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Reviews

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…
19 Jul 2013
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Ryan Gosling has recently re-teamed with two directors who came up aces for him on their last films. Earlier this year, Gosling gave a magnetic performance in The Place Beyond the Pines for director Derek Cianfrance, maker of the excellent Blue Valentine. Pines is one of the year’s best pictures so far, a movie worth revisiting. Now comes Only God Forgives from Nicolas Winding Refn, who made the masterpiece Drive. While Drive cemented Gosling as one of the better young actors on screens today, Forgives winds up being a complete nonevent. This movie has virtually nothing to offer. Gosling plays Julian, a Bangkok drug-smuggler whose brother is killed by a local cop. At the urging of his foul-mouthed mother (Kristin Scott Thomas), he seeks revenge on his brother’s killer, resulting in a fight in which he gets his ass supremely kicked. That’s it. That’s the movie: Gosling gets his ass…
18 Jul 2013
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Adam Sandler has done it again: He has made the worst movie of his career. How do his films keep topping themselves in horribleness? Grown Ups 2—a sequel to the Dennis Dugan disaster that joined David Spade, Chris Rock and Kevin James—is twice as bad as the original. Considering how awful the original was, I didn’t think such a feat was possible. The plot involves Sandler moving back to his hometown, where a deer enters his house and promptly urinates on him. Then he goes shopping with his friends who fart and burp a lot. Then he has a big party where everybody dresses up as people from the ’80s (Pat Benatar, Bruce Springsteen, The Terminator). Then somebody farts again, and then the movie is over. I sat in a theater in which people were laughing their asses off every time somebody farted. It was one of the most-depressing experiences…
18 Jul 2013
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Gigantic alien beasts get their asses handed to them by robots that don’t turn into trucks and cars in Guillermo del Toro’s alternately exhilarating and stale Pacific Rim. This movie is full-on crazy, often in a way that’s rather fun. This is del Toro’s first directorial project after abandoning The Hobbit—and he made a good call. I had a hard time staying awake during The Hobbit. Such was not the case here. It’s the near future, and freaky beasts called kaiju are rising from the ocean depths and tearing cities to shreds. Do we nuke them? No. That would be too easy. Instead, we spend kazillions to build a bunch of hard-core robots that are driven by pilots melding their minds together. It makes absolutely no sense, and I don’t care—because it’s fun. Nearly all of these battles take place in the dark, in the rain or in the ocean.…
11 Jul 2013
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At one point during its journey to the screen, Disney halted production on The Lone Ranger because it was costing too much, and the studio was not sure a Western-themed summer tent-pole movie was a good idea. Eventually, they caved in to Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, producing it for a reported $225 million. This will now go down as a huge, massive, unthinkable, crazy, job-killing blunder. The people who had the good sense to initially halt production should’ve stuck to their guns. What a misguided, uncomfortable movie this is. Johnny Depp appearing as Tonto, with his face painted to mask the fact that he isn’t Native American, is a travesty. His movies have been mediocre at best lately, but this bad career choice goes well beyond the likes of The Tourist: This is the kind of stuff that cuts future paydays in half. The film is an odd…
04 Jul 2013
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The Bard gets stripped down by one of the most unlikely candidates: Joss Whedon, recently the maker of massively expensive geek-boy extravaganzas. The man who gave us The Avengers got his buddies together at his house to shoot a rather pleasant black-and-white take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, just to show that things don’t have to explode all the time in his cinematic forays. The result is intimate, funny and even unique, considering the play that has been adapted many, many times. The film was shot in less than two weeks, an extension of parties Whedon hosted with friends and colleagues that featured Shakespeare readings. Consequently, it has the look of a quaint dinner party, with women in sundresses and men in tailored suits. It’s a breezy experiment that works for most of its running time. After impressing Whedon at one of his shindigs, Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof…