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Reviews

11 May 2017
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Trippy Marvel fun continues with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, a big, nutty, spiraling sequel that brings the fun—along with a lot of daddy issues. Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), had him some major mommy issues in the first movie; this time out, dad takes a turn at messing with his head. Dad comes in the form of Ego (Kurt Russell … yes!), who we see hanging out with Quill’s mom in the 1970s during the film’s prologue. (Both CGI and practical makeup were reportedly used to de-age Kurt Russell, and it looks great.) After a killer opening-credits sequence that features a battle with a giant slug thing while Baby Groot dances to Electric Light Orchestra, the Guardians—Quill, Baby Groot (the voice of Vin Diesel), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (David Bautista) and Rocket (the voice of Bradley Cooper)—find themselves on another quest. They are quickly diverted to Ego’s…
04 May 2017
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The Circle is a clueless movie based on the novel by Dave Eggers, a lame attempt at satire regarding social networking and the invasion of privacy during this digital age. The setup is certainly interesting—but the execution seems like something perpetuated by a 14 year-old student who waited until he or she was on the school bus to scribble out a paper on the perils of social networking, just before it was due. After slaving away at a temp job, Mae Holland (Emma Watson) lands a gig at The Circle thanks to her friend Annie (Karen Gillan), a top player at the company. The Circle is essentially all of today’s ubiquitous tech entities—Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.—wrapped into one. It’s run by a friendly looking, coffee-cup-toting, Steve Jobs-like entity named Bailey (Tom Hanks) and his sidekick, Stenton (Patton Oswalt, aka TV’s Son of TV’s Frank on the new incarnation of…
27 Apr 2017
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Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis gloriously upstage two kaiju monsters in Colossal, a science-fiction monster mash that features numerous twists—and a psychological/emotional river that runs mighty deep. Hathaway outdoes herself as Gloria, a New York City writer who gets kicked out of the apartment of her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) because she is constantly partying and being somewhat “unmanageable.” She winds up in her hometown, sleeping on an inflatable mattress, where she bumps into Oscar (Sudeikis), a childhood friend. Oscar, an overly sweet and generous guy at first glance, immediately tries to help out Gloria. He gives her a job at his bar and showers her with furniture for her sparse home. This seems to be the setup for a strange romantic comedy—with science fiction/horror as the background. Writer-director Nacho Vigalondo, however, has something much different in mind. Gloria awakens one morning after a night of drinking to discover that a…
27 Apr 2017
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Bullets whiz, whistle and rip with a darkly comic ferocity in Free Fire, the latest from super-talented English director Ben Wheatley. Wheatley has quietly been establishing himself as a solid indie director of action and horror, with obscure gems like Sightseers, High-Rise and A Field in England, along with one of the better installments in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death. With Free Fire, Wheatley gets to employ his action-directing prowess—while showing he can handle sharp dialogue and great acting. He’s working with his biggest cast yet, which includes an Oscar winner in Brie Larson, as well as Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley. The film is co-produced by Martin Scorsese; the setup sounds like the sort of movie he should be making. That setup: Two groups come together in a deserted Boston warehouse sometime in 1978. Things go awry, and the whole movie becomes one elongated shootout…
20 Apr 2017
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In The Fate of the Furious—easily the dumbest title in the Furious franchise, even dumber than Tokyo Drift—you get to see the most disgusting, stomach-churning moment in cinema so far this year. That would be Charlize Theron planting a big, sloppy kiss on Vin Diesel, the visual of which creates a “girl from Monster meets the Pillsbury Doughboy on steroids” nightmare. Five years ago, I made a list of five things I never wanted to see, and that came in at No. 3, right under “Donald Trump as President” and “Spiders in My Scrambled Eggs Being Served to Me by a Man With Weeping Hand Sores.” Somewhere along the way, the Furious franchise went completely bonkers and became less about cars racing around and more about dudes, with upper arms the size of a bull’s torso, who think hair on the top of their heads is total bullshit. It also…
13 Apr 2017
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I recently bitched about the Beauty and the Beast remake being unnecessary. However, the movie was enjoyable and sweet on some levels. Then came the Ghost in the Shell remake; while it was a letdown, it looked good and had decent performances. Now comes another remake, Going in Style—and there are no redeeming qualities: It’s a total disaster. The original “old guys rob a bank wearing rubber noses” comedy from back in 1979 starred George Burns and Art Carney. The original was directed by Martin Brest, the guy who would go on to direct Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run and, uh oh, Gigli. Martin Brest … where are you? Yes, Gigli sucked an awful lot, but you had a decent batting average until then. You haven’t done anything since bombing with Gigli, but that film didn’t kill Ben Affleck’s career, so why did it knock you off? Back on point…
06 Apr 2017
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The 1995 film Ghost in the Shell was a groundbreaking, subversive piece of Japanese anime—and now it’s gotten a live-action redo, with Scarlett Johansson sporting a form-fitting flesh suit, and the addition of a bunch of plot enhancers aimed at making the story more humanistic and straightforward. The results are always good to look at—but the puffed up plot and safe PG-13 rating keep the film from succeeding. It’s largely a boring, misguided affair. Johansson can’t be faulted for the film’s failures. She could’ve been a solid choice to play Major, a human brain inside a synthetic cyborg’s body who is policing the streets of a futuristic dystopia that makes the Blade Runner landscapes look like modern-day Lincoln, Neb., in comparison. As she has proven in Lucy and as the Black Widow, Johansson is a capable action hero. She also fares well as somebody placed in an artificial body, as…
30 Mar 2017
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Life, the new sci-fi/horror film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds, is an inconsistent but overall sturdy genre pic that looks great and ultimately delivers the goods, despite a few slow patches—and a couple of remarkably dumb moments. Credit director Daniel Espinosa for setting a grim tone and sticking with it through the very end. Too many big-budget films wimp out with their vision; Life does not. Gyllenhaal and Reynolds play astronauts pulling a long haul on the International Space Station. Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan is actually about to break the record for consecutive days in space, and generally prefers life among the stars to life back on our miserable planet. The crew is awaiting a space capsule containing samples from Mars, and these samples will lead to an amazing discovery: life beyond our planet. Ship scientist Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare) discovers a cell, wakes it up and marvels at its…
23 Mar 2017
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Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s wonderful animated musical from 1991, is the latest feature to get placed on the Disney Live Redo of a Beloved Animated Movie Assembly Line, with a big-budget effort starring Emma Watson as the iconic Belle, and Ewan McGregor as a CGI candelabra. You may be asking yourself, “Is this absolutely necessary?” The answer: No. No, it is not. Then, you may ask yourself, “OK, if it isn’t necessary, is it at least an enjoyable pastime, for I like enjoyable pastimes? They help distract me from all of this trivial shit in my head.” The answer: Why, yes, it is an enjoyable movie, even if it is completely unnecessary. The movie isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of the original like, say, Gus Van Sant’s time-wasting Psycho effort. However, it does follow a lot of the same plot points and incorporates enough of the musical numbers to give…
23 Mar 2017
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The Belko Experiment is a decent-enough yet schlocky horror offering that thinks it is deeper and cleverer than it actually is. Penned by James Gunn, this silly movie pits a bunch of office workers against one another after a voice comes over their intercom telling them to start killing each other off—or everybody dies. The building is sealed; the “experiment” is put into motion; and the likes of Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley start acting like homicidal assholes. Directed by Greg McLean, the film is fun on a very basic level. (If you like movies where lots of heads blow up, this one’s for you!) There’s a definite terror involved in not knowing whose head is going to blow up next, and the folks handling the gore factor do a pretty good job. However, when the big reveal comes at the end, there are no surprises, and the movie…
16 Mar 2017
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The King Kong cinematic machine is cranking again with Kong: Skull Island, an entertaining-enough new take on the big ape that delivers action, but lags a bit when the titular gorilla isn’t onscreen smashing things up. Of the Kong incarnations, this one has the most in common with the 1976 take on the classic story, basically because it’s set just a few years before, in ’73. While there is a beautiful girl on whom the big guy gets a small crush (Brie Larson as a photographer), the story eschews the usual “beauty and the beast” Kong angle for more straight-up monster vs. monster action. Unlike the past American Kong films, this one never makes it to Manhattan, and instead stays on Kong’s island—thus the title of the film. Kong himself is portrayed by motion-capture CGI, and he’s a badass. He’s also tall enough to be a formidable foe for Godzilla,…
16 Mar 2017
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Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee (from Denmark) Land of Mine tells a complicated and difficult story—but writer-director Martin Zandvliet more than succeeds. It’s post-World War II in Denmark, and a group of Nazi youth prisoners of war is tasked with clearing a beach of thousands of mines. Their commander, a Danish sergeant (an excellent Roland Moller), views his crew with contempt at first, treating them harshly. Over time, however, the fact that they are just young boys begins to wear on him, especially when some of them meet their deaths. The cast is beyond good here, delivering a story that has echoes of All Quiet on the Western Front. It’s a difficult film in that it portrays wartime German soldiers in a sympathetic way; the film will justifiably irritate some. In the end, it’s about the horrors of war, its aftermath, and coping with the hatred and bitterness that follows.…