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The Playlist

Sundance Review: Good Performances & Narrative Tapestry Can't Save Emotionally Distant 'The Words'

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 21, 2012 5:02 PM
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  • 3 Comments
A combination of shopworn literary clichés combined with an “Inception”-worthy daisy chain of White People Problems, “The Words” fails to surpass dramatically the bland lack of specificity in its title while still offering a solid roundup of performances from its talented ensemble cast. Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, who received story credit for “TRON: Legacy” (a film this writer liked a lot), wrote and directed this flashback-laden tale of a novelist coming to terms with his life and work by writing a book about a novelist coming to terms with his life and work.

Sundance Review: 'The Raid' Is A Triumph Of Kicks, Punches & Unrelenting Thrills

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 21, 2012 11:26 AM
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  • 7 Comments
If you ever wanted a feature-length version of the scene from Tony Jaa’s “The Protector” where in one shot he literally fights his way up to the roof of a building filled with baddies, then “The Raid” is the movie for you. Although his two previous films failed to make an impression outside of Indonesia, writer-director Gareth Evans crafts a relentless – and relentlessly exciting -- onslaught of visceral entertainment with his tale of a SWAT team that’s ambushed after being assigned to invade a drug kingpin’s heavily-fortified stronghold. Featuring fight sequences almost literally from start to finish, “The Raid” is an action-lover’s dream, precisely because it pitches the choreography at a thrilling but believable level that prevents viewers from succumbing to an overdose of kicks and punches.

Sundance Review: 'West Of Memphis' An Exhausting & Exhaustive Chronicle Of Justice

  • By William Goss
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  • January 21, 2012 11:06 AM
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  • 0 Comments
"West of Memphis" doesn’t ignore the fact that filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have already crafted a trilogy of documentaries concerning the perceived injustice of the West Memphis Three, three Arkansas teens convicted in 1994 of murdering three young boys in 1993. In their small town, the threat of satanic cults made the juvenile delinquents ripe for persecution, but over the two decades since, conflicting testimonies and newly uncovered evidence have caused many to reach out and champion their cause of innocence.

Sundance Review: 'Tim & Eric's Billion Dollar Movie' Is An Absurdist Blast

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • January 21, 2012 4:20 AM
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  • 5 Comments
The comedy style that Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim have perfected over five years on their completely bizarre Cartoon Network sketch comedy series "Tim and Eric, Awesome Show Great Job!" goes something like this: they dress up in funny outfits, get a bunch of celebrities (including Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Ted Danson, and Zach Galifianakis) to do the same, layer on screechy or slurpy sound effects, liberally punctuate with lots of screaming or crying, round out the cast with actors that look like they're either homeless or have been rescued from an insane asylum, and edit the entire thing like it's from some psychedelic version of a 1980s cable access channel.

Review: Overwrought & Superficial ‘Flowers Of War’ Never Even Blooms

  • By The Playlist
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  • January 20, 2012 4:33 PM
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  • 4 Comments
While the historically overlooked massacre and genocide of China's city of Nanking is experiencing a resurgence in cultural awareness (and therefore cinema) as an under-remembered tragedy worth memorializing (see the 2007 documentary "Nanking"), the brutal events – Japan killing 200,000 people in their 1937 overthrowing of the region – is still mostly unknown outside of the East.

Sundance Review: 'Searching For Sugar Man' An Entertaining, Touching & Revealing Look At Forgotten Pop Singer Rodriguez

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 20, 2012 2:16 PM
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  • 4 Comments
If every Sundance film festival needs at least one documentary to remind white people of all the great music in the world they don’t know about, at least “Searching For Sugar Man” seems like 2012’s front-runner for the best one. A born crowd-pleaser whose central mystery begets a great triumph of grace and modesty, Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary about forgotten-before-he-was-known folk-pop singer Rodriguez is a hugely entertaining, emotionally touching, and musically revelatory experience.

Review: Oh, There's Michael...'Underworld: Awakening' Answers Questions You Never Cared Enough To Ask

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • January 20, 2012 8:58 AM
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  • 42 Comments
“Where’s Michael?” shouts warrior vampire Selene (Kate Beckinsale) urgently in the trailer for “Underworld: Awakening,” the fourth film in the other vampire/werewolf franchise. “Who’s Michael?” muses a large portion of the audience, presumably a little less urgently, in reply. Because while the ‘Underworld’ films undoubtedly have their appeal -- you don’t goose your way beyond a trilogy without some kind of following making it financially enticing -- they really don’t inspire the kind of widespread fandom that might immediately make the average moviegoer clutch their heart in worry over the fate of Selene’s hybrid werevamp macguffin boyfriend.

Sundance Review: 'Wish You Were Here' With Joel Edgerton & Teresa Palmer An Overwrought, Undercooked Mystery

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • January 20, 2012 8:05 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Although its title implies either a whimsical journey of self-discovery or an ironic riposte to the vacation from hell, the story of “Wish You Were Here” is, in either context, a disappointingly pedestrian experience. The story of a husband and father trying to return to his normal life after a vacation with his wife and her sister that ends in the disappearance of his sister-in-law’s boyfriend, Kieran Darcy-Smith’s Australian import inspires a deluge of possibilities and provocative thoughts in its audiences’ heads, but languid pacing undermines the too-simple and ultimately too-conventional revelations that wrap up its simmering mysteries. Nevertheless, strong performances from the four leads sustains its unhurried approach far longer than the payoff deserves.

Review: Frederick Wiseman's 'Crazy Horse' A Fantastic Meditation On Bodies In Motion

  • By Brandon Harris
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  • January 19, 2012 5:28 PM
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  • 0 Comments
Serious dance filmmaking is under going something of a renaissance. While Wim Wenders’ "Pina" still kicks about arthouses, doc auteur Frederick Wiseman returns with one of his patented and lengthy direct cinema discourses on the civic, social or business institution of his choice. That it mostly involves naked ladies (the reason you probably can’t find its trailer anymore on YouTube) is truly beside the point for his biggest fans, but for many, it remains a sticking point.

Review: Steven Soderbergh's Action Vacation 'Haywire' Has Style, Smarts & Kicks To The Face

  • By James Rocchi
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  • January 19, 2012 12:00 PM
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  • 2 Comments
At the AFI Festival L.A. "Secret Screening" -- blown, and blown up, several hours before as the world premiere of Steven Soderbergh's action-thriller "Haywire" -- the director explained how he found leading lady Gina Carano. He'd just been fired off a film -- "Which happens," he dryly noted -- and he was watching mixed martial arts on TV and saw Gina Carano in action and was struck by a thought: "She's a natural beauty and she beats people up in a cage; how could you not build a movie around her?"
More: Haywire, Review

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