asskicker but I believe she can shoot someone.

Cap 2 was directed by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, best known for directing episodes of Community before they landed this gig. They did a commendable job. I saw The King at this screening and he mentioned right off the bat the biggest problem was the lack of a good score or even any modern or classic radio music. They use a great Saving Private Ryan inspired piece for the beginning and then strangely never come back to it. One thing they got right was hiring an actual comic writer (Ed Brubaker) to do the first draft of the script.

So the future of the Captain America franchise looks bright if they can keep this momentum going. This is one of the few Marvel films that I didn’t want to be over. Speaking of that, make sure you stick around for the credits.

4 Shields Outta 5

Boyhood ***

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Slacker director Art Linklater returns with another interesting storytelling device in the twelve-years-a-making Boyhood. The original title was supposed to be12 Years but some piece of shit Best Picture winner stole it first. Linklater signed contracts with actors (including a six year old boy) twelve years ago and shot scenes for this film every year. I have to say I’ve never seen anything like this before. Obviously it’s a “coming of age” drama without much of a structured plot, but the movie keeps the audience interested because you never know if after the next cut, it will be a year later.

The first half of the film is probably the best as you can really see the change in star Ellar Coltrane as each year goes by. The movie slows in the back half though as Linklater (like so many directors before) seems to fall in love with his footage and stays with Mason too long during ages 15-18 when his appearance barely changes. At 2 hours and 45 minutes, he could have cut a half hour out of the back end and I would have given it an extra star. To me, story is everything and a movie without much of a story can’t get four stars. However I do think every one should see this when it’s on video. I couldn’t help but relate to Mason especially because he’s an artist. Most men will be able to relate to his trials and tribulations as well.

One thing I appreciated is that Linklater is a not a degenerate sick fuck like say Lars von Trier or Steve McQueen who surely would have made this kid’s life a living hell filled with rape, drug abuse, maybe even some fatal car accidents etc. Linklater never goes the exploitation route and never strays from realism. The characters really did feel like real people despite the fact that famous actors Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette are the parents. Both of them age visibly as the film goes on, especially Arquette. She really could be considered the star of the movie as it’s her bad life choices that drive the action. She seems to mean well, but she can’t pick a quality father for her kids if her life depended on it.

In the final analysis this will be a film that will probably end up in the Library of Congress and will be watched for years to come. It’s not just the story of one boy reaching adulthood, but it’s also about that span of Americana from 2001-2013. The director makes sure to include popular music from each year and put in shots of iPods and Xboxes when those were the popular gadgets of the time. It’s too long and could have had a bit more of a narrative, but for what it is, it’s an epic accomplishment.

3 Boyz II Men Outta 5

The “Amazing” Spider-Man 2 *

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“Amazing?” Not even close. “Spectacularly Shitty” would be a better title. Truly even the warning from Bad Movie Jesus did not prepare me for such a travesty. Anyone who thought Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was a step in the wrong direction had no idea how lazy Sony could get. The mistakes of the last reboot plague this hasty sequel: poor casting, rebooting the characters back to high school, no obvious plan for the franchise, retelling the same story from the old films, etc. Then throw in Raimi’s mistakes from 3, namely three villains and a first draft (or probably no draft) screenplay, terrible (I mean godawful) music, snarky hipster dialogue, and you have the worst big budget movie of the summer. Although I still have not seen TMNT or Transformers 4.

There’s not much else to say about this tragic waste of time. Comic book fans may want to watch for the pivotal moment in Spidey’s history that this film totally fucked up. I mean, when it happened I couldn’t have cared less about this person’s death. The character shouldn’t have even been in the films as she died in the comics in 1973 and has never been brought back (except *sigh,* as a clone).

Oh fuck it, you won’t be seeing this movie anyways: it’s Emma Stone’s character Gwen Stacy. As it is one of the most famous deaths in comics it shouldn’t be shocking to anyone and besides that it’s comic book history there was no reason to put it or the Green Goblin in this movie. Electro and Rhino also are one dimensionally flat villains with little backstory and are without any reason to care about them at all except that they want to kill whatshisname as Spider-Man. I wanted him dead too.

1 Hey At Least Tobey Saved HIS Girlfriend Outta 5

Neighbors *

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Fatass Seth Rogan makes another annoying and shitty movie about being a fat guy in Neighbors. Here’s another piece of crap Hollywood movie where I was hoping the “bad guy” played by Zach Efron would destroy the “everyman breeder” Rogan. His only comic relief is taking his shirt off next to the cut-out-of-wood physique of Efron’s. So basically he’s ripping off Chris Farley and Patrick Swayze from 20 years ago. I guess since they’re both dead he thought no one would complain.

Filled will disgusting jokes about breastfeeding, fucking in front of little kids, puke, etc, the bar for comedy takes a new low. Any ten seconds out of any episode of Workaholics is funnier than this Apatow-inspired drivel. I have said this before and failed, but now I am done with Seth Rogan. The man needs to stop being in movies.

1 De Niro Party Outta 5