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Reviews

17 Aug 2017
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Annabelle, the creepy doll from The Conjuring movies, gets her second standalone film with Annabelle: Creation, a silly movie that is nevertheless enjoyable thanks to some deft direction and surprisingly competent acting. The movie holds together thanks to solid performances from Talitha Bateman and Lulu Wilson, the latter the same child actress who turned in incredible work in the also surprisingly good Ouija: Origin of Evil. Mind you, the film is full of good performances—from the likes of Miranda Otto, Anthony LaPaglia and Stephanie Sigman—but it’s Bateman and Wilson who get most of the credit. The film is set many years before the first Annabelle movie, with orphans Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Wilson) on their way to a new home, with other girls and a happy nun, Sister Charlotte, (Sigman) at their side. They arrive at the home of Samuel Mullins (LaPaglia) a doll maker who, we have learned in…
17 Aug 2017
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Saturday Night Live’s Kyle Mooney stars in Brigsby Bear as James, a man who loves a kids’ TV show called Brigsby Bear, and loves his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). As it turns out, he’s a kidnapping victim: His parents aren’t his real parents, and the TV show was produced by his fake dad only for him. When authorities rescue him, and he’s returned to his real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), James understandably has a few emotional and social issues, having never really been outside of a small dwelling in his entire life. His obsession with the fake TV show continues, and he aspires to continue the story of Brigsby Bear, even if it was a byproduct of his captivity. Director Dave McCary, working from a script co-written by Mooney, delivers a surprisingly heartwarming, funny sleeper with this movie, a film that pays tribute to geek fandom…
10 Aug 2017
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Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty) directs Detroit, an uneven yet occasionally powerful account of the 1967 Algiers Motel incident, part of a race riot that put the city of Detroit under siege. When a man fires off a pistol from his hotel window during intense riots, the police and National Guard converge on the Algiers—and a terrible night ensues. It results in three men shot to death, with others psychologically and physically tortured. As for the judicial rulings in the aftermath … they’re the type that are far too commonplace when it comes to law enforcement violence against people of color. John Boyega plays Dismukes, a security guard who finds himself entangled in the bloody events perpetrated by racist policemen led by Krauss (a legitimately scary Will Poulter). The men and women held captive at the Algiers are played by a strong ensemble cast, including…
10 Aug 2017
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A couple of years ago, there was talk of Ron Howard directing a big-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. The film would act as an introduction to the Dark Tower universe, and was to be followed by a TV series. Javier Bardem was cast as Roland the Gunslinger, the main protagonist of King’s multi-novel series. The original plan was jettisoned in favor of Idris Elba as Roland, and a relatively novice director in Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) at the helm in Howard’s place. (Howard took on producer’s duties.) The debut film’s budget was reduced to less than $70 million, a price you would normally see for a Hollywood rom-com, not the launch of what was proposed as an epic, blockbuster franchise. As a result of all of this, this movie is a catastrophe, and a complete insult to fans of the books, fans of Matthew McConaughey, and…
03 Aug 2017
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Charlize Theron goes on a tear for the ages in Atomic Blonde, placing another pin on her action-hero lapel after her ferocious turn as Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road. As Lorraine Broughton—an undercover agent on a mission in Berlin as the wall begins to fall in the late 1980s—she showcases her ability to kick people through walls with the best of them. She also knows how to use a freezer door as a weapon. Directed by David Leitch, one of the directors of the original John Wick and the future director of Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde pops with the same kind of kinetic energy that Wick did when the bullets and kicks were flying. Also a legendary stuntman, Leitch knows how to make a hit look real, and he choreographs action scenes that stand as some of the year’s best. When Charlize lands a blow in this movie, you…
27 Jul 2017
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Christopher Nolan’s ambitious film about the 1940 evacuation of allied troops from Dunkirk is one of the great visual cinematic spectacles of the 21st century—and for that, he should be applauded. Unfortunately, some of his scripting and editing decisions take away from the effectiveness of his movie. In a strange way, this is one of his least-successful films. We are talking about the guy who made Interstellar, The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Inception, Insomnia and Memento. All of those are great films—and better films than Dunkirk. Still, Dunkirk is a good movie, and an occasionally astounding one if you manage to see it on an IMAX screen, either at the Regal Rancho Mirage or elsewhere. Nolan shot on film, with all scenes intended for IMAX; add in some incredible soundtrack work by Hans Zimmer, and the movie begs to be seen in theaters—even if the experience is a bit empty…
20 Jul 2017
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The Big Sick is a romantic comedy like no other. Yes, two people fall in love—but that’s about all The Big Sick has in common with your average romantic comedy. This film is an amazing beast off in its own category. Real-life couple Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley) and Emily V. Gordon penned the script based on their own courtship. Nanjiani plays himself, while the eternally awesome Zoe Kazan (Ruby Sparks) steps into the role of Emily. Their story is incredible, and the way it is presented here—by a fine ensemble under the direction of the great Michael Showalter (Hello, My Name Is Doris, Wet Hot American Summer)—results in one of the year’s best films. Kumail is a standup comedian trying to make it in Chicago when Emily takes in one of his sets. The two wind up in bed together, with Kumail actually being the Uber driver who has to…
20 Jul 2017
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The enthralling modern Planet of the Apes trilogy comes to a close with War for the Planet of the Apes, its best chapter yet. Caesar (played via motion capture by Andy Serkis) is holding his own in the forest with his band of ape soldiers when a crazed colonel (Woody Harrelson) finds him and delivers a painful blow. Caesar finds himself on a revenge quest, with the likes of Rocket (Terry Notary), Maurice (Karin Konoval) and a new character named Bad Ape (a funny Steve Zahn) in tow. It all leads to a man vs. ape showdown for the ages—and the special effects that were great in the first movie are 10 times better in the third. Fans of the original Apes films will be happy to learn that this movie is a virtual love letter to the series. It even has a mute girl named Nova (Amiah Miller)—the same…
13 Jul 2017
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According to director Sofia Coppola, The Beguiled is not a remake of the 1971 film of the same name starring Clint Eastwood; it’s a new adaptation of the novel upon which both films are based. Nicole Kidman stars as the leader of a Southern school for girls that is shut off from the rest of the world during the Civil War. While out searching for mushrooms, young Amy (Oona Laurence) finds a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) and leads him back to the school. As the man heals, the young students and teachers each have interactions with the soldier, and things eventually get, well, complicated. Everybody in the movie delivers good work, especially Kidman as Miss Martha, a strict leader with risky compassion for the enemy soldier. Longtime Coppola collaborator Kirsten Dunst is on hand as a teacher who gets some extra attention from the stranger; she’s strong in her…
13 Jul 2017
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Spidey took an unfortunate detour with Andrew Garfield, director Marc Webb and their underwhelming, dreary The Amazing Spider-Man films. (I’m still pissed about those cranes!) That GIF of Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker crying sloppily pretty much reflects my sentiment about the last couple of Spider-Man films. Things get back on track in a fun way with Spider-Man: Homecoming, a complete overhaul of the Peter Parker character thanks to the effervescent casting of Tom Holland, an impressive athlete (he does most of his own acrobatic stunts) and fine actor (he’s amazing in The Impossible). Holland does the character proud, as did Maguire before him. The torch has been passed in reliable, snappy way. Of course, a Marvel movie needs a good villain, and Homecoming gets one in Vulture, played with snarling glee by Michael Keaton. Director Jon Watts and a ridiculous number of writers give Vulture an interesting origin. He’s Adrian…
06 Jul 2017
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Geeks like me have been bitching about director Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man exodus for several years now. Wright was hard at work on Ant-Man for the better part of a decade, but left abruptly during production due to “creative differences.” My initial reaction to that news was: “Farts!” We wound up getting an OK Ant-Man from director Peyton Reed, while Wright announced his next project would be a car-chase movie, written by himself. The final product is Baby Driver, starring Ansel Elgort as a getaway driver with tinnitus—and it truly is a great time. It’s a nice antidote to The Fate of the Furious, a movie that made me never want to see a car-chase movie again. The Baby Driver soundtrack is one of the year’s best, and the guy in the title role is a major star in the making. Elgort plays Baby; we see him in the film’s opening…
06 Jul 2017
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Lee, an aging movie star (Sam Elliott), gets some bad news from his doctor—and he tries to make good on some mistakes in the face of big decisions. The plot of The Hero may sound like a done-to-death story to you, and it kind of is, but director and co-screenwriter Brett Haley makes things intriguing, thanks to a great performance from Elliott and an excellent supporting cast. Elliott is basically playing himself, a Western star known for his big voice and iconic mustache; the part was tailor-made for him. His Lee is sort of a jerk, but he’s the kind of jerk you have to like. (The way that mustache arches with his smile is magical!) Nick Offerman is stellar as Lee’s drug dealer and best buddy, while Laura Prepon has never been better as the love interest. (Yes, it’s a cliché role, but she takes it to great heights.)…

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