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Reviews

21 Sep 2017
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Writer-director Darren Aronofsky is a nut, and his latest film, Mother!, is one helluva nutty movie. The film’s star, Jennifer Lawrence, is currently dating Aronofsky, a fact that infiltrates the mood of Mother! because the film takes aim at relationships, in a rather nasty way, among its many targets. Those targets also include the Bible, narcissism, celebrity, art, family, smoking and … oh yeah, motherhood. By the time Mother! is over, you might not know exactly what went down, but you know that what happened was rather cynical … highly stylized, loony, entertaining cynicism. Lawrence plays Mother, an apparently kind-hearted partner to Him (Javier Bardem). They live in an old-style country house out in the middle of nowhere. Him is a writer, going through some major writer’s block and occasionally speaking of having lost everything in the past to a fire. He has some sort of crystalized object on a…
14 Sep 2017
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I read It when the novel came out in 1986, and I was underwhelmed. It had a cool premise, but sloppy, overlong, out-of-control prose. That sucker needed some editing. I had been gobbling up Stephen King books (I’m a big fan of Christine and Different Seasons), but experienced a bit of a lull in interest after his lousy Peter Straub collaboration, The Talisman. I felt like King was overextending himself a bit, and It seemed like a big mess. In other words … I’m not a huge fan of the source material for the new It film. I was also not a fan of the wimpy 1990 TV miniseries with John-Boy Walton, Jack Tripper, Harry Anderson and a decent Tim Curry as evil clown Pennywise. It featured that unintentionally hilarious puppet spider at the end. The good thing about a movie like Andy Muschietti’s It is that the director and…
31 Aug 2017
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Birth of the Dragon, a fictitious take on the real-life fight between Wong Jack Man and martial-arts legend Bruce Lee, has a couple of good fight scenes in it. In fact, they’re very good. Unfortunately, those fight scenes are surrounded by crap. Picture a diamond like the blue one the old lady had in that Titanic movie; dip it in gold; put it in a bag with $780 million and a Babe Ruth autographed baseball; then drop that bag into a communal spot where a bunch of sick hippos have taken massive shits and formed a virtual lake of shit. Let that bag sink to the bottom and become immersed in the lake of sick-hippo shit. That’s what happens to the very good fight scenes in this movie: They’re lost in shit. Sick hippo shit. (I apologize for picking on hippos for this analogy, but, hey, they are huge and,…
24 Aug 2017
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If you are a fan of last year’s excellent modern Western Hell or High Water, get yourself into a theater to see Wind River. The writer of Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan, writes and directs Wind River. He is a true wordsmith who captures American dilemmas on par with Sam Shepard and Cormac McCarthy. The man knows how to pen a great thriller with depth, and his works (he also wrote Sicario) all have a common, somber tone. This is a guy who knows that many of the people you will pass on the street are dealing with grief and loss—they are surviving, but it’s a bitch, and it’s not going to get easier. Wind River marks Sheridan’s second directorial effort, after 2011’s low-budget Vile, and it stands as one of the summer’s best films. It’s a solid mystery-thriller, and a showcase for fierce performances from Jeremy Renner and…
24 Aug 2017
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A gang of losers plots to rob a NASCAR racetrack during one of its busiest weekends—and they do it in a hackneyed way that makes absolutely no sense in Logan Lucky. Steven Soderbergh comes out of retirement to direct Channing Tatum as Jimmy Logan, a former football player who has fallen on bad times, and then suddenly gets it in his head to rob the racetrack. His plan involves sneaking people out of prison, blowing things up with gummy bears, and using secret allies within the establishment. Soderbergh did the Ocean’s Eleven movies, and the first one included a reasonably fun and inventive heist. Well, this is sort of Ocean’s Eleven for rednecks—but it’s hard to believe this group would have the ability to pull off the heist. The film is almost saved by some of the supporting performances, including Daniel Craig as an incarcerated safe cracker who digs hard-boiled…
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…