THE IMITATION GAME Review

by     Posted 18 minutes ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The Imitation Game opens today in limited release.]

In September 1933, General George S. Patton told the Calvary Journal, “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men.” Mathematician Alan Turning proved Patton’s statement was only half true when it came to World War II. It was won by men and a machine. Turing and his team used a computer to decipher the Germans’ “Enigma” code, which turned the tide of the war and was one of the key contributions to the Allies’ victory. Morten Tyldum’s The Imitation Game is a compelling look at a man treated inhumanely and the creation of his machine that helped saved humanity from evil. The film isn’t hard to crack, but led by Benedict Cumberbatch’s outstanding performance and Tyldum’s strong direction, it’s a compelling tale of secrets, lies, and sacrifice.

THE BABADOOK Review

by     Posted 4 hours ago

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[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.  The Babadook opens today in limited release.]

One of the great things about film festivals is that you can go in cold to almost anything. There’s been little to no advertising, and you make choices based partially on what’s available at a certain time and partially on word-of-mouth. Yesterday, I needed to fill in a gap in my schedule, and I remembered two of my friends had seen and liked The Babadook. I didn’t actually ask them what they liked about it or anything at all about the plot. My assumption: That’s a funny title, so I bet it will be a funny movie! And I was oh so very wrong. Writer-director Jennifer Kent has created a thoroughly creepy, nerve-wracking horror film with old-fashioned scare tactics. However, Kent does her job so well that eventually The Babadook burns itself out as it keeps trying to claw away at our nerves.

UHF 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

by     Posted Yesterday

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Now here’s a real cinematic oddity.  You can describe UHF in any number of ways: hubristic misfire, beloved cult classic, amiable shaggy dog as harmless as it is corny.  All of them apply, and in fact the stories surrounding the movie are actually more interesting than the movie itself.  But as forgettable as it is, its core sweetness makes it terrific comfort food for the right sort, and while you may not love it, hating it seems like an act of needless cruelty.  Hit the jump for my full UHF Blu-ray review.

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 Review

by     Posted 3 days ago

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While 2011′s Horrible Bosses doesn’t hold up quite as well as I had hoped it would, the chemistry between leads Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis is still a lot of fun.  Watching the three actors bounce off each other is electric as they bicker and argue like foul-mouthed children.  Comedy sequels are always tough, but Horrible Bosses 2 makes the wise decision to shake things up not only in terms of avoiding a rehash of the first film’s plot, but also changing the tone of the comedy and the trio’s dynamic.  Although the movie falters at the end, Horrible Bosses 2 feels surprisingly fresh while never losing what made the original work so well.

PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR Review

by     Posted 3 days ago

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Can scene-stealers carry a movie?  Or do some characters only work best in small doses?  Even though they don’t have big-name voice actors, the espionage-minded penguins from the Madagascar franchise have consistently been more appealing than the central characters.  They almost feel like they’re more for the adults in the audience and the kids can have the slapstick and fart jokes.  Now Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Rico (Conrad Vernon), and Private (Christopher Knights) have taken center stage, and their spin-off, Penguins of Madagascar, easily surpasses the first two Madagascar films (I didn’t even bother with the third) through its rapid-fire wit, cuteness, and offbeat jokes that will amuse kids and adults alike.

FOXCATCHER Review

by     Posted 14 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my Foxcatcher review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens today in limited release.]

For those who aspire to be champions, it’s a horrible thing to know you’ll never be the best. Successful people will engender only envy and further self-loathing. You will only see your weakness. You will live in shadows. Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is an incredibly sad and poignant portrait of two men desperate for greatness they’ll never achieve, and destroyed by the failings they’ll always feel. They can lie about confidence, achievements, and relationships, but there’s no escape. Led by astounding performances from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo, Miller has created a quiet, brooding picture of doubt, depression, and destruction.

ROSEWATER Review

by     Posted 14 days ago

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[This is a re-post of my Rosewater review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  The film opens today in limited release.]

Gael Garcia Bernal plays incarcerated journalist Maziar Bahari in Rosewater, but writer-director Jon Stewart is the true lead. For fans for The Daily Show, his personality shines through every episode, and it’s one that has become wearied over the years as news coverage has declined at an exponential rate. His hopes for a better world have become a life raft, and his refusal to give into cynicism is what keeps his directorial debut afloat even if it veers into being earnest to the point of cheesiness. Rosewater may not have much depth, but Stewart’s personal connection to the story—both professional and ideological—give it an abundance of heart.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO Review

by     Posted 15 days ago

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In 1994, Dumb & Dumber was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen.  My ten-year-old self loved the dirty jokes, the characters’ charming stupidity, and the childishness of it all.  As the Farrelly Brothers’ Dumb and Dumber To shows, that childishness—specifically the odd innocence of the characters—was key to making the original picture work.  The sequel replaces that childishness with a mean-spirited attitude that turns obliviousness into narcissism and antics into attacks.  There are still some laughs scattered about, but the heartlessness of the picture makes Dumb and Dumber To too nasty to be dumb fun.

PLANET OF THE APES: THE EVOLUTION OF THE LEGEND Review

by     Posted 16 days ago

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In the lead-up to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I did a retrospective on the series and became a fan.  I was amazed at how each entry distinguished itself from the others, carried political subtext, and how they were unafraid to go ridiculously dark and insane.  How insane? [spoilers ahead] One ends with the Earth being destroyed, another murders the protagonists and a baby ape, and another has an incredibly violent uprising where the ending had to be re-edited and re-dubbed because the original version was so brutal and unforgiving.

These are such fascinating films, and sadly the Blu-ray drops the ball when it comes to the sequels.  This is where Joe Fordman and Jeff Bond‘s book Planet of the Apes: The Evolution of the Legend comes in, goes far beyond the movies, and becomes a must-own for any self-respecting fan of the franchise.

THE NEWSROOM Season 3 Review: Final Season Gets Off to Strong Start with Humor and High Stakes

by     Posted 20 days ago

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The final few minutes of The Newsroom’s second season finale appeared to quickly close the book on the show, but Aaron Sorkin’s divisive HBO series is now back with six more episodes to wrap things up in proper fashion.  Indeed, the tidying up of storylines at the end of season two almost felt like Sorkin had had enough with the constant criticism (some justified, some not) of the show, which was intended to be his triumphant return to television after winning an Oscar for The Social Network.  Instead, Sorkin’s look at the world of cable news was a bit of a mixed bag as it tried to find the blend of humor and importance that worked so well in The West Wing.  The show seemed to find a slightly more solid footing in the second season as Sorkin shifted the focus to the characters, backed away from the “news story of the week” structure, and introduced a story arc that played out over the course of the season.  There were still some glaring flaws to be sure, but the show overall felt more comfortable in what it wanted to be.

And now season three looks to be even more of an improvement, with great comedy, heightened stakes, and fantastic character interplay permeating throughout the first three episodes.

BANKSY DOES NEW YORK Review

by     Posted 21 days ago

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[Banksy Does New York is currently available on HBO GO.  It will broadcast on HBO on November 17th]

Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop was my favorite film of 2010.  Banksy is one of the most popular artists in the world, but as his documentary showed, he’s more fascinated with the reaction art engenders rather than the art itself.  Although he had no direct involvement with Chris Moukarbel‘s documentary Banksy Does New York, the film feels like the ultimate culmination of Banksy’s goal with his October 2013 open exhibition in New York City.  Moukarbel’s film collects social media reaction to Banksy’s daily art projects, and then builds on these reactions to also include explorations of Banksy’s affect on the art scene, who owns street art, the privatization of public space, and more.  Although the movie occasionally carries an undertone of unquestioning reverence for Banksy, Banksy Does New York is still a surprisingly excellent response that uses the artist’s NYC project as a way to open up a larger conversation about consuming art.

BIG HERO 6 Review

by     Posted 22 days ago

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Too often in superhero tales, science falls in the realm of the baddies.  The scientists are the cackling madmen (and almost always men) in white lab coats.  They’re irresponsible with their genius.  Meanwhile, the hero has their superpowers thrust upon them.  What they lack in smarts, they make up for in determination.  Big Hero 6 flips the script by making science cool, but never loses the cute and nerdy heart of heroes who are still out of their depth.  Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams, Disney Animation Studios’ new movie is filled with gorgeous designs, exciting action, and endearing characters—especially the cuddly robot Baymax (Scott Adsit)—but its most noble deed is getting younger audience members to see science as heroic.

THE GAME Review: BBC America’s Cold War Miniseries Is Sleek and Serious

by     Posted 23 days ago

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“In our game, security can cost lives,” says the leader of a special MI5 committee known as The Fray.  The year is 1972, and the members of The Fray are anxiously attempting to work out the details of a major Soviet project of destruction, Operation Glass.  The Game, a six-episode miniseries from BBC America, created by Toby Whithouse (Being Human) and directed by Niall MacCormick (Wallander), should hit all of the right notes for fans of spy thrillers, especially the kind set among the brown, gray and tweed background of the 1970s like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.  Fans of The Americans, though, might find it slow at times — there are far fewer guns, car chases, and wigs, but a lot of British stiff upper lips. Hit the jump for why you should “watch, surmise, react.”

INTERSTELLAR Review

by     Posted 24 days ago

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“Except Christopher Nolan“.  That’s the cinephile’s refrain for a blockbuster marketplace that won’t accept any bold, original ideas.  No one gets to make a blockbuster film unless it’s based on a pre-existing material…Except Christopher Nolan.  Inception embodied this ideal, and following the conclusion of The Dark Knight Trilogy, Nolan was free to travel to anywhere he wanted to go.

His latest destination is Interstellar, a film that certainly breaks away from the traditional blockbuster in the sense of its visuals and turning scientific concepts like relativity, gravity, and time distortion into understandable dramatic plot points.  Unfortunately, for all of the movie’s grandeur, the voyage is constantly beset with clunky exposition, stilted dialogue, maudlin sentiment, and thinly-drawn characters.  Nolan has the power to go wherever he wants, but he leaves the most valuable parts of his story in the dust.

JUDGE DREDD: SUPERFIEND Review

by     Posted 25 days ago

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A few days ago, we brought you the first trailer for Judge Dredd: Superfiend, a six-part animated series from producer Adi Shankar and writers/directors The Junquera Brothers.  The entirety of the series debuted about one week ago, and is the latest of Shankar’s projects which include producing the 2012 film Dredd starring Karl Urban, the Punisher short Dirty Laundry and the Venom short Truth in Journalism.

While I was a big fan of Dredd, I’m certainly not going to claim to be a die-hard fan of the 2000 AD comics or the title character’s own series.  I say this only to temper expectations of those of you who eat, sleep, and breathe Dredd, because you may have a different reaction to this animated take than I did.  That being said, I loved every twisted second of it.  Watching Judge Dredd: Superfiend made me want to go back to the beginning of the comics and see just what all the fuss is about.  Hit the jump for my Judge Dredd: Superfiend review.

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