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Reviews

06 Jun 2013
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Will Smith plays royal king douche of all douchebags in director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest travesty, the unwatchable, intolerable After Earth. Conceived by Smith (he gets a story credit) as a project for himself and his son Jaden (they were cute together in The Pursuit of Happyness), After Earth focuses on a father and son stranded on Earth long after humans have abandoned it. It seems humans can no longer breathe on the planet’s surface, yet all manner of wildlife (buffalo, huge-assed birds, baboons, lions, etc.) have no problem. Go figure. They wind up on the planet after their transport ship drives through an asteroid field, and everyone else on board is killed. After the harrowing crash sequence (the best thing in the movie), Will Smith’s Cypher Raige (this year’s pick for dumbest movie name!) is severely injured and must stay behind in the crippled ship as son Kitai Raige…
30 May 2013
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I had high hopes for The Hangover Part III, the conclusion to director Todd Phillips’ trilogy about a group of guys who get into a lot of R-rated trouble after ingesting bad stuff. In retrospect, I feel like a major idiot for having such high hopes. The Hangover franchise, as it turns out, should’ve never become a franchise at all. With the first film, Phillips and his gang of actors captured comedic magic when an awkward bearded man drugged his buddies at a bachelor party, which led to sordid acts including the kidnapping of Mike Tyson’s tiger. The Hangover Part II was a carbon copy of that film, shipped from Las Vegas to Thailand. It had about 15 percent of the original’s laughs; however, it wasn’t a complete loss, even though it was a supreme disappointment. Alas, Part III is total garbage, a film lacking any sense of purpose and…
23 May 2013
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When director J.J. Abrams created the alternate timeline with his brilliant 2009 Star Trek reboot, it gave the franchise a chance to construct all new adventures for Kirk and Spock. It also gave Abrams the opportunity to mess around with variations on characters and adventures that we have already seen. Such is the case with the exhilarating Star Trek Into Darkness, a movie that includes elements of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and “Space Seed” (a classic Trek TV episode). The film starts with Chris Pine’s cocky Kirk getting himself into more trouble. He ignores Starfleet directives and rescues Spock (Zachary Quinto) from an erupting volcano, allowing a primitive alien species to set their eyes on a big UFO in the form of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Kirk gets demoted by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), but keeps a relatively high rank thanks to his pal Pike pulling some strings.…
16 May 2013
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The moment when we first see Leonardo DiCaprio’s face as the title character in Baz Luhrmann’s lavish adaptation of The Great Gatsby is perhaps the biggest “movie star” moment of DiCaprio’s career to date. As fireworks pop off in the night sky behind him, he turns and raises his glass to the camera in a way that exudes high-octane star charisma. If you are a Luhrmann fan, and you appreciated his over-stylized vision in works like Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! (Let’s just forget Australia ever happened, shall we?), you are bound to find much to like in his Gatsby. It’s full of eye-popping visuals, lush costumes and terrific soundtrack stunts. (I loved hearing Jay-Z and Lana Del Rey while watching a picture set in the roaring ’20s.) More important than any of the visual and audio treats is the fact that DiCaprio gives us cinema’s first “great” Gatsby.…
09 May 2013
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Shane Black, writer of the screenplays for Lethal Weapon and Last Action Hero, made one of my favorite directorial debuts with 2005’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I thought it marked the arrival of a true directorial force. Then he basically disappeared. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang featured the best Robert Downey Jr. performance ever put to screen. Maybe Downey agrees with that statement, because he pushed for Black as his director on Iron Man 3. Thankfully, he got his wish. Iron Man 3 is as good as the first film, and markedly better than the OK second installment; it’s just slightly inferior to last year’s The Avengers. Like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, it features dark humor, and gives us a protagonist that is slightly unreliable. The film opens with a few mistakes Tony Stark made a long time ago, and sets us up for the perils Stark is facing today. Chief…
03 May 2013
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In Room 237, some Stanley Kubrick fans offer their opinions on the inner workings of The Shining. Some of their views are interesting; some of them are totally crazy. The most convincing of the arguments would be that Kubrick made his movie about the plight of Native Americans; meanwhile, a not-so-brilliant theory posits that Kubrick made the film as sort of an apology for helping fake America’s moon landing. The documentary serves as a cool testament to seeing something below the surface in a film, and fandom in general. I’ve always liked the movie, but now I want to watch it again and see the puzzles for myself—and then do the same with Kubrick’s other films. Room 237 opens Friday, May 3, at the Camelot Theatres, 2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565.
02 May 2013
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It’s official: Jeff Nichols, who gave us the brilliant Take Shelter, proves with Mud that he is a writer/director who stands among the best of them. Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a wild-haired drifter living in a boat in a tree along the Mississippi River. Two kids, Ellis (Tye Sheridan of The Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), stumble upon him, and become a part of his strange and dangerous world. McConaughey is catching wave after successful wave lately, and this is his best performance yet. He makes Mud a little scary, yet charming and cunning. Sheridan and Lofland are terrific as the young friends who should probably stay away from guys living in boats in trees. The cast also boasts Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard; all of them are equally great. Ladies and gentleman, we have the year’s first “excellent” movie. It sure took long…
02 May 2013
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Pain and Gain has all of that Michael Bay crap that makes him one of my least-favorite directors. Actually, that’s an understatement. I think Michael Bay is a satanic cinematic force, with most of his films sustaining an artistic level similar to that of a sickened elephant farting in a circus tent that’s been set aflame by dangerous clowns. However, he has made a few movies that I don’t hate. My favorite Bay film would be Bad Boys II, in which he seemed to be poking fun at himself. (That slo-mo tracking shot of a bullet passing through Martin Lawrence’s ass is the apex of Bay’s career.) I also liked his innocuous sci-fi offering, The Island, which actually featured edits more than a second long. I reluctantly admit to also sort of liking Pain and Gain, mainly because Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are a total crackup as two bodybuilders…
26 Apr 2013
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If you hated Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, you will hate To the Wonder, and if you loved Tree … well, you might be OK watching this. Ben Affleck stars (sort of) as an American who falls in love while in Paris, and brings the woman (Olga Kurylenko) and her daughter home to Texas. Malick reduces Affleck to sulking, for the most part; it’s a role that never allows him to cut loose. Pitt had a similar assignment in The Tree of Life, but he did a much better job. Affleck looks a little confused, as does Rachel McAdams as an old flame. She’s required to look forlorn, sad and beautiful. She does little else. The reason to see the film, besides its excellent visuals, is Kurylenko, who shines in the central role. I admire this film in that it tells a complete story in a very different way—but…
26 Apr 2013
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In The Company You Keep, Robert Redford directs himself as an upstate New York lawyer with a past who must flee his life when a nosey journalist (Shia LaBeouf) discovers his true identity. The film gives us fictional characters who were former members of the very real Weather Underground, played by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte and Julie Christie. LaBeouf does much of the heavy lifting, and it’s some of his better work in quite some time. Redford is just OK, though—as is his movie. I can’t say it blew me away, but I didn’t dislike it, either. It gets by with semi-competent directing and acting, without truly wowing you. Others in the cast include Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliott. The Company You Keep opens Friday, April 26, at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 760-323-4466); and…
25 Apr 2013
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Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather space suit that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and reminds of Captain EO. Yes, it’s silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes one to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not that good. Cruise, however, is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race, following a devastating alien attack 60 years before (in 2017). The remaining population of Earth has been sent to a moon of Saturn, and Jack’s job is to make sure Earth’s energy resources are properly mined. He lives in a stylish outpost with a hot partner (Andrea Riseborough), and their work is being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss. Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth world that he is…
18 Apr 2013
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Spike Lee tried to get a movie with Denzel Washington playing Jackie Robinson off the ground for many years, but couldn’t make it happen. I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special with this story. Meanwhile, this effort from director Brian Helgeland (Payback) is OK, and even really good at times, but gets awfully hokey. Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors, and Christopher Meloni leaves the movie all too soon as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended in 1947, the year Robinson made his debut.) Boseman shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this craggy and different. This film is…