Movie Reviews
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Rated: PG-13
Last year saw the release of the first “Hunger Games” film, which, despite being a blatant ripoff of “Battle Royale,” was an exciting mix of action, drama, and romance that had its own intriguing take on the material. That being said, there was obviously room for improvement as well, but with it only being the start of the franchise, there was still plenty of time for the series to pick up and become as deeply engaging as it could be. This brings us to the aptly named “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” where the seeds of a deeper plot begin to germinate.
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Dallas Buyers Club
Rated: R
It's hard to believe that just a few years ago Matthew McConaughey was a constant source of ridicule for his choice of movie roles that included such disasters as "Failure to Launch" and "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past." If you were to take his filmography for the last 2-3 years, you'd find films like "Bernie," "Killer Joe," "Mud," and "Magic Mike," and hardly believe it's the same man on the screen. Now he continues his thespianic reawakening with his latest project, "Dallas Buyers Club," for which he undergoes an even more striking transformation to tell the true story of a man with a constant death sentence hanging over his head, but who also has a very strong will to survive.
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Thor: The Dark World
Rated: PG-13
2011’s “Thor” wasn’t exactly the most memorable film of the Marvel line-up thus far. In fact, if you were to ask me what the plot of the movie was, I would have to strain to remember any of the details. That being said, I ended up enjoying it for the other elements it had to offer, mainly a good dose of humor and the grand spectacle that these films offer up as the titular hero saves the world from impending destruction. Given the film’s great success, a sequel was inevitable, which brings us to “Thor: The Dark World,” where once again we find the Asgardian warrior taking up his trusty hammer Mjolnir to defend the human race.
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Ender's Game
Rated: PG-13
“Ender’s Game,” based on the infamous 1985 sci-fi novel by Orson Scott Card, is the equivalent of watching a video game for two hours without getting to play it. For all the meaningful, emotional depth it tries to delve into, it can’t shake the uninvolved, detached feeling that plagues the film throughout its entire runtime. It’s not just a simple matter of clichés weighing down the film’s impact, though there are plenty of those to be had as well, but rather a repetitiveness that’s inherent to the storyline itself, making it rather difficult to escape the subsequent consequences.
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Gravity
Rated: PG-13
How do you even begin to put an experience like “Gravity” into words? All at once it’s a meditation on the human spirit, the fear of death, the difficulty in living on past tragedy, and finding the will to soldier on, all wrapped up in a 90-minute, edge-of-your-seat spectacle. It’s an emotional punch that’s very rare in cinema nowadays. Whereas some filmmakers are content with flat characters and banal storylines, Alfonso Cuaron takes things to the next level, not only technologically, but also through complex themes, fully-formed characters, and a gripping narrative.
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Argento's Dracula
Rated: NR
Writer/director Dario Argento has been a horror icon for about 40 years, having given us such films as “Suspiria” and “Deep Red,” both regarded as classics of the genre. His ability to create fascinating moods and atmospheres gave his films a certain special quality that, while they may have been kind of blah story-wise, at least kept you on your toes as he took you on a rather gruesome journey. While Argento has remained somewhat prolific in his work, he hasn’t really made anything of note in recent years, which begins to explain his desperation in turning to an oft-adapted piece of literature like “Dracula” for his next project.
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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Rated: PG
In 2009, the first “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was unleashed. It was by no means a bad animated film. It was beautifully animated and had some great voice-acting from the entire cast, but what really held it back was the feeling of the plot being stretched out past its breaking point. Because of that, its 80-minute runtime felt much longer as the filmmakers struggled to take a simple story and turn it into a feature-length film. Regardless of this, the film was rather successful, so it’s no surprise that we’re faced with the inevitable sequel just a few years later.
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A Single Shot
Rated: R
What happens in the mountains stays in the mountains. Or at least in this case it should of. David Rosenthal's "A Single Shot" is another one of those movies telling the story of someone living in a remote area of the mountains who gets caught up in an unexpected and heavily dramatic situation. With so few characters involved and little else for the audience to focus on, you have to make absolutely certain that there's a solid story to be told, and indeed there appears to be the faint glimmers of one here, but as we soon discover, Rosenthal and his screenwriter Matthew Jones aren't quite up to the task of fleshing it out.
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Jayne Mansfield's Car
Rated: R
While Billy Bob Thornton is mainly known as an actor, it never hurts to remind people that he is also a writer and director. In fact, as you may recall, he took home an Oscar for his screenplay to “Sling Blade,” a film that also earned him a Best Actor nomination.
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Blue Caprice
Rated: R
For approximately three weeks in 2002, two snipers terrorized the D.C. area by perpetrating a large number of shootings that left ten people dead and three wounded. It was a time of high tension that made several people too scared to come out in public for fear of being the next victim in their vicious attacks. What was particularly terrifying was that their shootings were completely random, occurring at any time and any place to anyone. This may all seem like the plot to some dramatic thriller, but it all really occurred, and now it’s been given the big screen treatment in Alexandre Moors’ new film “Blue Caprice.”
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Riddick
Rated: R
“Riddick” is the third film of the franchise following Vin Diesel’s titular character that began back in 2000 with “Pitch Black” and continued with 2004’s “The Chronicles of Riddick.” We’ve seen the outlaw take on alien creatures, bounty hunters, and a religious military group, and now he’s back to… well, pretty much do most of it all over again.
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Hell Baby
Rated: R
The film begins with Jack (Rob Corddry) and his pregnant wife Vanessa (Leslie Bibb) moving into an old house. That same day, they are informed of its disturbing past by F’resnel (Keegan Michael Key), a “neighbor” who randomly pops in and out of their house whenever he feels like it. It’s not long before strange things begin happening in and around the house, including the odd appearance of a dog and an old woman who wanders in one night, leading to an unfortunate misunderstanding with the police. Eventually the house begins to have effects on Vanessa, making her behave not quite like her normal self.
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Touchy Feely
Rated: R
The film consists of a small ensemble, where each person is going through a bit of a strange time in their lives. Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a masseuse who suddenly finds that she doesn’t want to have any physical contact with anyone, prompting her to seek out the help of an alternative healer, Bronwyn (Allison Janney). Paul (Josh Pais) is a dentist who sticks to routine, until he finds that he has helped cure patients of pain, leading him to want to learn about healing from Bronwyn. His daughter, Jenny (Ellen Page), works as his assistant, but doesn’t really have much interest in the field. The film proceeds as each of them try to deal with their situation in the best way that they can.
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Passion
Rated: R
“Passion” tells the story of Christine (Rachel McAdams), an executive at an advertising company, and one of her helpers, Isabelle (Noomi Rapace). While the two are working on a marketing campaign, Isabelle has a sudden breakthrough, delivering an idea that becomes a big hit. To her dismay, Christine takes credit for the idea, getting herself a promotion in the process.
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The Lifeguard
Rated: R
We’ve all had those moments in our lives where we feel that something is not quite right, that a change needs to be made in some area in order for us to feel right with the world. But what if it’s the entire thing that feels out of joint? What does one do when your job, your location, and everything you’ve worked towards just seems wrong? For Leigh London, the answer lies in returning to her childhood home to reassess her life in the hopes of finding out where the change needs to occur.
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Short Term 12
Rated: R
Creating an emotional connection with cinematic characters is one of the hardest things to do in the medium. It takes compelling performances, engaging characters, and a strong, but not overwhelming narrative, among other things. Destin Cretton has a good portion of this in his new film “Short Term 12,” which was a big hit at this year’s SXSW film festival, but unfortunately, there are areas that are a bit weaker than others, areas that could have used more work in order to make this the emotionally-powerful film that he appeared to be going for.
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The Grandmaster
Rated: PG-13
What is it about martial arts films that keep people coming back again and again? Is it simply for the fun of seeing two opponents go head-to-head with a variety of cool skills? If that were the case, the genre would have been exhausted years ago, so there must be something more to it. For the answer, you'd most likely have to dig a little deeper, delving into the characters and just what kind of story the film is trying to tell.
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Kick-Ass 2
Rated: R
When "Kick-Ass" burst onto the scene back in 2010, it was a fresh take on the superhero genre, utilizing the "anyone can be a superhero" premise to great advantage. It was fun, humorous, and rather violent (what do you expect from a movie with such a title?). It seemed practically inevitable, given the film's great success, that we'd be seeing "Kick-Ass 2" as soon as it could be churned out, but would it be possible to recapture all the elements that had made the original work so well without making it seem like just a retread? Turns out it wouldn't be as easy as they thought.
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Only God Forgives
Rated: R
Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives” is a film with so much padding, you scarcely realize that there’s a story going on. Directors have been known to fall for a condition commonly known as “style over substance,” but Refn manages to take that to such an extreme, you begin to wonder if the screenplay was more than a couple of pages long at the outset of the project.
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The Lone Ranger
Rated: PG-13
Leading up to its premiere, “The Lone Ranger” was already haunted by its tale of multiple production woes that included a skyrocketing budget, accidents, and a shoot that lasted around five months. From this, people began to wonder whether it would ever get finished, and if it did, would the final product have been worth all the trouble. Taking into account all of the difficulties the project had, I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that it turned out as well as it did, but unfortunately, it appears that no one told the filmmakers when too much was simply too much.
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Despicable Me 2
Rated: PG
2010’s “Despicable Me” was one of the surprise hits of its year, providing an even bigger surprise for me given that I hadn’t heard much about it at all prior to the screening. However, this little unknown film ended up packing a wallop of emotion into 90 short minutes as we watched its main character turn from one of the world’s most dastardly criminals into a loving father of three young girls.
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White House Down
Rated: PG-13
For a brief, shining moment back in 2011, it looked as though director Roland Emmerich was finally ready to leave behind the monotony of blowing up everything in sight in nearly every movie he made by making the fascinating Shakespeare drama “Anonymous.” This underrated film showed that he was quite capable of going beyond the previous films he’d made like “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Godzilla,” and “2012.”
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Monsters University
Rated: G
Something very strange has been happening at Pixar Studios as of late. After the decent “Toy Story 3,” the quality of their films quickly began to decline with projects like “Cars 2” and “Brave.” Now, as if to show us that their inventiveness is still waning, we are faced with a prequel to one of their biggest hits, “Monsters Inc.,” which acts as an origin story to the two lovable heroes from the original film.
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Man of Steel
Rated: PG-13
This film once again takes us back to the beginning of the story. On Krypton, we find the planet on the brink of disaster. In hopes of continuing the race, Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer) send their son to Earth in an escape pod, all this while facing the threats of a collapsing planet and an attempted coup by their military leader, General Zod (Michael Shannon).
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This is the End
Rated: R
Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s “This is the End” is like a buddy comedy that just doesn’t know when to quit. Oh, they try their hardest to shower the audience in scattershot jokes in hopes that some of them might land, and while they do find moderate success with perhaps one in ten of these jokes, that still leaves a whole mess of them that do nothing but fall flat on the floor.
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V/H/S/2
Rated: R
Just last year we were given the horror anthology “V/H/S,” a collection of short films from various writers and directors that were meant to give us a quick thrill. Unfortunately, it didn’t succeed at this very well due to a poor level of writing and a choppy style that was more annoying than effective. It’s been merely a year and we’re already faced with the sequel which brings us a new batch of shorts that once again try to send some chills down our spines in the few minutes they have to tell their stories.
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After Earth
Rated: PG-13
Most people like to remember M. Night Shyamalan as he once was, as a bright young filmmaker with a promising future ahead of him. After his breakout film, the delightfully creepy “The Sixth Sense,” was released in 1999, great things were expected of him. He followed up this project with “Unbreakable” (a film I didn’t care much for, but was well-received), “Signs” (a decent alien invasion tale), and “The Village” (a film that was not well-received, but is one that I still find is better than people give it credit for).
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Epic
Rated: PG
“Epic” is a somewhat strangely titled animated film. When I hear that word applied to cinema, I tend to think of films that are made on a massive scale with extensive storylines such as “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Ben-Hur,” and “The Lord of the Rings.” The term can also be applied to animation, but when “Epic” was over, sadly it was not the first word that crossed my mind. Rather ironic given that animation gives filmmakers the freedom to create worlds, characters, and stories that they would have a hard time creating in real life.
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Fast & Furious 6
Rated: PG-13
There have been a few film franchises in the past that I have referred to as “parasitic.” These have included series such as “Paranormal Activity,” “Saw,” and you could even throw in the “Resident Evil” flicks as well. These are series that have continued on far past their prime, and in some cases, series that have never even had a prime, yet continued on anyway. At this point, it’s more than fair to include the “The Fast and the Furious” films. What started out as a single silly action film that had its moments has grown into a seemingly never-ending batch of mindless, repetitive, and above all, tedious movies that, like the other franchises listed above, only continue on because people are gullible enough to pay to see the same movie over and over.
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2 Guns
Rated: R
Attending the screening of “2 Guns” was a remarkable feeling of déjà vu. It has a pair of enjoyable leads who do their best, but don’t make much of an impact. It uses humor to elevate itself a little above the drudgery of the material, but can’t quite overcome what it is: a big, noisy action flick. All of these things also perfectly described the recent “White House Down,” which was likewise funny, but couldn’t help being what it was. As soon as it becomes clear that “2 Guns” is headed down the same path, you can’t help but hope for a better result.
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Iron Man 3
Rated: PG-13
With the plethora of superhero movies that have been released in the past few years, it’s somewhat of a miracle that audiences haven’t grown completely sick of them by now. We’ve had “Captain America,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “The Avengers,” “Thor,” and two previous “Iron Man” films, just to name a few, and now we’re faced with the highly-anticipated third entry in the franchise.
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The Company You Keep
Rated: R
The first thing that is likely to catch your eye about “The Company You Keep,” the latest directorial effort from Robert Redford, is the vast amount of star power it contains. I can’t recall having seen so impressive a cast for at least the last several years.
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Oblivion
Rated: PG-13
“Oblivion” is one of those films that acts a bit like a clever trickster. It lures you in with promises of a fascinating-sounding premise, one that any writer would be foolish not to utilize every bit of, only to fail to deliver what it sets up. Here we have a futuristic science-fiction tale that takes place several decades into the future after a war with a race known as “The Scavs” has left the moon shattered and the Earth devastated by the effects of tsunamis, earthquakes, and nuclear weapons. Almost the entire human race has been evacuated to Titan, a moon of Saturn, with only a few left behind for security and repair purposes.
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To the Wonder
Rated: R
The film opens as Neil (Ben Affleck) and Marina (Olga Kurylenko) are visiting France. It’s clear that there is something special between these two, which is even more evident as the two come back to the States to live together in Oklahoma. However, it becomes clear that their relationship is not as stable as it first appeared. We begin to see glimpses of the troubles that they are having, though as to what they are, we are never specifically told. All we do know is that Marina eventually departs to return to France, leading Neil to reconnect with a friend from his childhood (Rachel McAdams).
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Ginger & Rosa
Rated: PG-13
“Ginger & Rosa” tells the tale of two young girls who were both born in 1945 right around the time of the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. They’re the best of friends and are pretty much inseparable, telling each other everything. Picking up in England in 1962, we find the country gripped with fear due to the very real possibility of nuclear annihilation. Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) are both members of a protest group that is trying to “ban the bomb” through marches and other peaceful means, but, as those of you familiar with history will know, the threat continues to grow as the situation in Cuba intensifies.
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Evil Dead
Rated: R
It seemed pretty much inevitable. Someone, at some point in time, would want to remake Sam Raimi’s classic cult horror film “The Evil Dead,” and it would be allowed to happen whether the fans wanted it to or not. When it was first announced, I had some hope that such a remake (or reimagining, or whatever you want to call it) would be a neat companion piece to the original, hopes that only increased upon hearing that it was being produced by Raimi, Robert Tapert (producer of the original), and Bruce Campbell. With their blessing, what could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, some very important things could.
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On the Road
Rated: R
Most people are familiar with Jack Kerouac’s infamous Beat novel “On the Road,” a book that is considered a classic of literature, even if they’ve never read it before. It brings to mind several images, including drugs, sex, traveling, authors, and, of course, the long scrolls of paper Kerouac scrawled his novel on. While the ideas presented in the novel may have worked well in that medium, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to translate well to another. Now that we are faced with a film adaptation, the answer to this question becomes all too clear.
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The Call
Rated: R
“The Call” is one of the most perplexing films to come across my path in a long time. Not perplexing in terms of its plot, which is very much straight forward, but rather in the series of dumb decisions made by multiple characters throughout the story. It might be passable to have one or two, or perhaps even more if this were a horror film, where such things are commonplace, but to have one piled right on top of the other in a thriller where we’re supposed to be buying into everything that’s happening merely changes it into something else entirely.
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The ABCs of Death
Rated: NR
Whenever a filmmaker or group of filmmakers decides to make an anthology of short films, what we will get most of the time is a small collection of maybe four or five stories put together. Think back on the famous horror anthologies that have been made such as “Tales from the Crypt,” “Tales from the Dark Side,” or even something more recent like “V/H/S.” These contained just a few stories that tried to give you a good chill, some succeeding better than others, in segments lasting 10+ minutes. Now imagine a group of filmmakers trying to do a collection of 26 short films all revolving around the same subject with even less time to tell their stories.
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Stand Up Guys
Rated: R
“Stand Up Guys” is the tale of three elderly men having one last night out on the town together. They realize that there’s not much time left, so they figure, why not get the gang back together and relive their glory days? On its own, this might not seem like such an unusual premise, that is, until you factor in that these guys are all former criminals who used to be involved in activities such as robbery and murder. With that in mind, you can begin to imagine just what kind of a night on the town these three would have.
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Parker
Rated: R
Oh Jason Statham, will you ever stop making the same movie over and over again? After “Safe,” “The Mechanic,” two “Expendables” films (plus one upcoming), three “Transporter” films, “Killer Elite,” and more, you would think that he would tire of playing the same flat, one-note character, but apparently he has become quite comfortable with it. So now we come to “Parker,” his latest film, and if you’ve seen any of the above, then you know exactly what to expect right down to the letter.
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John Dies at the End
Rated: R
Some films can get away with having a shoestring plot that doesn’t really get anywhere. “John Dies at the End” is not one of those films. It’s the kind of film that wants to have its cake and eat it too. On the one hand, it wants to be an abstract, surrealist work that is strung together with bizarre imagery leading it along randomly, while on the other it wants to put together a narrative for all of the wackiness that it entails. However, when there is an attempt made to squeeze in a hastily-written invasion plot at the end, it comes off as a pretty clear sign that this brave venture into the realm of surrealism wasn’t going well, leading writer/director Don Coscarelli to try to bring the film together at the last minute. Unfortunately for him, the result is a bit of a mess.
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Zero Dark Thirty
Rated: R
May 2, 2011 brought the largest manhunt in history to an end. It took the efforts of multiple agents, soldiers, and others to bring it about, but their decade-long diligence paid off. Osama Bin Laden had been found and killed, bringing a small bit of closure to everyone who had been affected by the September 11th attacks.
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Promised Land
Rated: R
Gus Van Sant’s “Promised Land” is a film that strives not only to engage the audience, but also to deliver a message at the same time. In this case, the message is about how fracking (drilling for natural gas) can have drastic effects on the environment.
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Les Misérables
Rated: PG-13
It’s hard to believe that merely two years ago most people were hearing the name of director Tom Hooper for the first time. At the time his smash hit “The King’s Speech” was released, he was mainly known as the man behind the excellent “John Adams” and “Elizabeth I” miniseries. When his name entered the Oscar race, most thought that he didn’t stand much of a chance. However, they were soon proven wrong when the film turned out to be just as big a hit with the Academy as it was with audiences.
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This is 40
Rated: R
Back in 2007, Judd Apatow brought us “Knocked Up,” an unfunny mess that was stretched out way beyond the capacity of the story. The story itself wasn’t terrible, but it was rather predictable as it fell into the trappings of the standard, clichéd romantic-comedy formula. Now Apatow has opted to revisit two of the characters from that film for his latest, entitled “This is 40.” Unfortunately, he has also decided to revisit all of the same problems the first film had, in addition to some new ones.
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The Impossible
Rated: PG-13
Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible” tells us right away that it is based on a true story, which, in film terms, usually means that it is very loosely based on a true story. It’s already taking place during a very dramatic event, which in this case is the 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia, but in order to make the story cinematic, the events have to be written and structured in such a way that will grab hold of the audience and take them along for the emotional ride that the characters go through. As it turns out, this is something that the filmmakers end up having a little trouble with.
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Amour
Rated: PG-13
Michael Haneke is one of the most enigmatic writer/directors working today. Taking a look at his filmography, you’ll see such challenging films as “Cache,” which tells the story of a family being terrorized by strange videotapes, and the Palme d’Or-winning “The White Ribbon,” which revolves around odd happenings in a small village.
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Rated: PG-13
Merely nine years after bringing us his brilliant adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” Peter Jackson returns to Middle-Earth to tackle Tolkien’s prequel novel, “The Hobbit,” with another trilogy of films. There are those that question whether splitting up such a short novel into three films is a wise idea, but given his track record with this kind of material, it seems best to give Jackson the benefit of the doubt. Besides, how bad could it be to have three epic adventures instead of just two?
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Hitchcock
Rated: PG-13
Alfred Hitchcock is widely considered one of the greatest directors in the history of motion pictures, having brought us such classics as “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” and, of course, “Psycho.” It was the last film on this list that was a rather large diversion from what the public was used to in a Hitchcock picture. He was already known as “the master of suspense,” but no one was quite prepared for just how far he was going to take that when he decided to take on a novel that most dismissed as horror trash.
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Deadfall
Rated: R
“Deadfall” is a rather tangential film. It starts off with an opening scene that had the potential to go in any number of intriguing directions. Instead, despite having several interesting possibilities to choose from, the film splits into a fractured mess of storylines that don’t live up to the expectations set in the first scene. In a sense, I was reminded of the recent films “Skyfall” and “A Late Quartet,” the former because it failed to live up to its opening scene, while the latter had storylines that didn’t fit very well into the main plot. Just having one of these problems can hurt a film pretty badly, but when you have both, it only makes things worse.
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Lay the Favorite
Rated: R
“Lay the Favorite” is one of the most forgettable bad movies I’ve seen in the last few years. Usually, even when a movie is bad, there will at least be some terrible element of it that lingers in the memory, be it the performances, the screenplay, or the like.
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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2
Rated: PG-13
We come to it at last. After four years of agonizingly-bad movies, “The Twilight Saga” is finally at an end. With this final entry in the series, it’s time to say goodbye to Bella, Edward, Jacob and the rest of the gang. Most will find this a very easy thing to do, though the Twihards may be sad to see them go. After five movies containing the same problems, I can’t say that I’m sad to see it come to an end, but let’s take one last look at it before putting it to bed.
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Lincoln
Rated: PG-13
There is perhaps no U.S. president more beloved than the 16th man to hold the office, Abraham Lincoln. He got the country through a very difficult time in its history, when brother fought brother and slavery still festered in many states throughout the nation.
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The Sessions
Rated: R
“The Sessions” begins by introducing us to its main character, Mark O’Brien (John Hawkes), a 38-year-old man who has had polio for nearly his entire life, which causes him only to be able to move his head. Most of his time is spent in an iron lung, a machine that breathes for him, and one which he can only leave for a few hours at a time. However, these limitations have not stopped him from trying to lead a productive life. He’s gone to college, earned a degree, and with the help of an assistant, he goes outside, goes shopping, and does other various activities.
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A Late Quartet
Rated: R
“A Late Quartet” tells the tale of a quartet that has been playing together for 25 years. They’ve gotten to know each other quite well over all of those years with two of them even marrying. Their group is celebrated around the world, as evident by a very crowded concert schedule. They’ve all settled into their roles in the group, and nothing much ever changes, that is, until recently.
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Skyfall
Rated: PG-13
The film starts with James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a mission in Istanbul where he is trying to recover a hard drive containing a list of undercover agents. This leads him on a chase across the city where he eventually ends up on top of a train fighting the man who has stolen the drive. Without much time to decide what to do, Bond’s fellow agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), is ordered by M (Judi Dench) to risk taking a shot at the thief. Unfortunately, the shot hits Bond instead, sending him falling to the water far below.
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Cloud Atlas
Rated: R
“Cloud Atlas” is a film that is destined to be as polarizing as it is intriguing, as even those who dislike it will more than likely marvel at its construction. It is an epic with a method of storytelling that, at least to my knowledge, has not been attempted before.
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Paranormal Activity 4
Rated: R
This time around, the film mainly revolves around Alex (Kathryn Newton), her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively), and her little brother Wyatt (Aiden Lovekamp). When their neighbor across the street suddenly has to be taken to the hospital, her son Robbie (Brady Allen) comes to stay with Alex and her family for a few days. Strange things start to happen almost immediately like Robbie climbing into Alex’s bed in the middle of the night, as well as talking to someone in their living room that doesn’t appear to be there.
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Argo
Rated: R
1979: Amid a chaotic time in Iran, protestors storm the American Embassy in Tehran, taking several hostages, beginning what is commonly referred to as the Iran Hostage Crisis. However, what the Iranians didn’t know at the time was that six Americans were able to slip out a backdoor onto the street and make their way to the Canadian Ambassador’s residence. They may have made it away from the center of the chaos, but they were a long way from being safe.
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V/H/S
Rated: R
“V/H/S” harkens back to the horror anthologies of old like “Tales from the Crypt” and “Creepshow.” These were groups of stories that, while not very long, were just enough to unsettle you while making you wonder where each creepy tale was headed. It’s not surprising that someone would want to try something similar nowadays. However, if “V/H/S” is any indication, it seems they have failed to grasp what made such anthologies work in the first place.
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Looper
Rated: R
Rian Johnson is a writer/director who has slowly been making a name for himself. In 2005, he brought us the bizarre mystery film “Brick,” a film that I didn’t care much for, but which earned him a reputation. His follow-up film, “The Brothers Bloom,” was an excellent example of a con film that plays with the audience as much as it does with its characters. Now Johnson brings us his latest project, “Looper,” a fascinating science-fiction film that asks you to wrap your head around the age-old concept of time travel.
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Hotel Transylvania
Rated: PG
“Hotel Transylvania” is the latest release from Sony Pictures Animation, the same people who have brought us such films as “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “Arthur Christmas,” and most recently, “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.” Looking back at their past releases, you can notice a trend. These films have had interesting animation and some pretty good vocal talent involved, but they’ve been lacking in the one place that’s the most important: the story. Unfortunately, with “Hotel Transylvania,” the trend has been allowed to continue.
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The Master
Rated: R
It’s been five years since Paul Thomas Anderson brought us “There Will Be Blood,” a critical success that ended up winning two Academy Awards. With his latest film, “The Master,” there has been controversy swarming around it from the very beginning as many have said that it tells the story of the founding of Scientology, despite the continued denials from those who made it.
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Resident Evil: Retribution
Rated: R
“Resident Evil: Retribution” brings us to the fifth entry in a series that ran out of steam a long time ago. Once again, despite there being no demand for yet another sequel, we are faced with one, and as you can probably expect, it’s filled with the same problems that writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson has refused to address for the last several years now. Sometimes consistency can be a good thing, but in this case, it’s only continuing to weigh this series down.
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Arbitrage
Rated: R
“Arbitrage” is a film that puts a morally-questionable character through his paces. He’s a man that has lied, cheated, and done everything in his power to cover it up. All of these things have allowed him to become quite successful, or, at the very least, to appear successful. However, these things do eventually catch up with him, causing his normal life to be turned completely upside down, with the potential consequences being quite dire.
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The Tall Man
Rated: R
“The Tall Man” is a thriller that plays on a parent’s worst fears: something happening to their child. This can include many things, but for the purposes of this film, the specific fear is a stranger kidnapping children without a trace. For the first half of the film, it uses this fear rather effectively, and even goes so far as to pull the rug out from under the audience about halfway through, which made it all the more disappointing that the writer didn’t have the courage to see the film through to a better conclusion than the one they ended up with.
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The Expendables 2
Rated: R
We all knew it was inevitable. It was just a matter of time before a sequel to 2010’s “The Expendables” was made to deliver more explosions, gunfire, and corny one-liners. With “The Expendables 2,” you get all that and… nothing more. If you were hoping for a film with characters you can care about, you’re looking in the wrong place. If you’re looking for a film that’s entertaining, that’s really going to depend upon your definition of the word. This is a film made very specifically for action junkies. Unfortunately, for everyone else it’s going to be very forgettable.
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ParaNorman
Rated: PG
“ParaNorman” is a stop-motion animated film that looks like it came straight from the mind of Tim Burton, but surprisingly, you won’t find his name anywhere on it. Instead, it actually came from Laika, the animation company who brought us “Coraline,” a bizarre, but wonderful animated film, back in 2009. This gave them a steep uphill battle to fight in order to get back to that level of quality. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it, nor did they seem to try very hard to do so.
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Ruby Sparks
Rated: R
“Ruby Sparks” is a fun, quirky dramedy that actually starts off as a bit of an examination of the difficulties of the writing process before switching gears to become a bizarre, yet engrossing, fantasy. On top of all that, it manages to be a romance that explores how hard it can be to fine-tune a relationship even when you have complete control over every little thing your partner does and feels. This is a lot for any film to handle, and yet, somehow “Ruby Sparks” is able to encompass it all.
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The Campaign
Rated: R
“The Campaign,” starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, looked to be setting itself up as a terrible comedy that would leave me cringing in my seat as excruciatingly-long minutes ticked past. This was until I started laughing during the very first scene. Thinking this could just be a fluke, the film continued on, and amazingly so did the laughs. It was no fluke, just another comedy getting short-changed with unfunny, and therefore misleading, trailers.
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Hope Springs
Rated: PG-13
David Frankel’s “Hope Springs” is a sweet film about two people whose marriage has gotten stuck in a rut. They sleep in separate rooms, hardly say a word to each other, and have even stopped touching each other. The passion has completely left their relationship, which, after 31 years, they seem to have taken for granted, or perhaps they never even bothered to notice as they settled down to their normal routine.
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360
Rated: R
“360” is a collection of short stories that don’t have very much to do with each other, other than the characters trying to find direction in their lives or simply trying to move on with them. Sometimes a series of short stories intertwined can be an interesting experience as you begin to notice how the stories connect, or even cross over to each other. However, imagine the irony of a film where people are trying to find direction in their lives in stories that end up being directionless, and there you will have a pretty good idea of the experience “360” will give you.
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Total Recall
Rated: PG-13
Back in 1990, director Paul Verhoeven and his screenwriters gave us an incredible adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” that was a highly-entertaining experience with a good balance of story and action. 22 years later, we are faced with another telling of the story (it’s hard to call it a remake as, while there are several similar elements, it has a different plot running through it) with a different cast, a different crew, and modern effects, so now we not only get to see how it measures up to the original, but also how it measures up as a film of its own.
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The Dark Knight Rises
Rated: PG-13
Merely seven years ago, director/writer Christopher Nolan set out to perform the most drastic overhaul of a superhero franchise yet attempted. The result was the great film “Batman Begins,” which began with the origin of the character, but more importantly, it set up the franchise in a more realistic universe than we had seen any superhero in before.
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Ice Age: Continental Drift
Rated: PG
Anyone who has been keeping up with the “Ice Age” series will have noticed a distinct drop in quality over the last two films. What started off as an interesting series about an unlikely group of animals on an adventure has quickly turned into a series that feels like its last couple of entries should have gone straight to video, and that includes this latest sequel, “Ice Age: Continental Drift.”
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The Amazing Spider-Man
Rated: PG-13
It’s been only ten years since the original “Spider-Man” trilogy was begun by Sam Raimi. Now, after three films, the studio has opted to start anew with a complete reboot of the franchise. Perhaps they felt that the original series of films had gone as far as they could go, and, of course, there’s the fact that the third film had numerous problems, so a fresh start could be just what the franchise needed. Plus there’s the opportunity to improve upon the original film, which had a few issues of its own. So, since we’re starting from the beginning, we inevitably find ourselves with an origin story.
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Last Ride
Rated: PG-13
“Last Ride” is a little Australian film that’s been around for over three years now having been released in that country back in 2009 as well as making its way around to several film festivals including Toronto’s. Whatever the reason was for the delay in bringing it to the states is unknown, though it could easily have something to do with the film itself. It tries to tell the simple story of a father and son attempting to make their way across the Australian Outback, but like the characters themselves, the film encounters a few problems along the way.
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Brave
Rated: PG
Just about everybody is aware that Pixar is known for releasing some of the highest quality animated films around, not only because of their level of animation, but also because they have stories that go beyond what we normally see in other kids’ films. To look back at their catalog is to be in awe of such great features as “Finding Nemo,” “Ratatouille,” and “Up.” Now they bring us their latest offering, “Brave,” a film that, if it hadn’t been for their signature style of animation, I would have guessed was from another studio.
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Rock of Ages
Rated: PG-13
“Rock of Ages” has a simple premise that should have worked pretty well. Take a simple love story, throw in several 80s songs, and add a pretty good cast. On top of that, it’s based on a successful musical that was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical. So what went wrong here? Well, the culprit ends up being a very poor execution of the idea in general, and from that, more trouble followed.
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Bel Ami
Rated: R
“Bel Ami” is the attempt to tell a rags-to-riches tale of a man who rises to the top through the careful manipulation of others and a passion for women that made him irresistible to them. For a film to be about passion it must have passion itself, which turns out to be one of the key ingredients missing from this adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s novel, where emotion sadly take a backseat to the rest of the story.
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Prometheus
Rated: R
It’s been 30 years since Ridley Scott last dabbled in the realm of science-fiction. In 1979, he gave us his masterpiece “Alien” and followed that up with the classic “Blade Runner,” two films that, along with Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” have helped define the genre for the last several decades. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find a sci-fi film since their release that hasn’t been influenced by them in some way. Now Scott returns to his roots to bring us “Prometheus,” a film that is related to “Alien,” not just in one way, but in several.
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Snow White and the Huntsman
Rated: PG-13
“Snow White and the Huntsman” is the second Snow White film we’ve gotten this year after “Mirror Mirror” just two months ago. However, while the previous film had been a light, comedic take on the classic tale, this new version is much darker and serious. “Mirror Mirror” had been a delight to watch because of its interesting spin on certain aspects of the story as well as some good performances from the cast, and while a darker take should work just as well, this latest version has a few too many things holding it back.
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A Cat in Paris
Rated: PG
“A Cat in Paris” was one of two films nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar earlier this year that most Americans would not have even heard of. It’s a small French film that doesn’t even run a whole hour when you take out the credits, and yet, it’s plenty of time to tell a fully-formed story that comes off as a little different than those we’re used to seeing in the average animated film, and by that I mean it’s a little darker than you might expect.
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The Intouchables
Rated: R
The basis of “The Intouchables” is one we’ve seen several times before in which a plot will take two people who are seemingly nothing alike and from completely different backgrounds and put them together. Even though it’s the kind of premise that gets used quite often, directors/writers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano manage to make it seem fresher than usual by using a good dose of humor and getting a touching pair of performances out of the leads.
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Men in Black 3
Rated: PG-13
The last time we saw the Men in Black was ten years ago in a bland dud of a sequel to the fun original film from 1997. The second film had had a few problems, chief among them being an indecipherable plot that never really became coherent. Now, after a decade to retool and rethink the franchise, and despite nobody really demanding one, we get another sequel that many are hoping will bring the series back to its entertaining and exciting roots.
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Safe
Rated: R
“Safe” is another one of those films where you know exactly what you’re getting into before it even begins. First, the trailer is pretty much a mash-up of fight scenes while showing you brief glimpses of the plot, which mirrors the film exactly. Then there’s the addition of Jason Statham, who rarely, if ever, changes up his normal shtick of getting into fights while delivering silly dialogue in his low, gravelly voice. With these two things combined, you’ve practically already seen the film.
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The Avengers
Rated: PG-13
“The Avengers” has been a long time coming. Marvel has slowly been building its way towards it by releasing individual films about some of the superheroes such as “Iron Man,” “Thor,” and “Captain America,” but now they have finally assembled them as a group to fight off those that would threaten Earth in an action-packed adventure that is likely to please fans and non-fans of the comic books alike.
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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Rated: PG-13
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a charming film that brings together a great cast to play a diverse group of characters. It’s the kind of ensemble piece that we just don’t see much of anymore in which a group of high-caliber actors play off of each other with ease, reminding us just how good they can be. Throw in a director who made one of the best films of all time and you have a film that is sure to delight just about any audience.
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Battleship
Rated: PG-13
“Battleship” is what you get when you combine “Battle: Los Angeles,” an incomprehensibly bad alien invasion film, and the latter “Transformers” films, which were filled to the brim with explosions and machines fighting each other. This is supposedly based on the popular board game of the same name where you simply have to guess where your opponents ships are, but you’d hardly know that from the extremely clichéd plot thrown together here.
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Dark Shadows
Rated: PG-13
There are times when a writer can successfully integrate a number of tones together to create a memorable film. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago, I reviewed the Norwegian film “Headhunters,” which blended together thrills, mystery, and black comedy into a bizarre, but rather entertaining film. Then there are times when the mixture is not successful and finds itself struggling to create an identity, which brings us to Tim Burton’s latest film, “Dark Shadows.”
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God Bless America
Rated: R
“God Bless America” has a pair of “heroes” that most people could almost sympathize with. One is a man who has had enough with everyone regurgitating everything they hear about on reality shows, sports, and gossip programs and just wants the world to be a nicer place, while the other is a young lady who is sick of her mundane, everyday life and wants something new and exciting to happen to pull her out of it. These sound like common positions, right? However, as common as these positions might appear, these two aren’t content with sitting around hoping for things to change on their own.
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Headhunters
Rated: R
Morten Tyldum’s “Headhunters” is an interesting blend of tones and genres. It starts off with what you think will be a heist film, but then quickly changes into a thriller/mystery. It even takes some time to throw in a little black comedy throughout. All of these elements combine to give you a film where you’ll not only be unsure of what will happen next, but also what your emotional reaction to it will be.
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The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Rated: PG
“The Pirates! Band of Misfits” is one of those films that most people will watch and probably never give a second thought about. That’s not necessarily because it’s bad, but because it’s just not particularly memorable in any way. It’s a very light and breezy film, which can be a good thing, but after watching this, I found myself struggling to think of anything that made it stand out or made it interesting. There were a few things, but as usual, I found that the main problem could be traced back directly to the story.
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The Moth Diaries
Rated: R
With the treatment that vampires have been getting in books and film recently, you can imagine that the likes of Bram Stoker, F.W. Murnau, and Bela Lugosi must be spinning in their graves. The biggest culprit has been Stephenie Meyer, whose “Twilight” books have turned vampires into a laughingstock. These were subsequently adapted into terrible films, a trend which continues here with the adaptation of Rachel Klein’s own vampire novel, “The Moth Diaries.”
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Think Like a Man
Rated: PG-13
Tim Story’s “Think Like a Man” recalls films like “Valentine’s Day” and “New Year’s Eve,” and if you’ve seen those, then you already know that that’s not a good thing. Here we have yet another film that attempts to take more characters than it can handle and juggle them together into a story where the audience couldn’t care less about them. The only difference here is that several of these characters interact with each other rather than having multiple unrelated stories. However, that doesn’t save it from becoming as much of a mess.
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Touchback
Rated: PG-13
Have you ever wanted to change a major event in your past, something that you’ve reflected on for several years, but always felt could have gone a different way? Changing a few things might seem like a good idea, but you’d have to take a few other things into consideration, such as how that change would affect you and the people you know. Furthermore, would it really make your life turn out for the better?
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Monsieur Lazhar
Rated: PG-13
Philippe Falardeau’s “Monsieur Lazhar” was this year’s foreign film entry from Canada and was lucky enough to be one of the final five nominees for the Academy Awards. It didn’t win, but it wasn’t because it wasn’t a good film, it was because it had the unfortunate luck of being nominated the same year as the Iranian film “A Separation,” a film whose momentum could not be stopped throughout awards season.
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We Have a Pope
Rated: NR
It’s an event that’s only happened once thus far in my lifetime: the election of a pope. Thousands of people crowd St. Peter’s Square in Rome as a College of Cardinals votes on who is to become the new Supreme Pontiff. The crowd eagerly awaits the releasing of smoke that tells them whether or not the vote was successful, black indicating that it was not, while white indicates that a new Pope has been chosen. As head of the church, the papacy comes with much responsibility, but what if the one elected felt that they were unable to fulfill those duties? Such is the topic of Nanni Moretti’s “We Have a Pope.”
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Dark Tide
Rated: PG-13
Imagine “Jaws” without the interesting storyline, engaging characters, memorable dialogue, thrills, suspense, and entertainment and you’d have a pretty good idea of what awaits you with John Stockwell’s “Dark Tide.” What these filmmakers did was basically take all of those elements and found their polar opposites to put together a film that is one of the most tedious movie-going experiences of recent memory.
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Wrath of the Titans
Rated: PG-13
Here we have “Wrath of the Titans,” a sequel to the special effects extravaganza “Clash of the Titans,” itself a remake of the 1981 film. While most people were turned off by the remake of “Clash,” I had found it to be a fun and silly spectacle of action and effects. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for its sequel. Where there was fun there is now tediousness. Where there were exciting special effects there is now boredom, and even worse, there is even less story than there was before.
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Intruders
Rated: R
“Intruders” is a horror film that has absolutely nothing memorable or noteworthy about it. So much so in fact, that even hard-core horror fans will have difficulty staying awake through this snoozefest. For a film that claims to be a horror-thriller, it is strangely lacking in both areas. This is probably a big part of the reason that the studio is attempting to slip this film out into theaters in a limited release.
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Goon
Rated: R
There’s a kind of unwritten rule when it comes to sports films that says they should be about more than just the sport. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Take last year’s excellent sports drama “Moneyball” for example. There we had a film about how to put together a great baseball team which was all about the sport. Most of the time however, sports films deal with larger issues such as those tackled in “Remember the Titans” or “The Blind Side.” Now we have the hockey film “Goon,” which doesn’t attempt to do anything of the sort.
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Mirror Mirror
Rated: PG
“Snow White” is one of the most beloved stories in the Grimm fairy tales collection. When the most well-known adaptation of the story came to film, it represented a landmark in animation and the first full-length feature film from Walt Disney. Over the years, there have been several more adaptations, which brings us to “Mirror Mirror,” the first of two big “Snow White” films coming out this year that offer a twist on the old tale.
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The Hunger Games
Rated: PG-13
“The Hunger Games” is basically a far tamer version of a story already told over a decade earlier in Kinji Fukasaku’s masterpiece “Battle Royale,” itself based on a book by Koushun Takami. Both stories are set in a dystopian future and tell of young kids forced by the government to fight each other to the death in a gruesome battle where there can only be one victor. The author of “The Hunger Games,” Suzanne Collins, claimed to have never heard of “BR” before getting her book published. Did anyone actually believe her? Not really, but she did make a few changes in an attempt to make the story her own, and what results is a decent take on this already-told tale.
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Brake
Rated: R
Gabe Torres’s “Brake” is the kind of film that “Buried” was trying to be just a couple of years ago. They both want to be single-location, highly-suspenseful one-man shows that take the audience on a wild ride, and yet, neither film is completely successful at accomplishing this. “Buried” didn’t work all that well because it simply didn’t have that much suspense to it. “Brake” doesn’t really have that problem, but there are certain issues that it has, particularly in its ending, that stop it from being as strong as it might have been.
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Detachment
Rated: NR
It seems like it’s been awhile since we’ve had a “good teacher trying to make a difference in a bad school” movie. It’s a premise we’ve seen many, many times before in films like “Stand and Deliver” and “Dangerous Minds.” We’ve even seen the principal get involved when it comes to getting those low test scores up in “Lean on Me.” Now we have “Detachment,” a film that attempts not only to be this same genre, but also several other things at the same time.
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21 Jump Street
Rated: R
“21 Jump Street” is yet another example of one of those films where I had one set of expectations going in, but left pleasantly surprised. What happens sometimes is that the trailer won’t make the film look funny at all, perhaps because it isn’t or, such as happened in this case, they saved the good material for when people actually go see the film, and as it turns out, there was more than enough of that good material to go around.
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John Carter
Rated: PG-13
“John Carter” is a strange combination of genres that we don’t get to see very often. On the one hand, it wants to be a western, borrowing several elements of the genre, and on the other, it wants to be a science-fiction action epic with its multiple action sequences featuring lots of bizarre alien technology. The last time we saw these two genres blended together (“Cowboys & Aliens”), things didn’t turn out quite so well, but that didn’t deter these filmmakers from attempting to bring Edgar Rice Burroughs’s story to life.
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Friends with Kids
Rated: R
“Friends with Kids” adds a new level of frustration to the same old romantic-comedy formula that we’ve seen thousands of times before. Usually that frustration merely stems from the fact that you have to wait for the couple, whether they’re first meeting or have been longtime friends, to finally figure out that they love each other and want to be together. The couple in this film not only does that, but they are also completely thoughtless about their actions before getting to that point.
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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Rated: PG-13
“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” was very similar to another recent disastrous film-going experience I had. You may recall how I described “Underworld: Awakening” as “a film that was so soulless and so lifeless that it had not made a single bit of impact while it was playing.” Well, the “Ghost Rider” sequel made me feel that way all over again.
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Chronicle
Rated: PG-13
With the myriad of terrible “found footage” films we get nowadays (“Apollo 18,” “The Last Exorcism,” and all three “Paranormal Activity” films to name a few), it’s quite refreshing to see one that’s well-done. Such is the case with Josh Trank’s “Chronicle,” a film that uses a similar technique, but actually has an interesting plot and characters to go along with it, which easily puts it in the upper tiers of this done-to-death genre.
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This Means War
Rated: PG-13
“This Means War” features a premise that is incredibly preposterous, yet it wants us to believe that this could really be happening. The problem is not that two men can’t be vying for the same woman, that kind of thing probably happens quite a lot.
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The Vow
Rated: PG-13
“The Vow” is a sweet-natured film that asks some very intriguing questions: Can a couple fall in love again if one of them can’t even remember the other? Can these things only happen once under very specific circumstances or will they happen anyway as though they were meant to be? These questions could have made for a rather interesting film, but due to an overly-sappy, predictable treatment of the material, that’s not exactly what we get.
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Rampart
Rated: R
David Brown (Woody Harrelson) is a cop for the LAPD whose volatile nature has always been a problem for him. Several years ago, he was accused of murdering a date rapist and now he has been caught on camera viciously attacking a man who crashed into his police car. The LAPD is already embroiled in a tough scandal when this occurs, so the incident only serves to make things worse between the police and the public.
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The Secret World of Arrietty
Rated: G
Shawn (Voice of David Henrie), a sickly young boy, has come to live with his Aunt (Voice of Gracle Poletti) and their housekeeper, Hara (Voice of Carol Burnett), in a house in the country in order to get some rest before an operation.
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Man on a Ledge
Rated: PG-13
“Man on a Ledge” is not a film that will change the way we look at thrillers, but it is a film that has enough thrills to provide for a very entertaining ride. Sure it gets a little silly at times, and you may even find yourself in disbelief at some of the events, but thanks to an engaging premise, some tension, and a few well-shot action scenes, the film keeps you intrigued as it hurtles through its story.
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Safe House
Rated: R
There are action films that try to engage an audience by having well-developed plots and characters, and then there are action films like “Safe House,” where the filmmakers try to make it as noisy as they can in hopes of at least keeping their audience awake. It becomes a prime example of why no matter how many chases and other action sequences they may throw into the mix, they can’t even begin to make up for the more important elements.
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The Grey
Rated: R
Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” is a study in surviving in the cold wilderness of the far north. It’s an odd mixture of this survival story and philosophical quandaries that ends up missing one key ingredient, and yet the film is not completely without its merits. There are points where you can feel the filmmakers really trying to get their point across, only to have it lost again in a film that gets its story stuck in a rut.
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Red Tails
Rated: PG-13
“Red Tails” is an attempt to tell the tale of the brave African-American squadron of fighter pilots who flew multiple missions during World War II. It’s a tale that deserves to be told, but it’s also one that deserves better treatment than the filmmakers give it here, because the way it’s presented in this film, you would think that they aren’t taking the subject particularly seriously.
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The Innkeepers
Rated: R
It seems that we traditionally get one or two of these “haunted house” films a year. Sometimes they are done extremely well with a prime example being “The Others,” where atmosphere and story blend together to form an effective thriller. Then there are other times where things almost come together, such as with the recent “Insidious,” where the atmosphere is present, but the story gets too far out there to be affective.
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We Need to Talk About Kevin
Rated: R
Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a bleak, depressing, and haunting portrait of a woman who tries to come to terms with the fact that her son is a monster. It slowly unravels its tale through flashbacks that tell us what happened to make this so. There is, of course, no easy explanation, but rather a series of events that point to a few possibilities of how things got to be the way they are. What unfolds is not an easy story to watch, but it is also one of the best films of the year.
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Haywire
Rated: R
This week, I’ve seen all kinds of storytelling techniques. There’s been a film with a thread of a story trying to prop itself up on action sequences. There’s been a film that actually had an engaging storyline that made itself more and more intense by upping the stakes. Now we have a peculiar way of trying to tell a story that does a little better than the first, which is saving the last ten minutes of the film for an attempt to put one together at the last minute, but which unfortunately doesn’t meet the standards of the second.
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Contraband
Rated: R
Baltasar Kormakur’s “Contraband” may seem like the standard, clichéd action movie that we’ve seen several times before, but it’s also one of the instances where it’s done surprisingly well. Here’s a film that could have simply put the story on autopilot for the whole movie and allowed the action scenes to take over, but the story is actually the surprising element. It twists and turns and takes the audience right along for the ride, allowing you to get caught up in wondering what could possibly happen next.
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Underworld: Awakening
Rated: R
“Underworld: Awakening” was a very odd movie-going experience. The film was on the screen and was suddenly off again. Approximately 80 minutes had passed by, but absolutely nothing of consequence had occurred during that time. This was a film that was so soulless and so lifeless that it had not made a single bit of impact while it was playing. It’s no wonder the studio decided to release it in January, aka “dump month.”
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The Iron Lady
Rated: PG-13
Phyllida Lloyd’s “The Iron Lady” presents a portrait of one of the most famous women in the history of the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher, their first female Prime Minister. However, it does this in more than one sense of the word. While it does attempt to tell us about her life, the film feels like you are merely looking at an actual painting of the ex-Prime Minister for all the information this film presents about this extraordinary woman.
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Carnage
Rated: R
Roman Polanski’s “Carnage” presents us with an incredibly simple premise. One couple has come over to another couples home in order to discuss an incident that involved their kids, one of whom hit the other in the face with a stick. Everything starts off fine.
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Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Rated: R
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is based on the popular spy novel by John le Carre which was previously adapted into a TV miniseries back in 1979. Having never read the book or seen the miniseries, I walked into the new version of the film having been forewarned that it can be a bit hard to keep track of what with multiple characters and events having been condensed from a complex novel, and while it is a little hard to follow at times, it’s not the audience I would blame for this problem.
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The Adventures of Tintin
Rated: PG
In the first of his two films coming out this month, Steven Spielberg brings us his first animated feature, an adaptation of the beloved Belgian comics “The Adventures of Tintin” by Georges Rémi, aka Hergé. It has been said that Hergé believed that Spielberg was the only one who would be able to do justice to his work, and after having spent over 25 years trying to get the film made, Spielberg has finally delivered a result that is quite extraordinary.
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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Rated: R
The story follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who has just wrapped up a lawsuit placed against him for libel against a businessman. While celebrating the holidays with his family and friends, he gets a phone call from the lawyer of Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), informing Mikael that Henrik would like to see him right away.
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Young Adult
Rated: R
The story revolves around Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), an author of a young adult book series that is coming to an end. One day, she receives an announcement from an old flame of hers, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson), that he and his wife, Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), have had a baby.
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Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Rated: PG-13
Now comes the fourth entry in the series, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” which takes the series to a whole new level of non-stop action, so much so that it’ll take your breath away as it relentlessly hurtles you through the IMF’s latest mission.
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The Descendants
Rated: R
Matt King (George Clooney) has recently gone through tragedy that has left his wife, Elizabeth, in a coma. For the first time, he finds himself taking care of their young daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), something he doesn’t really know much about doing...
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A Dangerous Method
Rated: R
Director/writer David Cronenberg has had quite a strange career. He’s given us some fascinating and memorable films like “A History of Violence,” “The Fly,” and “Naked Lunch,” but like most directors, he has also had his pitfalls with earlier films like “Videodrome” and “The Brood.” Now Cronenberg completely changes gears to bring us something that’s quite unlike his usual areas of interest.
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Hugo
Rated: PG
Director Martin Scorsese has been known to try a hand at several different genres. He’s most well-known for his films that take a darker look at humanity, though he has given us a pair of comedies and some documentaries as well.
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Like Crazy
Rated: PG-13
“Like Crazy” attempts to show us a real take on first love. It takes us through the ups and downs of the relationship as the two come together and are drawn apart over and over again, showing us that, no matter how many obstacles get in the way, it’s hard to forget that certain someone you had special feelings for.
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Arthur Christmas
Rated: PG
“Arthur Christmas” is a family film with its heart in the right place. It seeks to please children with its light story, colorful animation, and some amusing humor. For the adults in the crowd, however, this may not be quite enough to equate the film as an altogether enjoyable experience.
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The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1
Rated: PG-13
The soap opera continues in “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1.” Up to this point, my reviews have been rather lenient on this series, but with this new entry, it gets taken to an all-time low. It has the same problems as the other films (overly-melodramatic, terrible acting, etc.), but somehow there manages to be even less of a plot than before, which is saying quite a lot as there hasn’t been much happening throughout the previous three films.
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Immortals
Rated: R
“Immortals” is an exercise in the age-old cliché of style over substance. It’s a very pretty looking film, but there’s nothing underneath the surface. It’s one thing to go into a movie and turn your brain off, but it’s quite another thing to go into a movie, attempt to turn your brain off, and end up laughing at the absurdity of a story that is so full of holes that you could march an entire Greek army right through it.
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Melancholia
Rated: R
Some of you may recall the name Lars von Trier. It was he who merely two years ago directed the worst film of 2009, “Antichrist,” an abhorrent experience best forgotten. This year, he returns with something completely different, a strange and unusual film that encompasses a marriage falling apart on the same day as the wedding as well as the end of the world.
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11-11-11
Rated: R
Director/writer Darren Lynn Bousman has given us some of the worst films of the last few years including “Saw II, III, and IV” as well as “Repo! The Genetic Opera.” Now he returns with his latest mess, another attempt at a horror film that remains just that, an attempt.
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Anonymous
Rated: PG-13
We all know that William Shakespeare is arguably the best playwright to have ever lived, having given us such masterpieces as “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet,” and “Macbeth,” but what if everything we’ve been told about him was a lie?
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Tower Heist
Rated: PG-13
It’s always a pleasant surprise to go into a film with one set of expectations and come out surprised at the result. “Tower Heist” looked as though it was a desperate attempt to bring together some comedic actors for a few laughs, and let’s face it, to find the last good movies that either Ben Stiller or Eddie Murphy have been in, you’d have to go back a few years. However, “Tower Heist” provides just this kind of surprise as it delivers not only on the humor, but also with its interesting plot.
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The Rum Diary
Rated: R
“The Rum Diary” is based on a novel written by the eccentric journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who many remember as the creator of Gonzo Journalism and for his use of multiple drugs.
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In Time
Rated: PG-13
“In Time” is set in a future where people are genetically-engineered to stop aging at 25, but after that, they only have a year to live, meaning they must acquire more time. It is time that has become the currency instead of regular money. People work for it, spend it, and in some cases, steal it.
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Puss in Boots
Rated: PG
The film, which acts as a backstory for Puss (Voice of Antonio Banderas), tells of his life before he met Shrek. He was notorious as a thief and, supposedly, as a womanizer. When he hears rumors of Jack (Voice of Billy Bob Thorton) and Jill (Voice of Amy Sedaris) having found the legendary magic beans, he decides to go after them himself.
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Johnny English Reborn
Rated: PG
Eight years ago there was a small spy-spoof film called “Johnny English.” It wasn’t a particularly good film, but not particularly bad either. We had already had three “Austin Powers” films by that point however, so it’s fair to say that this particular spoof had already been done to death by the time “English” came along.
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Paranormal Activity 3
Rated: R
This time around, a batch of tapes from Katie and Kristi’s childhood are found (of course, these weren’t found until now). These videos document their father, Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith), trying to find evidence of something strange going on in their house after he sees something mysterious in a tape of him with his wife, Julie (Lauren Bittner).
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The Three Musketeers
Rated: PG-13
Set against the backdrop of 17th century Europe, three of the king’s musketeers, Athos (Matthew Macfadyen), Aramis (Luke Evans), and Porthos (Ray Stevenson), have been sent to Venice to steal plans for an airship from the vault of Leonardo de Vinci. However, when they think they’ve completed their mission, they are betrayed by their companion, Milady (Milla Jovovich), who is in league with the Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom).
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The Ides of March
Rated: R
George Clooney’s “The Ides of March” is a stark look at the ruthlessness involved in the world of politics. It presents two candidates vying for one position. Only one can have it. Those candidates and their campaign managers are willing to do whatever it takes to get it and are not shy when it comes to playing games of manipulation, backstabbing, and blackmail in order to accomplish their goals...
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Real Steel
Rated: PG-13
Boxing has never really made a particularly interesting subject for film. There have, of course, been exceptions to the rule in films like “Raging Bull” and “Cinderella Man,” but for films like this to succeed, they need to be about more than boxing and have fleshed-out characters that the audience can come to care about through good writing and development. On this basis...
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Dream House
Rated: PG-13
“Dream House” is a mess of a film. This is not only because its writing is amateurish, but also because the film itself seemed like it was someone’s first attempt at putting a film together. Having a director like six-time Academy Award nominee Jim Sheridan attached makes this seem impossible, but when you learn of the film’s troubled production, things begin to become a little clearer as to what went wrong.
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Abduction
Rated: PG-13
“Abduction” is the kind of movie that shows just how important it is to have a strong script and a lead actor who can carry a film. Sadly, this film has neither, leading one to think that either nobody involved in production bothered reading the script before it got underway or none of the them had ever witnessed Taylor Lautner attempting to act before, perhaps both.
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Killer Elite
Rated: R
If you’ve seen the trailers and ads for “Killer Elite” then you pretty much know exactly what kind of movie you are going to get. The marketing has featured Jason Statham and Clive Owen running around, fighting and shooting people, and this is practically the movie in a nutshell.
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Moneyball
Rated: PG-13
Back in the early 2000s, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane, was faced with a tough problem. Using only the small payroll at his disposal, he had to attempt to put together a team that could compete in the big leagues. Now his story is being retold in Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” a film that, at first looked like your typical, uplifting sports film, but thanks to the talent involved, it ends up being something a little more than that.
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Contagion
Rated: PG-13
“Contagion” is a tale we’ve seen told several times before on smaller scales, but this time it’s brought to us with perhaps the largest Oscar-nominated/winning cast in history and it’s even directed by another Oscar winner, Steven Soderbergh.
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Apollo 18
Rated: PG-13
Here we have yet another entry in the increasingly-tiresome “found footage” genre that attempts to elicit thrills and chills by showing us strange and disconcerting scenes that filmmakers would like us to believe are a true document of an event. One of the main problems is that this is a genre that’s been done to death already...
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The Debt
Rated: R
“The Debt” is a spy thriller that was originally supposed to be released at the end of last year, and while the reason given for its move is the studio changing to new owners, the film offers up more conclusive reasons for why it specifically would have been delayed. For starters, for a thriller, there are almost no thrills to be had in a story spanning 30 years that tries to cover a heroic mission. However, the story itself is another problem.
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Colombiana
Rated: PG-13
The writing team behind the great thriller “Taken” brings us another out-for-revenge film with their latest collaboration, “Colombiana.” It’s being marketed as a non-stop action-thriller with a main character not letting anyone get in here way as she tries to complete her mission, and while that is what we get in part, it’s certainly not the whole film.
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Fright Night
Rated: R
Many look back on the original “Fright Night” from 1985 as a cult classic. It had its good elements including an interesting blend of genres and a really good performance from Roddy McDowall, but admittedly, I was not a big fan of it. So now, 26 years later, though no one was really demanding one, a remake could be just what is needed for it.
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Cowboys & Aliens
Rated: PG-13
Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys & Aliens” is a film that starts off with promise, but quickly loses its way as it tries to merge two different genres. At its core, it seems the writers wanted to make it a solid western, but perhaps they felt that just wasn’t mainstream enough, so...
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Crazy, Stupid, Love
Rated: PG-13
This week brings the release of “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” a film that only follows parts of the age-old formula and instead approaches it with a different tone. Whereas most romantic-comedies will have a light, playful tone throughout most of the film proceeded by a sadder tone while we wait for the characters to get together, the way this film goes about it presents a sadder mood from the start...
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Friends with Benefits
Rated: R
Just last year, director Will Gluck gave us the surprisingly hilarious comedy “Easy A.” Now he sets his sights on the conventional romantic-comedy with “Friends with Benefits” that revolves around two friends using each other as sex partners and nothing more.
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Horrible Bosses
Rated: R
Seth Gordon’s “Horrible Bosses” is another one of those comedies that came out of nowhere and ended up being quite surprising thanks to the recent tradition of misleading trailers. The trailer for the film had made it look like it would be ok at best, not really showing much in the way of comedy, but it turns out that this is a good thing...
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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
Rated: PG-13
It’s been coming for ten years, but now at last it’s here: The final adventure of Harry Potter. We’ve seen Harry, Ron, and Hermione go through quite a bit since their first days at Hogwarts...
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Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Rated: PG-13
Merely two years ago, Michael Bay released the disastrous sequel to his original Transformers film. The film had a mixture of problems including the plot, characters, visual effects, editing, and the obsessive length. Now he brings us the third part of the trilogy, and having seemingly learned nothing from the last film, allows just about all of the same mistakes to be made yet again.
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Bad Teacher
Rated: R
“Bad Teacher” is one of those movies that causes me to rethink my priorities when reviewing a film...
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Green Lantern
Rated: PG-13
This week’s entry in the recent plethora of superhero films is “Green Lantern,” another adaptation from the DC Comics universe. This is yet another situation where I’ve never read any of the comics, nor do I know the slightest thing about this character’s mythology, so...
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Midnight in Paris
Rated: PG-13
Woody Allen returns to direct his 41st film with “Midnight in Paris,” the film that opened the Cannes Film Festival this year. Allen has been through a bit of a rough patch with his last two films, “Whatever Works” and “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” both of which just didn’t work very well. However, I’m glad to report that he’s returned to his old self with this sweet, charming, and magical story that comes off as strange even for Allen.
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X-Men: First Class
Rated: PG-13
The trend of superheroes and sequels continues with Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class.” It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the whole X-Men gang together. If you don’t count Wolverine’s solo origin story (it seems that most people would rather forget that even happened) then it’s been five years since “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
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Kung Fu Panda 2
Rated: PG
2008 brought us the first "Kung Fu Panda" film which was a wonderful blend of excellent voice acting, gorgeous visuals, and superbly done action sequences. Three years later we have a sequel which delivers in the same areas as the original while giving us a more in depth story, one that becomes more emotionally involving now that we are well acquainted with the characters.
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The Hangover Part II
Rated: R
Merely two years ago, “The Hangover” was released to both critical and financial success. Now, as expected, we are faced with the sequel which puts most of the characters back into a very similar situation that they found themselves in in Las Vegas. Admittedly, I didn’t find the first film all that funny. It had its moments, but...
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Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Rated: PG-13
It’s been four years since we last saw Captain Jack Sparrow and his mates sail the seas, but they’re finally back for this fourth outing, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”
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Priest
Rated: PG-13
"Priest" is one of those films you will forget about approximately five minutes after it's over. There is absolutely nothing memorable or noteworthy about it. In a sense, it reminded me a lot of another recent disaster, "Jonah Hex," mainly because...
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Thor
Rated: PG-13
Summer blockbuster season finally kicks into gear with the release of “Thor,” based on the popular Marvel comic superhero. “Thor” is merely the first in a long line of superhero films that are coming out in the next year or two that includes “Captain America,” “X-Men: First Class,” and “The Avengers,” and I’m glad to say that this trend has started off with a bang...
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Fast Five
Rated: PG-13
Here we have the fifth (!) entry in the “Fast and the Furious” franchise. Can you believe it’s already been allowed to get this far? Though I suppose writing a movie about cars going fast is not particularly hard. Throw in a race, a chase, and a shoestring plot and you have yourself another one of these films...
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