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Big Cat Country, by James T. Sheridan

16 Apr

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ROAR, by director Noel Marshall, is a terribly misguided and bizarre journey through an African animal sanctuary where lions, tigers, cheetahs, and elephants run amuck while a terrified family hides in closets or refrigerators, jumps off the roof into the river below, and in general, avoids being eaten. It has all the real attraction of showing these giant and majestic animals up close coupled with the unfortunate recklessness of not telling a story that is compelling or interesting.

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Summertime Blues, by James T. Sheridan

29 Jul

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The unfortunate tagline for The Way, Way Back reads “We’ve all been there,” and I think by the end of the film, many of us have not been to these very specific and increasingly unbelievable dramatic scenarios, but the film’s portrait of teenage awkwardness set amidst a summer complete with beach, beach house, and water park has both a resonance and a reserve of kind humor. While not entirely successful, The Way, Way Back has its charms and laughs as the first feature film directed by the Academy Award-winning screenwriters of The Descendants.

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Things That Go Bump, by James T. Sheridan

19 Jul

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A sleepwalking little girl. An eerie pond in the backyard. The world’s most ominous tree. A hidden cellar. Scores of birds crashing into the house. The list goes on and on and on. Despite its seriousness in presentation and effective frame narrative, James Wan’s new horror film, The Conjuring, contents itself with being encyclopedic, rather than bold, leaning hard on its “Based on a true story” bona fides and an increasingly chaotic second half. Still, it is a mostly well-crafted and occasionally exhilarating film; Wan’s work might be best appreciated with a crowded summer audience that jumps, laughs, and gasps en masse.

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The Walking Zed, by James T. Sheridan

20 Jun

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With AMC’s The Walking Dead delivering movie-quality apocalyptic zombies chasing the remnants of humanity every week, the zombie bar has been raised for a film like World War Z, based on a best-selling novel and featuring one of the biggest stars in movies today. Marc Forster, the director of Monster’s Ball and Quantum of Solace, seems an odd choice for such a sprawling, globetrotting, effects-heavy adventure, yet despite its limitations, he carries the film across the finish line with a solid performance by Brad Pitt and effectively tense scenes.

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My Big Fat Sassy Obituary, by James T. Sheridan

13 Jun

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Carlo De Rosa’s new film Finding Joy tells the warm story of a family of eccentric characters in a strangely charming tale of love and loss. Kyle Livingston (Josh Cooke) effectively loses his friendships, home, car, and confidence in an efficient five minute introduction, and the author of “Portrait of a Frozen Family” retreats back to his childhood home to live with his father, his father’s new girlfriend, brother, sister-in-law, and niece. Except his bedroom has been converted into a bathroom. So, Kyle sleeps uncomfortably in the bathtub, staring at his laptop, while haunted by an impending deadline for his next book. He catches the eye of Joy (Liane Balaban), his attractive neighbor across the street who takes an interest in him that builds to an unusual request. She is dying and asks Kyle write a “classy, sassy obituary” for her. To get to know each other for the ostensible purpose of writing the obit, Joy takes Kyle on zany adventures volunteering with the seniors at the local retirement center, donating to the homeless, and having him wear a costume that represents her greatest fear. As he accompanies Joy and develops feelings for her, Kyle also begins thawing the ice at home with his grieving father and conflicted brother.

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Two Movies Fighting to a Draw, by James T. Sheridan

13 Jun

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The new Superman film Man of Steel ultimately betrays itself by not being sure what it wants to be. The two names attached to this film suggest two different movie-making philosophies: director Zack Snyder of 300 and Watchmen and producer Christopher Nolan of the recent Batman trilogy and Inception. The resulting film is promising, uneven, and frustrating.

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Home Video Hovel: Aroused, by James T. Sheridan

10 Jun

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“This is not a story about pornography. This is a story about women,” announces director Deborah Anderson at the beginning of her documentary about sixteen women in the adult film industry. She begins to examine the conflict between innate sensuality and the cultural obsession with sexuality through a series of interviews and photo shoots with these women. Her opening sequence resembles a music video with stylized black and white glimpses of mysterious women in sunglasses, riding in an elegant car on sun-dappled streets, with palm trees rising and birds flying off in the distance.

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Disappearing Act, by James T. Sheridan

31 May

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An all-star cast of Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Mark Ruffalo, Melanie Laurent, Dave Franco, and Common unite to make a film that is never greater than the sum of its parts. Louis Leterrier’s Now You See Me dazzles with its twists and turns, but it never fully worked or won me over. However, it is a fun time at the movies and refreshing in its storytelling.

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Cut-throat Economy, by James T. Sheridan

28 May

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From its first shot, a close-up of a scalpel slicing into skin, American Mary, by writer-director twin sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska, offers an upsetting and artistic look at surgeon-turned-body-modification-wunderkind Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), who journeys from medical school to the criminal underworld in pursuit of…  Well, I am not sure what she is pursuing. It could be money. It could be a sense of purpose in life. It could be a sense of power over those who wronged her. The vagueness of Mary’s character derails the film (she starts off sympathetic and then transforms into something quite monstrous), though it is told with great panache. We meet Mary as a struggling surgeon of promise forced to seek alternative ways to pay her bills. An audition at a strip club turns into a $5,000 offer to do emergency surgery. A loner whose only family connection is the voice of an unseen Nana on her cell phone, Mary draws the attention of her fellow surgeons as well, leading to a horrific night that changes everything and leads her down a dark path.

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Home Video Hovel: The First 70, by James T. Sheridan

19 May

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“Can you close a forest?” one California park ranger wonders aloud in “The First 70,” a short documentary film from director Jarrett Moody that chronicles the very real effects of a California state legislature decision to close 25% of the state parks in order to save close to 22 million dollars. Moody’s reaction to that devastating shuttering of state parks involved taking a three thousand mile road trip around the state with two friends, visiting parks and experiencing the collective effort keeping these places alive. The film begins promisingly with a line from John Muir (“Wilderness is a necessity) and asks its audience to consider what it means if society cannot afford to keep its open spaces open.

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