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Reviews

06 Jul 2017
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There isn’t a single wrong note in Maudie, an alternately heartbreaking and uplifting biography film about the life of Canadian painter Maud Lewis (Sally Hawkins). After answering an ad seeking a housekeeper in Nova Scotia, Maud, stricken with arthritis since she was a child, winds up in the house of miserable-bastard Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke, delivering yet another monumental performance). The two wind up married, but it’s no fairytale: Everett has some major, major issues that Maud must contend with, and when Maud finds fame with her sweet paintings, Everett becomes an even bigger jerk. Director Aisling Walsh, working from a script by Sherry White, makes a lot of interesting choices in depicting the couple—and Hawkins and Hawke make them all work. Hawkins is a true Oscar contender for her work here, and while the role of Maud requires a difficult and strenuous physical performance, the light in her voice…
29 Jun 2017
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Transformers: The Last Knight gets the dubious distinction of being the worst in the series. That is a major accomplishment. It’s not the easiest thing to look at this collective pile of movie manure and decipher which of the five is the worst. It’s like going to a frat house during the first week of a semester at Dickhead University, and trying to pick out the dumbest, drunkest douche in the place. All of the qualifiers are terribly, criminally lame. I’m giving Transformers: The Last Knight the award of Franchise Worst, because it’s clear that every participant in this enterprise, from director Michael Bay right on down to the production assistant who smeared glycerin on Mark Wahlberg’s pecs, is jaded, tired and played out. Nobody really wants to be in this thing. The stink of, “Who gives a shit … just pay me!” hits your nostrils with Wahlberg’s first line…
22 Jun 2017
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The Cars franchise gets a nice boost with Cars 3, a much, much better movie than Cars 2, and a slightly better movie than the first Cars. If you are keeping score—and, really, you shouldn’t be, for there are far more pressing matters in your life—Cars 3 is still one of the more mediocre offerings from Pixar/Disney. Still, a mediocre Pixar film is better than most animated movies. Jettisoning the stupid spy-movie bullshit that made the last installment convoluted and useless, the folks at Pixar chose to take an earthier, more-emotional route with this one, and it works, for the most part. They also found a way to get the voice of the late Paul Newman into the mix, and hearing his beautiful growl again definitely warms the heart. Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) is getting on in years, and he’s facing fierce competition from newer-model cars like Jackson Storm (Armie…
15 Jun 2017
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I don’t hate The Mummy because it’s a terrible movie; it’s not. I hate it because it could have, and should have, been good. Actually, hate is a strong word; I just don’t like it. Opportunities abound for some real fun here, and they are all squandered. Tom Cruise is fully committed for a gonzo performance as Nick Morton, a soldier moonlighting as a tomb raider in Iraq. After stumbling upon the tomb of an ancient nasty named Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), he winds up on a plane with the mummy, some soldiers and a mysterious woman named Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis). The plane crashes, and then the weirdness begins, with Nick surviving the crash—because he’s possessed by Ahmanet. Post-crash, Ahmanet starts sucking face with cops and dead guys, turning them into a zombie army as she marches on London. Along the way, Nick meets Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) in…
15 Jun 2017
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Writer-director Trey Edward Shults, who made a splendid debut with last year’s family drama Krisha, goes for a family drama of the post-apocalyptic kind with It Comes at Night, a thriller falsely billed as a horror movie. Paul (Joel Edgerton), a man living in a remote house with his wife and kid (Carmen Ejogo and Kelvin Harrison Jr.), will go to every extreme to protect his family from a plague that has claimed the majority of Earth’s population. If somebody gets sick in his home, the ill person receives a bullet to the head and a postmortem visit to the fire pit. With that possibility always at hand, he allows a new couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough, grandchild of Elvis) and their child to move in after they earn his trust with some livestock. Things go well for a short amount of time … before paranoia kicks in, and…
08 Jun 2017
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The DC Universe gets the blast of fun it sorely needed with Wonder Woman, a film that gets it right in almost every way—including a performance from Gal Gadot that makes it seem like the role is her birthright. Gadot lights up the screen and commands the camera on the same level as Christopher Reeve and Robert Downey Jr. She simply is Wonder Woman; I can’t picture another actress even attempting to play the character. She owns it. It’s hers. Game over. There’s always a faction of fans who bitch about superhero-origin stories, who want films to jump straight to the hardcore action, but I love a good origin story done well. The movie starts with young Amazonian princess Diana running around her island paradise, practicing her fight moves and yearning to be trained as a warrior. After butting heads with her sister, Antiope (Robin Wright, rightfully cast as an…
01 Jun 2017
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In the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, a bunch of pirates run around and act like dicks while being pursued by ghosts, all while trying not to sink. Actually … that’s basically the plot of all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Therefore, it’s depressingly no surprise that the new one, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, rehashes the same plot with Johnny “The Whore” Depp doing his whole drunken Keith Richards pirate routine again as Jack Sparrow. Actually, his Keith Richards routine has devolved into something more akin to Dudley Moore’s routine in Arthur 2: On the Rocks: The original was somewhat funny, but the gag got tired really quickly. So it goes with Depp’s meandering, mumbling, tipsy performance as Jack Sparrow, the feared pirate with whom everybody seems to have some sort of problem. Depp’s laboring with a joke that stopped being funny four…
30 May 2017
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Netflix’s original film War Machine is all screwy. Brad Pitt plays Gen. Glen McMahon (clearly based on real-life General Stanley McChrystal), put in charge of the war in Afghanistan during the Obama administration. McMahon is just Pitt’s Inglourious Basterds character without a mustache—but this time, Pitt never seems relaxed in the part. Instead, he seems lost in a movie that doesn’t really know where it’s going. It’s military satire, and then it’s a serious depiction of men at war, and then it’s a straight-up comedy, and then it’s a political intrigue movie, and so on. Writer/director David Michod tries to wrangle this mess with the ultimate movie crutch—the voiceover, provided by a character based on the real journalist who wrote the article and later the book on which the film is based. The late Michael Hastings (depicted here as a character called Sean Cullen and played by Scoot McNairy) wrote…
25 May 2017
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Ridley Scott’s third Alien film is an entertaining mashup of the overreaching-but-cool sensibilities of Prometheus and the old-school dread and “Ick!” factor that made the original Alien one of the best horror and science-fiction films of the 20th century. Alien: Covenant continues the ruminations about the origins of man birthed in Prometheus while injecting a few more Xenomorphs into the mix. It will please fans of the first two films of the franchise who want the shit scared out of them, while also appeasing those who enjoyed the brainy (if somewhat confusing and inconsistent) ways of Prometheus. While Scott leaned harder on the horror elements here, his budget is $30 million-plus less than what he had for Prometheus. That film constituted one of cinema’s all-time-great usages of 3-D technology, with flawless special effects. Covenant totally abandons 3-D (money saved), and features some CGI in the opening minutes that looks like…
18 May 2017
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Some 15 years after her last movie (the terrible The Banger Sisters), Goldie Hawn has been coaxed back onto the big screen, opposite Amy Schumer in Snatched. It’s great to have her back—and it would’ve been super-great had the movie been worth her time. Hawn and Schumer play Linda and Emily, mother and daughter, in what amounts to a series of decent dirty jokes, dumb dirty jokes and a lot of flat jokes, powered by a plot with no real sense of purpose. Hawn and Schumer work hard to make it all fun, but they are ultimately taken down by the mediocrity of the film around them. When Emily is dumped by her rocker boyfriend (the always-funny Randall Park), she has no traveling partner for an upcoming, non-refundable trip to Ecuador. In steps Linda, a crazy-cat-lady mom who rarely leaves the house. Just like that, the two wind up sleeping…
18 May 2017
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Richard Gere delivers one of his very best performances as the titular Norman, a New York “businessman” who doesn’t really have a business or a job. He’s a mysterious, earbud-wearing, graying man riding the trains and grabbing crackers for dinner at the local synagogue—with big aspirations. A self-professed “good swimmer” fighting to stay afloat, Norman finds himself in the company of an up-and-coming Israeli politician (an excellent Lior Ashkenazi), and in a moment of generosity/desperateness, Norman buys the man a pair of shoes. That gesture earns him good favor—as the politician becomes the Israeli prime minister. With big friends comes more notoriety, and Norman finds himself involved in political intrigue and rising responsibility within the New York City Jewish community. Gere, who basically shrinks himself under a sun cap and trench coat here, sparkles in the role, making Norman a memorable, likable and appropriately annoying character. Supporting performances from Dan…
11 May 2017
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It’s well-known that poet Emily Dickinson had a lonely, isolated life. Now, writer-director Terence Davies has made A Quiet Passion, a film that also shows us she may have been completely miserable. Cynthia Nixon is heartbreaking as Dickinson. Her poems were rarely published while she was alive; when they were, they were often heavily edited, and even published anonymously. It wasn’t until after her death—graphically and mercilessly depicted in this movie—that Dickinson got noticed. The film starts with a younger Dickinson (played by Emma Bell, who was badass in the wolf-horror movie Frozen). Misunderstood at a private school, her father (an excellent Keith Carradine) brings her home, where she will spend most of her remaining days; she writes her poetry in the early morning hours, and rarely leaves the house. Davies conveys the contradictions of the times. While Emily’s dad encourages her daughter’s writing and denounces slavery, he grumbles when…