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327 reviews in total 
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Legend (2015/I)
3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Sensational Hardy in a Stylishly Entertaining Crime Drama, 2 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 4.3/5 stars

Identical twin thugs Reggie and Ronnie Kray ruled London's criminal underworld in the 1960s, and depending upon who you ask, the brothers were either barking mad or quite charming. Or both. Despite their violent natures, the twins hung out with some of the most popular figures of their time, and became celebrities themselves; they owned clubs frequented by aristocrats and movie stars, and were even photographed at the height of their infamy by portraitist (and fellow east ender) David Bailey.

That combination of grit and glitter in their story makes its way into "Legend", a film about the Krays that stars Tom Hardy as both Reg and Ron. Since every Londoner has a Kray tale to tell, there have been a few quibbles about the story told in "Legend", but nobody can dispute the sheer genius of Hardy's dual performance. Director Brian Helgeland finds his way into the story (which is loosely based on one of John Pearson's books) through Frances Shea (Emily Browning), Reggie Kray's wife. Frances narrates various parts of the proceedings, casting light on the brothers' criminal activities as well as on their relationship to one another.

"Legend" depicts Reggie as a stable criminal mastermind while Ronnie — eventually diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with borderline psychosis, and institutionalized at Broadmoor — is depicted as far more volatile and violent. Ron is openly gay in this version of the Kray's life story, although in real life, both brothers were thought to be bisexual and possibly incestuous. Complicated but simplified here, as are other details of their lives. And though the appropriate murders are shown and the guys are pursued by detective Nipper Reid (Christopher Eccleston) as in real life, but "Legend" seems more interested in the Krays' domestic and emotional life, such as it was, than in their criminal undertakings. The movie delivers the brothers as established adult gangsters, illustrating their move up the crime ladder via business overtures from the American mob.

For such a gritty story, "Legend" turns out to be beautiful to look at, full of perfect and lustrous period detail and appealing music and costumes; all but the most violent crime moments have an odd, darkly comic element to them.

It seems fair to say that "Legend" doesn't set itself up to be the definitive Kray story, but it's hellishly entertaining. And it's not short of thrills either, the biggest of which is Hardy's performance as the twin gangsters. According to the Director, the technical tricks involved in presenting one actor as a set of twins haven't changed much since Hayley Mills starred in "The Parent Trap" more than five decades ago. What's required to make it all fly are superb performances: Tom Hardy certainly scores on that front, and then some.

Joy (2015/I)
2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Fighting Ahead and Finding Joy Despite Huge Odds, 2 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 3.9/5 stars

The latest feature from writer-director David O. Russell is a quirky but very perceptive dramaedy made in Russell's usual freewheeling style. He looks at what it takes to make it, the American Dream, familial dysfunction and love in spite of that pervasive dysfunction, and the loneliness of a long-distance runner. "Joy" is, for all intents and purposes, pure joy to look at and sit through, complete with postcard-worthy scenes, a mesmerizingly immersive script, fairytale like seamless direction from an in-form Russell (red-hot after delivering a trio of classics in "The Fighter", "Silver Linings Playbook", and "American Hustle"), an all-star cast at the top of their game for most parts, and Jennifer Lawrence wearing the pants.

Lawrence is the standout as always and she delivers a very believable performance in the eponymous role. David O. Russell has certainly found his muse. As Katharine Hepburn was to George Cukor or Marlene Dietrich was to Josef von Sternberg, so too is Jennifer Lawrence to Russell. This is his third picture to feature Lawrence but the first to star her - or any woman for that matter - as the sole lead in one of his movies. The partnership has yielded yet another fruitful collaboration for all involved. In an era where we routinely bemoan the dearth of strong roles for women, "Joy" quietly enters the discussion and gives us exactly that.

The film is a real tribute to the scrappy heroines of the 1940s when female-centric films were common. Think pictures starring Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Katharine Hepburn, or Joan Crawford. Yes, those are indeed lofty comparisons, but Jennifer Lawrence embodies the fierce spirit of those trailblazing heroines. What's old seems new again. She's an uplifting breath of fresh air. A woman with her eyes firmly set on the American Dream. I'll even go so far as to say that if Lawrence had been born before 1920, she might have stolen roles from Jean Arthur, Katharine Hepburn, or Bette Davis. This is a defining role where she comes in not aggressively "with a bow and arrow", as the director has noted, "but with her heart and soul". "Joy" will definitely please Jennifer Lawrence fans as well as viewers who enjoy movies with a strong female lead and viewpoint.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
By-the-Numbers, but Reasonably Engaging, 2 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 3.2/5 stars

Leah (Sanaa Lathan) has it all: looks, brains, a beautiful modernist home in Los Angeles, a position of importance at a political- consulting firm, and the affections of her handsome boyfriend Dave (Morris Chestnut). But while her life seems perfect on the outside, her relationship has some sadly predictable shortcomings: She wants marriage and kids, and he doesn't. After one too many arguments on this topic, she tearfully breaks up with him; she then embarks on a long period of workaholic mourning, which only ends when a drunken boor corners her at a bar and asks to have a drink with her. No, he's not her new paramour — that would be the astute and handsome Carter (Michael Ealy), who comes to her rescue by posing as her boyfriend and telling the creep to take a hike. Grateful, she accepts Carter's offer of dinner.

Leah is smitten by Carter's manners and snake-charmer blue eyes, and before long she's taking him to meet her parents (L. Scott Caldwell and the always welcome Charles S. Dutton). But he seems too good to be true - and just when it seems like everything she's ever dreamed of is coming true, Carter beats a man into a bloody pulp for the crime of merely talking to her. Shaken, she breaks it off with him, only to find that he won't take no for an answer. He soon begins a campaign of harassment, spying, and general creepiness that has Leah fearing for her life. As a result, she seeks an ally in a police detective named Hansen (the also always welcome Holt McCallany).

The aforementioned events give Ealy the toughest task, switching from blue-eyed charmer to IT-savvy psychopath, and he makes a decent fist of it in a movie which offers little genuine depth, but moves through its paces watchably enough, borrowing judiciously from the Hitchcock playbook along the way. Lathan makes a likable heroine, even if we ponder the wisdom of her continuing to live alone in a swish glass-walled house and, without making too much of an issue of it, the film hints that the white-dominated corporate environment in which she moves subtly adds to her feelings of isolation and vulnerability.

"The Perfect Guy" isn't exploring new territory in the "psycho- stalker" subgenre (although it's notably more sensual than most films in this category). While the cast is capable and there are several moments of nail-biting tension, the plot leans too heavily on obvious clichés like the crazy collage of photos in the villain's lair signifying his unhinged mental state, victims standing dumbfounded as the bad guy advances when they should be scrambling for their phone, and the laziest trope of all in American cinema: A gun will solve this.

But the end result is elevated by the stylish direction of David M. Rosenthal, who gives this Lifetime-esque movie a higher gloss than it usually receives. The film wouldn't work if audiences didn't believe that Leah's passion for Carter was the real deal, and Rosenthal makes their animal attraction tangible in a scene in which they dance at an underground reggae venue, grinding against each other until they — and the audience — are at a fever pitch, culminating in a wide romp in the basement's dingy, dank washroom. Moody shots of the golden haze hovering over Los Angeles in the morning might not be strictly necessary in a plot-driven feature like this, but when Rosenthal juxtaposes them with hungry coyotes roaming the canyon streets, he reminds us that there are all kinds of unscrupulous animals on the loose in L.A.

"The Perfect Guy" might be high melodrama, and its conclusion isn't as pleasingly airtight as the ending in a thriller needs to be. Yet despite its faults and superficiality, it's an effective and somewhat engrossing time-killer.

Sicario (2015)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Gritty, Pragmatist Look at the Drug War on the U.S. Border, 2 January 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

With unjust police shootings and guys like John Connolly making deals with Whitey Bulger, it's getting near impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. Emily Blunt no doubt would agree after what she goes through as FBI agent Kate Macy in the kill-or-be-killed thriller "Sicario." Kate's the proverbial babe – and I mean babe – in the woods, a still wet-behind-the-ears agent working out of the Phoenix office. But she has moxie, that one ingredient necessary for every G-gal who's ever stumbled into a movie. Which is good, because she's going to need it after receiving a can't-refuse invite to join a black-ops group tasked with using "any means" to bring down a major drug cartel working out of the body-strewn war zone known as Juarez.

The force of black SUV-driving water-torturers is led by Josh Brolin, the go-to guy when it comes to typecasting Texas shitkickers standing knee-deep in a pool of tough-guy sarcasm. He's Matt, which is about all Kate – or any of us – will ever know about him. No clue who he works for, or whose interests he represents, despite Kate's persistent inquiries. But compared to Benicio Del Toro's Alejandro, he's practically an open book.

Making like Eastwood in a Spaghetti Western, Alejandro is an enigma of few words. He lets his automatic weapons do the talking – loud and lethal. His purpose, his presence are the film's central mysteries. He's also the likely reason the movie is titled "Sicario," which in the lexicon of Mexican gangsters means "hitman". He plays a character that's quite similar to the one he had portrayed in his Oscar- winning turn in Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic". But "Traffic" was so long ago (2000) that you've probably sufficiently forgotten Del Toro's portrayal of a Mexican cop hooking up with the DEA to bring down a drug lord. Well, it was a good part, so why not do it again? In fact, why not make "Sicario" just like "Traffic", sans the soap opera? That's clearly the thinking of wunderkind director Denis Villeneuve, who envelops his story in all the angst and gloominess we've come to expect from the guy who brought us ain't-no-sunshine joints like "Prisoners" and "Incendies". He loves wallowing in the muck. And as hard as you resist, you like wallowing with him. Say what you will about the guy – that he exploits human frailty; that he hates happy endings – you can't deny that he knows how to entertain the pants off you, even though the "entertainment" consists almost exclusively of murder and torture.

With actor-turned-writer Taylor Sheridan ("Sons of Anarchy") at his side, Villeneuve wastes no time bringing the dread by opening with a "Straight Outta Compton"-like drug raid that ends in multiple deaths. And that's not counting all the people who were already deceased, their bodies encased in plastic and jammed between the studs of a bullet-riddled Phoenix crack house. All are suspected victims of Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cedillo), the cartel boss an unsuspecting Kate is about to play an unsavory hand in bringing down.

The film thrives on Villeneuve's keen eye for action. Aided immensely by uber-cinematographer Roger Deakins (a shoo-in for his 13th Oscar nomination), Villeneuve turns your nerves into a twist with two masterful action sequences. The first involving a terrifying shootout on the Bridge of Americas, and the second a nighttime raid inside a crudely dug desert tunnel that Deakins films with an infrared camera that perfectly sets an eerie, foreboding mood as blood and ideals are spilled in a barrage of bullets. It's simply breathtaking, as is the final scene, like "Traffic", set on an athletic field. It will not only haunt you, but it will also – this is for you Donald Trump – drive home the reason so many people will do anything to flee to the U.S.

What's not so great is the flat storytelling, which presents precious little of what's at stake for the characters, particularly Alejandro. The entire film builds and builds to his climactic moment of revenge porn. It's powerful, but not as intently as it could have been if Villeneuve created a more palpable sense of suspense. Still the performances are strong, and Deakins is amazing, doing for normally boring, bland desert-scapes what he did for the snowbound tundra in "Fargo". In fact, his ingenious camera-work is "Sicario's most addictive drug. Whether that's enough to get audiences high remains to be seen. But even with all its impurities, "Sicario" remains pretty kick-ass dope.

8 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
Devilishly Good From Quintessentially Diabolical Tarantino, 27 December 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 4.9/5 stars

"The Hateful Eight" is a cinema buff's dream - outrageous, extraordinary, extreme filmmaking at its most confident, and unlike anything else in theaters this season. But that's only to be expected from Quentin Tarantino, one of the few directors with the clout to pursue his vision wherever it takes him. It's a big, shambling, audacious inversion of the western genre, held together by Tarantino's sincere conviction that beyond his unbridled imagination, American audiences might recognize their own fractious nation.

Set about a decade after the Civil War, a stagecoach hurtles through the wintry Wyoming landscape. The passengers, bounty hunter John Ruth and his fugitive Daisy Domergue, race towards the town of Red Rock where Ruth, known in these parts as "The Hangman," will bring Domergue to justice. Along the road, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren, a black former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix, a southern renegade who claims to be the town's new Sheriff. Losing their lead on the blizzard, Ruth, Domergue, Warren and Mannix seek refuge at Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive at Minnie's, they are greeted not by the proprietor but by four unfamiliar faces. Bob, who's taking care of Minnie's while she's visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray, the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers. As the storm overtakes the mountainside stopover, our eight travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock after all.

You can feel Tarantino crushing on Howard Hawks and John Ford in every frame of this weirdly engaging epic. The characters are big. The horses are real. And the quiet promise of the American Dream is always palpable. Even at almost three hours, the story never feels labored. A lot of that is because Tarantino's dialogue is rapturous to the ear. But mostly it's because the performances are all so strong. Hell, matter of fact it feels far shorter than many of the 100-or-so- minute duds we've had to endure this year.

Now that isn't saying that "The Hateful Eight" is a western as wacky as "Django Unchained", but it's everything you want from a Tarantino movie: unbearable tension, deft and intuitive dialogue interspersed with acerbic wit, fleshed-out characters, and sudden, grisly violence. This 8th outing from Tarantino offers another well-aimed round of his signature blend of action, humor, thrills, and over- the-top violence - all while demonstrating an even stronger grip on his filmmaking craft.

4 out of 31 people found the following review useful:
The Force Has Indeed Awakened, 27 December 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 5/5 stars

J.J. Abrams and his crew have restored the shine to our beloved story, and then some. Packed with action and populated by both familiar faces and fresh blood, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" successfully recalls the series' former glory while injecting it with renewed energy.

The film begins three decades after the defeat of Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire, when a new threat known as the First Order has arisen and attempts to rule the galaxy once again with tyranny and ruthlessness, just as the Empire had done many decades ago. Enter Rey, a scavenger from the planet Jakku, who finds a BB-8 droid that knows the whereabouts of the long-vanished Luke Skywalker. Along with a rogue stormtrooper and two well-known smugglers, the rag-tag group of heroes team up with the Resistance to stop the daunting legions of the First Order.

What works the most in favor of this latest entrant to the space saga is the dexterity, fluency, and zip with which each scene flows, and seamlessly blends with all the exhilarating action, smart humor, and indelible dialogues; nothing ever feels out of place - Abrams delivers a tour-de-force in the act of pure storytelling. Another highlight is the crop of new characters - well-written and fleshed out with intrigue and promising back stories without revealing too much in one go. They play well with and against each other as also with some of the grizzled veterans now ready to make way for younger blood to take over the mantle.

And it all climaxes with the right elements (though many die-hard fans will be left fuming or at least inconsolable at one shocking development that transpires toward the denouement), tantalizing us and setting things up brilliantly for the next installment. Secret threads on social media are already picking their nits and debating theories; it's going to be a tough wait to see what happens next.

Containment (2015/I)
7 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Good Little Thriller Making Good Use of Tight Little Spaces, 21 December 2015

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

"Containment" gets by purely on resourcefulness and sincerity. It's a niftily executed viral-outbreak thriller that, true to its title, makes good use of a confined space to ratchet up the drama of the situation, while working hard to bypass the more obvious narrative traps it creates for itself. Strong attention to detail and a disquieting score set this directorial debut feature apart, but some of the characters' motivations aren't entirely convincing.

There's nothing groundbreaking in this low-budget British thriller, but newbie director Neil Mcenery-West makes excellent use of his claustrophobic setting. Eventually, "Containment" succeeds in proving that you don't need a whopping great budget, nor an A-list cast to produce an accomplished piece of work.

7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Old-School Throwback With a Classy Yet Savage Edge, 21 December 2015

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 3.3/5 stars

"We Are Still Here" is the latest iteration of people unwittingly stumbling upon an ancient haunted house, and it succeeds more than it fails, thanks largely to the competent work of first-time director Ted Geoghegan. The Director does a great job in keeping the tension high, teasing his ghastly ghosts with escalating bouts of gore infested violence to make a film that will satisfy both haunted house and gore horror fans.

That's not saying that "We Are Still Here" is up there with some of the best haunted house movies like "The Exorcist", "The Shining", "Poltergeist", or "The Conjuring", but it does offer enough decent scares and some moments of high tension to push it past pastiche. The film mixes stylish, subtle filmmaking with sudden gore effects to deliver a twisted take on the stale and anemic haunted house formula. And though it doesn't match up to the aforementioned classics, "We Are Still Here" stands on its own as a memorable and utterly creepy genre offering that deserves to be seen by horror fans that appreciate something out of the ordinary.

7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
John Ford's Wild West Encounters Wes Craven's Horrors, 19 December 2015

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 3.8/5 stars

On the list of things the world needs, a mash-up of "The Searchers" and "The Hills Have Eyes" is pretty far down there. But if there was going to be such a thing, the smartly cast and well-crafted "Bone Tomahawk" fits the bill nicely. A witty fusion of western, horror, and comedy that gallops to its own beat - "Bone Tomahawk's" peculiar genre- blend won't be for everyone, but its gripping performances and a slow- burning story should satisfy those in search of something different. The rewarding western elements transition smoothly into the world of horror, like the sun moving behind a cloud; and yeah, things get dark and startlingly violent.

S. Craig Zahler's directorial debut is set in the frontier lands - not just between civilization and savagery some time after America's Civil War, but also between oater heroics (and antiheroics), Coen- esque clusterfuckery, and a pioneering form of horror. It's a western that's also a comedy until the good humor runs out and what's left turns into a grim horror film. And for all its grim, grotesque leanings, the film smartly steers away from despondency; the story and characterization genuinely fears for its protagonists' lives while still holding legitimate hope that they're smart enough and tough enough to emerge out the other side intact. Also, though its cult-movie desires often show, "Bone Tomahawk" is ultimately sold by its cast, who commit fully to Zahler's discursive indulgences.

All in all, the movie is a strong directorial debut, and one of the year's most unique genre films - a neo-cannibalistic-western-horror with deliberately paced old-school cowboy elements paying homage to auteurs from John Ford to Howard Hawks.

No Escape (2015/I)
4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Tense, Exciting, Unsettling, and Totally Unexpected, 19 December 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Reviewed by: Dare Devil Kid (DDK)

Rating: 3.9/5 stars

One of the strongest action thrillers in recent years, this gripping movie cleverly casts actors known for comedy in central roles. And it works well, and then some. But the real reason this film is so effective lies in its script, which never dumbs it down for the audience. Instead, it cleverly leaves out irrelevant details, keeping viewers guessing about essentially unimportant elements while getting on with the frantic mayhem.

"No Escape" opens as Jack and Annie (Owen Wilson and Lake Bell) fly to Southeast Asia (which country, we're never told) with their daughters (Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare) to start a new life after Jack's business back home went under. He has a new job here helping provide drinking water. When they get to their hotel, after being given a lift by a friendly fellow traveler, they are impressed to see a large banner with Jack's photo on it, welcoming him and his fellow co-workers. Unfortunately that welcome will only last a few hours. What they don't know is that their plane lands at just about the same moment as an insurgency is about to strike and overthrow the greedy, western-affiliated government and then set it sights on interloping Westerners. So before they've recovered from jet lag, this family is running for its life. The only person who helps them is the disheveled Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), who's actually a shady British operative with a helpful local sidekick (Sahajak Boonthanakit) who loves Kenny Rogers. But the mob is on the warpath.

Brutally violent, "No Escape" keeps you on the edge of your seat as Jack leads his family in an attempt to escape what appears to be an unmitigated attack by the local population to exterminate all expats. A political assassination has triggered a mob mentality and, be it guns, clubs, or a handy two-by-four, pretty much no one is safe from some kind of retribution. Wilson is probably the last person you'd expect to see as an action star, but here he lets the situation dictate his actions. He's as timid of violence as you or I but, when his family is threatened, he slowly becomes like the people he is running from. "I killed somebody," he almost casually tells his wife, Annie. She can only nod, having also been taken to the brink in the fight to keep her family safe. Bell is also well cast, displaying an inner toughness we haven't seen in other films. As the mysterious "friendly" fellow traveler, Brosnan is cool as a cucumber, no matter what the situation.

Once the film kicks off it never lets up, ratcheting up the tension quickly, and propelling these characters into a series of outrageous cliffhanging moments. Filled with blood, gunshots, and gruesome deaths it's startlingly violent for a film with a fragile young family at the center, which makes the peril feel all too real. Writer-Director brothers Drew and John Erik Dowdle do a terrific job at merging action movie clichés with gritty authenticity. Even though the story is not completely original, they know how to build up tension, giving us a very entertaining movie. The script may occasionally feel contrived, and you're not sure how plausible much of it is - the bit about the American embassy seems unlikely - but the suspense is often overwhelming (I found myself gripping my seat and holding my breath more than once.) thanks to astute direction and solid performances. Wilson and Bell are startlingly good and hold their own in the most fiercely life-threatening scenarios without ever turning into silly action heroes. Their family bond is believable, as is the hint of past tension between them, which adds a strong emotional undercurrent. By contrast, Brosnan seems to be enjoying the chaos; a salty veteran of much more dangerous missions.

The film captures both the anger of those causing the disturbance as well as the fear and frustration of the Dwyers. The story moves quickly, and you're almost as breathless as those on the run when it ends. "No Escape" is an unexpected surprise that'll leave you breathless and on the edge of your seat.

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