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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Hoot Scoops: summer movies

Published: August 22, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

After the priest in a small Irish town has his life threatened during confession, he seeks to find the killer while healing the damaged people around him. This is how “Calvary,” one of the best movies in years, begins before taking the viewer on a sad and moving journey. In his brilliant follow up to 2011’s “The Guard,” writer-director John Michael McDonagh has painted a beautiful picture of faith, trauma and self-hatred unlike almost anything I’ve ever seen. Brendan Gleeson is unbelievable as the protagonist Father James, proving himself as one of the best actors of our generation. The supporting cast, including a serious turn from Chris O’Dowd and “Game of Thrones’” Aiden Gillen, is also top notch, as are the script, the music and the beautiful cinematography. It may not have been filmed over 12 years, but “Calvary” is the best drama of the summer.

The best thing about Lucy is that it’s only 90 minutes long. That being said, there are better things you could do with an hour and a half. You could get through airport security, onto a plane and take off. Or you could walk to the UPS store in Watertown and ship a package (betcha didn’t know that!). You could even stare at a looped Vine of someone running into a wall two hundred times—it would be just as fulfilling. Lucy is a movie without any real characters or plot. There is better character development in the State Farm “Khakis” commercial. There have been episodes of Arthur that are more moving. Scarlett Johansson’s paper-thin “character” is accidentally introduced to a drug that gradually gives her access to her untapped brain potential (based on the bad science that humans only use 20 percent of their brains). And she can do all sorts of stuff, like moving stuff with her mind or turning on and off gravity. So then you kind of just watch her experiment for 90 minutes. There are explosions. And, in the end, I kid you not, Lucy turns into a flash drive containing all the information of the universe. A flash drive. Worse than the fact that there is no redeeming quality to the narrative is the faux intellectual garbage that director Luc Besson hits you with for the entire movie (What is the meaning of life anyway?) This movie is so bad that it’s not even funny bad. You can’t even laugh at how bad it is. It is just awful.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
I grew up with the Ninja Turtles. I woke up in the morning to watch their animated adventures every Saturday, I had all the action figures, and I knew the theme song by heart. I still know the theme song pretty well. As such, I wasn’t exactly happy when I learned that master of explosions and nonsense Michael Bay was producing the new movie, even though he wasn’t writing or directing it. I was totally right to be scared. The 2014 editions of the heroes in a half shell are actually competent in capturing of the classic and fun personas I grew up with. In juxtaposition to the mess in Bay’s “Transformers” films and scenes with them and their giant-rat ninja master Splinter are very fun and action packed. Unfortunately these scenes only take up about 40 percent of the movie. The rest of it focuses on Megan Fox as intrepid reporter April O’Neil, who in this version was responsible for the creation of the turtles and even naming them. These scenes are boring, make no sense and feel like they were edited into a better TMNT movie, the rest of which is lost forever. If only the Ninja Turtles film was actually about the Turtles, it could have been great. But it wasn’t, and it’s not, and I was just left wanting to re-watch the old cartoon.

Unique and innovative, “Boyhood” traces the lives of a fictional young boy, Mason, and his family over the course of 12 years in a two hour and 45 minute long movie. As the director shot the movie a few days at a time for over a decade, viewers form a connection to the cast as they literally see them age. Starting in kindergarten and ending at college orientation, viewers are able to virtually experience the realities of growing up. While the movie definitely kept my attention, it is not a movie I would see again. “Boyhood” is worth seeing mainly due to the unique filmmaking process, but the storyline often feels too dramatic. After all, how many hardships did the writers really need to make one family face? If you are looking for a depiction of an average American child and their upbringing, this is not a movie for you.

The myths of Hercules could fill a compendium. They are so vast and varied in number, scope, style and topic that to link any number of them into a continuous movie sequence should be, on paper, the easiest thing to do. Brett Ratner, the director, on the other hand, decided that he needed to add to Hercules’ legend, creating a brand new story that barely registered a plotline worthy of the name. The entire premise of the movie seemed to be rooted in the idea that all Hercules ever needed to do to defeat his enemies and conquer his demons was flex—an act that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson did consistently and with supreme aplomb, pausing every three frames to grace the viewer with closeups of his oiled quadriceps and pectorals. The dialogue was instantly forgettable; each character spoke with an American drawl, while Johnson as Hercules slipped in and out of a quasi British American accent, unsure of which to use to start a sentence and which to use to end it. Every now and again, the narrator, a wise old warrior-seer, would chime in with a question that the movie was supposed to answer, “Is he truly the son of Zeus, you ask? Or is he just a mortal man, driven to greatness?” The closest the audience gets to the answer is the image of Dwayne Johnson straining against ropes, flexing every muscle he knows how to flex, screaming “I am Hercules!” The closest the entire farce gets to greatness is in the fact that someone convinced poor Brett Ratner that a new Hercules story was anything close to a good idea.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”
Probably the best movie of the summer, How to Train Your Dragon 2 was a brilliant amalgamation of children’s story and dark adult fantasy. The movie brings back the loveable, relatable and well-defined characters of its prequel, and adds in a cast of new characters, including Kit Harrington as Eret, a dragon trapper who sells dragons to the new evil in Hiccup’s world. The movie takes the audience on a dark journey filled with delightful storytelling. Themes of despair and loss are fully realized, but the tensions are offset by wonderfully timed comedy and adventure. The movie, ostensibly meant for all ages, is perhaps not meant for children under the age of 11—scenes in the movie are sometimes quite poignant and cutting—but it is perfectly acceptable for any adult, and carries more creativity, better acting and story than any other movie that has come out this summer.