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Out in Theaters: ‘DOCTOR STRANGE’

With Doctor Strange, Marvel pries open a doorway to a new realm, one filled with magic and mysticism, dark dimensions and malevolent deities. Filled with heady three-dimensional visuals and eye-bulging psychedelic set pieces, Doctor Strange fulfills the promise of its inspired marketing push. That is, it is as close as Marvel has come to being Inception on crack. And let me assure you, that is a good thing. Led by a game Benedict Cumberbatch playing on type as a smarmy elite member of the intelligentsia, Doctor Strange nonetheless suffers the Marvel formula, the “portal problem” and yet another utterly disposable single serving villain. Read More

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Out in Theaters: ‘HAIL, CAESAR!’

The Coen BrothersHail, Caesar! exists in some zany cinematic purgatory of indecisiveness. Their critique of 1950s Hollywood dwells in an occasionally bemusing middle ground; that is, it can’t decide whether it wants to be a skewering of or a love letter to the golden era of tinsel town. Those who’ve found solace in the bewilderingly esoteric arms of A Serious Man or the bombast of The Hudsucker Proxy will likely concede Hail, Caesar! as a new coming for the seriocomic duo but I like my Coen’s like I like my coffee and Hail, Caesar!’s semi-satirical goofball makeup couldn’t be further from the blackest of comedy that defines the brothers’ greatest ventures. Read More

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Channing Tatum is a Merry Sailor in Trailer for Coen Bro’s ‘HAIL, CAESAR!’

Have you ever wondered what Channing Tatum would look like in a little sailors outfit? Wonder no more. The trailer for Hail, Caesar!, the newest comedy from Joel and Ethan Coen, has arrived and it looks nothing short of glorious (and features Tatum dressed oh-so-preciously) . Hail, Caesar! tells the story of a tentpole movie production halted when its leading man (George Clooney) is kidnapped and held for ransom. The sure-to-be winning picture is brimming with talent; in addition to Tatum and Clooney, Josh Brolin, Tilda Swinton, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill and Frances McDormand are set to star with cinematography provided by all-star DP Roger Deakins. Read More

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Out in Theaters: TRAINWRECK

*This is a reprint of our 2015 SXSW review

Take it from the effervescently crass mouth of Amy Schumer, “The title was always Trainwreck. Trainwreck or Cum Dumpster.” Oh Amy, you are such just so…you. From talk radio appearances to gross-out Twitter posts, the Schum has crafted her image on being unapologetically, oh-so-adorably crude and in the context of Trainwreck, it’s miraculous to take in. At last night’s premiere, when an audience member inundated her with compliments, she barked, “Stop trying to fuck me.” She has swiftly become the epitome of 21st century feminism-as-middle finger; the crème de la crème of vagina jokes and reverse slut shaming that will melt the lipstick off housewives and zap the calories off your finger sandwiches with her gloriously nasty one-liners and hysterically sexual non-sequiturs. Read More

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SXSW Review: TRAINWRECK

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Take it from the effervescently crass mouth of Amy Schumer, “The title was always Trainwreck. Trainwreck or Cum Dumpster.” Oh Amy, you are such just so…you. From talk radio appearances to gross-out Twitter posts, the Schum has crafted her image on being unapologetically, oh-so-adorably crude and in the context of Trainwreck, it’s miraculous to take in. At last night’s premiere, when an audience member inundated her with compliments, she barked, “Stop trying to fuck me.” She has swiftly become the epitome of 21st century feminism-as-middle finger; the crème de la crème of vagina jokes and reverse slut shaming that will melt the lipstick off housewives and zap the calories off your finger sandwiches with her gloriously nasty one-liners and hysterically sexual non-sequiturs. Read More

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Out in Theaters: SNOWPIERCER

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Global climate change threatens the way of life as we know it (just ask Bill Nye for proof of that.) But not every ailment has an ointment as not every disaster has a solution. Snowpiercer examines a world where a fix-all mechanism for global warming has gone horrible awry and left the world as we know it in frosty tatters, where the only few survivors occupy a train that hasn’t stopped circling the planet for 17 years. It’s a bleak glance into a natural disaster the scope of which we can forecast but not prevent but the true terror lies not in the world outside the train, but the social order which takes hold within it. It’s a distinctly international story (with a cast that’s one gay guy shy of a Benetton ad) about standing up for what’s right and blowing shit up when it refuses to nudge. Rife with sociopolitical commentary and brimming with one-of-a-kind world-building, South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho looked like the perfect guy to take on a thinking man’s actioner of this breed. After all, who else would have dared to end this movie like he did?

When a Doc Brown of an experiment gone bonkers has blanketed the world in sub-zero temperatures and snowbanks the height of The Wall, the only survivors are forced to live out their existence on a deus-ex-machina of a bullet train called the Snowpiercer (from which the movie takes its namesake). The Earth we once inhabited is now one big snowy tundra, a white-washed arctic plains that you wouldn’t last a minute in without being transmogrified into a human popsicle as if from a spell cast in Frozen.  While all forms of life outside the confines of Snowpiercer’s steel belly have turned to ice sculptures, the engine – a figure of Godlike worship – keeps the remainder of humanity shielded from the chilly blast of frozen-over reality lurking just outside.

Inside the Snowpiercer though, a new social order has taken form, mimicking the unjust class ladder of society’s past. Not an improvement of civilization pre-Snowpiercer so much a magnified extension of it, the sociopolitical climate inside this Energizer bunny of a train is as icy as the winter chills outside it. In the front, passengers throb in beat-dropping clubs and eat their bi-annual plate of sushi while the tail section contains a gang of inexplicably reviled third-class citizens; they’ve no voice in their destiny, sparse food aside from black, gelatinous bars and often no extremities. This seems to be because whenever these tailies act out, a toothy bureaucrat (Tilda Swinton) plugs a metal band around their arm and pops it out of the train. Rather than turning dark with frost bite, their snow-blasted limbs take on a White Walker cool and are promptly ice-picked from their bodies. It’s no question that social justice has no chance to spark amongst the ranks of the have-nots.

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Their soot-faced languor and impossible quality of life catalyses an insurgency amongst the more able-bodied ranks, including Curtis (Chris Evans aka Captain America himself). Even in the face of C3PO-esque unlikely odds, this Winter Soldier has the brass to incite a doomed riot, leading a band of roguish anarchs that includes Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, and quite limbless John Hurt towards the Snowpiercer’s engine and their ultimate redemption.

Along the way, Joon-Ho’s customary political undercurrents rage strongly but his critique is more wide ranging – and potentially even more damning – this time round. Snowpiercer is not a condemnation of government misconduct and fallibility (see: The Host) but of humanity itself. His latest film seems to say that humanity and inequality exist in symbiotic harmony and that one simply cannot exist without the other. Darwin’s survival of the fittest has never felt so punitive.

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The horrors of a socially enforced caste system are all the more distressing when magnified to this degree and Snowpiercer‘s cross section of inequality reveals spurring commentary on global disproportion that exists today. Sometimes you have to strip back the world to see the festering rot scurrying beneath and sometimes you have to cover it in ice to cull the warmth hidden inside. This way, it’s all the easier to pluck out the icy hearts that steer our world – or is it train? – towards a skewed and skewered social order from the fiery passion of human’s softer, more admirable side. It cuts in two ways: there’s always someone at the front of the train whose convictions have to be as chilly as their resolve in order to keep this train running. Is it then a coincide that injustice is spelled in just ice? (Sorry for the bad pun.)

And nothing speaks to this tattered circumstance more than the adroit set design from Ondrej Nekvasil who carves the train into reality without much use of CGI while amplifying the underlying themes of class oppression. If not entirely realistic (where do they all sleep?!?!), it’s still mighty impressive to behold and a lot of fun to journey through.

Using this mesmerizing set to the advantage of his storytelling is Joon-Ho’s strong suit just as his lack of knack for action is his Achilles’ heel. In the big spectacle scenes, his frantic camerawork proves that his ability to direct action leaves much to be desired. Though it may seem amiss to be complaining about these blockbusting portions of a movie clearly operating on more political tracks, the fact of the matter is that when Joon-Ho does take to showman scene work, he slips as if on black ice. And that’s not his only misstep.

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The language barrier between him and his cast seem to have gotten the better of some scenes, with hammy dialogue that just doesn’t roll off the tongue throwing a palpable stick in the spokes. While some of the performers are better able to gnaw into the campy dialogue (see: Swinton and her scene-chewing chompers), others, such as Evans, look caught off guard and quite frankly look silly when spewing a mouthful of affected jargon. It’s a relatively minor complaint in a movie that sees a frickin’ never-ending train as the means for surviving the next Ice Age but it was a hang up I wasn’t able to fully ignore.

This all comes to a head when you really stop to dissect the many parts and pieces of Snowpiercer but – much like the train itself – I can’t help but admire what an unconventional product it really is. Joon-Ho is as eccentric a filmmaker as you can get – after all he did make a monster movie that shifted towards the South Korean government being the ultimate baddie. This being his first go in English with a cast of this caliber, it’s no wonder that he’s got a little slop-rock in his ballad. But even the finest of tunes have a wrong note here and there. As such, Snowpiercer‘s messy but beautifully imperfect. After all, you can’t have your ice-cream cake and eat it too.

B

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Out in Theaters: THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

“The Grand Budapest Hotel”
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Mathieu Amalric, Tom Wilkinson
Comedy, Drama  
100 Mins
R

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Fiennes, Brody, Dafoe, Goldblum, Murray, Law, Swinton, Ronan, Norton, Keitel, Schwartzman, Seydoux, Wilson, Balaban, Amalric, Wilkinson. Wes Anderson‘s latest may have more big names working for it than ever before but their characters are more paper thin than they’ve been, more fizzle than tonic, more Frankenstein’s creations than humans. His company of regulars – joined by a vast scattering of newbies – are relegated to playing furniure-chomping bit roles, filling the shoes of cartoonish sketches, slinking in long shadows of characters. From Willem Dafoe‘s brutish, brass-knuckled Jopling to a caked-up and aged Tilda Swinton, gone are the brooding and calculated, flawed and angsty but always relatable characters of Wes yore. In their place, a series of dusty cardboard cutouts; fun but irrevocably inhuman.

Here in 2014, Anderson’s ability to attract such a gathering of marquee names to his eccentric scripts has never been as potent. He’s a talent magnet and his tractor beam is set to high. It’s just too bad that this gathering of the juggalos is as caricaturesque as they are (arguable even more than the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox). But what can you expect when your face is painted up and you’re dressed like a Slovenian underground fashion show. Upon dissecting what he’s got to offer, the seemingly indelible Wes Anderson appeal is as clear as day.

In the jungle of Hollywood, roles are mostly relegated one of two ways: the tentpole blockbusters, where characters are written like ham steaks – vessels for plot diversions, jukeboxes for one-liners, sarcophagi for the next action scene – and the smaller budgeted “independent” movie, wherein the tone is usually somber, the scenery is left unchewed, and emotional preparation ought to be through the roof. Anderson’s films flirt a very thin middle ground, a Bermuda triangle between indie cred and mainstream. To his credit, it looks like a blast.

Inside his pictures, Anderson’s stars are afforded a chance to play dress up in the midst of gorgeous sets at exciting locales. What’s not to love? Plus, this particular project had an added advantage: European travel. For these thespians, being a part of Anderson’s playground is like being a kid again. However, their childishness is more apparent here than in any of Anderson’s finest work (save for maybe Moonrise Kingdom). But through the haze of these colorful yet superficial oddities shines Ralph FiennesMonsieur Gustave, a beacon of complexity in an otherwise skin-deep cast of characters.

Gustave is a relic of the past. He’s an icon of chivalry, a servant dedicated to his craft, a well-groomed pet for his adoring clientele. He sluts it up for the elderly ladies who pass through his hotel (but he enjoys it too, so he tells us), making him a bit of a tourist attraction in himself. A hot springs for wilting feminine physiques, Gustave becomes the recipient of a pricy artifact (an ironic art piece called “Boy with Apple” – the customary brand of wry Anderson platitudes) when one of his doting golden-agers (Swinton) bites the dust. With her family trying to discredit him and blame the murder his way, Gustave must go on the run.

The cat and mouse, European romp to follow is as much an episode of Tom and Jerry as it is The Great Escape. Fiennes’ soulful gravitas brings immeasurable life to what is otherwise a series of cartoonish escape plots and hijinks. Anderson’s offerings are easy to consume and his persnickety eye for detail and Fiennes’ brilliant performance brings life by the pound to the otherwise far-fetched proceedings.

In this recent turn in his career, Wes Anderson has almost becoming a mockery of Wes Anderson. Though I thoroughly enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel it lacks the rounded emotional honesty of his pre-Fox efforts. He’s lost the intellectual intensity he had going in Rushmore, The Royal Tenanbaums and (I know I’m in the minority here) Darjeeling Limited, largely replaced by quirk by the bucket and enough billable names to make your head spin.  Nevertheless, Fiennes is magical; a perfect vessel for Andersonisms, the savior of the show.

B+

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Jim Jarmusch Does Vampires in ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE Trailer


From indie director Jim Jarmusch (Broken Flowers, Ghost Dog) comes a vampire feature geared towards adults. While hardly the stuff of True Blood, Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive tells the tale of a musician vampire who reconnects with an old flame, also vampiric. Starring Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) and Tilda Swinton (Moonrise Kingdom), Only Lovers Left Alive screened to favorable reviews at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The synopsis, per Wikipedia, is as follows:

After being around for centuries and now living in the modern age, vampire Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a rockstar who cannot grow accustomed to the new modern world with all of its new technology. While he lives in Detroit, his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton) lives in Tangier, flourishing in the new world. But when she senses Adam’s depression with society, she gets on a plane and goes to see him. Shortly after Eve gets there, her little sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), shows up after 87 years and disrupts the couple’s idyll reunion.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BN6jVUW2XZM

Only Lovers Left Alive is directed by Jim Jarmusch and stars Tom Hindleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt, and Anton Yelchin. There is no official release date yet.

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First Poster for Wes Anderson's THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

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As an obsessive Wes Anderson fan, I relish in any piece of his inspired artwork, so while most posters don’t really get me excited, this one for The Grand Budapest Hotel does for all of its Wes Anderson-esque goodness. While I rather enjoyed his last film, Moonrise Kingdom, it was hardly one of my favorite of his and I’m excited to see Anderson return to the adult world. As always, he’s got a cast and crew to be oogled with season Anderson loyalites Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton and Adrien Brody will join Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Seydoux, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, and newcomer Tony Revolori.

Although little is known about the film, the plot description per IMDB details:

“A famous hotel’s legendary concierge strikes up a friendship with a young employee who becomes his trusted protégé.”

For me, Anderson’s best films come from with exploring themes of wounded humanity. Films like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Darjeeling Limited are as deeply tragic as they are comedic and I’m hoping for something of the same from his latest without quite as much snarky childhood wist as his last two, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom.

With this first poster debut, we can hopefully expect a full synposis or trailer in the near future.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is directed by Wes Anderson and stars Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Lea Seydoux, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, and Tony Revolori. It will hit theaters sometime in 2014.

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