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Reviews

03 Apr 2014
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Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t catch a break. He’s looking good, and he’s delivering nice “Arnie” performances—in films with scripts that make Commando look like Citizen Kane. In Sabotage, he plays a drug-enforcement agent who, along with his team of ragtag miscreants, tries to steal money from a drug cartel. When the money gets stolen, each of them starts to get picked off, one by one, in increasingly grisly fashion. The film suffers from poor casting. Olivia Williams, who is British, cannot sell an American accent, even when she’s chewing gum. Mireille Enos is unintentionally hilarious as an undercover DEA agent who can’t shake the drugs off the job. Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway and Terrence Howard all put on their tough faces, replete with heavy sneering and scowling. In the end, you get a bunch of characters you could care less about in a movie with a plot that is far too…
03 Apr 2014
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Writer-director Wes Anderson does it again with The Grand Budapest Hotel, another wholly unique, beautiful, quirky movie that could’ve only been made by him. In a performance that must be remembered come awards time, Ralph Fiennes is magically hilarious as M. Gustave, the concierge at the fictional hotel named in the film’s title. Gustave has a penchant for older women—much older women—and his life takes a drastic turn when he is suspected in the murder of an elderly lover (Tilda Swinton in super-heavy makeup). Stolen art, scary train rides and a high-speed chase on skis ensue, with Anderson even employing stop-motion animation at times, as he did with Fantastic Mr. Fox. Supporting performances by Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel, Saoirse Ronan and many others make this a can’t-miss film. There’s something so joyous and fun about the way Anderson makes movies. This…
03 Apr 2014
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I did my share of Bible-reading when I was a kid. In fact, I read it multiple times from cover to cover. I was also reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy and a bunch of Stephen King books—and of all the literature I read as an impressionable youth, nothing was more violent and more insane than the Bible. Actually, the Bible may be the sickest book ever written when it comes to death and destruction. If you count the apocalypse, the whole world dies more than once in that particular piece of literature. That’s a huge body count! Whether you are religious or not, the Bible is, no doubt, a pretty sweet platform for over-the-top cinema. With Noah, director Darren Aronofsky has concocted a crazy, dark and nasty disaster film befitting those few pages in the book of Genesis. In what is surely his best performance to date, Russell…
27 Mar 2014
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How in the world did Divergent wind up such a dud? It’s based on a blockbuster series of teen-targeted novels—and that often means box-office gold nowadays. It has a strong cast, including Kate Winslet, and both Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller of The Spectacular Now. It also has a semi-reliable director in Neil Burger (Limitless, The Illusionist). Yet the film that made it to the screen would be a great over-the-counter solution for insomniacs. Forget Nyquil or those prescriptions for sleeping pills: Divergent will put your ass to sleep. Woodley stars as Beatrice, a member of a post-apocalyptic society in which people are divided up into factions: Abnegation (The Selfless), Erudite (The Intelligent), Amity (The island where Jaws was set … wait, no, I’m sorry, The Peaceful), Candor (The Honest) and Dauntless (The Brave). Beatrice is set to become an adult, and part of becoming an adult is being tested…
20 Mar 2014
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Aaron Paul takes his first post-Breaking Bad step into the limelight in Need for Speed, a big-screen adaptation of the popular video-game series. Paul is a fine actor, but he’s miscast here as Tobey Marshall, a street racer looking for revenge after doing time for a crime he didn’t commit. Actually, for a crime he sort of didn’t commit. Wait … now that I’m actually writing about this, I realize he’s pretty much guilty of the crime, even though the movie tries to pass him off as innocent. Man, this movie is stupid. Tobey has an auto shop that tries to do big-payday racecar jobs. He also moonlights as a street racer—one of those jackasses who blaze around in hot rods on public streets, endangering the lives of other drivers and pedestrians. Yes, this film’s central character and supposed hero is a big moron. It’s hard to get behind a…
13 Mar 2014
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A good villain and decent visuals keep 300: Rise of an Empire from being truly awful—but in the end, it’s still a disappointment. Noam Murro has taken over for Zack Snyder as the director of this sequel to the 2006 film (though Snyder is still around as a co-writer and producer). Murro’s take on the shirtless-ancient-warrior saga lacks any kind of dramatic tension, so the resulting film is just a bunch of boat fights mixed with people in togas emoting slowly on soundstages. It’s a bit of a prequel to 300 in that we see the origins of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the golden-god Persian warrior who gave Gerard Butler (who appears in reused footage from 300) such a hard time in the last film. The Xerxes prologue is easily the most compelling part of the movie; too bad it only accounts for a few minutes. Later in the film, it…
06 Mar 2014
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Liam Neeson is again a thinking-older-man action hero in Non-Stop—which is essentially Taken on a plane. This time, though, it’s an airplane being kidnapped as opposed to an overacting, obviously-not-a-teenager Maggie Grace being kidnapped. While the Taken movies sort of stink, I enjoyed Non-Stop. It’s one of those trashy movies that you can’t help but like because all of its implausibility and overwrought performances combine into something strangely entertaining. There’s nothing wrong with well-done trash cinema. We first see Nelson’s Bill Marks drinking an alcoholic beverage in an airport parking lot before he boards a plane. The opening passages slowly reveal what we already know from every commercial for this movie: Bill is an air marshal, and his plane … IS GOING TO BE TAKEN! The twist: The hijacker, through text communications and various manipulations, will make it look like Bill is the one hijacking the plane. The film has…
27 Feb 2014
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Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad, whose brilliant 2005 film Paradise Now was nominated for an Oscar, has notched another well-deserved Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nod for the intense and gripping Omar. Adam Bakri delivers a commanding performance as the title character, a Palestinian baker who routinely scales a zoning wall to see his girlfriend, Nadja (Leem Lubany)—dodging both bullets and Israeli soldiers in the process. Omar schemes with his buddies Tarek (Iyad Hoorani) and Amjad (Samer Bisharat) to strike at the Israelis, ultimately taking part in the shooting of an Israeli soldier through a camp gate in the middle of the night. He’s eventually arrested and tortured when he refuses to talk, and winds up being interrogated by Agent Rami (Waleed Zuaiter), who gives Omar a chance to leave prison—as long as he turns his friends in. Credit goes to Abu-Assad for making this a powerful political thriller and a…
27 Feb 2014
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Kevin Costner and Hailee Steinfeld deliver truly good performances as a father and daughter in this hot mess from sloppy director McG. In 3 Days to Kill, Costner plays a Secret Service agent who finds out he’s dying of cancer, and he wants to make his last days on Earth count. Therefore, he reconnects with his daughter (Steinfeld) and ex-wife (Connie Nielsen) in Paris while taking on one last assignment. That last assignment is giving him a lot of money—and an experimental drug (the kind that only exists in movies) that could extend his life. Costner is on his game here, and Steinfeld holds her own in the scenes they share. Unfortunately, the movie is all over the place: Sometimes it’s a thriller; sometimes it’s a comedy; and so on. Terrible editing and sound choices don’t help matters. Amber Heard shows up as Costner’s boss, and she tries to pull…
27 Feb 2014
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The story of how Mount Vesuvius blew up sounds like an intriguing setup for an action movie. Unfortunately, Pompeii was directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. He has a way of destroying interesting premises with his sloppy directorial hand. For prime examples of how he screws things up terribly, see Alien vs. Predator, Resident Evil: Afterlife, The Three Musketeers or Death Race. Better yet, don’t see them. Anderson takes the historic eruption and makes it the basis of what he probably hoped would be his Titanic. He has a love story; he has a lot of people scurrying for their lives; he even has mournful vocals that remind of Celine Dion. What he doesn’t have are magnetic stars, decent special effects or a sense of pacing and continuity. When the volcano finally erupts, people have time for serious conversation, various sword fights, and whatnot. I don’t think so, fellas. It should…
27 Feb 2014
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In director Hayao Miyazaki’s enchanting and somber The Wind Rises, Jiro (a character based on one of the designers of World War II Japanese bombers) shares his dreams with Caproni, an Italian airplane-builder who intends to retire. Caproni has something in common with Miyzaki: The Wind Rises is allegedly the last animated feature from Miyazaki, the legendary director of such films as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. If this is, indeed, his final film, Miyazaki, 73, is going out on a high note: The film is nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and it’s my pick for the award. The Wind Rises stands as my favorite Miyazaki film. There’s a hand-drawn beauty to every frame; the sounds are astonishing; and, most importantly, it tells a compelling and heartbreaking story in a graceful and touching way. We first meet Jiro as a young boy, as he dreams about…
20 Feb 2014
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Don’t disregard this film as just another unnecessary remake of an ’80s film: Kevin Hart and company make the latest adaptation of David Mamet’s play Sexual Perversity in Chicago a wildly entertaining endeavor. Hart—who lights up any film he shows up in, even when the movie stinks—plays Bernie, a player who finds himself in a relationship with the fiery Joan (Regina Hall). While Bernie and Joan experience a wild roller-coaster ride of sex and spats, Bernie’s best bud, Danny (Michael Ealy), winds up dating Joan’s best friend, Debbie (Joy Bryant). The two have a one-night stand that turns into a long-term relationship replete with all the problems of a relationship that started up way too fast. The main reasons to see the film is Hart and Hall, who are a crack-up under the direction of Steve Pink (Hot Tub Time Machine). However, Ealy and Bryant make an appealing and intriguing…