CVIndependent

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Reviews

21 Nov 2013
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Fourteen years after the original The Best Man, writer-director Malcolm D. Lee and friends finally got around to making a sequel. The results in The Best Man Holiday are mixed, with a likable cast straining to keep Lee’s script vibrant—until the overly silly end. Harper (Taye Diggs) is experiencing a lull in his writing career, and looks to get a former friend, NFL star Lance (Morris Chestnut), to OK him as the writer of his biography. (It’s cool to see Chestnut playing a football star; it’s as if his aspiring athlete in Boyz n the Hood never got shot.) So Harper, and much of the cast of the original (including Monica Calhoun, Regina Hall, Harold Perrineau and a very funny Terrence Howard), unite at Lance’s house, where decent comedy and terrible melodrama commences. The film gets some good laughs, especially when Howard is on the screen. But as a drama,…
15 Nov 2013
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In a movie that features almost no dialogue, Robert Redford delivers some of his best work ever as a man trying to survive a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean. While sleeping in his yacht, Redford’s character (simply called “Our Man” in the All Is Lost credits) is abruptly awakened when a floating cargo bin crashes into his boat’s side. What follows is more than 100 minutes of Redford solving problems and fighting to stay alive. Much credit goes to the legendary actor, as well as relative newbie writer-director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) for making this compelling from start to finish. You’ll be surprised how gripping the sight of a man simply trying to repair his boat can be. Redford looks like he put himself through the ringer in this one, and the results are well worth it. His character gets no real back-story; other than one loud expletive, a couple…
14 Nov 2013
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12 Years a Slave is based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man living in upstate New York before the Civil War who was abducted and sold into slavery. This latest effort from director Steve McQueen is a towering achievement—one of the year’s bravest and most-uncompromising films. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a lock for an Oscar nomination as Northup, who is forced to work on cotton plantations, one of them run by the despicable Edwin Epps, played by Michael Fassbender in a vicious and brilliant performance. McQueen shows slavery as the horror it was, and Ejiofor puts a character on the screen that you will never forget. If you were one of the few people who saw 2011’s Pariah, you know that Adepero Oduye is a stellar actress, as she further proves here as Eliza, a woman sold into slavery and taken from her children. Relative newcomer…
14 Nov 2013
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You can smell the fresh paint on the holiday toys while watching Thor: The Dark World, an enjoyable yet highly commercialized entry in the Marvel cinematic universe. The latest installment is a step below Kenneth Branagh’s goofy and grand first installment. While the sequel is not likely to piss off superhero-film fans, director Alan Taylor is not going to blow many minds, either. It’s an OK placeholder flick while we wait for the next Avengers movie, due out in 2015. Chris Hemsworth returns as the incredibly handsome man with long hair, a big hammer and impossibly silly dialogue. After the events of The Avengers, he’s fighting a war in some land seemingly named after a Sigur Rós album, while Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is trying to date new dudes back on planet Earth. As for bad brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston, who owns the role), he’s doing dungeon time in Asgard…
08 Nov 2013
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Writer-director Randy Moore took a film crew and performers into multiple Disney parks and managed to film a fairly cohesive movie—without permission, and without getting caught. In Escape From Tomorrow, Jim (Roy Abramsohn) finds out that he has lost his job during the movie’s opening scene. Rather than tell his wife (Elena Schuber), he takes his family on one last day of park-hopping that includes the It’s a Small World ride, monorail trips and Epcot Center. Jim notices people coughing as he enters the park—as well as two French teens who seem strangely interested in him. Hallucinations, blackouts and eventual health issues ensue, leading to sequences that make no sense and an ending that is just strange. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the scenes shot in the actual parks. Some green-screen shots are obvious, but Moore and his crew managed to get other usable shots using the video…
07 Nov 2013
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Orson Scott Card is a pigheaded loser who has spoken out against gay marriage and has compared Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler. Hey, Orson: Go have an asshole tea party with Mel Gibson and Woody Allen! Still, Ender’s Game and its sequels are prophetic and intuitive when it comes to modern technology. The story has a protagonist named Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a genius boy who is a master of futuristic video games and strategies. He’s targeted by a colonel (crusty, craggy Harrison Ford) as the savior of the human race—somebody who can save Earth from a second attack by an alien insect species called the Formics. Ender enters a training program in which he is secretly fast-tracked to the point where he’s commanding his own ragtag group of teens, including True Grit’s Hailee Steinfeld, through elaborate exercises. One involves a zero-gravity room in which they play laser tag with…
31 Oct 2013
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You would think a movie written by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, The Road) and directed by Ridley Scott (Alien) would be amazing. That is not the case with this bore-fest. In The Counselor, Michael Fassbender—so good in Scott’s Prometheus—plays a character simply named Counselor, a lawyer who gets involved in drug-trafficking and puts himself and others in jeopardy. Cameron Diaz plays the girlfriend of his partner in crime (a wild-haired Javier Bardem)—and her acting is terrible in this movie. She’s required to be bad, and you can feel her trying so hard at every turn. Let’s just say she’s very bad at being bad. Scott puts together some intense, violent scenes that feel like they belong in a movie in which the actors aren’t required to deliver long, boring, unrealistic monologues. Brad Pitt is OK as some sort of drug-deal sage, but he’s starting to look a…
31 Oct 2013
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The early days of cinema had Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin risking their lives with daring stunt work, all in an effort to make moviegoers laugh. Today, we have the immortal, deranged, considerably less-refined Johnny Knoxville. Knoxville has tried to parlay his Jackass fame into an acting career—but he hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire. Because huge paychecks are tempting, Knoxville has therefore returned to the Jackass well with movies—and his body has paid a tremendous toll. The man has thrown himself into the path of buffaloes and bulls to score good laughs—and, oh man, has he gotten those good laughs. As big as those checks can be, internal bleeding and broken limbs lose their luster after a while. So now we get Bad Grandpa, a sort of Jackass movie that has a narrative mixed with hidden-camera stunts (very much in the tradition of Borat). Knoxville plays Irving…
24 Oct 2013
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At long last, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have teamed up in a movie in which they both play big parts. (Yes, they have been in the Expendables films together, but Arnie has only done guest spots in those.) Escape Plan has Sly playing a security authority who escapes from prisons for a living. Things go bad when he gets buried in a maximum-security prison—and the folks who put him there plan to keep him locked up. Arnie plays a prisoner who befriends Sly on the inside, and they both look for a way to get out of a seemingly inescapable place. Stallone is good here, and I haven’t enjoyed Arnie this much since his films before he became governor of this great state. Arnold has one scene in which he raves about God in German—and he’s raving to the warden. It turns out the warden is played by Jim…
24 Oct 2013
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If you’ve read the 1974 Stephen King novel Carrie, and you’ve seen the 1976 Brian De Palma film, you know that the book and the film are very different. Well, the new Carrie remake, which stars Chloë Grace Moretz in the role that netted Sissy Spacek an Oscar nomination for the 1976 film, has more in common with De Palma’s film than King’s novel. King’s novel, about a bullied telekinetic high school girl who endures one prank too many at the senior prom, depicted a series of episodic news reports, flashbacks and interviews, for the most part, to tell the story. The new film welcomes a few of the novel’s plot points back into the story, although it takes a lot of the same liberties that De Palma took with the novel. In the new version, a few more characters survive the fiery black-prom tragedy—and one character might be pregnant.…
18 Oct 2013
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A military experiment results in a yucky spider growing to the size of King Kong and terrorizing downtown Los Angeles in Big Ass Spider, a funny, campy and surprisingly good-looking low-budget affair. Greg Grunberg delivers a funny central performance as Alex, a friendly exterminator who gets bitten by a brown recluse, winds up at a hospital, and discovers that a big black widow gone crazy has burrowed out of a dead body. (Blecch!) The military shows up in the form of Ray Wise—and the spider sets about biting and eating a lot of people while growing much larger. (Double Blecch!!) The monster spider is presented well thanks to some snappy CGI work, and the script from writer Gregory Gieras provides consistent, campy laughs. Director Mike Mendez deserves a lot of credit, because he made a movie featuring a disgusting spider that I managed to enjoy quite a bit, even though…
17 Oct 2013
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Robert Rodriguez brings back Danny Trejo for another round of violent B-movie action—and the joke has grown tired. I was a big fan of the 2010 original (and the fake Grindhouse trailer), but Machete Kills gets dumb to the point of annoyance. Trejo, 69, is starting to look a little tired in the title role. Charlie Sheen (billed under his real name, Carlos Estevez) is actually pretty funny as the president of the United States, but he only has a few scenes. The same can’t be said for Mel Gibson, who mugs his way through a bad-guy role in a manner that reveals how desperate he is to be taken seriously again. Props go to Amber Heard, who gets the film’s best part as a beauty queen/secret agent—but Sofia Vergara annoys as she screams her way through her role as a villain with machine-gun breasts, a direct, gimmicky rip-off of…