42

42 does precisely what it sets out to do: tell the story of a great baseball player who happened to be black and who had to become a great man in order to live his dream and open the door for others to do the same. It’s well-crafted, well-acted, and altogether a very enjoyable movie.

If you haven’t seen it yet, rent it this weekend.

You’re going to enjoy 42 if you liked:
Miracle
Remember the Titans
Big Miracle
War Horse

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released April 12, 2013

Written by Brian Helgeland

Directed by Brian Helgeland

Starring: Chadwick Boseman, Harrison Ford, Nicole Beharie, Christopher Melonie, Alan Tudyk, T.R. Knight, John C. McGinley, and Lucas Black.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Branch Rickey (Ford) is the boss of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and he knows that change is coming. He wants to embrace that change and force his sport to do the same. He is sure it’s time to integrate baseball, bring Black players onto the field, and start providing same and equal resources to fans.

So he’s looking for an exceptional Black baseball player who is will to- ahem- step up to the plate. His team’s manager/coach, Leo Durocher (Melonie), is leary but will follow orders and he is soon able to buy into the vision.

Jackie Robinson (Boseman) is an exceptional baseball player who is Black. He can run, hit, throw– and he’s got fire and vim. Branch recruits him, to many people’s ire and shock. And Robinson plays all right, but he’s under a lot of pressure. At the same time, he’s romancing a smart, driven woman named Rachel (Beharie) who, after some soul-searching, throws in with Robinson’s journey. The interaction between these two is very, very good.

Now Robinson needs to learn to cope with the constant vile stuff people are saying, awful fans who want him gone, unsupportive teammates, and still play some good ball. And it turns out that playing ball really can bring people together.

Critique

The performances are the biggest highlight of 42. This movie moves slowly, taking its time to savor the outstandingly recreated time and atmosphere of this racially-tense era. It savors the characters too, giving Branch opportunities to show us why he is so insistent on forcing change. It lets us see Leo, the Dodgers’ manager, steadily come to the conclusion that the institutionalized racism he’s surrounded by is patently immoral.

And it lets us watch the journey, certainly somewhat fictionalized and dramatized, that Robinson has to go on from a simple desire to just play baseball to the certainty that he has a role to play and it will take all he has to break through the walls around him. Boseman is, in a word, perfect.

Great dialogue, great acting, excellent writing, an understated score, and just very well crafted emotional climaxes make 42 a very enjoyable movie experience. It’s not really a sports movie, guys, it’s more of a person movie. And it’s far and away a better movie than Lincoln.

Content warnings: Some salty language- mostly racial epithets, some mild violence.

Writing: 5           Acting: 5           Overall: 5

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Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World is strong on story and action and enhances the characters of some previously under-developed folks. It’s got fun dialogue as well.

It doesn’t have quite the spark and heart that the first one had, but it’s still solid entertainment.

You will like Thor: The Dark World if you had fun at:
Thor
Iron Man
Marvel’s The Avengers
The Amazing Spiderman

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released November 8, 2013

Written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne, and Robert Rodat. Based on the comics by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.

Directed by Alan Taylor

Starring Jaimie Alexander, Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings, Rene Russo, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Christopher Eccleston, Tadanobu Asano, Anthony Hopkins, Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Stellen Skarsgard, Idris Elba, and Chris O’Dowd.

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Thor (Hemsworth) first came to Earth, meeting Jane (Portman), Darcy (Dennings), and Eric Selvig (Skarsgard) and working with them to stop Loki and other baddies from taking over the world. Then he left, promising his beloved Jane that he would return.

But the Bifrost (the bridge between realms) was destroyed in the battle with Loki and Thor couldn’t return, although he did show up in New York City with the other Avengers a while back.

Now Thor has been trying to bring peace to the nine realms, along with his compatriots Siff (Alexander), Volstagg (Stevenson), Fandral (Levi), and Hogun (Asano). After finishing one major battle that opens the film, they think they’ve achieved their goal.

But the Convergence is coming– a time period in which the realms are very close and portals and the like open up between them. These portals cause laws of physics to go haywire on Earth, and Jane– ever the curious scientist– goes with her intern Darcy to investigate one. She stumbles through one of the portals, encountering a seething red/black substance called Aether. She is possessed by it, and this awakes some real baddies: the Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Eccleston).

These creatures want revenge on Asgard for the destruction of their planet, and they go right to it, wreaking great havoc and bringing lots of death to Asgard, at the same time that Jane is there with Thor after he went to find her. See, he’s been keeping tabs on her through Heimdall (Elba), but when she encounters the Aether, Heimdall can’t see her. So Thor goes and gets her.

Now Jane is going to die if the Aether doesn’t get out of her, but the only person who can get the Aether out is Malekith, and we don’t want Malekith to have it because it will make him unspeakably powerful and then he will proceed to destroy Midgard (Earth) and Asgard and probably more realms. Besides, Malekith is already ruthless and very powerful– he strikes at the very heart of Asgard with almost no effort.

So Thor has to get Loki’s help– and Loki has been in an Asgardian jail cell for a while now. These two can’t trust each other, but it sure is great to have them together.

So while Thor is trying to stop Malekith, Jane and her colleagues find a way that might make Malekith vulnerable and actually help save the realms. With all kinds of great visuals and solid set-pieces, we get an extended and very cool showdown.

Critique

Thor: The Dark World tells a solid, complex story that is driven by people following their hearts and getting into trouble or making deliberate trouble because of it. It’s a good, satisfying story. What would make it more satisfying is more risk for Thor, less overacting for Anthony Hopkins, more scenes between Loki and Thor, and a greater understanding of Malekith and the Dark Elves.

Highlights abound, however. There is some great humor, some of it very finely tuned and timed. Tom Hiddleston knows Loki through and through and steals every scene that he’s in. Portman can do better work than this, but she is frankly not given enough to do. Her moments with Dennings are delightful, though. Skarsgard is just great. His fragile hold on sanity makes him all the more interesting. Eccleston doesn’t get enough screen time, but he is menacing and great also.

The production values are high, of course, and the pace is wonderful- the movie feels shorter than it is, which is always a good sign.

A little more heart, a little more time spent for some characters, and Thor: The Dark World would have been the equal of the first installment. As it is, it’s worth your time and money.

Content warnings: Some minor salty language, plenty of wham-bang-destructo comic violence.

Writing: 4          Acting: 4.5          Overall: 4

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Frozen

YES! For anyone who has ever thought, “Come on, Disney princess, save yourself,” or “Wow. That’s kind of simplistic,” FROZEN is here to give you hope.

This is not only a hilarious movie that has heart, it tells a story of complex people making hard choices about being true to themselves and it is about two sisters who you just want to be friends with.

FROZEN is a spectacular movie. Thank you, Disney, for getting this movie made and doing it so right. And thank you also for casting incredible voice talent and writing simply outstanding songs.

You’re going to love FROZEN if you liked:

Beauty and the Beast
The Heat
Wall-E
Tangled

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released November 27, 2013

Written by Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, and Shane Morris. Based on the faiy tale “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen.

Directed by Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

Starring Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, and Alan Tudyk

Rated: PG

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Anna (Bell) and Elsa (Menzel) are sisters in the kingdom of Arendelle. As little kids, they were the best of friends, and they had fun playing with Elsa’s (the older of the two) power: she can freeze things and can create incredible frozen shapes. But one night, Elsa accidentally seriously injures Anna with her power, so the decision is made to remove Anna’s memory of Elsa’s power and keep the two sisters separate.

Elsa is told she must keep her power in, restrain it, not touch anybody, and live a life of isolation so as to not put anyone in danger. Anna is confused at her sister’s sudden isolation and she becomes quite lonely, despite her unflagging optimism about the world.

Of course the parents die, leaving the two sisters to be raised in the same palace, but essentially living separate lives in an isolated, closed-off home. When Elsa becomes of age to be crowned queen, the palace’s gates will be opened for the day for the festivities. But Elsa is in constant battle with her powers, and the celebration goes south after Anna meets Hans (Fontana) and they fall in true love and decide to get married.

Now Elsa decides that as long as she is separate from everybody, she can let her power go and live life on her terms. But when Elsa lets go, the entire kingdom is covered in a blistering winter. So Anna has to find Elsa and find a way to stop the threatened eternal winter. During her journey, Anna meets Kristoff (Groff) and Kristoff’s trusty reindeer, Sven. They also meet Olaf (Gad), a snowman that might be from the sisters’ childhood.

In the meantime, Hans is managing the kingdom while the Duke of Weselton (Tudyk) seems to have it in for Elsa and also seems to have a hankering for money and power.

When Anna finds Elsa, she discovers that Elsa has no idea how to stop the deadly winter. At the same time, a group of soldiers shows up and, once again, Elsa puts Anna’s life in danger by putting ice in Anna’s heart.

Now Anna needs an act of true love to save her before she becomes eternally frozen. And Elsa has to move past her guilt and anger to find out how to control her power.

And these two sisters have to do this for themselves, although they have some help along the way.

Critique

I’m not going to give anything away in my critique. No spoilers.

But you have to know that this movie features acts of true love, courage, and sacrifice that finally open the door on the meaning of the phrase ‘true love.’ You also have to know that something a goofy snowman says will absolutely make you tear up. You should also know that this movie is driven ENTIRELY BY TWO WOMEN WHO ARE DOING THEIR BEST TO FOLLOW THEIR HEARTS AND THE ENTIRETY OF THE PLOT IS DUE TO THEIR CHOICES.

So thank you, Disney. You wrote a great story.

Now. Two songs:

“Would You Like to Build a Snowman” sets the tone early: you’re going to cry. It’s so wonderful but then heartbreaking. And Kristen Bell does her own singing.

“Let it Go” is mind-blowingly powerful. It’s conflicted, beautiful, rocking, and Idina Menzel should always sing it.

Both of these need Oscar nominations and “Let it Go” needs to win. And FROZEN should win best animated picture for 2013.

It’s funny, charming, heart-rending and warming, ultimately very satisfying and hopeful, and the animation is very nice indeed. I wouldn’t mind female protagonists who don’t have caricature-level tiny, upturned noses and big eyes, but that’s a little thing.

For a movie covered in winter, ice, and snow, FROZEN is warm and powerful.

You will love this movie. Give Disney your money.

Content warnings: None. Unless you have a problem with the word ‘butt.’

Writing: 5         Acting (voice): 5         Overall: 5

Send this review to people who haven’t seen FROZEN yet and help them see the light.

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, while somewhat self-indulgent, is a better experience at the movies than the first Hobbit installment. It’s somewhat more intense, more cohesive as a story, and the acting has settled nicely.

That said, there’s a bit too much CG where there could have been creatively shot live action.

In any case, you will enjoy The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug if you liked:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
John Carter

Here’s a trailer:

The deets:

Released December 13, 2013

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, based on the books by J.R.R. Tolkien

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Evangeline Lilly, Cate Blanchett, Richard Armitage, Orlando Bloom, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, and Adam Brown

Rated: PG-13

*     *     *     *     *

Story

Thorin (Armitage) and his dwarves (all those guys), along with Bilbo (Freeman) and Gandalf (McKellen) made their escape from the albino orc and have made it past the Misty Mountains. Now they have to continue their journey to the Lonely Mountain by first passing through the realm of the elves. These elves are led by Thranduil (Pace), an ancient elf who has murky motivations and at one point reveals that there is definitely something amiss in his world. In Thranduil’s realm are Tauriel (Lilly) and Legolas (Bloom), who appear to have a budding romance going.

The dwarves are taken captive by these elves, although Tauriel and Kili (Turner) seem to hit it off rather well. In fact, Tauriel feels the dwarves are being mistreated. Meanwhile, Bilbo was not taken captive, since he was invisible, and so he sets about freeing the dwarves.

At the same time, Gandalf is out trying to find out what’s going on with the necromancer (Cumberbatch) and get to the heart of what seems to be a defeated enemy’s renascent power.

Soon we get to the barrel escape, which is fun and exciting, particularly considering the addition of the orcs on the dwarves’ trail. Legolas and Tauriel get to join in the fighting, adding even more fun.

Eventually our merry group arrives at Lake Town, with the help of a smuggler named Bard (Evans), who might have a heritage he is hiding. As the dwarves finally get to the Lonely Mountain, Bilbo now has to find the gem that they have been seeking, while at the same time Bard is trying to keep his town safe from corruption and the evil dragon that he is sure the dwarves are going to wake in the Lonely Mountain.

Sure enough, Smaug (voice of Cumberbatch) awakes. After a truly excellent sequence in Smaug’s lair, which includes a great exchange between Smaug and Bilbo, Smaug is angered and then he heads out to go wreak havoc. The dwarves try to stop him, but– well, he’s a massive dragon.

The story pauses with Smaug’s emergence.

Critique

So, we’re back in Middle Earth– and honestly, that’s all that matters to many people. Truly, the production values and overall finely tuned experience is all kinds of fun and is exactly what most people want out of these movies.

Add in the great fight sequences, some very nice group dynamics, heroism, astonishing visuals, a great dragon, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Peter Jackson in the opening scene– and you have a fun movie-going experience.

Is it as rich and satisfying as the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies? No. Nothing can ever reach that level of power, storytelling, detail, emotional arcs, and character depth.

Does Jackson use CG too much when he could be shooting live action? Yes. There are a few scenes where you just want to see a real thing in your fantasy movie.

Do we want our elves to be less unbelievably kick-ass? Actually, yes. Legolas is a little god-like, which is clearly the intent, but some risk of failure would be great.

Are these movies a little too long? Yep. The power of the stories being told is lessened because of this indulgence.

That said, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has enough going for it that the time passes without a problem. Action, fun characters, great attention to detail–

Plus, we’re back in Middle Earth.

Content warnings: Plenty of fantasy violence, mostly without gore.

Writing: 4          Acting: 5           Overall: 4.5

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