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Reviews

22 Feb 2013
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Some actor named Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with this sweet movie about aging musicians in a retirement home. (He was supposed to direct Straight Time many years ago, but he gave up the gig a couple of days into shooting.) The film stars Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon, all of whom are wonderful. Hoffman shows he has a deft touch with performers, which comes as no surprise. His movie isn’t terribly original, but it is heartwarming and entertaining throughout. Smith and Courtenay are especially good as former lovers who get a chance to make up and become friends again. This movie makes me wish Hoffman had gotten going on the director thing a long time ago. I hope he has some more films in him. Quartet is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 325-6565) and Cinemas…
20 Feb 2013
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Man oh man, this Best Picture nominee is a tough one to watch. From Michael Haneke, the director of the brutal Funny Games (both the foreign and American versions), we get a film about old age that's so honest, it guts you. Many of us know a couple like Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva). Seeing a couple like this dealing with terrible illness is heartbreaking, and Haneke takes a terribly honest approach to impending death. Riva’s Oscar-nominated performance is one of those pieces of work you will never forget. It tattoos onto your brain. Rest assured: If you choose to see this, it’s going to knock you on your ass. Don’t watch this if the truth scares you. Amour is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 325-6565) and Cinemas Palme d'Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 779-0430).
18 Feb 2013
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I remember watching the Oscars back when Johnny Carson hosted. This was before I knew the whole thing was bullshit; I would get all excited when those envelopes were opened, and even when stupid Paul Williams showed up singing a song. Even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences usually doesn’t get it right with the awards, I still look forward to the show, especially when that idiot Billy Crystal isn’t hosting it. This year, the host will be Seth MacFarlane. Should be interesting, and perhaps delightfully profane. Here are the nominees, along with my predictions. Drink chocolate milk every time I get one right, and regular milk when I get one wrong. (I don’t endorse alcohol-drinking games.) Best Picture Amour Argo Beasts of the Southern Wild Django Unchained Les Misérables Life of Pi Lincoln Silver Linings Playbook Zero Dark Thirty Let’s immediately eliminate Amour, Beasts, Django and…
12 Feb 2013
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The first half of director Steven Soderbergh’s alleged feature-film swan song is excellent, while the second half is only passably good. Jude Law stars as a doctor treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) who is given an experimental drug with some nasty results. The film is at once a mystery and an indictment of the worldwide pharmaceutical industry, and it hums along nicely for a good chunk of the running time. Then it suddenly becomes a mediocre Brian De Palma-style movie as the mysteries are solved; it gets a little hokey. Good things happen before it unravels, though, with Mara doing some nice work alongside Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Soderbergh says this is it for him. Hopefully, he just takes a couple of years off and finds himself back behind the camera. This movie is OK, but I would like to see him go out on a better note.…
14 Feb 2013
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After her Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy gets a headlining role alongside Jason Bateman in Identity Thief. While both performers are talented and make the best of the crap heap of a script they were handed, it’s not enough to make this anything more than a desperate misfire. McCarthy has a lot of talent. One only needs to see her in The Nines to understand her dramatic capabilities. Yet, here she is, being smashed in the face with guitars and asked to lip-sync that stupid milkshake song while sitting in the passenger’s seat for yet another riff on Planes, Trains and Automobiles. This is the sort of junk Chris Farley would have been handed back in the days before his heart exploded. McCarthy is a big woman, so she is cast in the role of sloppy clown to Bateman’s dapper straight man. Well, McCarthy is also a beautiful and…
08 Feb 2013
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In Stand Up Guys, a bunch of great actors get together and do their best with middling material. Al Pacino plays a criminal released from a long prison haul, and Christopher Walken plays the guy who is supposed to pick him up—and take his life soon thereafter. I have a hard time with this premise: If you are a crime boss with any brains, and you want somebody smoked, you don’t hire the dude’s best friend to do the gig. Don’t you think there’s a chance the dude won’t follow through? Anyway, Pacino and Walken hang out for a night that includes stealing cars, snorting prescription drugs and hanging out with another old guy (Alan Arkin). The trio makes most of this watchable, but with this cast, you want something more than just watchable. Pacino works hard to get credibility back after a string of loser movies, and he redeems…
07 Feb 2013
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The movie year gets it first big, sweet surprise with Warm Bodies, a funny and surprisingly moving take on the zombie genre from director Jonathan Levine, who gave us the wonderful 50/50. To call Warm Bodies a straight-up zombie flick would be inaccurate; it’s a love story set in a horror-movie world. It’s everything the Twilight saga wanted to be, but failed to become. It’s a movie that knows it is ridiculous, embraces its ridiculousness, and emerges as astonishingly real and true-to-life. The movie opens on a figure in a red-hoodie we will come to know as R (Nicholas Hoult, in a stardom-cementing role). He’s zombie with a fried memory, but he’s still able to conduct a relatively cohesive inner narrative, heard through a voiceover that is clear and concise. However, when R tries to speak out of his mouth, he slurs, moans and groans. He’s a lost boy in…
30 Jan 2013
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I didn’t care all that much for Movie 43, a new-millennium attempt at something akin to Kentucky Fried Movie. But I won’t be trashing it, because it crosses many lines, is terribly offensive, and is often screamingly disgusting. I’m a little demented when it comes to comedy, so I say: Bring on the farts, excessive curse words and scrotum necks! However, if you are going to do a gross sketch comedy, you had better do gross well. Your jokes better have the proper punch lines and kickers, and your sketches have to end strong. Many of the sketches in Movie 43 end like bad Saturday Night Live sketches. Too many of the sketches, which are directed by various directors, just aren’t funny. They land with a thud. First, I’ll talk about the good stuff. I must give props to real-life couple Naomi Watts (a current Oscar nominee) and Liev Schreiber…
24 Jan 2013
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This genuinely chilling haunted fairy tale comes from producer Guillermo del Toro and writer/director Andres Muschietti, and is based on Mushcietti’s original short film. Two little girls are abandoned by their demented father in the forest. They are discovered years later and adopted by their uncle (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and his girlfriend (Jessica Chastain). The little girls have taken on the characteristics of feral beasts and are convinced they are being watched over by a force they call “Mama.” As it turns out, Mama is very real—a decent CGI creation that is both scary and just the right touch of funny. The film works well, not just because Muschietti knows how to construct a good scare, but also because he does a great job getting you to care for the little girls and the Chastain character. Chastain, looking rather gothic, delivers another good performance, even though she isn’t very convincing as…
21 Jan 2013
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Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to a starring role with The Last Stand, a film that falls somewhere in the middle of the Arnie canon. It’s not a terrible effort—but it’s not anything to get all that excited about, either. Arnie is back, murdering the English language with his own special brand of finesse—but he’s refusing to take his top off. He needs a little more time with the HGH so he can take off his shirt, Stallone style! Yep, Stallone is 66 and has no problem showing off his gloriously fake old-guy pecs. Arnie plays Ray Owens, sheriff of a small town near the Mexican border. When stopping at a local diner to have some coffee, he notices one of the patrons is played by Peter “Where is pancakes house?” Stormare (the actor who put Steve Buscemi through the wood-chipper in Fargo). Ray correctly assesses that this guy means trouble—and bad…
16 Jan 2013
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The release date of Gangster Squad was delayed after the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings, due to a scene depicting violence in a movie theater. That scene, which was featured in the trailer, has been removed. Well, they should’ve scrapped the whole picture. This movie is a mess. Gangster Squad depicts a fictional account of the Los Angeles Police Department’s “under the table” efforts to remove gangster Mickey Cohen (played here by a truly awful Sean Penn) from power. While next to nothing in this movie actually happened, I can forgive a little artistic license when it comes to a gangster pic. What I can’t forgive is cartoon caricatures, terrible performances, a misguided directorial tone and a crappy screenplay. The film is set in 1949 Los Angeles, where Cohen has a firm grip on organized crime and the cops. Well-meaning LAPD Chief Parker (a typically grizzly Nick Nolte) tells brave Sgt.…
10 Jan 2013
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The controversial Zero Dark Thirty, director Kathryn Bigelow’s excellently crafted version of the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has a bunch of politicians and CIA officials crying foul. This makes me think the movie must contain some harsh truths and grim realities about the war on terror. The film is virtually absent of politics, or any of that “America, fuck yeah!” nonsense. It offers an interpretation of the steps that were taken, and the deeds that were done, to rid the world of a true menace. Many of those deeds are done in a calm, calculated and perhaps even cold manner; at times, the film is spooky to watch. The people depicted in this movie mean business, and will do whatever it takes to get a job done. That includes waterboarding and literally scaring the shit out of detainees. The film starts with a black screen and some terrifying messages…