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ANNABELLE

A word of advice for horror movie producers: If youre going to riff on 70s horror classics like The
Omen and Rosemarys Baby, make sure to look more deeply at why those films connected with
viewers rather than just stealing their imagery. Merely mimicking them aesthetically is a hollow

exercise, and proof that you dont understand that horror is more than a series of jump cuts and
frightening images. Horror, at its best, taps into something deeper.
Theres nothing deep about Annabelle, the spin-off of The Conjuring. It offers surface level scares
without the undercurrent of humanity needed to make them register. Director John R. Leonetti and
writerGary Dauberman work proficiently enough on a technical level to craft a few scenes that get the
heart racing, but the climax of Annabelle is so misguided, silly and even offensive that any excuse
genre fans may be inclined to make for the mediocre hour-and-a half that precedes it will likely turn to
rage.
For the recordand its worth noting because of how angry our original review of The Conjuring still
makes fans of that filmI was a fan of James Wans 2013 ghost story. The director took a giant leap
forward in that work, proving he understands numerous elements that modern horror directors ignore,
such as the use of sound design and setting to create tension. These elements are discarded in
Annabelle."
If you saw the 2013 hit, you remember the creepy doll that wouldnt go away. Ghostbusters Lorraine
and Ed Warren kept Annabelle in a locked case, recognizing the true evil held within. How did
Annabelle go from a relatively harmless but totally creepy doll to a tool of the devil? Annabelle tries
to tell that story, using the Manson Murders and Rosemarys Baby as a backdrop. Some may be
tempted to write off Annabelle on concept alone, in that its something of a cash grab, like a straightto-video sequel designed to strike while a hit predecessor's iron is still hot. Still, I would argue that
Annabelle has the core of a good film within it. It's about how changing times in the 70s, when
otherwise safe neighborhood dwellers started locking their doors and apartment denizens began to
suspect their neighbors; the iconography of youth became sinister. You can sense shreds of this idea in
Annabelle, but the film doesn't develop them.
We learn that Annabelle was owned by a lovely young couple named Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John
(Ward Horton). In the run-up to the birth of their first child, John gave his wife the doll as a part of her
extensive collection. As Mia nears her due date, the couple faces unimaginable horror in the form of a
pair of Satanic cultists who break in, stab Mia in the belly, and end up dead in their home. The female
cultist happens to be named Annabelle Higgins, and some of her blood lands on the doll Annabelle.
Before you know it, Mia is seeing shadowy figures on the stairs, hearing noises in the night and
realizing that something evil wants her baby.
Thematically, nothing in Annabelle is developed beyond a level that might make it suitable for horror
movie manipulations. When we meet religious characters like Father Perez (Tony Amendola),
Annabelle threatens to take on some "The Exorcist" or "The Omen"-like undertones, chronicling a
time when some felt that Americans lost touch with their religious institutions. But the movie doesnt
really go there. When no one believes Mias haunting stories, Annabelle threatens to become a piece
about how new mothers can be ignored, their concerns portrayed as the byproduct of hormones. But
this notion isn't developed, either.

There are other problems. Wallis and Horton are remarkably unengaging leads. She mumbles, he overemotes, and the doll is allowed to steal scenes. And the film is visually flat. Pan reveals (panning
across a door or room to reveal something in the background) are over-used, and the sound is mixed to
grating levels. Its a movie that screams "Boo!" instead of trying to get under your skin. There is one
great set piece involving a storage unit in the basement and an elevator that just wont leave it, but
thats something you can watch on cable later, while ignoring the weak film that surrounds it.

THE INTERVIEW

After months of controversy and now a limited release in arthouse theaters and through VOD, The
Interview is nothing new, but it looks great. Its widescreen visuals are James Bond/"Mission:
Impossible" chrome-plated sleekness. The camera glides, shakes and catches the occasional wispy
anamorphic lens flare as characters flit through control rooms, conference rooms, hotel suites and
grand chambers. You expect Kanye West and some X-Men to show up. Its the visual approach
filmmakers likeEdgar Wright and various cohorts of this films star, Seth Rogen (including its codirector, Evan Goldberg), spent the past decade indulging, to give their flouncy bromantic comedies
the sizzle and swagger of a good action-adventure. To make it worth the trouble (and expense), you
need more than just a tight story and vivid characters. You need performers who play it without a wink.
Rogens co-lead, James Franco, takes a break from winking roughly one third of the time.
Late in the film theres a ludicrous, emotional scene between Francos character, an American news
personality-jackass, and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un (Randall Park), that reminds us what Franco
can do when he gets serious and subtle. His palpable sorrow almost makes the weak East-West jokes
pop. Early in the film, and for much of it, he is simply trying too hard. Imagine James Dean aiming
for Will Ferrell speed and pitch. In Francos relentless hyperactivity I sense immense fear, of not
supplying enough energy to this gargantuan film, of not giving Rogen enough to volley back. Its as
misguided as Leonardo DiCaprios yelping lizard in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Seth Rogen, on the other hand, hangs out. The credits list him as a co-director and producer, but he
wears none of the presumable stress of those duties in his performance. His naturalness serves the
chatterbox dialogue a lot better than Francos general muppet approach.
Francos manic newsman convinces his longtime producer (Rogen) to seek an interview with Kim Jongun after learning that their talk show is the supreme leaders favorite. Before they can seal the deal,
the CIA recruits them to poison Kim during their North Korea visit. Trouble is, Kim ends up showing a
human side very different from the Wests image of an infantile, eccentric tyrant. Could Kim be, deep
down, just a cool geek, an American slacker at heart?
I didnt laugh once, but there were several lines that, in context, got a wide fool-grin out of me. Here
are a few:
Shes not honeypotting you and Im not honeydicking him.
A tiger has night vision goggles?
Welcome to the jungle, baby, welcome to the jungle. Na na na knees.
McConaughey goat f--k!
A few other smirky lines related to the coming-out of a famous rapper* on Francos trashy TV show
prepare us for an average of one homosexual panic and/or homoerotic joke per scene--standard ratio

for the Rogen genre. (*The rappers deadpan actually saves the confession scene from Francos Jiminy
Glick-wannabe preening.)
Opportunities at rich satire flatten out into Hangover dude-dope-doodoo jokes, where the premise is
that theres nothing funnier than watching over-privileged grown men act out middle school id
worldwide, except for the spectacle of foreigners catching the Ugly American bug, too. They hate us
cuz they aint us is Rogens dismissal of his shows critics, and that philosophy extends to this films
worldview. Those that dont hate us are simply in awe, like the adorable North Korean official (Diana
Bang) who cant keep her hands off Rogen. She is liberated in his bed and, later, at his side, gunning
down her countrymen. But, again, thats nothing new. Everybody from Hope & Crosby to Eddie Golden
Child Murphy to Ben Tropic Thunder Stiller have used the worlds exotic locales to riff on American
insularity without challenging it. Cute, but the question is, when will this formula get as old to popular
filmmakers as it is to those of us who sense the complacency it encourages in a world that churns
blithe dehumanization into the stuff dictators and profiteers thrive on?

ROSEWATER

In 1997, on the first of several visits to Iran to investigate its cinema, I met a smart, genial young
Iranian-Canadian filmmaker and journalist named Maziar Bahari. We kept in occasional touch thereafter
and I followed his reporting on Iran in Newsweek, and was also impressed by his filmmaking, especially
a chilling documentary called Along Came a Spider, about an unapologetic Iranian serial killer who
preyed on prostitutes.

In 2009, after the learning the disturbing news that Bahari had been arrested while covering the
massive unrest that followed Irans contested presidential election, I was shocked to see footage of
him on television confessing to being a foreign spy and participating in a nefarious plot to destabilize
Iran by the West. Maziars tense, drawn expression as well as his absurd words made it clear that this
was a coerced statement, but what, I wondered, could have brought him to this point?
The answer to that is provided in Rosewater, the gripping, intelligent directorial debut of TV
personality Jon Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay, based on Baharis post-prison memoir, Then
They Came For Me.
The connection between Baharis story and Stewarts "The Daily Show" is made plain early in
Rosewater. While hes covering the election before being arrested, Bahari (expertly played by Gael
Garcia Bernal) gives an interview to one of Stewarts colleagues in which he jokes about being a spy.
Later, in prison, he will try to explain to his brutal interrogator (excellent Kim Bodnia), a man he
nicknames Rosewater for the cologne he wears, that this was all a joke and "The Daily Show" is satire,
not news.
The concept of spy talk being offered up for laughs, though, is obviously one that Rosewater cant
grasp. And no wonder: its entirely outside the frame of reference of a pious torturer whose life is
dedicated to the defense of Irans theocracy and its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. In one sense, the
two mindsets we see colliding in that interrogation roomone medieval, one modernform the crux not
only of Rosewaters drama, but also of Irans ongoing struggle over its identity and place in the world.
After a prologue showing Baharis arrest, the films first 40 minutes detail what led to it. In London,
Bahari leaves his partner Paola (Claire Foy), whos pregnant with their first child, for what both assume
will be a brief trip to Iran to cover its elections. In Tehran, people are in a fever-pitch of excitement over
a contest that pits hard-line sitting president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against his popular reformist
challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi.
As Bahari sees, Mousavi has strong support among young, educated and urban Iranians, while
Ahmadinejad, in addition to appealing more to the poor and unlettered, has bolstered his support with
massive government hand-outs. Though Mousavi has been leading in the polls, there are ominous
signs on several fronts. Supreme Leader Khamenei, who should remain neutral, has titled toward
Ahmadinejad, and in the campaigns one debate, Ahmadinejad adopts gutter tactics by smearing
Mousavis wife.
On election day, Ahmadinejads forces announce the results even before the polls close: their man has
won in a landslide. Mousavis supporters naturally suspect a massive fraud and begin protesting
immediately. Using a mix of documentary and dramatized footage, Stewart and editor Jay Rabinowitz
(abetted by ace cinematographer Bobby Bukowski) construct a riveting chronicle of the following days,
when, as the world watches via TV news and social media, more than a million Mousavi supporters
wearing green, a color associated with Islammarch in the streets claiming their votes have been
stolen. Its an uprising that shakes the Islamic Republics foundations.
In his book, Bahari says he later gained information that, a year before these events, Irans
Revolutionary Guards devised a plot in which he and a few others would be designated as agents of
the West attempting to stage a color revolution in Iran. The film doesnt indicate this. Rather, it hints

that he was targeted due to filming and disseminating images of protestors being gunned down as
they attacked the pro-government Basij militia HQ. (This turn from peaceful to violent protest was
crucial, and its unclear whether it was sparked by the governments thugs or agents provocateurs
from the MEK, an Iraq-based Marxist cult that allegedly has worked with the Mossad.)
Once hes in Tehrans notorious Evin prison, and under the harsh control of Rosewater, its obvious that
Bahari is in for an ordeal. His interrogator has been given marching orders: he must gain the reporters
admission of having worked for foreign intelligence services and incriminate others for doing the same.
Although in Baharis account he was beaten continuously (his face was spared because his captors
knew they wanted him on camera), Stewart downplays the physical violence and concentrates instead
on the psychological pressure that, even during the Shahs time, Iranian interrogators knew was more
effective in breaking down their victims.
In solitary confinement for days that turn into weeks and then months, Bahari has no other human
contact besides Rosewater, who taunts him that everyone he knows outside has abandoned him. So he
devises mental games to shore up his sanity, and has imaginary conversations with Paola as well as
his late father (Haluk Bilginer) and sister (Golshifteh Farahani), both of whom endured torture and long
prison sentences under the Shah.
There are a few lighter moments along the way, as when Bahari, sensing how much of Rosewaters
cruelty owes to sexual repression, tantalizes him with made-up stories of erotic massages hes
received in New Jersey (which Rosewater envisions as sin central). Yet most of Baharis experience is
torturous both literally and figuratively, and eventually he decides to give the regimes cameras the
fantasy conspiracy stories they want, in hopes that theyll let him go home to see his child born.
My one real gripe with Stewarts script is that it doesnt make clear that Bahari (according to his own
account), though admitting to media espionage, did not name names, i.e. implicate reformist
leaders, fellow journalists or others, as his captors wanted him to. This is a very important point in his
decision to cooperate with their televised confession of fabricated malefactions.
On the other hand, Stewarts script offers some very smart additions to Baharis account. In one scene,
he provides a recollection (as Ben Affleck did in the prologue of Argo) of the C.I.A.-backed coup that
overthrew Irans democratically elected leader in 1953a canny reminder that Irans suspicions
regarding the West are not all paranoid fantasies. In another scene, he reveals that Baharis father was
imprisoned for being a Communist and allows Maziar to challenge his self-righteous dad with the
observation that he devoted his life to the Stalinist system that produced the gulag, a model for Irans
torture mills.
In a sense, its when Maziar can free himself from his fathers heroic image that he is really free to go
home, notwithstanding the huge international outcry that helped secure his release. Unlike his father,
hes not prepared to sacrifice everything for an abstract ideal. His victory will lie in making it back to
his wife and daughterand living to tell the tale.

BIG HERO 6

I know I am part of an infinitesimal minority, but I wish Hollywood would consider a one-year
moratorium on superhero films. Between all the origin stories, the sequels, the spinoffs, the spoofs and

the too-soon reboots, I have had my fill of big-name actors in ridiculous outfits allowing their stunt
doubles or digital stand-ins to save the world.
When even a Denzel Washington action flick like The Equalizer plays like a start-up entry in a comicbook franchise, matters are getting out of hand.
Of course, such a break in the crash-boom action would at this point probably cause the ruination of
the movie business as we know it. No less than 24 new titles are slated for the next six years. Studios
might be forced to come up with some fresh ideas that arent already known quantities pre-packaged
as a brand. That is, once they run out of YA novels to adapt for the screen.
Which is why I was chagrined to learn that Disney, which has been nicely re-establishing itself as
animation powerhouse beyond its Pixar label after the success of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen, was
digging into the Marvel vault for toon-worthy material.
As a result, my expectations were low for Big Hero 6, based on an obscure comic book with a
Japanese manga sensibility that introduces yet another makeshift gang of warriors. In other words, the
dreaded origin story.
Much to my surprise, it didnt take long to warm to this tale set in the gleaming near-futuristic
metropolis known as San Fransokyo where trolley cars and an Asian-infused Golden Gate Bridge
happily co-exist with dumpling emporiums and Tokyo-inspired skyscrapers. And how could I resist
when, early on, a kick-ass gal is heard commanding a guy to Stop whining! Woman up!
I also was taken from the outset by the 14-year-old hero actually named Hiro (engagingly voiced
by Ryan Potter), an overly cocky punk who already has his high-school diploma. He is right on trend
with other troubled misfit geniuses in films this fall including those in The Imitation Game and The
Theory of Everything. Initially, the scrawny lad invests his smarts into winning back-alley robot fights
with deceptively simple electronic toys of his own design.
But after Hiro has a brush with the law, older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) invites him to check out
his colleges robotics lab with thoughts of enrolling. There he meets an A-team of tech specialists:
adrenaline junkie Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung, the source of the above Woman up! remark); upbeat
chemistry whiz Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez); cautious neat-freak Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr.);
and fanboy sidekick Fred, a sort of nerd answer Scooby-Doo pal Shaggy (T.J. Miller of TVs "Silicon
Valley," whose humorous asides fall flat as often as they tickle).
Thanks to a nifty science project involving microbots, Hiro is accepted at the school. Then tragedy
strikes after a fire traps and kills both Tadashi and Prof. Callaghan (James Cromwell), who was going to
be Hiros mentor. With no parents and his brother gone, Hiro retreats into his bedroom in the
apartment above a coffee shop run by his worrywart Aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph).
Big Hero 6 truly achieves liftoff, however, when Hiro happens upon Baymax, Tadashis invention, who
is the perfect fill-in as a big brother. A really big brother who is so viscerally huggable, you can
practically squish him with your eyes. Imagine a white 10-foot-tall inflatable robot programmed to tend
to the sick who is a cross between the Michelin Man, the Stay Puft marshmallow character from
Ghostbusters and a futon mattress.
A calm in any storm, Baymax is dedicated to easing pain of all sorts and certainly performs that
function for a grieving Hiro. He also has a great sense of physical humor not unlike such plus-size

comics as John Candy and John Belushi as he gingerly squeezes in and out of tight spots or stumbles
about as if drunk when his battery is low. Even his attempt at a fist bump is an ingenious running gag.
However, there is the rest of the plot to deal with and, if you havent guessed, Hiro along with a soon
souped-up Baymax and the four lab geeks form a crew of avengers. Their mission is to seek a
mysterious Kabuki-mask-wearing baddie suspected of setting the inferno as well as stealing Hiros
invention. There are sundry loud action sequences but none are as thrilling as the sight of Hiro and a
now-aerodynamic Baymax forming a bond similar to that of Hiccup and Toothless in "How to Train Your
Dragon" as they soar hither and yon above the urban sprawl.
Big Hero 6 becomes increasingly more predictable in its final half hour as it makes a few stabs at a
surprise twist or two. This is no The Incredibles, Pixars dysfunctional-family version of a superhero
saga, when it comes to originality. Baymax is great but hes no Edna Mode.
But Big Hero 6 deserves praise for promoting an anti-violence message amid mayhem thatsave for
the firedoesnt physically maim anyone nor involve guns or traditional weapons. An action adventure
that puts brain ahead of brawn as a valued commodity is always reason to celebrate. Add in the
considerable heart that Baymax contributes (with elements borrowed from both WALL-E and Up),
and you have a winner.
Stay until the very end of the credits if you want to see a reveal about Freds parentage. And resist
dawdling at the concession stand before being seated because you dont want to miss a second of
Feast. This stylized short shot from an ankle-level point of view condenses 12 years in the life of a
voracious Boston terrier named Winston. In between greedily gobbling his way through a smorgasbord
of table scraps--spaghetti, nachos and pizza--the chow hound manages to stop devouring long enough
to play Cupid for his owner. A sprig of parsley never seemed so romantic.
However, as a dog owner myself, I am hoping Feast doesnt end up encouraging children (or adults)
to start feeding their own pets such not-good-for-them food as saucy meatballs. Because I doubt that
Disney will agree to pick up any resulting cleaning bills.

NIGHT CLAWLER

Dan Gilroy's thriller "Nightcrawler" is about an amateur cameraman who parlays his eye and his nerve
into a successful small business, deceiving, manipulating and exploiting everyone who stands in his
way. Shot by Paul Thomas Anderson's regular cinematographer Robert Elswit through what could be a
Night Vision Rot filter, it's a film about how sociopaths get over on everyone else, and a portrait of a
disturbed, marginal loner that would fit perfectly on a double bill with "Taxi Driver" and "Henry: Portrait
of a Serial Killer." It's also a media satire in the spirit of "Network" and "To Die For" that takes the
slogan "If it bleeds, it leads" to its horrifyingly logical conclusion. It's a comedy.
The movie's hero, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a man living on the fringes. He's first seen trying to
cut through a chain-link fence to steal scrap that he can sell for pocket money. While driving late at
night, he happens upon cameramen filming a car wreck. He asks the lead cameraman (Bill Paxton)
what TV station they work for, and learns that they're freelancers who monitor police radios, chase
down wrecks and fires and homicides, and sell their video footage to the highest bidder. The rates
aren't great, but they're better than what Lou is used to, so he buys a camera and gets in on the
action.
This leads him to a local station whose news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), has been up and
down the dial, as a certain sitcom's theme song once sang, and needs to raise her newscast out of last
place to keep from getting fired. Any idealism she had was ground out of her years ago; only
desperation remains, and she speaks frankly to Lou from the moment she meets him, sensing a
kindred spirit. (She has no idea how kindred: soon enough he'll cajole, pressure and even scare her into
unleashing her own inner Lou.) Nina tells him to avoid covering crime in poor or nonwhite
neighborhoods because nobody cares about it; the sexiest crime stories are ones involving affluent
white folks. At one point she flat-out tells Lou that the newscast's aesthetic could be boiled down the
the image of "a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut." The newscasters'
warning "These are extremely graphic images" is not, of course, a warning; it's a come-on.
Sensing a golden opportunity, Lou feeds Nina footage that's more artless than the stuff offered by
other local crews, but much bloodier. It starts with shots of a domestic killing that he obtained by
sneaking past crime tape and wandering around inside the gore-strewn house (blurred by Nina's

technicians, but only because they're required to blur it) and escalates, to the point where Lou is subtly
goosing circumstances in order to produce more violence and chaos which he can then tape and sell.
Lou and his easily cowed assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), breach barriers they aren't supposed to breach,
and get close enough to police investigators and firefighters and EMT's that they break their
concentration and sometimes interfere with their work, but their literally in-your-face footage sets
them apart from teams that film from a discreet distance, with a zoom lens.
Lou is also a sick person who, on first glance, might strike you as a reasonable, personable guy. He
talks like a Tom Cruise go-getter from a 1980s hita comparison furthered by certain filmmaking
choices, such as the "inspirational" montages of Lou hustling toward success while James Newton
Howard's triumphant retro synth-pop pounds in our eardrums. The hero gets a number of Stick-it-tothe-Man applause lines, the best of which is a kiss-off to a rival who has figured out that Lou is for real
and wants to co-opt him rather than compete with him. "I feel like grabbing you by the ears right now
and screaming, 'I'm not fucking interested,'" Lou tells him, in the sort of tone one might reserve for,
"What are your store hours?" or "I'll have a mushroom omelet, cooked with very little butter."
But it would be a mistake to suggest that "Nightcrawler" is told from Lou's point-of-view, much less
that it endorses his behavior. It's too attuned to the anxiety and misery of the people he manipulates
to validate such a reading. But it does put a subtle editorial frame around Lou's odyssey.
"Nightcrawler" is the blackly comedic, Neo-noir, night-people thriller that I wanted the Travis-Bickle-asSuperman fantasy "Drive" to be. Like "Drive," it could be described as the best picture Michael
Mann never made: a film about a private, ruthless loner who pursues his dream his way, always, and
whose path through the world is marked by the bloodstains of the people he's rolled over.
This is a classic film, not just because every scene and line is casually beautiful and devoid of
extraneous touches, but because its tone is mercilessly exact. Gilroy, a first-time feature director who
has written or cowritten many movies, including "The Bourne Supremacy," knows what he wants to
say, and how to say it. He maintains just the right amount of distance from Lou, so that we get a buzz
from his audacity while finding him revolting. We're not so much looking down on Lou as peering into
an abyss that exists, to some degree, within everyone: the lightless home of that little voice that
whispers, "You've just gotta do what makes you happy," and "It is easier to ask forgiveness than
permission."
There's a lively satirical aspect, and it's not confined to TV news or journalism in general, or even the
modern, social media-driven culture of continuous surveillance and voyeurism. The entire film is,
among other things, an attempt to treat certain American myths straightforwardly, within the context
of a somewhat realistic drama, the better to pursue them to their bitter conclusion. It's warning against
being fooled (in life) by people who remind us of can-do-All-American-hotshot heroes in fiction:
incarnations of apple pie capitalism who see what they want (fame, money, a job, a mate), and go
after it, and refuse to take no for an answer, even if the "no" is delivered through tears.

That tabloid journalism rewards the shameless doesn't count as a breaking news flash, but
"Nightcrawler" is not interested in stoking our outrage over what we already know. It's using TV news
as a means to an endto show how a man who presents as "normal," even "likable" and "motivated"
and "capable," can be evil, and seduce us into being evil, too. Lou's inspirational aphorisms are
chillingly funny once you realize they're devoid of generosity and decency, and that he sees other
people only as possessions, allies or obstructions: "I believe that good things come to those who work
their asses off." "Television news might be something I love as well as something I'm good
at." Primitive cultures believe a photograph can steal a soul. This man is a master thief.

LAGGIES

Movies about men in states of arrested development are legion. Theyre the reason Judd Apatow, Adam
Sandler and others too numerous to mention have careers. In film after film, male actors riff on the
asinine notion that boys will be boys while their understanding, far more mature female counterparts
smile and eagerly wait for them to grow up. These characters are free to be hurtful, dangerous,
horrible, mean and idiotic if they so desire. Its all presented with the excuse of hey, this is how dudes
act.
Laggies aims to flip the gender script, offering up Keira Knightley as Megan, an immature 29-year old
wandering aimlessly through life. But since it cant rely on blaming a Y chromosome for Megans
affliction, Laggies is forced to either dive fearlessly into immaturity with her or stand on the sidelines
to tsk-tsk. It chooses the latter, much to my chagrin.
Megans sense of humor is still 16, as is her sense of entitlement, and her friends are starting to
outgrow her. Megans high school girlfriends are getting married, working at jobs, having childrenyou
know, stuff adults doand the mere notion terrifies Megan. She works as a sign-twirler for her dad (Jeff
Garlin) and is still dating her sweet but dull high school boyfriend. When the boyfriend proposes to her
at another friends wedding, Megan feels the hot breath of adulthood breathing down with a
vengeance on her damn-near-thirty neck. Action is swiftly taken.
In an attempt to recapture her treasured adolescence, Megan runs off to join a circus of teenage girls.
She first meets them outside a supermarket, where their leader, Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz), asks
Megan to buy them some booze. Feeling a kinship to Annikas underage dilemma, Megan pays it
forward for all of the adults who once bought booze for her. Feeling a combination of mentor and peer,
Megan even offers up suggestions on what the teens should imbibe.
Annika is impressed that the elderly (in her eyes, that is) Megan can still rock a skateboard, and the
two become quick buddies. Annika gives Megan a cell phone, and before you can say Friends and
Framily, Megan is crashing at Annikas house for a week. To avoid suspicion, Megan tells her fianc
that shes attending a career seminar out of town. During her stay, Megan proves useful to Annika for
things like pulling one over on the school principal, and Annika returns the favor by making Megan feel
like shes still one of the cool high school girls.
But how, you may ask, does Megan live under Annikas roof yet not get caught by her parents? Well,
she gets caughtand a whole lot moreby Annikas dad, Craig (Sam Rockwell). This is where
Laggies starts to fall apart. Craig is a typical Rockwell role, cocky and arrogant. In his short screen
time, Rockwell creates the most interesting character in Andrea Seigels debut screenplay. Watching
him, you see the apple hasnt fallen far from the tree. Annika possesses his sharp, snarky wit and his
no-nonsense b.s. detector. His single dad relationship with his daughter is a ripe subplot waiting to be
exploited, if only as a reminder to Megan of how aggravating adolescence can be. Yet Craig is strictly a
plot device. The way he is eventually used is insulting to the character, Megan and the audience.

I cop to not being a fan of Lynn Sheltons work. Her films fall apart in their third acts. Rather than
simply crumble as they have in her prior work, the third act of Laggies implodes in grand fashion,
spewing contrivances, bad clichs and an ending that is simply unforgivable.
With that said, Shelton does play to her strength with actors here. There isnt a bad performance to be
found. Of particular note is Moretz, who continues to impress by being one of the most giving actresses
working today. Laggies was the third film of hers I saw at the Toronto Film Festival, and after
watching her self-confident turn in the great Clouds of Sils Maria and her excellent diner table scene
in The Equalizer, Im convinced that few young actors today can match her ability to be so reliably
present and charitable in moments with another actor. Her emotional moments here nourish the other
actors responses, elevating everyone in the scene.
When the film ended, I asked Why did Megan wind up here? Id consider the final scene an allowance
for Megan to have not learned much on her journey, but Laggies is rarely on the side of her
immaturity. Knightley, who is game for the darkness her role could contain, is never afforded the same
agency a male version of her character would have. The film keeps forcing her to err on the side of
likability, while hinting it does not support her actions.
In an amusing nod to the fact that teenagers are usually played in movies by people Knightleys age,
Craig immediately pegs Megan as not a teenager. He allows this sexy, strange woman to stay in his
house for no reason I could deduce other than that he might be able to bang her. Laggies shows him
to be the only cool adult in Megans world; everyone else is presented as needy or a drag for not
having time to pursue the frivolity Megan so desperately craves. You'll want to run away from the
adulthood Laggies promotes. The movie just doesnt provide a credible place to escape.
JOHN WICK

Just when John Wick thought he was out, they pull him back in.
Its the tried-and-true formula of one last job/heist/assignment. A longtime bad guy leaves the life of
crime in pursuit of peace and quiet, but naturally gets dragged back to his old haunts and habits to
settle a final score. But John Wick breathes exhilarating life into this tired premise, thanks to some
dazzling action choreography, stylish visuals andmost importantlya vintage anti-hero performance
from Keanu Reeves.
Toward the end of the film, a menacing Russian mobster remarks that the veteran hit man John Wick
looks very much like the John Wick of old. Keanu Reeves looks very much like the Keanu Reeves of old,
as well. Elegantly handsome and athletically lean, he looks fantastic at 50 and is comfortably, securely

back in action-star mode. Not that hes been gone that longor deviated that much from his persona
but this later-stage butt-kicking does call to mind Liam Neesons recent resurgence in movies like
Taken, The Grey and Non-Stop.
After all these years, though, hes still quintessentially Keanu. He radiates a Zen-like calm which makes
him simultaneously elusive and irresistible, especially in the face of great mayhem. Theres still a
boyish quality to his face but it belies the wisdom of his years. Hes smarter than he looks but hes in
no great hurry to go out of his way to prove it to youat least, not on screen. He just is.
A character like John Wick is right in Reeves wheelhouse because it allows him to be coolly, almost
mythically confident, yet deliver an amusing, deadpan one-liner with detached precision. (This is when
traces of the playful characters of his youthTed Theodore Logan and Johnny Utahtake a moment to
surface.) But when the time comesand it comes often in John Wickhe can deliver with a graceful
yet powerful physicality.
Soon after the death of his wife (Bridget Moynahan)the woman whose love inspired him to retire from
his life as an expert assassinWick receives an unwelcome visit to his minimalist, modern mansion in
the middle of the night. Russian bad guys have come to steal his prized 1969 Mustangand they kill his
dog in the process. The latter act is horrifying in itself; whats even worse is that the adorable beagle
puppy, Daisy, was a posthumous gift to John from his dying wife, who knew hed need someone else to
love.
(Moynahans character, by the way, is barely even a person. Shes an image on a smartphone video
clipa body lying in a hospital bed, suffering from an unspecified disease. She's an idea. But her loss
provides Wick with a melancholy that lingers over his demeanor and every decision he makes.)
Wick wastes no time unearthing his stashed arsenal and seeking revenge. It turns out that the groups
reckless, young leader, Iosef (Alfie Allen), is the son of a former associate of Wicks: mob boss Viggo
Tarasov (a sophisticated but scary Michael Nyqvist), who is fully aware of Wicks killing capacity. Also in
the mix is Willem Dafoe as an expert sniper who may or may not be on Wicks side. Once the premise
is established in the script from Derek Kolstad, its scene after scene of Wick taking out entire rooms
full of people who are foolish enough to stand in his way. This is not exactly a complicated genre from a
narrative perspective.
But directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitchwho work as a filmmaking team, although Leitch
technically takes producing creditare both veteran stuntmen who clearly know what theyre doing
when it comes to this kind of balletic action. Stahelski got his break 20 years ago when he served as a
stunt double following Brandon Lees deadly accident while shooting The Crow and went on to
perform as Reeves stunt double in The Matrix trilogy. Leitchs work includes doubling for Brad Pitt (in
Fight Club and Mr. and Mrs. Smith) and Matt Damon (in The Bourne Ultimatum).

All those years of experience and exposure give their film a level of confidence you dont ordinarily see
in first-time directors. Theyre smart enough to let the intricate choreography speak for itself. They let
the fight scenes play out without relying on a lot of nauseating shaky-cam or Cuisinart edits, which
sadly have become the aesthetic standard of late.
But beyond the exquisite brutality they put on display, theyve also got an eye for artistry, with
cinematographer Jonathan Selahelping convey an ominous sense of underworld suspense. Early
scenes are so crisply desaturated, they look black and white, from the cloudy, rainy skies over Wicks
wifes funeral to his head-to-toe wardrobe to his sleek, slate-gray Mustang. As Wick begins to reimmerse himself in the criminal world hed escaped, other scenes pop in their vibrancythe deep green
of a secret, members-only cocktail bar, or the rich red of a Russian bad guys shirt under an
impeccably tailored suit.
While the body count grows numbing and repetitive, John Wick actually is more compelling in the
aesthetically heightened, specifically detailed world it depicts. Its the New York City of the here and
now, but Wick, his fellow assassins and other sundry nefarious sorts occupy their own parallel version
of it, with its own peculiar rules which almost seem quaint. They have their own currency: gold coins
reminiscent of pirates doubloons, which can be used for goods and services or just as thanks for a
favor. And they frequent an upscale, downtown hotel and bar called The Continental (Lance
Reddick from The Wire is the unflappably polite manager), a sort of safe zone where protocol dictates
that peace prevails, and where killing is cause for dismissal. The courtliness of it all provides an
amusing and welcome contrast to the non-stop carnage.
You can check out any time you'd like, it seems, but you can never leave.

BIRDMAN

The first time we see Michael Keaton in his tighty-whities in Birdman, its from behind. His character,
a formerly high-flying movie star, is sitting in the lotus position in his dressing room of a historic
Broadway theatre, only hes levitating above the ground. Bathed in sunlight streaming in from an open
window, he looks peaceful. But a voice inside his head is growling, grumbling, gnawing at him
grotesquely about matters both large and small.
The next time we see Keaton in his tighty-whities in Birdman, hes dashing frantically through Times
Square at night, having accidentally locked himself out of that same theatre in the middle of a
performance of a Raymond Carver production that he stars in, wrote and directed. Hes swimming
upstream through a river of gawking tourists, autograph seekers, food carts and street performers. But
despite the chaos that surrounds him, he seems purposeful, driven andfor the first timeoddly
content.
These are the extremes that director Alejandro G. Inarritu navigates with audacious ambition and
spectacular skill in Birdmanthe full title of which is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of
Ignorance). Hes made a film thats both technically astounding yet emotionally rich, intimate yet
enormous, biting yet warm, satirical yet sweet. Its also the first time that Inarritu, the director of
ponderous downers like Babel and Biutiful, actually seems to be having some fun.
Make that a ton of fun. Birdman is a complete blast from start to finish. The gimmick hereand its a
doozy, and it works beautifullyis that Inarritu has created the sensation that you are watching a two-

hour film shot all in one take. Working with the brilliant and inventive cinematographer Emmanuel
Lubezki (who won an Oscar this year for shooting Gravity for Inarritus close friend and fellow
Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron), Inarritu has constructed the most delicate and dazzling high-wire
act. And indeed, before shooting began, the director sent his cast a photo of Philippe Petit walking a
tightrope between the World Trade Center towers as inspiration.
Through impossibly long, intricately choreographed tracking shots, the camera swoops through narrow
corridors, up and down tight stairways and into crowded streets. It comes in close for quiet
conversations and soars between skyscrapers for magical-realism flights of fancy. A percussive and
propulsive score from Antonio Sanchez, heavy on drums and cymbals, maintains a jazzy, edgy vibe
throughout. Sure, you can look closely to find where the cuts probably happened, but that takes much
of the enjoyment out of it. Succumbing to the thrill of the experience is the whole point.
Just as thrilling is the tour-de-force performance from Keaton in the role of a lifetime as Riggan
Thompson, a washed-up actor trying to regain the former glory he achieved as the winged action hero
Birdman. The film follows the fraught early going of his Broadway debut which is also his last shot at
greatnessalthough his on-screen alter ego doesnt help much by voicing his fears and making him
doubt himself incessantly. Yes, its knowingly amusing that Keaton, who peaked 20-plus years ago as a
superhero, is playing an actor who peaked 20-plus years ago as a superhero. Although Id happily
argue that Keatons Batman forTim Burton in 1989 is THE definitive performance of the iconic
characterbut thats a whole nother conversation for another time.
Or is it? While Birdman exists in its own meticulously realized world, its very much of this time and
place from a pop-culture perspective, with references to other real-life actors like Robert Downey Jr.
and Michael Fassbender whove enjoyed enormous success when theyve donned the superhero duds.
The script from Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo is cleverly meta
without being too cutesy and self-satisfied.
Keaton gets to toy with his persona a bitas well as acknowledge how comparatively quiet his career
has been in recent yearsbut seeing him in seasoned form provides its own joy. Hes still hyper-verbal
and playful and he can still be amusing and lacerating in his delivery, but theres a wry wistfulness and
even a desperation in the mix now thats achingly poignant.
Also confronting his real-life reputation is Edward Norton as Mike Shiner, the brilliant but infamously
capricious actor who steps in as Riggans co-star just as previews are about to begin on his labor-oflove production of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Norton, whos come with the
baggage of being difficult and demanding over the years, finds just the right balance between
arrogance and sincerity.
Besides, they need each other, as they find in the days leading up to opening night. They all need each
other. Inarritu has amassed a tremendous supporting cast and made ridiculous technical demands of
them, yet theyve all more than risen to the occasion and relished the chance to shine.

Zach Galifianakis plays strongly against type as Riggans manager and the rare voice of reason in the
middle of all this madness. Emma Stone is adorable as Riggans world-weary, wise-ass daughter who
also serves as his assistant. (She and Norton have crackling chemistry in a couple of crucial
scenes.) Amy Ryan does wonders with her brief screen time as Riggans ex-wife; she fleshes him out
and allows us to see both the selfish and the good in him. And Naomi Watts, who starred in Inarritus
wrenching 21 Grams, gets to play both light and heavy moments as a neurotic fellow cast member.
Its powerfully clear that they all worked their asses of to make this complicated thrill ride look
effortless. The result is one of the best times youll have at the movies this yearwhich might even be
the best movie this year.BOOK OF LIFE

The Book of Life bedazzles your eyes and buoys your spirits as it treads upon themes most
commonly associated with the macabre universe of Tim Burton. But instead of being gaga for
ghoulishness, this Mexican fiesta of animated splendor is packed with visual delights far more sunny
than sinister as they burst forth as if flung from an over-packed piata.
A collaboration between fledgling Reel FX Creative Studios and 20th Century Fox, The Book of Life is
a rare cartoon feature that doesnt just deserve to be seen in 3-D, but practically demands it.

Complementing the eye candy is a quirkily eclectic soundtrack, including catchy new songs by awardwinning score writer Gustavo Santaolalla and Paul Williams of The Rainbow Connection fame, and a
wide-ranging voice cast. If you always wanted to hear opera great Placido Domingo sing Cielto Lindo
and its ay-yai-yai-yai refrain as if it were Verdi, here is your chance.
That said, the basics of this fantastical fable, whose ingenious puppet-like character designs draw upon
the familiar wooden folk-art figures associated with the annual celebration of The Day of the Dead, are
somewhat overly familiar despite all the rich cultural references that spice up the proceedings.
There is the ever-popular love triangle in the form of three childhood amigos. Our main hero, the
tender-hearted Manola (Diego Luna, whose boyish vocals are a constant source of plaintive pleasure),
comes from a long line of legendary bullfighters and is skilled in the ring himself. But his true calling is
that of a guitar-strumming troubadour. The boastful Joaquin (Channing Tatum, who taps into his
abundant reserve of amusing swagger) is a man of action, a mucho-macho mustachioed bandit-rustler
with a broad chest crammed with medals.
They both pursue Maria, the smart and headstrong daughter of the general who runs their village of
San Angel. She has all the usual attributes of the typical empowered animated female lead a
bookworm with martial-arts fighting skills and all that -- but is lucky enough to be blessed with the
vivacious vocal spark of Avatars Zoe Saladana.
The Book of Lifes multi-tiered plot also involves dueling married deities who reign over separate
domains in the afterlife and decide to make a wager. La Muerte (well-known telenovela star Kate del
Castillo), who oversees the cheery Land of the Remembered and believes in the decency of mortals,
bets that sensitive soul Manolo will win Marias hand. Xiabalba (Ron Perlman, a pet actor of the films
producer, Guillermo del Toro), a devious sort who rules the dour Land of the Forgotten, backs the vain
Joaquin.
Xiabalba fools Manolo into entering The Land of the Remembered to seek Maria, when it turns out she
has only fallen into a Sleeping Beauty-style slumber. In order to return to The Land of the Living
himself, Manolo must undergo a series of challenges involving his colorful ancestors. Meanwhile, San
Angel is being threatened by the fearsome bandit Chakal (whose metallic monster form feels like a del
Toro invention) and his gang of nasty thieves.
A three-way romance, multiple worlds, numerous feats, combative gods, a monstrous foe all these
layers make for a rather dense confection. But first-time feature director and co-writer Jorge R.
Gutierrez (co-creator of Nickelodeons El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera) smartly tames his
somewhat unwieldy story by cleverly having a modern-day museum guide (Christina Applegate)
transfix a group of rowdy school kids by relating the tale we are watching as if it were a fable of old.
Where this device comes in handiest is when the subject of death is broached and the children think
Maria has really passed away. As one dismayed boy exclaims, Maria died? What kind of story is this?

Were just kids. Gutierrez thoughtfully deflects any parental concern about dealing with a potentially
morbid subject with a refreshing directness that goes beyond such iconic animated tragedies as the
deaths of Bambis mother and Simbas father in The Lion King.
There is genius to be mined in the smaller details, something that Gutierrez excels at as he playfully
mixes mythology both real and invented with pop-art touchstones. From a chorus of angelic singing
nuns and hirsute town elders whose protruding snouts recall the hippie eras Fabulous Furry Freak
Brothers to pigs-gone-wild mayhem and a tipsy mariachi trio who slur their way through Rod Stewarts
Do Ya Think Im Sexy and Biz Markies Im Just a Friend, The Book of Life isnt afraid to catch us
off guard. When a forlorn Manolo, abandoned by the townsfolk after refusing to kill a bull in the ring,
starts to wail Radioheads Creep, you could hear teen girls at my screening yelp in joyful
recognition.
But Guiterrez even goes a step beyond, as The Book of Life personifies the philosophy that drives
The Day of the Dead and encourages a healthy way to celebrate those who are gone. As he puts it, As
long as you remember those who came before you, and as long as you tell their stories, cook their
dishes, and sing their songs theyre with you. They live inside your heart.
And this filmmakers heart definitely beats inside this impressive debut.
FURY

Although many commentators will no doubt immediately compare the new WW II epic "Fury" to
Quentin Tarantino's brilliant "Inglourious Basterds," largely because both films star Brad Pitt as a
heavily-scarred, drawling Army man leading his men in a quest to kill as many Nazis as possible, it is
actually closer in tone to a straightforward and un-ironic guys-on-a-mission tale along the lines of "The
Dirty Dozen" or "Where Eagles Dare," with a heavy dollop of gruesome bloodletting depicting the true
horrors of armed conflict that have been de rigueur for the war movie genre in the wake of "Saving
Private Ryan." It may sound like an interesting approach for a modern war film, but it doesn't take long

to realize that writer-director David Ayer has spent more time adding flesh to his battlefield sequence
than he has in fleshing out the screenplay. The end result, while technically impressive, is a
dramatically bloodless affair, despite the gallons of gore on display.
Set during the waning days of the war, with Allied forces marching through Germany on the way to
Berlin and the Nazis pulling out all the stopsincluding putting kids into battle and hanging those who
refuse to fightto stop them. Pitt plays Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier, the commander of a five-man
Sherman tank crew that has been together since North Africa, and who he is determined to see survive
to the end of the war. His men include the religious-minded gunner Bible (Shia LaBeouf), the Hispanic
lead driver Gordo (MIchael Pea) and the borderline scumbag mechanic Coon-Ass (Jon Berenthal). As
the story opens, they have just lost their second driver in battle, and at their next stop, they take on a
new man in Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a wet-behind-the-ears type who has only been in the war
for a few weeks as a typist and who has never fired a gun before, let alone served in combat.
Needless to say, the other members of the Fury crew are not impressed with the new guy and are even
less so when he winds up barfing all over the place while cleaning up the blood in the cab left by his
predecessor. Things get worse when Norman chokes during his first confrontation in a move that leads
to the grisly death of another tank commander in their column. Eventually, he proves his mettle and
begins to mesh with the team at last and Wardaddy even takes him out during a brief stopover to an
impromptu rendezvous with a couple of German women (Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg) to
relieve him of his virginity. After an ambush that wipes out the other tanks that they are traveling with,
Fury finally breaks down, but before it can be repaired and the five men are placed in the seemingly
impossible position of trying to single-handedly stave off the arrival of 300 SS troops.
Ayer is best known for writing and/or directing such gritty cop dramas as "Training Day," "End of
Watch" and this year's brutally idiotic Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle "Sabotage," and, with this film,
he takes a giant leap forward in terms of scope and ambition, but only generates middling results.
When it comes to the details, Ayer excelshe convincingly evokes the look and feel of this period in
history and also does a decent job of suggesting how a quintet of people who would likely never even
acknowledge each other in other circumstances can forge together into a single working unit in times
of duress. The action sequences are also nicely staged, with one battle in which the smaller but faster
Sherman races around to fight off a larger but slower German Tiger tank offering some genuine thrills.
The trouble with "Fury" is that while stocking up on all the little details, Ayer has failed to provide much
of a narrative for them to hang upon. The film may remind some viewers of the kind of thing that one
might have seen on the bottom half of a double-bill in 1943the storyline is trite and unsurprising, the
dialogue is almost always just a little too on-the-nose, and the climactic standoff against the
approaching Nazi forces feels too contrived for its own good. In those aforementioned B movies, that
wasn't such a problem because they usually clocked out at 80 minutes or so and moved quickly
enough so that viewers usually didn't notice such flaws. "Fury," on the other hand, clocks in at 134
minutes and it makes you feel every one of them in ponderous detail. (The sequence with the German

women starts off nicely enough but goes on forever before finally arriving at its inevitable payoff.)
Speaking of ponderous, the film is, between Steven Price's oppressive score and the cacophony of
combat, so noisy that if there was an Oscar given for Most Sound, it would be the clear front-runner.
On the acting front, Brad Pitt is goodof course, he is almost always goodbut never quite finds a way
of approaching his character that doesn't call to mind his indelible performance as Aldo Raine in
"Inglourious Basterds." Likewise, his co-stars turn in decent-enough performances (though LaBeouf's
attempts to grizzle himself up via darkened teeth and an especially unfortunate mustache may inspire
a few bad laughs early on), but the characters are so paper-thin and devoid of any shading beyond
their one approved character trait that they aren't able to do much of anything with them to make
them live or breathe. Since we have not been given any particular reason to care about these
particular characters, other than the fact that they are not Nazis, the final conflict and the personal
sacrifices they make wind up having precious little dramatic impact.
"Fury" isn't so much a bad movie as it is a fairly unnecessary one. From a technical standpoint, it is
occasionally quite impressive and fans of the WWII genre as a whole might find it to be of some
interest, though those with weaker constitutions may want to give it a second thought considering all
the blood and guts on display. From a dramatic and emotional perspective, however, it just sort of
lumbers along without ever generating a real sense of interest in what is happening on the scene. If
only Ayer had spent a little less time on the physical aspects of this project and given a little more
thought to the story, characters and dialogue, he might have been able to truly do "Fury" honor
instead of giving viewers just another war potboiler.

BEST OF ME

A ruggedly hunky guy toiling on a Louisiana oil rig decides to cuddle up with a thick Stephen
Hawkingbook on his lunch break. We will soon hear him in a voiceover pondering his destined path in
life while the stars sparkle in the sky as if a Swavorski crystal display exploded at the mall.
Yeah, right, I found myself saying out loud. Little did I know that I should have saved that remark for
the truly ridiculous situations that were lying in wait during the rest of The Best of Me.
Besides, at this point, there is little use going against the tide of tears wept in the name of the
shamelessly swoony sob-a-paloozas based on the best-selling romantic novels of the wealthier-thanthou Nicholas Sparks.
As a moviegoer, however, you do have a choice. Either weep with themor laugh at them. Or stay far,
far away.

The Best of Me, the ninth Sparks-based film, falls squarely in the mediocre category and makes
2004s The Notebook seem like Casablanca. It revolves around a second chance at true love as
high-school sweethearts are reunited after 20 years following the death of a mutual friend. The
aforementioned hunk is Dawson (James Marsden), a loner of few words who scored 1520 on his SATs
yet settled into a blue-collar job. At least it is an excuse to see what Marsden would look like as the
construction worker in the Village People.
Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) is an upper-class housewife who dotes on her teen son and bitterly
weeps over her crumbling marriage to a self-involved twerp who is an alcoholic, workaholic and allaround jerkaholic. She and Dawson both return to their hometown for the reading of a will of a man
named Tuck. Soon they are riffling through the goodies of a fairy-tale cottage they have jointly
inherited that is straight out of a Thomas Kincade painting, complete with oaks draped in Spanish
moss, fields of rosy posies ripe for the picking and an old-fashioned swimming hole.
Cue the flashback to 1992, even though it seems more like an Ozzie and Harriet episode, with its soda
shop named Squeals, than the year when Nirvanas Nevermind topped the album charts and
Reservoir Dogs was released. The teen Amanda (played byLiana Liberato) is an outspoken lawyerwannabe rich girl with a very strange penchant for backless attire who pursues the withdrawn Dawson
(Luke Bracey) in the most wholesome way possible. Sparks sparks eventually fly, including a requisite
smooch in the rain, despite their desperate backgrounds and personalities.
Time for another Yeah, right! Complicating matters is that Dawson is a member of a notorious Cole
clan of white-trash swamp-rat outlaws. They, too, appear to be from discordant time periods. Dawsons
nasty redneck daddy, who cant keep his fists to himself, could be trying out as a member of the
Barrow gang in Bonnie and Clyde. Meanwhile, his gap-toothed, mullet-headed hench brothers might be
related to the meth-lab backwoods lowlifes in "Winters Bone" by way of "Deliverance." Basically, these
portions feel like an old SCTV skit that never made it on air.
However, the most distracting and near-fatal incongruity is the choice of Bracey as the younger
Dawson. There is no way and no how that this actor would ever grow up to be Marsden. For one thing,
he actually looks older. Not only that, he doesnt look, act or sound like him. What is even sillier is
when Monaghans Amanda makes the observation to Marsdens Dawson, as they find themselves
falling for each other again, that somehow youve gotten better looking. And she is, of course, right.
The one pleasant respite is whenever Gerald McRaney shows up in the flashbacks as Tuck, a gruff yet
caring former military man and widower who becomes a second father to Dawson after he runs away
from home. And pros that they are, Marsden and Monaghan make for a very pretty couple as they
manage to stay committed to their characters, no matter what trite nonsense trickles out of their
mouths.
At a certain point, though, the coincidences and tragic incidents start to pile up at a startling rate and
nothing can be taken seriously. Not that you dont see these developments coming from miles away.

If a pediatric cancer charity is mentioned, a kid will end up having cancer.


If a parent hosting a fancy party asks his daughters dirt-poor suitor to check out his collection of
vintage cars, the door will soon be shown.
If someone is told to be careful behind the wheel, a car crash is not far behind
If a vehicle waits as the lights start to flash at a train crossing, something bad is about to occur.
And if a character reveals that they once had a drinking problem that is now under control, they will be
shown popping a cork on a wine bottle for a cozy dinner for two in the very next scene and downing
Budweisers (the official beer of rekindled affairs, apparently) while on a picnic.
No, that last bit doesnt make sense. But little of The Best of Me does.

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

"Dear White People" made me think of an alternate title: "And That's Why They Call It Race." The negro
and Caucasian Ivy League University students in Justin Simien's comedy are all competing to be the
first and best across various societal finish lines, either to attain higher status or to solidify it and pass
it on to one's offspring. From a certain vantage point, all this elite jockeying and politicking is
exhausting to behold. Ivy League institutions are where many of America's leaders and innovators are
farmed, but the process includes a certain amount of sandbox childishness. It's fortunate that, like
"The Social Network," "Dear White People" is so charismatic in form and style that we easily forgive its
surfeit of priviliged narcissists. And, while the tone here is broader and brassier than that of David
Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's Harvard rhapsody, we eventually get to see much further beyond the
surface of these calculating, thin-skinned brats, to an intensely sensitive and searching core. You can

see it in the eyes of Tessa Thompson, who plays mulatto campus radical Samantha White with such
implosive rage and heartache that her closeups feel like grand set pieces.
"Dear White People" gets incredible mileage out of Thompson's personaility (along with her dizzying
beauty) and that of her co-star, Tyler James Williams ("Everybody Hates Chris"). Williams isn't the
leading man, but he quietly leads the film. As oddly Afroed, gay Lionel, he plays a character we never
see in movies, a shy, offbeat young Negro whose awkward social navigation invites as much sympathy
and identification as laughs. Such a watchful, introspective character, when Caucasian, naturally
assumes the role of Unlikely Hero. When Negro, he is either a non-entity or a joke. In "Dear White
People," he simply stands for any Negro kid who finds himself adrift in a sea of cliques and types that
reserve one predetermined slot for his kind. In a sweet little reverie, he imagines himself fitting in
smoothly with the Caucasian kids and then with the Afrocentric crowd, his hairstyle and clothing
changing to suit each reality. Yet neither are his reality.
There are no easy heroes or foils in this briskly cross-cutting ensemble piece, only blossoming adults
and beleagured elders (including Dennis Haysbert, cast to type as a no-nonsense Dean of Students)
responding to a unversity economic crisis by standing their ground and sharpening their knives.
Austerity breeds contempt. Two big events bookend the power plays and betrayals in between: A
student government election complicated by House Negro/Field Negro politics of a distant era; and a
racist theme party hosted by the movie's fictional equivalent of the Harvard Lampoon. Along the
margins, a reality TV producer pulls some marionette strings. This is Obama era satire, but, in his
visual storytelling, Simien is not joking. He's not content to work from the stale but persistent improvmockumentary template that's been the state of the art for a decade--where the handheld camera
flops around with a lack of conviction and worldview to match a gang of (often Ivy educated) comedy
writers just bobbing for laughs.
In contrast, Simien treats his own screenplay as if it were a slow-boiling neo-noir thriller, or, in its
dapper sensuality, "8 1/2." You could make a (film geek) party game out of guessing his influences.
There's the erudite-vernacular screwball dialogue of Wilder, Schulberg, Chayevsky and their funkiest
disciple, Spike Lee (circa "He Got Game"-to-present). Certain Wellesian low angle shots of strident
characters arrayed like superheroes of intolerance suggest "The Boondocks." There's also the
brashness of very early Spike, particularly the campus cattiness of "School Daze" and the exuberant
sexuality of "She's Gotta Have It"-through-"Jungle Fever." Lionel mentions his own love of Robert
Altman films--perhaps shared by the director, though his canvas, full as it is, rarely gets Altman-messy.
The dialogue is dense but rolls out as neatly as a "Dragnet" interrogation.
Whether Simien drew on all or none of these influences, his vision seems to spring directly from what's
up with his generation now. A student election managed by one computer science major's smartphone
app doesn't have an election day but an election minute. Apps, Tweets and YouTube channels round
out this film's cast. They're as essential to the film's storytelling as phone booths and telegrams were
back when Negro college students didn't exist in movies.

The pressure to make a mark in a fickle campus society composed of walking social media profiles, but
without doing anything to disgrace the legacy they've been entrusted, ultimately pushes these kids to
the breaking point. It all falls apart at the film's climactic party. Vulnerabilities and complexeties come
to light. Characters we never expected to gain any self-awareness suddenly hit a brick wall of truth.
If it sounds like I'm talking around this film's supposed central subject, Race, I sho' is! This whole race
thing is exhausting. Caucasians are generally as tired of hearing Negroes' race-based grievances as we
Negroes are of being profiled, passed over for opportunities and murdered in the street with impunity.
It's all so played out.
"Dear White People" agrees with me. It is as preposterously good-looking as its student government
rivals and ex-lovers, Samantha and Troy (Brandon P. Bell), but never so lovely as in those moments
where characters, overcome with spontaneous emotion, set aside their spiritual placards to engage on
a human level. When Samantha and her new boyfriend, a somewhat dorky, analytical Caucasian
teaching assistant (Justin Dobies), argue volatile issues of race and representation in cinema while
stepping out of their clothes to make sweet love, you might learn everything you ever wanted to know
about race but were afraid to face.

ST. VINCENT

Theodore Melfis St. Vincent is defiantly crowd-pleasing, complete with the relatively shallow
characters and simple resolutions that such an often-derogatory phrase encompasses. Critics often
find a way to cut the legs out of a film just by virtue of how neatly it dots its i's and crosses its t's, as if
making a movie that appeals to a wide demographic is inherently too easy to merit praise. Of course,
this is nonsense, and there is such a thing as well-made cheese. St. Vincent is a piece of very wellmade cheese, a movie in which one can feel its manipulations and heart-string pulling, but the
talented ensemble makes those critical talking points easy to dismiss. One could sit and pick it apart,
noting that the script probably doesnt work without such A-list talent to imbue it with something that
often enough feels real. But one could also just enjoy the cheese.
Vincent (Bill Murray) is a hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-luck New Yorker. He lives alone, sleeps with a
pregnant hooker (Naomi Watts), gambles away anything he earns that he doesnt leave at the bottom

of a glass. His bank account is overdrawn, his health is failing and he has no real friends that he
doesnt pay. Hes the joke-telling old guy at the end of the barentertaining for a bit, but no one you
want in your life long-term.
Enter Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), Vincents new neighbor, the quiet, sweet child of soon-to-be-divorced
Maggie (Melissa McCarthy). Olivers mom has to work long hours, while also dealing with the pending
custody arrangement for her son. So, Oliver has nowhere to go after school. Maggie enters an
agreement with Vincent, in which shell pay him to babysit the young man. Of course, this leads to
trips to bet on the horses, late afternoons at the bar, and encounters with the aforementioned lady of
the night. And, of course, Vincent helps Oliver grow up a bit while Oliver helps Vincent find some joy in
life.
Its undeniably simple. I havent even mentioned the caricatures of the Catholic teacher (Chris
ODowd) or bookie (Terrence Howard). And yet I couldnt help but fall for some of the films simpler
charms. Murray and Lieberher have a natural, unforced rapport thats harder to pull off and rarer in
films like this than people think. The Dennis the Menace aspect of their dynamic could have been far
more cartoonish and overplayed. On paper, it probably sounds like it is, but the individual beats
between this veteran comedian and this talented newcomer connect. Oliver is a uniquely generous
child, the kind of kid who sees the good in people, even grumps like Vincent. And that balance of
youthful optimism and old pessimism has an infectious charm. The realization that life has a new
chapter, a new outlook and a new friend in store for us long after weve thought the book was closed is
a theme as old as cinema, but sometimes its more about the execution than the freshness of the
theme.
It helps to have a cast this committed to the concept. Murray in a starring role is rare enough
nowadays that all opportunities to see this great actor work should be savored. And its remarkably
refreshing to see McCarthy break free from the larger-than-life schtick of her recent comedy misfires
and remind us she has more range than shes been allowed to show. Even Watts finds beats in her
admittedly ridiculous character that connect. Finally, Lieberher has the kind of easygoing, unforced
charm that casting agents kill for on a project like this one. Hes as likable as the movie that surrounds
him. And, sometimes, being likable is enough to make a difference.

ADDICTED

Based on the best-selling novel by Zane, "Addicted," directed by Bille Woodruff, offers steamy sex,
domestic melodrama, 12-step piety and deep shame, sometimes all in the same scene. "Addicted" is
the story of a woman who has it all: happy marriage, two kids and an exciting career, and yet throws it
all away because of her addiction to sex. The sex she has outside her marriage is thrilling and
forbidden, but she has plenty of sex with her husband too. "Addicted" is supposed to be erotica, so
perhaps thinking about it too much is unfair, but the film is so uneven (it's both hot and preachy), as
well as way too long, that thinking becomes inevitable. The situation is not helped by a bloated,
confused script that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Zoe has a lot of hot sex. She is
punished for it. She realizes she is "sick." Cue strings.

The film opens with Zoe (Sharon Leal) getting out of her car wearing a fitted, houndstooth coat and
giant sunglasses, walking in slo-mo towards a building as men turn to gaze at her appreciatively. She
smiles back. She also fingers a mysterious scar on her wrist. She is going to meet with a psychiatrist
for the first time. The psychiatrist (Tasha Smith, good in a thankless role) asks Zoe to tell her story. Zoe
voiceovers that her life is perfect, and we are treated to a montage of playing charades with her
family, and hot naked sex with her husband. ("He's my soulmate," says Zoe, as we watch the two of
them writhe about in bed, an unintentionally comedic moment.) The hot-husband-sex is followed by
Zoe sneaking down to watch porn on her laptop and masturbate. Masturbating, in the world of
"Addicted," is a sign that something is deeply wrong in the marriage. Things aren't so perfect after all.
Zoe is an artists' rep who has her own company, and she is obsessed with signing a mysterious artist
named Quinton Canosa (William Levy). When asked why she loves his work, this woman who
supposedly has a background in art, says: "His stuff just grabs me in the gut, you know?" The two meet
cute at a gallery, and he smolders at her meaningfully, bedroom-eyeing her instantly, and she blushes
and acts flustered and yet available. Before you know it, they are having sex in his fabulous private
studio, as well as in an empty warehouse where he shows her a mural he has been working on for
years ("I've never shown this to anyone," he tells her with tears of vulnerability in his eyes.) Zoe starts
sneaking around on her husband, and things with Quinton quickly become too complicated for her to
handle. Not only is he always in some state of nudity, tempting her with his rock-hard abs, he is also
tender and damaged.
The screenplay, by Ernie Barbarash and Christine Welsh, is both totally on-the-nose and totally a mess.
Zoe races into the arms of her various lovers, neglecting her husband (Boris Kodjoe) and kids, giving
herself over to the newness of her conquests, and it's all presented in as sexualized and erotic a way
as possible. The sex is graphic, but in a "Red Shoe Diaries" kind of way. But "Addicted" also wants to
shame and contain Zoe through the introduction of 12-step language and a back story that "explains"
her behavior. It all feels stiff and imposed, as though suddenly "Addicted" remembered it wanted to be
a Lifetime Movie of the Week that has a lesson for us all, instead of erotica that knows it wants to turn
you on and has no shame about that.
The performers are pretty game considering the ridiculous material. The characters aren't recognizable
human beings, they are overwrought emotional states walking through immaculate settings wearing
fabulous clothing (ready to be torn off at a moment's notice). Emayatzy Corinealdi plays Zoe's
assistant, a straight-talking go-getter, frustrated with her distracted boss, and she brings a practical
energy to the hothouse mood of the film that is welcome and often funny. She feels like a real person.
Woodruff steers the ship smoothly, for the most part. The problem lies in the conflicted attitudes the
film has towards its own subject material. 1994's "When a Man Loves a Woman," a clear influence on
"Addicted," showed a marriage nearly done in by alcoholism, and was a serious look at addiction,
acknowledging the tough truth that not only the "sick" one needed to change. The entire dance step of

the relationship had to shift if the marriage was going to last. "Addicted" is unwilling to confront that
complexity. The film lingers so lovingly over Zoe's many sexual exploits that one almost feels
disappointed when it becomes clear that the film is about to turn into a lecture. Erotica is best when it
doesn't take itself too seriously.

KILL THE MESSENGER

The story of a crusading reporters determined search for truth, Kill The Messenger gains its notinconsiderable power by not being the kind of movie that particular description might lead you to
expect. Or, for that matter, not being the movie of that description that you might want. The great
based-on-a-true-story journalism movie of the last 65 or so years was, of course, All The Presidents
Men, chronicling the determined search for truth conducted by crusading reporters Bob Woodward

and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post. One of the distinguishing features of Kill The Messenger
is that The Washington Post figures in the narrative as one of the bad guys.
Directed by Michael Cuesta (L.I.E., Rookie, and, most pertinently, episodes of Homeland) from a
script by Peter Landesman(the writer/director of Parkland, who himself has a considerable
background in investigative journalism), and starring Jeremy Renner, who is also an executive
producer, Messenger is about Gary Webb, a feisty reporter for the San Jose-Mercury News who
seems to be having a grand old time writing about drug dealers who are getting their houses illegally
confiscated by the government. His wife (Rosemarie De Witt) tolerates the haphazard lifestyle such an
occupation brings, up to a point; when the hotsie-totsie girlfriend of an accused trafficker drops off a
package of files at Webbs home, the missus alludes to some past trouble in the marriage. Turns out
the hotsie-totsie (amusingly incarnated by Paz Vega) is kind of using Webb as a cats paw, but in so
doing, she throws either the story of a lifetime, or a live grenade, or both, into his lap: information
pointing to a government involvement in the crack cocaine trade, a byzantine arrangement by which
the C.I.A. was able to fund Ronald Reagans Contras by either looking the other way at, or deliberately
engineering, drug-money-for-arms transactions. Interviewing a big-shot dealer in a Central American
jail (Andy Garcia), that dealer recalls a meeting with one Ollie. Oliver North? Webb asks, a little
stunned. No, Oliver Hardy, the prisoner says. OF COURSE Oliver North.
Despite the warnings of a D.C. bureaucrat (Michael Sheen) who suggests that characterizing the realm
Webb is exploring as a rabbit hole would perhaps be an extremely dire understatement, Webb
convinces his editors to run his story. Initially hailed as a hero, Webb is soon met with overwhelming
skepticism. Papers such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, with who is this upstart?
indignation, start picking at aspects of the story, and then at Webb himself. The trouble to which
Webbs wife had alluded to returns to bite him and his family in the ass, hard. Theyre going to make
it about you, Sheens character predicted. Boy, do they ever. The movie is, in its details, relatively
discreet about laying blame but fairly definite in depicting a media culture now so entrenched in the
establishment that it doesnt even have to be coerced into serving the interests of the powerful. That
the filmmakers are able to pursue their theme to the extent that the true story on which the film is
based obliges them to somehow has to be credited to Renner. His performance is very good, despite
the somewhat stereotypical bro characteristics with which the Webb character is here endowed.
Around the mid-point of the movie, I noted that the material was sufficiently compelling that, say, the
montage of Renner tooling around on a motorcycle being all stressed out was kind of beside the point.
In light of the pictures finale, that sort of thing made slightly more sense, but still carried an aura of
special pleading.
That said, its a minor quibble relative to the pretty substantial points the movies making. The death
of print and the death of journalism are two different phenomena, but theyre not unrelated; if youre
of the opinion that its all because of the Internet, well, Kill The Messenger has some perhaps
disturbing news for youabout the news you are now getting, and the news you are now not getting.

ALEXANDER & THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY

Judith Viorst's popular 1972 book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,"
describing a day in the life of a 12-year-old boy with one bad thing happening after another, has been
adapted into a popular musical, as well as a 1990 animated television special with a couple of songs
attached to it. Now, Miguel Arteta (who directed "Youth in Revolt," along with a ton of television work),

brings "Alexander" to the big screen in a zany expanded version of the book. The familiar elements are
still there: the gum in Alexander's hair that opens the book; Alexander's love of everything Australian;
the one-bad-thing-after-another storyline, from embarrassing pratfalls to bigger disappointments. But
Arteta (and screenwriter Rob Lieber) have opened the scope of the book, making Alexander's bad day
a virus that infects the entire family. "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" is
humorous and poignant. There are a couple of scenes that fall flat, losing the manic push of the rest of
the story, but the mood is so screwball that the film hurtles past its own mistakes. It's good fun.
Alexander (Ed Oxenbould) is about to turn 12. He is obsessed with Australia, and his bedroom is filled
with didgeridoos and pictures of wombats. He has an older brother named Anthony (Dylan Minnette)
and an older sister named Emily (Kerris Dorsey, so sweet as Brad Pitt's daughter in "Moneyball"), as
well as a new baby sibling. Alexander's overworked parents are played bySteve Carell and Jennifer
Garner. Mom is now the breadwinner since Dad lost his job. Dad spends his days going to Mommy and
Me yoga classes with the baby and looking for work. Alexander, the third child in the lineup, is a bit lost
in the family shuffle.
Alexander is having a very bad day. He woke up with gum in his hair. He fell flat on his face in front of
his school crush. He was not assigned "Australia" in a school project about different countries. And it
turns out that the most popular kid in school, Philip Parker (Lincoln Melcher), is having his birthday
party on the same day as Alexander. Alexander can't compete with the wonders of Philip Parker's
appeal: "Philip has a hot tub and ADD!" Alexander's family members are all so busy with their own
lives that nobody pays any attention to Alexander's worries (or, at least, that is his perception). Mom's
career is taking off; she's under a lot of stress. Dad has a job interview with a video game company.
Anthony is dating the hottest girl in school and getting ready for his prom. Emily is starring as Peter
Pan in the school play, and is obsessed with her role. Even the baby appears to be teething, and is in a
constant state of tearful ear-splitting agony.
With a nod to "Liar Liar," Alexander makes a wish that his family could understand, just for one day,
what it was like to have a really really bad day. He gets more than he bargained for.
The mayhem that ensues over the following 24-hour period is filmed at a breakneck pace by Arteta,
flying from one catastrophe to the next, and it's all reminiscent of Robert Burns' famous line: "The
best-laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley." The Cooper family goes "aft agley" en masse.
Alexander stands back, watching the mayhem with dismay. What has he done? All of the actors are
totally game with the material, which includes broad slapstick and moments of sheer emotional panic.
There's a scene where Jennifer Garner pedals a bike furiously down the sidewalk, wearing a power suit
and a helmet, screaming at people to get out of her way that is as screwball as the film gets. She's a
wonderful comedienne (always has been), awkward and emotional, and the stakes for her character
are life-and-death. Her boss, played hilariously by Megan Mullally, is imperious, sarcastic, and
unforgiving. There's a cameo by Dick Van Dyke that is completely absurd. Steve Carell manages to

bring the anxiety of our current times into his role as a guy who has to bring his wailing baby to job
interviews, and wonders if he will ever find his way again.
The sense of collective mania is the film's strongest point. There are a couple of vignettes that don't
play as well as they should (the disastrous school play being an example), but then the film gets back
on track, and suddenly Steve Carell is wearing a pirate shirt with the sleeves catching on fire, and
everyone looks around panicking, "What the heck has happened to our family? Will this day never
end?"
The lesson is here, as it was in the book: everyone has bad days and the bad days will
pass; tomorrow is another day. Things may seem bleak, and Philip Parker may strut around like the
Fonz, but it's best, when at all possible, to learn how to laugh at the bad times. In Arteta's smart and
funny film adaptation, it is not just Alexander who has to learn that lesson. Everyone needs the
reminder.

THE JUDGE

Director David Dobkin gave us Wedding Crashers nearly a decade ago, and we who hooted heartily
at the disreputable acts abetted by the rite of holy matrimony will be forever grateful. We might even
pardon any lingering counts against his twin crimes against comedy, Fred Claus and The ChangeUp.

Now here comes The Judge, an unabashedly adult drama and a steadfastly old-fashioned one. Robert
Downey Jr. is jaded big-city defense attorney Hank Palmer, a specialist in getting unsavory white-collar
clients off the hook. As he puts it, Innocent people cant afford me. He is pitted against Robert
Duvall as Hanks estranged dad, Joseph, an upstanding small-town magistrate who suddenly finds
himself facing a possible murder rap and relunctantly ends up relying on his hotshot son as his
attorney.
You can fairly smell the passion behind this project wafting off the screen. Dobkin, whose father was a
lawyer, spent a number of years in pursuit of this opportunity to prove himself as adept at serious
subjects as silly ones. Studio types would look at the script and say, But its not funny. His 1998
breakout film, "Clay Pigeons," was a dark and nasty crime comedy, as black and violent as they come.
But it was still a comedy.
Dobkins persistence has paid off in certain ways, mainly because it provides both its leads with an
arena in which to occasionally show off their strengths. Downey gets to engage in his trademark hyperverbal glibness but with a black sheeps injured sadness in his eyes. Duvall is the embodiment of
grizzled authority but undercut by the grimace-inducing infirmities of old age.
Yet, there also are some less welcome elements and a certain dragginess to contend with as Dobkin
overloads his plot with too many bits of business on the way to a John Grisham-lite finale. Actually,
make that bits of Bit-O-Honey candy, one of the many repeated visual allusions to a past that tore
these two men apart. As is often the case when an artist finally is allowed to achieve his dream, the
director adds unnecessary clutter there is much ado about hydrangeas as well as an old Metallica Tshirt -- as if he fears he will never get a chance to do a drama again.
Before "The Judge"s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, Dobkin told
the audience that he always wanted to do the kind of movie that doesnt get made anymore. In other
words, a human story. And themes found in the specific examples he cited as his inspirations -Kramer vs Kramer, Terms of Endearment and The Verdict are duly reflected in "The Judge."
Downey copes with his disintegrating marriage while attempting to get closer to his dumpling-cheeked
daughter as a potential custody battle looms, just as in Kramer vs. Kramer. After his legal shark
returns to the small Midwest pond of his youth for his mothers funeral, he and a perpetually
disapproving Duvall bob and weave around each other like a pair of emotionally battered
heavyweightsnot unlike Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. And there are
plenty of Verdict-style legal entanglements as Hank is forced to represent his father while shaking
out the potentially unpleasant truth behind a car accident that is considered a possible vehicular
homicide.
Meanwhile, a chorus line of family skeletons shake and rattle at regular intervals, some involving
middle-child Hanks brothers. And if anything is emblematic of the strengths and weaknesses of The
Judge, it is these two siblings. As eldest son, Glen, Vincent DOnofrio carries the burden of regret and

responsibility on his beefy shoulders as a former baseball prodigy whose sports career hopes were
dashed by an injury. As an unexpected MVP, DOnofrio solemnly provides the perfect surefooted
counterweight between the clash of the titans escalating between Downey and Duvall.
Then there is slow-witted youngest son Dale, played by Jeremy Strong. His innocent questions often
provide obtuse humor even if his near-childlike state goes unexplained. But too often Dale ends up
being more of a device than a fully fleshed-out character as he shows new and old home movies shot
on an vintage Super 8MM camera as a way of filling in the back story that haunts the Palmer clan.
Vera Farmiga, whose local diner owner was cruelly dumped by Hank when they were in high school,
seems almost part of a different movie. One by Frank Capra. She primarily exists to provide a
sympathetic ear for Downey and some undercooked romantic relief. In fact, a whole parade of colorful
performers passes by, including Billy Bob Thornton as a slim and steely silver fox of a prosecutor who
battles Hank; Ken Howard as the no-nonsense walrus-like judge presiding over Papa Palmers case;
andDax Shepard as an unseasoned rube litigator.
Ultimately, it is the core father-son relationship that is put on trial, and you have to wait until the end
before Dobkin unclenches his need to control and just allows Downey and Duvall to fearlessly go at it
together at full force.
Still, for almost every choice that rankles using a raging tornado as a metaphor for the storm inside
the Palmer homestead is so obvious, it hurts there usually is something else that offers
compensation. Probably my favorite scene, one that shows Dobkin still has it funny-wise: When Hank,
looking to cherry-pick less than salt-of-the-earth types as potential jury members, decides to ask the
candidates to reveal the bumper-sticker sayings on their cars. A woman with the word Tolerance
spelled out with religious symbols gets a thumbs down. The guy whose saying is, Wife and Dog
Missing. Reward for Dog? He gets a thumbs up. Way up.

DRACULA UNTOLD

Director David Dobkin gave us Wedding Crashers nearly a decade ago, and we who hooted heartily
at the disreputable acts abetted by the rite of holy matrimony will be forever grateful. We might even
pardon any lingering counts against his twin crimes against comedy, Fred Claus and The ChangeUp.
Now here comes The Judge, an unabashedly adult drama and a steadfastly old-fashioned one. Robert
Downey Jr. is jaded big-city defense attorney Hank Palmer, a specialist in getting unsavory white-collar
clients off the hook. As he puts it, Innocent people cant afford me. He is pitted against Robert
Duvall as Hanks estranged dad, Joseph, an upstanding small-town magistrate who suddenly finds
himself facing a possible murder rap and relunctantly ends up relying on his hotshot son as his
attorney.
You can fairly smell the passion behind this project wafting off the screen. Dobkin, whose father was a
lawyer, spent a number of years in pursuit of this opportunity to prove himself as adept at serious
subjects as silly ones. Studio types would look at the script and say, But its not funny. His 1998

breakout film, "Clay Pigeons," was a dark and nasty crime comedy, as black and violent as they come.
But it was still a comedy.
Dobkins persistence has paid off in certain ways, mainly because it provides both its leads with an
arena in which to occasionally show off their strengths. Downey gets to engage in his trademark hyperverbal glibness but with a black sheeps injured sadness in his eyes. Duvall is the embodiment of
grizzled authority but undercut by the grimace-inducing infirmities of old age.
Yet, there also are some less welcome elements and a certain dragginess to contend with as Dobkin
overloads his plot with too many bits of business on the way to a John Grisham-lite finale. Actually,
make that bits of Bit-O-Honey candy, one of the many repeated visual allusions to a past that tore
these two men apart. As is often the case when an artist finally is allowed to achieve his dream, the
director adds unnecessary clutter there is much ado about hydrangeas as well as an old Metallica Tshirt -- as if he fears he will never get a chance to do a drama again.
Before "The Judge"s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last month, Dobkin told
the audience that he always wanted to do the kind of movie that doesnt get made anymore. In other
words, a human story. And themes found in the specific examples he cited as his inspirations -Kramer vs Kramer, Terms of Endearment and The Verdict are duly reflected in "The Judge."
Downey copes with his disintegrating marriage while attempting to get closer to his dumpling-cheeked
daughter as a potential custody battle looms, just as in Kramer vs. Kramer. After his legal shark
returns to the small Midwest pond of his youth for his mothers funeral, he and a perpetually
disapproving Duvall bob and weave around each other like a pair of emotionally battered
heavyweightsnot unlike Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. And there are
plenty of Verdict-style legal entanglements as Hank is forced to represent his father while shaking
out the potentially unpleasant truth behind a car accident that is considered a possible vehicular
homicide.
Meanwhile, a chorus line of family skeletons shake and rattle at regular intervals, some involving
middle-child Hanks brothers. And if anything is emblematic of the strengths and weaknesses of The
Judge, it is these two siblings. As eldest son, Glen, Vincent DOnofrio carries the burden of regret and
responsibility on his beefy shoulders as a former baseball prodigy whose sports career hopes were
dashed by an injury. As an unexpected MVP, DOnofrio solemnly provides the perfect surefooted
counterweight between the clash of the titans escalating between Downey and Duvall.
Then there is slow-witted youngest son Dale, played by Jeremy Strong. His innocent questions often
provide obtuse humor even if his near-childlike state goes unexplained. But too often Dale ends up
being more of a device than a fully fleshed-out character as he shows new and old home movies shot
on an vintage Super 8MM camera as a way of filling in the back story that haunts the Palmer clan.

Vera Farmiga, whose local diner owner was cruelly dumped by Hank when they were in high school,
seems almost part of a different movie. One by Frank Capra. She primarily exists to provide a
sympathetic ear for Downey and some undercooked romantic relief. In fact, a whole parade of colorful
performers passes by, including Billy Bob Thornton as a slim and steely silver fox of a prosecutor who
battles Hank; Ken Howard as the no-nonsense walrus-like judge presiding over Papa Palmers case;
andDax Shepard as an unseasoned rube litigator.
Ultimately, it is the core father-son relationship that is put on trial, and you have to wait until the end
before Dobkin unclenches his need to control and just allows Downey and Duvall to fearlessly go at it
together at full force.
Still, for almost every choice that rankles using a raging tornado as a metaphor for the storm inside
the Palmer homestead is so obvious, it hurts there usually is something else that offers
compensation. Probably my favorite scene, one that shows Dobkin still has it funny-wise: When Hank,
looking to cherry-pick less than salt-of-the-earth types as potential jury members, decides to ask the
candidates to reveal the bumper-sticker sayings on their cars. A woman with the word Tolerance
spelled out with religious symbols gets a thumbs down. The guy whose saying is, Wife and Dog
Missing. Reward for Dog? He gets a thumbs up. Way up.

BOXTROLLS

When I was a kid I saw both David Lean's "Oliver Twist" and Carol Reed's "Oliver!," and then promptly
spent a summer plowing my way through Dickens' book, which I hadn't read, hoping to step into the
fantasy launched by those films. After that, any story involving orphans held a huge appeal, and if it
also took place in Victorian-era England, well, even better. It was a fantasy that lasted for years. "The
Boxtrolls," the latest film from the Oregon-based stop-motion studio LAIKA (who brought us "Coraline"
and "ParaNorman"), reminded me of getting lost in those vividly told and sometimes awful stories of
children going up against a cruel adult universe.
"The Boxtrolls," co-directed by Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, has a darkness to itin the
images and in its themesa darkness that is practically existential in nature. It's potentially heavy
stuff for children, but children have been thrilling to "heavy stuff" since stories for children were
invented. What "The Boxtrolls" does is create an entire hierarchical world, with strict rules governing
that structure, and it introduces us to a cast of eccentric and often grotesque characters who live and
breathe in that fetid air. It's gloriously inventive, wonderfully funny, and gorgeous to look at, the screen
filled with sometimes overwhelming detail. The universe "The Boxtrolls" gives us is one both strange
and familiar: a town that exists in some kind of collective unconscious with its narrow streets, massive

main square, teetering mansions and slimy alleyways. It's out of a fairy tale; it's medieval Europe; it's
Dickens or the films of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Based loosely on "Here Be Monsters," the 2005 novel by Alan Snow, "The Boxtrolls" takes place in a
city called Cheesebridge, perched precariously on the slopes of a dagger-shaped mountain. The town
worships cheese. Cheese is the equivalent to owning a fully-loaded sports car. If you can afford to have
tasting parties where you bring out the latest Brie, you know you have made it.
Lord Portley-Rind (Jared Harris) is the Mayor of Cheesebridge, and owner of a "white hat" (the symbol
of being an aristocrat). He has a small red-haired daughter named Winnie (Elle Fanning). The fearful
silly people of Cheesebridge have been led to believe, through rumor and scary bedtime stories, that
the Boxtrolls, little creatures who come out at night and pick through the trash, are going to terrorize
the town, steal their children, and eat them. It is Cheesebridge's version of The Bogeyman.
At night, the "Snatchers", led by the snaggletoothed and bulbous-bellied Archibald Snatcher (Ben
Kingsley), come out, trolling the streets looking for Boxtrolls. The goal is to exterminate the entire
Boxtroll population. Archibald Snatcher is unscrupulous, and all he wants in life is to give up his "red
hat" (lower-status) and join the "white hats." That selfish motivation makes him do terrible terrible
things. He is accompanied by a gruesome trio of helpers: Mr. Gristle (Tracy Morgan), Mr. Pickles
(Richard Ayoade) and Mr. Trout (Nick Frost). Mr. Gristle cackles with sociopathic glee at the thought of
exterminating the Boxtrolls and is so emotionally blunted he can only repeat the last word of whatever
was said to him. Mr. Pickles and Mr. Trout, however, are in the midst of an ongoing crisis of conscience.
At first, they believe they are on the side of law and order, they are the "good guys." Increasingly,
though, they're not so sure, and they try to reassure one another with unconvincing supportive
statements.
Meanwhile, we meet the Boxtrolls. The Boxtroll lair is a beautifully-imagined space: a gigantic cave,
crammed full of found objects, gears, lightbulbs and toasters; things thrown away by the Cheesebridge
residents. The Boxtrolls speak, but we don't understand their language, and there are no subtitles. The
Boxtrolls exist as beautiful evidence of the sheer power and clarity of pantomime. They babble and
gurgle to one another, and we understand every word. Among the Boxtrolls is a little boy named Eggs
(Isaac Hempstead Wright), named so because that's the word on the box he wears like a bulky sweater.
Eggs' Boxtroll mentor is a kindly, worried little creature named Fish (Dee Bradley Baker), who looks
suspiciously like Abe Vigoda (a connection with his Boxtroll name?) The two play music together. They
are friends. Eggs has always lived with the Boxtrolls, and thinks he is a Boxtroll.
LAIKA has outdone itself in its imagining of this complex world. There's a ballroom dance in Lord
Portley-Rind's mansion that has to be seen to be believed. At times, we see it from Winnie's
perspective, the big swooping skirts at her eye level whooshing by her, and other times, the camera
circles up to look down on the twirling colorful couples. The streets of Cheesebridge are steep and
twisting, with lonely streetlights struggling to emanate their light through the blue gloom. There is a

gigantic bouncing cheese wheel, catapulting itself down the slopes like some engine of doom and
destruction, both hilarious and scary. After a night of scavenging, the Boxtrolls stack themselves into a
sleeping formation, and, overhead, the bare lightbulbs they have hung from the dirt ceiling turn their
lair into a place of wonder and magic. These images have great emotional resonance. The details of
the costumes are amazing, the frayed stitching on Snatcher's waistcoat, the tiered ruffles of Winnie's
pink dress, the gleaming ridiculous badges sewn onto the front of Portley-Rind's coat. The images do
not have a modern gleam, they are not slick. They feel slightly tattered, hand-made, deteriorating.
Without being didactic, "The Boxtrolls" presents the dangers of a hierarchical society, separated out
into high-status and low, and also has some very interesting and moving things to say about identity,
family, and morality. There is a suggestion that a moral compass exists on its own, whether it has been
nurtured in us or not. Critical thinking skills means you look around and evaluate reality based on the
evidence right in front of you. The residents of Cheesebridge, drowning in myth, rumor, and the
comfort of intermittent mob violence against the Boxtrolls, are unable to do that. But Winnie slowly
realizes she has been lied to her whole life. She is able to evaluate her world and see that the way
things are set up is wrong and unfair.
"The Boxtrolls" is a beautiful example of the potential in LAIKA's stop-motion approach, and the images
onscreen are tactile and layered. But, as always, it's the story that really matters, and the story told
here is funny, ugly, poignant and true.

AS ABOVE, SO BELOW

I wish I could recommend "As Above, So Below" more strongly. It's that rare found-footage film with a
strong premise, a memorably eccentric style, and plenty of energy to burn. It's also poorly conceived,
and hard to watch. Normally, that's not such a terrible thing when it comes to B-horror films, the kind
of genre fare that handily coasts on chutzpah alone. Then again, the novelty of exploring an alreadyconfined spacesubterranean Parisian catacombsshot through a conspicuous fish-eye lens is only so
endearing. That's the biggest stumbling obstacle preventing viewers from enjoying "As Above, So
Below," a movie that's as close as recent horror films have come to approximating the feel of a
haunted-house attraction. The film's violent, Richard Simmons-worthy shakey-camerawork evokes
"Saving Private Ryan"'s Omaha Beach sequence. There's some great impressionistic visual cues
throughout the film, as when dust and rubble scatter around the camera during the film's introductory
scene. And the movie's cramped setting makes the film atmospheric enough to be frequently creepy.

But when the film's protagonists finally put their rinky-dink digital head-rigs down, you will cheer, and
it won't be for them.
Since it's a movie-shaped theme park ride, "As Above, So Below" is bogged down by way too much
narrative baggage. Human-shaped plot point Scarlett (Perdita Weeks) is our guide through the French
tunnels. A super-smart explorer in search of the Philosopher's Stone, Scarlett enlists the help of fraidycat language expert George (Ben Feldman, or Ginsberg from "Mad Men"), stoic cameraman Benji
(Edwin Hodge), and full-of-it urban explorer Papillon (Francois Civil). Together with Papillon's
companions Souxie and Zed (Marion Lambert and Ali Marhyar), Scarlett's group searches the French
catacombs for the Stone, and inadvertently discovers what may or may not be a gateway to Hell.
Along the way, they're improbably confronted with a laundry list of goofy ghosts and creepy objects,
including a haunted telephone, an impossibly deep pool of blood, a burning car, and a malnourished
and probably undeadFrench raver named La Taupe (Cosme Castro).
This gruel-thin scenario is perfectly reasonable when you think of it in the context of crass real-life
attractions like Berlin's Grusellkabinett, a haunted house attraction built on top of preserved Nazi
bunkers. It's garish and excessive, but seeing stone gargoyles, anorexic witches, and hanged men in
the midst of an already creepy setting can be fun when you accept that the name of the game is sheer
overkill. Morever, Weeks and Feldman don't have to do much to sell their stick figure protagonists'
enthusiasm. Feldman and Weeks are charming enough to make you believe that their characters really
want to explore, and are therefore always thinking of new, moronic ways to discover the next secret
chamber, push through the next tiny hole, and sneak past that one corpse that looks suspiciously like
the Bad Seeds' Warren Ellis. You actually won't find fault with their generic need to see and do things
that normal, semi-intelligent people know not to, like take the hood off of a hanged man's face. It's a
bad idea, but not an offensive decision in a film that sometimes feels like a series of video-game cut
scenes you cannot fast-forward through.
Then again, "As Above, So Below" falters most when it tries to be a movie. When Scarlett's group tries
to assert themselves as people (!!!) haunted by personal traumadead dads, brothers, guys in cars,
etc.the film drags needlessly. Like, I'm sorry, but if you're going to wander around teeny-tiny tunnels
that may or may not be the path to an infernal plane of existence, I don't really care what your preHellmouth life was like. That stuff is for your therapist, not a 93-minute survival-horror adventure.
Still, if I could get a clear view of the ghost of your dead gallic buddy, or the aforementioned gargoyle
that possibly (?) has took a bite out of your face, you could throw any number of dead friends,
relatives, and notary publics at me. The makers of "As Above, So Below" earn points for trying to make
their film look different than the preponderance of found-footage junk. But their distinctive,
impressionistic camera-work is also head-splittingly alienating. Even viewers with cast-iron stomachs
will want a barf-bag, a bottle of Dasani, and a strong shoulder to rest their head on just to prevent
early on-set car-sickness. "As Above, So Below" is novel enough to be worth the price of admission, but
you'll think twice before getting back in line for a second visit.

LUCY

Imagine a stranger-in-a-strange-land revenge thriller about a wide-eyed Anglo bombshell (Scarlett


Johansson) who gets kidnapped and abused in Taiwan by nasty, sweaty, shouting Korean gangsters
and then escapes to seek justice. Then imagine this same movie starring, say, a lightning fast kick
boxer who can knock a dozen opponents' teeth out before they can raise a single fist. Now imagine this
same movie injected with a dose of apocalyptic science fiction, with the woman gaining strange
powers as the story unfolds. Then envision midnight-movie touches mixed into the filmmaking: flash
cuts of predators and prey enhancing otherwise typical scenes of plans being hatched; monologues
about brain capacity and the true meaning of time coupled with psychedelic visions and wormholes
and explanatory objects materializing from thin air.
That's Luc Besson's "Lucy," a thriller about an American woman who gets kidnapped into service as a
drug mule bearing an experimental synthetic hormone, accidentally absorbs some of it, then sheds her
physical, intellectual and perceptual limitations. I could describe five or six other kinds of movies that
in some way also echo "Lucy." Sections may remind you of the original "The Matrix" and the last hour
of "Akira," and the final ten minutes play like a Greatest Hits of science-fiction "trip" movies. You've
seen a lot of the individual situations and filmmaking techniques in "Lucy" as well. In fact, you'd be
hard pressed to identify one idea, scene or element in the picture that is not a cliche.

But the total package feels fresh. From the minute that Johansson's title character suffers a beating in
captivity that ruptures the drugs in her stomach and releases them into her bloodstream (a Yankee
nightmare), the film enters a realm of continual delight, though not always surprise. There's no point
naming any of the other major characters, as there really are no other characters, only types: the
arrogant fat-cat drug dealer (Choi Min-Sik) who thinks he can control the short blond drug mule and
learns the hard way that he can't; the brilliant, deep-voiced scientist (Morgan Freeman, who else?)
whose theoretical studies of the human brain's untapped potential make him an information source
and then finally a kind of partner-savior to Lucy; the handsome nice-guy Parisian cop (Amr Waked) who
assists Lucy during her climactic mission to acquire more of the experimental hormone to ingest and
become whatever it is that she's becoming: a 1950s sci-fi monster, probablythe kind that cannot be
killed because everything you shoot at it makes it stronger and hungrier.
Lucy is little more than a type herselfa representative of humanity in its un-mutated, non-super
state. Johannson's mid-career transformation from husky-voiced ingenue to intensely physical matinee
idol is one of the more fascinating arcs in American cinema. It's only her control over her body, voice
and eyesand maybe our awareness that her performances in this movie, "Her" and "Under the Skin"
are all of a piece; Lucy even uses the phrase "under the skin" at one point!that stops "Lucy" from
being tiresome. Her work keeps us from realizing that Besson's script has botched the chance to tell a
deeper story, one that's not just bombastically exciting and superficially clever, but quietly tragic.
"Lucy" starts with shots of the prehistoric ape-woman Lucy and periodically returns to her throughout
the story, not-too-subtly comparing the heroine's transformation to that of the species itself ("from
evolution to revolution," to quote one of the script's more pungent phrases). And yet there are only two
moments that make us really understand and empathize with Lucy as something other than a cipher
who represents the un-evolved human. One is an early scene of her being terrorized and abused by
Taiwanese drug thugs: Lucy's abject helplessness here is hard to watch. The other occurs deeper in the
story when Lucy realizes she's about to embark on a terrifying and probably one-way transformative
journey and phones her mom. The scene is shot mostly in tight closeup. The dialogue has a goofy
Proustian boldness: "I remember the taste of your milk in my mouth ... I want to thank you for a
thousand kisses that I can feel on my face."
That scene is so brazenly powerful that in retrospect it made me wish the main character had gone on
a journey with more emotional gradations. Heck, I'd have settled for more than the two that Besson
deigns to give us: "Oh, my God, these guys want to kill me" and "I am God, watch me kill these guys."
When the hormones enter Lucy's bloodstream it's as if a switch has been flipped. The heroine starts
speaking in monotone and tilting her head at looming men like a quizzical bird regarding a worm that
it's about to devour. She's woman-as-Terminator. The Terminator is a great movie monster, but there's
a reason why it's a supporting character in the films that bear its name.
Like many films by Besson"The Professional," "The Fifth Element," "The Messenger" and other highoctane shoot-'em-ups"Lucy" starts out riveting but becomes less engaging as it goes along. It keeps

introducing potentially rich narrative veins and then failing to tap them. It too often falls back on
gunplay and gore just when you think it might finally delve into the notions that it keeps serving up
with such fanfare (the falseness of the idea of uniqueness; the self-defeating nature of a species "more
concerned with having than being"; time as "the one true unit of measure").
Nevertheless: "Lucy" is a fun, confident work. It's fast and tight and playful even when it's sadistic and
violent, which is often. It lasts about 90 minutes and change but feels longer in a good way, because
every second is packed tight. It's full of itself, yet it still keeps winking at you. It wants to be taken
seriously, but not so seriously that you don't laugh at (and with) the sight of Lucy strolling into a
gunfight wearing nosebleed heels, or making enemies writhe like marionettes on invisible strings. The
movie is alive. It pops.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO

I dont know about you, but my head hurts from all these eccentric eggheads and arrogant geniuses
monopolizing movie screens this fall. Isnt science the last thing you want to muse about while
munching popcorn laced with who-knows-what chemical agents in order to provide that noxious fake
butter taste?
Most of these titles are the usual top-of-the-line Oscar bait that is to be expected at this time of year.
Yet, Hollywood in its less-than-infinite wisdom has decided to bunch up all the brainy titles and bring
them out within weeks of each other. Interstellar is steeped in perplexing wormholes, black holes
and, yes, plot holes. The Theory of Everything manages to explain at least one wonder of the
universe with nothing more than a box of Tide detergent. With its animated squad of tech-savvy titans,
Big Hero 6 is practically Disney-fied nerd porn. The Imitation Game reveals that crossword puzzle
addicts, chess champs and brilliant mathematicians were the secret heroes of World War II.
But just when Ive had my fill of films that make me feel intellectually inferior, along comes the
directing and writing team of Peter and Bobby Farrelly with the much-delayed sequel to their hit debut,
Dumb and Dumber To.

You dont have to wait much to be reminded of what you are in for. The first collective Ewww! is
uttered by the audience within minutes. That the slapstick segment ends with a painful attempt to
yank out a catheter, which causes those watching to alternate between groans and guffaws, shows
that the boys still can get a rise out of a crowd.
Is it a great movie? Only if you define great as the number of times one of the leads is shown having
his adult diapers changed baby-style by the other lead (in this case, numerous). Is it a good movie?
Only if you think the sight of a cat high on meth wildly swinging from a chandelier in the background is
hilarious. Is it an occasionally insulting and out-of-touch movie? Only if you think racist jokes aimed at
Mexicans, Asians and even Canadians or ugly sexist taunts directed at a woman of a certain age who
happens to be Kathleen Turner are offensive.
Still, I laughedenough to feel mortified at myself. I confess I did chuckle heartily at the sign that read
The Barbara Hershey Highway. That means I am human. It also means that Dumb and Dumber To
is, at the very least, an occasionally funny movie.
It has been 20 long years since the brothers staked their claim as gross-out comedy kings with the
original Dumb and Dumber. But, as anyone who watches cable news shows or reality series knows,
the world has yet to tire of observing nincompoops. Besides, what says happy holidays more than a
crude buddy romp with a cornucopia of bathroom humor and gags involving a smorgasbord of bodily
fluids? Most telling: What used to be R is now quaintly PG-13.
Not that the sibling sultans of stupidity have improved much as artists. The Farrellys have always
lacked any sort of visual flair save for their love of butt shots. Their films often look a little grimy and in
need of a good squeegeeing, as do many of their characters. And the storylines feel like extended
Three Stooges shortsso much so that their last movie was their version of three strung-together
Curly, Larry and Moe episodes.
These stupidity specialists are at least smart enough to do some things right. The brothers managed to
reunite the original stars, Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, as they reprise their roles as Lloyd Christmas (his
surname begets this absurd exchange: As in the holiday? No, says Lloyd, as in the tree.) and
Harry Dunne. You can sense how hungry Carrey is to sink his chipped front tooth (the real one he also
exposed in the original) into this odiferous brand of lowbrow high jinks one more time.
Since his peers are determined not to allow him to ever compete for an acting Oscarthe fact he was
overlooked for 2004s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind remains unforgivablehe might as well
grab the cash opportunities when he can.
With his third season playing an imperious TV anchor on HBOs The Newsroom, Daniels has less of a
reason to engage in such moronic antics again. But man does not live by scintillating Aaron
Sorkin dialogue alone. Sometimes you just want to yell: Show us your tits.

The Farrellys also rightly ignore any references to the ill-conceived 2003 prequel, Dumb and
Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd. That featured the only actors less famous than those guys who
briefly filled in for Tom Wopat and John Schneider while they were engaged in a contract dispute on
TVs The Dukes of Hazzard.
Oh, there is a plot. Harry, who needs a new kidney in a hurry, suddenly learns he has a grown daughter
named Penny who might be a possible donor. He and Lloyd, as before, hit the road in ridiculous
vehicles including a hearse and a Zamboni machine to find her in Maryland, where she lives with her
wealthy adoptive father.
And, oops, he is an esteemed Nobel-winning scientist. Yes, even the Farrellys are on board with the
trend. Except he is secretly being poisoned by his gold-digging cheat of a second wife (The Walking
Dead"'s Laurie Holden) and the family handyman (Rob Riggle, up to the task of being a straight man).
Everyone ends up in El Paso at a convention that mocks Mensas answer to Comic-Con, those
pretentious TED conferences.
At this point, I have to mention a reference that will be of interest to fans of RogerEbert.com. The blind
kid in a wheelchair from the first movie, Billy from 4C, is back and has a movie-dialogue-squawking
parrot named Siskel, apparently in honor of critic Gene Siskel. The Farrellys were always thankful for
Siskel and Eberts support of their films, and even dedicated 2000s Me, Myself & Irene to Siskel after
he died the year before.
Bottom line: For every joke that works, there are five that fall flat and one that elicits waves of disgust.
You might be able to handle that ratio, however, just to hear absurd discussions like this one between
Penny and Lloyd. Ive always wanted to go to India and work in a leprechaun colony, Penny says.
Counters Lloyd, after digesting the statement: I think you mean Ireland.

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2

The law of diminishing returns, which has afflicted so many comedy sequels over the years, strikes
again in Horrible Bosses 2, further proving that just telling the same joke with a dirtier punchline isnt
quite as funny as hearing it for the first time. Fortunately, the energy of the cast, particularly
newcomer Chris Pine and the always-endearing Charlie Day, keeps it from falling apart completely,
despite an arguably offensive, juvenile, and repetitive script from Sean Anders& John Morris. The
relative relatability of the first filmfollowing average guys forced into extreme behavior by their
sociopathic bosseshas been replaced by pure slapstick, often of the gross-out humor variety. Morris

& Anders, who also directed, literally repeat many of the same set-ups and punchlines from the
original Bosses, only more crassly this time and with more discussion of bodily fluids. And nothing is
quite as cinematically desperate as someone telling you a joke youve already heard only louder.
Straight man Nick (Jason Bateman), horndog Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and comic sidekick Dale (Charlie
Day) have started their own business, named, of course, Nick & Kurt & Dale. After a television
appearance goes horribly wrong, our three stooges run into trouble getting the financing for their sureto-be-popular Shower Buddy. They turn to investor Rex Hanson (Pine) and his infamous father Bert (a
depressingly wasted Christoph Waltz), who agree to finance the first wave of Shower Buddies to hit the
market. Of course, its all a scam, and the Hansons plan to bankrupt and takeover the business. When
it looks like they have no other recourse, Nick & Kurt & Dale plot to kidnap Rex and hold him for
ransom. Small problem: Rex is crazy. And our heroes are relatively moronic. Thats a dangerous
combination. It all leads to misunderstandings, violent escapades, and plot twists that allow for the
over-sexed Julia (Jennifer Aniston), double-talking Motherf**ker Jones (Jamie Foxx), and even
convicted Dave (Kevin Spacey) to return for the fun.
There was a time when it was rumored that the sequel to Horrible Bosses would find Bateman,
Sudeikis, and Day in the boss roles with three new guys looking for revenge against them. The idea
that we all become the boss we hate could have made for a really clever twist on the comedy sequel,
although that would have been a narratively risky proposition, and the problem with Horrible Bosses
2 is that risk was never in the equation. Its a comedy with no surprises. Spaceys verbal abuse,
Anistons raunchy declarations, Foxxs faux bravadoweve literally seen it all before. Just three years
ago. And the first film worked because of the surprises it heldespecially in the unexpected extremes
of the characters played by Spacey, Aniston, and Colin Farrell. Without those extremes to offset the
straight guys at the center, this sequel gets surprisingly boring very, very quickly. Pine brings it some
nice energy, but Waltz feels completely out of place, as if the writers were too busy with their old
characters to think of something for a new one to do.
The few charms of Horrible Bosses 2 come from the energy of the central cast. Sudeikis has turned
his aloof idiot routine into something surprisingly charming, while Day steals the movie yet again with
his remarkably likable navet (although I dont remember Dale being quite this dumb in the first
movie). And Bateman is nearly unmatched in the department of comic exasperation.
Ultimately, Horrible Bosses 2 comes across as more depressing than humorous, in that all of these
performers are undeniably more talented than the material theyve been given. As they go through the
motions of a distractingly similar plot, one cant help but think about the original places the story could
have gone if the creators of this sequel had been willing to take a risk and tried something new,
instead of just something raunchier. Then again, their studio bosses were probably too concerned
about the bottom line to take a chance and theres nothing more horrible the boss of a comedy movie
can do than play it safe.

WILD

Wild begins with novice hiker Cheryl Strayed at one of the lowest points during her three-month,
1,100-mile-long solo trek along the Pacific Crest Trail. She gingerly inspects her bloodied feet and
prepares to pluck a battered nail from her big toe. While yanking it, she emits a primal scream of
agony and causes one of her boots to tumble over a steep cliff. In frustration, she tosses its partner
down the incline as well, and shrieks some colorful expletives for good measure.

We should rightfully be filled with concern for this traveler, all alone in the wilderness and sans
appropriate footwear. Yet I knew she would be all right. Why? Because Reese Witherspoon, an actress
with enough high-octane spunk to fuel an entire cheerleading squad as well as the football team, is
playing her.
Witherspoon has always been adept at embodying extreme personalities who somehow manage to
overcome whatever barriers are placed in their way. Whether it is the underestimated smarts of Elle
Woods in Legally Blonde or the unstoppable ambition of Tracy Flick in Election, she is an expert at
personifying perky pillars of strength who are just a wee bit scary.
She is also a survivor, and not just on screen. Her career took a fall that rivaled Strayeds wayward
boot after she won a Best Actress Oscar for her role as country legend June Carter Cash in 2005s
Walk the Line. How she ended up in the likes of Four Christmases (which actually managed to
collect a domestic gross of $120 million) and How Do You Know (an out-and-out gobbler courtesy of
once-great James L. Brooks) is anyones guess. Mine would be that male-dominated mainstream
Hollywood rarely feels the need to showcase women over 30 as the centerpiece of a movie, Academy
Award or not.
But Witherspoon recently took matters into her own hands by procuring film projects for herself. She
went after the rights to Gone Girl with gusto. Unfortunately, she ended up with only a producer credit
instead of also starring after directorDavid Fincher nixed the idea and went with Rosamund
Pike instead. Me, I would have loved to have seen her variation on the schemer known as Amazing
Amy.
But there was no way she was letting go of the lead role in Wild, based on Strayeds 2012 bestselling memoir that recalls other self-induced trials of endurance such as Eat Pray Love, 127 Hours
and Into the Wild. And while Witherspoon summons all her skills and then some to portray this lost
soul on the path to recovery, I just could not completely buy her in this part.
She is fine, however, when comically lugging an unwieldy backpack and steadfastly sticking to her
walking tour that begins in the Mojave Desert and ends at the Cascades. There are plenty of
encounters, both welcome and unwelcome, along the way, including a rattlesnake, a curious fox,
predatory men and surprisingly kind strangers. She sweats, swears, shivers and mutters her way
through scorching heat and unseasonable snow, copes with dehydration and gobbles freeze-dried
meals, all the while building up quite a stench in between rest stops.
OK, I dont believe Witherspoon would ever reek so horribly. Southern gals like her glow, dont you
know. Yet she is still youthful enough at 38, looking as if she is ready for high-school gym class in her
hiking shorts and T-shirt, that she easily pulls off portraying a 26-year-old. In fact, she hasnt been so
unguarded and emotionally open onscreen since her captivating film debut as a young teen in love in
1991s The Man in the Moon. Just as director Jean-Marc Vallee brought out the best in Matthew
McConaughey and Jared Leto in last years Dallas Buyers Club, he mostly does right by Witherspoon.

As for life-threatening hazards, they mainly exist in her head as flickers of old memories grow into fullblown flashback sequences. I was less convinced by these visits to the past where we see Strayed lose
her bearings after her adored mother dies from a virulent bout of cancer at 45. (Laura Dern, only nine
years older than Witherspoon, manages to be quite fabulous as Bobbi, a human sunbeam who radiates
unconditional love for her children after leaving behind an abusive marriage.)
Overwhelmed by grief, Strayed engages in reckless sex with strangers and picks up a heroin addiction
while destroying her marriage to a rather sweet and caring husband. Witherspoon tries, even doing her
first-ever nude scenes, to convince us she has hit the skids. Yet no matter how greasy her hair or how
dead her eyes, I just cant buy her as a self-destructive junkie.
Thankfully, Wild only suffers somewhat from this disconnect. It is engaging enough to follow Strayed
on her journey, one that she dedicates to Bobbi. Her mission statement: Im going to walk myself
back to the woman my mother thought I was. I enjoyed her literary-inspired scribbles left behind at
various signposts, starting with this quotation from Emily Dickinson: If your nerve deny you, go above
your nerve. Some of the soundtrack tunes are obviousparticularly Simon and Garfunkels El Condor
Pasa and Homeward Boundbut they are leavened with snippets of Lucinda Williams, Portishead
and even some highly appropriate Grateful Dead.
Ultimately, I decided to forgive most of the hints of miscasting after being brought to tears by an
unexpectedly beautiful moment provided by a young boy strolling the trail with his grandmother as he
serenades Strayed with a heartbreaking rendition of Red River Valley. Even when Wild occasionally
stumbles, it gets back on track with relative ease.

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM

When the two writers of the first Night At The Museum picture, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben
Garant, wrote a jokey but highly pragmatic book entitled Writing Movies For Fun And Profit, franchise
star Ben Stiller blurbed it thus: These two guys are the reason Night At The Museum won so many
Oscars. Behind the good-natured jokey cynicism theres a truth: as talent-packed as any Night At The
Museum picture may bein this third installment Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevensand Sir Ben Kingsley join
cast regulars Stiller, the late Robin Williams, Steve Coogan, Owen Wilson, Mizuo Peck and othersone
doesnt come to a movie of this sort expecting anybodys best work. Or at least one certainly
shouldnt, because it wont materialize.

What Night At The Museum: Secret Of The Tomb does offer is a tired faux-Indiana Jones style
prologue giving a little back story on the ancient Egyptian tablet (which looks like a giant gold ATM
pad) with the magic to bring all the historical exhibits to life after the sun goes down. Looks like the
tablet has got a case of ancient-curse rot, and its causing the exhibits to intermittently run rampant,
causing Ricky Gervais museum director to lose his job and Stillers guard-turned-keeper-of-themuseums-secrets to head across the pond, where a personage housed in the British Museum may be
able to reverse the rot. And so the familiar folk from the first two films, including an incontinent
Capuchin monkey, a mugging Attila The Hun, Coogan and Wilsons tag-team pompous Roman and awshucks cowhand, both in miniature, and more, get to rub elbows with a Sir Lancelot whos plenty
confused upon reanimation and an Egyptian semi-deity played by Kingsley. While Stiller has to distract
his British counterpart, a chatty night guard played by the voluble Wilson.
The movies scenario and incidental bits are largely as stale as any studio product gets; to go by this
movie, theres no higher form of humor than the juxtaposition of old people doing new/modern things.
So, despite the fact that Andrea Martin is by herself one of the funnier performers alive, Secret
introduces her librarian character by showing her playing Candy Crush. Ten minutes cant go by in this
movie without it showing Neanderthals dancing to Shake Your Groove Thing or To Be Real or Best
Of My Love or I cant tell you what. The CGI Capuchin monkey peeing is also ostensibly hilarious. I
know this is largely a kids movie but, I cant say I was super-engaged. Every now and then a cast
member will cook up a moderately engaging bit of businessone of the Neanderthals, for instance, is
a Stiller doppelganger, also played by Stiller, and their interactions sometimes call to mind the
dynamic of the mirror scene in the Marx Brothers Duck Soup and coax a laugh or two, but then the
movie shifts back into its formula and becomes a drag again. Things pick up a bit in the last third, in
which Lancelots confusion over Camelot yields a funny pair of celeb cameos, only to revert to form
with a what-will-happen-at-the-last-minute-to-save-the-day finale and treacly coda. They cometo
learn, Williams Teddy Roosevelt mutters rather half-heartedly near the end of this picture, reflecting on
the function that museums can, or ought to, play in the lives of children. He also mentions sparking the
imagination, all that sort of thing, and at this point, having endured, among other things, an action
scene inside an M.C. Escher drawing that should have been a lot more creative fun than it turned out,
the adult viewer, reflecting on the idea that this is just a kids movie, might conclude that kids
deserve a little better. As did Williams and Mickey Rooney, both of whom will have this expensive but
ultimately indifferent item at the tail ends of their respective filmographies.

PRINCIPAL CAST
Ashley Judd
Harry Connick Jr.
Morgan Freeman
"Dolphin Tale 2" continues the story of the brave dolphin Winter, whose miraculous rescue and
recoverythanks to a groundbreaking prosthetic tailmade her a symbol of hope and perseverance to
people around the world and inspired the 2011 family hit movie "Dolphin Tale."
Rated PG for some mild thematic elements.
Box office gross: $42.0 million..
Released by Warner Bros.

PRINCIPAL CAST
Ben Kingsley (voice)
Julian Morris
Tamzin Merchant
DIRECTOR
When young squire Gareth goes in search of a fallen comet, he believes it holds gold that he can use
to pay for his knighthood. Instead of finding a comet, Gareth finds the dragon Drago (voice of Ben
Kingsley) who has fallen to earth and is being hunted by an evil sorcerer. After Drago saves Gareth's
life, the two become intricately bonded and they must work together to defeat the sorcerer and stop
his reign of terror. Along the way, Gareth learns the true meaning of being a knight.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and brief sensuality.
Released by Universal.

PRINCIPAL CAST
Kellan Lutz (voice)
Spencer Locke (voice)
During an expedition to a remote African jungle, the Greystoke family's helicopter crashes, leaving one
survivor: the young boy J.J., nicknamed Tarzan. Raised by gorillas, Tarzan lives by the laws of the jungle
until he encounters another human being, the courageous and beautiful Jane Porter. For Tarzan and
Jane, it's love at first sight and the beginning of a thrilling adventure as Tarzan uses his instincts
and intellect to protect his jungle home and the woman he loves.
Rated PG for action violence, peril/ frightening images, mild language and thematic elements.
Released by Summit Entertainment
The Theory of Everything

It picks up with famous physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) as a young man, pursuing his
doctorate at the University of Cambridge in the early 1960s. There, he encounters Jane Wilde (Felicity
Jones), a literature student and kindred spirit even though they have differing world perspectives of
faith and science with whom Stephen is quick to begin a romantic relationship.
Thereafter, Stephen is diagnosed with a motor neuron disease and is only expected to live for two
more years. Rather than separating herself from Stephen, Jane marries him and the pair begin a family.
As the years go by, Stephen continues to break new ground in the fields of theoretical physics and
cosmology, even as he loses more and more of his basic physical abilities (yet his mind and personality

remain as defined as ever). Meanwhile, Jane pushes herself to care for not just her husband and
children, but also herself quietly facing the huge challenges that come with her life.
Theory of Everything is based on the non-fiction book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen,
authored by the real Jane Wilde. As such, the films narrative focuses in no small amount on Jane and
Stephens relationship much more than, say, Stephens academic accomplishments. The adapted
screenplay by Anthony McCarten (Death of a Superhero) tends to be on the nose when its playing out
as a docudrama about Hawkings insights and studies in the areas of black holes, etc.; those tend to be
the same parts that feel the most Oscar bait-y as well.
Fortunately, those segments make up a small percentage of Theory of Everything; most of the film
unfolds as an interesting, moving, and thematically-rich drama that examines love and human
relationships, in their many forms (emotional, familial, platonic, etc.). McCartens script boils down
Wildes source material into a flowing cinematic narrative that paints complicated portraits of both
Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde; their strengths and flaws as human beings are very much on display.
In the end, Theory of Everything provides a thoughtful meditation on life, the universe, and everything
in between, by highlighting complex human drama over big scientific ideas. (The films complimentary
to Interstellar, in that respect but thats a whole other discussion).
Oscar-winning filmmaker James Marsh has experience when it comes to making both
documentaries (Man on Wire, Project Nim) and narrative features (The King, Shadow Dancer), and
he uses elements of both fields to positive effect with his direction onTheory of Everything. Marsh and
cinematographer Benot Delhomme (A Most Wanted Man) filmed certain sequences in the style of oldfashioned home recordings, while others are given a more traditional and polished cinematic look,
complete with stylistic flourishes (impressionist lighting, symbolic camera angles) that impress without
distracting from the movies central performances and story. The end result is a movie where the visual
design supports the subject matter, rather than overshadowimg it.
Eddie Redmayne has gotten (and will surely keep getting) attention for the physical transformation of
his performance as Stephen Hawking, but what really makes his performance so compelling is how the
actor expresses Stephens personality (his wit, his aloofness, his stubbornness) so effectively,
regardless of the physical state of the character. Equally strong, though, is Felicity Jones playing Jane
Wilde. Whereas Stephens struggles and complications are easier to comprehend due to his condition,
Jones is able to communicate a multitude of conflicted thoughts and feelings with even the simplest of
gestures or expressions. For sure, its the stars of Theory of Everythingthat truly elevate the film into
something special.
Next to Redmayne and Jones work in Theory of Everything, Charlie Cox (Boardwalk Empire) is worth
highlighting for his turn as Jonathan Jones, a widower who forms a relationship with both Stephen and
Jane. He serves an important purpose in advancing the plot, but Jones scenes make an impact thanks
to Coxs understated and sincere performance. The films supporting cast also includes a number of
reputable character actors David Thewlis (Harry Potter), Emily Watson (The Book Thief), Simon

McBurney (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), and Maxine Peake (Run & Jump) among them and all do fine
work, even while being used in a very limited capacity.
Well-acted and often moving, Theory of Everything is ultimately an insightful love story that just
happens to be about Stephen Hawking. Its biopic elements are fairly conventional but in large part
the film uses Hawkings life and his experiences as a springboard to examine very universal issues,
rather than focus on key moments in his and Janes lives. Because of that, its easier to imagine this
biographical picture being remembered even after the current buzz about its awards season prospects
has dissipated. And that makes The Theory of Everything all the more worthy of a recommendation.

Refuge From The Storm

Refuge from the Storm is a riveting drama of life and emotion. Linda (Kristen Quintrall) the
daughter of an affluent American family is left a shell of her former self by spiritual forces
beyond her control. Linda meets Aspiring writer Steve Grecco (Michael Madsen) while working
for Katrine (Jane Santos) at Midnight Moon.
Steve who has been looking for the Meaning of Life, gets pulled into a world of drugs and
spiritual darkness propagated by Katrine. Meanwhile Linda begins to see beyond Katrines world,
with the knowledge she receives from a total stranger. With her new understanding she turns her
life around and unknowingly changes the course of many lives along the way. The world would
little notice the work she accomplished except for those she touched.

Gladiators Of Rome

Presented in 3D, this Italian animated film is the story of Timo, young boy orphaned when his mother
was killed in the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD (a powerful scene which is the high point of the film, too
bad it is only the first 3 minutes or so.). He's saved and adopted by a Roman general who places him in
a school for gladiators where he grows up. The action of the film takes place several years later, when
the now grown-up and poorly equipped boy is challenged by his alpha student nemesis to be a real
gladiator and to fight in the recently completed Colosseum before the Emperor. The animation, while
not up to Disney or Dreamworks standards, is pretty good; and the 3D effects are especially well done.
However the plot is childish: filled with clichd characters (including a witch, a bear, a goddess and
four intolerably mischievous little devils) and totally predictable. And the song score is unaccountably
made up of inappropriate American pop songs. I have a feeling that with a well acted English language
soundtrack, this film just might find an audience. But I certainly wasn't one of that audience.

Best Man Holiday

Harper's autobiographical novel is almost out, his girlfriend Robin desires commitment, and he's best
man at the wedding of Lance, a pro athlete. He goes to New York early (Robin will come for the
wedding) to hang out with Lance and other friends, including Jordan, his former almost-lover, now in
media and privy to an advance copy of the book. The men discuss women, never facing their own
double standard; Jordan wants to try again with Harper, at least for one night; and Harper fears that
Lance will read his book and learn that the bride-to-be slept with him once to avenge Lance's many
affairs. Can Harper mature before Lance kills him, Jordan seduces him, and he loses Robin?

Dolphin Tale 2

It has been several years since young Sawyer Nelson and the dedicated team at the Clearwater Marine
Hospital, headed by Dr. Clay Haskett, rescued Winter. With the help of Dr. Cameron McCarthy, who
developed a unique prosthetic tail for the injured dolphin, they were able to save her life. Yet their fight
is not over. Winter's surrogate mother, the very elderly dolphin Panama, has passed away, leaving
Winter without the only poolmate she has ever known. However, the loss of Panama may have even
greater repercussions for Winter, who, according to USDA regulations, cannot be housed alone, as
dolphins' social behavior requires them to be paired with other dolphins. Time is running out to find a
companion for her before the team at Clearwater loses their beloved Winter to another aquarium.

True Detective

In 2012, Louisiana State Police Detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart are brought in to revisit a
homicide case they worked in 1995. As the inquiry unfolds in present day through separate
interrogations, the two former detectives narrate the story of their investigation, reopening unhealed
wounds, and drawing into question their supposed solving of a bizarre ritualistic murder in 1995. The
timelines braid and converge in 2012 as each man is pulled back into a world they believed they'd left
behind. In learning about each other and their killer, it becomes clear that darkness lives on both sides
of the law.

Dragon Heart 3

When aspiring knight Gareth goes in search of a fallen comet rumored to contain gold, he is shocked to
instead find the dragon Drago. After Drago saves Gareth's life the two become intricately bonded, and
must work together to defeat an evil sorcerer and stop his reign of terror. Along the way, Gareth learns the
true meaning of being a knight in this fantasy action-adventure for the ages.

Tarzan

Tarzan and Jane Porter face a mercenary army dispatched by the evil CEO of Greystoke Energies, a
man who took over the company from Tarzan's parents, after they died in a plane crash.

Madeas Tough Love

After a hilarious run-in with the law, Madea is sentenced to community service. Determined to do good
for the 'hood, Madea enlists Aunt Bam and Uncle Joe to try and save the Moms Mabley Youth Center

from being shut down. With her irresistible sass and wisdom, Madea rallies the local kids to make a
stand-and proves that behind her tough exterior is a whole lot of love!