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Life so far so good. Bliss.

Good times

X-Men: Days of Future Pastimagines a near-future in which both mutants and humans have been decimated by deadly killing machines known as The Sentinels. In this nightmarish dystopia, Professor X and his “old friend” Magneto gather the most powerful surviving X-Men together for a last-ditch effort to stop the Sentinel war: altering the past so that it never happened in the first place.

That plan requires Kitty Pryde sending Wolverine’s consciousness back into his 1970s body, in order to stop an event that forever sets history on the course of a dark future. But things are bleak in the past, as well: young Charles Xavier, Magneto and Mystique are all damaged and estranged from one another; the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis (seen in X-Men: First Class) have already inspired the beginnings of the Sentinel program; and with every passing moment in the future, the Sentinels get closer to eliminating the last of the X-Men and destroying all hope of altering history.

At the center of this desperate mission lie some big questions: Can history be altered, or is destiny set in stone? And can Wolverine play the role of mentor to his own mentor in time to repair some very broken people and save two timelines?

X Men Mystique Movie X Men: Days of Future Past Review

X-Men: Days of Future Past is by far the most ambitious film in the franchise – an attempt to take the entire six-film saga (and all of the notorious continuity errors that come with it) and soft-reboot it via a story that is both character drama and spectacle, meant to honor both the Original Trilogy and First Class halves of the franchise. Against all odds, Singer manages to deliver all of the above, resulting in the best X-Men movie to date, and a comic book movie that could (arguably) be placed in the company of the genre’s elite.

It is with a sad note of irony that, on a directorial level, Bryan Singer has delivered his best film ever. Days of Future Past is a showcase of directorial talent, to the point that it is arguably a handful of well-crafted movies, woven together. The futuristic sci-fi world and mutant action sequences are awesome spectacle, while the future Sentinels are dark, frightening creatures; the ’70s period piece is colorful, gleefully retro, and well-staged in nearly every scene; and there’s an excellent character drama at the film’s core, utilizing great actors who deliver performances above and beyond expectations of the genre.

X Men Days of Future Past Trailer Sunspot Blasting Sentinel 700x425 X Men: Days of Future Past Review

Uniting these eclectic parts is a steady thematic and tonal pulse that retains the fun, the fantastical action and the emotional resonance which have been the defining blend of X-Men comic books since their inception. Days of Future Past also boasts set pieces and sequences that raise the bar for the franchise, and in some instances, comic book movies in general. Futuristic battle sequences and certain ’70s sequences (read: Quicksilver) make the film totally worth seeing in 3D; you want the full X-perience with this one.

Like the direction, the script combines eclectic elements into a fine blend. The story idea comes from First Class architects Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman, with the actual script written by X-Men: The Last Stand scribe Simon Kinberg (who is now the franchise’s narrative architect). Kinberg’s DoFP script keeps things steadily moving at a tight, focused pace; there are welcome injections of fun and humor, and the story manages to hit the proper beats of character and narrative development to make each action and interaction feel important and compelling. For hardcore fans of the film series, the movie pays proper homage to both the Original Trilogy and the developments of First Class, while not being afraid of wiping away that past, in order to set up (what looks to be) a better, more cohesive future… But that’s not to say that this film is the total savior of continuity errors past.

James McAvoy and Patrick Stewart in X Men Days of Future Past X Men: Days of Future Past Review

By combining both the Original Trilogy and First Class mythos into one world, the filmmakers do manage to tie their franchise universe together; but there are a number of contradictions still left on the table by the end. The hope was likely that with a fast-paced and entertaining story, any hangups about continuity or character adaptation (read: Quicksilver) could be ignored – and for the most part, that is the case. Days of Future Past is good enough that it’s easy to accept its telling of things over any other cinematic telling that may have come before (or even the comic book source material); but if you want to go looking for the continuity errors, you’ll see that the movie cannot completely circumvent them. They are never distracting, but they are there.

Then again, it’s hard to complain about which characters are present (or what state they’re in) when the cast of actors is delivering strong performances. Hugh Jackman leads the franchise once again, but manages to be an effective team player this time. His performance is much more restrained and nuanced, drawing on Wolverine’soverexposure extensive history in the franchise to create an interesting spin on the character as an older and wiser mentor. The core First Class squad – Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) – deliver even more of the best elements of that prequel film (i.e., improved character drama), with Jackman serving as a welcome addition to their half of the franchise. 

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine in X Men Days of Future Past1 X Men: Days of Future Past Review

Meanwhile, Original Trilogy stars like Patrick Stewart (Prof X), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Halle Berry (Storm), Shawn Ashmore (Iceman), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat) and Daniel Cudmore (Colossus) all return to deliver better, more confident (if not smaller) performances, in what would be a fitting epilogue to their portion of the franchise. (Then again, they also manage to remind us why seeing some of the original squad return isn’t so bad, so who knows what the future will be…)

New additions to the franchise like “International X-Men” Blink (Bingbing Fan), Bishop (Omar Sy), Sunspot (Adan Canto), and Warpath (Booboo Stewart) all get moments to shine in some of the franchise’s best mutant action sequences, and for all the controversy about his adaptation, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver steals every moment of his screen time. Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage likewise shines in his moments playing Bolivar Trask, the designer of the Sentinels, while Josh Helman (The Pacific) does a fine riff on the William Stryker character seen in X2 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. There are also a number of nice cameos and fun nods to both comic book and historical figures, but those are best saved for the viewing experience.

X Men Days of Future Past Full Cast Promo Photo 620x370 X Men: Days of Future Past Review

In the end, X-Men: Days of Future Past succeeds at being a thrilling and fun superhero movie, balanced by well-earned dramatic weight. It may only be three-quarters successful in forging the fractured franchise into a unified whole, but it does manage to distill the best parts of the saga and use them to push things forward into a (semi-)fresh start, where fans can forget sins of the past and once again feel optimistic about the notion of X-Men movies.

…And according to the implications of the post-credits scene, there is hint that the future of this franchise is going to continue to be a bigger, bolder, and ultimately more exciting one.

As long as Gemma gets it. I can’t wait for her to meet her fate. Its been coming for a long time now. Yup, season 7 in the making. Can’t bloody wait!

Day 1: Hope these works went well. Best of luck!

Day 1: Hope these works went well. Best of luck!

I hate to admit it, but upon the unveiling of ‘Cloudkicker’, the solitary glimpse of No PeaceTrash Talk's forthcoming fifth full-length offering, I developed a sick fascination in sifting through countless comments, spewed across YouTube and SoundCloud, and smirking to myself. Recently recruited by Odd Future Records (yes, the brainchild of those Golf Wang hoodlums), many of their followers seem unaware of hardcore's historic affiliation with hip-hop - and they expressed their distaste in amusing fashion.

Not that Lee Spielman and his fellow hell raisers give a fuck. Their reputation has been precariously built on volatile teen angst and bruising live shows, cracked foundations that threaten to crumble at any time, but simply add to the unpredictability of it all.

If 119 felt oddly lacking in identity, unusually reserved, possibly suffering from the band struggling to find a firm foothold within a new label, No Peace is the band’s most successful effort at bottling their trademark live intensity and translating it to record. Their somewhat one dimensional formula, a criticism from many observers, feels reinvigorated due to welcome guest spots from Wiki and, erm, King Krule, as well as The Alchemist providing intriguing production on ‘Reprieve’ and the scratchy, instrumental stomp of ‘Amnesiatic’. There’s even a stab at conventional song structure lurking within ‘Locked In Skin’, a coy flirt with the mainstream, that may send diehard fans scrabbling for the pause button.

Aside from that, it is business as usual, ‘Body Stuffer’ and ‘Leech’ hurtle past at eye watering speed, a bone-shattering flail of bloodied fists and battered headbutts, while ‘The Great Escape’ somehow thrashes with darker intensity. While it is never an easy listen, it often feels necessary to wipe Lee Spielman’s spittle from your cheek, such is No Peace's front row ferocity. Good luck unearthing a record that bristles with such glorious unrest all year.

In Godzilla, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), a chief engineer working at the Janjira nuclear plant, discovers a mysterious seismic activity pattern that, if ignored, could threaten the stability of his facility (as well as the lives of nearby residents). Yet, before Joe can plead to his superiors for caution, a mysterious force causes a meltdown within the plant – leaving Joe, his family, along with the rest of the area, devastated.

Fifteen years later, Joe is still searching for answers, obsessed with uncovering the real reason behind Janjira’s nuclear meltdown. When the eccentric conspiracy theorist is arrested inside a quarantine zone, Joe’s son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a Navy EOD technician, must travel to Japan in an effort to bring his father back to the states – and put an end to Joe’s increasingly dangerous search for answers. Yet, just after Ford arrives in Japan, it becomes clear that Joe was right all along – and that the world is about to pay the price for not listening to his warnings.

Bryan Cranston Aaron Taylor Johnson Godzilla 2014 Godzilla Review

When his critically-acclaimed film Monsters became an indie sci-fi favorite, director Gareth Edwards was challenged with rebooting the iconic King of the Monsters for Legendary Pictures. Despite abysmal ratings for Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla, the film’s $370 million (unadjusted) in ticket sales made it clear the giant lizard still had pull at the global box office. Thankfully, Edwards learned from Hollywood’s past mistakes and the new Godzilla offers a fresh and tantalizing moviegoing experience for longtime fans of “Monster Zero-One,” as well as casual viewers looking for summer spectacle.

In spite of tongue-in-cheek Godzilla vs. [Insert Monster X] movies over the last half-century, the original Toho Gojira (1954) wasn’t created to birth a cinematic icon – the monster was used as a horrifying metaphor for the atomic bomb. To that end, Edwards smartly blends sixty years worth of Godzilla movies into a cautionary tale warning of modern humankind’s arrogance, presenting the King of Monsters as both horror and hero. Some may complain that there isn’t quite enough Godzilla in Godzilla, but Edwards’ restraint is actually a credit to the success of the film – especially in an era where audiences can become desensitized to CGI characters and onscreen destruction. The director walks a fine line between showing off the redesigned reptile while harnessing the creature’s larger-than-life persona. Godzilla makes a big impression, dealing genuinely crowd-pleasing moments without overstaying his welcome, and leaving audiences to relish in every shot of the monster.

Godzilla 2014 Monster Godzilla Review

Instead of relying on massive CGI fights to sell the film, Edwards makes smart use of interesting human stories – which lead viewers through increasingly revealing looks at Godzilla and other threats. Edwards’ movie isn’t just about Godzilla or military might, it’s a captivating tale of people (at all levels) as we encounter natural forces outside of our control. Regardless of its scope, the movie is surprisingly intimate – with beautiful cinematography that grounds Godzilla in a rich and lived-in world. Edwards keeps his focus tight on a small group of human characters – allowing them to develop within the context of the greater crisis (but without stealing the spotlight from their titular star). As a result, the computer generated antihero is rarely disconnected from the perils of people on the ground – with seamless shots that transition back and forth between selfless human heroics and eye-popping monster mayhem.

Cranston sets the tone early as charming but compulsive Joe Brody – a man that, even before disaster strikes, is aloof and obsessive. Despite an award-winning turn as Walter White in Breaking Bad, Cranston has been relegated to thin caricature in most of his film roles – one-note villains or tough-as-nails military men. Fortunately, Cranston is given a lot more to work with in Godzilla and the actor supplies an emotional and empathetic performance which ensures that both pillars of the narrative (sci-fi fantasy and human drama) are taken seriously.

Aaron Taylor Johnson Elizabeth Olsen Godzilla 2014 Godzilla Review

Paired with Cranston, Taylor-Johnson is a serviceable leading-man for the story as Ford – a relatable hero trying to get back to his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen), and son Sam (Carson Bolde). At times it’s clear that Ford is a fictional fabrication – a character designed for every occasion in all the right places at the right times – but thanks to a likable turn from Taylor-Johnson, it’s easy to suspend disbelief and follow along.

While Olsen furnishes one of the stronger performances in the film, the talented actress is given very little screen time. Instead of developing Elle as a character, Edwards sidelines Olsen to fleshing-out the men and monsters around her - adding another layer to Ford as well as providing on-the-ground emotional drama once Godzilla hits the mainland. Similarly, Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ichiro Serizawa is tasked with delivering exposition in nearly every single scene – providing backstory, scientific revelations, and giant monster insights whenever a character (and the audience) needs clarification. That said, Serizawa is still an impactful addition, similar to Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) in the original Godzilla, a scientist reeling from the collision of scientific discovery and its consequences. Serizawa helps viewers navigate conflicting feelings about Godzilla – making it acceptable (at least this time) to root for the King of Monsters, even when he’s destroying entire cities in the process.

Ken Watanabe Dr Ichiro Serizawa Godzilla 2014 Godzilla Review

Godzilla is also playing in 3D and 3D IMAX theaters and the film takes full advantage of both premium formats. The film may not have been shot in 3D but the post-conversion contributes in immersion and enhanced visual spectacle. IMAX 3D is also a worthy investment, even for frugal filmgoers, since the extra screen size and audio fidelity enhance Godzilla’s massive size and heart-pounding roar. The 3D isn’t essential (especially in certain parts of the film) but viewers who are willing to invest in a premium ticket will get their money’s worth from the IMAX experience.

Moviegoers expecting two hours of CGI monster beat downs may be underwhelmed by the amount of Godzilla in Edwards’ reboot. However, the director has actually delivered a much more ambitious and memorable experience, blending a crowd-pleasing return for the titular star, poignant human drama, thought-provoking cautionary themes, as well as fun Toho series nods (like monster battles on TV) – all with entertaining blockbuster spectacle and a third act brawl that sets a new bar for the beloved King of the Monsters.

The Raid 2(also known as Berandal) picks up hours after the events of The Raid: Redemption, as the fallout from rookie cop Rama’s (Iko Uwais) siege on Boss Tama’s high-rise compound makes big ripples in both the cop and crook worlds. Rama quickly finds himself between a rock and a hard place; not only are murderous gangsters looking for him, the corrupt cops and politicians who green-lit Boss Tama’s trap are after him as well. On the advice of a veteran cop he can trust, Rama agrees to a dangerous mission: go undercover in the criminal underworld to root-out the real threat of political corruption in Jakarta.

After much time and hardship, Rama manages to infiltrate the inner circle of Ucok (Arifin Putra), the son of crime boss Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). But as the saying goes, it’s warmer under the dragon’s wing than one might think. When rival gang leader Bejo (Alex Abbad) starts a clandestine war for the streets of Jakarta, Rama finds that his choice of bedfellows isn’t as clear-cut as he originally thought – and not everyone is who they originally seem to be.

The Raid 2 Yayan Ruhian as Prakoso The Raid 2 Review

The Raid: Redemption was nothing short of a new milestone for the action genre (read my 5-Star review – Spoilers: I liked it). Using bare minimum, writer/director Gareth Evans scrapped together a sick single-setting action/horror thrill ride, complete with camera tricks and martial arts choreography that hadn’t really been seen before; living in that shadow, The Raid 2 would have to do something truly astounding to top its predecessor. Sadly, despite its expansive ambitions, The Raid 2 falls short of matching the simple pleasure of the first installment – but for action fans, there is still some next-level stunt and choreography work alive and present in Evans’ sequel.

Berandal is basically the movie Evans wanted to make before budgetary restrictions forced him to make The Raid: Redemption instead. The sequel in many ways seems like a celebration of the first film’s success (and an expanded budget), which is both good and bad for the film, overall. Yes, there are some pretty crazy ambitious set pieces and fight sequences – and a lot more evidence of Evans’ stylistic fingerprint in the way shots and sequences are designed and executed onscreen (see: the prison yard riot sequence). The Raid 2 looks – on a directorial level – much more sophisticated and lavish than The Raid 1, proving that Evans has artistry to go along with those action sequencing skills.

The Raid 2 Prison Fight Sequence The Raid 2 Review

However, much of The Raid 2‘s biggest sequences feel arbitrary and disconnected from overly convoluted narrative (more on that later). On the whole, the film feels like “action porn” – i.e., a pastiche of scenes and bloody “money shots” that are loosely strung together by a flimsy and clichéd narrative, which only serves to transition us from one bloody sequence to another. Several of the battle sequences have nothing at all to do with our main character – they’re just there as evidence of Evans’ filmmaking creativity and prowess, another deposit in the Berandal money-shot bank. In the moment, each action sequence is pretty captivating to watch – but without proper story/character support, the film becomes a flaccid routine around the time the thirtieth bone is being sadistically broken, or the seventeenth gash is being grotesquely cut through flesh. The pleasure quotient of action porn has a pretty short shelf-life.

That’s not to say that Evans doesn’t tack a story onto The Raid 2; in fact, it’s a much more intricate and layered story than first film. However, complexity is not always a good thing: the first film benefitted from its thrilling simplicity (get to the top of a building full of psycho addicts and murders without dying); the sequel nearly drowns in its over-bloated cast of characters and their accompanying storylines. Just talking dramatis personae: there are three crime boss characters (Indonesian, Japanese and Arab); a Godfather-style father/son crime drama; a whole sub-set of assassin characters who get their own storylines and sequences; and oh yeah, Rama’s Infernal Affairs undercover drama is part of it, too.

The Raid 2 Berandal Uwais The Raid 2 Review

It’s far too much to keep track of, and at 2.5 hours of runtime, the bloated weight of the film is all too noticeable as it drags along.  The Raid 2 is admittedly a universe-expanding chapter of the franchise (stay tuned for The Raid 3), and so therefore it has a lot of narrative to service and set up – but some of the choices that Evans makes with the storyline are downright shocking – and not in a good way. The first 10 minutes of the film will likely baffle fans of the first film – as will the point where the sequel leaves off. Worse yet, the overall point or theme of this intricately woven crime saga is unclear, as the violent climax doesn’t work nearly as smartly or as effectively as, say, the final moments of PT Anderson’s There Will Be Blood – which this movie has “borrowed” from quite liberally…

The cast of actors include both veteran and fresh faces from the Indonesian film industry – including some regulars from “Camp Evans.” Performances are solid, with Tio Pakusodewo bringing some theatrical gravitas to make Bangun an interesting antagonist, and Iko Uwais being given a lot more range to work with. Julie Estelle’s “Hammer Girl” doesn’t say much but will nonetheless be a fan-favorite (one of the better elements of the movie); but Yayan Ruhian (‘Mad Dog’ from the first film) is completely shoehorned into the mix, in what is one of film’s most needless and extraneous plot threads. The physical acting is top of its game though, and is easily the one area in which the sequel exceeds the original. Some of what choreographers Uwais and Ruhian come up with is deliciously crazy… and pretty awesome to witness onscreen.

Hammer Girl in The Raid 2 The Raid 2 Review

ltimately, The Raid 2 leaves us somewhere in a middle ground: a slow and convoluted crime saga story to sift through in order to experience some bigger, bloodier, crazier action sequence highlights. A bit of a sophomore slump – but not for lack of effort or ambition on the part of Evans and his crew. Let’s just hope that The Raid 3 (which apparently will attempt an ambitious midquel story approach) will cut some fat and streamline things back down into a leaner, more focused narrative direction. Given the body count in this chapter, that shouldn’t be much of a problem.

In Oculus, two young adults are still trying to move past the horrific and traumatizing death of their parents many years before. For Tim Russell (Brenton Thwaites), recovery means leaving a psychiatric hospital and reacclimating to life in the real world; for his older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan), “recovery” means tracking down an old mirror that used to hang in their childhood home – a mirror that Kaylie is convinced houses the evil spirit responsible for the deaths of their parents.

By holding Tim to a promise made in their youth, Kaylie scores herself one night in their old home to test out the theory of the haunted mirror. With decades of research and a house full of ghost traps and recording devices all at her disposal, Kaylie tries to lead Tim through a demonstration of the mirror’s terrible power – while keeping them alive long enough to prove their findings. But daylight is a far away, and the eyes of the mirror see all the way into the deepest recess of the mind – to memories best forgotten.

The latest low-budget horror film pickup by Blumhouse Productions (Paranormal ActivitySinister, The Purge), Oculus attempts to stretch the acclaimed 2006 short film Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan into a feature-length scare-fest – with middling success. While the concept and look of the film are unique and crisp (respectively), scrutiny of the overall storyline and larger meaning of the narrative quickly reveal some glaring deficiencies. Short version: like looking through a one-way mirror, there’s something to see here but little to actually reflect upon.

Karen Gillan and Brenton Thwaites in Oculus 2014 Oculus Review

Mike Flanagan (Absentia) directed the short and feature versions of Oculus, with newcomer writer Jeff Howard fleshing out the initial short story by Jeff Seidman and Flanagan. The concept actually approaches haunted house horror in a fresh way, using a two-pronged story (Kaylie and Tim’s experiences with the mirror as both children and adults) to give the film some nice stylistic distinction. The experiences of past and present blend seamlessly together as Kaylie and Tim relive the horrific night of their parents’ deaths; thanks to the nature of the evil entity at the center of the story, the filmmakers are able to bend the rules of reality to create some unique moments of shock and fear. For the most part, this ghost’s mind-games are fun to play.

The narrative of Oculus appears to have substance and meaning, but it is really just smokescreen, an illusion that evaporates as soon as the movie is over. It’s almost as if Flanagan and Howard never really found a way to expand upon the initial short film, as so much of the narrative feels implied or vague rather than fleshed-out and connected. The best horror stories are those which act as dark metaphors for real-life events or experiences, but this film never achieves that resonance. There is also little narrative drive, questionable character motivations, confusing logic to follow – and when it’s all said and done, the long stare into the looking-glass reveals nothing but a hollow center underneath all the elaborate surrealist wrappings. We get an unnerving journey, but the ultimate destination is pretty unimpressive.

Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan in Oculus Oculus Review

The lead roles played by Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Rory Cochrane (Argo), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), Brenton Thwaites (Home and Away) and young actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan are all solid enough – even if their respective characters are underdeveloped. There seems to be a half-hearted underpinning about family tensions, infidelity, etc., underscored by a half-formed mirror metaphor – but given the surreal stylistic approach (slipping in and out of time periods, memories and illusions) the mechanics of the story’s execution eclipse much of the subtext and meaning of each scene. The actors seem to be aware of character layers that simply don’t come across in the narrative – worse yet, elements of the characters that are teased initially never get fully developed (Kaylie’s obsession, Tim’s instability, the mom’s jealousy, the father’s aloofness, etc.).

By the end of the film (which fancies itself to be a shocking twist) there is little impact or horror to be felt, beyond the sense of having witnessed creepy or strange events. You won’t exactly go home thinking twice about the mirror in your own home; this ghost story is not that effective, or that memorable. Still, for fans of the genre, the unique stylistic approach to haunted house horror will be a novelty of sorts – just don’t be disappointed when it all ends with a fizzle instead of a bang.

In Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s re-imagining of the biblical flood narrative, the titular patriarch loses his father, Lamech, at a young age – as “Men” (born from the lineage of Cain) attempt to purge the remaining descendants of Adam and Eve’s youngest child, Seth, from the Earth. Hidden from the Men at the time of Lamech’s slaying, Noah (Russell Crowe) grows into a kind-hearted father and husband who lives off the land – in balance with animals and plant life.

The unchecked pillaging of Earth by Man begins to spread to the isolated hillside that Noah and his family call home. Tired of Man’s rape, murder, and butchery, “The Creator” speaks to Noah in a series of visions – instructing him to protect the innocents of creation (specifically, the animals) from a forthcoming cataclysmic event designed to wipe the failure of Man from the planet. Horrified by the darkness he sees in others, Noah sets out with his family to build an ark and fulfill The Creator’s request. Yet, despite honorable intentions, the mission creates unforeseen conflict within Noah’s house, forcing him to confront his own wickedness, and question whether any man (himself and his sons included) deserves to inherit The Creator’s new world.

Noah Movie 2014 Russell Crowe Noah Review

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Aronofsky’s Noah – since the film is a significant re-imagining of an iconic story from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious texts. Still, the director does not present his depiction as either “true” or a “more accurate” version of events; instead, he exercises the Noah narrative as an allegorical opportunity to explore the differences between ideologies of faith and human self-determination. Moviegoers who believe that reimagining religious scripture (even for the purpose of modern symbolism) undermines the message of the source text will find countless feather ruffling alterations. As a result, the changes are bound to makeNoah a hard watch for viewers that would have preferred a more traditional adaptation – especially viewers who are already criticizing the movie simply because “it didn’t happen this way in the Bible.

Sadly, all of the controversy has distracted from the quality of the actual film – which presents an impactful experience for both religious and secular viewers, alike. In fact, many of the contentious changes actually make Noah a more engaging choice for moviegoers who are open to Aronofsky’s artistic vision and subject matter. The movie is neither Christian propaganda nor a threat to the bible, it’s a relatable tale of human nature and the mysteries of creation – one that actually reaffirms key themes from the original story and thought-provoking moments in the journey of a peaceful man whose life is torn apart in an attempt to do the “right” thing.

Noah Movie Russell Crowe Ray Winstone Noah Review

To that end, Russell Crowe gives an engrossing performance – presenting a rich iteration of Noah: a lover, a warrior, and a bully, all in one. Aronofsky’s character isn’t just a man of honor and faith, when necessary, he’s a man of violence. The film portrays Noah as a dedicated believer willing to defend The Creator’s plan at all costs – even to the detriment of his own loved ones. The director takes Noah’s journey to its logical (albeit heart-wrenching) conclusion, even exploring the consequences of watching as humanity is destroyed, and asking: “What effect would that responsibility have on a person?”

The supporting cast is equally strong – with Ray Winstone in the role of antagonist King Tubal-cain. Winstone’s portrayal is far more complex than a standard stock villain – offering a smart juxtaposition against Russell’s Noah and outlining the major philosophical differences between Men and the few descendants of Seth who clung to faith in The Creator. Through Tubal-cain, the actor manages to balance both the wickedness of humanity with enough charisma to make his beliefs relatable – even if they are, ultimately, barbaric.

Noah Movie Emma Watson Ila Noah Review

Along with solid efforts from Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, and Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson is another key standout as orphan-turned-member of Noah’s family, Ila. In addition to providing a significant amount of exposition that could have been eye-rolling in the hands of a less capable actress, Watson is responsible for one of the toughest scenes in the film – selling a major turning point with a downright dynamic performance.

To sell the scale of Noah’s task, and the subsequent flooding of the Earth, Aronofsky employed a notable amount of CGI. Fortunately, quality visual representations of the Ark, animals, and The Watchers (creatures that have been hidden from the trailers but play a major role in the film) aid in a reimagining that is both immersive and grounded. Supernatural elements, such as the aforementioned Watchers, are utilized both to enhance the emotional impact of the story while also solving challenges that might otherwise have distracted casual viewers asking a host of logistical questions. Not to mention The Watchers, which actually enjoy an intriguing and extremely relevant backstory, also allow for several of the movie’s most epic moments.

Noah Movie 2014 Ark Animals Noah Review

Select details might be different but Noah honors the scriptural source material with an inspiring tale of love and dedication in the face of unchecked darkness. Understandably, certain viewers will be frustrated (and even offended) that Aronofsky didn’t choose to develop a “faithful” retelling of the religious text; yet, for those with an open mind, Noah supplies an immersive and thought-provoking movie experience. Given the movie’s premise, it will be easy for moviegoers at extreme ends of the spectrum to dismiss the film outright – but viewers that are willing to give Noah a chance might find that, despite differences of opinion and belief, there’s plenty of universal value in Aronofsky’s gripping tale of good overcoming evil.

I, singing in a band.

I, singing in a band.

 An album for those who’ve never been much good at saying goodbye.

I would be doing Bane a disservice if I were to begin with some hackneyed tripe about memories and how they can bridge the chasm between the past and future. For almost 20 years, the Worcester-based quintet (and its revolving-door rhythm section) have been distinctively no-nonsense, going about their business with honesty, integrity and a tireless, blue-collar work ethic. Don’t Wait Up - the band’s fourth and allegedly final record - is appropriately nostalgic without being cloying.

The album roars from the onset with the jab/cross combo “Non-Negotiable” and “All the Way Through”, immediately asserting that the band have no semblance of studio rust. “Non-Negotiable“‘s bruising introduction is emphatically Bane: the pummeling toms and snare, bellicose guitar riff, raucous gang vocals, and Aaron Bedard’s visceral shouts are all unabashedly on display. “The only thing I can’t buy more of is time”, he howls, before adding later, “But I will fill what is left of my days with the things I love the most.” Themes like perseverance and endurance are a consistent message throughout Don’t Wait Up, and knowing during recording that this would be their proverbial swan song clearly reined in Bedard’s writing. As a whole, Bane seem to express concern about overstaying their welcome or sounding like a shell of their Give Blood days, and while the idea of bidding farewell to something you love - be it for personal or professional reasons or both - for a final time is somber, the band are steadfast in their intensity and never sound timeworn or jaded.

The esprit de corps and camaraderie in the hardcore community is well-renowned (to be fair, Ontario isn’t exactly a hotbed for hardcore, so it’s not like I’m writing from experience here), and as much as Don’t Wait Up is a sendoff for fans, it’s also a thank-you to the friends Bane have made since the mid-’90s (as Bedard describes in “Hard to Find”, friends make “the best defense”, and that “The key is finding the ones worth fighting for”). One of Don’t Wait Up's most engaging songs is the five-minute “Calling Hours”, the purported brainchild of guitarist Zach Jordan. Featuring guest vocals from Pat Flynn (Have Heart), Walter Delgado (Rotting Out), David Wood (Down to Nothing, Terror), and Reba Meyers (Code Orange Kids), “Calling Hours” is sublime in its arrangement. While it's common for bands to guest on one another's albums, it's territory that Bane had yet to tackle, and the song succeeds on all fronts. Specifically, the way the vocalists weave in and out of their contributions is riveting, and once again, the motif of persistence and dedication is unwavering throughout (“Forget the who, the what, the when, the where, the why / Deep down inside, I know I tried / Did you love something with all of your might?”). Between the crescendos, the gang vocals (“What's done is done / The night takes everyone”) and Meyers' cathartic stanza backed by thundering guitars and percussion in the climax, “Calling Hours” sports an indefinite number of highlights as one of Don’t Wait Up's most compelling listens.

There are occasions where Bedard’s darker past rears its head (“Wrong Planet” alludes to abuse he endured and witnessed in childhood and the guilt that resulted), but the instrumentation does well in mirroring that comfortless mood. “Post Hoc”, “Park St.”, and “Lost at Sea” are all certifiably Bane material, but are neither as immediate nor as arresting as “Calling Hours” or album closer “Final Backward Glance”, which is as flawless a conclusion as they could write. The last two-and-a-half minutes are almost conversational in nature, with Bedard expressing that he’s “never been much good at saying goodbye” underneath the ever-escalating and conclusive gang vocal.

With a final tour in the twilight of their careers, Don’t Wait Up personifies everything that Bane stood for and made them such an endearing hardcore act. While it’s with a heavy heart that we begin writing the epilogue, fans can take solace knowing that Bane’s legacy - even with the long gaps between releases - will be defined by hard work, allegiance, honor, and devotion to themselves and their hardcore comrades. Perhaps knowing that this would be their final record is what makes Don’t Wait Up such an inspiring, accessible record. Aurally consistent, hauntingly introspective, and beautifully self-reflective in its just-over-a-half-hour duration, Don’t Wait Upmay not rewrite the hardcore how-to book, but it does showcase how to bow out gracefully, with nearly 20 years’ worth of respect earned intact.

In Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is still adjusting to life in the 21st Century, packing his days with workout routines and special ops missions, too busy to date or catch-up on a growing list of experiences that he missed while frozen in Arctic ice. As Captain America, Rogers is at the top of his world-saving game; yet, despite his adventures, the First Avenger has become disillusioned with his work at S.H.I.E.L.D. Increased secrecy and a new global initiative – Project Insight, which prioritizes heavy-handed  law enforcement over personal freedoms – have left Rogers questioning what (and who) he’s even fighting for in a post-Battle of New York world.

However, after S.H.I.E.L.D director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is attacked by heavily-armed and well-coordinated mercenaries led by the fabled Winter Soldier, Rogers must set aside his apprehensions to investigate a new threat against humanity. Joined by fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and former para infantry soldier Sam Wilson, aka Falcon (Anthony Mackie), Rogers disappears off the grid and begins digging into long-kept S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets. If Captain America hopes to ensure a future for freedom, he must first overcome a collision course with his own complicated past.

Captain America 2 Chris Evans Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

The Russo Brothers take over for First Avenger director Joe Johnston in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, successfully building from the super-soldier origin story and subsequent Avengers team-up to create an entertaining, as well as action-packed, spy drama – one that just so happens to be based on a comic book. As a result, The Winter Soldier is one of the most accessible and high-quality Marvel movies yet. There are countless Easter eggs (and two post-credit scenes) for fans, but at its heart, theCaptain America sequel tells a captivating political thriller story with clever ties to actual U.S. history and the larger Marvel universe. Both die-hard comic readers and casual filmgoers should enjoy the film, and even though viewers might not agree on which Marvel Studios movie is their favorite, there’s no question that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is among the best superhero adaptations to hit the big screen.

Certain Marvel solo movies struggle to tie into the studio’s shared universe storyline – especially following The Avengers - but the Russo Brothers strike a sharp balance between corralling tie-in threads and supporting the core Winter Soldier plot. Additionally, the film includes timely social commentary for the ongoing debate over national security and personal freedom – all wrapped within a gripping 1970s-esque espionage flick.

Captain America 2 Sebastian Stan Winter Soldier Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Even without superhero headliners, the script serves-up a captivating political tale, loaded with poignant human drama, explosive set pieces, and savvy twists. In spite of solid box office sales, viewers have criticized Marvel Studios for playing it safe with their cross-movie narratives, but the latest Captain America delivers a bold step forward, dramatically restructuring the landscape of the TV/movie universe.

Following the exuberant personality of Tony Stark and raw power of Thor, a new Steve Rogers movie could have easily been an afterthought. Nevertheless, The Winter Soldiertakes a fascinating look at Captain America, trading “fish out of water” gags for an intimate portrayal of the values (and doubts) held by a man who has accepted a lifelong mission of protecting the innocent.

Evans, who has now portrayed Rogers in three full length feature films, is finally at home in the role – showcasing a quick-witted and extremely capable warrior. By presenting a profound and outright exciting depiction, the Russo’s help to reinforce what many comic book fans already knew: that Captain America is more than an honorable, shield-wielding, super-soldier: he’s one of the smartest and most powerful men on (or off) Earth.

Captain America 2 Scarlet Johansson Black Widow Chris Evans Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

The sequel also makes good use of its supporting cast – most notably Black Widow, Nick Fury and newcomer Falcon. Black Widow and Nick Fury are already fan-favorite entries in the shared universe, but The Winter Soldier script takes each character to a new level, affording Johansson and Jackson ample screen time to comb new layers in their respective roles, ultimately delivering strong insights, as well as downright rousing moments of heroism. Anthony Mackie’s Falcon is a welcome addition to the squad, and the actor enjoys some of the film’s most humorous beats. Still, Falcon isn’t just comic relief – he presents a stimulating juxtaposition to Rogers and quickly earns his spot onscreen.

Similarly, Robert Redford carries veteran charm to his role as Alexander Pierce – a role that is a make or break element of The Winter Soldier plot. Redford’s exchanges with key heroes, especially Fury, are among the film’s best, and Redford develops Pierce into a well-rounded ideologue instead of one-note bureaucrat.

Captain America 2 Robert Redford Alexander Pierce Samuel L Jackson Nick Fury Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

The Winter Soldier, portrayed by Sebastian Stan, is also a standout – a formidable antagonist capable of knocking Rogers and his team on their backs. The villain is the centerpiece in some of the most exhilarating (not to mention intense) action sequences that Marvel has ever put to film – with creative realizations of trademark source material weaponry (especially his mechanical arm). Though, the real success of the character is Stan’s ability to convey emotion through basic expressions – since the Winter Soldier relies on action, rarely dialogue, to communicate his feelings.

Minor hiccups like noticeable green screen disconnect in select settings, are overcome by plenty of eye-popping visuals – as well as grounded (and absolute brutal) fight choreography that is not just thrilling, but also sells the core cast as lethal operatives. For that reason, 3D and IMAX 3D are recommendable to viewers that want the premium Captain America sequel experience. That said, neither is essential, so frugal filmgoers shouldn’t feel bad about catching the movie in basic 2D.

Captain America 2 Anthony Mackie Falcon Captain America: The Winter Soldier Review

Where The Avengers sold casual moviegoers and comic book fans alike with an epic superhero team-up event, Captain America: The Winter Soldier should have no problem pleasing both parties by delivering a high-quality spy thriller. The Russo Brothers build a strong sequel on The First Avenger foundation and subsequent shared universe entries, elevating both Captain America’s skills and personal drama to refreshing heights. It’s not the biggest Marvel movie to hit theaters, but with a timely narrative, deeper exploration of fan-favorite characters, a strong cast and unforgettable action set pieces, Captain America: The Winter Soldier makes a compelling case for being one of the studio’s best adventures.

Sabotagemakes the bold attempt of re-imagining Agatha Christie’s seminal murder mystery novel And Then There Were None as a modern crime-thriller about a DEA special forces team that attempts to rip off a cartel, only to find their stolen loot missing and big target on their backs. After clearing departmental scrutiny, John ‘Breacher’ Wharton (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is finally given clearance to let his team of mad dogs out of the kennel; problem is, no sooner are they back on active duty when a mysterious assailant begins picking them off one by one.

As their numbers dwindle, Breacher’s team starts coming apart at the seams – openings for homicide detectives Caroline (Olivia Williams) and Jackson (Harold Perrineau) to exploit, as they attempt to work out what this fringe team of agents is hiding – hopefully in time to save the remaining survivors.

David Ayer is, by now, a brand unto himself; if a film has to do with hard-boiled tales of law enforcement along the California/Mexico stretch, there’s a 2 in 3 chance he’s involved. With that brand come certain trademarks and expectations (morally questionable cops, dark and gritty insight into urban crime, scenes of brutal violence) and in that respect, Sabotage does deliver the Ayer experience. As a piece of cinema, however, it’s unforgivably bad and manages to squander one of the best ensemble casts you could gather.

The cast of Sabotage 2014 Movie Sabotage Review

Schwarzenegger is still showing his age, but he is surprisingly restrained in the film; his performance (and the film as a whole) is light on actual action or stunt work, so calibrate expectations accordingly. Behind Arnold, however, stands a strong collection of talent that really carry this film. Sam Worthington (Avatar), Joe Manganiello (True Blood), Josh Holloway (Lost), Max Martini (The Unit) and Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow) are electric fun as Breacher’s squad of unruly badasses – and Mireille Enos (The Killing) manages to stand at the head of that pack as Lizzy (she pretty much walks off with every scene she’s in). Added bonuses like Williams (The Sixth Sense) and Perrineau (Lost) only bolster things further; casting was never the problem, here.

What is the problem is Ayer’s execution as a director and the script that he and Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Swordfish) fashion out of Christie’s source material. Ayer has a short filmography as a director, but films like Street Kings didn’t bring him much acclaim. The found-footage style of End of Watch provided a fresh perspective on the buddy cop film format, but Sabotage has a look like Ayer’s couldn’t decide on a stylistic choice for his latest work. Traditional film segments look very at odds with digital segments that look like a home movie project; the framing and blocking is bafflingly amateurish, and the editing is sloppy. Basically this film – with its experienced director, talented cast and action icon leading man – looks like someone’s weekend home movie project. 

Olivia Williams in Sabotage 2014 Sabotage Review

The murder mystery story turns to complete goop by the final act, generating more confusion about what actually happened than satisfaction or closure. Ridiculous flashback gimmicks try to keep the journey interesting and surprising along the way, but the so-called “twists” in the film are all dead on arrival, leaving little room for revelation, development or proper earning of the film’s violent resolution.

Those just hoping for just some good-ol’ action fun – you get one major shootout set piece, a couple small sequences, plenty of blood, gore and foul language and that’s about it. Most of the film is cops of different orders tough-talking in between trash-talking, and while there some gems of dialogue in there, it’s not exactly the action thrill-ride many fans were probably expecting.

What else is there to say? If not for the strength of the cast and crew, Sabotage wouldn’t even be worth a mention. As it is, you’d be taking your chances even viewing this as a rental. Arnold said he’d be back, but the count on his comeback vehicles currently stands at a disappointing 0-3 success rate.

Fahmy. Kuala Lumpur City Follow me on Twitter