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Reviews

12 Apr 2013
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Co-written by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and directed by relative newcomer Goro Miyazaki, this is a surprisingly straightforward piece of Japanese animation that doesn’t involve fantasy elements. The story is about kids in Yokohama, circa 1963, who are trying to find their way and fight for a few causes. The central character is Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger in the English-dubbed version), a young girl who lost her dad in the war and finds herself liking a boy who may or may not be a good choice. The movie looks great (as films from Studio Ghibli often do), and it tells a sweet story. Other English-dubbed vocal-cast members include Anton Yelchin, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Howard. From Up on Poppy Hill opens Friday, April 12, at the Century Theatres at the River, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, 760-836-1940.
11 Apr 2013
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Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur fantasy is still one of the best adventure films ever made, but the new 3-D retrofit winds up muting the presentation rather than expanding it. While James Cameron’s Titanic looked and felt like it was meant to be shot in 3-D, the presentation here feels forced. The color is diminished, and the scope seems “squished.” It’s not awful, and I have seen worse 3-D, but it fails to enhance the film all that much. Theaters are also offering the movie in its original 2-D presentation, and I would recommend revisiting it in that format. The combination of practical and computer effects to create the dinosaurs has easily stood the test of time; the effects continue to look amazing. While watching the 3-D version, I noticed that Jeff Goldblum sticks his tongue out a lot when he speaks. It’s creepy. Jurassic Park is playing in regular and 3-D…
11 Apr 2013
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I’m disappointed that I didn’t see any 2 percent milk or creamed corn shooting out of zombie faces in the new Evil Dead. Sam Raimi, who directed the original schlock-fest, famously used those two foods in some of his gorier sequences—and it was gloriously disgusting. The Evil Dead remake is a totally different animal from Raimi’s deranged original and its beloved sequels Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. It’s a far-more-polished movie that’s prettier than any of those films, with pretty people and pretty makeup. That said, I wasn’t completely crazy about this new take on this old story, but as a fan of the original Evil Dead, I felt this was a worthy entry, and a nice jumping-off point for a new Evil Dead series of movies. It’s the best of the Evil Dead films when considering sheer quality—but it’s the worst regarding the fun factor. I didn’t…
05 Apr 2013
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In Ginger and Rosa, Elle Fanning delivers a stellar performance (with an excellent British accent!) as Ginger in this film about two teenagers in Cold War England in the 1960s. Fanning runs the gamut, showing all of the joy, anguish and fears of a girl living in an age when the world seems to be falling apart. Alice Englert is also terrific as Rosa, Ginger’s more-depressed best friend, while Alessandro Nivola and Christina Hendricks are excellent as Ginger’s parents. The film goes a little off the rails in its final scenes, but it’s solid and steady for most of its running time, with Fanning showing the world that she is an actress with whom to be reckoned. Written and directed by Sally Potter, Ginger and Rosa is a showcase for Fanning that should propel her into great future roles. Ginger and Rosa opens Friday, April 5, at the Cinemas Palme…
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…