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  • Old man action star flameouts

    Bruce Willis the action starIt’s not a great time to be an aging action star.

    The relative success of “The Expendables” and its sequel proved there was a legitimate appetite for old-timer butt kickers at the box office. Separate the superteam, however, and the results have been disastrous.

    In January, Arnold Schwarzenegger starred in his first leading role in years with “The Last Stand.” Backed by respected action director Jee-woon Kim, the movie fizzled with a $6.2 million opening weekend.

    “Expendables” leader Sylvester Stallone opened “Bullet to the Head” last month to the tune of a $4.5 million opening weekend. Although to be fair, that’s an atrocious title for a movie, especially when the commercials suggested “Ax Fight” to be a more appropriate title.

    Bruce Willis, the most durable of old-man action stars, tried to right the ship on Valentine’s Day with “A Good Day to Die Hard,” the fifth installment of his most famous franchise. It opened well enough, $36 million over its first five days, but the horrible reviews have caught up with it. “Die Hard” dropped 60% in its second weekend and is on track to be the lowest grossing film in the franchise by a wide margin. (more…)

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  • Consistency derails ‘Identity Thief’

    The threat of identity theft is a relatable concern. Being chased by hillbilly bounty hunters and violent criminal organizations is considerably less likely.

    That’s the kind of antics Jason Bateman must face in “Identity Thief,” a broad and overfamiliar comedy that follows the outline of “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

    Bateman does what he does best here – playing the suffering straight man against the manic comedic force of Melissa McCarthy. Bateman plays financial analyst Sandy Patterson, and within the film’s opening seconds, he’s relinquished his social security number over the phone to McCarthy’s con artist Diana. She goes on a lavish spending spree that eventually leaves Sandy with thousands of dollars in credit card debt and even a warrant out for his arrest. (more…)

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  • Affleck and Oscars – The Art of the Campaign

    Ben Affleck- Art of the CampaignThe big lesson of this year’s awards season: Don’t snub Ben Affleck.

    After Affleck failed to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, many Oscar prognosticators (yes, those are real people) assumed “Argo” had lost all chance for Best Picture glory. After all, no movie since “Driving Miss Daisy” has won a Best Picture Oscar without securing a Best Director nomination.

    The snub incited Internet rage, more so than the snub of director Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty.” Bigelow won just a few years ago for “The Hurt Locker,” but Affleck’s exclusion seemed like an intentional derailment of Hollywood’s feel-good, comeback story of the year.

    “Remember Ben Affleck in all those awful movies?” “Well now he’s a really great director!”

    But you can’t keep a good Affleck down. Many now consider “Argo” to be the frontrunner for Best Picture, and Affleck would earn an Oscar as producer alongside George Clooney and Grant Heslov. (more…)

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  • ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ a thrilling dive into contentious history

    Zero Dark Thirty Jessica ChastainAt times pulse-pounding and exhausting in detail, “Zero Dark Thirty” is an essential piece of filmmaking and a punctuation mark on a grim decade in American history. Whether it’s an exclamation point or question mark is open for interpretation.

    The movie follows Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA agent who commits 10 years to gathering information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. We first meet her standing in the shadows at a CIA black site as a colleague (Jason Clarke) employs “advanced interrogation techniques” on a prisoner who may have information on a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows bin Laden. (more…)

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  • Best Movies of 2012 (January Edition)

    Moonrise Kingdom art

    The year in cinema shouldn’t really be gauged by its highs and lows, as there will always be a few terrible movies and a few great ones. The state of Hollywood is best measured by everything in between – the movies that range between pretty good and utterly forgettable.

    Thankfully for 2012, the scale tips closer to “pretty good.” While greatness remained a rarity, the year had its share of standouts.

    Out of the 103 movies I saw that were released theatrically in 2012, these were my favorites.  It doesn’t include “Zero Dark Thirty” (not screened yet) or some of the smaller films still in limited release. Even without them in contention, it wasn’t hard filling slots.

    1. Moonrise Kingdom
    Wes Anderson’s movies exist in a world slightly askew – rich with characters and details that seem trapped in a time that is simultaneously more romantic and somber than the real world.

    Anderson’s lesser movies (think “The Darjeeling Limited”) lack an emotional connection to reality, but his best movies, like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and now “Moonrise Kingdom,” mix the eccentricities with universal truth.

    “Moonrise Kingdom” isn’t particularly complicated. The central characters, two pre-teens played by newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, fall in love and run away together. Their relationship is pure, innocent and without the awkward mugging that more “experienced” young actors might attempt with the material. Their scenes capture a feeling of rebellious youth – something that can’t easily be recreated for those of us who are well past our grade school years.

    That the movie fills in this altered-but-impassioned world with an outstanding supporting cast (Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray) is an added bonus. This is Anderson’s most assured and relatable effort to date, and the best movie of 2012. (more…)

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  • Great directors make good movies – ‘Django’ and ‘This is 40’

    Django Unchained Samuel L. JacksonBoth Quentin Tarantino and Judd Apatow serve as important voices in the modern cinema landscape. Nobody makes movies quite like they do, so any new release, however flawed or overlong, is worthy of attention.

    “Django Unchained” may be Tarantino’s most structurally conventional movie of his career. Aside from a few flashbacks and abrupt shifts in tone, the film tells the linear story of a freed slave (Jaime Foxx) who, alongside a skilled bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz), sets out to rescue his wife from a sadistic Mississippi plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio).

    The movie has the rapid-fire, ultra-clever dialogue you would expect from Tarantino, as well as a rather controversial dose of brutal violence and social commentary. (more…)

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  • ‘Hobbit’ a good first step back to Middle Earth

    J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” doesn’t need to be split into three movies. Even with extra material from various appendices in the mix, I worry another nine hours of hobbits, dwarves, wizards and orcs won’t be able to match the excitement of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

    That said, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” is a good step in proving me wrong.

    Minus the occasional meandering, the first segment in Peter Jackson’s new trilogy provides enough thrills and meaningful character moments to justify its existence, even if the heroes of the film are nowhere close to completing their quest across Middle Earth. (more…)

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  • ‘Life of Pi’ a gorgeous adventure at sea

    Of the big questions raised in “Life of Pi,” there is at least one definitive answer: You can’t be friends with a Bengal tiger.

    Director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”) has done what many thought impossible. He’s crafted a thrilling and visually spectacular adventure film out of Yann Martel’s unconventional bestseller.

    Lee and screenwriter David Magee frame the flashback-heavy opening act with a reporter (Rafe Spall) interviewing an adult Pi Patel (Irffan Khan), who as a boy was the sole survivor of a shipwreck and 227 grueling days in a lifeboat at sea. (more…)

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  • Daniel Day-Lewis commands the essential ‘Lincoln’

    Of all the wonderful things about Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” one thing obviously stands apart: Daniel Day-Lewis.

    The two-time Oscar winner is magnetic as the plain-spoken politician who battled to end slavery behind closed doors while the nation tore itself apart on the battlefields. Day-Lewis’ Lincoln often settles arguments with anecdotes—stories and speeches that comprise the bulk of the film’s two-and-a-half-hour running length. All this talking makes for thoroughly compelling entertainment.

    “Politician” is the best way to describe the man at the center of “Lincoln.” Unmoved in his desire to pass a Constitutional amendment to ban slavery in the United States, Lincoln resorts to bribing, trickery and intimidation to get the job done (or rather, assigns a trio of spinsters to do the dirty work). This is the still the kind-hearted hero of the textbooks. He’s simply doing what must be done for the better of the country. (more…)

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  • Thrilling ‘Skyfall’ is top-tier James Bond

    Skyfall James Bond movieDaniel Craig’s first outing as James Bond in “Casino Royale” was designed to take the venerable spy franchise to more serious, real-world places. The 21st century demanded its 007 be more like Jason Bourne – a guy who throws punches without the catchphrases and womanizing.

    The rebranding worked well enough for “Casino Royale,” but its sequel, “Quantum of Solace,” pushed too far away from what made James Bond so great in the first place. It felt squarely like a “Bourne” ripoff.

    “Skyfall” finds a happy balance, maintaining Craig’s brute masculinity while injecting the larger-than-life set pieces and integral supporting characters that define the franchise.

    It’s the best James Bond movie in years. Maybe one of the best ever. (more…)

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