Movie Review: "'71" B+ February 27, 2015
Northern Ireland's long, bloody conflict, quaintly nicknamed The Troubles, was between people (mostly Protestant) who wanted to remain part of the U.K. and people (mostly Catholic) who wanted an independent, united Ireland. Americans may have only a vague awareness of the issues involved -- apart from a few movies and a U2 song, it hasn't been prominent in our culture -- but in watching "'71," it's easy to see parallels to Afghanistan, Iraq, Selma, and Ferguson.
Movie Review: "The Duff" C February 20, 2015
Everyone knows Duff is Homer Simpson's favorite brand of beer. What "The DUFF" presupposes is: what if it were also a mean acronym used by teens in a formulaic high school comedy? DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend, and it's the person in a group who makes the others look better by comparison. You don't even have to be particularly ugly or fat to be a DUFF, just less beautiful or thin than your peers. It's an unfair system, but that's high school for you.
Movie Review: "Hot Tub Time Machine 2" C- February 20, 2015
"Hot Tub Time Machine 2" answers the question of how bad a movie has to be for John Cusack to want nothing to do with it. His original "HTTM" co-stars Rob Corddry, Clark Duke and Craig Robinson all returned for this misbegotten, low-energy sequel, which—despite having the same writer (Josh Heald) and director (Steve Pink) as the first one—has little of its charm. The three remaining guys travel to the future this time (taking nostalgia-related comedy off the table), and only 10 years ahead (a waste). Playing Cusack's son, Adam Scott partly fills the fourth slot in the ensemble, but it's mostly been reduced to a trio—and one without an authentic emotional core to ground it. These three buffoons and jerks are acceptable (and sometimes funny) as one-dimensional vulgarians, but pretty unappealing as protagonists.
Movie Review: "What We Do in the Shadows" A- February 13, 2015
"What We Do in the Shadows," a mockumentary about vampires, arrives at a critical juncture, when audiences have begun to tire of both mockumentaries and vampires. But the brilliant, buoyant comedy from New Zealand's happy shores proves an old truth: any trope, no matter how overused, can be fresh and appealing again if you put some care into it.
Movie Review: "Kingsman: The Secret Service" B February 13, 2015
The gentleman spies in "Kingsman: The Secret Service" have Knights of the Round Table nicknames and use a Savile Row tailor's shop as their front. Though their job requires deception and violence, they view proper etiquette as a non-negotiable trait of a gentleman, and being a gentleman as a prerequisite for being a spy. Imagine James Bond combined with ... well, with Colin Firth, who happens to star in "Kingsman" and is the perfect chap for such a role. I had no idea how much I wanted to see Colin Firth kick butts and shoot people in the head until I saw him do it.
Movie Review: "Fifty Shades of Grey" D- February 13, 2015
However kinky and taboo the novel "Fifty Shades of Grey" may be -- and I haven't read it, so I don't know, and I'm not going to read it, so I'll never know -- the movie version is disappointingly tame and astonishingly boring. It's about an adult victim of childhood sexual abuse who seeks to perpetuate the cycle in the most tedious way imaginable. It is the unsexiest movie since "Bowling for Columbine."
Movie Review: "The Voices" A- February 6, 2015
[In theaters and Video on Demand.]
Movie Review: "Jupiter Ascending" B February 6, 2015
According to interviews, Andy and Lana Wachowski's screenplay for "Jupiter Ascending" was originally more than 200 pages long. Assuming the usual metric of one page in the script being about one minute on the screen, that means they chopped 40% from it. And boy, does it show. Many expositional details -- heck, even a few entire scenes -- are included despite being ultimately irrelevant, while other elements go unexplained. It's a muddled, confusing hodge-podge of a sci-fi spectacle that presumably made more sense in the original screenplay ... and which I almost thoroughly enjoyed in spite of itself.
Movie Review: "Seventh Son" D February 6, 2015
Ah, "Seventh Son." It is at times like these -- i.e., when we are assigned to review "Seventh Son" -- that we recall the immortal words spoken at the beginning of "Seventh Son" by Julianne Moore, who plays a witch who is also sometimes a dragon:
Movie Review: "Mommy (French)" A- January 23, 2015
Xavier Dolan is 25 years old, the writer and director of five critically acclaimed movies, and the co-recipient of a jury prize at Cannes, where the vote was split between his fifth film and Jean-Luc Godard's 39th. Knowing this, and having seen none of Dolan's previous work, I approached his Godard-tying entry thinking that it would probably make me want to find him and slap his pretentious face. I mean, come on.