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Reviews

29 Aug 2013
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Miles Teller delivers a breakout performance in The Spectacular Now as Sutter, a partying high school senior who everybody loves, but nobody takes seriously—until a well-balanced girl, Aimee (Shailene Woodley), comes along. They start a complicated relationship that is ill-advised at both ends—but sometimes, that’s the best way to start a relationship. Teller is a marvel here, turning Sutter into someone who’s much more than your average high school screw-up. Woodley, so good in The Descendants, is proving to be one of cinema’s great young actresses. The film is a unique and intelligent take on growing up. This is directed by James Ponsoldt, who piloted last year’s terrific Smashed, starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appears here as Sutter’s sister. Ponsoldt is officially a force to be reckoned with, seeing as he’s now made two of the best films of the last two years. Others in the cast include Jennifer Jason…
29 Aug 2013
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There was a time when Woody Allen was consistently making the best movies in the business—and Blue Jasmine is that return to form that some of us Allen fans have been waiting for, thanks in large part to a phenomenal central performance by Cate Blanchett. Blanchett—sure to nab an Oscar nomination here—plays Jasmine, the wife of a Bernie Madoff-type financier (Alec Baldwin) who must relocate from New York to San Francisco after she is financially ruined and emotionally destroyed. She gulps martinis, criticizes her helpful sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), and, quite frighteningly, is prone to bouts of talking to herself. Allen finds the dark humor in the story, and employs a supporting cast that includes Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K. and, most astonishingly, Andrew Dice Clay, who, doggone it, delivers one amazing performance as Ginger’s financially destroyed ex-husband, Augie. Above and beyond the humor, Allen makes his film a parable about…
29 Aug 2013
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Director Edgar Wright teams with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for the raucous conclusion to their “Cornetto” trilogy with The World’s End, a twisted homage to male bonding, beer crawls and John Carpenter sci-fi. This movie works because of the sense that anything can, and will, happen. Pegg plays Gary King, a somewhat troubled but good-natured man who is determined to get his old crew back together to complete a pub crawl in his hometown—20 years after the gang failed to make it to the last pub on their infamous crawl, an incident providing King with a nagging sense of unfinished business. A good chunk of the film is actually a warmhearted, funny and well-written gathering of old friends, told in straightforward fashion. Some of the men from the old gang are fairly happy to see King, while others, like Andy (Nick Frost), would prefer he piss off. Still, even…
22 Aug 2013
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Director Lee Daniels (mentioned in the film’s title after a much-publicized lawsuit) delivers a fine emotional wallop with this historical epic that is loosely based on the life of Eugene Allen, a butler at the White House for 34 years. Those going to this film for its historical significance, take note: The film contains much fiction. Allen is renamed Cecil (played by Forest Whitaker), and is given a fictional older son to depict a family conflict during the Civil Rights Movement. In other words, this film, which shows the butler interacting with presidents from Eisenhower (Robin Williams) through Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), is mostly made up. That doesn’t hurt the film’s dramatic significance; it’s a moving experience. What does damage the film a bit is horrible makeup, especially a goofy fake nose for John Cusack as Richard Nixon. The makeup is sometimes so bad that the film turns into unintentional…
22 Aug 2013
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Kick-Ass 2 had barely started when I experienced a serious flashback—a flashback so vivid that it felt like I had traveled through time. (I concede that I was sort of high on Benadryl; at least it stops my nose from running.) It was 1989, the summer before my final year of college. I was managing a crappy discount movie theater at the time, and I would go up the road to the nice theater for the big, new movies a few weeks before our cheap-ass theater got a print. I was a bright-eyed optimist sitting down for a showing of Ghostbusters 2. A few short minutes into that sequel, I knew things had gone terribly wrong with a potentially great franchise. I felt that same, sinking, nauseating feeling as Kick-Ass 2 began by recycling the infamous bit from the original film in which Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) tested the bulletproof…
15 Aug 2013
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Writer-director Neill Blomkamp follows up District 9 with another solid sci-fi effort in Elysium, a film that delivers terrific action—along with a reasonable amount of smarts. Unfortunately, Elysium is also a little on the stupid and illogical side, especially during its ending. Yes, I just complimented the film for being smart—so it’s possible to be both dumb and brilliant in the same movie. (Heck, Guillermo del Toro did just that with his Pacific Rim earlier this summer.) It’s about 140 years in the future, and man has, not surprisingly, screwed up the planet. It’s one big garbage heap (shades of WALL-E and Idiocracy), and the planet’s wealthy people have abandoned Earth for a bitchin’ space station in the sky. This space station, Elysium, has everything a rich bitch would want: It’s got mansions, pools, sweet landscaping, 10 different kinds of tacos and, most notably, healing booths. These healing booths don’t…
08 Aug 2013
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2 Guns offers a couple of intriguing acting possibilities. One: Denzel Washington, who has done well on the dramatic and action side, has always shown a flair for humor, yet he hasn’t made many comedies (Carbon Copy in 1981 and Much Ado About Nothing in 1993). Two: Mark Wahlberg has made a lot of action films, but most of them stink (Contraband, The Big Hit). His comedies, on the other hand, feature some of his very best work, with The Other Guys being a shining example. So, does 2 Guns provide a chance for Washington to be funnier, and Wahlberg to bring the laughs in an action movie that isn’t completely lame? The answer: a mild “yes.” 2 Guns gets no accolades for originality, but Washington and Wahlberg are a winning combo—and a nasty turn by Bill Paxton as a satanic CIA man helps things along. This is not a…
08 Aug 2013
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In Lovelace, Amanda Seyfried does a decent job as the star of the infamous Deep Throat—who had one truly lousy husband in Chuck Traynor (a creepy Peter Sarsgaard). Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman have made a film that feels surprisingly short, especially considering that they show the story from two different angles. The movie builds up to Linda Lovelace’s big porn moment—and then re-covers some of the same ground, this time showing Traynor’s brutality. Since the film is just 92 minutes, not much ground gets covered. Still, Epstein and Friedman get good performances out of Seyfried and Sarsgaard, with Sharon Stone doing decent work as Lovelace’s angry mother. The film features James Franco in a cameo as Hugh Hefner, with small parts for Bobby Cannavale, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth and Wes Bentley. Lovelace opens Friday, Aug. 9, at the Camelot Theatres (2300 E. Baristo Road, Palm Springs; 760-325-6565); and the…
02 Aug 2013
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I’m not a hater of 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine; it was fun, albeit stupid fun. Still, many despised it, and this is a new attempt to create a film franchise around Hugh Jackman’s Logan. Director James Mangold takes this film in a darker, more-serious direction, but he proves quite adept at creating an action scene. (The opening scene in Nagasaki, and a fight above a bullet train, are both incredible.) Jackman, who has a lot more veins popping than he did the last time we saw him, again has a blast in the title role. The plot involves an old friend of Wolverine looking for the key to eternal life, which Wolverine actually has—so this makes him a mutant with extra purpose. Most of the action takes place in Japan; Wolverine loses his powers for a stretch, so we get the odd sight of him bleeding and getting lethargic. Mangold…
01 Aug 2013
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Writer-director Maggie Carey has used compelling female protagonists to put together a shockingly naughty sex comedy set in the early ’90s. Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation, Safety Not Guaranteed) continues her cinematic wonder streak as Brandy, class valedictorian and super-virgin. After some discussions with her best buds (Sarah Steele and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat), she decides she needs to make a sexual “to-do” list to ready her for the rigors of college life. This results in a lot of awkward sex acts among high school grads, with some of them performed by best-bud and secret admirer, Cameron (Johnny Simmons). Brandy gets a summer job as a lifeguard, where she pines for Rusty Waters (Scott Porter) and works for a deadbeat boss (the hilarious Bill Hader, Carey’s real-life husband). Plaza proves that she is game for anything, including a fantastically crude play on the Caddyshack “doodie” scene, and all sorts of…
01 Aug 2013
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Writer/director Ryan Coogler’s bold feature-directing debut, Fruitvale Station, is one of the year’s best films. It tells the true story of Oscar Grant, the man shot to death by a cop early on New Year’s Day 2009 at a Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Oakland, Calif., while he was with the mother of his child. If you’ve seen the cell-phone videos taken of Grant pleading with officers as he and his friends were being brutalized, you’ve seen a man who looked more than reasonable as events transpired. As one cop turned him onto his stomach and put his knee onto Grant’s neck, another inexplicably took out his gun and shot Grant once, fatally, through the back. The officer claimed he was just trying to use a Taser on Grant. Mistake or not, it doesn’t matter: That officer, without reason, took Grant’s life while a throng of BART riders watched…
25 Jul 2013
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I got a couple of good jolts out of The Conjuring, the latest from director James Wan. I have deeply divided feelings about Wan. I sort of hate him for starting the whole Saw thing, and I sort of like him for twisted films like Insidious, Death Sentence and, to some extent, this one. No doubt: Wan is capable of constructing some good scare scenarios, and this haunted-house tale has its share. This is one of those films that claim to be “based on a true story.” Whatever. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play Lorraine and Ed Warren, well-known paranormal investigators who try to help out a family that has just moved into a Rhode Island house. They are like ghostbusters, but without proton packs and one-liners. The family, shortly after moving in, finds their dog dead, birds smashing their heads into the house, and a ghost playing hide-and-seek. The…