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Reviews

18 Aug 2016
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Friendships are a big deal in our younger years. Writer-director Ira Sachs is very much clued into this reality with Little Men, a beautiful little movie about a family moving to Brooklyn after a relative has left them a home. Greg Kinnear, in his best role in years, plays Brian, an actor on the downside of his career who moves with wife, Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), and son, Jake (Theo Taplitz), to the new Brooklyn home, where Jake instantly befriends the charismatic Tony (Michael Barbieri). They go to the same school together, play video games and aspire to become artists. Tony’s mom (Paulina Garcia) operates a business in the home Brian has inherited. When Brian tries to raise her low rent, problems ensue, and despite the best of intentions, relationships are affected. Everybody is terrific in this movie, especially Taplitz and Barbieri, who come off as very real. Kinnear, looking world-weary…
18 Aug 2016
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There’s been too much “more of the same” at theaters this summer. Flat big-budget blockbusters and sequels without an ounce of creativity or originality keep being churned out of the Hollywood industrial complex, delivering an astounding amount of expensive, vapid horse shit. Sausage Party, the animated hellcat from writer-producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, is the first big studio film in a long time that is screaming with originality. It’s a profanity-laden, blasphemous middle finger to the movie-making establishment that thinks it’s OK to turn out sequels and comic-book movies that suck—because the studios know people will shell out for them anyway. Sausage Party couldn’t be more fun, and it’s a film like nothing you’ve seen before. In a sunny supermarket, a bunch of vegetables, hot dogs and buns wake up and sing a happy song, convinced that today will be the day they are chosen by humans to enter…
11 Aug 2016
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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a skunk blast to the face for those of us looking for a fun superhero movie earlier this year. Well, Suicide Squad looked like a fine chance for DC Comics movies to get back on the right track. With David Ayer (Fury, End of Watch) at the helm, and a cast including Will Smith, Jared Leto and Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad had the potential to be a fun blast of movie mischief. Sadly, Suicide Squad does nothing to improve the summer blockbuster season. In fact, it is the equivalent of a big, stinking torpedo of shit. After a first-half buildup that does a decent job of introducing bad-guy characters like Deadshot (Smith), Harley Quinn (Robbie) and The Joker (Leto), the movie becomes a spastic colon, resulting in that big turd referred above. The script—if one could call it that—involves some nonsense with a…
04 Aug 2016
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It’s been nine years since the last Bourne movie that mattered. (The Bourne Legacy, with Jeremy Renner, back in 2012 was a joke.) After saying he wouldn’t play the part again, Matt Damon is back as Jason Bourne, with director-buddy Paul Greengrass in tow. The result: Jason Bourne, a tedious, desperate and sad extension of the Bourne storyline. At the end of The Bourne Ultimatum, Damon’s Bourne woke up after a bridge dive and swam off into an unknown and unpredictable future. It seemed to be a fitting and perfect end to the character, or perhaps that particular story arc. Bourne found out his real name, learned why he was an assassin with amnesia, and got himself a little revenge. Case closed, right? Wrong. Money matters, and Universal wanted to keep the Bourne locomotive on track. An attempt to keep the franchise going with a new star (Renner’s awful Legacy)…
02 Aug 2016
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A couple of great actresses elevate a merely decent script in Into the Forest, an apocalyptic thriller from writer-director Patricia Rozema. Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood star as Nell and Eva, two sisters living with their dad (Callum Rennie) in their home deep in the forest. One routine evening, they are enjoying the luxuries of modern civilization when all of the power goes out. They react as people usually do when there’s a power outage: They bust out the flashlights and plan a trip for supplies. A mishap involving a car battery delays their trip, and when they finally make it into town, they discover the city has been swept of food and gasoline—and there is no end to the power outage in sight. Situations develop that lead to the girls living on their own—and fending for themselves. Page and Wood, two actresses who haven’t gotten many roles to…
28 Jul 2016
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Three years ago, director David F. Sandberg made Lights Out, a great short about a woman, home alone at night, who kept noticing a dark figure when she switched off the light. The payoff was both hilarious and scary as shit. So, of course, producer James Wan got hold of Sandberg, and now there’s a full-length feature film based on that light-switch premise. Writer Eric Heisserer takes the idea, fleshes it out, and comes up with a pretty good story to go with Sandberg’s strong horror-directing abilities. Rebecca (Teresa Palmer) is an angry woman with mommy and commitment issues. Her mom, Sophie (Maria Bello), recently lost her husband and has fallen into a depression; she is talking to herself. Rebecca’s younger brother, Martin (Gabriel Bateman), is seeing a strange dark figure when the lights go out. It all leads up to a finale during which flashlights are very valuable, and…
28 Jul 2016
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While it’s been more than 20 years since the great Frank Zappa left the planet, surprisingly little in the way of films and other media have focused on about his life and times. With Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words, director Thorsten Schütte finds a nice way of getting Zappa back in the public eye, making a solid documentary featuring Zappa interviews, concert footage and appearances. Like The Beatles Anthology before it, Eat That Question tells the artist’s story by using his own words. I’m a big fan, so I’ve seen some of the footage Schutte utilizes, like Zappa playing music with bicycles with Steve Allen, and Frank’s final interview before dying from cancer. Thankfully, Schutte (with help from the Zappa Family Trust) has also unearthed a lot of rare footage—footage with which even the most ardent fan might not be familiar. This isn’t a concert film,…
28 Jul 2016
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Ricky (Julian Dennison) and his foster parent, Hec (Sam Neill), escape into the New Zealand bush after the death of Hec’s wife, Bella (Rima Te Wiata), destines Ricky for a ticket back to juvenile hall in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Hec and Ricky don’t like each other all that much at first, but they warm up to each other as the film plays out, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. Directed by Taika Waititi, who made a very funny vampire movie with What We Do in the Shadows (and who makes a very funny appearance in this one), Hunt for the Wilderpeople is proof that Waititi has more than laughs up his sleeves. This film has genuine warmth, great performances and, yes, some good laughs. Neill, unrecognizable at first under his big gray beard, delivers perhaps the best performance of his career as an old codger who has…
28 Jul 2016
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While Star Trek Beyond could use more soul and a more cohesive story, the film scores high on the zip factor, and introduces a creepy new villain. The latest film in the franchise’s reboot might be the weakest of the three featuring the newish cast, but it is still a lot of fun. J.J. Abrams stepped down to direct his revamped Star Wars, relegating himself to a producer’s role. In steps Justin Lin, best known for making cars jump between skyscrapers in the Fast and Furious franchise. It’s no surprise that Lin’s take lacks a certain depth that Abrams managed to bring to his two installments. It’s also not a surprise that some of the action scenes motor along with the efficiency of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat. The film picks up with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew in the midst of their five-year mission. Kirk (as he…
21 Jul 2016
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The first Ghostbusters was a magnificent movie miracle. Some of the greatest comedy actors of the time (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis and Dan Aykroyd) joined forces under the guidance of a hot director (Ivan Reitman, coming off Stripes and Meatballs) to merge horror, science fiction, comedy and big-budget special effects. They balanced these elements perfectly—and turned out a classic. I was not expecting anything near the brilliance or originality of the 1984 original from Paul Feig’s reboot/remake/whatever-you-want-to-call-it entry into a movie franchise that has remained dormant since the miserable 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters 2. Considering the cast that Feig assembled—Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones—I did expect to have a good time. That didn’t happen. I was bored … super bored. I laughed a total of 2 1/2 times at the new Ghostbusters, and I did not laugh once due to anything the headliners did. It’s…
14 Jul 2016
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A bunch of comedians lend their voices to some cartoon characters, and the results are moderately entertaining. The Secret Life of Pets is good for a laugh or two, and the occasional wacked-out moment makes it a semi-original animated movie. Yeah, this is not a ringing endorsement. Louis C.K. voices Max, a Jack Russell terrier who loves his master, Katie (Ellie Kemper, of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), with that undying loyalty that makes dogs so damn cool. However, when Katie brings home a new brother for Max, a big, brown shaggy dog named Duke (Eric Stonestreet), it creates turmoil in the household. This leads to that, with Max and Duke eventually winding up in the hands of Animal Control, and eventually fending for themselves inside the sewers of Manhattan. There, they become enemies of the Flushed Pets, a group consisting of alligators, lizards, snakes and furry critters, all led by…
07 Jul 2016
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Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a Confederate army medic, decides he’s had enough—and deserts. He returns to Mississippi, where his people are being harassed by looting soldiers. He winds up in the swamps with escaped slaves, where they form a pact—and eventually create a militia to rebel against the Confederacy. Free State of Jones is based on a true story, and director Gary Ross definitely shows the brutality and terrors of the Civil War. McConaughey is powerful in the central role, as is Mahershala Ali as Moses, leader of the escaped slaves. However, the film stumbles a bit when it tries to do a little too much: There are courtroom scenes taking place 85 years after the Civil War, when a relative of Knight’s is in a civil rights dispute. These scenes feel completely out of place, and they sort of muck up the film’s ending; things just come to an…