Movie Review: "Unfriended" C+ April 29, 2015
"Unfriended," a horror movie for the social media age, has a premise that invites mockery: six teens on a Skype chat are harassed by what may be a supernatural entity. But while the tech is new, the tropes are familiar and potent. After all, the idea of getting a Facebook message from a dead person is just as creepy as -- and no sillier than -- the idea of getting a phone call from one.
Snide Remarks: "Eric D. Snider: Boy Journalist" April 29, 2015
I've wanted to be a writer since I was 5, but I didn't get my first paid gig until I was twice that old. Our weekly community newspaper, The Lake Elsinore Valley Sun-Tribune, had a student from each of the local schools write a column about news at their school, and I was chosen to represent Elsinore Elementary. I was proud that all of the other elementary schools were covered by sixth graders and I was only in fifth grade.
Movie Review: "Adult Beginners" C+ April 28, 2015
Nick Kroll is a funny, creative comedian who's good at playing a variety of characters. So why is "Adult Beginners" such a disappointingly familiar, albeit congenial, comedy? Kroll, sharing story credit with screenwriters Jeff Cox and Liz Flahive, stars as Jake, an arrogant Manhattan entrepreneur who slinks back to his New Rochelle hometown defeated after screwing up a launch. He returns to the very house he grew up in, actually (for maximum "starting my life over" effect), where his semi-estranged sister, Justine (Rose Byrne), now lives with her cool husband, Danny (Bobby Cannavale), and their 3-year-old boy. While here, among the losers from high school who never moved away, Jake must find the balance between work and family and learn What's Really Important.
Movie Review: "True Story" B- April 17, 2015
"True Story," much like the true story it recreates, begins better than it ends, with tantalizing details that suggest a more satisfying tale than is actually in store. Based on journalist Michael Finkel's memoir, the film opens with a succession of seemingly unrelated threads: a young girl's dead body in a suitcase; a doughy reporter (Jonah Hill) covering a news story in Africa; a scruffy American (James Franco) hooking up with a tourist in Mexico. Both men claim to be named Mike Finkel. The scruffy one is arrested and charged with four heinous murders that he says he's not guilty of; the doughy one wants to tell his story (and find out why the accused was using his name).
Movie Review: "Ex Machina" B April 10, 2015
Alex Garland's first novel, "The Beach" was turned into a movie by director Danny Boyle, who went on to direct two of Garland's screenplays, "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine." Garland strengthened his sci-fi bonafides with solid screenplay adaptations of "Never Let Me Go" and "Dredd," and has now graduated to directing his own original work -- "Ex Machina," a wry, ponderous story of artificial intelligence, natural intelligence, and good old-fashioned hubris.
Movie Review: "Furious Seven" C+ April 3, 2015
"Furious Seven," the latest installment in the "Fast and the Furious" car-oriented soap opera franchise, starts with newly introduced British villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) vowing to kill the entire Fast & Furious gang for almost killing his brother in the previous movie. Shaw then travels to L.A. to fight with government agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and get the list of whom, exactly, he has vowed to kill. For the rest of the movie, no matter which corner of the globe our heroes have trotted to, Deckard Shaw shows up like Wile E. Coyote to try to kill them.
Movie Review: "It Follows" A- March 27, 2015
Many a horror film has punished its randy teenage characters by killing them after they have sex, but "It Follows" takes the idea to a new level, using a metaphorical device to conjure all the fears that adolescents (and other people) have about sex. The result is one of the most original, most intelligently frightening movies to emerge in some time.
Movie Review: "Get Hard" C+ March 25, 2015
On paper, the central joke of "Get Hard" is that a white-collar criminal (Will Ferrell) hires someone he believes is a tough felon (Kevin Hart) to help him prepare for San Quentin, where he's headed a month from now. In practice, the central joke is this: Hey, did you know that in prison, there is a lot of RAPE? Where the men rape each other? With their penises? Boy howdy, what a rapey time they all have, there in the prisons!
Movie Review: "The Duke of Burgundy" B+ March 20, 2015
Photographed in the sumptuous colors of yesteryear's art-house smut, "The Duke of Burgundy" does concern an intimate S&M relationship between two winsome ladies, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and Ellen (Chiara D'Anna). And these ladies do indeed have sex, with each other. But don't mistake writer/director Peter Strickland's surreal, mischievous love story for mere lezploitation. I'm not sure Ellen and Cynthia even qualify as lesbians, since the film is set in a world where men don't exist. In fact, the only masculine reference in the whole thing is the title, which is a species of butterfly.
Movie Review: "Run All Night" B- March 13, 2015
"Run All Night" looks to be just another movie where bad guys threaten Liam Neeson's family, and he uses his particular set of skills to kill them all. And in truth, it isn't much more than that. But this sturdy genre exercise -- Neeson's third collaboration with director Jaume Collet-Serra after "Unknown" and "Non-Stop" -- finds the imposing Irishman in top form, menacing to villains but soft and likable to us good guys, and Collet-Serra's workmanlike proficiency keeps all the gears running smoothly.