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Reviews

07 Dec 2017
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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the third feature film by writer-director Martin McDonagh. It’s also his third masterpiece. Three Billboards also marks another astonishing film achievement for Frances McDormand, who will drill into your chest cavity and do all kinds of crazy shit to your heart as Mildred, a justifiably pissed-off mother who has a few issues with the cops in her town. It’s been five years since Mildred’s young daughter was raped, killed and burned by unknown murderers. Mildred, who isn’t even close to getting over the tragedy, spies some old, dilapidated billboards on the way home and gets an idea. After meeting with a sloppy advertising agent (Caleb Landry Jones), some guys are commissioned to put alarmingly provocative signs on those billboards. Those signs call out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a well-meaning but emotional man who, for various reasons, is not on his best game. He challenges…
07 Dec 2017
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Greta Gerwig makes her solo directorial debut with Lady Bird, a semi-autobiographical look at her life growing up in Sacramento—and she immediately establishes herself as a directing force to be reckoned with. Saoirise Ronan, who should’ve won an Oscar for Brooklyn, will likely get another chance for her turn as Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, an artistic Sacramento youth who yearns for the East Coast and some distance from her domineering mom (Laurie Metcalf). This is a coming-of-age story like no other thanks to the insightful writing and brisk directorial style of Gerwig, who makes Lady Bird’s story consistently surprising. Ronan’s Lady Bird is a rebel with a good heart—a theater geek who stinks at math—but she’s on an emotional rollercoaster. She also gets a lot of laughs, especially in her showdowns with Metcalf, who has never been better. Lucas Hedges, on a roll after Manchester by the Sea and Three…
30 Nov 2017
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In 1843, when Charles Dickens published A Christmas Carol, folks were just starting to get into that thing we call Christmas, with stuff like Christmas trees, gift-giving and Cyber Mondays. (An iPad would cost, like, nothing on Cyber Monday in 1843, because nobody had invented the damn thing yet.) It was the Dickens novel about a miserable miser named Ebenezer Scrooge, who transforms from evil greed monster to kind philanthropist throughout its five chapters, that would help take the celebration of Christmas to a new level—and the boldly titled The Man Who Invented Christmas spins an entertaining and clever take on how and why Dickens got the idea for the story that would change the world. Coming off a couple of flops after the success of Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) is doing clumsy book tours to pay the bills. Desperate for a “hit,” he gets an idea for…
23 Nov 2017
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Come on, DC Films! You did so well with Wonder Woman, and Justice League was your chance to really establish your superhero universe! And you blew it. Justice League is an expensive mess in which some of our favorite superheroes battle an apocalyptic force, while two seriously different directors, Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon, battle with their filmmaking styles. It’s no big secret that Zack Snyder (who created two execrable duds with Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) had to leave deep into production due to family reasons. Joss Whedon (The Avengers) stepped in for post-production and major reshoots. The resulting catastrophe is like a swig of boxed wine that has been left out in the sun for three weeks, chased by a big chug of Sunny Delight. Neither is a taste you want in your face. The action picks up after the death of Superman…
23 Nov 2017
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Great actresses do great things in Novitate, a stunner from writer-director Margaret Betts. Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) joins a convent in the 1960s, right in time for the major policy changes for nuns the Catholic Church made via Vatican II. She’s devoted, but also looking to escape a dreary childhood and her troubled mother (Julianne Nicholson). On her way to becoming a nun, Cathleen and her fellow sisters must contend with the fierce Reverend Mother (a scary Melissa Leo, playing one of the year’s best villains). Reverend Mother has a few problems with Vatican II; she refuses to adopt some of its more lenient policies, and continues to practice something akin to fraternity hazing. Leo is a coiled snake in this movie, and her outbursts are frightening. The film is a testament to a nun’s faith, because a lot of the girls stick around even though the lady in charge is…
13 Nov 2017
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Last week, I received a review link to Louis C.K.’s new film, I Love You, Daddy, along with a message saying that Louis C.K. was available for interviews. I also got a form that, among other things, asked about my reaction to the movie. I was a little peeved that my reaction to the film was needed before granting an interview … but that’s no big deal. A lot of media outlets would be interested in talking to C.K.—and, as a long-standing, rabid Louis C.K. fan, I figured the movie would be great, right? Wrong. This is easily the worst thing C.K. has done since Pootie Tang. Not only is it a bad movie on a purely technical level; its subject matter is, as you may already know, a bit suspect. For the past couple of years, I’d read about “rumors” of C.K.’s demented sexual proclivities. Unfortunately, this weird-as-all-fuck movie…
09 Nov 2017
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They were smoking some wild shit and licking frogs when they put together Thor: Ragnarok, a film so nutty that it easily surpasses the Guardians of the Galaxy films as the screwiest offering in the Marvel universe. When you hand the keys to the Thor franchise over to a director like Taika Waititi, you know you are going to get something bizarre—and Waititi doesn’t disappoint. Waititi is the New Zealand comic actor/director responsible for the hilarious vampire faux documentary What We Do in the Shadows and the funny family drama Hunt for the Wilderpeople. There’s really nothing on his resume that screams, “Hey, let’s have this guy direct an action packed, highly expensive Thor film!” but he got the gig, so there you go. Sometimes the wild card pays off. Borrowing from a host of Marvel comics (including the famed “Planet Hulk” storyline), the hallucinogenic plot drops Thor (Chris Hemsworth)…
02 Nov 2017
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It was around Halloween seven years ago when I did a little happy dance in my head as I walked out of a movie theater. I had just seen Saw 3D: The Final Chapter, the seventh and, as advertised, supposedly final film in the Saw franchise. Oh, deep down in my cinema-going heart, I didn’t really believe it would be the last one. I had been tricked before. (Fuck you, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street!) But, you know, it did say The Final Chapter in the title, and this was back in the pre-Trump days, when I was a little more optimistic and had a bit more spring in my step. I had hopes that I would never again hear Tobin Bell, as Jigsaw, droning on about “playing a game” and murdering people with elaborate schemes that would take something like $7 billion per death. (A…
26 Oct 2017
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After a slow start, Only the Brave rallies to become a solid tribute to the Granite Mountain Hotshots, 19 of whom died battling the massive Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013. The Hotshots were an elite Prescott, Ariz., crew led by veteran firefighter Eric Marsh, played here by Josh Brolin. This performance ranks among Brolin’s best, as he shows us a passionate man presiding over his crew like a father to his sons. Marsh takes a risk on Brendan McDonough (Miles Teller), a former drug-user seeking redemption and a decent living to provide for his newborn daughter. The always-reliable Teller matches Brolin’s acting triumph every step of the way, making both Marsh and McDonough fleshed-out, complicated characters. The two seem right at home with each other onscreen. Director Joseph Kosinski takes a solid step beyond his prior sci-fi blunders (Oblivion, TRON: Legacy) to deliver a movie that is technically sound and…
26 Oct 2017
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Once again, somebody has tried to revive the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise—and, once again, with Leatherface, we’ve gotten proof that some things are better left alone. This time, the film goes the prequel route, with a silly story about how Leatherface became Leatherface. As proven in Rob Zombie’s faulty interpretation of Halloween—in which Michael Myers got a bigger backstory—some movie monsters are best left mysterious and mostly unexplained. Much of the action here centers around an insane asylum where a teenage Leatherface-to-be (Sam Strike) is hanging out until a riot ensues. He escapes with a nurse held hostage (Vanessa Grasse), while being pursued by yet another evil Texas Chainsaw franchise lawman, this one played by Stephen Dorff. Leatherface’s mom is also looking for him; she’s played by Lili Taylor, whose career is clearly in a downward spiral, along with Dorff’s. Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury throw in some gory…
19 Oct 2017
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A college girl learns a few lessons about life—and about not being a total ass—by re-living the day she is murdered over and over again in Happy Death Day, a so-so movie that gets by completely on the power of its relative unknown lead actress, Jessica Rothe. Rothe plays Tree Gelbman, who wakes up in a strange dorm room on the morning of her birthday to discover she has spent the night with a bit of a dweeb, Carter Davis (Israel Broussard). She storms out of the room while ignoring phone calls from her dad—and basically being nasty to everybody she comes across during her walk of shame. It’s established quickly that Tree is a jerk—and that she has more than a few enemies. All of those enemies, and even some of her friends, become murder suspects when Tree is killed by a mask-wearing baddie on her way to a…
12 Oct 2017
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Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece Blade Runner came out in 1982—35 years ago. Scott has tooled around with the movie numerous times, resulting in a final cut that was released about 10 years ago. While there was a lot of monkeying around (in a good way) with the original, it didn’t seem there was much thought of, or chance for, an actual sequel. After all, the original was not a box-office hit, and it didn’t start gaining its classic status until a decade after its release. In fact, critics beat up on it a bit. Here in 2017, however, we actually do get a sequel. Blade Runner 2049 is directed by Denis Villeneuve, the visionary behind Enemy and Arrival. (Scott remains involved as a producer.) Harrison Ford, who has classically complained about the original movie, has nonetheless returned to play blade runner Rick Deckard. Ryan Gosling steps into the starring role…

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