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Reviews

24 Oct 2013
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If you’ve read the 1974 Stephen King novel Carrie, and you’ve seen the 1976 Brian De Palma film, you know that the book and the film are very different. Well, the new Carrie remake, which stars Chloë Grace Moretz in the role that netted Sissy Spacek an Oscar nomination for the 1976 film, has more in common with De Palma’s film than King’s novel. King’s novel, about a bullied telekinetic high school girl who endures one prank too many at the senior prom, depicted a series of episodic news reports, flashbacks and interviews, for the most part, to tell the story. The new film welcomes a few of the novel’s plot points back into the story, although it takes a lot of the same liberties that De Palma took with the novel. In the new version, a few more characters survive the fiery black-prom tragedy—and one character might be pregnant.…
18 Oct 2013
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A military experiment results in a yucky spider growing to the size of King Kong and terrorizing downtown Los Angeles in Big Ass Spider, a funny, campy and surprisingly good-looking low-budget affair. Greg Grunberg delivers a funny central performance as Alex, a friendly exterminator who gets bitten by a brown recluse, winds up at a hospital, and discovers that a big black widow gone crazy has burrowed out of a dead body. (Blecch!) The military shows up in the form of Ray Wise—and the spider sets about biting and eating a lot of people while growing much larger. (Double Blecch!!) The monster spider is presented well thanks to some snappy CGI work, and the script from writer Gregory Gieras provides consistent, campy laughs. Director Mike Mendez deserves a lot of credit, because he made a movie featuring a disgusting spider that I managed to enjoy quite a bit, even though…
17 Oct 2013
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Robert Rodriguez brings back Danny Trejo for another round of violent B-movie action—and the joke has grown tired. I was a big fan of the 2010 original (and the fake Grindhouse trailer), but Machete Kills gets dumb to the point of annoyance. Trejo, 69, is starting to look a little tired in the title role. Charlie Sheen (billed under his real name, Carlos Estevez) is actually pretty funny as the president of the United States, but he only has a few scenes. The same can’t be said for Mel Gibson, who mugs his way through a bad-guy role in a manner that reveals how desperate he is to be taken seriously again. Props go to Amber Heard, who gets the film’s best part as a beauty queen/secret agent—but Sofia Vergara annoys as she screams her way through her role as a villain with machine-gun breasts, a direct, gimmicky rip-off of…
17 Oct 2013
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Tom Hanks stars in another real-life-event film in which his character is stuck in a small, dangerous space for a long time—and we know how the story turns out. Even though most of us know how Captain Phillips will end, Hanks and director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum, United 93) somehow make the story suspenseful. As he did in Apollo 13, Hanks makes us terrified and confused for his character. (If you somehow don’t know the outcome of the true story, go see the film, and be doubly frightened.) Hanks plays Richard Phillips, captain of the Maersk Alabama cargo ship. While on its way to Kenya in 2009, his ship encounters Somali pirates who try multiple times to board his ship. They eventually succeed, putting into play a crazy hostage drama that results in Phillips being taken aboard a space-capsule-sized lifeboat with his captors. In every stage of the thriller—from…
10 Oct 2013
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Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 is animation done with all the style and grace of a spastic colon saturated with hot sauce. While the first film had a reasonable amount of charm, this goes haywire from the start. Bill Hader returns as the voice of Flint, the over-excited inventor who, in the first movie, managed to inundate his hometown with giant food storms thanks to his crazed invention. Now, the machine has gone nuts, creating a race of living food, including cheeseburger spiders and dolphin bananas. The film is intolerably frantic, with a plotline that is scattered beyond reasonability. It’s hard to follow—but it does have the occasional fart and poop joke to make the kids laugh. The only character I managed to enjoy was a jittery monkey trying to put out a sparkler—and that accounts for about 30 seconds of the film. Don’t waste your time—and your…
10 Oct 2013
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Was the world aching for a movie about online gambling? If so, was it aching for a movie about online gambling in which Justin Timberlake gets beaten up a lot while looking really scared? Was it aching for a film in which Ben Affleck feeds poultry to his pet crocodiles? In Runner Runner, Timberlake plays Richie, a college student paying his tuition through online gambling. After possibly getting hustled, he travels to Costa Rica to get in the face of the guy in charge of the gambling site (Affleck). Richie winds up getting a job and thrusting himself into a seedy online gambling underworld that involves running around a lot and acting really confused. Timberlake is an actor who can look really good—or really, really lost. This time, he’s lost. As for Affleck, I kind of like him in this movie; it’s fun when he plays a bad guy. Sadly,…
10 Oct 2013
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With Gravity, we finally get a big-event movie that delivers the thrills that have been absent from too many large-scale films this year. This is what going to the movies is supposed to be about. I sound like a movie-critic quote machine, and I don’t care. I want to make this perfectly clear: You should see this movie—and shell out the extra couple of bucks for 3-D, because the whole idea is to physically make you feel like you are lost in space. This is a rare 3-D movie in which those glasses really add to the experience. The film often puts the viewer inside a spacesuit, looking down at the Earth or, if the character happens to be tumbling in space, looking through a helmet as the Earth rhythmically passes by. If you are one of those people getting nauseated by your iPhone IOS 7 update and all of…
03 Oct 2013
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Isaiah Washington is terrifyingly good in Blue Caprice as John Allen Muhammad, the sick mind behind the 2002 sniper attacks that plunged Washington, D.C., and the surrounding regions into a living hell. The title of the film refers to the assassin’s vehicle of choice: a blue Caprice with a hole in the trunk, to allow for a sniper rifle. Tequan Richmond is equally chilling as Lee, the simpleton who followed Muhammad’s advice, learned to fire a weapon, and participated in the killing of 10 people. Director Alexandre Moors builds a compelling story about why these morons did what they did, with Washington and Richmond delivering convincing, disturbing performances. This film will stick in your craw long after you’ve seen it. Blue Caprice is now playing at Cinémas Palme d’Or, 72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 760-779-0430.
04 Oct 2013
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Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in Don Jon, a frank comedy about a sex addict who thinks porn is better than true romance. Levitt is excellent and consistently funny as the title character, a Jersey boy who is quite the stud, yet he finds himself jerking off to Internet porn within mere minutes of finishing with a live woman. His little problem comes to the forefront when he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johansson), the first real love of his life—a woman with high standards who doesn’t approve of the porn thing. The movie is full of porn clips, so don’t see it with kids or a first date—unless you and that first date have some sort of naughty understanding. Gordon-Levitt has given us something akin to a funnier Saturday Night Fever, with porn replacing disco. Julianne Moore is her usual excellent self in a supporting role, and the surprising casting…
03 Oct 2013
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The story of the Formula 1 rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the 1970s is epic, full of seemingly impossible twists and turns. Rush, Ron Howard’s film about that rivalry, is far from epic. It’s a period piece in which the audience can feel every wig and every attempt to establish the time period. In other words, Rush never feels authentic, and instead comes off as some decent actors playing dress-up. It also serves up a heaping pile of romantic melodrama that sends the movie off the track and into the bleachers. Rush is supposed to be a movie about Formula 1 racing, yet the performers spend surprisingly little time behind the wheel. The focus is on their lives off the track, and while that warrants some interest … come on. Show us more racing, and less of Hunt’s boring marital woes. Chris Hemsworth keeps his Thor hair…
27 Sep 2013
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Director James Wan was on a bit of a roll, with Insidious and The Conjuring. Well, with Insidious: Chapter 2, that roll crashes into a concrete, steel-enforced wall that Jesus himself built while reminiscing about his carpentry days. This latest attempt to make a haunted-house movie with a small budget is a catastrophe. Wan basically uses the same tricks—smoke machines, green lights, practical makeup and crappy music—to try to get scares out of a formula that clearly had a short shelf life. This one involves Josh (Patrick Wilson), the father from the first film, acting a little strange after his trip into another dimension to retrieve his son. His wife (Rose Byrne) suspects that something must be wrong, because there are still funny things happening with her baby monitor. The movie wants to be a poor man’s The Shining, with Wilson going all Jack Nicholson-wacky, and Byrne doing her best…
26 Sep 2013
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Prisoners, the new kidnapping thriller starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal, is one of those movies that is impressive while being watched—but it loses some of its power upon reflection. By the time I got to my car after the screening, my head started going “Wait a minute … that part didn’t make much sense, now did it?” I enjoyed the film on many levels. It’s 2 1/2 hours long, and the time went by fairly quickly. The two leads are at the top of their games, and you just can’t go wrong with the visuals when Roger Deakins is working the camera. But somewhere around the third act, the kidnapping-mystery element starts going a little haywire. Director Denis Villeneuve and his writer, Aaron Guzikowski, are so determined to trip viewers up that the movie traipses over to the ridiculous side. This doesn’t derail the film, but it downgrades it…