REVIEW: NOAH

Starring

Russell Crowe (The Nice Guys)
Jennifer Connelly (Hulk)
Emma Watson (Harry Potter)
Ray Winstone (The Gunman)
Logan Lerman (The Three Musketeers)
Douglas Booth (Jupiter Ascending)
Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal)
Marton Csokas (The Equalizer)
Madison Davenport (Sharp Objects)
Frank Langella (Masters of The Universe)
Nick Nolte (Gangster Squad)
Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad)
Kevin Durand (Dark Angel)
Jack Angel (A.I.)

Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in Noah (2014)As a young boy, Noah witnesses his father, Lamech, killed by a young Tubal-cain. Years later, an adult Noah lives with his wife Naameh and their sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth. After seeing a flower grow instantly from the ground and being haunted by dreams of a great flood, Noah takes them to visit his grandfather Methuselah.Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Douglas Booth, and Leo McHugh Carroll in Noah (2014)They encounter a group of people recently killed and take in and adopt the lone survivor, a girl named Ila. Ila is treated for an abdominal wound and will survive, but Naameh determines that she will be unable to have children. Noah and his family are chased by the murderers and seek refuge with the fallen angels known as the “Watchers”, in whose territory Methuselah lives. The Watchers are confined on Earth as stone golems for helping humans banished from the Garden of Eden. Methuselah gives Noah a seed from Eden and tells Noah that he was chosen for a reason. Returning to his tent that night, Noah plants the seed in the ground. The Watchers arrive the next morning and debate whether they should help Noah until they see water spout from the spot where Noah planted the seed. After a forest grows instantly, the Watchers agree to help Noah and his family build an ark.Emma Watson in Noah (2014)After birds fly to the ark, Tubal-cain arrives with his followers and confronts Noah. Noah defies Tubal-cain and remarks that there is no escape for the line of Cain. Tubal-cain retreats and decides to build weapons to defeat the Watchers and take the ark. As the ark nears completion, animals of various species enter the ark and are sedated with incense. With Ila having become enamored of Shem, Noah goes to a nearby settlement to find wives for Ham and Japheth but, seeing the settlers selling their daughters for food, he abandons his effort and begins believing that the Creator wants all of humanity dead. He tells his family that he will not seek wives for his younger sons. After the flood, they will be the last humans and there will be no new human generations.Russell Crowe in Noah (2014)Devastated that he will be alone his entire life, Ham runs into the forest. Naameh begs Noah to reconsider but, when he will not, she goes to Methuselah for help. Ila encounters Methuselah who cures her infertility. Ham, searching for a wife on his own, befriends the refugee Na’el. After it starts raining, Tubal-cain becomes angry that he was not chosen to be saved and incites his followers to make a run for the ark. Noah finds Ham in the forest and forces Ham to save himself, but leaves Na’el to die when she is caught in an animal trap. Noah’s family enter the ark except for Methuselah, who remains in the forest and is swept away by the rushing waters. The Watchers fight off Tubal-cain and his mob of followers, sacrificing themselves and ascending to heaven, their reward for protecting Noah. As the flood drowns the remaining humans, an injured Tubal-cain climbs onto the ark and solicits Ham, playing on anger toward Noah for allowing Na’el to die.Jennifer Connelly and Russell Crowe in Noah (2014)Ila discovers she is pregnant as the rains stop and begs the Creator to let the child live. Noah interprets the ending of the rain to mean he must ensure the extinction of humans and, against his wife’s protests, resolves that, if the child is a girl, he will kill her. Months pass, and Ila and Shem build a raft to escape Noah’s resolve, but Noah discovers and burns it. Ila then starts feeling labor pains and gives birth to twin girls. After Ham calls Noah telling him the beasts are awake and eating each other, Tubal-cain emerges and attempts to hit Noah. Noah and Tubal-cain engage in combat. Shem promises Ila that Noah will not harm their daughters and goes to stop him. He attacks Noah as Tubal-cain falls to the ground only to be knocked out. Tubal-cain eventually forces Noah to the edge of the raft, but Ham kills him with a dagger before he can shove Noah in the ocean. Noah picks himself up and finds Ila and the babies, intending to kill the children, but spares them upon looking at his granddaughters and only feeling love.Jennifer Connelly in Noah (2014)Upon exiting the ark on the new land, a shameful Noah goes into isolation in a nearby cave, making wine in which to drown his sorrows. Ham expresses disappointment for his father’s current state of unseemly drunkenness and nakedness before leaving his kin to live alone. Having reconciled at the behest of Ila, Noah blesses the family as the beginning of a new human race and all witness waves of immense celestial rainbows.Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Douglas Booth, and Leo McHugh Carroll in Noah (2014)There is a lot of brutal, gory, violent and disturbing content and some sexuality in this, none of it gratuitous. I recommend this to anyone not put off by it being based on a Genesis account or the fact that it takes liberties with it.

REVIEW: WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS

CAST

Michael Douglas (Traffic)
Shia LaBeouf (Eagle Eye)
Carey Mulligan (Drive)
Josh Brolin (Planet Terror)
Frank Langella (Masters of The Universe)
Jason Clarke (Terminator Genisys)
Charlie Sheen (Rated X)
Eli Wallach (The Godfather- Part III)
Susan Sarandon (Tammy)
Natalie Morales (Santa Clarita Diet)

Shia LaBeouf in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)In 2001, Gordon Gekko is released from prison after serving time for insider trading and securities fraud. In 2008, Gekko is promoting his new book Is Greed Good?, warning about a coming economic downturn. His estranged daughter, Winnie, runs a small, non-profit news website and is dating Jacob Moore, a top trader at Keller Zabel Investments (KZI). Jacob, a protégé of KZI managing director Louis Zabel, has been raising money for Dr. Masters and his fusion research project, which might create abundant clean energy. Jake is also financially assisting his mother, Sylvia, who has quit nursing to speculate in residential real estate.Michael Douglas and Shia LaBeouf in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)In the early stages of the downturn predicted by Gekko, KZI’s stock loses more than 50% of its value. Louis Zabel tries to arrange a bailout for KZI from other Wall Street banks but is blocked by Bretton James, head of rival firm Churchill Schwartz (Church), which KZI had refused to help during the dot-com bubble years earlier. Despondent, Zabel commits suicide by jumping in front of a subway train. A distraught Jacob proposes marriage to Winnie, who accepts. Jacob attends a lecture given by Gekko and introduces himself. Gekko tells him that KZI’s collapse started when Bretton spread rumors of KZI having toxic debt. Jacob and Gekko arrange a trade: Jacob will try to reconcile Winnie’s and Gekko’s relationship, and Gekko will gather information to destroy Bretton for his actions against KZI and for providing evidence against Gekko years ago. In revenge, Jake illegally manipulates the market by spreading rumors about the nationalization of a foreign oil field which Church has invested in. The company loses $120 million, but Bretton gives Jake a job, impressed by his initiative. Jake further impresses Bretton when he convinces Chinese investors to invest in the fusion project through Church.Michael Douglas, Josh Brolin, and Shia LaBeouf in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)Jake attends a $10,000-a-seat fundraiser with Winnie, buying a seat for Gekko to facilitate a “chance” meeting. Gekko confronts Bretton about what he did to him and to KZI. Bretton replies that no one cares what Gekko thinks anymore. Gekko also bumps into Bud Fox, and they discuss their shared experience going to jail. Gekko follows Winnie outside, where she explains why she blames him for everything that went wrong, stemming from his affairs and her brother Rudy’s suicide. Gekko claims he worked, from prison, to get the best therapists and even paid off a drug dealer to stop selling to Rudy, who died from an overdose. Winnie forgives him.Shia LaBeouf and Carey Mulligan in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)As the financial crisis accelerates, Bretton and business mentor Julius Steinhardt advise federal regulators to buy their multibillion-dollar subprime loans. As real estate collapses, Jake helps out Sylvia with his own money. Shortly after Winnie informs Jake that she is expecting their first child, Jake learns that Bretton is diverting the Chinese investment into underperforming solar panels, which are not a threat to his large position in fossil fuels. Gekko soon informs Jake that Bretton had secretly made huge profits betting against subprime loans yet still accepted the feds massive bailout. Gekko proposes using a $100 million trust fund account, which he hid in Switzerland for Winnie in the 1980s, to fund the fusion research. She signs the money over to Jake, not knowing he would entrust it to Gekko to complete the investment. When Gekko betrays them by leaving the country with the money, Winnie breaks up with Jake. Gekko sets up a hugely successful investment company in London, capitalized by the $100 million. Jake visits him to propose a new trade: Winnie gets her money back, and Gekko can participate in his grandchild’s life. Gekko refuses.Shia LaBeouf in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)Jake pieces together all the details of Bretton’s dealings, from KZI’s collapse through to his unnecessary government bailout of Bretton’s company. He gives the information to Winnie, telling her that revealing it will bring her website publicity and credibility. When Winnie runs the story, Bretton finds himself under intense government scrutiny while his company’s investors move all their money to Gekko’s firm, which recently posted a $1.1 billion return on investment. Jake has successfully reunited with Winnie in New York, when late one night Gekko appears, apologizes and tells them that he has anonymously deposited $100 million into the fusion research account. One year later, Gekko, Sylvia and other family and friends attend the first birthday party of Louis, Jacob and Winnie’s son.29825-001Not quite as good as the first Wall Street, but good enough in presenting a quintessential villain as an expository mouthpiece for the many failings of Western capitalism.

 

REVIEW: MUPPETS MOST WANTED

CAST

Ricky Gervais (Ghost Town)
Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
Tina Fey (30 Rock)
Steve Whitmore (The Dark Crystal)
Eric Jacobson (Sesame Street)
Dave Goetz (Inside Out)
Bill Barretta (When Families Grieve)
Matt Vogel (Alice Through The Looking Glass)
Tony Bennett (Analyze This)
Hugh Bonneville (Paddington)
Jemaine Clement (Legion)
Sean Combs (Get Him To The Greek)
Rob Corddry (Warm Bodies)
Mackenzie Crook (One Chance)
Celine Dion (The Magic Sword)
Lady Gaga (Sin City 2)
Zach Gilifianakis (The Hangover)
Josh Grodin (The Hollars)
Salma Hayek (Dogma)
Tom Hiddleston (Thor)
Tom Hollander (Mission Impossible 5)
Toby Jones (Atomic Blonde)
Frank Langella (Superman Returns)
Ray Liotta (Hannibal)
James McAvoy (X-Men: First Class)
Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass)
Usher Raymond (She’s All That)
Miranda Richardson (Sleepy Hollow)
Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones)
Russell Tovey (Being Human)
Danny Trejo (Machete)
Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games)
Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes)
Dylan Postl (Leprechaun Origins)

Following the events of the previous film, The Muppets find themselves at a loss as to what to do until Dominic Badguy suggests the Muppets go on a European tour with him as their tour manager. As the Muppets begin their tour, a criminal mastermind named Constantine, a near-exact double for Kermit the Frog in appearance, escapes from a Siberian Gulag and joins his subordinate Dominic to begin a plot to steal the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom.Once the Muppets arrive in Berlin, Germany, Dominic secures them a show at a prestigious venue. Frustrated with the group’s incessant requests and Miss Piggy’s insistence they marry, Kermit goes for a walk at Dominic’s suggestion. Constantine ambushes him and glues a fake mole onto his cheek then slips away. Mistaken for Constantine, Kermit is arrested and sent to the Gulag. Taking Kermit’s place, Constantine’s blunders in imitating him are covered by Dominic; however, Animal knows the truth. After the Berlin performance opens with Constantine freezing at the audience, Scooter has to introduce the show. Constantine and Dominic steal paintings from a museum while the Muppets perform. The next morning, Interpol agent Jean Pierre Napoleon and CIA agent Sam the Eagle grudgingly team up to apprehend the culprit whom Napoleon believes to be his nemesis “The Lemur” – the number-two criminal in the world.Meanwhile, Kermit has attempted several times to escape the Gulag but is thwarted each time by prison guard Nadya, who is not only aware of his true identity but is as infatuated with him as Miss Piggy is. Nadya orders Kermit to help organize the prisoners’ annual talent show.Following hidden instructions on the stolen painting, Constantine and Dominic divert the tour to Madrid, Spain. Constantine allows the Muppets to perform whatever they wish, much to Walter’s confusion. During this show, Constantine and Dominic break into a museum and destroy a roomful of busts to find a key needed for their plan. Even though the performance is a disaster, the Muppets receive critical acclaim. Sam and Napoleon deduce that the connection between the crimes is the Muppet tour, and the pair interrogates the Muppets, only to find that they are too ill-equipped to be guilty. The instructions on the stolen key lead Constantine and Dominic to schedule the next show in Dublin, Ireland.In Dublin, Walter discovers that Dominic has been giving away show tickets and bribing critics to ensure a packed house and rave reviews, while Fozzie Bear notices Kermit’s resemblance to Constantine. They both realize that Constantine has taken Kermit’s place and brought in Dominic as his accomplice. Constantine attacks Walter and Fozzie, but Animal fends him off and the three escape from the train to rescue Kermit. During the Dublin performance, Dominic steals a locket from a museum and Constantine proposes to Miss Piggy onstage; Piggy accepts, and the pair plan a ceremony to be held at the Tower of London in London, England, where the Crown Jewels are kept.Fozzie, Walter, and Animal reach the Siberian Gulag on the night of the performance, and Kermit uses it as a front to allow them, himself, and all the prisoners to escape the Gulag. Kermit, Fozzie, Walter, and Animal infiltrate the Tower as the wedding begins, and Dominic (with the help of Bobby Benson’s Baby Band) manages to steal the jewels.Kermit interrupts the ceremony, revealing Constantine’s ruse, but the crook takes Piggy hostage and flees to a helicopter, where he is intercepted by Dominic, who is actually the Lemur and intends to double-cross him. Constantine ejects him from the helicopter and tries to take off with Piggy, but Kermit jumps aboard and the rest of the Muppets climb atop each other to stop the escape. Kermit and Piggy knockout Constantine and both criminals are arrested. Nadya arrives in London to arrest Kermit for escaping. The other Muppets tell her that if she arrests him, then she will have to take all of them as well; she relents, allowing Kermit to go free. The Muppets perform at the Gulag with Constantine and the prisoners participating, ending the film.The heart and soul of the film is about the way the characters manage to bring a sense of togetherness and unity to the Muppets and how this unity brings joy to all those around. Throughout the film, Kermit manages to be a core reminder as to why The Muppets are generously wonderful creations for the world: the optimism, the kindness, the laughter: everything combines to form a strong impression that both children and adults can feel completely enamoured by. This is a film that is full of magic and it sits alongside The Muppets magnificently and is not to be missed.

REVIEW: SUPERMAN RETURNS

CAST

Brandon Routh (Legends of Tomorrow)
Kate Bosworth (Wonderland)
Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)
James Marsden(X-Men)
Parker Posey (Blade: Trinity)
Frank Langella (All Good Things)
Sam Huntington (Fanboys)
Eve Marie Saint (On The Waterfront)
Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
Kal Penn (Van Wilder)
Tristan Lake Leabu (While The Children Sleep)
Jack Larson (Adventures of Superman)
Noel Neill (Superman 1948)
Peta Wilson (La Femme Nikita)
Dan Ewing (Power Rangers RPM)

brandon-routh-in-superman-returnsSuperman Returns opens in a world without a Superman. The Man of Steel (Brandon Routh) left Earth without a word of warning, spending the past five years investigating the ruins of his home planet of Krypton. The world he left behind has suffered in his absence, prompting an embittered Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) to pen a Pulitzer Prize winning article titled “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman”. He’s able to return to his life in Metropolis as Clark Kent with ease, but the world he knew has changed. Lois now has a fiancé (James Marsden), the nephew of Daily Planet publisher Perry White (Frank Langella), and she’s also mother to a young, asthmatic son. Most of the world at large is thrilled to have Superman return as its savior with the exception, of course, of Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey). Fresh out of prison and flush with cash, Luthor has discovered Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and schemes to use its advanced alien technology to wipe out most of North America and create his own continent.Bryan Singer isn’t a director shamelessly trying to cash in on a high profile franchise. This is clearly a movie by someone with boundless passion for the material, and Superman Returns is a worthy follow-up to Richard Donner’s films. Singer has done a remarkable job staying true to Donner’s vision from a quarter-century earlier while still feeling rooted in the here and now. Most of the campier elements from the earlier movies have been gutted. Ned Beatty’s Otis has been discarded, and Superman Returns’s equivalent of Miss Teschmacher has been dialed down a few notches, even if the character is still ultimately useless. Kevin Spacey’s spin on Lex Luthor is faithful to Gene Hackman’s performance while having more of a menacing edge. Spacey’s Luthor seems like a genuine threat in Superman Returns, not just a wealthy, eccentric goof, and his eventual confrontation with the Man of Steel in the finale is wincingly brutal. I’m not entirely sure why he’s convinced a barren, uninhabitable rock of an island would have any resale value, but that’s beside the point.Taking the reins from the late Christopher Reeve after his near-legendary turn as such an iconic character must have been indescribably daunting, but Brandon Routh does a tremendous job as both Clark Kent and Superman. His Kent in particular is a seamless transition from where Reeve left off and is a pitch-perfect recreation of the nervous energy and awkwardness he brought to the character. Routh does play a very different Superman, however. Superman may be a strange being from another world, but Reeve exuded the kind of warmth you’d expect from someone embodying truth, justice, and the American way. Routh’s colder, more alien Superman is in keeping with the tone of the story, where he’s been removed from humanity for five years and feels detached from the world at large, but I didn’t feel nearly as strong an attachment to him.maxresdefault

Routh is about the same age that Reeve was when cameras started rolling on the original Superman film, but he looks so much younger that it’s easy to forget occasionally that this is supposed to be Superman Returns, not Superman Begins. I have some slight misgivings about the way Superman was handled in this film, but if the rumors of an impending sequel are true, I’m looking forward to seeing what Routh brings to the character the second time.
Kevin Spacey and Kal Penn in Superman Returns (2006)
With most action movies, it seems as if a small army of writers scattered themselves across a conference table, brainstormed the most elaborate, over the top, effects-driven sequences they could imagine, and then haphazardly tossed together a story to string ’em all together. I was left with the opposite reaction to Superman Returns. Singer paints Superman as some sort of messianic figure who’s a savior, not a fighter, and he literally doesn’t throw a punch in the entire movie. There are several phenomenal effects sequences that are certain to get pulses racing — the world’s re-introduction to Superman as he rescues a plane that’s careening into the stratosphere, steadying a crumbling Metropolis as Luthor sets his megalomaniacal scheme into motion, and sparing hundreds of millions from certain death in the film’s closing moments — but those really just see Superman intervening as disaster looms. Only a bank robbery has Superman struggling against an actual opponent, although even much of what happens there is passive; Superman just stands there and lets ricocheting bullets do the work for him. I’m not trying to downplay what an adrenaline rush these sequences are, but one of the most frequent criticisms of Superman Returns has been its lack of action. I admittedly did not find the movie at all dull despite the lack of Kryptonian soldiers or twenty story robots.Lois is in love with Superman but never felt it thanks to the utter lack of chemistry between Bosworth and Routh. At least Margot Kidder managed to sell Lois as a spunky reporter, but Bosworth doesn’t even attempt to capture that sort of tenacity. Bosworth also seems much too young for the role; she looks like she may have just gotten her undergraduate degree in Journalism, but a seasoned, Pulitzer Prize winning writer? Not so much. Bosworth is passable but instantly forgettable. Giving Lois a son also strikes me as a misfire. Hollywood has been churning out action sequels for decades now, and in the history of cinema, there have been two…maybe three…cases where adding a kid into the sequel wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. For some inexplicable reason, directors are determined to keep trying, and Lois’ wheezing tyke is as ill-conceived an idea as ever. Give the audience a little credit for being able to suss out the kid’s parentage from word one too.Bryan Singer’s sequel inhabits the same world as Richard Donner’s films, but the core of the story is almost excessively faithful to the original. A spaceship crashes to Earth from the long-dead planet of Krypton. Superman makes his presence known to the world by rescuing intrepid reporter Lois Lane from a mishap involving an aircraft. He later has a rooftop interview with Lois and whisks her across the night sky. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor schemes to cash in on the creation of new beachfront real estate at the cost of untold millions of lives, and he has his ditzy but good-hearted moll feign danger as a distraction for a theft. Luthor gets his hands on some Kryptonite to bring Superman to his knees near the climax, and it all ends with the Man of Steel soaring heroically into space. Roll credits.8610986058_9dfa00c53c_bI didn’t have a problem watching Superman Returns a few months after Donner’s Superman, but sitting through the two back-to-back would undoubtedly inspire a nasty case of déjà vu. Sometimes its adoration of Donner’s original works incredibly well, though. It’s a thrill to hear John Williams’ instantly recognizable orchestral score again, and reincorporating some digitally manipulated archival footage of Marlon Brando is a clever and effective touchstone.film_supermanreturns_featureimage_desktop_1600x900The movie is littered with subtle nods to various incarnations of Superman, from the casting of Noel Neill and Jack Larson to an homage to the cover of Action Comics #1 . For months, I’d heard Superman Returns praised, assaulted, analyzed, and dissected from every conceivable angle. It’s such a polarizing movie that I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be when I got around to seeing it, but I never expected to feel so completely indifferent. Superman Returns is a movie I appreciate on a great many levels, but for something so enormously anticipated, just being okay doesn’t seem like enough.

 

REVIEW: ALL GOOD THINGS

 

CAST

Ryan Gosling (The Ides of MArch)
Kirsten Dunst (Bring It On)
Frank Langella (Lolita)
Lily Rabe (No Reservations)
Philip Baker Hall (Bruce Almighty)
Michael Esper (Runner Runner)
Kristen Wiig (Zoolander 2)

Nick Offerman (Sing)
Zabryna Guevara (Gotham)
Zoe Lister-Jones (New Girl)
William Jackson Harper (The Good Place)

 

1It is one of those “inspired by a true story” affairs, taking its narrative cues from the tabloid-friendly troubles of Robert Durst, son of a wealthy New York real estate mogul, suspected of committing (or at least being involved in) three separate murders in New York, California, and Texas. Here renamed David Marks (presumably to avoid a nice, fat lawsuit), he is played by Ryan Gosling in a live-wire performance as a free spirit who can imagine no fate worse than going into the family business; he’s handsome and charming, and when he meets Katie McCarthy (a sunny Kirsten Dunst), they hit it off right away. They marry and go to Vermont to live the charmed life, but his father (Frank Langella) turns the screws on him to join the family business, and convinces David that he’ll have to make a good living to keep Katie happy–planting a seed of resentment towards Katie that’s manufactured out of sheer fiction.

As David sinks into his depressing job, a darkness is gradually revealed–a troublesome undercurrent, a deep and somewhat worrisome unhappiness that manifests itself in “voices” both in his head and out loud. Soon, David becomes both psychologically and physically abusive, prone to violent outbursts, capable of losing his tenuous grasp on reality. “Does that girl know how fucked up you are?” a friend asks him. To her detriment, she does not.

The film’s most basic, fundamental strength is how it refuses to give itself away; it is masterful in its ability to slowly uncoil its revelations, to allow dread and misfortune to seep in from the edges of the frame until the situation comes to a scary–and somewhat inevitable–head. But then the film jumps a full 18 years ahead (ballsy), and that’s when things get really weird.

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Director Jarecki, who helmed the unforgettable 2003 documentary Capturing the Friedmans, makes the wise choice to play even the most bonkers material straight (with the notable exception of the deliberately, almost comically, melodramatic score, which is like something out of a vintage DePalma picture). His background as a documentarian is one of the film’s greatest assets–not just for his attention to detail and authenticity, but for his refusal to snicker at even the strangest story twists.

He’s also got a real way with actors–Gosling is somehow both impenetrable and impossible to take your eyes off of, and this is without question Dunst’s best work to date. She’s been a little scarce lately, so it’s good to see her from the beginning, and in their scenes of flirtation and romantic glow, she’s cute, warm, and charismatic. But she moves easily into the picture’s darker corners, her keenly-felt performance a stirring slow-motion account of a woman going right to pieces. It’s a tremendous piece of work.

REVIEW: MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE

CAST

Dolph Lundgren (Kindergarten Cop 2)
Frank Langella (The Box)
Meg Foster (Hercules: TLJ)
Billy Barty (Legend)
Courteney Cox (Scream)
Robert Duncan McNeill (Star Trek: Voyager)
Jon Cypher (Batman Beyond)
Chelsea Field (Commando)
James Tolkan (Top Gun)
Christina Pickles (The Wedding singer)
Anthony De Longis (Highlander: The Series)

he-man-gwildor-04272017The battle between good and evil stretches across the galaxy in Masters of the Universe, starting on the planet Eternia in the height of a siege on Castle Grayskull by the sorcerer Skeletor (Frank Langella). He’s obtained a way of traveling across long distances, even time, with a “cosmic key” that gave him the advantage in taking Castle Grayskull, leaving its defenders in disarray across the land’s outskirts. In an attempt to reclaim the area with the help of Gwildor (Billy Barty), the scientist who designed the key, He-Man and his compadres, Man-at-Arms (Jon Cypher) and Teela (Chelsea Field), make an attempt to reclaim the castle; but, in a fit of desperation, are transported to 1980s Earth, and lose the key in the process. Masters of the Universe transforms into a fish-out-of-water action-comedy at this point — think Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home meets Conan the Barbarian — where He-Man and his team scramble to hunt down the cosmic key with the help of two kids formerly in love: Julie (Courtney Cox in her first film role) and Kevin (Robert Duncan McNeill). Skeletor’s minions, led by the piercing gazes of Evil-Lyn (Meg Foster), aren’t far behind, and they’ll make sure He-Man’s trip back won’t be an easy one.I Masters of the Universe throws together some fairly cool-looking sword-‘n-sorcery set pieces that blur from Eternia over to Earth, which still possess a certain draw through their practical application. Director Gary Goddard and his production/art crew concentrated their efforts to achieving a full-bodied visual style that’d enthrall a wide range of audiences; the throne room at Castle Gayskull is a grand, handmade mythical space that’s given depth through cleverly-placed matte paintings, while intricate costume work achieves a blend of cinematic curio and “toy-ready” appeal. Playing into that, Frank Langella disappears into the prosthetics and make-up of Skeletor, while the angles and contours created with his stark-white facial moldings still capture the stone-faced force of his performance. Also, the practical Star Wars-esque effects built within certain scenes — lightning from Skeletor’s hands, the crack of an electric whip, and the movement of air gliders — give it a familiar whimsy, while wearing influences clearly on its sleeve.Grandeur can’t hide the perfunctory, unimaginative plotting at its core though, overflowing with moustache-twirling villains and goofy keep-it-rolling storytelling that’s more of a chore than charismatic. While Gary Goddard and The Dark Crystal screenwriter David Odell (among other uncredited writers) draw influence from Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” comic series for its grand essence, basic contrivances are what flimsily glue the chapters together; secret passages conveniently lead to locations where He-Man and his crew need to be, grappling hooks grab things in the nick of time, and they always have the materials they need on-hand to repair elaborate tech. Perhaps that’s a part of making the film accessible to other audiences, almost like a darker version of one of the cartoons, but there’s a missing layer that prevents it from bottling the adventuresome magic needed. A few well-written “stranger in a strange land” moments add to the experience, such as how the Eternians react to eating a bowl of fried chicken, but they’re eclipsed by nagging goofball things like how Gwildor makes his cosmic space-travel device work by just sporadically banging on the keys for varying lengths of time.Still, Dolph Lundgren throws Masters of the Universe over his burly shoulders and stoically lugs it through active laser-pistol duels and frantic searches for the key to get back to Eternia, piecing together into a bearable journey that’s not without its own mindless fun. In his sparse warrior garb and shoulder armor that bare almost every muscle he’s got, Lundgren fits the bill of the sword-wielding hero really well — a visually-comparable, noble PG answer to Arnie’s Conan. His rapport with Skeletor is an overt black-and-white conflict, full of gallant speeches and calls of superiority in the cosmos, yet there’s an admirable quality in the straight-faced, scenery-chewing pomposity that Frank Langella evokes in the arch-nemesis. Clunky battles and higher-than-high stakes shove Gary Goddard’s film towards an unsurprising climax, but at least it stays consistent all the way up to that odd-defying moment everyone’s expecting: where the hero confidently stands and insist that he does, indeed, have the power.