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Reviews

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…
28 Feb 2013
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Dwayne Johnson has so much ink, yet he doesn’t show off any of his tattoos in Snitch. Not one tattoo shot! That’s because Johnson wants to be taken seriously as an actor, and his performance indeed shows he’s capable of more than making his pecs dance or firing guns while his tattoos sexily vibrate. (He’s leaving the sexy tattoo vibrations for the other 172 films he will be starring in within the upcoming year.) Johnson plays John Matthews, a flawed but well-meaning father. He provides for the family he has living in his lush house, thanks to a semi-lucrative trucking company. He also gives his ex-wife and son from the former marriage enough so they can get by; however, he has little to do with the upbringing of that son, Jason (Rafi Gavron). Of course, Jason has gone a little bad. He likes to smoke a pot and take Ecstasy.…
21 Feb 2013
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Bruce Willis returns in A Good Day to Die Hard as trouble magnet John McClane—and he looks lost, tired and miserable. One gets the sense that Willis realized he was in a dud, and spiritually clocked out well before the shoot was over. Willis seems to have a lot of power over all Die Hard production proceedings, and since he’s the star, most of the blame falls on his shoulders. The fact that they gave directing chores to the hackneyed John Moore (who directed the horrifically stinky Owen Wilson yawner Behind Enemy Lines) would be the first big mistake. Allowing Skip Wood (The A-Team, Hitman, Swordfish) to write it could also be chalked up as a big gaffe. I mean, doesn’t that creative combo just cry “suckage”? They are obviously running out of scenarios for McClane, so this one sends him to Russia, where his estranged son Jack (the dull…
22 Feb 2013
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Some actor named Dustin Hoffman makes his directorial debut with this sweet movie about aging musicians in a retirement home. (He was supposed to direct Straight Time many years ago, but he gave up the gig a couple of days into shooting.) The film stars Maggie Smith, Billy Connolly, Tom Courtenay, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon, all of whom are wonderful. Hoffman shows he has a deft touch with performers, which comes as no surprise. His movie isn’t terribly original, but it is heartwarming and entertaining throughout. Smith and Courtenay are especially good as former lovers who get a chance to make up and become friends again. This movie makes me wish Hoffman had gotten going on the director thing a long time ago. I hope he has some more films in him. Quartet is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 325-6565) and Cinemas…
20 Feb 2013
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Man oh man, this Best Picture nominee is a tough one to watch. From Michael Haneke, the director of the brutal Funny Games (both the foreign and American versions), we get a film about old age that's so honest, it guts you. Many of us know a couple like Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva). Seeing a couple like this dealing with terrible illness is heartbreaking, and Haneke takes a terribly honest approach to impending death. Riva’s Oscar-nominated performance is one of those pieces of work you will never forget. It tattoos onto your brain. Rest assured: If you choose to see this, it’s going to knock you on your ass. Don’t watch this if the truth scares you. Amour is now playing at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 325-6565) and Cinemas Palme d'Or (72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert; 779-0430).
18 Feb 2013
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I remember watching the Oscars back when Johnny Carson hosted. This was before I knew the whole thing was bullshit; I would get all excited when those envelopes were opened, and even when stupid Paul Williams showed up singing a song. Even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences usually doesn’t get it right with the awards, I still look forward to the show, especially when that idiot Billy Crystal isn’t hosting it. This year, the host will be Seth MacFarlane. Should be interesting, and perhaps delightfully profane. Here are the nominees, along with my predictions. Drink chocolate milk every time I get one right, and regular milk when I get one wrong. (I don’t endorse alcohol-drinking games.) Best Picture Amour Argo Beasts of the Southern Wild Django Unchained Les Misérables Life of Pi Lincoln Silver Linings Playbook Zero Dark Thirty Let’s immediately eliminate Amour, Beasts, Django and…
12 Feb 2013
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The first half of director Steven Soderbergh’s alleged feature-film swan song is excellent, while the second half is only passably good. Jude Law stars as a doctor treating a depressed patient (Rooney Mara) who is given an experimental drug with some nasty results. The film is at once a mystery and an indictment of the worldwide pharmaceutical industry, and it hums along nicely for a good chunk of the running time. Then it suddenly becomes a mediocre Brian De Palma-style movie as the mysteries are solved; it gets a little hokey. Good things happen before it unravels, though, with Mara doing some nice work alongside Channing Tatum and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Soderbergh says this is it for him. Hopefully, he just takes a couple of years off and finds himself back behind the camera. This movie is OK, but I would like to see him go out on a better note.…
14 Feb 2013
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After her Oscar-nominated turn in Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy gets a headlining role alongside Jason Bateman in Identity Thief. While both performers are talented and make the best of the crap heap of a script they were handed, it’s not enough to make this anything more than a desperate misfire. McCarthy has a lot of talent. One only needs to see her in The Nines to understand her dramatic capabilities. Yet, here she is, being smashed in the face with guitars and asked to lip-sync that stupid milkshake song while sitting in the passenger’s seat for yet another riff on Planes, Trains and Automobiles. This is the sort of junk Chris Farley would have been handed back in the days before his heart exploded. McCarthy is a big woman, so she is cast in the role of sloppy clown to Bateman’s dapper straight man. Well, McCarthy is also a beautiful and…