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Carnage (2011)
initially a mediation about children that erupts into a full-blown analysis of fractured marriages and human nature
24 June 2019
Insular black comedy/drama set in an upscale Brooklyn apartment where two married couples decide to air out their grievances following a violent altercation between their grade school kids. Though at first cordial and cooperative, the façade is eventually broken as they become increasingly hostile and impertinent with one another. Given the short running time and occasional feeling of padding it's easy to discern that this likely worked much better on stage than on screen, but good lines and solid direction that creates a claustrophobic atmosphere of underlying tension help to keep things interesting, though after sitting through all the sniping and squabbling you may be left feeling a bit cold. It wouldn't be as effective without the commitment of its stellar leads (though Foster occasionally overplays it a bit), meanwhile Winslet is flawless, and both Waltz and Reilly are fitfully amusing and appropriately cynical. **½
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Toy Story 4 (2019)
surprisingly good addition to the series
24 June 2019
Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the gang have managed to smoothly integrate themselves into the lives of their new owner Bonnie and are quick to welcome Forky, the newest addition to the group who doesn't quite comprehend life as a toy. While out on the open road, Woody (as loyal and intrepid as ever) finds himself separated from the gang on a mission to find Forky. Encountering some new faces, and some familiar ones as well, Woody begins for the first time to justifiably question his purpose in life. Despite being the fourth installment in the series, this latest feature is just as engaging as its predecessors, with a well-crafted story that manages to unfold in very surprising ways, along with stellar animation, terrific vocal work, plus the charm and nostalgia of spending time with so many characters that fans have grown to love. Feel-good, touching, and adventurous, with clever gags, and moments of true hilarity thanks especially to the work of newcomers Key, Peele, and Reeves; for series fans it shouldn't disappoint. ***
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a retread of a tired formula
23 June 2019
Special Agent Malcolm Turner is back in the game (again), going into the field (again) to try and apprehend a notorious Russian gangster, but complications ensue when his rebellious stepson Trent (who doesn't wish to follow in Malcolm's footsteps) gets caught up in the raucous. The plan? Go undercover as Big Momma (again) only this time Trent (in the guise of great-niece Charmaine) is forced to tag along as part of a package deal. Does more really need to be said? Fully grown Jackson is miscast, and never believable in the role of Lawrence's college-aged son, and the flimsy plot about a criminal and his elaborate scheme are just a ploy for the two stars to don the makeup and accessories. Viewers would likely give all this nonsense a pass if the film were actually funny-too bad it's not; the epitome of an unnecessary third entry if there ever was one. *½
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The Reader (2008)
a captivating, well-made story
18 June 2019
The setting is Berlin in 1995: Michael Berg, a coldly introverted lawyer who's never open with anyone, recalls his youth when as a teenager in 1950s West Germany (the aftermath of WWII still fresh in the minds of many) he crossed paths with an older woman who became his lover. It's not until later in life that he discovers she was a former SS guard at Auschwitz. As an adult, he has yet to fully come to terms with the affair and how it drastically affected the trajectory of his life. Sensual, atmospheric drama vividly captures the mood and essence of a specific time period, and packs an emotional wallop with the expectedly haunting revelations of the Holocaust, along with fully realized characters whose morally ambiguous actions shake them to their very core. Absorbing and thought-provoking, with (not surprisingly) fantastic work from Winslet, a riveting and complex performance from Fiennes, and a remarkable, praiseworthy showcase for Kross who comfortably holds his own as the young, naïve version of the same character. ***
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a belated sequel that isn't quite what you'd expect it to be
13 June 2019
Dedicated barber Calvin has formed a partnership with Angie and the two of them (along with their irrepressible colleagues) are relishing their success. At the same time, Calvin is trying to be a good father to his smart but impressionable teenage son who's fallen in league with the wrong crowd as the neighborhood continues to be encroached upon by negative influences. An enjoyable but most unusual follow-up; when it spotlights the day to day routine of the shop and interplay between it's likable, wisecracking characters, it's pleasant enough (though not uproariously funny), however with so much emphasis placed on a subplot about the emergence of gang violence and deterioration of Chicago's South Side, it works better as a social commentary than an actual comedy. In spite of that, the central theme is a good one and Cube provides a sincere, sympathetic portrayal of a man torn between his commitment to his business, and his responsibilities as a father. Well-cast, deeply political, and easy to take, but those expecting loads of laughs may be unsatisfied. **½
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unique, thoughtful, and wonderfully acted
12 June 2019
A gloomy, close-mouthed young man and a quirky, forward young woman meet and instantly form a connection despite their clearly contrasting personalities, only to learn that they were once lovers. Upon discovering that she was unhappy and decided to completely erase the memory of him from her life, he decides to undergo the same procedure, but can he really go on living without the memory of a woman he once loved? If you're looking for a refreshing mixture of genres then this is an ideal choice as it plays with various tangible themes like loneliness, heartache, and heartbreak, all wrapped up in a nonlinear, mind-bending narrative that at times resembles a complex psychological thriller. As unusual as it sounds, and as bizarre as the presentation is, it's still able to create genuine emotional depth, brought to the forefront by a superb cast, with the usually comedic Carrey convincingly pained and sullen, and Winslet who's spontaneity and fervor make her the perfect foil. An intelligent and memorable hybrid of romance, comedy, and science fiction, not a surprise coming from the screenwriter of other oddball gems like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. ***
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bold, masterful, and memorable
10 June 2019
Riggan Thomson was a famed actor who gained recognition for playing the lead role in a superhero film series. More than two decades later, he's faded from the limelight and continually tormented by a derisive inner voice and a vivid, overactive imagination. Determined to stay relevant and be recognized as a serious actor, he takes on the task of writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation, taking his girlfriend, lawyer/best friend, estranged, strung out daughter, and a talented but loose cannon method actor along for the ride. An intense, surreal, and immersive movie experience with terrific dialogue, outstanding visuals, clever, self-referential humor, and a story that's riveting from start to finish. Nearly every actor is phenomenal across the board, and Inarritu's crafty directorial style is astonishingly effective, allowing for several tense, character-to-character interactions that will both shock and amuse. An impressive and unique piece of work, with an ending that'll leave much to talk about afterwards. ***½
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Dark Phoenix (2019)
has its moments but doesn't really provide anything new
9 June 2019
Seemingly thinking they didn't get it quite right in The Last Stand, the producers thought they'd try their hand again at adapting the Dark Phoenix saga of the X-Men comics. Set in the early 1990s nearly a decade after the last cataclysmic event, the mutant and human populations have managed to find some small degree of consonance thanks to the efforts of Charles Xavier and his intrepid team. The X-Men respond to a distress signal in outer space, but blossoming student Jean Grey has an unusual encounter that imbues her with powers that no one-mutant or human-is equipped to handle. From a storytelling perspective this covers familiar ground, and lacks some sorely needed character development, thus the few crowd-pleasing moments that it does provide come primarily in the form of action scenes and special effects, of which there are heavy doses...just nothing that distinguishes it from the many previous films in the series. Turner has a complex role, and is clearly up to the task, and the presence of McAvoy, Fassbender, and Chastain provides added weight. **½
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Aladdin (2019)
tries very hard but doesn't really succeed
9 June 2019
A live action remake-or perhaps its own film altogether-of the 1992 animated feature about a street rat with a heart of gold whose only friend is a mischievous little monkey. Despite his current predicament, he believes he's destined for a greater future and is given the opportunity to obtain it when he releases a magical genie with the power to grant him three wishes. Though watchable, this probably works better for those who haven't actually seen the animated feature; throws out lots of flashy visual effects, a few new songs, and shoehorns in some dance numbers so as not to be an exact replica, but despite all the effort it still lacks the pizazz, sense of joy, and emotional resonance of the original. Smith makes a wise decision to not try and imitate or outdo Robin Williams, instead making the role his own from the get-go, and Scott makes a strong and passionate Jasmine, but the film drastically underserves the characterizations of Jafar and Iago who were so much more distinctive and vile the first time around. It just isn't very memorable despite how glitzy and glamorous it tries to be. **
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uses the rinse, wash, repeat approach
9 June 2019
Several years have passed and there have been no Godzilla sightings of any kind, yet prominent scientists still believe that the Earth is facing mass extinction. Hibernating monsters, dubbed "Titans" by humanity, have been discovered in various locations throughout the world. The debate about what to do with them, or whether they can co-exist with humans can potentially lead to a conflict greater than anyone can ever imagine. Big, bombastic monster movie follows a fairly straightforward pattern: pile on hordes of city-leveling destruction and chaos...stop for some exposition, preaching, and ineffectual human drama...throw out more action and destruction...and then do it all over again. Despite the redundancy it manages to go on for quite some time, in all likelihood so you never get a chance to breathe or ask any legitimate questions about the stability of the plot. Even with some good actors in the cast, after a while it's simply boring and headache-inducing, and doesn't create much anticipation for the future despite how hard it tries to do just that. The director must be a fan of disaster specialists like Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay because this echoes their earlier works in more ways than one. **
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an effectively eerie picture that features one of Williams' most memorable characters
8 June 2019
Watch the trailer for this film and you'll understand early on that it's not for the faint of heart. A solitary, socially inept photo technician is consumed by his job, and develops a fixation on a family of three whose photos he's developed for many years...but that fixation has gradually spiraled into a dangerous obsession as "Sy the photo guy" is determined to insert himself into their lives in any way he can. A simple idea effectively expanded into a full-length feature, this gloomy thriller is gripping every step of the way, but (necessarily) rife with unsettling scenes and disturbing subject matter, and is also one of those rare instances where a longer running time might've been beneficial to fully develop each character's backstory and motivation. It goes without saying that the film wouldn't work as well as it does if not for the devastating performance of Robin Williams, whose haunting, full-on commitment to the role will forever change a viewer's perception of photo technicians. ***
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some flaws in the presentation but a good film overall
8 June 2019
A boy meets girl scenario set against the backdrop of the sporting world. Beginning in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, a cocky young boy and the tomboyish girl next door meet for the very first time. Though initially at odds, they discover a mutual affinity for the game of basketball. Years pass and they grow up together, but complications arise due to their mutual dedication to the game, as well as the uncertainty of the feelings they harbor for one another. They could've used a more original title, but that ceases to matter as this is a touching and thoughtful drama that explores the hardships of the sports world in ways you wouldn't quite expect, with excellent casting down the line, and especially strong, persuasive performances from Lathan and Epps. The director's episodic storytelling technique hinders the film from developing some key emotional moments to their full extent, but viewers are unlikely to mind due to the work of the actors involved. **½
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Tomb Raider (2018)
not the epitome of action films, but still watchable
2 June 2019
After a fifteen-year absence, iconic video game heroine Lara Croft is back on the big screen in this latest reboot. The daughter of a long missing and presumed dead archaeologist, Lara struggles to find a path for herself. That changes when she gets hold of her father's research, and then embarks on a perilous journey to a remote island in the Devil's Sea hoping to discover his true fate. Whether you're a fan of the game or not, there are still some things you can take from this: good scenery, some exciting action scenes, nifty special effects, and lots of fatal escapes (of which there are many that completely defy logic), not to mention a committed Vikander who's gritty and grounded portrayal makes it easy to root for her. Eventually kicks into gear after a slow start, just don't expect to be blown away. **½
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any minor quibbles are elevated thanks to the work of the cast and crew
2 June 2019
There was the 1937 original...then the 1954 musical...then the 1976 musical...and now comes this remake and directorial debut of Bradley Cooper about a troubled but successful country music singer and his encounter with a struggling but immensely talented waitress and singer-songwriter. Their connection forms the basis of this film as they go through the inevitable ups and downs of show business, and the difficulties of maintaining a healthy relationship. Although it's easy to figure out the trajectory of this picture, it's still deeply moving thanks to the work of Cooper who gives a magnetic performance, is a credible vocalist, and provides sure-handed direction, as well as Lady Gaga who's captivating in the dual role of actor and singer. Doesn't end quite as well as it begins, but it still entertains thanks to the work of all the talent involved, along with some outstanding musical numbers. ***
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only a slight improvement, but an improvement nonetheless
1 June 2019
Jan de Bont takes the director's reins in this sequel where the intrepid Lara Croft finds herself on a historic quest to recover Pandora's box-yes, the real thing-a source of unspeakable power that's coveted by a nefarious bio-terrorist, but in order to get the job done Croft will have to enlist the services of an old flame. Though still derivative and unremarkable, the story is more interesting and more coherent than its predecessor, and the film also benefits from some effective stunts, beautiful Chinese and African scenery, decent visual effects, plus palpable chemistry between Jolie and Butler who make a good onscreen duo. It unfolds pretty much the way you'd expect, and piles on some of the usual clichés, but given what it is (a sequel to a movie that was based on a video game) it's not too bad. **½
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provides very little entertainment
1 June 2019
So here's the deal: every 5,000 years there's a planetary alignment, and within the context of the story that's set to occur very soon, which is bad news for everyone because an ancient secret society wants to use said alignment to obtain a powerful artifact and set their dastardly scheme in motion...luckily they're opposed by Lara Croft, a kick-ass adventurer who wants to make sure that same artifact doesn't fall into the wrong hands, not to mention she's also still bothered by a painful personal loss. With lots of globe-trotting adventure and high-tech gadgetry thrown in for good measure, this comes off as a poor blend of Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible, but despite all the pretentious action scenes, all the rambling exposition and plot devices, none of it really makes any sense, nor does it provide any genuine feeling of thrill or excitement. Fearless, agile Jolie-sporting a British accent-is ideally suited to the role, but there's little depth or substance to her character, or anyone else's for that matter. **
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overdone, but fans of the series are unlikely to complain
27 May 2019
With a significant amount of time having passed since their last zany adventure, Harold and Kumar have drifted apart and are on vastly different trajectories. Ne'er-do-well Kumar, still having yet to fully mature, is trying to piece together something resembling a life, while successful Harold is ensconced in marriage and trying to orchestrate the perfect holiday party for his demanding in-laws. Like anyone who's seen the previous films can figure out, the two estranged pals cross paths and unusual shenanigans begin to occur. Funny in spots, even self-referential at times, but hammers home the 3-D gimmick, and is so outlandish and over-the-top, that at times it resembles a live-action cartoon more than an actual movie. For dedicated fans it'll deliver the goods, for others there are better ways to pass the time. **
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not as good though there are some laughs
26 May 2019
After taking a legendary trip to White Castle, that Asian guy from American Pie and that Indian guy from Van Wilder reunite for this follow-up. Picking up immediately after its predecessor, newly revitalized Harold and mischievously coaxing Kumar decide to be spontaneous and travel to Amsterdam. Their trip takes a drastic detour when they're mistaken for terrorists and, much like before, end up on a series of misadventures-some amusing, some preposterous, and some that are just plain weird. While the first film didn't exactly revolutionize the genre, it was still a funny and good-natured little ride that was harmless enough, while this latest installment makes the classic sequel mistake of trying to do everything it can to top the original, but with middling results. A few of the political gags are perfectly on point, but too often it's strained, vulgar, and over-the-top, made watchable only by the chemistry of its two likable stars. **
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delivers what's expected which is more than it seems
26 May 2019
Obvious, undemanding, but surprisingly enjoyable farce about two stoner pals: Harold Lee, an uptight, Type A workaholic who lacks the courage to pursue his beautiful neighbor, and Kumar Patel, an intellectual but unmotivated slacker who doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of his father (a medical doctor) are inseparable best friends on a mission to find the perfect meal at-you guessed it-White Castle, but their simple quest for sustenance turns into a strange and lengthy series of misadventures. Silly, sloppy and raunchy, with lots of politically incorrect jokes, but this isn't as one-note as it sounds thanks to the affable duo of Cho and Penn, and more laugh-out loud moments than you'd expect...you just have to be willing to shut your brain off for the sufficient running time. **½
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a nasty piece of work made tolerable by a committed actor
22 May 2019
In the late 1980s, twenty-seven-year-old Patrick Bateman-a shallow, narcissistic, and affluent businessman who works in mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street-lives the indulgent high life, and feels the need to fit in...but he also has a dark secret: he's an impulsive, psychopathic murderer who despite having all the characteristics of a human being, finds it increasingly difficult to control his nightly bloodlust. To watch this film is like seeing a natural disaster unfold right before your eyes; part psychological horror film, part dark comedy, part satirical thriller and character study with a vicious barrage of overkill, this surreal, uneven blend is not for the faint of heart, yet it's well-cast and very interesting, spotlights some memorable 80s tunes, and is carried a long way by Bale's devastating, undaunted performance. His work alone makes it worth the viewing experience. **½
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impeccable casting makes this more entertaining than it otherwise would've been
19 May 2019
A familiar but well-crafted and consistently interesting look into the behind-the-scenes machinations of dirty American politics. The battleground is the State of Ohio where Pennsylvania governor Mike Morris, an ambitious and progressive family man, is determined to lock up the Democratic presidential primary. Well-meaning, idealistic staffer Stephen Meyers is the governor's junior campaign manager and brain trust. To lock up the primary, Meyers must find a way to convince Senator Franklin Thompson to endorse Governor Morris, but this seemingly simple task will test the limits of Meyers' ideals in ways he could never fathom. This riveting political drama spotlights many expected themes like loyalty, greed, ambition, scandal, blackmail, selling your soul, the list goes on, but when you have the likes of Gosling, Clooney, Hoffman, Giamatti, et al (there's really no weak link in this cast) bringing such intense conviction to the material, it's hard not to get caught up in all the lies and backstabbing despite the countless number of times it's been seen in other films. Outdated material that's invigorated by a fantastic ensemble of actors. ***
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What Men Want (2019)
given the potential it should have produced far better results
17 May 2019
A gender-swapped remake of sorts of the 2000 hit romantic comedy. Ambitious and energetic sports agent Ali Davis wants more than anything to make partner at her male-dominated agency. Despite all her abilities, she doesn't quite know how to connect with men and is advised to 'stay in her lane' when denied a promotion she feels she's rightfully earned. Everything changes when she suddenly acquires the ability to hear the innermost thoughts of the opposite sex, and naturally uses it to her advantage. Henson really commits to the role, and her antics are so much fun to watch that she alone makes it worth the viewing experience...but there's too many needlessly silly supporting characters, a string of gags that don't hit the mark, and despite a promising start it loses steam long before the finale. Because it fails to ever fully explore a very promising idea or take more chances with its storytelling techniques, it never peaks in the comedy or romance department. **
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Mother! (2017)
warning!
14 May 2019
In no specified location, a seemingly happy young woman resides in a large country house with her husband where they live in tranquility, until the arrival of a mysterious couple. Though the guests are mildly pleasant and affable, there are indications that something just isn't quite right...the discovery of what that is will be an experience that viewers are likely never to forget. Director Aronofsky clearly favors extreme close-ups which are effective in creating a palpably tense and claustrophobic atmosphere, before eventually spiraling into an ugly, interminable abyss of madness and despair. Bardem, Harris, and especially Pfeiffer are all convincing, but this is Lawrence's show and she gives the kind of gut-wrenching performance that echoes the very reaction of the audience. Fluctuating between riveting, confusing, and downright appalling, the gamut of emotions on display here are simply exhausting, but buried somewhere beneath all the mishmash and chaos are some poignant allegorical themes...deciphering them is not a task everyone is likely to embrace. Must set some kind of record for most WTF moments in a single film than any other in recent memory! **
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Long Shot (2019)
two immensely likable stars help elevate an uneven mixture of elements
13 May 2019
One of the unlikeliest pairings you're likely to see (hence the title) comes to the big screen in this imperfect but likable amalgam of fish-out-of-water, romantic comedy, and political satire. At a difficult crossroads in his career, a temperamental, left-wing journalist who's firmly committed to his own set of ethics has a chance encounter with his former childhood babysitter. Not only is she the much revered and influential U.S. Secretary of State, but she's also seeking endorsement as a presidential candidate and employs the journalist to punch up her speeches. When trying to explore the political canvas the script takes some awkward turns that don't really ring true, and the supporting players are grossly underdeveloped, but it's redeemed to a surprising extent by the work of Rogen-bringing genuine heart to his usual role of the goofy schlub, and Theron-showing yet again that she can play just about anything. Not consistently funny, this actually works better as a romance providing that warm, fuzzy feeling for dedicated fans of the genre. **½
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has a few tricks to grab your attention, but nothing that really sets it apart
13 May 2019
Having thought she'd broken the time loop, Tree Gelbman-now committed to being a nicer person after dying so many times-is distraught to discover that she's once again reliving the same day over again, only this time some key circumstances have changed and escaping is going to be much more complicated than she thought. Expected sequel to the sleeper hit attempts to shift genres by toying with assorted plot devices like time travel, paradoxes, parallel dimensions, etc., some of which are clever, others which are downright confusing, but it's still fairly derivative, lacks that needed feeling of tension or suspense, and has a mediocre climax. There is a highlight in Rothe who conveys her character's varying emotional states with such pinpoint accuracy...it's too bad she wasn't given a better script to work with. **
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