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Reviews

06 Oct 2016
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I think my shockingly lustrous eyelashes got singed watching Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg’s harrowing account of the worst oil-rig disaster in American history. Berg’s film drops viewers into a situation where fire and explosions are so realistic that it seems like you can feel the heat and disorientation of the 2010 disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 men and led to an oil spill eclipsing all other oil spills. Mark Wahlberg is first-rate as Mike Williams, a real man who was on the rig at the time of the disaster. Kurt Russell equals Wahlberg’s power as Jimmy Harrell, a man who questions the integrity of the rig—and then proceeds to have the worst cinematic shower since Janet Leigh had a showdown with Anthony Perkins. The setup is a doozy: Williams and Harrell head out for a three-week stay on the Deepwater Horizon along with a couple of BP…
29 Sep 2016
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Director Antoine Fuqua’s remake of The Magnificent Seven (which itself was a remake of Seven Samurai) has enough in common with the Yul Brynner/Steve McQueen original to make it feel like a re-telling of the classic story. It also contains enough departures from the original to make it feel like a fresh take. The Mexican bandits led by Eli Wallach in the original are replaced by an evil, land-stealing company led by a man named Bartholomew Bogue. As played by Peter Sarsgaard, Bogue is a memorable villain who makes skin crawl. He rolls into a mining town; kills a bunch of good, hard working people; and winds up getting the grouping in the movie’s title opposing his ass. Let the spectacular gunfights commence! Fuqua pal Denzel Washington (they also worked together on The Equalizer and Training Day) is first-rate as Chisolm, basically Brynner’s role from the 1960 classic. When the…
29 Sep 2016
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Actor John Krasinski’s second directorial effort is a decent film with a first-rate cast. Krasinski stars in The Hollars as John Hollar, a man working a dead-end job for a publishing company when his girlfriend (the always-great Anna Kendrick) informs him his mom (a terrific Margo Martindale) is sick—and that he needs to fly home to see her. Once there, John has to deal with his weird brother Ron (Sharlto Copley), the oddball nurse who is also his old girlfriend’s new husband (Charlie Day) and his weepy dad (Richard Jenkins). The script goes through some familiar territory, but the performers put new spins on the situations—especially Martindale, who takes the part and really runs with it. Krasinski does a good job of handling the script’s many mood swings, and the relationships feel real … that strange kind of real. The film manages to get laughs, even when the subject matter…
22 Sep 2016
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It’s been 17 years since a whole bunch of people got the shit scared out of them by sticks, twine and Heather Donahue’s mucous in The Blair Witch Project, that success story that got the ball rolling on the now-dreaded and despised “found footage” horror genre. It’s been 16 years since the first sequel, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, One Too Many came out and essentially killed the franchise, although the found-footage cheapie-horror shtick would live on, peaking with Cloverfield (2008), and pretty much sucking before and after that. Now, here in 2016, a second sequel to The Blair Witch Project has made its way into cinemas. Would Lionsgate take the opportunity to reintroduce a once-promising premise into a new style of film—perhaps a traditional narrative about the Blair Witch, set in the forest, without the gimmick of people running around with cameras filming themselves, even when they are…
13 Sep 2016
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If you are a fan of work by directors like David Cronenberg and Dario Argento, then you might be able to make it through Antibirth, a rather unpleasant horror-comedy. A party girl (Natasha Lyonne) blacks out at a rambunctious gathering and finds herself going through pregnancy symptoms shortly thereafter. Those symptoms start with standard nausea and then advance to skin peeling off and teeth falling out; she eventually discovers there’s something well beyond standard procreation at play. Chloe Sevigny co-stars as another low-class party girl for director Danny Perez, whose film gets progressively disgusting through the really, really gross birthing scene. Argento and early Cronenberg were never my cup of tea; I just don’t get down with most body-horror scenarios. That said, this film will have an appeal to those who like their horror hard-core when it comes to the gore quotient. As for the story, it’s a muddled affair…
15 Sep 2016
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Don’t go see Sully, Clint Eastwood’s take on the heroic actions of pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, expecting a lot of historic realism. The portions about a pilot successfully landing his plane in an ice-cold Hudson River and allowing more than 150 people to tell the tale are really the most important, and most compelling, parts of this movie. As for the evil, fictitious inquisition that tortures Sully (played by Tom Hanks in a typically riveting performance) and co-pilot Jeff Skiles (welcome back to decent movies, Aaron Eckhart!) … well, that’s basically a lot of made-up horse shit. That’s not to say Sully wasn’t tormented in the days after the event, and the film does a good job of displaying his internal struggles. The man had to essentially crash-land a plane after a bunch of birds flew into his engines, and then he had a bunch of dicks asking him tons…
08 Sep 2016
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While Luke Scott has definitely inherited some directing chops from his dad, Ridley, his feature-directing debut is hampered by a derivative script. Morgan shows that Luke Scott knows how to produce some major visual flair (his dad is a producer, by the way) and has an ability to draw good performances from his cast—but the movie itself is a pastiche of other science-fiction and horror films, most notably his dad’s own Blade Runner. Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) is an artificially created humanlike being. She’s only 5, but she looks like a teenager and has superior intellect and physical skills. She’s been genetically engineered to age quickly, and while she is basically a well-meaning entity, her behavioral wires get a little crossed up sometimes—resulting in violent “errors.” Morgan goes ape shit when she’s not allowed outside. This results in Dr. Kathy Grieff, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, being on pain meds for…
07 Sep 2016
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Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas are one of the best father-son movie teams in a long time in Morris From America, a charmer from writer-director Chad Hartigan. Christmas plays Morris, a 13-year-old American living in Germany, because his dad, Curtis (Robinson), has a job there as a soccer coach. Morris is learning German, trying to make friends, and developing a crush on older girl, Katrin (Lina Keller). He’s also dealing with the kind of crap you would expect a black American to be dealing with in an all-white city. The dynamic between Robinson (in easily his best performance) and Christmas is perfect; it seems like these guys are really father and son. They complement each other perfectly, and it’s refreshing to see a father and son talk and deal with each other the way they do in this movie. The relationship between Morris and the somewhat-troublesome Katrin is also refreshing…
01 Sep 2016
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Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter shine as Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson on their first date in Southside With You, an ultra-sweet and enjoyable account of the time the future president and first lady got together for a day and eventually went to see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Writer-director Richard Tanne, above all things, does a great job of capturing the spirit of the late ’80s with his period piece, placing the two icons in a very believable, low-key environment. Sawyers (a dead ringer for Obama) and Sumpter capture the spirit of the couple without exaggerating any of their characteristics. It’s a blast watching a young Robinson, who was actually Obama’s mentor and adviser at a law firm, keeping a persistent Obama’s romantic pursuits in check. It’s also funny to see the future president lighting up many cigarettes during the course of the movie, including one in the…
01 Sep 2016
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I know movies are mostly fiction, and much of what happens in them wouldn’t really happen in the real world. Still, when a plot is based in reality—in other words, lacking ghosts, aliens, cyborgs, etc.—I lose interest when things become too outlandish and inexplicable. That brings us to Don’t Breathe. Now here’s a horror movie helmed by a guy who knows how to put a good scare together, that being Fede Alvarez, who gave us that relatively decent Evil Dead remake. The movie deals with three dimwits (Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette and Daniel Zovatto) who are trying to rob a blind military veteran (a growly Stephen Lang) in his house. During their heist, they find out a few really bad things about the guy—such as his desire to become the next Jigsaw (the ridiculous villain from the Saw series). Rocky (Levy, who also starred in Alvarez’s Evil Dead) wants to…
25 Aug 2016
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Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster are simply amazing in Hell or High Water, a terrific modern Western from director David Mackenzie. Pine and Foster play two brothers who devise a bank-robbing scheme to save the family farm; Bridges is the soon-to-be-retired sheriff trying to stop them. Pine takes his career to a whole new level with his work here; he disappears into his part, making us forget he’s Captain Kirk. Foster, an actor I couldn’t stand when he was younger, gets better and better with each film; this is his best work yet. Pine’s Toby is supposedly the more sensible brother, while Foster’s Tanner is the nut. However, those roles sometime switch, and the acting by both makes it mesmerizing to watch. What else can you say about Bridges at this point? He’s one of the best actors to have ever walked the Earth, and Hell or High…
25 Aug 2016
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Director Todd Phillips, a man responsible for slob comedies like The Hangover and Old School, takes a more serious, satirical route with War Dogs. The results are mixed—but ultimately entertaining. The film is based on an article in Rolling Stone that described real-life gun-runners and the way they bilked the government and screwed each other over. It plays out as a sort of Wolf of Wall Street with weapons and Albania instead of stocks and the financial district. Contributing to the Wolf vibe is Jonah Hill as Efraim Diveroli, a diabolical, narcissistic weapons dealer who puts profit before morality and friendship. Even though Hill throws in an annoying laugh, the core of his performance is funny—and brutal when it needs to be. He continues to show he’s far more than a giggle-getter: He’s a real-deal actor. Miles Teller plays his partner, David Packouz, a massage therapist who can’t keep his…