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Whiplash (2014)
the film's title sums it up perfectly
27 March 2018
Andrew Neiman is an ambitious drummer who doesn't just want to be great, but to be one of "the greats." Despite being only a first-year student at Shaffer Conservatory in New York City-perceived by many to be the best music school in the country-Andrew is recruited to join the upper level studio band, but to prove himself he's going to have to survive a tenacious battle of wits with Terence Fletcher, a renowned but unrelenting conductor who uses draconian methods to bring out the very best in his students. Intense, exhilarating drama from director Damien Chazelle pulls you in right from the start and never lets up with vigorous acting and top-grade musical numbers on its way to a smashing climax. Teller is compelling as the youthful student pushed to his very limits, while Simmons (who looks like he'd be right at home in Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket) gives a brutal, uncompromising performance as his relentless "mentor." A powerful, provocative film about dedication, ambition, and obsession. ***
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2012 (I) (2009)
one too many times
26 March 2018
Underwhelming disaster film from none other than the director of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, beginning in the year 2009 with some top scientists discovering that Earth's geological disturbances could potentially lead to disastrous results for the human race. Fast forward three years into the future where said disturbances do begin to occur, thus creating a frantic race for a handful of characters as they attempt to survive. Clearly director Emmerich has overplayed his hand in this genre, but no one will complain as long as the special effects are good and he's able to create a fun moviegoing experience; unfortunately this project has that "been there, done that" feel to it, as an intriguing premise is overrun by one preposterous, over-the-top action scene after another, and any potentially poignant ideas are lost in the film's excruciatingly long running time. Overlong, overblown, and not nearly as suspenseful or as exciting as it thinks it is. **
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Poseidon (2006)
it's already been done
25 March 2018
The open ocean can be a dangerous place...ships can sink during their voyage...passengers have to fight for survival...these familiar, recycled themes run rampant in this shallow (no pun intended) disaster flick centering around a luxury ocean liner making a transatlantic crossing, until being capsized by a rogue wave. Like countless other films in this genre, a group of survivors must then band together to try and ensure their survival...some may make it, some may not, but considering how familiar it is you wonder why the film has to go on for as long as it does. Special effects galore, like you'd expect, but what you wouldn't expect is that there is no real sense of urgency, no sense of wonder or excitement, and no character to care about or root for. Director Wolfgang Petersen seems to be treading water (pun intended) because he already covered this ground-and better-in The Perfect Storm; a big, dull, and monotonous expedition that goes through the motions. **
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somewhat creative but not enough to really hit the mark
25 March 2018
Snarky, self-centered college sorority girl (we all know the type) awakens on her birthday to find herself in a precarious predicament; unfortunately that's only the beginning as she later gets murdered, then finds herself reliving the same day over and over again...with the same result over and over again. Her only solution is to try and track down the killer herself, but time is not on her side. Groundhog Day for the slasher genre, this has its fair share of clever moments as well as some shocking and laugh-out loud funny ones, but once the premise is revealed it turns pretty routine and obvious, and doesn't provide a very good or innovative climax given all the effort it makes to tell the story. A bit more unconventional than the usual films of this genre, thanks to a good (though derivative) setup. **
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Lady Bird (2017)
a touching throwback to the adolescent years
11 March 2018
In the year 2002, Catholic high school senior Christine McPherson, self-named 'Lady Bird,' is an impetuous girl literally from the wrong side of the tracks who is at a critical stage in her life: she's continually at odds with her mother, she despises her mundane life in Sacramento, and she wants to go to college on the east coast in a city with culture. Her ordinary life suddenly takes a turn when she has to deal with popularity, discovering boys and romance, and coping with the problems of people other than her own. Cute, quirky, and thoughtful coming-of-age story is one everyone can relate to, with the all-important themes of teen angst, adolescence, and ambition; colorful dialogue, well-drawn characters, and believable situations are only elevated by a talented cast of actors. Twenty-three-year-old Ronan perfectly embodies the spirit of a self-absorbed teenager in all her complexities, making it easy for viewers to recall a similar time period in their lives. ***
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a powerful motion picture
11 March 2018
In the sparsely populated town of Ebbing, Missouri, divorced mother Mildred Hayes still grieves over the rape and murder of her teenage daughter which occurred several months earlier. Disgusted by the lack of progress in the investigation to apprehend the perpetrator, she takes matters into her own hands and purchases three billboards along the highway in an attempt to light a fire under the local authorities, but instead finds herself engaged in a personal war with the authorities and the enraged townspeople who see her as a vigilante. Bleak, isolated, and provocative drama from director Martin McDonagh is perfectly cast and completely unpredictable, with scintillating dialogue, tense character interactions, and a believable examination of human nature in the most dire of circumstances. McDormand is remarkable as the stone-faced mother who makes some morally questionable decisions, and Rockwell is tremendous in a complex role as an angry, bigoted officer who's not as one-dimensional as he initially seems. ***
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a heavyweight cast that's given little to work with
11 March 2018
A hollow, high-profile treatment of the Agatha Christie whodunit set in the mid-1930s about Hercule Poirot, a Belgian incarnation of Sherlock Holmes who may or may not be the world's greatest detective, and his attempts to solve a murder case while onboard the Orient Express. Lead actor and director Branagh seems to be overdoing it a bit, recruiting a star-studded cast who are unfortunately used to just show up and be recognized, rather than employ their actual acting abilities. Despite good scenery, a vivid sense of time and place, and the multitude of colorful characters, there's little in the way of suspense or intrigue, two elements sorely needed for a film like this to really succeed. Watchable, but fails to provide a truly satisfying payoff. **
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Get Out (I) (2017)
director Peele takes you on a different kind of journey
5 March 2018
A unique and effective blend of horror film and social commentary if there ever was one! Young black photographer Chris Washington is understandably nervous about going to spend the weekend with the parents of his sweet white girlfriend Rose Armitage-who for reasons unbeknownst to him has yet to tell her parents that he's black. They set out on their trip and...well the rest is really left for the viewer to discover. Writer-director Jordan Peele shows master craftsmanship by taking this simple premise and expanding it in many different directions, incorporating elements of racism, comedy, shock and awe, and wisely never taking things too seriously. The climax is a bit formulaic and over-the-top, but the journey is effectively unnerving and features much stronger acting than you would expect for a film of this genre. Not for all tastes, but refreshingly unconventional and worth the viewing experience. ***
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Black Panther (2018)
provocative story with a strong cast of actors
19 February 2018
With his father T'Chaka having passed away, T'Challa finds himself as heir to the throne of Wakanda and responsible for leading his people as the new king-a role which he is reluctant to embrace. He returns home to prepare for his coronation until he finds his sovereignty challenged by both internal and external factions, and must seek help from some unlikely sources to prevent a conflict which could have global repercussions. Innovative, well-crafted, and culturally significant entry to the Marvel Universe is a feast for the eyes with beautiful, breathtaking scenery, strong, captivating characters, but most importantly it's a very personal and compelling story with political overtones and serious, penetrating questions about the modern world. Though the pace lags at times it still holds your attention and is perfectly cast across the board with Boseman poised and centered in the lead, Jordan matching him as a physically imposing counterpart, along with Nyong'o, Gurira, and Wright who are all terrific. ***
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The Intern (I) (2015)
basic but pleasant
15 February 2018
Ben Whittaker is a seventy-year-old widower and retired businessman whose life is an ongoing, relentless effort in creativity. Despite immersing himself in various activities (fitness, travel, languages, etc.) he still has a void in his life that he's desperate to fill, that is until he signs up for a senior citizen program at an e-commerce fashion startup run by Jules Ostin, a prototypical workaholic who's initially skeptical about Ben's ability to contribute to the business. The biggest criticism of this comedy-drama from director Nancy Meyers would have to be that it's a bit too simple, and perhaps even a bit too congenial for its own good, but-much like the lead character-it gradually grows on you, features some genuinely funny scenes, insightful themes, and makes the most of the unorthodox but effective pairing of De Niro and Hathaway. **½
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I, Tonya (2017)
very good despite its questionable authenticity
2 February 2018
Shot in mockumentary-style comes this compelling biography of talented but controversial figure skater Tonya Harding, tracing her early days as a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who was pushed to excel at the one thing she was truly good at, as well as her tumultuous relationships with her husband and mother leading up to the infamous attack on "friend" and rival Nancy Kerrigan. Often tragic, often funny, how much of it is actual fact versus fiction we may never really know, but it's always involving and bolstered by believable scenes on the ice and faultless performances by its cast. Robbie perfectly embodies the central character in all of her permutations, Stan (primarily of Marvel fame) shows some profound acting chops as her "allegedly abusive" husband, and Janney is simply remarkable as her stern, indifferent mother. It may not be completely true to life, but it certainly entertains. ***
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a good all-around showing
2 February 2018
Poignant, engrossing slice of life with Clooney in peak form as Matt King-a workaholic, Honolulu-based real estate attorney, distant husband, and "backup parent" of two rebellious daughters. He's also the sole trustee of 25,000 pristine acres on the island of Kauai, but his once monotonous life hits a major detour when a boating accident leaves his wife in a coma, and he discovers that she was having an affair. Now at a crossroads, he's forced (for the first time in years) to fully embrace his role as a husband and father, and make some critical decisions moving forward. Thoughtful, well-made comedy-drama is interesting and insightful every step of the way with compelling themes, characters who are real, first-rate performances, and beautiful, breathtaking Hawaiian scenery as an added bonus. ***
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manages to make the most of a familiar setup
3 January 2018
Belated, stand-alone sequel to the late Robin Williams 1995 original about a mystical board game is effectively updated for today's audiences as the film chronicles four teenagers (a prototypical nerd, jock, queen bee, and outcast) who-with shades of The Breakfast Club-are sentenced to detention where they begin to play an old video game. Unfortunately for them the video game is much more than it appears to be and they're 'transported' into the game world where they're forced to make the most of their precarious predicament. The formulaic approach and clichéd themes aside, this is actually a pretty good showing with laugh-out loud humor, nifty visual effects, clever plot twists, and exciting, edge of your seat action scenes, elevated by the work of an excellent cast, especially Johnson and Black who are deliberately 'uncomfortable in their own skin.' It doesn't cover much new ground, but it's still pretty fun regardless. **½
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Coco (I) (2017)
another wonderful showing
29 November 2017
From the beloved Pixar Studios comes this charming and very unique tale of a young boy and his dream. Miguel—the youngest son in a family of shoemakers—is a talented and aspiring musician who wants to follow in the footsteps of his idol Ernesto de la Cruz, the most famous musician in the history of Mexico. Only one problem: his strict, traditionalist family despises music. Trying to seize his moment, Miguel suddenly finds himself in the Land of the Dead where he uncovers more than he could have ever imagined about his familial ties. This is so much more than just a simple nod to the Mexican holiday of Dia de Muertos; it's a deep and thoughtful tale about following your dreams and aspirations, love, forgiveness, and the unbreakable bonds of family with extraordinary visuals, lively songs, colorful characters, and excellent vocal work; a moving and exceptionally well-crafted showing that is sure to please studio fans. ***
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ineffectual but with some high points
21 November 2017
Seemingly in a hurry to get to the main event, the DCEU decided to unite its core superheroes for this comic collaboration. Although the world still mourns over Superman, single-minded Bruce Wayne senses danger on the horizon and aligns himself with Diana Prince to recruit other gifted individuals who can combat the latest threat…but whether or not they actually know what it is they're up against, or whether they can put their egos aside for the greater good remains a mystery. More setup than actual execution, with a fairly weak story and a central villain that's easily forgettable, but likely to coast by on the appeal of its characters and numerous action scenes. Results are so-so, but both Gadot and Miller add life to the proceedings. **½
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a really good change of pace
4 November 2017
Some years have passed and Thor has become a lone wanderer seeking out answers regarding the fate of the universe, until the bloodthirsty Hela escapes captivity and declares full-fledged war on Asgard. Thor—imprisoned on the other side of the galaxy in a race against time—must outlast the Hulk in a contest of champions while the fate of Asgard hangs in the balance. Despite a familiar setup, this silly and bombastic sequel completely veers from the style and tone established by its predecessors and features some exciting action scenes, unique new characters, laugh-out loud humor, and enough references to remind audiences that despite the absurdly in-joke tone of the film that it still is—in fact—a part of the larger Marvel Universe. Hemsworth looks to be having more fun here than in any other of his previous outings as the hero, and both Blanchett and Goldblum have a whale of a time in their colorful supporting roles. Give credit to director Taika Waititi for taking an already established franchise and turning it in a completely different direction. ***
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It (I) (2017)
fairly faithful adaptation with a good mix of elements to please fans
9 September 2017
Intense, well-made adaptation of the Stephen King novel transplanted to the late 1980s about a group of outcast kids in the rural town of Derry, Maine who are united by common encounters with the titular being—a demonic, shape-shifting entity that is preying on local children. Emboldened by one another, they set out to kill the creature despite their initial fears, insecurities, and seemingly insurmountable odds. Even with the source material this isn't a traditional, clear-cut horror film, but more of a character-driven, coming-of-age story about friendship and the loss of innocence, with spooky, spine-tingling elements and acerbic, laugh-out loud humor in equal doses. Makes some unfortunate changes from the novel, but some surprisingly effective ones as well that are sure to unsettle the most ardent fans. Skarsgard is ferocious and creepy as the monstrous Pennywise, and kudos to the film's youthful, well-chosen cast for embodying characters that are actually three-dimensional. ***
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an enjoyable rendition that you don't really see coming
7 July 2017
Following his unofficial 'tryouts' in Germany, Peter Parker returns to his home in Queens trying-albeit not very well-to balance his responsibilities as a high school overachiever with the added dangers of being a crime-fighting superhero. When a new and well-equipped criminal enterprise emerges in New York City, Peter naturally wants to try and end the threat, but quickly gets in over his head-much to the chagrin of reluctant mentor Tony Stark. Despite being the sixth go-round, this is a surprisingly refreshing take on the titular character-wisely sidestepping the origin tale formula-and presenting a unique story with a lighthearted tone, coming-of-age themes, and just enough twists and references to weave it within the greater framework of the burgeoning MCU. Holland is wonderful, bringing a youthful ambition and naiveté that hasn't been seen in previous incarnations of the character, while veteran Keaton is a chilling antagonist. Some of the supporting characters are underused, but this is a nice job overall. ***
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The Mummy (2017)
leaves much to be desired
25 June 2017
Lukewarm debut of the new 'Dark Universe.' Centuries ago, an Egyptian princess was buried in a tomb for her malevolent nature. Fast forward to the present day: Cruise and Johnson are two brash American soldiers on duty in the Middle East where they stumble upon said tomb which—as you'd expect—brings about terrifying repercussions. Some occasionally exciting moments, and some decent special effects are really the only highlight in this would-be adventure as the story never really comes together, the plot twists don't really make any sense, and the acting is underwhelming. Lead actor Cruise is surprisingly one-note, but with this script and direction it may not have mattered; not a very promising start for Universal Pictures. **
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Cars 3 (2017)
not bad but not really needed
25 June 2017
You can't beat the clock…that's the central theme of this sequel which finds an aging Lightning McQueen in the twilight of his racing years and unexpectedly derailed by a new generation of younger and faster cars. Still convinced that he has a lot left in his tank, McQueen decides to explore some new, innovative training methods to keep up with his youthful competition, but will that be enough to keep him in the game? Has more depth and emotional resonance than Cars 2 (thanks in large part to the presence of Doc Hudson), along with a colorful cast of characters and some truly laugh-out loud moments, it's just never really awe-inspiring, and never seems truly necessary. Fortunately, a short running time keeps it from wearing out its welcome. **½
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not quite on the same level but still worth watching
18 June 2017
Touching animated feature takes place in an 'alternate universe' where an asteroid never resulted in an extinction level event, and dinosaurs continue to exist. The film chronicles a family of herbivores (two parents, three children) as they attempt to maintain their farming lifestyle. This proves to be an especially daunting task for Arlo, their youngest and most reticent child who is looking to 'make his mark.' Eventually, circumstances force Arlo to find out what he's really made of. While it's not quite as sophisticated or as memorable as earlier studio efforts, Pixar still manages to tell a simple, heartwarming tale of grit, friendship, family, and the loss of innocence. Lacks a certain resonance, but still features some great vocal work, clever gags, and stellar animation. **½
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Wonder Woman (2017)
a wonder to behold
5 June 2017
The first solo live-action Wonder Woman film is brought to the screen in impressive fashion by director Patty Jenkins. A prequel of sorts, the film chronicles young Amazonian warrior Diana Prince who trains for the impending return of Ares, the God of War. A chance encounter with American military pilot Steve Trevor leads her to believe that she can locate the unscrupulous Ares herself, so she leaves her homeland and finds herself in WWI era London still determined to complete her mission. Unlike previous DCEU films, this managers to tell a compelling—and coherent—story with splendid visual effects, a vivid sense of time and place, just the right blend of action, drama, and humor, along with believable (and engaging) characters. Follows an origin tale formula yet still feels fresh and exciting, and Gadot is magnificent in the central role; a definite step in the right direction for the expanding universe. ***
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a retread of its origins
27 May 2017
Five winters after On Stranger Tides, some of the same key characters (and a few new ones) return for this latest high seas adventure. Callow sailor Henry Turner is on a personal mission to retrieve the Trident of Poseidon, a powerful artifact thought by many to be a myth. In the course of his journey he crosses paths—and eventually aligns himself with—wanted pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, and ambitious astronomer Carina Smyth. The mission is further complicated when they run afoul of Sparrow's 'frenemy' Captain Barbossa, and learn that a gang of undead sailors are coming their way. Follows essentially the same formula as The Curse of the Black Pearl, but the characters lack charisma (even Depp seems curiously subdued), the story is never really engaging, and all the rip-roaring action scenes and special effects can only carry this uninspired journey so far. Bardem effectively sneers and snarls as Captain Salazar, but he's one of the few highlights in an otherwise forgettable entry. **
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like most sequels, probably about as good as it could've been
5 May 2017
Having successfully defended the galaxy, the Guardians continue their adventures and struggle to keep their newfound 'family' together which proves difficult as they encounter a new assortment of threats, and even more so when their leader Peter Quill finally begins to unravel the mystery surrounding his true parentage. Given the surprising impact of its predecessor, this is probably about as good a follow-up as one could hope for with big, booming action and effects sequences, colorful characters, eclectic music, and enough silly humor to help balance out the poignant and dramatic moments. It's not quite as much fun as the first, and the storyline isn't quite strong enough to hold up, but it's still a good time and creates a lot of potential for the MCU moving forward. **½
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as expected, goes through the motions
14 April 2017
As the 'story' begins, Dom and Letty have settled down into a peaceful and quiet existence, until Dom is coerced by a notorious cyber-mastermind (an icy Theron) into turning his back on his family and aiding said mastermind in a complex scheme that isn't really worth mentioning as long as it sets things in motion. The director F. Gary Gray (who shows in this film just as he did in The Italian Job that he really knows how to use cars) tries to revitalize the material as you get the expected larger-than-life action scenes, and a few surprises here and there so as not to make it seem like you're watching the previous seven films all over again. The script is filled with so many absurdities, and the acting is so wooden that it makes it easy to cut to the chase: does it make sense? No. Are the characters three-dimensional? No. Is the dialogue witty or lucid? No. Does it do what it sets out to do? Absolutely! Is it a worthy addition to an already overlong franchise? That's for series devotees to decide. **
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