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Kevin Smith‘s Tusk is a prime example of a filmmaker in the midst of reinvention. Ever since the disaster that was Cop Out, Smith has been on a quest to become a new director. First he shunned Hollywood and self-distributed Red State, a welcome departure from his off-the-wall comedies of the past. Now he’s delving deep into horror with Tusk, the story of a man named Howard (Michael Parks) who kidnaps a podcaster named Wallace (Justin Long) and attempts to turn him into a Walrus.

Much like Smith’s up-and-down career path, Tusk has a fascinating trajectory. Everything starts off well with the director slowly but surely building a very specific, intriguing and foreboding tone. Even as the story begins to border on the ridiculous and the gore gets exponentially more intense, we buy it because the film has won us over with its sharp writing, well-timed humor, inventive plot and layered storytelling.

Unfortunately, about two-thirds into the movie, Smith apparently saw some brake lights in front of him because the film comes to a screeching halt. It stops being fun so suddenly and so painfully it’s almost unfathomable. Things never quite recover from that narrative roadblock and, by the end, it all feels arbitrary and amateurish. Read More »

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Update from editor Peter Sciretta: The following review was published by Germain Lussier on January 19th 2014 from the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The movie is out in theaters this week:

The films by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett always have one thing in common. They are obviously influenced by an intense passion for movies, but are not overtly obvious about referencing those movies. In that sense, The Guest might feel like something you’ve seen before. It’s got the basic feel of a stalker film from the late ’80s or early ’90s, but filtered through the action of Quentin Tarantino, the music of John Carpenter, the ideas of James Cameron and almost too many others to mention. There’s action, sci-fi, horror, comedy… you name it, this movie has it. The result is a fresh, fun film that crescendos from title to credits with suspense, laughs and violence. Read More »

Skeleton Twins

Editor’s note: This is our review of The Skeleton Twins from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It opens in limited release this weekend so we are rerunning. 

When Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig were building their careers on Saturday Night Live, they played multiple characters every single week. That took incredible acting chops. Though they’ve since left the show and are concentrating mostly on comedy films, Craig Johnson‘s second film The Skeleton Twins proves these skilled comedic performers can be dramatic as well.

The Skeleton Twins is about estranged siblings, Maggie and Milo, who haven’t spoken in a decade. After they are reunited by tragedy their relationship is quickly rekindled, but deep old wounds re-open. That may sound overly solemn and, at its heart, The Skeleton Twins is certainly a drama. But you don’t cast Hader and Wiig just to cry and be depressed. The chemistry they built for years on TV sizzles on the big screen in characters with an exuberant realism. The movie itself is good, but Hader and Wiig make it great. Read More »

The Expendables 3 review

The Expendables 3 is a mostly successful blend of the franchise’s first two films. It’s filled with the wanton mayhem and destruction of the second film, but also plenty of terrible dialogue and overall cheesiness of the first movie. Despite those flaws, the Patrick Hughes sequel works because it’s constantly fun and features a story that builds off the fact the franchise was in danger of getting stale, leading it into a new era. Read the rest of our Expendables 3 review below. Read More »

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles review

The biggest problem with Jonathan Liebesman‘s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is how disposable it is. If the movie was silly and goofy, but entertaining and engaging even on the lowest level, it might be something worth talking about. But this movie is a cinematic flatline that shows rare blips of life only to crash back down again into nothing.

It’s not a total disaster. The Turtles themselves, now fully realized with performance-capture CG, look impressive. Their demeanors often harken back to the happy-go-lucky characters from various hit TV incarnations. Unfortunately, those personalities rarely get to shine because the film is hell-bent on setting up an overly complicated, way-too coincidental plot that never gives the Turtles a chance to breathe. The rare times we’re with them, they’re always preoccupied with saving one person or beating up a bunch of others. And because the Turtles never get to be true characters, there’s no emotional core and the movie fades away. Read More »

Guardians of the Galaxy review

I’m still trying to figure out how Guardians of the Galaxy works. It’s a movie set in an unfamiliar universe, it introduces several new characters with diverse backstories on numerous worlds, and features a talking raccoon, a fighting tree, familial death, and multiple villains, all set to seventies and eighties pop music. On paper, there’s no way the movie should work. But not only did writer/director James Gunn find the perfect mix to make it work, Guardians of the Galaxy soars. All of those elements marry each other just right to tell a singular, direct and entertaining story. Along the way there’s room for jaw-dropping and innovative action, beautiful visuals, robust characterizations and more laughs than probably all the other Marvel movies combined. Yes, Marvel has another winner in Guardians of the Galaxy. Read the rest of our Guardians of the Galaxy review below. Read More »

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This post contains some very minor spoilers for Season 2 of Orange is the New Black

I just finished the second season of Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black on Netflix and I was blown away by it. What an extraordinary piece of work Kohan has created: a show that is brimming with rich, complex characters, and that looks and sounds like nothing else on TV (or Netflix) right now.

Here are a few reasons why this show is so incredibly impressive.
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Life Itself

Editor’s Note: The following review was originally published on January 20th 2014 after a screening at the Sundance Film Festival. The review is being republished as the movie is hitting theaters.

A movie about the life of a film critic might sound a tad indulgent, but there’s never been another film critic with the influence and character of Roger Ebert. Almost anyone who’s ever seen a movie in the US (and many other countries) has heard his name or taken one of he and partner Gene Siskel’s patented “Two Thumbs Up” recommendations to the box office. As a young film fan, I remember scouring the TV Guide searching for the Sunday morning broadcasts of Siskel & Ebert, and devouring every episode. In particular, I’ll never forget an episode where Ebert dissected Quentin Tarantino’s camerawork in Pulp Fiction. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of film language. Ebert had that effect on a lot of people.

If Ebert opened up that world to people then Steve James‘ latest documentary Life Itself opens Ebert to the world. Based on Ebert’s autobiography of the same name, the film tells Ebert’s life story, yes, but it does so via the framework of our own love of the movies. Great care is taken to specifically illustrate not only how Ebert changed the face of film criticism, but how he helped us all discover our own passion for the movies.

Make no mistake though, this isn’t some simple love letter. Life Itself is a warts and all dissection as well as a beautiful tribute. Issues such as alcoholism, struggles with weight, ego and sex are all part of his story. This is a vast, entertaining and thought-provoking look at Ebert the man and Ebert the icon.

Read More »

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