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Reviews

01 Dec 2016
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Director Jeff Nichols, who has already made two excellent movies in Mud and Take Shelter, released a very good movie earlier this year called Midnight Special. Here, in late 2016, he has released another excellent one. Loving, written and directed by Nichols, recounts the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, a couple whose interracial marriage was ruled illegal by the state of Virginia in 1958, banning them from the state and sending their lives into constant turmoil. Put on probation with the threat of 25 years in prison if they were caught together in Virginia, they were forced to live a good portion of their married life in exile. The movie covers their lives from the time they decide to get married due to Mildred’s pregnancy, through the U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage unconstitutional in 1967. That’s nine years during which two people…
01 Dec 2016
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Director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Thirst) seems to have made a relatively tame movie by his standards—at least for a good part of The Handmaiden’s running time. A young woman (Tae-ri Kim) is recruited by a scam artist (Jung-woo Ha) for a robbery plot involving another young woman (Min-hee Kim) and her uncle (Jin-woong Jo). The movie happens in three parts, and it plays out like a simple mystery-thriller for some of the time. But, hey, this is Park we’re talking about, so the fact that you may wind up seeing some octopuses and severed penises by the film’s end should not come as a surprise. Yes, this one goes delightfully off the rails and winds up being another gonzo great from one of cinema’s nuttiest directors. The Handmaiden goes from being a standard thriller to a darkly comic statement on sleazy men and their icky porno … or something like…
24 Nov 2016
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I was a little late to the Harry Potter party. I didn’t like the first movie (which was basically a bunch of kids who didn’t know how to act yet participating in a big costume pageant), but thought the second was really good, and loved the third, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. The series got a little inconsistent after Azkaban, but the character of Harry Potter rose above the mediocre moments delivered by director David Yates, who helmed the final four movies. Well, Yates is back to helm the next chapter in the Potter Universe, a prequel called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the title of a textbook Harry studied at Hogwarts. The film takes place well before Harry’s time, as the world of wizardry comes to New York City in the 1920s. Unfortunately, Beasts struggles with some of the same problems the first Harry Potter…
24 Nov 2016
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Writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig makes an impressive debut with The Edge of Seventeen, a darkly funny take on the life of a modern-day high school outcast. Hailee Steinfeld gives her best performance since True Grit as Nadine, a highly intelligent teen going through an awkward stage when her best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) starts dating her brother (Blake Jenner). Nadine is a practitioner of brutal honesty, which gets her ostracized at school and in trouble with her family. The only one who really stops to listen is a teacher (a hilarious Woody Harrelson) who actually has no choice, given his profession. Craig’s screenplay is first-rate, and her directing leads to some great performances. Steinfeld is good enough here to be considered for her second Oscar nomination, while Jenner (who starred in this year’s Everybody Wants Some!!) is equally good. This film is drawing comparisons to the best of John Hughes,…
17 Nov 2016
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About two decades ago, Contact ticked me off when Jodie Foster supposedly traveled to some distant place in the universe—merely to have a chat with her dead dad. It was a trite storytelling letdown. Director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival also approaches the subjects of aliens, parentage and everlasting love, but it’s a much, much better movie. Villeneuve is emerging as one of the best visual and pacing directors in the medium today. Arrival follows Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015) and the vastly underrated Enemy (2013) as another movie of definitive vision, style and grace. No doubt about it: This man knows how to make a movie. Amy Adams stars as Dr. Louise Banks, a linguistics teacher crippled by visions of a daughter who died of a rare illness. She lives a life of seclusion; the only things she really does are teach her class and mope around her lakefront home. (Man, that…
10 Nov 2016
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Doctor Strange is certainly one of the weirder Marvel movies, with Benedict Cumberbatch starring as the title character, a sorcerer who can cast spells and slip through passageways in time. The film is an origin story, showing how Strange loses his surgeon’s hands in an accident, travels to India and learns about the mystical arts from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). I have to admit … I didn’t always follow exactly what was going on, and I found some stretches a little convoluted and boring. But when the movie soars, it soars high, and Cumberbatch winds up being a decent choice for the role, even with his weird American accent. Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister) seemed like an odd choice for a Marvel movie considering his horror-film pedigree, but he acquits himself nicely. The movie often plays like a Matrix/Inception mash-up with a little bit of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon thrown…
10 Nov 2016
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Mel Gibson has directed his first movie in a decade—and it bleeds. It bleeds a lot. As a director, Gibson stands alongside the likes of Sam Raimi, David Cronenberg and Peter Jackson as a master of bloody horror. In fact, his latest, Hacksaw Ridge, is an all-out horror film in parts. His depiction of World War II makes George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead look like Zootopia. The movie tells the true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), a battlefield medic and the first conscientious objector in American warfare history to receive the Medal of Honor. The dude refused to pick up a gun—or any weapon, for that matter—during his time served in Okinawa. That didn’t stop him from braving the battlefields with comrades, eventually saving the lives of 75 men during horrendously bloody battles. Much of the film’s first half is devoted to Doss’ backstory, including a troubled childhood…
03 Nov 2016
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I am grateful for the existence of Inferno, Ron Howard’s latest installment in his Da Vinci Code film series. Without Inferno, Tom Hanks would’ve had no reason to be out promoting a movie around Halloween time. Because he was, he stopped by Saturday Night Live to host for a ninth time. While there, he was in a totally bizarre sketch as David Pumpkins, a weirdo in a haunted house elevator ride accompanied by two beatboy dancer skeletons. The sketch is already a classic. That’s it … that’s the only reason I am grateful for the existence of Inferno. David Pumpkins. The film itself is easily the worst of the series, a series that was already pretty terrible in that both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons blew ass. Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, something the world’s most beloved actor shouldn’t need to do. This series needed to be…
27 Oct 2016
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How bad was Ouija? It was so piss-poor and forgettable that I had to actually look into the archives for a review to confirm I had actually seen the damn thing back in 2014. I wasn’t sure. As it turns out, I had seen the movie, and I proclaimed the following: “The wannabe scares in this PG-13 outing consist of fake-outs and people behind doors—the kind of stuff you’ll see coming if you’ve seen, say, one horror movie in your lifetime. If that is, in fact, true, don’t make this your second horror movie, for you will wind up massively disappointed.” In short, Ouija was a deplorable shit show. This brings us to Ouija: Origin of Evil, which is a bona fide movie miracle in many ways. Ouija was awful, yet it made enough money to warrant a sequel. Still, it shocked me to see the sequel actually made it…
24 Oct 2016
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Horror fans know director Ti West for his cult-classic horror film The House of the Devil, as well as V/H/S, The Innkeepers and The Sacrament. His latest, starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta, is a major departure: In a Valley of Violence is a capable, full-on homage to Sergio Leone Westerns. Hawke plays Paul, a drifter who finds himself in a frontier ghost town with few remaining inhabitants. He and his dog immediately get into trouble with Gilly (James Ransone), the son of the town marshal (Travolta). Bad things transpire (think John Wick set in the old Wild West), and Paul sets out for revenge. The resulting gunfights are nicely staged, accentuated by good work from Hawke, Travolta and Ransone. While Hawke is always reliable these days, Travolta’s film career has been on a bit of downslide (one of several his career has endured). His performance here as a semi-crooked…
20 Oct 2016
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The Accountant is a ridiculous, implausible thriller, in some ways even more ridiculous than the recent, somewhat weak film The Girl on the Train. So why did I end up liking it? I don’t know. Maybe it was because I was super-high on weed and mescaline, and I got an extra check in the mail from an employer goof-up that gave me all the money I needed to buy a new couch and lots of snacks. No, wait … I don’t do drugs, and I only dreamt that I got that check. My couch still sucks ass. Instead, I liked The Accountant because it has a fantastic Ben Affleck, and the movie sort of plays out like a deranged Batman pic—with calculator action! Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a high-functioning autistic man who has managed to harness his extreme intelligence with numbers and physical tics—into the strangest of professions. By day,…
13 Oct 2016
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Despite good performances from a cast including Emily Blunt, Justin Theroux and Allison Janney, The Girl on the Train winds up being a little too ridiculous for a movie that wishes to be taken seriously. Blunt spends much of the movie blotto-drunk as Rachel Watson, a slurring alcoholic who aimlessly rides a train to New York City everyday, spying on the people living in her former house, as well as the neighbors. Rachel is divorced from Tom (Theroux), who couldn’t take Rachel’s drinking ways; he was also upset about their inability to have a child. Tom is remarried to Anna (Rebecca Ferguson); they have a child—and they would really like Rachel to stay away. Tom and Nancy’s nanny, Megan (Haley Bennett), lives nearby with her husband, Scott (Luke Evans). Rachel spies on them during their most intimate moments as she races by on the train, envying what she sees as…

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