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The Playlist

Review: Jean-Claude Van Damme Shines In The Moronically Irresistible Entertainment Of ‘Expendables 2’

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • August 14, 2012 8:00 AM
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  • 20 Comments
“The Expendables 2” is one of the very few films that gets better as it gets dumber. Serviceably directed, horribly written and barely acted at all except for a standout performance by (of all people) Jean-Claude Van Damme, it mostly delivers in the way that the original failed to, which is by enabling action stars to charm their way through an incredibly hackneyed and conventional storyline. Nevertheless an irresistibly fun alternative to the so-called grown-up fare that has attempted to replace the escapism of '80s and ‘90s blockbusters, “The Expendables 2” offers a welcome roundup of action stars who simultaneously – and satisfyingly – celebrate and send up their former glories.

Review: 'Almayer's Folly' Another Brilliant, Mesmerizing Film From Chantal Akerman

  • By Christopher Bell
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  • August 13, 2012 1:59 PM
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  • 0 Comments
At this point, the filmmaker responsible for the much adored "Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles" can do whatever the hell she wants and still retain an immense amount of respect. Thankfully Chantal Akerman is still firing on all cylinders; "Almayer's Folly" (a loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's debut novel of the same name) is an astoundingly terrific work that continues the slow, observant nature she is generally known for while adding a relatively heavier narrative.

Review: 'Why Stop Now?' A Compelling, But Not Always Fulfilling Comedy

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • August 13, 2012 12:02 PM
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  • 0 Comments
There’s not a whole lot of forward momentum in “Why Stop Now?” which is a surprise considering the immediacy-baiting title. Though the film takes place within the span of one day, the narrative feels truncated, allowing for connections to form, and then sever, over the course of twenty-four hours. It's well-acted, certainly, though these performances belong in a film with sharper pacing, one that breathes easily. But, this directorial debut from Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner breathes like a frequent smoker: in fits and starts, peppered with coughs and dry heaves.

Review: Spike Lee Reconnects With His Artistic Voice With The Emotionally Devastating 'Red Hook Summer'

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • August 9, 2012 6:01 PM
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  • 1 Comment
It’s hard to say how long it’s been since Spike Lee was as ambitious, and as focused, as he is on “Red Hook Summer.” Telling a story that evokes “Crooklyn” in its depiction of children coming of age, filtered through two subsequent decades of his professional successes and failures, not to mention an era of black cinema dominated by the iconography of filmmakers like Tyler Perry, Lee’s latest film is a return to the incendiary form that made his name in the late 1980s and early ‘90s, as it examines life in a Brooklyn housing project through the eyes of a preteen who’s forced to spend the summer with his ministerial grandfather. Overlong but consequently understated – perhaps more so than in any film he’s ever made - as its didactic and yet discursive tale builds to a devastating emotional crescendo, “Red Hook Summer” is not just Spike Lee’s most authentically “Spike Lee” film in more than a decade, but a remarkable display of a filmmaker reconnecting with his artistic voice.

Review: 'Goats' Is An Unexceptional, Overly Familiar Coming-Of-Age Tale

  • By Todd Gilchrist
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  • August 8, 2012 6:31 PM
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  • 1 Comment
As far as quirky coming of age stories engineered for festivals and the twee aspiring directors who love them go, “Goats” is a fine little movie. Directed by newcomer Christopher Neil from a script by Mark Poirier, who adapted his own novel, it follows a teenager struggling to deal with his estranged parents as he tries to find a place for himself, but it’s also not really about anything at all, or at least anything original. In fact, it’s the kind of entertainment that’s familiar and pleasant enough that you easily forget that nothing much is happening on screen, which may admittedly be damning it with faint praise. But in a cinematic environment already well-stocked with so many tales of teenagers taking their first steps toward finding their own identity, “Goats” feels like the descendant of a family with an incredible pedigree who decided it was enough to live off of that legacy instead of trying to build anything new upon it.
More: Goats, Review

Review: 'This Time' An Unfocused, Incomplete Tale About Forgotten R&B Stars The Sweet Inspirations

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • August 8, 2012 5:59 PM
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  • 0 Comments
While the ambition of the indie documentary "This Time" is perhaps admirable, the trouble with the picture is evident from the synopsis of the film. While the sizzle being sold to audiences is that it chronicles the return of The Sweet Inspirations, the backing singers who worked with Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield and more, it's actually three stories, with the struggles of a thirty-something cabaret singer Bobby Belfry, and a forgotten disco-era singer Pat Hodges (of Hodges, James & Smith) also tossed into the mix. The result is a film that's fractured and jarring, trying to tie the tales of these three acts into some kind of over-reaching arc about the machinations of the industry, which the most interesting story is hiding in plain sight.

Review: 'The Campaign' Is A Laughless And Cowardly Political Comedy

  • By Gabe Toro
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  • August 8, 2012 10:59 AM
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  • 23 Comments
There’s always been something insidious about the MPAA ratings system. It has allowed filmmakers to more directly label films as if they were products off the supermarket shelf -- “The Dark Knight Rises” is going to be PG-13, because it’s about a character kids wear on their jammies. “American Pie” is going to be R-rated, because they’re going to talk about sex a whole lot. But sometimes, you wonder if the PG-13 and lower ratings are designed to rescue filmmakers from themselves, forcing them to find creative ways to tell certain stories without the benefits of explicit content. Unfortunately, that train of thought is absent from “The Campaign,” a proudly vulgar idiot festival that wears its sophomoric R-rating on its sleeve, infusing a ripe satirical comedic idea with nonsensical foul content in lieu of character, story and comedic resonance.

Review: Heady & Complex, 'The Bourne Legacy' Is A Fresh & Exciting Expansion Of The Franchise

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • August 7, 2012 1:25 PM
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  • 16 Comments
Like a game of high-octane chess played upon a moving train, Universal’s “The Bourne Legacy” is just as interested in engaging the mind as it is the senses with its visceral action set-pieces. And while one might argue the action drama's allegiances lie much deeper with engaging the former, this taut, complex, and yes, at times dense, action thriller is still an auspicious beginning to what presumably will kick off another series in the grand mythology of these clandestine and top-secret CIA black ops programs.

Recap: Walt Celebrates Birthday Number 'Fifty One' In Rian Johnson-Helmed Episode Of 'Breaking Bad'

  • By Cory Everett
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  • August 6, 2012 10:03 AM
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  • 4 Comments
We’re officially halfway through the first set of episodes in “Breaking Bad”’s bifurcated final season and episode 4 has really been the first opportunity for the audience to catch their collective breath. Directed by Rian Johnson (“Brick,” the upcoming “Looper”) -- who was responsible for the love-it-or-hate-it bottle episode “Fly” from Season 3 -- “Fifty-One” may be the calmest episode this season, but you can feel the storm coming (Bryan Cranston has said that the next episode will also be “the biggest episode we’ve ever done as far as scope and cost.”). But before they blow it up, they’re bringing it in and letting us focus on just how disconnected the characters have become from one another.

Review: Brilliant Animated Movie 'ParaNorman' Is One Of The Summer's Biggest (And Best) Surprises

  • By Drew Taylor
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  • August 4, 2012 10:44 AM
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  • 15 Comments
This summer has been full of big, glitzy animated movies from most of the major studios that have made tons of money but left audiences cold. None of them were particularly imaginative, entertaining or emotionally involving, instead choosing to coast on a steady stream of solid (if not exactly dazzling) images and a host of comfortingly familiar celebrity voices. And yet, at the tail end of the summer, along comes a movie proudly told in an old school animation style, from a tiny animation house and distributed by a studio known mostly for distributing arty fare like "Brokeback Mountain," that blows away all the slick studio confections both in terms of sheer visual wonder and (more surprisingly) emotional heft. Laika's stop-motion wonder "ParaNorman" isn't just the best animated movie of the summer, it's one of the best movies of the year. Period.

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