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Reviews

30 Jun 2016
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After the misstep that was Only God Forgives, director Nicolas Winding Refn gets things back on track with The Neon Demon, perhaps the nastiest film ever made about the modeling industry. Jesse (Elle Fanning) moves to Los Angeles to become a model. She’s underage, naïve and lost, but finds a helping hand in Ruby (Jena Malone), a makeup artist who knows what it’s like to be the new girl in town. As her career begins to take off, Jesse begins to gain confidence—to a fault—and a couple of other models (Bella Heathcote and Abbey Lee) develop sinister intentions along with their envy of Jesse’s spectacular looks. Refn memorizes yet again (his Drive remains one of the best films of this decade), combining stunning visuals and an excellent soundtrack to go with the outstanding performances from Fanning, Malone, Heathcote and Lee. Keanu Reeves has a small but memorable role as a…
21 Jun 2016
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Whatever you think about the notion of racehorses, Dark Horse is a moving documentary about a group of people in Wales who decide to finance one. They eventually succeed after the birth of their horse, Dream Alliance, a gangly colt who grows up to be a solid jumper. Through interviews and archive footage, we see the horse from birth all the way through many of his races, where he proved to be an unlikely champion. Of course, tragedy strikes during one of the races—and then the movie becomes the story of an amazing comeback. Or, depending on your point of view, it becomes the story of a bunch of folks in Wales pushing a beautiful animal well beyond the point of reason. There’s no denying that Dream Alliance is a beautiful animal, and his story is inspiring. The story of the horse is far more compelling than the story of…
23 Jun 2016
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The sequel to Finding Nemo is a bit darker than its predecessor, with Ellen DeGeneres returning as the voice of Dory, the lovable fish with short-term memory issues. An event triggers a memory of family in her little brain, and she sets off on a journey to find her mom and dad (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). Pals Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) join Dory on her quest, which culminates at an aquarium/amusement park that is graced with voice announcements by the actual Sigourney Weaver. Dory winds up in a pond, in a bucket of dead fish, and swimming around inside a lot of dark pipes. In some ways, Finding Dory is to Finding Nemo what The Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars: It’s a darker, slightly scarier chapter. However, it still delivers on the heartwarming elements, and contains some good laughs, many of them…
23 Jun 2016
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While it’s far from original, Central Intelligence winds up being an above-average action/comedy buddy movie thanks to its stars, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart. These guys belong together. The plot feels like a bunch of parts from other movies were cobbled together to make a whole. It has elements of Lethal Weapon, Grosse Pointe Blank, Just Friends and even a bit of Sixteen Candles, all stitched together, albeit capably, by director Rawson Marshall Thurber (We’re the Millers). It’s a well-oiled movie Frankenstein. Johnson actually scores most of the laughs. Meanwhile, Hart delivers one of the more well-rounded, warm performances of his career. The pre-opening-credits sequence gives us Calvin (Hart), the most popular guy in his high school, getting honored at a pep rally. In the boys’ locker room, obese Bob (Johnson, aided by some pretty funny CGI) is taking a shower to the tune of his favorite jam, En Vogue’s…
16 Jun 2016
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As he did with The Conjuring, writer-director James Wan uses a supposed real-life poltergeist as the basis for The Conjuring 2: The sequel draws upon the infamous Enfield Poltergeist, which allegedly occurred in England in the late 1970s. Wan has tapped into something interesting with this franchise. Two films in, it’s showing decent durability and originality. It’s also pretty scary. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return as the Warrens, real-life paranormal investigators known to have visited many legendary haunted spaces, including Amityville and Enfield. Wan, of course, blows up their involvement in each of these cases to offer a platform for fictional circumstances and scares. While not quite as good as The Conjuring, this sequel does its predecessor proud. Amityville actually gets a little bit of attention in the film’s pre-opening-credits sequence, a creepy one that has Farmiga’s Warren possessing the body of killer Ronald DeFeo Jr. during a séance…
16 Jun 2016
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Former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner was a hard-working, impassioned spitfire with a promising future—before he seemingly threw it all away when he sexted out pictures of his surprisingly hot bod to virtual strangers. Word got out, and the man was dethroned. Weiner, a documentary from directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, shows the humiliated politician seemingly on the comeback trail in 2013, making a serious run for New York City mayor, with renewed public support, and his wife, Huma Abedin, still at his side. Even the press seemed to be lightening up on the dude, although fellow politicians still shot arrows. Weiner was actually leading in some polls when word got out that he had been continuing the whole sexting thing—and had even engaged in phone sex with one particular fan. The doc then becomes an examination of a fairly sick guy losing it all once again—a man unable…
09 Jun 2016
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It’s now been nine years since The Lonely Island—Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer—made its cinematic debut with the cult-fave Hot Rod. The trio’s new film, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, gives them a chance to play in their favorite sandbox: the music world. The result: what feels like the first fully realized Lonely Island movie. Given how damn funny the movie is, let’s hope there are many more to follow. All three members of The Lonely Island contribute as writers and performers, while Taccone and Schaffer handle directing chores. The movie takes the mockumentary route, spoofing bio films from the likes of Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers and Katy Perry. Samberg headlines as Conner 4 Real, a former member of boy-band/rap-group The Style Boyz, who has gone his own way with a solo career. Following that initial success, Connor’s latest solo album is tanking (Rolling Stone gave it…
09 Jun 2016
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The Lobster is a completely brutal bit of satire. Writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos gives us a world where being single is so frowned upon that you will be transformed into the animal of your choice if you don’t find a partner within an allotted time. Colin Farrell stars as David, a recently dumped man who must stay at a hotel with his brother (who is also his dog) and find a new mate—otherwise, he’ll become a lobster. He eventually finds himself living in the woods with the leftover single people, all of whom must dodge daily hunting expeditions by people looking to extend their time before animal transformation. (The hunters earn extra days for every single person they bag.) David eventually meets Short Sighted Woman (Rachel Weisz) among the singles, and he finds himself making some big decisions on how to start a relationship with her. The film intentionally looks drab,…
02 Jun 2016
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After scoring a huge critical and box-office success in 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past—Bryan Singer’s triumphant return to the franchise—20th Century Fox wisely brought the director back for X-Men: Apocalypse. However, in an utterly baffling move, Fox cut the budget for the current installment, while padding the cast and upping the action. (Well, this is the studio that screwed up The Fantastic Four, so maybe the shortchanging of a reliable franchise isn’t all that surprising.) The result: Portions of the movie look much sloppier than Singer’s usual offerings, with quite a few moments featuring cut-rate-looking CGI. The movie alternates from looking great to looking terrible. The flaws eventually pile up, and while there are some nice, enjoyable stretches, X-Men: Apocalypse is a mess in the end, despite powerful work from Michael Fassbender as Magneto, and a great performance by new-to-the-franchise Oscar Isaac as the menacing villain, Apocalypse. Before…
26 May 2016
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I’m a huge fan of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shane Black’s scrappy, funny 2005 directorial debut. Black hasn’t done a lot of directing in its aftermath, with his lone theatrical credit since then being Iron Man 3, the second-strongest Iron Man in the franchise. He’s returned to grittier, film-noir mode with The Nice Guys, a grimy detective story starring a game Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. The movie is good—not great, just good—and it’s painful to witness the moments that don’t work. Crowe plays Jackson Healy, a Los Angeles loser who gets paid by people to rough up child molesters, for the most part. He gets an assignment from Amelia (Margaret Qualley), who wants him to pay a visit to private-detective Holland March (Gosling)—and that visit turns out to be hilariously infused with comic violence. Holland and Jackson wind up working on a case together, one that involves Amelia, a…
26 May 2016
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The first half of Seth Rogen sequel Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is as funny and snappy as the first movie—but the film loses its way a bit by the time credits roll. Still, if you are looking at laughs per dollar, Rogen and Zac Efron deliver your money’s worth. The spin this time out has a sorority led by Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz) moving in next door to the Radners (Rogen and Rose Byrne). Shelby is determined to party like a fraternity does, and this leads to a semi-depressed Teddy (Efron) coming on as the sorority’s mentor. This restarts Teddy’s war with the Radners—which is bad timing, because their house is in escrow. It’s during this stage of the film when it is at its nastiest and its best. When Teddy joins forces with the Radners to destroy the sorority, things get a little misguided. The film has some of…
19 May 2016
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Director Jodie Foster goes for a 1970s throwback vibe while approaching a modern financial subject in Money Monster, a valiant but messy effort starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Clooney plays Lee Gates, host of Money Monster, a sensationalistic financial program that features Gates dancing around the studio and making stock tips. Not all of Gates’ tips are winners—and he’s about to find out about the downside of bad advice. Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) shows up on the set as a delivery boy—but he doesn’t have pizzas. Instead, he’s got an explosive vest for Gates to put on, and a gun that says, “Don’t turn off the cameras; we are going to be here for a while!” Producer Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts) has to keep the show rolling as her host is being held hostage. Kyle lost a lot of dough on a Gates tip, and he’s here to tell…