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485 reviews in total 
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Bound (1996)
An Early-Wachowski Noir Thriller, Bound Overcomes its Slow Start But Not Jennifer Tilly's Acting, 28 January 2015

Sparks fly when a pair of new neighbors fall into a lesbian love affair and scheme to lift a seven-figure sum from an unwitting mafia goon. Written and directed by the Wachowskis, rumor has it that this film gave them enough cred with the studios to turn around and produce The Matrix a few years later. I can see that potential at times, though it's still very rough around the edges. The first act is a real bore, borderline softcore porno that I very nearly shut off and wrote off, but the plot really comes to life at about the forty-minute mark and swiftly ramps up into a rousing, unpredictable little dose of dark suspense. Sadly, no amount of nifty writing and unexpected twists can compensate for Jennifer Tilly's acting. She's Anna Nicole-Smith levels of bad, trying to seem sultry, deep and smart but really just coming across as drug-whipped and out of her depth. Apart from an inspired effort from Joe Pantoliano as the short-fuse mafia fall-guy at the center of it all, though, that's pretty much par for the course. Low-budget but high-intensity, it's always just *this* close to hitting its mark.

The Interview (2014/II)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Though Lowbrow, as Intended, it's Much Better Than I Expected, 26 January 2015

Really enjoyable as a mirror to the silly tabloid drama that surrounded its own release. I mean, is there any question how well that worked as a publicity stunt? It's completely stupid, but in a carefree, endearing way that's somehow naive, innocent, profane and pointedly satirical all at the same time. James Franco personally tilts the scale well past the bounds of self-restraint, constantly mugging and deliciously overplaying his part as the sleazy, brain-dead host of a televised celebrity gossip magazine. This, surprisingly, leaves Seth Rogen to play the (mostly) straight man, and for the most part he comes through. I found a lot to snicker about, with one or two really big laughs sprinkled in at good intervals. Franco, the centerpiece, is all or nothing, killing it when his act is on point and failing spectacularly when it isn't. Either way, he's fun to watch. A few gags nudge into the uncomfortable realms of racial taboo, but for the most part it's an equal-opportunity offender, slinging just as much mud at American culture as it does North Korea's cult of personality. Wicked and twisted and sick, with a climactic shot that really has to be seen, I liked it a lot more than I expected to.

A Bright, Noisy Take on the Political Potboiler, 26 January 2015

A nice rummage through the genre bin in search of a hybrid that hadn't yet seen the light of day: the action / adventure / superhero / political thriller. It's enjoyable enough, if a touch on the shallow, superficial side. Though it runs a bit long, I don't feel like the drama was given quite enough time to simmer and skeptics will see right through an early plot twist involving a major death (or two). The action scenes look and feel great, though, with an emphasis on physical effects in lieu of CG that pays big dividends. Scarlett Johansson gets a lot of screen time, much more than I'd expected, but feels purposeful and at-home, where Anthony Mackie's equal turn as Falcon seems forced and irrelevant. Of course, Chris Evans is vanilla but strong in the leading role and Sebastian Stan is appropriately cool-looking, if slightly under-explored, as his momentary nemesis the Winter Soldier. They probably should've kept the mask on longer, though; he seems far less menacing and visually striking without. I'm really struggling to understand why this didn't feel more substantial than it did. Even Cap's most appealing personality quirk - his disconnection from the trappings of modern society - gets little more than a cursory glance. Good but middle-of-the-pack in the Marvel family.

Big, Dumb and Beautiful, It's a True Formula-Drinker, 22 January 2015

A return to the well for Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in every conceivable way, doggedly following the same formula that brought them success the first time around. Somehow, it's just as good. Maybe it's because there's nothing quite like this elsewhere on the scene, so we're just scratching that blatantly self-aware, cliché-seeking itch once every couple of years and it hasn't yet worn out its welcome. At least, not entirely - the constant winks and nods do begin to grate by the end of the third act - but a heavy dose of loud, fresh, full-body laughs do a fine job of smoothing it all over. Ice Cube, in an expanded role, is especially great, shamelessly stealing scenes like a serial kleptomaniac. Of course it's not to be taken remotely seriously, even in comparison to the original, which is a good thing because the plot is a totally vacant, paper-thin wash. Does mindless comedy still have a place in today's landscape? It does in my living room.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Dark, Weird, Ambitious and Wildly Entertaining - Try Not to Focus on the Plot Holes, 20 January 2015

Seventeen years after the fall of civilization and the onset of a man-made ice age, the last remnants of the human race struggle to coexist aboard a very long, class-segregated passenger train. It's a real love-it-or-hate-it dose of science fiction crazy. If you can look past the miles of odd, glaring holes spattering the plot and appreciate the sheer, raw, carefree conceptual strength, it's easy to embrace. On the other hand, if you're the type that can't stop picking at loose threads, the whole fabric is bound to fall apart. I usually find myself somewhere in between those two extremes, but during Snowpiercer I was able to silence the critic in the back of my head long enough to enjoy the ride. And it's quite the experience, brimming with blunt (yet, strangely charming) metaphors and social commentaries, abrupt, brutal doses of gang warfare and all manner of high-concept weirdness. It's an especially well-realized nightmare, too, with a rapidly-shifting visual style, effective matching changes in the cinematography and constant, subtle background reminders of the strange setting. The plot does have its struggles, most of which probably could have been tidied by an attentive editor, but at the end of the day that kind of reckless disregard for the rules serves to make it even more unpredictable and fascinating. Very dark, especially in the mindbending third act, it's as fresh a spectacle as I've seen in quite a while.

3 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Somehow Bland, Despite the Ninety-Minute Fight Scene, Middle Earth's Farewell is Missing a Heart and a Purpose, 19 January 2015

Peter Jackson finishes with Middle Earth, again, six films and well over a thousand minutes of screen time after he began. It should go without saying that Bilbo's last fight is over-extended, indulgent and often very slow - at this point, those have become LOTR calling cards - but even amidst such expectations, this is a pretty big stretch. There's just so little real substance here, especially after the ferocious dragon Smaug is dismissed very early in the first act, that it feels like we're watching a medieval war reenactment and not a polished bit of Hollywood storytelling. The cast gets plenty of linguistic work, with lots of tongue-twisting names and locations to murmur in a foreboding tone, and the screen dances with all manner of wild paperback-cover visuals, but it deeply hurts that there's so little plot. Even the battle scenes, large and loud as they are, suffer from a bad case of the Rambos. That was a problem I could generally overlook in The Two Towers, even when Legolas was single-handedly taking down herds of war elephants, but now by comparison that seems almost quaint. It doesn't matter how outnumbered our heroes may be, if they're involved in a fight you'd better believe a couple hundred baddies are about to lose their heads. Believability is already a tall ask here, and those fight scenes scrap any shred of disbelief that may have remained somewhat suspended. It's a pantomime, a hopeless exaggeration that rambles on without point or purpose like a drunken Granddad after Thanksgiving dinner. There really, really didn't need to be three of these.

Birdman (2014)
1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Challenging, Intriguing and Inventive, But Also Presumptive and Overbearing, 14 January 2015

Michael Keaton leads the charge as a teetering schizophrenic actor, struggling to find validation on Broadway after a long, expired run as a glossy Hollywood blockbuster-dweller. On a purely technical level, it's astounding. Precisely edited to appear as though the whole thing were executed in one extremely long take, it's a mesmerizing experience, profoundly different and expertly crafty when the timeline needs to leap forward. It's dazzlingly acted, too, with Keaton delivering a masterful performance alongside noteworthy supporting work from Ed Norton, Emma Stone and (to my surprise) a very versatile Zach Galifianakis. The moral lessons are laid on thick, though, and too often it feels like we're being lectured for daring to indulge in the kind of loathsome fun that drove our lead to this strange brand of mania. One scene in particular, Keaton's confrontation with a stuffy critic before opening night (who glares right into the camera before storming off in a cloud of self-righteousness) plays like a direct scolding of the audience. Maybe theatre purists will take this as a firm voice of reason, the rare call of someone who finally *gets* it, but to me it came off as tremendously stuck-up and pretentious. I can't deny there's a lot to enjoy here, and it's a clear arrival for auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu, but I also can't help wondering how much better it would be without that permeating air of superiority.

Draft Day (2014/I)
Weak, Run-of-the-Mill, Pandering, Brand-Friendly Fodder, 13 January 2015

If we assume the money printers behind the NFL saw Moneyball and thought "hey, we should totally do that too," this is almost precisely how I'd picture the end result. Polished and slick, loaded with team insignias and familiar Sunday morning fringe-dwellers, and superficially authentic at best. Behind the glamour is a hollow pantomime, stuffed with eyeball-rolling character moments and bland dialog, completely missing the points that made MLB's effort click. It does manage to get some things right - the frequent nods at league history are interesting, and the production values are dazzlingly first-rate - but it all feels so pre-approved and chest-puffing that I had a hard time buying it as more than just a long-form bit of promo fluffer. Kevin Costner, at his most washed-up and wooden, doesn't do anything to move the bar, and the climax may as well have flashed the words "dynasty" over the Cleveland skyline... subtlety is not its forte.

Funny, Crimson-Soaked Satire That's a Bit on the Light Side, 8 January 2015

A pair of simple-minded backwoods types run into trouble when their vacation plans overlap with those of a great, big carload of college party animals. It's shallow - no, really shallow - but so are the slasher flicks it's sending up, so par for the course I guess. Problem is, Cabin in the Woods is already more comprehensive, Scream is wittier and Scary Movie is more profane, so there's not a lot of room to find a fresh niche. The titular duo have a good thing going, and the core script-flip of teens doing the terrorizing is fun in concept. There's just so little to it beyond the bare bones that it's hardly a filling meal, so the good laughs and splatter effects can't find enough meat to sink their teeth in. Mercifully short, it gets in and out in under eighty minutes, and even then seems a little bloated.

A Step Off the Beaten Path for Fantastically-Minded Studio Ghibli, 7 January 2015

Studio Ghibli gets serious in this romanticized take on avionic design at the dawn of the second world war. Engineering might seem a strange subject for animation, and at times it is, but in typical fashion the studio delights in writing their own rules and somehow coming out ahead. In the same way that recent big-budget live action cinema has been trying to draw inspiration from animation's more fantastical elements, it seems that The Wind Rises borrows its mundane, grounding elements from reality. Detail has always been a calling card for Miyazaki's efforts, and here the old master has again outdone himself. The screen is flooded with life, with even the least remarkable background extra, almost-inanimate object, or stunning, towering cloudscape enjoying an unusual amount of motion and character - notes clearly taken from live action. There's no shortage of the studio's usual breathtaking flights of fancy and wonder, either, but now they're tempered by that basis in reality. And, in a way, that makes them even more special. Dreams intertwine with lucidity so casually, it's tough to identify the moments of transition. The plot is less rigid than one might expect, too, strolling along at its own pace and lazily floating from one decade to the next. That makes it less gripping than the standard Ghibli effort, but we're invested in different ways. Gorgeous, poetic, relaxing, inspiring, warm and funny and bittersweet; it's not at all what I expected, and no competition for Totoro or Mononoke or Spirited Away, but it's not trying to be.

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