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Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Reviews

17 Mar 2016
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Just as he did with the first Cloverfield, producer J.J. Abrams has again managed to sneak a movie into multiplexes under a shroud of secrecy and mystery: With a little more than a couple of months’ notice, a film shot under the code name Valencia became 10 Cloverfield Lane. What’s the significance of the word “Cloverfield” in that movie title? Abrams is calling this film a blood relative to the original found-footage monster movie. This new film is not a found footage film, thank god, but after seeing it, I can tell you the title is not misleading—although you shouldn’t go to this thinking you will see the monster from Cloverfield laying waste to middle America. It’s a much different kind of movie. The film starts with Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on an urgent phone call with somebody. She grabs her keys, hits the road and drives for what appears…
10 Mar 2016
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Tina Fey makes a seamless transition to slightly more dramatic fare with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the story of a female journalist dropped into the middle of the war in Afghanistan. Based on the book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker, the film has a M*A*S*H vibe to it when it is at its best. Fey gets plenty of chances to be funny, but this is her meatiest role yet; it allows her to show off a more serious side as an actress. When her life in New York gets too humdrum, Kim (Fey) winds up in Afghanistan—despite having no major field-reporting experience. Before she knows it, she’s dodging RPGs and filing stories nobody cares about. She has standard long-distance relationship problems on top of that, along with an onsite romance with a freelance photographer (Martin Freeman). Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (co-directors…
10 Mar 2016
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Disney has delivered another animated winner with Zootopia, a cute, uplifting story with a surprising dark side. It’s the sort of movie that’ll have kids asking parents questions about some tough topics—while entertaining anyone who sits down to watch it. Judy (Ginnifer Goodwin, in a performance worthy of the Voice Acting Hall of Fame) is a little bunny determined to be the first bunny cop on the force in Zootopia, a metropolis populated by animals. However, she faces a lot of opposition—both because she’s a bunny and a girl. Judy beats insurmountable odds, and winds up on the force, much to the chagrin Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). The chief assigns her to traffic, of course, where she meets up with shifty fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman) who is running an ingenious Popsicle scam. When some mammals come up missing, Judy finds herself on the case. She eventually enlists the help…
07 Mar 2016
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Norway takes a crack at a Hollywood-style disaster flick with The Wave, a tsunami thriller rife with clichés—but surprisingly light on actual disaster. Kristian (Kristoffer Joner, who looks like the result of a romantic getaway between Norman Reedus and Kevin Bacon) is getting ready for a job change: He’s going to move away from scientifically obsessing over a mountain pass in Norway to take a gig in the oil industry. You see, this particular mountain pass was the setting for a major tsunami many years ago, and his heart rate goes up every time the mountain twitches a bit. He’s got a pretty wife, Idun (Ane Dahl Torp); a cranky teenage skateboarder son named Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro); and a precocious little daughter. They are all set to start their new life away from the mountain pass when the ground starts to shimmy; the computer-alarm thingamajigs start to blink a…
03 Mar 2016
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Goddammit, when is somebody going to ban gum-chewing in movies? I’m a card-carrying Keanu Reeves fan, but he started the whole “Gum Chewing Action Star” thing with Speed, and it’s become such a distracting, cheap acting trick. Well, knock it off, Hollywood actors! You will never surpass the gum-chewing prowess immortalized by Reeves in Speed. He is, always has been, and shall remain the gum-chewing action guy king! The culprit this time out is Casey Affleck in Triple 9, the latest film from super-reliable director John Hillcoat. Affleck plays Chris, a new cop among a fleet of bad cops who distinguishes himself by, you guessed it, chewing gum a lot. He doesn’t just chew that gum, either: He cracks it, he pops it, moves it all over his mouth and lets the white wad stick out of the corners. In fact, he makes sure it gets in the way of…
25 Feb 2016
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Remember how let down you felt when The Blair Witch Project never even showed a witch? Remember how you never really saw anything scary in the film, unless you count Heather Donahue’s snot and twigs as really scary? The Witch, the Sundance Film Festival-award-winning directorial debut from Robert Eggers (who also wrote the script), actually has a witch in it. She makes her first appearance early on in the film, and she’s doing a bad thing—a really, horribly disturbing, oh-that’s-how-this-movie-is-really-going-to-start?! bad thing. Set in 1630s New England, with an exceptional attention to detail, this masterpiece offers various ways to interpret its events and themes. Eggers has made a horror movie with some major meat on the bones that stands among such classics as The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby. Oh lordy, is this film creepy. The sense of dread kicks in immediately after William (Ralph Ineson) is banished from his New…
25 Feb 2016
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The latest documentary from Michael Moore starts as a fairly interesting film about how foreign countries feed and teach their children, but it then goes off the rails and loses all focus. The premise for this one has a flag-toting Moore, representing America, “invading” other countries and threatening to steal ideas like great school cafeterias and free tuition. Moore has an annoying way of presenting scintillating factoids, only to cloud their presentation with dopey and gimmicky showboating. The bit during which he plants American flags and says he’s claiming shit for America is lame the first time, and incredibly mundane by the 10th. There’s just something about this guy when he gets all sad, somber and scary with his narrations that makes me want to throw a small car at the movie screen. As usual, Moore presents some facts about other great countries while demonizing the one in which we…
23 Feb 2016
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I binge-watched Netflix’s new series Love—the latest by producer Judd Apatow—and it stands as further proof that Netflix is becoming the king of TV comedy. Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs are terrific as Gus and Mickey, two people who meet by chance at a convenience store and become friends. Friendship progresses into other things—and that progression happens in a crazy, unpredictable, very R-rated way. Rust is a revelation as the nerdy Gus, a tutor at a TV studio where they are filming one of those dopey witch shows. Jacobs, so good on Community, proves she has much to offer with her wild turn as a radio-station employee with a shitty boss (Brett Gelman) and just a few addictions. As their courtship begins, Gus sort of pines for Mickey, but things change over the course of 10 episodes, as he gets a little more confidence in himself—and notices she’s a bit…
18 Feb 2016
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A bad film sticks in the craw more when it’s made by somebody capable of genius. Ben Stiller is one of the great modern-day comedic actors. He started, more or less, with The Ben Stiller Show, a project that basically gave birth to Mr. Show and Tenacious D. The man is directly or indirectly responsible for about 78 percent of the laughter that has come out of my face over the last 24 years. As a director, he started with a clunker (Reality Bites), but followed it up with an underrated gem, The Cable Guy. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is much better than it gets credit for, and Tropic Thunder is a bad-taste masterpiece. Of all the comic creations Stiller has come up with and directed, Zoolander is the most bothersome. It’s a skit that wasn’t funny in the first place—stretched into a feature that feels flat and…
18 Feb 2016
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After a false start with the character of Wade Wilson in 2009’s uneven yet unjustly maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds gets another chance at superhero stardom—a decidedly unorthodox brand of superhero stardom, that is—with Deadpool, a twisted film from first-time director Tim Miller. The movie establishes its weirdness with scathing opening credits that poke fun at Reynolds’ stint as the Green Lantern, and all aspects of the film’s production. It then becomes a consistently funny tragi-comedy involving Wade, a recently smitten mercenary who comes down with terminal cancer, dimming the lights on the future with his girlfriend, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin). He submits to an experiment that leaves him disfigured yet superhuman—and bent on revenge against the criminal who made him this way. Reynolds finally gets a really good movie to match his charms, and Deadpool gets the nasty film the character needs. The film has an R-rating for many…
11 Feb 2016
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The zombie movie craze hits what I hope to be its low point with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a crap attempt at horror comedy featuring a fairly faithful take on the Jane Austen classic mixed with the undead. Lily James, so delightful in Cinderella, plays Elizabeth Bennet, one of the esteemed Bennet sisters—and a zombie-hunter. She sets her sights on Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), who thinks she’s pretty and all that, but he must refrain from serious courtship in order to behead some ghouls. With this film adaptation of the best-selling book, director Burr Steers shoots for a PG-13 rating, which results in much of the action taking place off-screen or in the dark so as to reduce the bloodletting. The movie features so much carnage that it feels incomplete thanks to the soft-shoeing of the yucky stuff. As for the balance of period romance and comedic bloodletting, Steers…
11 Feb 2016
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So Hail, Caesar! is a film with virtually no plot, but it gives Joel and Ethan Coen a chance to adapt the styles of films from the ’40s and ’50s into their weirdo universe? Hell yeah. Sign me up! The Coen brothers bring a blast of creativity to early 2016 with a movie that, frankly, had a lot of their fans (including myself) a little worried. Its release was moved out of the 2015 award season and dumped into February—usually a cinematic graveyard. It wasn’t screened for critics until a couple of days before its release, a tactic usually reserved for the likes of Deuce Bigalow and Transformers movies, not the Coens. In truth, this movie probably will score the highest with diehard Coen fans—those who react with glee to the notion that it takes place at a studio called Capitol Pictures. That’s the same fictional place where Coen creation…