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The Playlist

Review: 'Monsters, Inc.' In 3D Is Just As Much Fun As It Was The First Time Around

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • December 21, 2012 10:20 AM
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  • 1 Comment
"Monsters, Inc." represented a lot of firsts for the Pixar animation studio. Released in the fall of 2001, it was the first film without the direct supervision of John Lasseter, who had directed the three previous films for the studio and remains its chief creative force. It was also the first of their films to not be set entirely in "our" world (instead it was located in a distinctly monstrous alternate universe); the first one to feature a human character in the lead, too (the young girl Boo). And it would be the last to be wed to the patented Pixar buddy movie formula, although subsequent films have incorporated that element to varying degrees. But it's easy to forget about all the groundbreaking qualities when watching "Monsters, Inc," in a newly 3D-ified version, on the big screen this week, and just get lost in all the crazy fun (again).

Review: 'The Guilt Trip' An Underdeveloped, Clichéd Road Trip Comedy Without Much Gas

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • December 20, 2012 6:40 PM
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  • 5 Comments
There are at least two movies opening this holiday season which seem like they were stolen from the script vault at Touchstone Pictures, circa 1992. The first, "Parental Guidance," features the heavyweight one-two punch of Billy Crystal and Bette Midler, concerns grandparents outwitted by their grandkids, and could play snugly in a double feature alongside "Father of the Bride Part II." And opening this week is "The Guilt Trip," another movie that tries to wring guffaws out of a similarly super-tired idea (taking a cross-country road trip with your unbelievably stereotypical and annoying Jewish mother).

Review: 'Barbara' A Fresh Look Into 1980s Germany, Focusing On Life & Love

  • By Christopher Bell
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  • December 18, 2012 7:26 PM
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  • 0 Comments
Though maybe a bit too stiff and straight-laced, "Barbara" is a frequently subtle, moderately interesting character study set in a grievous East Germany during the 1980s. What are especially nice are the painstaking ways that director Christian Petzold ("Jerichow," "Dreileben: Beats Being Dead") avoids obvious nods to the time period -- forget drenching the film in some kind of filter as a signifier (a la the once-abused-now-Instagram-friendly sepiatone), the filmmaker even refuses simple explanatory title cards and instead dresses the environment appropriately, offering hints of the current year in the background set pieces and radio programs. This kind of understated nature runs the entire feature; in fact, one of the most intriguing aspects of "Barbara" is the lack of narrative hand-holding, with the lead's main intent remaining a mystery for a good chunk of the movie. There are no twists to spoil, but admittedly, much of the film's pull anchors on its masterful use of low-key storytelling -- take a gander at the next paragraph at your own risk.
More: Barbara, Review

Review: Beat Classic 'On The Road' Comes To The Screen In Lustrous-But-Long-Winded Fashion

  • By James Rocchi
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  • December 18, 2012 6:34 PM
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  • 0 Comments
Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" has been heralded for decades: an important novel, a cultural signifier, a sociological landmark, a cracking good read. It's also been considered "unfilmable" -- but now Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries," "Dark Water") brings the novel to the screen, and "The Motorcycle Diaries" turns out to be a pretty good template for understanding how Salles has shot his adaptation. "On the Road," like 'Diaries,' is scenic and episodic, full of youth's passion but with a shade of the future yet to come dimming the brightness of its vision, as a charismatic young man travels with another young man, saying little but watching everything along the way.

Review: Judd Apatow's 'This Is 40' Is Sprawling And Undisciplined, But Emotionally Honest Too

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • December 18, 2012 12:30 PM
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  • 6 Comments
Hearing that writer/director Judd Apatow, arguably the most influential and highly regarded comedic talent in the past decade, was making a "sort-of sequel" to his smash "Knocked Up," it's easy to assume that his creative well has run dry. Why return to that world, only to focus on a pair of side characters (played by Paul Rudd and Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann), especially when Apatow seems particularly fascinated by the interpersonal relationships between modern day fuck-ups, which provide a nearly endless canvas to paint on. But that "sort-of sequel" is anything but an eager cash-grab or a creatively bankrupt ploy; Apatow is genuinely invested in these characters and scenarios. One of the main problems is that it's an unfocused movie without a narrative rudder; a collection of funny observations about marriage and family without much connective tissue or momentum in an ultimately small stakes story. Apatow indulges in his freeform tendencies to a particularly destructive degree with "This is 40," resulting in a movie whose ambitions are only equaled by its shortcomings.

Review: 'Jack Reacher' Is The Rare Franchise-Starter That Makes You Hungry For More

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • December 17, 2012 1:15 PM
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  • 6 Comments
Much of the hoopla surrounding "Jack Reacher," the first adaptation of the insanely popular series of Lee Child-penned thrillers, has had to do with the casting of the diminutive Tom Cruise in the title role. As described in the novels, Reacher is, physically speaking, a brute – close-cropped blonde hair, nearly seven-feet tall, well over 200 pounds. In one of the novels he literally crushes a dude's skull with his bare hands. By comparison, Tom Cruise could fit snugly into a standard-sized teacup, is slimmer than an iPhone 5, and has muddy brown hair. But one of the more miraculous things about "Jack Reacher," an altogether entertaining and completely surprising pulp romp, is how Cruise embodies the Reacher character in the way he moves, the way he glances, and the way he talks (or doesn't talk). It doesn't matter that Tom Cruise is the tiny, snuggly version of Jack Reacher. He is still, very much, Jack Reacher.

Review: Abbie Cornish Shines, But The Questionable 'The Girl' Remains Ethically Dubious

  • By Rodrigo Perez
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  • December 14, 2012 10:05 AM
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  • 2 Comments
Well-told, well-shot and featuring a strong, but restrained and internalized performance from actress Abbie Cornish, director David Riker's "The Girl" is a mannered and in-the-pocket indie drama that might be a total subdued winner if it weren't for its dubious political ideologies, an irony considering the film's DNA is clearly built on humanist tendencies. While the Australian Cornish does have mild issues with sticking the landing on her Texas accent, it's her meatiest role since the deeply underrated "Bright Star" and lesser-seen, but no less valuable indies like "Somersault" and "Candy" (the latter featuring her going toe-to-toe with Heath Ledger and giving as good as she got) and she makes the most of it. 

Review: Coming-Of-Age At A Workmanlike Pace In 'Yelling To The Sky'

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • December 13, 2012 6:56 PM
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  • 0 Comments
If you’ve seen enough movies, you’ve seen “Yelling To The Sky.” There’s a slight disappointment that, as a bleak inner-city coming-of-age film, this picture is part of its own subgenre. Not only because of the familiarity to some audience members, but also due to the fact that these pictures consistently reflect a serious divide within the middle class. In this picture, the characters aren’t necessarily poor, but they might as well be, as cabinets fall apart as often as the characters’ own composures.

Review: 'Let Fury Have The Hour' A Primer On The Creative Response To Reagan/Thatcher Era Rule

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • December 13, 2012 6:00 PM
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  • 0 Comments
The ability to openly question and criticize the government is one of the foundations of democracy, and one of the cornerstones of any free country's constitutions and laws. It is not only within our power to elect officials to office, but we also reserve the right to make sure they stand up for and protect the good of the general public who voted them in, and if they don't, we are free to react any way we see fit (within the law, of course). And while the cliché is that great art is often fueled by great strife, there is also a ring of truth to it. And in "Let Fury Have The Hour," a strong case is made that the conservative, individualism politics of the Reagan and Thatcher era 1980s, helped spur punk rock, independent filmmaking and other artistic forms that continue to have an impact decades later.

Review: 'Save The Date' Is Light & Endearing Without Being Insubstantial; What Other Rom-Coms Should Aspire To Be

  • By Cory Everett
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  • December 13, 2012 5:03 PM
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  • 2 Comments
With the countless number of romantic comedies focused on how difficult it is for a woman to find a good man, it’s incredibly refreshing to see one where the tables are turned. In “Save The Date,” Lizzy Caplan stars as Sarah, a struggling illustrator who keeps herself afloat by managing a local bookstore. After dating her boyfriend Kevin (Geoffrey Arend) for two years, she has hesitantly agreed to move in with him to take their relationship to the next level. Kevin is the singer in a two-man indie band called Wolf Bird -- because all indie bands have Wolf in their name -- whose drummer Andrew (Martin Starr) is engaged to Sarah’s sister Beth (Alison Brie). Their first night as cohabitants looks like romantic bliss as the couple tenderly slow dances together, while Sarah warns that she will be a horrible roommate, messy and forgetful. Kevin is smitten anyway, and despite the warnings of friends that he may be moving too fast, he hatches a plan to propose to Sarah during the final Wolf Bird concert before he embarks on a nationwide tour. But his spur-of-the-moment gesture goes horribly awry and Sarah storms out, leaving the entire embarrassing incident captured on YouTube.

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