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Editor’s Note: The following review was originally published on January 22nd 2014 after the film’s premiere at Sundance. The review is being republished as the film is being released in New York and Los Angeles this weekend, and expanding in the coming weeks.

In the case of an action movie like The Raid, I can’t fault anyone who wants to set plot aside and simply enjoy the action. With The Raid 2, that approach becomes impossible. Writer/director/editor Gareth Evans puts lofty goals fully on display in this sequel, which expands in every direction relative to the original. The action is bigger and more diverse, the story is more complex, and more emphasis is placed on dramatic performances even as the film’s physical demands intensify. Where the first was a tightly controlled action film that jettisoned all but the skeleton of a plot, this sequel is a huge crime tale featuring several criminal organizations competing for power, the police trying to catch up, and one young cop caught squarely in the middle.

Premiering the film at Sundance in a prime slot is a strange experiment of sorts. The Raid 2 isn’t a thing for general audiences; this is a hardcore genre movie. The swirl of Evans’ dramatic ambitions are punctuated by ultra-violent choreography, like a machine-gun snare drum tracked into a piece of classical music. It’s a tricky balancing act. The Raid 2 navigates the test awkwardly at best, because the story never connects as solidly as do the film’s thousand punches. Read More »

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Noah review

I’ve been a fan of director Darren Aronofsky since I first saw Pi. His film Requiem for a Dream remains one of my favorite movies of all time. Aronofsky has yet to make a movie I have dislike; his last few films were all in my top ten films of those respective years. Over the last decade, Aronofsky has become attached to a bunch of big budget projects including the films that later became Batman Begins, Watchmen, The Wolverine and Robocop. I’ve been itching to see what Aronofsky could accomplish with a larger budget. Noah is that film. Read my Noah review after the jump.

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Divergent review

Fair or not, it’s impossible not to measure Divergent against The Hunger Games. This is true for obvious reasons, in that they’re both dystopian YA adaptations featuring strong heroines, or that Divergent is actively and openly gunning to be the next Hunger Games. Unfortunately, it’s also true because Divergent, as directed by Neil Burger, never makes enough of a mark to rise above that easy comparison.

It’s not that Divergent is terrible. The movie serves up a couple of nice moments and some very appealing performances. But where the Hunger Games offered a rich, colorful universe, Divergent offers us a half-competed sketch. Where The Hunger Games felt bracingly different from its own predecessors, Twilight and Harry Potter, Divergent feels like well-meaning knock-off of all three.

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What would you do if you discovered that there was another person in the world who looked exactly like you? How quickly would your world be torn from its moorings? What would you do? Would you ignore that person? Or would you obsessively track him/her down? Either way, you’d probably feel like something was gravely wrong with this universe.

Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy, which features Jake Gyllenhaal playing two versions of himself, provokes this hypothetical unease, drawing it out expertly until it’s almost unbearable. The film is out in theaters this weekend. After the jump, check out my video review of it.

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Muppets Most Wanted review

The Muppets are nothing if not self-aware, and Muppets Most Wanted opens with a promising joke. Picking up just moments after the last movie left off, Kermit and company launch into a jaunty, toe-tapping musical number that acknowledges all the pitfalls of a follow-up. “We’re doing a sequel,” they sing. “That’s what we do in Hollywood / And everybody knows that the sequel’s never quite as good!”

But all the knowingness in the world can’t save the Muppets from the actual pitfalls of doing a sequel. In the end, Kermit’s early admission feels more like a warning than a joke. Muppets Most Wanted isn’t bad; in some parts, it’s very good. Still, it struggles to match the highs that the first one hit so easily.

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Captain America Winter Soldier review

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a big movie. Big in scope, dense in story, and pivotal to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. It continues the story of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), also known as Captain America, as he begins to return to “normal” life after saving the world with some friends in The Avengers. He’s joined by fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), a soldier turned friend Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) and a slew of others including, but not limited to, characters played by Sebastian Stan, Robert Redford, Frank Grillo, Georges St. Pierre, Cobie Smulders and Hayley Atwell. Like I said, it’s a big movie.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo do a solid job of molding all these moving parts into a story that, for the most part, makes sense. But even when the story gets a little too complicated and the exposition a bit too wordy, it’s quickly saved by its entertaining action and continual narrative twists. Many of these will change everything you thought you knew about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I’m not just talking about the two credits scenes. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a fun, worthy, if slightly bulky entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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‘Veronica Mars’ Review: The B*tch Is Back

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For most of the past year, the conversation surrounding Rob ThomasVeronica Mars has been about the way it was made. Now that the film premiere has finally arrived, though, the talk can turn to what he’s made. In an ideal world, Veronica Mars would serve the dual purpose of satisfying existing Marshmallows, as Veronica Mars devotees call themselves, while making new ones.

On the first count, I can say as a longtime fan (I was one of the 91,585 who contributed to the Kickstarter) that the sequel just about lived up to my expectations. On the second, it’s harder to judge. For all its imperfections, though, it unmistakably delivers in one respect: It left me wanting much, much more.

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Aaron Paul - Need for Speed movie review

Movies based on video games usually suck. They frequently graft dense, stupid stories to the tropes of a given game. In doing so, the soul of the game is lost, and you don’t care about the story, either. Need for Speed, on the other hand, finds a near perfect balance. There’s a story, but it contains just the bare minimum amount of logic and drama to make two hours of near non-stop racing believable.

Aaron Paul‘s lead character, Tobey Marshall, is given a motivation, enemies, and the push of a ticking clock. He pretty much sits behind a wheel for the whole movie, but it’s exciting. From the opening moments, Need for Speed puts the pedal to the metal and never lets up. Read More »

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