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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Reviews

18 Oct 2018
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Space-exploration movies based upon real events, not surprisingly, have usually made “the mission” the thrust of the plot. First Man goes a different route. It dares to focus on a man rather than a mission—Neil Armstrong, the man at the center of the Apollo 11 mission, and what made him tick. It shows the familial struggles the man dealt with leading up to the mission and, most strikingly, his viewpoint as a bunch of white-clad workers packed him into sardine-can-like compartments and blasted him off into space. It’s an amazingly intimate movie, considering the subject matter. Director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) doesn’t ignore the details of NASA’s buildup to Armstrong’s arrival on the lunar surface. In fact, the film is one of the most scientifically intriguing films I’ve seen regarding what astronauts go through, and the mechanics of a space launch. However, it also manages to be a moving,…
18 Oct 2018
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Writer-director Drew Goddard, who hadn’t directed a film since The Cabin in the Woods in 2012, assembles an all-star cast for a nutty film—that’s sometimes a little too cute for its own good. The star of this movie is the El Royale, a fictional hotel based on Lake Tahoe’s Cal Neva hotel, once owned by Frank Sinatra. Bad Times at the El Royale features fine art direction, from its aged lobby straddling two states, to its creepy tunnels behind the rooms set up for criminal voyeurs. Jeff Bridges plays a mysterious priest who checks into the resort along with a singer (Cynthia Erivo), a vacuum salesman (Jon Hamm) and a hippie (Dakota Johnson). After the messed-up manager (Lewis Pullman) checks them in, each visitor has his or her own story in his or her own room. Goddard shows flourishes of brilliance, mixing thrills, mystery, humor and lots of blood into…
11 Oct 2018
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It’s movie magic at its most beautiful when Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga share the screen in A Star Is Born. It’s a rousing remake of the old rise-to-fame story, and it’s easily the best movie with that title ever made. It is the fourth—yet this film feels amazingly original. Cooper makes his directorial debut and stars as Jackson Maine, a Southern rocker barely getting through his gigs thanks to too much alcohol, too many pills and a nasty case of tinnitus. The film opens with Cooper live on stage belting out “Black Eyes,” a song that shows this movie means business on the musical front: Yes, that’s him singing and playing a pretty mean guitar. He brings a legitimate musical soul to the role. And he’d damned well better, because his counterpart is played by none other than Lady Gaga in her fierce feature-lead debut. As Ally, a waitress…
11 Oct 2018
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Venom is a sometimes-entertaining mess—but it’s still a mess. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: You shouldn’t have a Venom movie without Spider-Man somehow playing into the villain’s backstory. Venom looks like Spider-Man in the comic, because the symbiote fused with Peter Parker first, resulting in the “Spider-Man on steroids” look. However, this film has no Spidey, and no Spidey means the monster needs a different origin. Now Venom comes about because of a space alien that passes through an evil scientist’s lab—a space alien that looks a little like Spider-Man. Tom Hardy labors hard at playing Eddie Brock, an investigative reporter who is infected by the symbiote and starts biting off people’s heads, PG-13-style. Brock winds up with Venom’s voice in his head and an ability to make Venom sort of a good/bad guy. It’s all kind of stupid; the film plays things mostly for laughs and…
04 Oct 2018
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Halloween is fast approaching … so cue the crap horror films. At least Hell Fest isn’t another Saw film. With the arrival of last year’s Jigsaw, I thought we were going to get blasted with annual Saw films again. Thankfully, Jigsaw did not start a trend. Instead, Hell Fest is in the spirit of I Know What You Did Last Summer in that it rips off countless horror films that came before it … and it also sucks hard. Natalie (Amy Forsyth) joins some friends for an evening of terror as they attend an amusement park full of haunted houses, death mazes and masked employees running around the park with a mandate to scare the shit out of them. However, among the paid crew is an anonymous person—wearing a mask and hoodie like many others in the park—who isn’t going for make believe. He actually wants to kill people with…
27 Sep 2018
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The House With a Clock in Its Walls feels like a mishmash of family-friendly Halloween tales—and it’s a messy mishmash at that. It wants to be Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket and Goosebumps all rolled up into one wacky movie. It’s all a little too much, and it falls apart in its final act. Granted, it’s based upon a novel published in 1973, so perhaps the aforementioned tales were actually inspired by author John Bellairs. As for the cinematic punch, however, this movie adaptation definitely pulls a lot of style choices from films that came before it. If your kids go to this one and then request permission to watch other films by the director, beware—for it is directed by Eli Roth, frequent purveyor of gross-out torture porn like Cabin Fever, Hostel and The Green Inferno. While Roth shows he can conjure enjoyable elements within the realm of a PG rating,…
20 Sep 2018
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Well, that does it: After decades of trying, it’s become evident that nobody knows how to make a decent Predator sequel. It’s not like the first film was a masterpiece. It was a goofy adventure pic featuring a superstar on the rise—who has been mysteriously absent from the sequels. Arnold Schwarzenegger, in fact, turned down a cameo in the new The Predator, a movie that simply needed to be just OK to keep pace with the 1987 original. Well, it’s not. The Predator—technically the fourth Predator film (not including those Alien vs. Predator movies, which should be washed away from our collective memories)—had elements that were worthy of excitement. Shane Black, who actually played the first character to get killed in this franchise 31 years ago, is its director. This is the man responsible for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys and Iron Man 3. That Iron Man 3…
13 Sep 2018
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The Wife is one of those movies that strikes me as something that would’ve worked better as a play. I enjoyed it on some levels, and some of the performances are quite good, especially Glenn Close as the title character. However, other performances feel like they are being played for an audience on a stage rather than on camera. I’ve read that members of the cast rehearsed for weeks before cameras rolled, and The Wife displays evidence that sometimes you can be a little too polished—and come off as too melodramatic for a movie. That melodrama could play well in an Off Broadway play, but for a movie like this? It’s a little too forced. Close plays Joan Castleman, wife of the newly christened Nobel Prize for Literature winner Joe Castleman (Jonathan Pryce or, as I like to call him, Sam Lowry). The first hint of the golden work Close…
06 Sep 2018
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The hunt for Holocaust architect Adolph Eichmann is chronicled rather blandly in Operation Finale, director Chris Weitz’s lost movie starring Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley and Mélanie Laurent. When Eichmann (Kingsley) is discovered in Buenos Aires living a modest life and working at an automobile plant, secret agents led by Peter Malkin (Isaac) and Hanna Elian (Laurent) set up shop where he resides. They hatch a plot to grab Eichmann and return him to Israel to stand trial for his war crimes. Up until the moment where they grab Eichmann, the movie is pretty good—but when the movie becomes about Malkin and Eichmann chatting in a dark bedroom, it loses its sting. A better movie would’ve had Eichmann standing trial for his crimes, thus educating those of us who haven’t seen his trial. Too much of this film is spent showing Eichmann trying to persuade Malkin that he was just a…
06 Sep 2018
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Regular readers know that I can’t stand most found-footage films. I also bitch a lot about movies where the whole damn thing happens on a computer screen, with the director finding cute ways to never cut away from Skype, FaceTime, Words With Friends, etc., while the plot unfolds. Well, Searching is strange, because I actually almost like the way director Aneesh Chaganty utilizes computer screens, apps and news reports to tell his story. I also really like the central performance by John Cho as David Kim, a slightly annoying parent who discovers through a break in technological communication that his daughter, Margot (Michelle La), has gone missing. What I can’t forgive is the terrible detour the mystery takes into ridiculous, convenient and unimaginative territory. The screenplay really blows it in the end, and is further hindered by a stiff and strange performance from Debra Messing as a cop assigned to…
30 Aug 2018
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It’s tough being a puppet these days. After what seemed like a return to puppet glory with The Muppets in 2011, the cinematic Muppet momentum ended three years later with Muppets Most Wanted—and then the 2015 TV series tanked. Considering this stalling of The Muppets franchise, it seemed like a good time for a former Muppet stalwart, Brian Henson (son of Muppet founder Jim), to take puppets in a more-adult direction. After all, Jim Henson had a more-adult incarnation for The Muppets in mind way back in the 1970s when they appeared on the first season of Saturday Night Live. (It’s true!) A raunchier band of puppets would be a fine addition to the Henson legacy. That is, it would be a fine addition had Henson Alternative—an “adult” branch of the Jim Henson Company—made something better than The Happytime Murders, a listless, joyless, humorless exercise in how not to make…
23 Aug 2018
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Alpha, a story about the first personal interaction between man and dog, is a winner if 1) you are a dog person, and 2) you can watch a movie taking place 20,000 years ago and believe that the inhabitants could have such stylish leather jackets. The jackets really are pretty cool—made of buffalo hide, I presume, with lovely fur collars. I think I would buy one if I saw it on Amazon (with fake fur and leather, of course). There’s no way somebody could’ve put these things together way back then, without a sewing machine. If so, that person was the Versace of the day. Directed by Albert Hughes (From Hell, Menace II Society), this is a sweet hypothetical story about a boy, lost in the wilderness after a hunting trip gone awry, befriending a wolf. It’s not a syrupy-sweet story; the two go through hell trying to find the…

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