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The Playlist

Review: 'White Elephant' Is A Predictable, But Well-Acted & Worthy Study Of The Buenos Aires Slums

  • By Christopher Schobert
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  • March 27, 2013 7:56 PM
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Pablo Trapero’s “White Elephant” is a smartly acted, beautifully scored, often bracingly directed film of good intentions and big ambition. Yet it can only be called a modest success, and, in light of how strong some of its individual elements are, even a slight disappointment. Word from Cannes, where the film premiered last May, was that writer/director Trapero’s study of two Catholic priests working in the slums of Buenos Aires never quite connects, and was probably the least successful of the Latin American films on display at the film festival. (It was no “No,” apparently.) That buzz was accurate, but that doesn’t make “White Elephant” without value. It just means Trapero stopped at second following a base hit that should have led to an easy triple.

Review: 'Mental' With Toni Collette Is A Watchable Farce That Could Do With Going A Bit More Nuts

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • March 27, 2013 7:43 PM
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“Mental” marks director P.J. Hogan’s (“My Best Friend’s Wedding,” “Confessions of a Shopaholic”) reunion with his “Muriel’s Wedding” star Toni Collette. The intervening years may have made them both older, but not necessarily wiser, as “Mental” seems content to rework the “Muriel’s Wedding” formula but with greater resources, like a now-established star and a supporting cast of notable Aussie actors (many of whom we had kind of forgotten were Australian) at its disposal. Both films take small-town Australia as their settings, both feature female characters marked by unpopularity and social inadequacy, and both are inspired by, and constantly reference, particular kitschy elements of pop culture -- ‘Muriel’ had Abba, "Mental" has “The Sound of Music.”

Review: 'G.I. Joe: Retaliation' Is No Masterpiece, But Popcorn Entertainment That Redeems The Series Somewhat

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • March 27, 2013 12:56 PM
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  • 1 Comment
Channing Tatum and Dwayne Johnson in G.I. Joe: Retaliation
It’s tough to say if I would be as generous with my praise of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” if I weren’t such a big fan of its director, Jon M. Chu, but given the mechanical one-dimensionality of most big-budget franchise films, the sequel earns its critical bona fides simply by being made by a director who has sincere affection for the source material. Although its delay from the summer of 2012 to spring 2013 spawned rumors of a troubled production, extensive reshoots, and a last-minute effort to squeeze the now-hot Channing Tatum into more scenes, Chu’s follow-up is remarkably cohesive – a fun, sweeping and yet understated sequel that should whet the appetites of action fans without overdosing them on pop confectionaries before the summer buffet truly starts.

Review: 'Dorfman In Love' A Painful Comedy Not Worth Falling For

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • March 22, 2013 12:31 PM
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Though it seems unlikely, someone this weekend is going to be dragged to see “Dorfman In Love.” Forget about the film for a second: who is this person, and what have they done to deserve this? Is he or she bad? Isn’t there a cheaper way to dole out punishment then paying arthouse ticket prices for a movie that doesn’t even deliver on its basic premise at even a sitcom level? Why does the world hate this person? Do they owe thousands in back taxes? Did they accidentally back their car up and murder someone? Are they a Kardashian?
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Review: Chris O'Dowd Shines In The Otherwise Uneven 'The Sapphires'

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • March 22, 2013 11:33 AM
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Among the The Weinstein Company's acquisitions prior to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival was the largely unknown (until it was bought) Aussie musical/drama/comedy effort "The Sapphires." It's certainly easy to see why this easy-to-digest, feel-good movie earned their attention. With a slate last year that included "Lawless," "Django Unchained," "The Master" and "Killing Them Softly" they probably thought they could use a film that's guaranteed to have broad appeal, and that's something the first-time feature film from director Wayne Blair carries in spades. And it's largely thanks to the winning charm of unlikely leading man Chris O'Dowd.

Review: 'My Brother The Devil' A Fresh & Exciting Take On The Familiar Urban Crime Drama

  • By Joe Cunningham
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  • March 21, 2013 7:56 PM
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British urban drama is fast becoming a crowded genre. It seems that every couple of months there’s a movie released depicting issues of drug abuse, violence and poverty in the council estates of one of London’s many recession hit suburbs. Well, in UK cinemas that is. Not many make it out of the country, and in fairness probably few deserve to. But Sally El Hosaini’s debut feature has managed that feat, and with good reason, as it’s one of the better examples of the genre.
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Review: At Its Best, Harmless 'Hunky Dory' Is Just That

  • By William Goss
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  • March 21, 2013 7:03 PM
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It’s the summer of 1976, and between a conservative school administration and an unrelenting drought, things are beyond dry for Wales’ scrappier teens. It’s little wonder that they flock to the more permissive Miss Mae (Minnie Driver) and her glam-rock interpretation of Shakespeare’s "The Tempest" for the school play. Alas, "Hunky Dory" primarily concerns itself with familiar extracurricular woes and offers up much ado about nothing instead of a more rollicking or romantic coming-of-age story.

Review: 'Eden' Is A Gripping Sex Slavery Drama That Isn't As Dour As It Sounds

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • March 21, 2013 6:01 PM
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  • 1 Comment
Often the problem when making an 'issue' movie, wherein you tackle some far-reaching social, systemic, or religious injustice, is that scope often becomes too burdensome, with the given topic often begging for thoughtful, intimate conversation and not the broad strokes that cinema offers. The best issue movies, things like Steven Soderbergh's multi-layered "Traffic," make the central concern seem both universal and incredibly personal, often setting aside crass moralization (the stuff "Crash" was mired in – hey, racism still exists, everybody!) for actual entertainment. "Eden," the Narrative Feature winner at SXSW in 2012, similarly tackles the issue of sex slavery, but it does so in a way that never feels too clumsy or overarching. Instead, it's a character study with thriller elements; it exposes you to a horrible underworld without ever beating you over the head with it.
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Review: 'Olympus Has Fallen' A Thin, High-Concept Actioner Without Much Bite

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • March 21, 2013 9:56 AM
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  • 2 Comments
The new big budget, bullet-riddled actioner "Olympus Has Fallen" has a premise so painfully obvious that it's amazing nobody thought of it before, especially in the creatively bankrupt atmosphere of Hollywood. The plot is essentially "Die Hard" in the White House, with a similarly smart-ass loner (Gerard Butler) trapped in a massive building full of heavily armed terrorists, holding one very important man hostage (Aaron Eckhart, trading up from his district attorney position in "The Dark Knight" to President of the United States here). Unfortunately, "Olympus Has Fallen" fails to capture even a glimmer of the greatness of "Die Hard," instead coming across as a loud, crass, unpleasantly violent movie whose politics are muddier than its gauzy cinematography. (It should be noted, however, that it is markedly superior to the last actual "Die Hard" movie, the borderline unwatchable "A Good Day to Die Hard." Still.)

Review: ‘New World’ A Familiar, But Satisfying & Well-Executed ‘The Departed’-Esque Thriller

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • March 20, 2013 8:23 PM
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On the page, the set up for Park Hoon Jeong’s “New World” is almost a cliché, the story pivoting around a cop caught in deep cover in the midst of a crime syndicate, looking for a way to the end assignment, only for forces on both sides of the law to squeeze him to a breaking point. In Hollywood, both “Donnie Brasco” and “The Departed” popularized the concept in the recent years, with the latter a remake of “Infernal Affairs” which itself spawned a trilogy. So the question for “New World” is: does it bring anything new to the equation? Nope. Does it do this formula well? Yep.

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