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Reviews

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…
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…