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Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Reviews

02 May 2013
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It’s official: Jeff Nichols, who gave us the brilliant Take Shelter, proves with Mud that he is a writer/director who stands among the best of them. Matthew McConaughey plays the title character, a wild-haired drifter living in a boat in a tree along the Mississippi River. Two kids, Ellis (Tye Sheridan of The Tree of Life) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), stumble upon him, and become a part of his strange and dangerous world. McConaughey is catching wave after successful wave lately, and this is his best performance yet. He makes Mud a little scary, yet charming and cunning. Sheridan and Lofland are terrific as the young friends who should probably stay away from guys living in boats in trees. The cast also boasts Reese Witherspoon, Michael Shannon and Sam Shepard; all of them are equally great. Ladies and gentleman, we have the year’s first “excellent” movie. It sure took long…
02 May 2013
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Pain and Gain has all of that Michael Bay crap that makes him one of my least-favorite directors. Actually, that’s an understatement. I think Michael Bay is a satanic cinematic force, with most of his films sustaining an artistic level similar to that of a sickened elephant farting in a circus tent that’s been set aflame by dangerous clowns. However, he has made a few movies that I don’t hate. My favorite Bay film would be Bad Boys II, in which he seemed to be poking fun at himself. (That slo-mo tracking shot of a bullet passing through Martin Lawrence’s ass is the apex of Bay’s career.) I also liked his innocuous sci-fi offering, The Island, which actually featured edits more than a second long. I reluctantly admit to also sort of liking Pain and Gain, mainly because Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson are a total crackup as two bodybuilders…
26 Apr 2013
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If you hated Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, you will hate To the Wonder, and if you loved Tree … well, you might be OK watching this. Ben Affleck stars (sort of) as an American who falls in love while in Paris, and brings the woman (Olga Kurylenko) and her daughter home to Texas. Malick reduces Affleck to sulking, for the most part; it’s a role that never allows him to cut loose. Pitt had a similar assignment in The Tree of Life, but he did a much better job. Affleck looks a little confused, as does Rachel McAdams as an old flame. She’s required to look forlorn, sad and beautiful. She does little else. The reason to see the film, besides its excellent visuals, is Kurylenko, who shines in the central role. I admire this film in that it tells a complete story in a very different way—but…
26 Apr 2013
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In The Company You Keep, Robert Redford directs himself as an upstate New York lawyer with a past who must flee his life when a nosey journalist (Shia LaBeouf) discovers his true identity. The film gives us fictional characters who were former members of the very real Weather Underground, played by the likes of Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte and Julie Christie. LaBeouf does much of the heavy lifting, and it’s some of his better work in quite some time. Redford is just OK, though—as is his movie. I can’t say it blew me away, but I didn’t dislike it, either. It gets by with semi-competent directing and acting, without truly wowing you. Others in the cast include Stanley Tucci, Chris Cooper, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins and Sam Elliott. The Company You Keep opens Friday, April 26, at the Regal Palm Springs Stadium 9 (789 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way; 760-323-4466); and…
25 Apr 2013
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Tom Cruise spends most of Oblivion in a goofy, impractical-looking leather space suit that clashes with his 2013 hairstyle and reminds of Captain EO. Yes, it’s silly to notice these things, but Oblivion is the sort of film that causes one to notice such trivial matters, for the movie surrounding that goofy outfit is not that good. Cruise, however, is in typically fine form as Jack, a scout/worker for the surviving human race, following a devastating alien attack 60 years before (in 2017). The remaining population of Earth has been sent to a moon of Saturn, and Jack’s job is to make sure Earth’s energy resources are properly mined. He lives in a stylish outpost with a hot partner (Andrea Riseborough), and their work is being monitored via video by Sally (Melissa Leo), an overly nice boss. Jack is haunted by dreams of a past Earth world that he is…
18 Apr 2013
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Spike Lee tried to get a movie with Denzel Washington playing Jackie Robinson off the ground for many years, but couldn’t make it happen. I get a feeling that Lee, who made one of the great biopics with Malcolm X, would’ve done something really special with this story. Meanwhile, this effort from director Brian Helgeland (Payback) is OK, and even really good at times, but gets awfully hokey. Chadwick Boseman is a great pick to play Robinson, as is Lucas Black as Pee Wee Reese. Harrison Ford delivers big-time as Branch Rickey, the man who brought Robinson to the majors, and Christopher Meloni leaves the movie all too soon as Dodgers manager Leo Durocher. (Durocher was suspended in 1947, the year Robinson made his debut.) Boseman shines even when the movie doesn’t, and it’s a lot of fun to see Ford do something this craggy and different. This film is…
18 Apr 2013
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Director Derek Cianfrance, who helmed the devastatingly brilliant Blue Valentine, raises his ambitions for The Place Beyond the Pines, a gripping film experiment that works on every level. Cianfrance makes a lot of unconventional moves this time out. There are many stories in this movie, with a strong emphasis on many characters. Cianfrance finds a way to focus on these characters in an efficient way that doesn’t have viewers jumping from one story to another from scene to scene. The stories progress chronologically over a period of about 16 years, with some characters fading away as others take over. The result is long, but never boring. The film starts with a lengthy tracking shot that follows Ryan Gosling’s Luke, a stunt-motorcycle driver, as he leaves his trailer and heads for his evening gig. The shot establishes that although Luke is a semi-celebrity on the carnival circuit, he’s undeniably lonely and…
12 Apr 2013
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Co-written by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away) and directed by relative newcomer Goro Miyazaki, this is a surprisingly straightforward piece of Japanese animation that doesn’t involve fantasy elements. The story is about kids in Yokohama, circa 1963, who are trying to find their way and fight for a few causes. The central character is Umi (voiced by Sarah Bolger in the English-dubbed version), a young girl who lost her dad in the war and finds herself liking a boy who may or may not be a good choice. The movie looks great (as films from Studio Ghibli often do), and it tells a sweet story. Other English-dubbed vocal-cast members include Anton Yelchin, Jamie Lee Curtis and Ron Howard. From Up on Poppy Hill opens Friday, April 12, at the Century Theatres at the River, 71800 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, 760-836-1940.
11 Apr 2013
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Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur fantasy is still one of the best adventure films ever made, but the new 3-D retrofit winds up muting the presentation rather than expanding it. While James Cameron’s Titanic looked and felt like it was meant to be shot in 3-D, the presentation here feels forced. The color is diminished, and the scope seems “squished.” It’s not awful, and I have seen worse 3-D, but it fails to enhance the film all that much. Theaters are also offering the movie in its original 2-D presentation, and I would recommend revisiting it in that format. The combination of practical and computer effects to create the dinosaurs has easily stood the test of time; the effects continue to look amazing. While watching the 3-D version, I noticed that Jeff Goldblum sticks his tongue out a lot when he speaks. It’s creepy. Jurassic Park is playing in regular and 3-D…
11 Apr 2013
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I’m disappointed that I didn’t see any 2 percent milk or creamed corn shooting out of zombie faces in the new Evil Dead. Sam Raimi, who directed the original schlock-fest, famously used those two foods in some of his gorier sequences—and it was gloriously disgusting. The Evil Dead remake is a totally different animal from Raimi’s deranged original and its beloved sequels Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. It’s a far-more-polished movie that’s prettier than any of those films, with pretty people and pretty makeup. That said, I wasn’t completely crazy about this new take on this old story, but as a fan of the original Evil Dead, I felt this was a worthy entry, and a nice jumping-off point for a new Evil Dead series of movies. It’s the best of the Evil Dead films when considering sheer quality—but it’s the worst regarding the fun factor. I didn’t…
05 Apr 2013
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In Ginger and Rosa, Elle Fanning delivers a stellar performance (with an excellent British accent!) as Ginger in this film about two teenagers in Cold War England in the 1960s. Fanning runs the gamut, showing all of the joy, anguish and fears of a girl living in an age when the world seems to be falling apart. Alice Englert is also terrific as Rosa, Ginger’s more-depressed best friend, while Alessandro Nivola and Christina Hendricks are excellent as Ginger’s parents. The film goes a little off the rails in its final scenes, but it’s solid and steady for most of its running time, with Fanning showing the world that she is an actress with whom to be reckoned. Written and directed by Sally Potter, Ginger and Rosa is a showcase for Fanning that should propel her into great future roles. Ginger and Rosa opens Friday, April 5, at the Cinemas Palme…
04 Apr 2013
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Yes, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an improvement over the original, but don’t get your hopes too high. Dwayne Johnson joins something like his 18th franchise, as does Bruce Willis, in this confusing yet sometimes entertaining follow-up to G.I. Joe: The Sucky First Movie. There are some good action sequences, including a snowy-cliff sword battle and the destruction of London. There’s also a lot of clatter about Cobra Commanders and Snake Eyes and a bunch of other toy names. Channing Tatum and Johnson have a great rapport, and a whole movie with them together could’ve been fun. Unfortunately, Tatum makes an early exit, making way for The Smirk. Willis is OK, but he doesn’t add all that much. Jonathan Pryce is fairly menacing as two characters: the president of the United States, and his evil impostor. I’d tell you some plot details, but that would be a waste of space. Just…