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Movie Ratings and Reviews


Before Vin Diesel was XXX and before he got behind the wheel as Dominic Toretto, he was Richard B. Riddick in Pitch Black, a small-budgeted creature flick that far exceeded expectations. It was delightfully simple in premise, centering on a group of people stranded on a desolate planet and attacked by its native nocturnal predators. Riddick, known for his famous "night shine" eyes, became a popular new character in the sci-fi realm, and the first proof of Diesel's future stardom. But then Universal screwed it all with the misguided sequel, The Chronicles of Riddick, an expensive and convoluted PG-13(!!!) mess that nearly shattered any franchise hopes. But through years of cultivating his audience and picking their brains about what they wanted most out of the series, Diesel has returned with the fourth (if you include the animated Dark Fury, which I definitely do) entry, Riddick, an economical and solidly entertaining film that recaptures everything that made Pitch Black such a cult favorite.

Immediately it's obvious the gloss and sheen of the last film are gone, replaced with the gritty, washed-out look of the original. The yellowish tint that marks the ruinous locale may not be pretty, but it's far superior to the artificiality that plagued 'Chronicles'. Beginning in shockingly pulpy fashion, the film finds the bad ass Furyan stranded on a planet not unlike the one from Pitch Black. Beaten, battered, and defeated in a way we've never seen Riddick before, it's clear that something's not quite right. As he struggles to survive encounters with a pack of monstrous dingoes, eventually taking on one as a sort of sidekick, we learn through flashback that he was betrayed and left for dead. Riddick, who became king of the Necromongers (don't ask) at the end of the prior film, has let leadership make him soft. What better way to get back his lost savagery than by taking on an entire planet full of bloodthirsty creatures?

The first hour of the film is spent with Riddick in full survivalist mode as he tries to figure out a way past a poisonous hydra monster that looks like it was ripped straight out of Alien. While it gets a little tedious watching him build up immunity to its venom and navigating mountains, it's also refreshing to see the film bask in its Predator-esque roots. However it's still a lengthy slog, a long way to go before a team of mercenaries arrive and the plot actually begins. Yes, there's an entire separate storyline you have to wait for, but that's also when things get really bloody and very fun.

Forced to activate a distress beacon, Riddick soon finds himself surrounded by two teams of mercs, all looking to collect on the bounty placed on his head. And if they walk away with Riddick's head in a box, even better because the bounty will be doubled. The lead merc is Santana (Jordi Molla), the cockiest killer by far and thus the most foolish. We know immediately what his fate will be, and that it will be especially gruesome. Diesel's Guardians of the Galaxy co-star Dave Bautista is the hulking brute Diaz; Battlestar Galactica nerds will get to see Katee Sackhoff nude as Dahl; and Matt Nable (a Jeremy Renner clone in look and voice) is Boss Johns, and if his name sounds familiar then you know way more about the Chronicles of Riddick chronology than any sane person should. Suffice it to say, he's got a reason to want Riddick dead, and it's a mystery that plays out in fits and starts throughout.

From here the action picks up as Riddick goes from the hunted to the hunter, picking off his pursuers one-by-one. Even when he's ultimately captured he's still the most dangerous guy in the room, who proves to be just as deadly with his tongue as with a serrated blade. After the bland "all-ages" Riddick from 'Chronicles' it's a treat to see him back to being a vulgar and nasty killer. Every other character is a cheap cardboard cut-out with dialogue slathered in melted cheese, but they serve their purpose either as cannon fodder or targets of Riddick's chaotic masculinity.

What's most obvious about the film is that Diesel and series writer/director David Twohy put everything they had into it. It was Diesel who fought hard with the studio to secure the R-rating because he knew the fans wanted the gore and violence, and when the self-financed production faced a potential shut down it was him who put up the cash to get it moving again. While there are moments when you can see the cracks around the edges, visually it doesn't look cheaply produced, and what low budget qualities it has only solidify that this is a franchise going back to its roots. Without completely ignoring Chronicles of Riddick or rehashing Pitch Black, they've set Riddick back on the right track. The obvious plan is for this to be the first in what will probably be a series of sequels, and with the character free from excess baggage that's a prospect once again worth looking forward to.

Bounty Killer

Part Mad Max, part Death Race 2000, there's never a dull moment in Henry Saine's wildly over-the-top Bounty Killer, a film with style and silly amounts of violence to spare. Right from the beginning we're thrust into a balls-out insane future world where corporate CEOs are running everything; crony capitalism has ruined the country, and the only means of fighting back the people have is to trust in bounty hunters to kill off those responsible. These mercenaries reap the adoration like modern day superheroes, splashed across tabloid headlines and followed by their legions of fans. While there's potential for a darker exploration of celebrity culture, Saine and screenwriter Jason Dodson wisely choose to aim for maximum B-movie schlock value.
Smaller budgeted films with a grindhouse aesthetic are a dime a dozen, but few are as wholly entertaining as Bounty Killer is, and it starts with the cast who all seem to having the time of their lives. In particular, Christian Pitre is a real find, playing the sexy and lethal Mary Death. When we first meet her she's mowing through a bunch of armed goons in a strip club alongside Drifter (Matthew Marsden), just to take out one dorky CEO. Bullets fly, heads get lopped off, fountain of blood spurt, and yep there's even a jet pack in there somewhere. It's all ridiculous but tons of fun, and sets the stage for a ton of insanity that extends far beyond the mass amounts of bloodshed.
Drifter and Mary Death share a past, one that makes them reluctant rivals in the competitive world of wetworks. She's a superstar; complete with a diva attitude and of course her own bad ass muscle car, while Drifter is more of a grinder. He wants to do the job and avoid all of the celebrity nonsense that comes along with it, but we learn there are other reasons he desires to stay out of the spotlight. When a bounty is put on his head, everybody comes looking to collect. That includes cannibalistic Gypsies in Halloween war paint, Gary Busey, and even Mary Death herself. Yeah, that's right, Gary Busey is in here too, and it probably won't shock you that he fits in like a glove. His character description might have read: "Act like Gary Busey".
It's the little touches that make this totally unbelievable world Saine has created go off without a hitch, and those quirks are what make it so enjoyable. For instance, all of the top bounty hunters have what is called a "gun caddy", and he does exactly what you think he should. Drifter picks up a particularly overzealous and earnest one in Jack (Barak Hardley), who also happens to be clumsy and not especially good at his job. But he's also hilarious, and has the film's best zingers.When he and Drifter are captured by the Gypsies, led by R&B star Eve no less, he remarks on his general tastiness, "They're going to love me. I'm so marbled."
The cast is an oddball assortment of fresh faces and veterans, all of whom are having way too much fun. Pitre is terrific as Mary Death, showing sensuality and a rugged toughness that is as appealing as her low-cut skirt. Ex-Terminator Kristanna Loken shows up in a more buttoned-up role than we've ever seen her, playing the film's corporate villainess. Marsden, who was great a few years ago in video game adaptation DOA, is overshadowed a little bit by Pitre and Hardley. His character is a little too easy going to stand out amongst all these flashy wackos, but he makes for a solid, vaguely Mel Gibson-esque leading man.
Bounty Killer began life as a comic and short film, and it combines elements of both in good and bad ways. The kinetic pace often resembles the panels of a really well-executed comic book, but other times you get the sense that there isn't enough material for a full-length feature film. While it's never dull, because these characters are so unique and fully-formed, there are empty spots that just don't have the same zip.
Saine attacks the action sequences with reckless abandon, reveling in the gore and excessive explosions, to the point where the budget rarely seems like a factor. It takes real skill to make a small-scale film look like a major production, and he's pulled it off. Bounty Killer looks good, has a ton of ambition, and stands up confidently next to Robert Rodriguez's Machete in the realm of hyper-violent grindhouse.


Originally titled The Grandmothers, then hitting Sundance as Two Mothers, producers ultimately settled on Adore for their erotic drama starring the always-wonderful Robin Wright and Naomi Watts. Going through multiple titles is something many films go through, but in this case it's almost as if they're trying to run away from something, and that may be the uncomfortable and nervous laughter inspired by the premise, which has two longtime best friends entering into sexual relationships with the other's son.

The very idea of it plays with our sense of morality, our sense of what is sexually acceptable, especially here in America where sex is so often looked at as such a taboo. In her first English-language film, director Anne Fontaine reserves judgment on the women without completely letting them off the hook for their irresponsible actions. The problem lies in Christopher Hampton's script, which never goes into the dark, sordid territory a story such as this demand, and lacks the passion it deserves.

Lil (Watts) and Roz (Wright) have carved out a little corner of paradise for themselves on the picturesque shores of New South Wales. Friends since childhood with a love for one another that hasn't dimmed as they approach middle age, their families are so intertwined it's tough to tell where one begins and the other ends. Liz has been widowed for years, while Roz's husband (Ben Mendelsohn) has just taken a job in Sydney with the obvious expectation that his wife and son Tom (James Frecheville) would join him. But he's seriously underestimated the co-dependent nature of Roz and Lil's relationship, which has them more concerned with one another than anything else. Lil barely speaks to her son Ian (Xavier Samuel) at all. In fact, the two women barely notice their sons until they're blinded by the surfers' glistening abs, "They're like young gods!" they exclaim. Yes, the dialogue is like something ripped from a trashy romance novel, lacking in any nuance whatsoever.

While there's no incest involved on a physical level, the suggestion that emotional impropriety has definitely taken place, and it begins with the fact that both women have raised the other's son fairly equally. They may not have been good mothers in a traditional sense, but in a communal sense they seem to have done a pretty good job. Ian and Tom have grown to become reasonably decent, attractive young men with bright futures. When Ian suddenly makes a move on Roz, she initially resists before giving in, taking advantage of her husband being temporarily out of the picture. Tom, quickly discovering the affair, decides that all's fair and immediately makes a move on Lil.

It's not fair to say that nobody feels any guilt over it once everything comes out in the open; it's just that we never see it. One would think that the first conversation between Lil and Roz after everything came out in the open would be heated, or at least impassioned. But no, that's not the case. It isn't really rational or reasoned, either. When the boys get into a fight, we're left to assume it's over their nailing the other's mom, but that doesn't really make sense. The two remain best friends and seem happy discussing the situation. We're never clued in to what the physical altercation was about, and everything is normal within moments. Too much is underplayed here to be taken seriously, and that extends to later on when Lil and Roz's worst fears are realized and the boys begin to move on to more age-appropriate women.

What saves the film from going totally into Russ Meyer or John Waters territory are the performances by Watts and Wright, really nailing the emotional complexities between these two women who are more like siblings than friends. Wright has a bit more to work with as her character must juggle spousal expectations with her own emotional desires. There's a lived-in, genuine quality to every scene these two remarkable actresses share. Fontaine, who helmed the dreamy Coco Before Chanel, brings some of those surreal attributes to the idyllic setting. She uses the beautiful imagery to perfectly counter the growing chaos as a complicated situation grows messier.

At its premiere in Park City, reports were that the audience was laughing when they clearly weren't meant to be, a fact which perplexed Fontaine at the press conference. A film like Adore should make you uneasy. It should make you feel a little sick at how much damage these characters are causing. It shouldn't leave you smiling, which just goes to show how much of a miscalculation the film turns out to be.

The Grandmaster

Let's get the easy stuff out of the way first; The Grandmaster is the most breathtakingly beautiful martial arts film ever made. Crafted with exquisite precision by famed Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, the lush, passionate flourishes of his earlier dramas now romanticize the brutal art of kung fu. There are so many images here that will be burned into memory, each battle moves with such balletic grace they make Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon seem as if it's standing still. From a visual standpoint, Kar Wai has outdone himself. But as a film that is meant to chronicle the life of Wing Chun master Ip Man (Tony Leung), the man who famously trained Bruce Lee, it never quite measures up.
Harvey Scissorhands strikes again! That's pretty much been the cry since Weinstein edited a shorter cut of the film specifically for American audiences, one that dropped about 20 minutes of crucial backstory. While I'm not one of those to slam ol' Harvey for his butchery of the studio's foreign film slate, the impact of his choices are obvious with The Grandmaster. What should be an across-the-board chronicle of Ip Man's tumultuous life in 19th century China, is more like the Cliffs Notes version, lacking substance and emotion until the next fight can break out.
The film begins with what can only be described as an astonishing rain-soaked battle, probably the scene that had Weinstein salivating in the first place. Ip Man is just a regular man in a time when tensions have ripped China into factions from the North and South, a split that has also affected the regional schools of kung fu. In an effort to unite both sides under one leader, Ip Man is chosen to challenge the northern grandmaster, but ends up falling hopelessly in love with his daughter Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), who has inherited his style known as the "64 Hands". Yes, this is one of those movies where all of the techniques have wild names and they are announced with vigor before they're used in combat. Kar-Wai basks in that world, creating dreamy, atmospheric settings for impeccable action that is easy to get swept up in.
That's unfortunately all there is to latch on to, however, as we learn very little that is new about Ip Man, a figure who has had multiple movies and TV series devoted to him already. We barely get a glimpse of his family life before he loses them after the Japanese occupation, and the film meanders aimlessly when he hits Hong Kong to...well, basically meander aimlessly. We see his rise to prominence against the backdrop of China's demise, then his fall from grace, but none of it has a clear focus. Not helping are jarring shifts in perspective as we get treated to thumbnail explanations for major events in his life and that of Gong Er, as they supposedly pine for one another over the course of ten years. Leung and Ziyi do sorrowful longing better than almost anybody, so when together it often feels like you're in one of Kar-Wai's passionate masterpieces like In the Mood for Love or Lust, Caution. But we don't actually see them together that often, and there's simply not enough of a shared emotional connection. Having seen the fuller version, it's these crucial back story elements that have been excised for the benefit of smoother transition to the action. What Weinstein doesn't recognize is that providing richer characters only gives the fights a deeper impact.

What ends up happening is that you'll be waiting patiently for another altercation to break out, because that's when the film truly comes alive. Leung makes for a perfect choice to play the stoic Ip Man, a man of peace and a walking weapon, who wrestled with that dichotomy every single moment. Nobody knows how to capture Zhang Ziyi's ferocious beauty better than Kar-Wai, and the film's most memorable, poetic images have her as the centerpiece. Ultimately she steals the entire film away from Leung as we begin to focus on Gong Er's journey to reclaim her father's legacy; a quest that ends with an unreal train station fight as the snow softly drifts.
A decent Wong Kar-Wai film is still going to be miles ahead of other directors' best work, and chances are you're not going to see better martial arts action than what The Grandmaster provides. Perhaps it's fitting that it ends with a sizzle reel of Leung beating up other stage fighters, because basically what The Grandmaster turns out to be is a highlight reel on Ip Man's legendary life.


Well good job, Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez! With one movie you've managed to make all of the good work you've done this year irrelevant. Hawke, coming off a sterling return to his indie roots with Before Midnight, plus a surprising horror smash in The Purge, slices his IQ and ours in half for the insipid sub WWE-level Getaway, a film with about a thousand car wrecks (not really exaggerating here) and still manages to be painfully dull. At least he's not the woefully miscast Gomez, playing a bad girl not totally unlike her role in the far superior Spring Breakers. But with her flat, robotic delivery someone might want to check her back for a pull string.

Wanting desperately to be Fast & Furious, Getaway is more like the schizophrenic cousin to 12 Rounds and all the awfulness that implies. To its credit, likely the only credit it will receive here, the film makes no bones about what it is or what kind of crap you're in store for. Torturously directed by F-lister Courtney Solomon, it begins with Hawke racing all over Bulgaria like a mad man, intercut with an incoherent flashback flurry that kind of tells us why. His wife has been kidnapped, the home wrecked (including their poor Christmas tree), and now he's being forced to race up and down the crowded streets at the command of some guy on the phone who sounds vaguely like Werner Herzog, or the villain from Lethal Weapon 2. If only it was Herzog, because that would be kind of awesome and disorienting like when he turned up in Jack Reacher, but instead it's just Jon Voight, who hasn't done anything meaningful since he bit Kramer's arm on Seinfeld.

In-between the dozens of car chases, all shot with ponderous incompetence that ensures you'll be bored within minutes, we learn that Hawke's character is the ridiculously-named Brent Magma, a former racing bad boy who "washed out" of the sport, and got in trouble with some criminal types. Why it takes him so long to figure out they might be the reason he's in this mess, when we've figured it out the very friggin' moment he says it, is a question that boggles the mind. After being instructed to pull into a parking garage, he gets carjacked by Disneyfied thug/computer hacker, who reveals the muscled Mustang he's driving actually belongs to her. Forced to take her along because the disembodied voice says so, it's clear that she's only there to give us something else to look at other than Hawke's glowering mug. Hawke has starred in a lot of really terrible movies in his career, but when he's checked out it is totally obvious. He couldn't look more disinterested than if he was tweeting mid-sentence, and Gomez doesn't help out much. To be fair, it's not like the "writer" had major plans for her, because she doesn't even have a name until about five minutes before the end credits.

So basically the entirety of the 90 minute run time, which feels somehow like 190 minutes, involves Hawke barreling through the streets chased by the world's most incompetent and unlawful cops ever. First of all, these keystone coppers never seem to show up until Magma is on his next "test", as if someone flips a switch and unleashes them into the city like marbles in a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos. And when they aren't causing just as much property damage (we're talkin' Man of Steel levels here), they're acting like clowns by repeatedly challenging Magma's vehicle which has the armor of a small tank. Motorcycle cops against a speeding tank? Hope they have a lot of empty space at the local morgue.

A better director could have probably coaxed something interesting out of this relatively generic premise, at least giving us a competent single-location thriller with echoes of Phone Booth or Speed. Solomon, who gave us the embarrassing Dungeons & Dragons years ago, is not the filmmaker for the job, haphazardly editing every scene with a dizzying array of quick cuts and zoom ins/zoom outs, repeated ad nauseum until your stomach churns. The villain tracks Magma's every move through cameras set up along the inside of the car, which Solomon uses as an excuse to randomly jar us by switching to digital video for no apparent reason.

There does manage to be one really good scene during the end, and rather than spoiling it here it's best left to be discovered. You'll have no problem recognizing it; it's the one that looks nothing like the crap you've just been suffering through. There's a labored attempt to launch some sort of franchise, and despite how unsavory that notion might be the chances are Getaway will live on in cheaply produced straight-to-DVD sequels helmed by hacks.

Short Term 12

While we aren't likely to get sympathy from anybody, it becomes a tough slog keeping track of the literally hundreds of movies that muscle their way into theaters every year. Especially during those arduous summer months, where every expensive blockbuster looks and sounds the same, the characters have all the substance of rice paper, and whether the film is even worth the price of a single ticket a dozen sequels are already on the way. What little aspirations these movies have don't really amount to much, and mostly they'll be forgotten in the time it takes to cross the mall food court. But then a film like Short Term 12 emerges out of nowhere and blindsides you in a way few movies could ever hope to, and serves as a reminder of why you fell in love with cinema in the first place.

Those are big words, and Short Term 12 lives up to them in every way possible. It's a spark plug of a film, the sort of life-affirming, uplifting piece that Hollywood doesn't make any more. You have to go out and work to find a movie like this, and while that's sad in its own right, you'll be much happier for having done it. The supremely talented Brie Larson is Grace, a young woman working at a short term foster care facility watching over at-risk (don't call them underprivileged!) teens. She's fierce, empathic, and protective to a fault, but Grace also has a warmth and dry humor that is instantly welcoming. Her live-in boyfriend Mason (The Newsroom's John Gallagher Jr.), all scraggly and earnest, works with her at the facility and they form a sort of power couple, although the kids aren't supposed to know they're dating.

When we first meet them both, it's on Nate's (Rami Malek) first day working there, and while Mason is deep into a self-deprecating story about a run-in with a minor that led to an unfortunate sharting incident, one of the youths in their charge bursts through the doors headed for the street. At first it's unclear whether we should take it seriously or if it's supposed to be funny, but the reactions by Grace and Mason tell it all. They've seen this before. They're used to it. They've lived it. The boy is having a panic attack. They deal with it. Calmly. Simply. Dealing with the problems of others is what they're good at. Dealing with their own issues is a different story.

You hear that a film takes place at a foster home and probably the first instinct is to write it off as just another sickly sweet melodrama or one so brutally uncomfortable and depressing it should come with a warning label. The magic of Short Term 12 is that it's neither of those things. Yes, it has moments that will reach into your heart and fill it with the utmost joy, but there are just as many that are heart breaking. The trick is that writer/director Destin Cretton plays them all with the same level-headed approach, never under playing or over selling the very real emotions on display.

We think we have Grace all figured out, she's smart and tough and takes no crap from anybody. But then we learn right along with her that she's pregnant, and what we don't fully understand is why she doesn't seem to be happy about it. It's not for the usual concerns, that much is clear. And Mason seems like the perfect All-American guy. Those questions swirl believably to create a storm that eventually begins to break the stoic Grace down. The arrival of Jaden (Kaitlyn Dever), a rebellious young girl who spends weekends with her busy father, dredges up old memories Grace would rather forget, and her inability to deal with her past problems threatens to ruin her future with Mason.

Cretton is truly writing to his strengths here, having worked in a facility just like this at one point. He populates the film with believable characters that could have easily been stereotypes, but are so much richer as their stories unfold. There's Marcus (the incredible Keith Stanfield), who has been there for years and faces uncertainty now that he's 18 and must leave the facility. Like prisoners who don't know how to function on the outside, Marcus begins acting out in increasingly desperate fashion. To him, foster care was a port in the storm, after a horrific upbringing seemed to map out a terrible life that could only end in two ways: jail or death.

Revelations unfold with the patience and care they deserve, never for a moment hitting a false chord. What's more, they actually inform us about who these characters are. Every word, every moment has meaning, has real impact. What looks like a random party for Mason's parents becomes one of the affecting and touching scenes in the film, letting us in on exactly why he values honesty and family more than anything else. Mostly it's Jaden and Grace who gets the biggest breakthroughs, and like life they come when you least expect it. It's a true emotional roller coaster, one that comes with incredible highs and terrible lows. You'll laugh as Grace and Jaden beat up an inflatable dog as a means of therapy, or at Mason's lame attempts to be cool. You'll cry as one reveals a deeply-rooted personal tragedy, or when another slips into destructive habits. And then you'll probably cry tears of happiness at all of the little triumphs along the way. Ok, so it's a little crazy that so many events hit this one facility in the span of a few days, it never for a second feels less than authentic. Only at one time, when Grace goes a little nutso and begins taking matters into her own hands does Cretton go a bit overboard. While the actions Grace takes are probably consistent given her protective nature, it veers a little into "wish fulfillment" territory.

Larson has always been a fantastic actress, who has stolen scenes in 21 Jump Street, The Spectacular Now, and in Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon, but her performance is the kind that careers are made of. It's a tough balancing act to portray a character like Grace, who is so tough and confident, yet fragile and scared at the same time. She captures the look of someone who has been through a lot and expects to go through a lot more, and will work tirelessly to make sure others don't have to endure the same. There's a wonderful, lived-in quality to all of the portrayals here, so much so that at times you may think you're watching a really well-made documentary.

Short Term 12 has already amassed a number of awards on the festival circuit, and it deserves every single one. It deserves more, actually. It deserves to have some awards created specifically for it. As you might expect, there are no simple endings to this story, but the ending we do get is a hopeful and spirited one, and it may just have you looking at life with brighter eyes.

The Heat
The Heat(2013)

It's not easy to break into the male-dominated genre of buddy cop movies. Sorry ladies, that realm is under the strict supervision of Murtaugh and Riggs, and every other film that has tried to emulate the Lethal Weapon formula has brought more testosterone than estrogen. But if there are two women who can break the mold it's Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in The Heat, a frequently raucous retro cop comedy that overstays its welcome but makes the most of its two stars.

Neither Bullock nor McCarthy is stretching themselves here, but do we really want them to? Cop comedies are well-worn territory for Bullock after two hugely successful Miss Congeniality films, and as FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn she plays another socially inept officer fighting for respect from her male peers. McCarthy, reteaming with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, is tough-as-nails, borderline psychotic Boston cop Shannon Mullins. Ashburn is uptight and pretentious; Mullins is gruff and wildly erratic. Of course they'd make perfect partners!

The mismatched pair are forced together to stop a random drug lord, but seriously the case they're working makes no difference. This is little more than an excuse for McCarthy and Bullock to show off their comedic skills, and together they have an irresistible madcap energy. McCarthy, who has a knack for lovable lunatic roles like no other, beats down perps left and right, points guns at men's crotches, and bullies her poor police chief (Biff from the Back to the Future flicks) until he's old and grey. Her crass, downright vulgar antics are a perfect foil for the quietly loopy Bullock, who when called upon in a rip-roaring bar scene, proves she's every bit the physical comedian as McCarthy. The chemistry between the two is impeccable and it's obvious they were having way too good of a time.

The punchy and vulgar script by Parks & Recreation vet Katie Dippold throws one joke after the next without taking much of a breath, with far more hits than misses. There are no surprises to be found here, though. The Heat wears its genre trappings on its sleeve. There are no big action sequences, no criminal mastermind worth caring about, and even a potential love interest (Marlon Wayans) for Ashburn doesn't amount to much. The film begins to overstay its welcome as it strains to give the cops a crime to actually fight, and we're introduced to other characters that are more irritating than interesting. Primarily, a subplot involving Mullins' unruly family screams of time filler, although it does give us the chance to see the great Jane Curtain in action again. Always a pleasure.

Feig is smart enough to give his two actresses room to maneuver and riff off one another, and only occasionally does he let it go on a tad too long. It's doubtful he'll be taking McCarthy to another Oscar nomination, but at least he's given her a funnier, less insulting role than she had in Identity Thief. There's every chance we'll be seeing more of The Heat, because every buddy cop film gets a sequel, right? Multiple sequels, usually. So don't be surprised to see The Heat With A Vengeance coming to a theater near you, because Bullock and McCarthy have proven they can more than stand up to the big boys.

White House Down

So who decided to make "Die Hard in the White House" movies a thing, anyway? In the span of just a few months we've now had two of them when before we had absolutely none: Antoine Fuqua's dark and somewhat gory Olympus Has Fallen, and now Roland Emmerich's White House Down, which has the benefit of $100M man Channing Tatum as the face of it. Obviously, neither film is going to win any points for originality, and both have their merits, but Emmerich can boast that he's made one Hell of an exciting, hilarious, summer thrill ride.

While comparisons to Bruce Willis' action franchise are apt, the simple truth is that White House Down is more Die Hard than Die Hard has been in years. It has nothing to do with making Tatum into an invincible superhero as Die Hard's John McClane is now, but making him a believable character we can relate to. His character, a struggling war veteran/single dad John Cale isn't perfect, whether he's trying to bond with his daughter (Joey King), interviewing for a job in the Secret Service, or dodging terrorist gunfire. He's a regular guy, and despite his Adonis good looks, Tatum knows his way around playing blue collar. Another thing working in his favor? He seems to be having fun. When was the last time Willis seemed remotely interested in anything?

Tatum throws himself into the role of Cale, a DC Capital Police Officer protecting the Speaker of the House (Richard Jenkins), while simultaneously hoping to land a job on the presidential detail. His relationship with his daughter is on the skids, but since she's a total dork for current President James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx channeling Barack Obama), Cale thinks protecting her hero will get him back in her good graces. Failing to land the job because he's just too darn reckless (aren't they all?) for the Secret Service, he at least manages to use his charm to get a White House tour for his daughter. Of course that's when the terrorists strike, and it's a more surgical precision strike than Olympus Has Fallen's ten-minute bonanza of bombs and bloodshed. They're led by a comical tech geek (Jimmi Simpson) who pumps opera while he hacks into the system, and a stone-faced mercenary (Jason Clarke, in the opposite of his Zero Dark Thirty role) who has a habit of killing ineffectual politicians.

"You just killed the Secretary of Defense!"
"Well, he wasn't doing a very good job."

So of course it's up to Cale to quiet those who underestimate him, including Secret Service agents played by Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Woods, rescue the President and his daughter, and save freedom as we know it or something like that. Not exactly weighty stuff, but the script by James Vanderbilt is smarter than one would think. While a cautionary message about the military industrial complex is overly simplistic, Emmerich and Vanderbilt are smart enough to know exactly how absurd the whole situation is. Emmerich throws in an Independence Day joke basically because he's can, and has a limo doing doughnuts on the White House lawn during a car chase. Any film that has the President as a geeky sidekick, wielding a rocket launcher no less, knows not to take itself too seriously.

Tatum and Foxx trade witty, spirited banter like a couple of old buddy comedy professionals, and it's kind of hilarious to watch bad ass Django as a geeky politician who doesn't like anybody touching his Air Jordans. Tatum is simply a star, there's no other way to put it. He has a quality that makes him tough to dislike but easy to cheer on, which makes him a darn effective action hero. He's young, physical, and every now and then you catch a hint that he's in on the joke of this film as well. The rest of the cast is solid if unspectacular, but Nicolas Wright is perfect as the sort of bizarre character you only see in a movie like this. He plays an obsessive White House tour guide who occasionally tempts fate by complaining about the priceless artifacts the terrorists are ruining, and how dare they put their feet up on the table! James Woods is a lot like Ray Liotta now. As soon as you see him it's obvious right away what kind of character he is, and he's the type to refuse a slice of retirement cake. Who in their right mind would turn down cake??? James Woods would.

Since he can't pull off his iconic move and just blow up the White House outright, Emmerich ruins every other DC monument like a kid blowing up his action figures, and it all looks spectacular. He's made some pretty awful movies in the past....ok, practically everything he's done is terrible, but Emmerich knows big action carefully orchestrated destruction. The scale of it makes Olympus Has Fallen look like a pale imitator. You'd never know the film wasn't shot in the Nation's Capital, and the layout inside the White House is far more accurate than it has any need to be. Everything's going to be destroyed anyway, right?

Roland Emmerich gets it. You can still make an action movie with all of the silliness and the clichÚs and not have it feel like a tired retread. You can still create great action heroes and great action movie stars. How about we just retire that rundown old Die Hard model and trade up to a White House Down franchise from now on?

An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty

An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty should perhaps have been retitled "An Overthinking of Her Everything". Developed over the course of six years by writer, director, and star Terence Nance, the aesthetically fluid film is an autobiographical examination of an idyllic relationship he always seems to be on the cusp of, but was never mature enough to handle. Ponderous and ever-present narration (told by The Wire's Reg E. Cathey) informs us that the film will be split into two chapters, and further divided into multiple chapters, embedded within is Nance's 2010 short film, How Would You Feel? If having the film's structure explained sounds like a good way to take the audience right out of the experience, then you'd be right. It shows a lack of trust in the audience and in the clarity of his own story, and that need to excruciatingly detail every aspect kills any personal insights Nance is trying to reflect.

Once we get past the unnecessarily complicated intro, Nance's keenly observational exploration of urban relationships, told with seemingly random comic asides and insights, suggest a kinship to the early works of Spike Lee. The first chapter details what appears to be another day, as Nance tries to arrange an evening engagement with the girl of his dreams, Namik Winter, but finding it difficult to do so for one reason or another. The loopy time structure repeatedly folds in on itself, tediously presenting the same scene with new information. Nance has a lot to say about himself, but struggles to get right down to it. When he finally does, it comes out in floods and never stops. An exhausting flow of self-examination is thankfully broken up by truly inventive visuals as Nance switches up the medium at a whim, combining hand drawn animation, claymation, and gritty archival footage. Unquestionably this is one of the most original films of the year, but as Nance continually switches gears and adds more artistic flourishes, he overwhelms us with information in an attempt to make his story unique.

Nance bravely presents a "warts and all" version of himself, an immature Bohemian manchild who both pushes the women who love him away, and pines for the ones who show the least interest. Namik gets the better end of the deal as she's the vision of a strong, intelligent, diverse African-American woman. Switching into documentary mode with a heavy reliance on archival footage, we see Nance as he presents a version of the film to a private audience, all without Namik's permission. When he confronts her with it, she expresses displeasure at it the one-sided nature of the story, but she doesn't seem too upset at having her life put on display. In fact, she doesn't really seem to care as much as Nance tries to make it appear, perhaps to try and drum up some tension that is sorely lacking. An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty works as a beautiful visual patchwork quilt, and there's a lot to admire, but it probably would have worked better as a short subject than a feature film.

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work

The point of any documentary is to make you look at the subject with brand new eyes. I remember laughing at the barrage of plastic surgery jokes during Joan Rivers' comedy roast. I don't really find them so funny anymore.


Not as good as the original, but then again, what is?


You wouldn't think mutant animal/human hybrids would get so much action, but you'd be wrong. For teaching me that lesson alone, Splice earns at least a few points.

The Ghost Writer

Roman Polanski proves he's still got the good with this taut, political thriller.

500 Days of Summer

Beautiful, lyrical, and unabashedly charming. 500 Days of Summer is like a storybook come to life, starring two of the best actors working today, Zoe Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as a couple in the midst of whirlwind romance that quickly turns sour. The soundtrack is amazing, and if you got an "Eternal Sunshine" vibe from the trailers it's for a reason. The film is quirky and colorful. Right up there as arguably my favorite film of the year.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Awe inspiring action mixed with crushing dialogue sequences make TF2 a mixed bag.

Wendy and Lucy

Completely engrossing film about a trying desperately to cling to a fading dream. Michelle Williams is amazing.

The Hangover
The Hangover(2009)

The best comedy in ages. There is a joke literally around every corner, non-stop laughs, and even the mystery element works on some level. Amazing.

The Brothers Bloom

Amazing film, full of large, vibrant characters and a con that's both dangerous and fun. Love it.

The Soloist
The Soloist(2009)

As expected, this was not a good movie.

Star Trek
Star Trek(2009)

Amazing film all around! JJ Abrams really knocked it out of the park. I'm no Trekkie, but I know the franchise and this one manages to appeal to the hardcore and the plain ol' sci-fi fan like me also.

Royal Kill
Royal Kill(2009)

Nothing good to say about this film. Poorly acted, badly shot, lame ending, no decent action.

The Informers

Boring. Worst Brett Easton Ellis film adaptation ever.


Typical thriller with some heavy handed race baiting attatched. Still fun if only because of Beyonce's bad acting and he cat fight at the end.

Seven Pounds
Seven Pounds(2008)

One of the most pretentious, boring, films I've ever seen.

The Great Buck Howard

I expected much more from this considering the cast, but was disappointed. Malkovich was great as usual, but Colin Hanks lacks charisma and the script lacks punch.