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Reviews

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…
26 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…
20 Feb 2014
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A slew of 1980s remakes are getting thrown at us right now. For example, Endless Love and About Last Night both got re-dos, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Also released on that day of candy and heart-shaped cards: a remake of Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 ultra-violent satiric masterpiece, RoboCop. The idea to reboot RoboCop has been around for years. The last RoboCop film, the remarkably awful RoboCop 3, came out more than 20 years ago. At one point, director Darren Aronofsky (The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) was attached, and that gave geeks and fanboys a reason to rejoice. Alas, Aronofsky dropped out to make Black Swan instead. A chance for legendary coolness was squandered. In stepped Brazilian director José Padilha (Elite Squad), who received a mandate to produce a PG-13 RoboCop (as opposed to the hard-R original), so that more money could be made. After a tumultuous production, we…
13 Feb 2014
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Director George Clooney’s war epic about historians racing to save art from the Nazis looks and feels like it was just taken out of a time capsule buried in 1958. The Monuments Men is quite breezy for a war movie, peppered with laughs provided by a strong cast, including Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban and John Goodman. They all play men trying to thwart Hitler’s plan for a giant museum. The film has one of those whistle-infused soundtracks, and it doesn’t hurt that Clooney and Dujardin look like Errol Flynn and Gene Kelly. The movie moves briskly, and is perhaps a bit too weightless for a movie with such a heavy subject at its heart. It also has a useless subplot involving Damon and Cate Blanchett that is deserving of the cutting-room floor. Still, Clooney has great command of the camera here; the ensemble shines (especially…
13 Feb 2014
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The Lego Movie is a most welcome surprise. Fast-paced, frequently hilarious and visually fun, this is the sort of movie we’ve come to expect from Pixar—one that appeals to both kids and adults on many levels. However, this isn’t a Pixar film; instead, it’s a product of the formidable but inconsistent Warner Bros. animation wing. Sure, it’s a big commercial for Lego toys, but the product placement is more of a sly wink than a hammer over the head. I’m more offended by, say, frequently placed Subway sandwiches in an Adam Sandler movie than the constant presence of Legos in this one. Lego has developed its own universe over the years, especially with its video games, so I never felt like I was watching a commercial. Instead, we get a movie that hurls jokes at breakneck speed, to go along with its super-kinetic visuals. The voice talent is a who’s-who…
06 Feb 2014
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That Awkward Moment, a romantic comedy starring Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, gets off to a promising start. It plays like a cool throwback to the romantic/sex comedies of the 1980s. All’s well until somewhere around the midpoint of the movie—when things take a dramatic downward turn. Efron, Teller and Jordan (all decent to great actors) respectively play Jason, Daniel and Mikey, New York City 20-somethings dealing with romance in a time of Facebook, texting and infidelity. When Mikey finds out his wife is cheating, he heads for divorce, and the other two join him in a pact to avoid relationships and stay single. It’s dating and debauchery for the three—with no commitments allowed. Is there a distinct moment in which the film goes tragically bad? I’m not sure, but it could be the moment when Efron shows up dressed as “Rock Out With Your Cock Out!”…
30 Jan 2014
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There was a time when The Invisible Woman—a movie that takes a speculative look at an affair Charles Dickens had toward the end of his life—would’ve had “Oscar” written all over it. Ralph Fiennes directs himself as Dickens, and he presents the author as the John Lennon or Elvis Presley of his day. (Dickens was indeed a literary rock star, and one of the first to deal with print-media scrutiny and hordes of fans when he tried to take a walk or go to the theater.) The married Dickens also created quite a bit of controversy by having an affair with a young actress named Nelly (played here by Felicity Jones), whose full name was Ellen Ternan. Jones, the stunning actress who broke through with an amazing performance in Like Crazy, is this film’s best asset. As Nelly—an aspiring actress with questionable talent who displayed big fan crush on Dickens—Jones…
30 Jan 2014
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When I took a look at January’s movie-release list, I found one date particularly disturbing and foreboding. That would have been Jan. 24, the release date for I, Frankenstein. I feared that date like an ardent Coke-drinker with a saltwater-taffy addiction and a taste for meth would fear a dental appointment. That fear was justified: I, Frankenstein is a movie so bad that it will affect your body chemically in a negative way, as if you ingested a chainsaw. A viewing of this film could have an adverse affect on your sphincter, your thyroid, your epiglottis, your self-esteem and your ability to process mathematics. Seeing I, Frankenstein, even for a few minutes, could diminish your sperm count, cause irreversible eye fungus and make you inconsolably sad. Aaron Eckhart—in a career move as terrible as the time Halle Berry said, “Sure, I’ll play Catwoman. What’s the worst that could happen?”—plays Adam…