MR. TURNER Review

by     Posted 3 days ago

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

Painter J.M.W. Turner, the eponymous subject of Mike Leigh’s new biopic Mr. Turner, was renowned for painting shipwrecks. A lazier film would condense Turner’s life around that simulacrum. Instead, Leigh chooses to look at the whole picture, and not just in showing a three-dimensional protagonist. Turner is part of a painting that includes a fascinating look at early-to-mid 19th century life in Europe. Leigh adds all the wonderful touches of the era’s dialect, vernacular, and linguistics along with a collection of other meticulous details to provide a vivid period piece. And it’s all built around an unforgettable performance from Timothy Spall who coughs, whistles, wheezes, and primarily grunts in his portrayal of an artist who personally and professionally defied easy categorization.

ANNIE Review

by     Posted 4 days ago

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The story of Annie, whether it’s in the comics, the stage play, the 1982 adaptation, or Will Gluck‘s new, updated version, requires relentless positivity to combat its cynical message.  Annie must devote an entire song to the power of optimism because the story basically celebrates the lottery and the benevolence of the wealthy while also trying to show that love is the most valuable treasure of all.  One way to handle that conflict is to put on the biggest smile possible.  The other is the route Gluck has gone with his version, which is to be constantly clever, charming, and embracing a modern twist on the character even if it requires new songs that may not be quite as memorable as “Tomorrow” or “Hard-Knock Life”, but still channel the fun and upbeat attitude of the character.  Filled with great performances from most of the cast, Annie is a funny, joyous update that keeps the musical’s upbeat attitude intact while still dancing to its own tune.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB Review

by     Posted 4 days ago

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Near the end of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Robin Williams talks to Ben Stiller about accepting when it’s time to bid farewell to a loved one. The film is filled with flaccid attempts to pull at our heartstrings, but within the context of Williams’ untimely passing this moment is painfully bittersweet. Unfortunately, the rest of the film’s emotional and comedic moments fall flat as we watch Stiller lazily trudge through another series of museum misadventures.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES Review

by     Posted 6 days ago

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At one point in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Dwalin (Graham McTavish) tells a greedy, paranoid Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), “You are lesser now than you have ever been.”  The same could be said to director and co-writer Peter Jackson and the conclusion of his prequel trilogy.  In an interview with EW earlier this year, Jackson stressed that it was important to keep cutting back to main characters during the action scenes, “otherwise the audience gets battle fatigue.”  He should have taken his own advice as this trilogy is clearly spent and left with almost nothing but hollow spectacle, hypocrisy, poor characterization, and at times becoming an outright embarrassment.  If The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of cinema’s best, then Battle of the Five Armies cements The Hobbit trilogy as one of its most disappointing.

ASCENSION Review: Syfy’s Newest Series Goes Retro

by     Posted One week ago

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Imagining the Syfy pitch meeting for Ascension writes itself: “Mad Menin spaaaaaaace!“  It’s an easy sell.  Ascension follows the crew of an American space ark, sent on a 100-year journey in the 1960s, to find and populate a new planet.  In this telling, President Kennedy thought the Cold War might get hot, and wanted Americans to be able to find a way out.  The program was designed for sacrifice — it would be the grandchildren, or beyond, of the original crew, who would end up on this new world, but it was all for the ultimate support of the mission.  Now, 51-years into the journey, the ship has its first murder, and the cracks in the ship’s idyllic, Truman Show-esque setting are starting to show.  Hit the jump for why, “we don’t have infinity, we have the ship.  We were born in it, and we will die in it.”

MARCO POLO Review: Netflix’s New Show Is Utterly Pedestrian

by     Posted 10 days ago

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Basically Kublai Khan: The Show as told by the only non-Asian in the cast, Netflix’s dreadful Marco Polo is another in a long line of shows/films about an ‘ethnically different’ culture seen through the safe veneer of whiteness.  We’ve come full circle then in that Marco Polo and his “book” Marvels of the World may well be the originator of the white man in a foreign land that became the template for every mid 90s Ed Zwick film before now becoming its very own prestige Netflix show.  The snake has eaten its own tail indeed. It’s difficult though to get all gung-ho and worked up about a show this down right pedestrian. There’s a bit towards the end of the first episode that intercuts between Marco resisting the lure of a bevy of naked prostitutes and Marco’s Kung-Fu trainer battling the untoward advances of a rattlesnake, yes an actual rattlesnake — proof this show isn’t insidious, it’s just stupid.

My Marco Polo review after the jump.

INHERENT VICE Review

by     Posted 11 days ago

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Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Inherent Vice is a mess of absurdities.  It investigates the ludicrous conventions of the detective genre.  It rambles through the self-indulgent, dying age of the hippies.  It lurches along the vainglorious, narcissistic Los Angeles culture and cityscape.  Anderson wants to package everything he can from his adaptation of Thomas Pynchon‘s novel, and while the result is occasionally interesting, the movie becomes enamored of its own cleverness in how it approaches its various topics with a sense of droll mockery, straddling the border of wackiness and respectability.  We’re wound through a convoluted plot where the mystery may not be the point, but the points don’t matter when any emotional resonance is crushed beneath the weight of smug shenanigans.

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS Review

by     Posted 11 days ago

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Set aside biblical accuracy and historical accuracy.  Ridley Scott‘s Exodus: Gods and Kings doesn’t need to be a chapter-and-verse retelling of the Book of Exodus nor does the movie need to back everything up with empirical evidence.  It just needs to tell a compelling story, and it fails miserably.  The Exodus story is a rich narrative filled with betrayal, discovery, destiny, and freedom.  All of these aspects technically exist in Scott’s film, but in the most perfunctory manner possible.  The director couldn’t care less about exploring these emotions and themes in a meaningful way, and it’s only in his desire for big set pieces that he inadvertently stumbles upon the curious viewpoint of seeing the Exodus story as one driven primarily by violence.  The movie is a “biblical epic” not in that it reaches for some grand theme or is willing to consider the role of the divine.  It’s a biblical epic because it’s based off a Bible story and cost a lot of money, and it’s more enthusiastic about letting you know the latter than the former.

TOP FIVE Review

by     Posted 11 days ago

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There’s more than one way for a stand-up comedian to do a bit, and there’s more than one way for an actor to express frustration with his profession.  Chris Rock is one of the most insightful entertainers working today, and in the press he’s been doing for his new movie Top Five, he’s commented on race, politics, current events, comedy, and much more.  However, his new film is mostly concerned with fame, performance, and the trappings of both.  Although the story is built on a flimsy premise and its constraints create an awkward resolution, Rock has filled his picture with his sharp comedy that skewers celebrity and pride.

THE LIBRARIANS Review: A Fun But Goofy New Series, Based On TNT’s Movie Franchise

by     Posted 15 days ago

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When looking for a new series idea, TNT went back into its old archives, much like the title protagonist The Librarian might do.  In 2004, TNT created a trilogy movie series starring Noah Wyle as Librarian Flynn Carsen, who in charge of a secret store of artifacts (many of them — most, actually — being magical).  Wyle has returned for this new installment of the Librarian franchise, which could easily be titled The Librarians: The Next Generation.  Hit the jump for why the title is now plural.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT Criterion Blu-ray Review

by     Posted 16 days ago

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Though Frank Capra is known for his humanist films that are often about great men who fight for social justice, one of his best works is (arguably) the first screwball comedy that backgrounds class issues for a rollicking adventure about a dizzy heiress and a hard-boiled reporter.  That film is It Happened One Night, and it’s rightfully received a place in the Criterion Collection.  Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert star, and my review of the film on Blu-ray follows after the jump.

WILD Review

by     Posted 19 days ago

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

Perseverance is easier said than done.  We all understand that if we can just get through this, push a little harder, fight through the pain, then we will more than likely come out on the other side better off than we were before.  But it is so easy to stop trying.  Laze seems to be some kind of natural instinct that takes over and tells us to just give up and accept our life as it is.  Director Jean-Marc Vallée follows up last year’s Dallas Buyers Club with a much more solitary drama in Wild, which recounts author Cheryl Strayed’s three-month hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, during which she reflects on past mistakes and hardships, and struggles to find some inner peace.  That’s a trite enough premise, but through Vallée’s confident, dynamic direction and a truly fearless lead performance by Reese Witherspoon, Wild turns out to be an honest, surprising, and unabashedly feminist chronicle of determination and rebirth. 

THE IMITATION GAME Review

by     Posted 24 days 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 24 days 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 25 days ago

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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.

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