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Out in Theaters: ‘HELL OR HIGH WATER’

Over a hand of cards, Ben Foster’s Tanner stares daggers at a rival player. “Don’t chase me, Comanche,” he taunts, pushing a healthy pile of chips towards the pot, bloodlust flaring in his pupils. Comanche chases. And wins. Tanner slinks away, tail defiantly untucked. The chip-rich champion carnivorously confronts him, “Do you know what Comanche means?” Violence seems imminent. It hovers; an invisible, palpable force. “Enemy to everyone,” the Comanche growls. Tanner stares back dead-eyed, unsure if this confrontation spells death. Not seeming to care either way. Pimple-inducing tension streaks through the scene like nudists at a Pride parade. Sweat drips down the screen. “You know what that makes me?” Tanner’s response stabs, barbed as a butterfly knife. “A fucking Comanche.”
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Out in Theaters: ‘STAR TREK BEYOND’

Beyond darkness. Beyond logic. Beyond hope. The latest Star Trek film zooms beyond at hyper speed, rarely pausing to strike a Thinker’s pose. (Though it would rather like you to think it does.) Whereas Auguste Rodin’s bronze baby heralds contemplation, Star Trek Beyond plows through any fleeting semblance of intelligence like a horde of metal space bees engaged in kamikaze. Failing to ruminate on why audiences ought to care one iota about its disposable, busied antics. Hurrying from one expense-sheet-filling green-screen scuttlebutt to the next. Over-relying on character relationships that are age old but still skin-deep. Just another blockbuster puffy with CG steroids that’s lacking a brain, passing off sentimentality as heart and blahly going where we’ve all certainly been before. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘THE FINEST HOURS’

Craig Gillespie experienced his breakout “hit” in 2007 at the Toronto International Film Festival with Lars and the Real Girl. You know the one. That strange indie splash that made leagues of women (and men) jealous of an inanimate sex doll, quasi-adorably (and entirely eerily) doted on by a mustached Ryan Gosling. From there, Gillespie directed an underrated and ably cast remake of Fright Night. As a suave vampire, Collin Ferrell gave his crowning scenery (and neck) chewing performance. Some would call this Gillespie’s transition to the mainstream and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong, though the Disney-produced baseball drama The Million Dollar Arm really saw the last twinkle of a celebrated indie director taken by the vast empire of film as multi-media conglomerate.  Read More

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Out in Theaters: Z FOR ZACHARIAH

*This is a reprint of our 2015 Sundance review

There are so many pivot points in Z for Zachariah that it becomes hard to nail down exactly what director Craig Zobel intended for it. At one point, it seems decidedly about gender politics, at another about race relations, and eventually it boiled down to themes of suspicion, greed and jealousy. Spliced with a domineering amount of ambiguity. All this from a cast of three. To call it thematically rich may be overly generous – maybe thematically crowded would hit the nail on the head more – but nonetheless, it strives for something thoughtful and great, even when it comes up just short. Read More

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Sundance Review: Z FOR ZACHARIAH

There are so many pivot points in Z for Zachariah that it becomes hard to nail down exactly what director Craig Zobel intended for it. At one point, it seems decidedly about gender politics, at another about race relations, and eventually it boiled down to themes of suspicion, greed and jealousy. Spliced with a domineering amount of ambiguity. All this from a cast of three. To call it thematically rich may be overly generous – maybe thematically crowded would hit the nail on the head more – but nonetheless, it strives for something thoughtful and great, even when it comes up just short. Read More

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Out in Theaters: INTO THE WOODS

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Last year, Telltale Games released a video game called “The Wolf Among Us.” The interactive story re-imagined fairy tales of lore – from Snow White to Georgie Porgie – as a community of troubled New Yorkers caught up in a multiple homicide investigation. You play as Bigby Wolf, a detective with a past as coarse as his beard hair, now a man doing his best to pay penance for the huffing and puffing of his past.

Rob Marshall‘s Into the Woods has its own Big, Bad Wolf – Johnny Depp with a crumpled mustache and a rapey solo track. He bays at the moon while singing about how badly he wants to gobble up Red Riding Hood. It’s weird, off-putting and noxious – essential Depp 101. Where Telltale was able to take familiar characters and weave a story around them that benefits from our understanding of their respective fables, Into the Woods relies entirely on mimicking the collective conscious of lore, spoon-feeding  back a narrative that’s more anecdotal smorgasbord than anything refined and singular. It’s one big inside joke that’s sure to tickle musical fans pink while leaving those on the other side of the fence howling for respite.

The story starts out in precious sing-song with a baker and his wife wailing their woes of a womb left barren, a pernicious Little Red (Lilla Crawford) embarking to grandma’s with a basket brimming with baked goods, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) unwittingly off to trade his milky white cow for some magic beans and a spindly witch played by Meryl Streep hemming and hawing about an aged curse and popping in and out of frames in daffy gusts of smoke. Their paths, for one reason or another, have all been pointed into the woods. And so we embark with ballad after ballad, lungs brimming with gusto.

It’s within said woods that The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) must gather a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as gold as…gold? in order to break the curse that Steep’s witch placed on their house many years ago. Many songs follow.

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For those turned off by musical numbers, Into the Woods is an auditory onslaught that fails to break from the repertoire of singing, singing and more singing long enough to develop a story beyond the patchwork of colliding fairy tales. Chris Pine steals the show with in-film brother Billy Magnussen in a number called “Agony” but clever moments of tongue-in-cheek nods to the adults in the audience like this are woefully sparse.

The cast is admittedly stellar – Anna Kendrick, Corden, Blunt, Pine and, to a lesser degree, Streep all own their numbers, even if I personally found some of those numbers grating. But such is the nature of the musical. You’re either in it or you aren’t. It’s just not my cup of tea. What I completely fail to understand is any Oscar buzz surrounding the film as the mere idea of Streep with a nomination frustrates me beyond belief (in a year stuffed with excellent, unsung female performances.) She’s played the Academy Darling card too many times recently, earning a nod nearly every time she puts her face to celluoid. The Iron Lady doth protest too much, methinks.

C

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Out in Theaters: HORRIBLE BOSSES 2

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A comedy sequel that slam-dunks over its predecessor, Horrible Bosses 2 is a sardonic, infantile laugh riot. Joke for joke, it’s more meaty than the 2011 original. The characters are churned up and the window dressings turned down. This has one and only one purpose: to make you laugh.

After decidedly not killing their bosses, Nick, Kurt and Dale have since gone into business for themselves, inventing a product known as the “Shower Buddy.” Their sudsy SkyMall idea lands them a spot on the nightly news (an appearance they accidentally botch with silhouetted sexual references) but not before production baron Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) notices opportunity.

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After ordering thousands of units of the American made all-in-one shower companion, Hanson pulls the plug on NickKurtDale.com (don’t try to say it fast) assuming the company will collapse and he can buy their already manufactured goods for pennies on the dollar. Considering their background in amateur crime, the sloppy trio decide to take matters into their own hands and respond with a kidnapping scheme to bargain Hanson’s son Rex (Chris Pine) to cover their lost capital. Hilarity ensues.

Reviewing comedy is a fickle game and one given over largely to subjectivity but for me, the comedy here really works, improving on a formula that looked better on paper than it actually was the first time around. Horrible Bosses 2 delivers on that promise of unabashed retardation. The first film was a half rack of ribs, occasionally tasty but built on chalky bones, while this is pure brisket; a tenderer cut that trims the fat and leaves just the jokes. The dead air has been filled with sweat, nicknames, non-sequitor and flagrant exaggeration. The archetypes are racketed up well past the point of normalcy and from Kevin Spacey‘s left ear diamond earring to Jamie Foxx‘s Motherfucker Jones penchant for chewing on slurpee straws to Charlie Day‘s perma-coked out mania, the energy of the group is solidified in a sense of juvenile glee nothing short of infectious.

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The main triptych were happy-go-lucky, fairly straight-laced dudes with a little bit of quirk but now their idiosyrnacies have been turned up to cable-network extreme. Jason Bateman is even more of a cowardly, self-righteous asshole. Jason Sudeikis drips numbness while pumping out a stream of off-putting sexual energy. Charlie Day is more, well, Charlie Dayish; his nervous energy and sweaty antics broadcast in all its kooky crack-baby glory. It’s the noisy, chaotic, dummy humor of It’s Always Sunny; the calculated misanthropy of dumb dudes doing dumb deeds.

Yes, Jennifer Aniston and her carnal explicitness busted my gut. Pine proved (yet again) that maybe comedy is what he was made for. And Day, Bateman and Sudeikis are all right on the money. It was a solution of funny people doing funny things and it had me laughing the whole way through. That’s not to say that what worked for me will necessarily work for you though. In fact, many will likely be put off by Horrible Bosses 2‘s short-order comedy. For me though, it’s one of the best studio comedies of the year; a hearty step up from their first outing and a nearly laugh a minute affair. Bring on number three. 

B

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HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 Nabs Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz

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Is Hollywood so unimaginative that it has to rehash an idea as simple as Horrible Bosses? Even after lackluster numbers, it appears that the 2011 comedy will attempt to flower into a franchise after all.  Confirmed to play a new horrible boss/father-son duo are Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz. Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis will reprise their roles as the extremely unlucky guys who just can’t seem to find a good boss, a feat proven tricky when you’ve attempted to murder your last bosses.

What else is there to say about Christoph Waltz? He can do no wrong. One can imagine that he is swimming in scripts for better movies than this, so it must be okay. Right? Chris Pine has also proven to be pretty solid talent lately and it will be interesting to see how he handles a comedic role. The few comedic moments in the new Star Trek films were well executed by him.

Hopefully they don’t go the route taken by Hangover 2 and do the exact plot again. However, it’s difficult to imagine a much broader scope when the film is called Horrible Bosses. You pretty much know what you are in for.

I am currently working on the third film in the series, where the protagonists work in a Chinese factory and commit suicide after 2 hours of existential pondering and hopelessness. At least that’d be something new.

Horrible Bosses 2 is directed by Sean Anders and stars Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz. It hits theaters on November 28, 2014.

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New JACK RYAN Trailer Looks Pretty Generic

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Paramount seems to be on a bit of a marketing blitz for Jack Ryan, the CIA operative, spy thriller starring Chris Pine, as the second trailer just dumped online not even two weeks after the premiere of the first. Maybe the debut trailer wasn’t tracking well with audiences or was failing to amp up anticipation levels but this second one is hardly making up any ground, as quick response has been largely negative.

While it’s hard to judge the quality of an actioner like Jack Ryan well before its release, the culmination of this second trailer has seemed to arrived with a bit of a thud. Obviously, I’ll be amongst those seeing it but I wonder how much of an audience it’ll snag with its Christmas time release. Traditionally, action movies over the Christmas break have seen good return on their investment, but there is no guarantee in a release period overcrowded with competition.

Take a look at this second trailer and see if you would priotize this over Christmas Day competitors American Hustle, 47 Ronin, Anchorman 2, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who also plays the villain in the film), Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit will also feature Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Nonso Anozie, and David Paymer. For now, the film is slated for a Christmas release but, considering the many turning tides of films lately, it’s been rumored to be moving back into January territory. The fact that we’ve yet to see a trailer lends credence to that rumor.

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Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is directed by Kenneth Branagh and stars Chris Pine, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner, Nonso Anozie, and David Paymer. It’s currently set up for a Christmas, 2013 release.

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