GODZILLA. I don't dislike monster movies, nor do I seek them out. So I met the news of (yet another) Godzilla with casual disinterest. But then I saw the teaser trailer. It's a marvel of editing: striking, evocative images, David Strathairn's booming monologue, all set to a ghostly chorale. And at the end, just a hint of the monster — a promise of things to come. Unfortunately, the editor for the theatrical trailer does not appear to have had much influence on the final cut of the movie. Where the former succeeded with concision, clarity and omission, the latter falters under the weight of excess. Too much story, too much CGI, too many characters. More is not always better.
The story starts in the Philippines in 1999, where a mine collapse leads to the discovery of a giant subterranean hibernation chamber. The giant occupant, whatever it is, awakens and makes its way to the ocean. Eventually, still unseen, it reaches Japan, where it destroys a nuclear power plant. The American engineer overseeing the plant, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) has an inkling that something seismically unusual is happening, but no one listens until it's too late. In the wake of the disaster, with his wife among the casualties, Joe obsesses over its cause. Cut to 15 years later, when Joe's son Lincoln (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has just returned to San Francisco from a tour of duty. (He's a U.S. Army bomb disposal expert, which will prove useful later.) No sooner has he settled in than he gets a call about his dad making trouble in Japan, trespassing on the nuclear site. Lincoln flies there to bail out Pops, at which point monsters emerge from the ocean, destroying hotels and stuff.
Tragically, we don't get to just watch monsters break things. Instead, the narrative expands around a through-line of Lincoln trying to get home to San Francisco. Of course, this puts him in the middle of every important scene, whether he has any reason to be there or not. To their credit, the cast members are all competent, compelling actors (including Elizabeth Olsen, who plays Lincoln's wife), but the script doesn't do them any favors. We never get to know the family, and their struggle at the center of the story feels incidental. It's all just filler, footage that somebody decided was necessary in the downtime between monster sequences. Although the effects are quite good and the composition of those monster sequences imparts a sense of scale that's often lacking in such things, they can't save the movie. At the end of the day, Godzilla is overlong, overburdened by narrative and entirely lacking in humor and self-awareness. PG13. 123m.
MILLION DOLLAR ARM. I expected my allergy to wholesomeness to prevent my liking this. But Disney has once again managed to overwhelm my cynicism. Even though the studio hasn't produced an animated movie that excites me for some time, its live action stuff has been, if not great, exceedingly good. With access to all the resources in the world and a legacy of second-to-none production design, there's no reason it shouldn't be producing enjoyable family entertainment. It's what Disney does.
This time out, it's the true story of JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm), an independent sports agent facing the collapse of his business. He's got one viable prospect in Popo Vanuatu (hometown hero Ray Maualuga), an All-Pro linebacker, but he's consistently being outsold by his corporate competition. With very little hope and bills accumulating, Bernstein gets an idea. He engineers an amateur touring pitching competition in India to snare cricket bowlers who could be groomed for major league pitching. At first, the idea works about as well as it sounds like it should. But eventually the contest succeeds and Bernstein heads back to LA with two young Indian athletes in tow.
Long story short, the boys end up living with him, he cultivates an unlikely relationship with the woman who rents his mother-in-law unit and we all learn a little something about family and kindness. It sounds trite in the recounting, but the movie is actually even-handed and enjoyable, sweet without being saccharine. Hamm finally gets enough screen time here to create a subtle, lived-in character with enough dimension so that you don't constantly think of Don Draper. Alan Arkin does a customarily acerbic yet kindly turn as a retired scout roped in to the proceedings. Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal, as the would-be pitchers, convey with great tact the excitement and fear that two young guys who've never left the village face in the big city. Sure, it's all a little on-the-nose, but it's sweet, unassuming and well-crafted. PG. 124m.
— John J. Bennett
BLENDED. A Sandler-Barrymore rom-com in which a mismatched pair of single parents get together for the kids on a tropical vacation. PG13. 117m.
MOMS' NIGHT OUT. Zany adventures ensue when a group of mothers take the evening off, leaving the kids with the dads. Because men taking care of children is just crazy talk. PG. 99m.
RAILWAY MAN. A traumatized former prisoner of war (Colin Firth) tracks down his Japanese captor (Hiroyuki Sanada). R. 116m.
X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. Time travel and a battle for humanity with mutants then and now. With more Professor X and Magneto drama than you can telekinetically shake a stick at. PG13. 131m.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. Andrew Garfield's sassy Spidey battles Electro (a glowing Jamie Foxx) and his frenemy Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) in a seriously fun sequel to the reboot. PG13. 143m.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER. The Avenger next door goes BAMF, this time battling the robo-armed Winter Soldier in a sequel that tops the first installment. PG13. 136m.
HEAVEN IS FOR REAL. Greg Kinnear plays the father of a boy who claims to have visited heaven in this safe and toothless family drama. PG. 99m.
NEIGHBORS. Suburban parents (Rose Byrne and Seth Rogen) go to war with the frat next door and their oft-shirtless prankster leader (Zac Efron) in this crude but effective comedy R. 97m.
THE OTHER WOMAN. Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton are women done wrong by a clichéd plot and a thrown-together script. PG13. 109m.
RIO 2. Endangered macaws Blu and Jewel are back for franchise cash — ahem — and to find long-lost family in the Amazon. It's a mess, but a colorful one the kids seem to like. G. 101m.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill