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Generic ’MISS BALA’ An Anti-Feminist Female-Led Actioner

It’s hard to consider Miss Bala with anything but startling disappointment. A Hollywood actioner led by a young Latina starlet, retooling a Mexican critical darling for American audiences, in a coming out party for Gina Rodriguez. If all these were working in harmony, this could have worked out very, very well. In the hands of Catherine Hardwicke, it does not. Like, at all. The Twilight director shaves Miss Bala down to the most generic premise and skates around the very thing that could have made it a powerful feminist action film – empowering the woman at the center of the film, tinkering with the best-laid plans of mice and men that seek to dominate her. Instead, Rodriguez’s Gloria is passive eye candy, consistently strong-armed (physically and mentally) by the men around her, and only taking agency at the very last moment possible.  Read More

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Stylish, Surreal ‘PIERCING’ A Tempestuous Cat and Mouse Murder Game

A husband and father’s scheme to kill a prostitute goes wrong when she stabs herself first in Nicolas Pesce’s devilish Piercing. Pesce’s bloody adaptation of Ryū Murakami’s short Japanese novel of the same name is deeply sardonic in nature, a clever two-person play on that age-old “desperate man kills sex worker” trope that flips the script in deliciously dark manner. Picture American Psycho for millennials, with less business card panic attacks and more feminist subversion, and you’ll be somewhere in the right ballpark.  Read More

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Discombobulated ‘Serenity’ Nears ‘The Room’ Levels of Unintentional Hilarity

There are bad movies and there are bad movies, the distinction being that the one is purely torturous to watch whereas the other has the alchemic ability to actually bring us great pleasure. To transmute movie-making stool into movie-watching gold. It’s observed in the difference between Michael Bay’s Transformers movies and XXX: The Return of Xander Cage; the line in the sand dividing Yoga Hosers and The Snowman. They’re all bad but some are bad enough to double back and turn sour to sweet.  Read More

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Well-Meaning ‘THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING’ A Mostly Meh Modern Reimagining of Arthurian Lore 

Joe Cornish huffed and puffed and blew down the gates of Hollywood in summer 2011 with his critically-acclaimed inner-city alien invasion flick Attack the Block, blowing back the hair of sci-fi fans the world over in the process. In the intervening eight years, Cornish hasn’t had much on his platter, his solitary IMDB credit one of a small army of writers on Marvel’s Ant-Man (prior to that, he earned marks co-writing Tintin). After a long holiday away from the director’s chair, Cornish’s latest The Kid Who Would be King slashes into theaters in the midst of January’s dumping ground and despite being a somewhat imaginative PG-take on King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table plopped in 21st century London, this fails to feel like the brainchild of someone who’s been methodically tinkering away at a passion project in the many-year interim and seems more like a desperate last minute plea to not be forgotten to the annals of directorial history. In short, it’s just not that special. Read More

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The ‘GLASS’ is Half Empty in Laughably Bad Conclusion to Shyamalan Trilogy

The Unbreakable trilogy that started in 2000 at the peak of M. Night Shyamalan’s powers, then went subterranean during his dark ages (the brutal run of films that spanned Lady in the Water to After Earth), and stealthily re-emerged in the midst of his recent revival of sorts (the one-two punch of The Visit and Split re-ameliorating the Indian director with American audiences) has officially ended. Along with the hopes of a true Shyamalanasance (say that three times fast.) And folks, Glass concludes the promise of a 19-years-in-the-making unprecedented movie triptych in the worst way possibly imaginable.  Read More

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‘MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS’ an Uneven but Politically Relevant Costume Drama 

Mary Queen of Scots is billed as a showdown between two hardened female monarchs, battling for title, supremacy, and future United Kingdom lineage. In truth, the film from first-time director Josie Rourke and screenwriter Beau Willimon (The Ides of March, House of Cards) is really only the story of the titular character, the rightful ruler of the Scottish throne, heir to the English and alleged uniter of countries and cultures. The focus centers less on the public rivalry and secret compassion shared between Mary and Queen Elizabeth I and much more on the battles Mary must fight within her inner male-dominated circle. Read More

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‘BEN IS BACK’ A Troubling Two-Hander You Should Never Trust 

Ben is Back, the father-son collaboration between writer-director Peter Hedges and actor son Lucas Hedges, plays out like a paperback page-turner with an inevitable conclusion. That the elder Hedges mostly succeeds in obscuring the histories of these characters and therefore where their paths will ultimately lead is a proverbial feather in his cap, the strongly-acted drama slinking suspiciously in narrative shadows in its earlier parts, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that we intrinsically know lead nowhere good. As Hedge’s script unspools the mystery behind Ben and his being back, the thriller-tinged drama loses a touch of its suspect pull, relying strictly on emboldened performances to see the journey through. The experience is far from pleasant.  Read More

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‘ROMA’ a Dreamy, Gorgeous Slice-of-Life Historical Fiction

Life is what happens when we’re not paying attention. Small, routine moments mark our transition through the world, often going ignored or unnoticed. We live in them, with them. It is here that Alfonso Cuarón sets his story – in the seeming mundanity of the life of a 1970’s  Mexico City housekeeper named Cleo. Her story is quaint, upon first brush. She tends to a middle-class family, lighter in skin tone than she but suffering their own afflictions nonetheless, and we’re invited to drop in, given visitation rights to observe the lulling normalcy of this chaotic collection of lives.  Read More

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‘THE FAVOURITE’ is the Cattiest Movie of the Year in the Best Way Humanly Possible 

Vying for the sole affection of Queen Anne – and all the status that comes with it – two cousins from different stations stoke a bitter rivalry in Yorgos Lanthimos exquisitely-mounted The Favourite. Scrumptiously rancorous,  Lanthimos’ foray into costume drama is a series of verbal death matches, its characters clawing at one another’s reputation, the performances from its perfectly-cast stars provide each and every syllable of Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara’s wonderfully cutting script a searing eclipse of clever-wit, cunning undercuts and good-humor that never second-guesses going straight for the jugular.  Read More

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‘CREED II’ a Heartfelt but Inferior Second Round  

The Cold War didn’t officially end until the early-90s with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and in that 40-odd years of looming nuclear holocaust, many a film has used this intercontentional tension to deliver quality motion pictures – see Dr. Strangelove, The Hunt for Red October, and The Lives of Others. And – of course – Rocky IV. In light of Trump’s presidential-defining ties to Russian interference and a newly ignited political rivalry with Putin’s Russia, the idea of a Creed sequel that played off USA/Russian relations seemed not only narratively apt but also incredibly timely; a fine point of entry for any inevitable sequel and one that could have more on its mind than a couple of meatheads whacking at each other for two-ish hours. Instead the movie is just a couple of meatheads whacking at each other for two-ish hours. Read More