by     Posted 4 days ago


[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.


by     Posted 4 days ago


[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.


by     Posted 5 days ago


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.


by     Posted 6 days ago


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 10 days ago


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.


by     Posted 11 days ago


[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 12 days ago


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 13 days ago


“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.”


by     Posted 14 days ago


“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.


by     Posted 15 days ago


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.

OLIVE KITTERIDGE Review: Frances McDormand Stars in HBO’s Maine-Focused Miniseries

by     Posted 17 days ago


It’s that time of year, in between HBO’s fall and winter series, where it runs a highbrow miniseries event that immediately flies to the front of Emmy contender lists.  These tend to be acting showcases based on literary adaptations; Mildred Pierce, starring Kate Winslet, is a recent example.  This year, it’s Olive Kitteridge, based on a 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Elizabeth Strout.  The novel, like the miniseries, explores a number of vignettes in and around a small, coastal Maine town, connected through the middle-aged Olive, over the course of 25 years.  Hit the jump for why “I’m waiting for the dog to die so I can shoot myself.”


by     Posted 18 days ago


[This is a re-post of my review from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.  Nightcrawler opens today.]

Local TV news is sociopathic. If I came up to you and began our conversation talking about the horrible deaths of total strangers that had no larger implication than seizing on your deep-seated fears about city living, you would think I’m not only insane, but predatory. And you would be right. Dan Gilroy’s chilling, pulse-pounding Nightcrawler manifests the essence of local news and puts it inside a protagonist where a soul should be. Anchored by Jake Gyllenhaal giving the best performance of the year thus far, Gilroy’s film is a scathing and decadently amoral portrait of ice-cold calculation and ruthless ambition speeding through the dark streets of Los Angeles.

HORNS Review

by     Posted 18 days ago


Everyone has got some ugliness deep down in our souls.  It may be a fleeting thought or repressed anger, but good people try to keep it hidden, which isn’t a bad thing.  It makes us human, and without that humanity, our brutal honesty shines through.  Alexandre Aja‘s Horns tries to explore this inner darkness by weaving together religion, salvation, damnation, and dark secrets, and the movie’s approach, albeit heavy-handed at times, is admirable.  There’s not much room for subtlety, but the darkly comedic aspects help balance out the somber tone, and although the plot stumbles across clunky storytelling, it’s a refreshing horror film that conjures up some sympathy for a devil.

Early Reviews for Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR: A Winning Epic, But Far From Perfect

by     Posted 22 days ago


Interstellar’s November 7th release date is fast approaching and the early reviews are pouring in.  The highly anticipated Christopher Nolan film stars Matthew McConaughey as Cooper, a former NASA test pilot who is asked to join the Lazarus mission and leave Earth behind to find a new life-sustaining planet for mankind.

There’s been talk of Interstellar being an Oscar contender and while there is high praise for the film all-around, it also seems as though “hokey contrivances” and “a ruptured script” could keep it from earning Nolan his first Academy Award win, or another nomination for that matter.  Hit the jump for snippets from the early Interstellar reviews in circulation right now.  The film also stars Anne HathawayJessica ChastainCasey AffleckMichael CaineDavid OyelowoWes BentleyJohn LithgowEllen BurstynTopher GraceDavid GyasiMackenzie FoyBill IrwinTimothee Chalamet and Matt Damon.


by     Posted 25 days ago


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

There is certain kind of movie that I would describe as a “Sundance Comedy”. They’re technically indie films even though they feature movie stars, and they’re almost always fairly tame. They’re cute at best and forgettable at worst, and Lynn Shelton’s Laggies has the distinction of being both. What begins as a moderately interesting coming-of-age tale eventually devolves into something so light and airy that it’s on the verge of floating away, especially when the characters’ implausible actions do nothing to keep the story grounded.

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