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Reviews

04 Apr 2013
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Yes, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an improvement over the original, but don’t get your hopes too high. Dwayne Johnson joins something like his 18th franchise, as does Bruce Willis, in this confusing yet sometimes entertaining follow-up to G.I. Joe: The Sucky First Movie. There are some good action sequences, including a snowy-cliff sword battle and the destruction of London. There’s also a lot of clatter about Cobra Commanders and Snake Eyes and a bunch of other toy names. Channing Tatum and Johnson have a great rapport, and a whole movie with them together could’ve been fun. Unfortunately, Tatum makes an early exit, making way for The Smirk. Willis is OK, but he doesn’t add all that much. Jonathan Pryce is fairly menacing as two characters: the president of the United States, and his evil impostor. I’d tell you some plot details, but that would be a waste of space. Just…
04 Apr 2013
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Hey, kids who are aspiring filmmakers: Gather around, because Uncle Bob has got something to tell you. OK? Now, listen up. I want you to go and see The Host as soon as possible, because it is an important step in your moviemaking education: The Host is the quintessential example of how to make a movie so shitty that Satan would actually turn his nose up at it and proclaim it too profane for his torture cineplex in hell. This movie is based on a novel penned by Stephenie Meyer, writer of the Twilight things and, at this point, one of my sworn enemies. Nothing good has been produced from this writer’s works, and I want her to take up full-time bowling or stenciling to distract her from her computer. Seriously, Stephenie … you have a lot of money now. Please … have mercy on those of us who can’t…
01 Apr 2013
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The Summer Movie Season starts earlier every year. In fact, one could argue that March releases like Oz the Great and Powerful and Jack the Giant Slayer were summer-season-caliber, big-budget extravaganzas with lots of Hollywood pop. Yes, they blew ass, but they had a summer-season pedigree. For organization’s sake, let’s just say the summer season starts on May 3 this year with the release of Iron Man 3, and ends around Sept. 6 with Vin Diesel’s Riddick. Here’s a round up of some of the biggies that look great—and others that offer reasons for concern. Iron Man 3 (May 3): How in the heck are they going to top The Avengers? It looks like Marvel and company are going to try, starting with this, the first stand-alone superhero film after last year’s massive roundup. Shane Black, who piloted Downey to one of his best performances in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,…
28 Mar 2013
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If you have seen any of director Chan-wook Park’s films (like Oldboy or Thirst), you know that he is a creative, tremendously sick bastard. Stoker is his English-language debut, and it’s just as deranged and disturbing as his prior offerings. Mopey-faced Mia Wasikowska plays India, a girl, just turned 18, who has lost her father (Dermot Mulroney) in a mysterious accident. Her mother (an excellent Nicole Kidman) invites India’s strange uncle (Matthew Goode) to stay at the house, and it’s slowly revealed that he has a few … problems. The filmmaking here is visually impeccable (some of the dissolves are mind-blowing), and the performances are solid. The story itself, however, is a little too sleepy at times. Still, this twisty film has many memorable moments, and I’m hoping Park has many more films to come. Stoker is now playing at the Cinema Palme d’Or, 72840 Highway 111 in Palm Desert;…
29 Mar 2013
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Gerard Butler stars in one of the most ridiculous action films you will see this year. He’s a Secret Service agent on duty the night something very bad happens to the president (Aaron Eckhart); he winds up with a desk job. Later, some nasty North Koreans hilariously infiltrate the White House and hold the president and his Cabinet hostage—so it’s time for Gerard to dispense with the paper clips, and pick up an automatic weapon! Yes, it’s Die Hard in the White House, or at least it wants to be. There’s some fun to be had here, but the movie has some tragic flaws, including terrible CGI and mawkish patriotic crap that distracts. (Melissa Leo screaming the Pledge of Allegiance as she is dragged to certain death comes to mind.) This is one of those “so bad it’s almost good” movies. Olympus Has Fallen is playing at theaters across the…
28 Mar 2013
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If you are longing to see Vanessa Hudgens naked in a pool with James Franco doing his best impersonation of Gary Oldman in True Romance, then Spring Breakers just might be the film for you. If you prefer a movie with a script and a sense of direction, stay far, far away. I hated this piece of junk. It’s vapid, repetitious, unfunny and downright annoying to watch. It’s a shame: I thought I was in for some fun, considering the cast assembled, and the notion of four college girls going on a crime spree so they can afford a spring break trip. The film plays out as if Sofia Coppola decided to make a “Girls Gone Wild” video. Director Harmony Korine is shooting for some sort of dreamscape feel, with trance music, people talking slowly, and slow, slow visuals. Given what the characters are actually doing and saying, he achieves…
21 Mar 2013
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The Incredible Burt Wonderstone takes a jab at Las Vegas magicians like David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy, and feels like a lame guy showing up to a party with a rubber nose, a squirting flower and a bottle of cheap schnapps. There’s nothing funny about seeing Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi dressed like Siegfried and Roy, and dancing around to Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra.” And it’s downright distasteful to have a magician in a bar with gauze bandages all over his neck because one of his big cats bit him. Get it? Roy Horn had his neck injured by a tiger during a show, so the dude in the bar is a sly reference to that stage tragedy! Ha ha ha ha! I’m not saying there isn’t a funny joke about Roy getting mauled out there somewhere. Deep in the far recesses of Hollywood, there must be some writer who…
14 Mar 2013
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I like James Franco more often than not. I loved him as a stoner; I loved him as a hiker who gets his arm stuck behind a boulder; I even liked him opposite a motion-capture chimp. However, he is all wrong for the central character of Oz the Great and Powerful. The role of Oz calls for somebody with swagger and snark, while Franco is just too laid back, and too normal, for a role that requires old-school charm. Yes, he’s charming in a modern sort of way, but in director Sam Raimi’s take on the wonderful wizard, you get the sense that Franco is really straining. When he smiles in this movie, it almost looks as if he is going to tear his face, because he’s putting so much into it; his line deliveries seem forced. Johnny Depp and Robert Downey Jr. were apparently offered the role, and either…
07 Mar 2013
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Jack the Giant Slayer will go down as one of the worst domestic flops in recent Hollywood history. Using a budget somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 million, director Bryan Singer—who took a lot of flack for his underperforming Superman Returns (a film I liked)—has put together a visual mess. The movie features live actors performing along CGI giants, and the live action doesn’t integrate with the effects at all. The effects have a cartoon quality that had me wondering why they didn’t just make this a CGI animated adventure. It’s not like they have huge stars anchoring the picture. Will Smith fought cartoon zombies in I Am Legend, but you forgave the silliness of those cartoon zombies because Smith sold the whole damn thing. The responsibility of selling Jack rests on the shoulders of the likable but not extremely charismatic Nicholas Hoult (who was very good in Warm Bodies).…
08 Mar 2013
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Directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore (writers of The Hangover) basically serve up yet another version of that film. This one is set in a college town, with college kids drinking a lot and getting into all kinds of college trouble. Miles Teller (who was in the similarly stupid Project X) headlines as Miller, a friend of Jeff Chang (Justin Chon). Jeff Chang is turning 21, and Miller takes him out for a night of partying with pal Casey (Skylar Astin). Guess what? They all get crazy drunk and stuff. There’s nothing remotely close to new or original in these scenarios. The only thing keeping this from being totally lousy is that the actors play off of each other well, especially Teller and Astin. If you crack up when people eat tampons or get their asses branded, well, this one’s for you. If you get mildly annoyed at racist humor…
08 Mar 2013
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Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) narrates and co-directs Happy People: A Year in the Taiga, a documentary about four seasons with trappers in Bakhtia, Siberia. The film’s title had me thinking I’d be watching a movie about dudes partying it up in the snow, but it isn’t anything like that. These guys work their asses off to survive and get some animal pelts, with little to do but make skis with an ax and hang out with their dogs. It’s actually quite fascinating to see what these guys go through to make a living, and it will make you feel like a douche for complaining about the coffee at your workplace. I always love to hear that Herzog voice telling a story (or just being scary on Adult Swim’s Metalocalypse). While no humans get eaten by bears, somebody does tell a story about their dog getting eaten by a bear, so…
01 Mar 2013
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Nicky’s Family is a documentary that plays like more of a TV film than something for the big screen, but you won’t care by the time the film ends. That’s because the story being told here is amazing, heart-wrenching and ultimately heartwarming. Nicholas Winton was a rich Englishman in 1938, getting ready for a ski trip when he got a call from a friend dealing with troubles in Czechoslovakia. Soon thereafter, Winton found himself in that country assisting in the rescue of 669 Czech and Slovak children. He financed the passage of these children to England, where they avoided the concentration camps (although they did face Nazi wrath when Germany began bombing their new home). Winton is 103 now, and the size of his “family” numbers in the thousands. Many decades went by with those rescued by Winton not knowing him, but that changed when Winton’s scrapbook, containing lists of…