Eric D. Snider

Movie Review: "Birdman" B+ October 17, 2014

Backstage at an actor's mental collapse

"Birdman" opens in a dressing room at Broadway's St. James Theatre, where a fifty-ish man in tighty-whiteys sits meditating. And levitating. And hearing a guttural, self-doubting voice in his head berating him for falling this far. The man is Riggan Thomson, once the star of a blockbuster superhero franchise, now washed-up and trying to revive his career by starring in a stage version of a Raymond Carver story that he adapted and directed himself. Also, either he's losing his mind, or he really does have superpowers. Or maybe both.

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Movie Review: "Whiplash" B+ October 10, 2014

Drumming, obsession, and all that jazz

"Whiplash" is about a demanding teacher trying to coax greatness out of a student, yet it couldn't be further from the saccharine exploits of Mr. Holland, Mr. Dead Poets, and the countless other educators who have inspired their pupils and moved audiences to tears. For one thing, the teacher in this instance is abusive well beyond the acceptable limits of "tough love," more like a drill sergeant than a mentor. For another thing, instead of gently reminding us that we mustn't let pursuing our dreams hinder our personal relationships or prevent us from having functional everyday lives, the film suggests the only way to realize some goals is to ditch everything else.

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Movie Review: "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day" D October 10, 2014

Just a bad experience for us all, really

Bearing so little resemblance to Judith Viorst's 1972 kid classic that the matching titles may as well be coincidental, the movie version of "Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day" is a pointless series of wacky mishaps that befall a generic suburban family over the course of 24 hours. But where many kids' movies pummel the audience, with a message or moral, this one is content to resolve itself without anyone learning anything or overcoming any obstacles. Things turn out OK for everybody in the end, but only through dumb luck.

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Movie Review: "Kill the Messenger" B October 10, 2014

Our crack reporter investigates the C.I.A.

"Kill the Messenger" begins with footage of Richard Nixon calling drugs "public enemy No. 1," followed by clips of subsequent presidents reaffirming their commitment to eradicating the foe. This is all prelude to the film's soberingly ironic subject matter: the C.I.A.'s complicity in selling crack cocaine in the 1980s (funneling the money to anti-communist efforts in Nicaragua), followed by the U.S. government's predictable efforts to discredit a journalist who exposed the scheme.

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Movie Review: "Annabelle" B- October 3, 2014

Dolls are creepy, and so is the devil

In the summer of 2013, a spooky movie called "The Conjuring" struck terror in America's hearts and pants, telling a "fact-based" story about husband-and-wife paranormal investigators checking out a worried family's haunted house in 1971. Among the bedeviled artifacts this couple collected (one that had no bearing on the main story) was a creepy doll named Annabelle. I don't know how the math works, but somehow this means that there's now a movie called "Annabelle," about the doll's origins.

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Movie Review: "Gone Girl" B- October 3, 2014

Two scoundrels, perfect for each other

David Fincher, a sly, calculating filmmaker with a fondness for dark themes and plot twists, was a perfect match for "Gone Girl," a 2012 novel by Gillian Flynn that's full of both. The story was lurid, "trashy" crime fiction, but Flynn also offered insightful, incisive commentary on marriage, gender roles, and the lies we tell the people we love. Surely the man who directed "Seven" and "Fight Club" and "The Social Network" would know what to do with that.

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Movie Review: "A Walk Among the Tombstones" B- September 19, 2014

Mr. Neeson will tolerate no shenanigans

Liam Neeson, now deeply invested in his mid-career pivot into revenge-and-justice thrillers that allow him to threaten kidnappers on the telephone before killing them in person, could do a film like A Walk Among the Tombstones in his sleep. Goodness knows enough actors before him have breezed carelessly through a formulaic crime drama or two (or 10) for a paycheck.

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Movie Review: "The Guest" B- September 17, 2014

Always be wary of overly polite strangers

"A Horrible Way to Die," "You're Next," "What Fun We're Having," "Autoerotic," segments in the anthologies "VHS," "VHS 2," and "The ABCs of Death": director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are probably the pair of collaborators who have made the most movies that you haven't seen. You should rectify that -- start with the gleefully bloody horror comedy "You're Next" -- and prepare yourself for "The Guest," a peculiar mix of suspense, humor, violence, and beloved genre tropes.

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Movie Review: "The Skeleton Twins" B- September 12, 2014

Brother and sister cry, laugh, and love

On paper, "The Skeleton Twins" looks like an amalgamation of Sundance-friendly dramedies, the sort of film that already feels familiar the first time you see it. But in the execution, it benefits from the presence of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader, two of the best comedians "SNL" has produced in the last several years. Turns out they're not too shabby at drama, either, which helps when things get dark here.

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Movie Review: "The Drop" B- September 12, 2014

Where everybody knows your crimes

If you're a fan of adorable things happening in grim settings, you should know that Tom Hardy adopts a puppy in "The Drop," an average crime drama that is otherwise serious and not at all puppy-like. Although he does find the puppy in a garbage can, which is more in line with the rest of the movie's gloominess.

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