<![CDATA[Entertainment Weekly feed for Google Read Now]]> Thu, 18 Sep 2014 04:54:20 -0400 en-us EW.com-20843600 <![CDATA[This Is Where I Leave You]]> Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT That old saw about bickering siblings returning to their childhood home to pick at old scabs on the road to a feel-good group hug gets recycled yet again in Shawn Levy's bland-as-oatmeal comedy This Is Where I Leave You. The movie is so festooned with clichés it proves that Tolstoy was dead wrong when he wrote that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This clan is just like the one in August: Osage County (or Home For the Holidays or The Family Stone), only with more eye-rolling one-liners about Jane Fonda's cantaloupe-sized breast implants. It's a misfire that's especially confounding considering that you couldn't ask for a more promising cast of brother-and-sister bickerers: deadpan maestro Jason Bateman, sarcastic bossy pants Tina Fey, slow-burning straight man Corey Stoll, and the whirling dervish wildcard Adam Driver.

Based on Jonathan Tropper's 2009 novel, This Is Where I Leave You swirls around Fonda's imperious and gleefully inappropriate matriarch Hillary Altman—a bestselling author and family therapist (oh, the irony!) who gathers her four children and their significant others to the stately suburban colonial they grew up in to sit shiva after their father passes away. Each is grappling with his or her own set of issues: Bateman's Judd recently walked in on his wife cheating on him with his loutish boss; Fey's Wendy is stuck in a loveless marriage and still pines for her first love (Timothy Olyphant); Stoll's Paul and his wife (Kathryn Hahn) are fighting a losing battle with infertility; and Driver's Phillip is your standard-issue cosseted screw-up. After viciously needling one another like they used to as kids, they all wind up helping each other unpack their emotional baggage because...well, that's what the sharp-as-a-butter-knife Hollywood playbook dictates.

It's not the actors' faults. Some of them (especially Bateman and Rose Byrne as his old high school flame) are quite good. But none is called on to do much more than deliver punchless punchlines and goopy third-act dollops of laughter-through-tears schmaltz. And they look like they know it. All of which leaves you wondering: Why cast such talented, interesting, and edgy performers if you're only going to ask them play it safe? C

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That old saw about bickering siblings returning to their childhood home to pick at old scabs on the road to a feel-good group hug gets recycled yet again in Shawn Levy's bland-as-oatmeal comedy This Is Where I Leave You. The movie is so festooned with clichés it proves that Tolstoy was dead wrong when he wrote that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This clan is just like the one in August: Osage County (or Home For the Holidays or The Family Stone), only with more eye-rolling one-liners about Jane Fonda's cantaloupe-sized breast implants. It's a misfire that's especially confounding considering that you couldn't ask for a more promising cast of brother-and-sister bickerers: deadpan maestro Jason Bateman, sarcastic bossy pants Tina Fey, slow-burning straight man Corey Stoll, and the whirling dervish wildcard Adam Driver.

Based on Jonathan Tropper's 2009 novel, This Is Where I Leave You swirls around Fonda's imperious and gleefully inappropriate matriarch Hillary Altman—a bestselling author and family therapist (oh, the irony!) who gathers her four children and their significant others to the stately suburban colonial they grew up in to sit shiva after their father passes away. Each is grappling with his or her own set of issues: Bateman's Judd recently walked in on his wife cheating on him with his loutish boss; Fey's Wendy is stuck in a loveless marriage and still pines for her first love (Timothy Olyphant); Stoll's Paul and his wife (Kathryn Hahn) are fighting a losing battle with infertility; and Driver's Phillip is your standard-issue cosseted screw-up. After viciously needling one another like they used to as kids, they all wind up helping each other unpack their emotional baggage because...well, that's what the sharp-as-a-butter-knife Hollywood playbook dictates.

It's not the actors' faults. Some of them (especially Bateman and Rose Byrne as his old high school flame) are quite good. But none is called on to do much more than deliver punchless punchlines and goopy third-act dollops of laughter-through-tears schmaltz. And they look like they know it. All of which leaves you wondering: Why cast such talented, interesting, and edgy performers if you're only going to ask them play it safe? C

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EW.com-20843571 <![CDATA[No Good Deed]]> Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT In No Good Deed, a former lawyer who specialized in cases of violence against women unwittingly welcomes into her home an escaped convict with a history of terrorizing female victims. By the time this ex-con, named Colin (Idris Elba), charms his way into Terri's (Taraji P. Henson) Pottery Barn catalog of a home, the audience is already well aware of his brutality. On the eve of his parole hearing at the beginning of the movie, a Tennessee newscaster informs us that he's basically the most notorious criminal in the country, suspected of abducting five women, but convicted of an unrelated manslaughter. He's denied parole, escapes soon after, and heads to Georgia to take care of some business, which ultimately puts him on Terri's doorstep. Why isn't she hip to the news that there's a criminal on the loose just one state away? Beats us.

Still, there's an intriguing premise buried in there that could have resulted in a smart look inside the mind of a malignant narcissist (which, the movie reminds us over and over again, was Jeffrey Dahmer's diagnosis too). But No Good Deed chooses instead to operate as a fairly conventional home-invasion thriller. Much of the indulgent second act consists of making us wait—sometimes in true suspense, but mostly in boredom—for Terri to figure out that this hulking man is actually a psychopath. That's not to say Deed isn't gripping at times, and the fact that Henson's character has to protect not only herself but an infant and kid too adds some interesting stakes to the final showdown. But with performers as strong as Henson and Elba, and the guidance of director Sam Miller, who's worked with Elba in a handful of Luther episodes, it should have yielded more. The trite third act reveal only further sours the wasted potential. C

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In No Good Deed, a former lawyer who specialized in cases of violence against women unwittingly welcomes into her home an escaped convict with a history of terrorizing female victims. By the time this ex-con, named Colin (Idris Elba), charms his way into Terri's (Taraji P. Henson) Pottery Barn catalog of a home, the audience is already well aware of his brutality. On the eve of his parole hearing at the beginning of the movie, a Tennessee newscaster informs us that he's basically the most notorious criminal in the country, suspected of abducting five women, but convicted of an unrelated manslaughter. He's denied parole, escapes soon after, and heads to Georgia to take care of some business, which ultimately puts him on Terri's doorstep. Why isn't she hip to the news that there's a criminal on the loose just one state away? Beats us.

Still, there's an intriguing premise buried in there that could have resulted in a smart look inside the mind of a malignant narcissist (which, the movie reminds us over and over again, was Jeffrey Dahmer's diagnosis too). But No Good Deed chooses instead to operate as a fairly conventional home-invasion thriller. Much of the indulgent second act consists of making us wait—sometimes in true suspense, but mostly in boredom—for Terri to figure out that this hulking man is actually a psychopath. That's not to say Deed isn't gripping at times, and the fact that Henson's character has to protect not only herself but an infant and kid too adds some interesting stakes to the final showdown. But with performers as strong as Henson and Elba, and the guidance of director Sam Miller, who's worked with Elba in a handful of Luther episodes, it should have yielded more. The trite third act reveal only further sours the wasted potential. C

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EW.com-20843574 <![CDATA[The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? Director Ned Benson has a theory: Early in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, an NYU professor (Viola Davis) lectures about the ''impenetrability of one's thoughts'' and the idea that individuals are ''separate and distinct from the world and from others.'' In other words, we're all alone together. The original version of Benson's film makes that argument through two feature-length companion pieces, Her and Him, which track the dissolution of the marriage of psychology grad student Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and restaurateur Conor (James McAvoy) from each of their perspectives. (They don't always sync up.) It's easy to understand why there might be a market for a shorter cut, Them, that combines the two into a single story, but it undermines Benson's whole thesis. (The 201-minute Her/Him will be available next month in limited release.)

Told in the wake of a Very Bad Thing that unravels the relationship, Disappearance is still a thoughtful meditation on loss, but even the short version is a lot to take. Conversations play like academic dissertations, imparting the emotional impact of a scene instead of just letting us feel it. ''Tragedy is a foreign country,'' Eleanor's father (William Hurt) tells her. ''We don't know how to talk to the natives.'' Characters abruptly explain their own behavior: ''I never wanted to be a mother,'' Eleanor's mom (Isabelle Huppert) confesses, out of nowhere. Themes are spelled out too clearly, from Eleanor's allegorical name to the background movie posters of Masculin/Féminin and A Man and a Woman, two films about subjectivity. Yet Disappearance is worth watching for Chastain's fierce performance as a woman swallowed up by bone-deep grief. If we can feel exactly what Eleanor is feeling, maybe we're not so alone after all. B

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All the lonely people. Where do they all come from? Director Ned Benson has a theory: Early in The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, an NYU professor (Viola Davis) lectures about the ''impenetrability of one's thoughts'' and the idea that individuals are ''separate and distinct from the world and from others.'' In other words, we're all alone together. The original version of Benson's film makes that argument through two feature-length companion pieces, Her and Him, which track the dissolution of the marriage of psychology grad student Eleanor (Jessica Chastain) and restaurateur Conor (James McAvoy) from each of their perspectives. (They don't always sync up.) It's easy to understand why there might be a market for a shorter cut, Them, that combines the two into a single story, but it undermines Benson's whole thesis. (The 201-minute Her/Him will be available next month in limited release.)

Told in the wake of a Very Bad Thing that unravels the relationship, Disappearance is still a thoughtful meditation on loss, but even the short version is a lot to take. Conversations play like academic dissertations, imparting the emotional impact of a scene instead of just letting us feel it. ''Tragedy is a foreign country,'' Eleanor's father (William Hurt) tells her. ''We don't know how to talk to the natives.'' Characters abruptly explain their own behavior: ''I never wanted to be a mother,'' Eleanor's mom (Isabelle Huppert) confesses, out of nowhere. Themes are spelled out too clearly, from Eleanor's allegorical name to the background movie posters of Masculin/Féminin and A Man and a Woman, two films about subjectivity. Yet Disappearance is worth watching for Chastain's fierce performance as a woman swallowed up by bone-deep grief. If we can feel exactly what Eleanor is feeling, maybe we're not so alone after all. B

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THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ELEANOR RIGBY Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy]]>
EW.com-20851938 <![CDATA[Dolphin Tale 2]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Winter the dolphin, the brave, tailless hero of the 2011 original, is all alone at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. So her human pals (including Harry Connick Jr.) find her a female companion in a bizarre narrative in which resourceful teens boss around Ph.D.'s while Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman make smiley faces at them. This is innocuous, heart-in-the-right-place family fare, but its well-earned points about animal rights and preservation would be better taken if the relentless sentimentality didn't force viewers into flippers-in-the-air submission. C+

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Winter the dolphin, the brave, tailless hero of the 2011 original, is all alone at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. So her human pals (including Harry Connick Jr.) find her a female companion in a bizarre narrative in which resourceful teens boss around Ph.D.'s while Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman make smiley faces at them. This is innocuous, heart-in-the-right-place family fare, but its well-earned points about animal rights and preservation would be better taken if the relentless sentimentality didn't force viewers into flippers-in-the-air submission. C+

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DOLPHIN TALE 2 Nathan Gamble and Cozi Zuehlsdorff]]>
EW.com-20851930 <![CDATA[The Drop]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT There's a lot of repressed rage in The Drop, a Dennis Lehane crime story about a lonely Brooklyn barkeep who's drawn out of his self-imposed isolation when he rescues a pit-bull puppy from the trash. Tom Hardy's Bob might have a dark past or he might just be a half-wit — Hardy keeps Bob's cards close to the vest with a precise performance that values stillness above all else. Bob thinks slowly, but Hardy invests every word and gesture with meaning and power. It's a gift shared with James Gandolfini, who, in his last big-screen performance, plays Bob's boss, an underworld Willy Loman who runs the bar that Chechen mobsters use as an occasional money drop. But Gandolfini is still dangerous, wielding that Tony Soprano sideways glance like a shiv, and his final simmering scene with Hardy evokes Lee J. Cobb and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. Unfortunately, their relationship takes a backseat to Bob's romance with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), whose connection to the puppy brings him all sorts of trouble. While Gandolfini fills in the gaps and silences, Rapace never colors in her underwritten character, making her a glorified MacGuffin who hangs around far too long. B

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There's a lot of repressed rage in The Drop, a Dennis Lehane crime story about a lonely Brooklyn barkeep who's drawn out of his self-imposed isolation when he rescues a pit-bull puppy from the trash. Tom Hardy's Bob might have a dark past or he might just be a half-wit — Hardy keeps Bob's cards close to the vest with a precise performance that values stillness above all else. Bob thinks slowly, but Hardy invests every word and gesture with meaning and power. It's a gift shared with James Gandolfini, who, in his last big-screen performance, plays Bob's boss, an underworld Willy Loman who runs the bar that Chechen mobsters use as an occasional money drop. But Gandolfini is still dangerous, wielding that Tony Soprano sideways glance like a shiv, and his final simmering scene with Hardy evokes Lee J. Cobb and Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront. Unfortunately, their relationship takes a backseat to Bob's romance with Nadia (Noomi Rapace), whose connection to the puppy brings him all sorts of trouble. While Gandolfini fills in the gaps and silences, Rapace never colors in her underwritten character, making her a glorified MacGuffin who hangs around far too long. B

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THE DROP James Gandolfini and Tom Hardy]]>
EW.com-20851948 <![CDATA[The Guest]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens trades in English gentility for all-American menace as a polite and eerily self-possessed houseguest who, if the ominous score is to be trusted, might not be everything he says he is. Director Adam Wingard's follow-up to the 2011 horror flick You're Next is similarly sure-footed and sleek, shrink-wrapped in a genre-aware cleverness and preapproved for cult status. The coat of irony helps when the film takes a major pivot in tone, and Stevens is unnervingly placid as the corn-fed terminator. B+

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Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens trades in English gentility for all-American menace as a polite and eerily self-possessed houseguest who, if the ominous score is to be trusted, might not be everything he says he is. Director Adam Wingard's follow-up to the 2011 horror flick You're Next is similarly sure-footed and sleek, shrink-wrapped in a genre-aware cleverness and preapproved for cult status. The coat of irony helps when the film takes a major pivot in tone, and Stevens is unnervingly placid as the corn-fed terminator. B+

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THE GUEST Dan Stevens]]>
EW.com-20852157 <![CDATA[Take Me to the River]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Stax Records — the recording home to Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, and Isaac Hayes — is an American institution, and River attempts to bridge the gap between the legends of yesteryear and their spiritual protégés by documenting the creation of a new compilation album in Memphis. Seeing octogenarian blues crooner Bobby ''Blue'' Bland jawing with 8-year-old rapper Lil P-Nut makes for fascinatingly odd footage, but River never quite distills Stax's game-changing singularity. Rookie director Martin Shore's celebration of great music is an oddly alienating, context-lite backslapping session. C

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Stax Records — the recording home to Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, and Isaac Hayes — is an American institution, and River attempts to bridge the gap between the legends of yesteryear and their spiritual protégés by documenting the creation of a new compilation album in Memphis. Seeing octogenarian blues crooner Bobby ''Blue'' Bland jawing with 8-year-old rapper Lil P-Nut makes for fascinatingly odd footage, but River never quite distills Stax's game-changing singularity. Rookie director Martin Shore's celebration of great music is an oddly alienating, context-lite backslapping session. C

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TAKE ME TO THE RIVER Snoop Dogg]]>
EW.com-20843628 <![CDATA[Tracks]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Now that technology has made it impossible to ever be truly lost or alone, the idea of venturing out into the wilderness by yourself feels all the more romantic. No wonder it's becoming a popular movie fantasy. In December, Reese Witherspoon will star in Wild, the true story of Cheryl Strayed's 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. But Strayed's story owes a lot to the one in Tracks, which follows real-life pioneer Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) as she treks 1,700 miles through the Australian desert with four camels and a dog by her side. She went on to write a National Geographic piece about the experience that she then expanded into a best-seller.

Like Davidson herself, this lush adaptation from director John Curran (The Painted Veil) is remarkable for accomplishing so much with so little. There's no love story, although Adam Driver is marvelously dorky as a National Geographic photographer who meets up with Davidson every so often and might be nursing a crush. There's minimal dialogue — and, really, not much to say, because Wasikowska's riveting performance tells you everything you need to know about how solitude can chip away at the mind. And there's virtually no attempt to psychoanalyze Davidson's motives for taking the journey: The script only hints at a tragic backstory, and in a voice-over, Davidson thwarts any attempt to brand her as a women's-rights activist or a nature conqueror, stating only that she wanted to ''feel free.''

Still, what's on screen will leave you in a state of wonder. The sweeping cinematography surveys the cracked earth and Davidson's chapped skin with equal intensity, as if to remind us how vulnerable we puny mortals are. There's a powerful message about human endurance in there, and no one needs to hear it more than this generation, which came of age too late for Joseph Campbell's rites-of-passage ceremonies and would never survive in the desert without an iPhone compass app. A

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Now that technology has made it impossible to ever be truly lost or alone, the idea of venturing out into the wilderness by yourself feels all the more romantic. No wonder it's becoming a popular movie fantasy. In December, Reese Witherspoon will star in Wild, the true story of Cheryl Strayed's 1,100-mile solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. But Strayed's story owes a lot to the one in Tracks, which follows real-life pioneer Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) as she treks 1,700 miles through the Australian desert with four camels and a dog by her side. She went on to write a National Geographic piece about the experience that she then expanded into a best-seller.

Like Davidson herself, this lush adaptation from director John Curran (The Painted Veil) is remarkable for accomplishing so much with so little. There's no love story, although Adam Driver is marvelously dorky as a National Geographic photographer who meets up with Davidson every so often and might be nursing a crush. There's minimal dialogue — and, really, not much to say, because Wasikowska's riveting performance tells you everything you need to know about how solitude can chip away at the mind. And there's virtually no attempt to psychoanalyze Davidson's motives for taking the journey: The script only hints at a tragic backstory, and in a voice-over, Davidson thwarts any attempt to brand her as a women's-rights activist or a nature conqueror, stating only that she wanted to ''feel free.''

Still, what's on screen will leave you in a state of wonder. The sweeping cinematography surveys the cracked earth and Davidson's chapped skin with equal intensity, as if to remind us how vulnerable we puny mortals are. There's a powerful message about human endurance in there, and no one needs to hear it more than this generation, which came of age too late for Joseph Campbell's rites-of-passage ceremonies and would never survive in the desert without an iPhone compass app. A

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TRACKS Adam Driver and Mia Wasikowska]]>
EW.com-20851931 <![CDATA[Tusk]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT In Kevin Smith's horror comedy, a deranged ex-sailor in Canada (Kill Bill's Michael Parks) decides to turn a visiting podcaster (Justin Long) into a walrus. Think that sounds crazy? Wait until an uncredited A-lister (we won't say who) turns up two-thirds of the way through to hand in his most berserk performance to date (and that's saying something). Tusk lands close to Human Centipede territory in gross-out-ness — a warning, not a complaint — but it also has a genuinely haunting quality as Long's ties to humanity become ever more tenuous. B+

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In Kevin Smith's horror comedy, a deranged ex-sailor in Canada (Kill Bill's Michael Parks) decides to turn a visiting podcaster (Justin Long) into a walrus. Think that sounds crazy? Wait until an uncredited A-lister (we won't say who) turns up two-thirds of the way through to hand in his most berserk performance to date (and that's saying something). Tusk lands close to Human Centipede territory in gross-out-ness — a warning, not a complaint — but it also has a genuinely haunting quality as Long's ties to humanity become ever more tenuous. B+

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TUSK Justin Long]]>
EW.com-20851941 <![CDATA[The Zero Theorem]]> Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Terry Gilliam's bag of tricks may be motley, multicolored, and lovingly crafted, but its contents are not unlimited. His new dystopian allegory plays like a digital-age version of his classic Brazil. Christoph Waltz makes the weirdness work as a hairless ascetic who crunches unfathomably complex equations for a living. His latest assignment: Produce a quantitative proof that existence is meaningless. Gilliam's penchant for overstimulation can numb your visual cortex, but Theorem is still the best thing he's pulled out of that bag in a while. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B

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Terry Gilliam's bag of tricks may be motley, multicolored, and lovingly crafted, but its contents are not unlimited. His new dystopian allegory plays like a digital-age version of his classic Brazil. Christoph Waltz makes the weirdness work as a hairless ascetic who crunches unfathomably complex equations for a living. His latest assignment: Produce a quantitative proof that existence is meaningless. Gilliam's penchant for overstimulation can numb your visual cortex, but Theorem is still the best thing he's pulled out of that bag in a while. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B

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THE ZERO THEOREM David Thewlis and Christoph Waltz]]>
EW.com-20849659 <![CDATA[Frontera]]> Wed, 3 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Director Michael Berry's debut feature feels like the Crash-style border tale that John Sayles never got around to making. Illegal Mexican immigrants (including Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) head north for a better life, where they encounter gun-toting teens and a laconic ex-sheriff (Ed Harris). When they all collide and somebody dies, families are ripped apart. The film works best as a modern Western — Kenneth Lampl and Darren Tate's rambling score is a highlight — but it can't resist playing politics, and it clumsily bites off a little more than it can chew. (Also on iTunes and VOD) C+

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Director Michael Berry's debut feature feels like the Crash-style border tale that John Sayles never got around to making. Illegal Mexican immigrants (including Michael Peña and Eva Longoria) head north for a better life, where they encounter gun-toting teens and a laconic ex-sheriff (Ed Harris). When they all collide and somebody dies, families are ripped apart. The film works best as a modern Western — Kenneth Lampl and Darren Tate's rambling score is a highlight — but it can't resist playing politics, and it clumsily bites off a little more than it can chew. (Also on iTunes and VOD) C+

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FRONTERA Ed Harris]]>
EW.com-20849685 <![CDATA[God Help the Girl]]> Wed, 3 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT The word twee conjures up visions of puppies, cardigans, and young folks who probably aren't good at football. This musical from Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch features all three, but the witty songwriting saves it from being too cute. The story follows Eve (Emily Browning) as she forms a band with James and Cass (Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray), searching for an outlet for her depression. Inspired by the French New Wave, every shot looks like an indie album cover, and if the plot seems thin, that might be Murdoch's point: Every life deserves its own musical, even (especially) the ordinary ones. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B

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The word twee conjures up visions of puppies, cardigans, and young folks who probably aren't good at football. This musical from Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch features all three, but the witty songwriting saves it from being too cute. The story follows Eve (Emily Browning) as she forms a band with James and Cass (Olly Alexander and Hannah Murray), searching for an outlet for her depression. Inspired by the French New Wave, every shot looks like an indie album cover, and if the plot seems thin, that might be Murdoch's point: Every life deserves its own musical, even (especially) the ordinary ones. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B

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GOD HELP THE GIRL Hannah Murray, Olly Alexander, and Emily Browning]]>
EW.com-20849663 <![CDATA[Kelly & Cal]]> Wed, 3 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT The biggest takeaway from Kelly & Cal, a wonderfully honest and tender film about the bitter pill of adulthood, is Hollywood's criminal underuse of Juliette Lewis. The actress, shoehorned by her feral younger performances or her great unhinged sister act in last year's August: Osage County, is capable of marvelously grounded and subtle work. Here she plays Kelly, a weary new mother dropped into manicured suburbia. She befriends a teenage neighbor, Cal, played by the equally impressive Jonny Weston (Chasing Mavericks), who is angrily confined to a wheelchair because of a recent spinal injury. They become each other's lifelines in a world they believe has betrayed their forgotten, better selves.

In her feature debut, director Jen McGowan displays the unhurried, naturalistic instincts of Nicole Holofcener or Alexander Payne. Her portrait of suburbia is sterile without being sneering, and she finds bursts of humor and pathos in quiet moments. Amy Lowe Starbin's unsentimental script grants depth to her supporting characters, too. Kelly's husband (Cougar Town's Josh Hopkins) is a tired man with an idling sex drive who traded his artistic dreams for the upwardly mobile world of advertising, while her hovering mother-in-law (welcome surprise Cybill Shepherd) senses unrest but can offer only a lasagna casserole as comfort.

But it's Lewis who makes a movie that easily could have been mawkish sing. ''I wasn't always a suburban housewife,'' she tells Cal in an early attempt to impress the already besotted boy. ''I was once young and wild.'' She pulls old combat boots out of her closet and plays cassettes from her riot-grrrl band days (original songs written and performed by the musician-actress). Even as their friendship careens toward its inevitable crash, climaxing in a vital and wistful dance number, Kelly's vulnerable goodness and loyalty to her family linger on. Lewis is a star in her prime, and more smart directors should put her to work. (Also on iTunes and VOD) A

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The biggest takeaway from Kelly & Cal, a wonderfully honest and tender film about the bitter pill of adulthood, is Hollywood's criminal underuse of Juliette Lewis. The actress, shoehorned by her feral younger performances or her great unhinged sister act in last year's August: Osage County, is capable of marvelously grounded and subtle work. Here she plays Kelly, a weary new mother dropped into manicured suburbia. She befriends a teenage neighbor, Cal, played by the equally impressive Jonny Weston (Chasing Mavericks), who is angrily confined to a wheelchair because of a recent spinal injury. They become each other's lifelines in a world they believe has betrayed their forgotten, better selves.

In her feature debut, director Jen McGowan displays the unhurried, naturalistic instincts of Nicole Holofcener or Alexander Payne. Her portrait of suburbia is sterile without being sneering, and she finds bursts of humor and pathos in quiet moments. Amy Lowe Starbin's unsentimental script grants depth to her supporting characters, too. Kelly's husband (Cougar Town's Josh Hopkins) is a tired man with an idling sex drive who traded his artistic dreams for the upwardly mobile world of advertising, while her hovering mother-in-law (welcome surprise Cybill Shepherd) senses unrest but can offer only a lasagna casserole as comfort.

But it's Lewis who makes a movie that easily could have been mawkish sing. ''I wasn't always a suburban housewife,'' she tells Cal in an early attempt to impress the already besotted boy. ''I was once young and wild.'' She pulls old combat boots out of her closet and plays cassettes from her riot-grrrl band days (original songs written and performed by the musician-actress). Even as their friendship careens toward its inevitable crash, climaxing in a vital and wistful dance number, Kelly's vulnerable goodness and loyalty to her family linger on. Lewis is a star in her prime, and more smart directors should put her to work. (Also on iTunes and VOD) A

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KELLY & CAL Juliette Lewis]]>
EW.com-20849792 <![CDATA[Last Days in Vietnam]]> Wed, 3 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Most of the footage cut together in Rory Kennedy's latest doc is nearly four decades old, but the tension and resonance feel immediate. The film focuses on the fraught evacuation of Saigon in April 1975 as the North Vietnamese army encroached and American officers scrambled to board South Vietnamese allies onto the last helicopters out of the country. Army captain Stuart Herrington and Vietnamese naval officer Dam Pham anchor a roster of talking heads in a poignant, stirring meld of past and present. A-

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Most of the footage cut together in Rory Kennedy's latest doc is nearly four decades old, but the tension and resonance feel immediate. The film focuses on the fraught evacuation of Saigon in April 1975 as the North Vietnamese army encroached and American officers scrambled to board South Vietnamese allies onto the last helicopters out of the country. Army captain Stuart Herrington and Vietnamese naval officer Dam Pham anchor a roster of talking heads in a poignant, stirring meld of past and present. A-

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LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and President Gerald R. Ford]]>
EW.com-20849797 <![CDATA[The Longest Week]]> Wed, 3 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman), accustomed to a high-society Manhattan existence, finds himself destitute when his parents cut him off. So he shacks up with his pal Dylan (Billy Crudup) and puts on a ruse of wealth, all while charming the virtuous Beatrice (Olivia Wilde). With its droll voice-over, Bach score, and static symmetrical shots, the movie (written and directed by Peter Glanz) tries desperately to channel Wes Anderson, Whit Stillman, and Jean-Luc Godard. But the color-by-numbers mimicry is hollow, and the film lacks the humor, heart, and genuine wit of its far superior predecessors. (Also on iTunes and VOD) D+

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Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman), accustomed to a high-society Manhattan existence, finds himself destitute when his parents cut him off. So he shacks up with his pal Dylan (Billy Crudup) and puts on a ruse of wealth, all while charming the virtuous Beatrice (Olivia Wilde). With its droll voice-over, Bach score, and static symmetrical shots, the movie (written and directed by Peter Glanz) tries desperately to channel Wes Anderson, Whit Stillman, and Jean-Luc Godard. But the color-by-numbers mimicry is hollow, and the film lacks the humor, heart, and genuine wit of its far superior predecessors. (Also on iTunes and VOD) D+

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THE LONGEST WEEK Jason Bateman and Olivia Wilde]]>
EW.com-20849667 <![CDATA[No No: A Dockumentary]]> Wed, 3 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT On June 12, 1970, a fiery, flamboyant pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates named Dock Ellis hurled a no-hitter. The no-hitter is a once-in-a-blue-moon event in baseball — an unlikely convergence of guile, precision, and dumb luck. But what made Ellis' feat even more amazing? He was zonked on LSD at the time. In No No: A Dockumentary, Ellis and his former teammates unspool the stranger-than-fiction story of that night in San Diego: how he was so out of his gourd that he didn't even know he was starting that day. How the catcher, Jerry May, had to wrap magnetic tape around his fingers so that Ellis could decipher his signals. How he thought he'd scored a touchdown after one deft play in the field (yes, you read that right). ''I was as high as a Georgia pine,'' Ellis says in an archival interview (he died in 2008). Even years later, he still didn't seem entirely convinced that it happened.

Ellis was a born raconteur who seemed to both regret and revel in his colorful past as a high-functioning addict and soul-power hepcat. But for better — and worse — No No strives for more than immortalizing his drug-fueled day of infamy. First-time director Jeffrey Radice uses the LSD anecdote as the hook for an awkward attempt to rehabilitate Ellis' image, elevating him from space cadet to civil rights martyr — a junkie Jackie Robinson — as Ellis advocates for black ballplayers, free agency, and a more compassionate support system of drug counseling.

Some of these arguments are convincing, others less so — especially after Ellis' ex-wives recount the abuse they suffered when their husband was loaded. The fact is, Dock Ellis was...complicated. Probably a lot more so than No No makes him out to be. In the end, maybe the most black-and-white thing in his life was the string of zeros he put up on the scoreboard, high as a Georgia pine, 44 years ago. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B

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On June 12, 1970, a fiery, flamboyant pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates named Dock Ellis hurled a no-hitter. The no-hitter is a once-in-a-blue-moon event in baseball — an unlikely convergence of guile, precision, and dumb luck. But what made Ellis' feat even more amazing? He was zonked on LSD at the time. In No No: A Dockumentary, Ellis and his former teammates unspool the stranger-than-fiction story of that night in San Diego: how he was so out of his gourd that he didn't even know he was starting that day. How the catcher, Jerry May, had to wrap magnetic tape around his fingers so that Ellis could decipher his signals. How he thought he'd scored a touchdown after one deft play in the field (yes, you read that right). ''I was as high as a Georgia pine,'' Ellis says in an archival interview (he died in 2008). Even years later, he still didn't seem entirely convinced that it happened.

Ellis was a born raconteur who seemed to both regret and revel in his colorful past as a high-functioning addict and soul-power hepcat. But for better — and worse — No No strives for more than immortalizing his drug-fueled day of infamy. First-time director Jeffrey Radice uses the LSD anecdote as the hook for an awkward attempt to rehabilitate Ellis' image, elevating him from space cadet to civil rights martyr — a junkie Jackie Robinson — as Ellis advocates for black ballplayers, free agency, and a more compassionate support system of drug counseling.

Some of these arguments are convincing, others less so — especially after Ellis' ex-wives recount the abuse they suffered when their husband was loaded. The fact is, Dock Ellis was...complicated. Probably a lot more so than No No makes him out to be. In the end, maybe the most black-and-white thing in his life was the string of zeros he put up on the scoreboard, high as a Georgia pine, 44 years ago. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B

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NO NO: A DOCKUMENTARY Dock Ellis]]>
EW.com-20843565 <![CDATA[The Skeleton Twins]]> Wed, 3 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT By all accounts, working as a cast member on Saturday Night Live is like sharing a cramped bedroom with a dozen brothers and sisters who are all competing for the attention of daddy, Lorne Michaels. In the early, druggy seasons of the show, the combustible egos and tight quarters of Studio 8H could result in friction and infighting (just ask Bill Murray and Chevy Chase...but not while they're in the same room). Still, that bond often resulted in on-air magic. More recently, the once-dysfunctional backstage dynamic at SNL has calmed down more than a little. Whether it's Tina Fey and Amy Poehler riffing in what feels like the secret language of twin sisters at the Golden Globes or the big-brother/little-brother vibe of Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, the show's younger alumni now radiate the back-and-forth familiarity of siblings who actually like one another. Maybe that explains Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader's effortless chemistry in The Skeleton Twins.

Wiig and Hader play a troubled sister and brother grappling with the long-festering emotional fallout of their messed-up family. Their mother (Joanna Gleason) is a dizzy New Age healer with her head in the sand when it comes to her kids' problems. And their father committed suicide when they were children — an exit that's all too understandable for Wiig and Hader's now-grown-up-and-miserable Maggie and Milo. In fact, in the opening moments of the film, Maggie is prevented from swallowing a fistful of pills by a call informing her that Milo has just tried to kill himself by slicing his wrists in the bathtub. Did I mention that The Skeleton Twins is a comedy?

Well, it is and it isn't. Maybe I should also mention that Milo's suicide note reads, ''To whom it may concern, see ya later'' with a smiley face underneath. Or that the ringtone on Maggie's phone when she gets the call from the hospital is the Growing Pains theme. Like Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo in 2000's You Can Count on Me, Wiig and Hader play estranged siblings who haven't spoken for a decade but who reunite and slowly realize that as much as they can't stand one another, they're also the only ones who truly get each other. They're two broken souls secretly hoping the other might have the spiritual Krazy Glue they need.

Milo, a gay, depressed wannabe actor in Los Angeles, returns home to New York's Rockland County and moves in with Maggie and her sunny, frat-boyish husband, Lance (an excellent Luke Wilson). Both Maggie and Milo are masters at keeping secrets and sabotaging whatever happiness they manage to inadvertently bring into their lives. But for a while at least, they fall back into being the same kids who shared confidences, played hers-and-hers dress-up, and finished each other's sarcastic, smart-ass jokes. In the film's funniest scene, Wiig and Hader do a lip-synch duet to Starship's schmaltzy anthem ''Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now.'' As wince-inducing as that reads in print, it's impossible not to smile watching it on screen.

Of course, we know that whatever caused Maggie and Milo to stop talking is bound to resurface. And it does, right on cue. The main problem with the film is that too many of the beats created by director/co-writer Craig Johnson (True Adolescents) feel as programmed as the outline of a screenwriting manual (especially the maddeningly improbable ending). Still, the two costars elevate the film beyond formula. Their onscreen rapport is infectious and believable. Wiig has done this kind of heavy lifting with a light touch before in both Bridesmaids and Friends With Kids. Hader, though, is the film's real surprise. It would have been easy for him to turn Milo into a gay cartoon like his after-hours alter ego Stefon. But he resists the temptation to go for easy laughs and broad strokes and delivers something darker and deeper. It's a shockingly vulnerable performance, one of the best I've seen all year. B+

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By all accounts, working as a cast member on Saturday Night Live is like sharing a cramped bedroom with a dozen brothers and sisters who are all competing for the attention of daddy, Lorne Michaels. In the early, druggy seasons of the show, the combustible egos and tight quarters of Studio 8H could result in friction and infighting (just ask Bill Murray and Chevy Chase...but not while they're in the same room). Still, that bond often resulted in on-air magic. More recently, the once-dysfunctional backstage dynamic at SNL has calmed down more than a little. Whether it's Tina Fey and Amy Poehler riffing in what feels like the secret language of twin sisters at the Golden Globes or the big-brother/little-brother vibe of Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, the show's younger alumni now radiate the back-and-forth familiarity of siblings who actually like one another. Maybe that explains Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader's effortless chemistry in The Skeleton Twins.

Wiig and Hader play a troubled sister and brother grappling with the long-festering emotional fallout of their messed-up family. Their mother (Joanna Gleason) is a dizzy New Age healer with her head in the sand when it comes to her kids' problems. And their father committed suicide when they were children — an exit that's all too understandable for Wiig and Hader's now-grown-up-and-miserable Maggie and Milo. In fact, in the opening moments of the film, Maggie is prevented from swallowing a fistful of pills by a call informing her that Milo has just tried to kill himself by slicing his wrists in the bathtub. Did I mention that The Skeleton Twins is a comedy?

Well, it is and it isn't. Maybe I should also mention that Milo's suicide note reads, ''To whom it may concern, see ya later'' with a smiley face underneath. Or that the ringtone on Maggie's phone when she gets the call from the hospital is the Growing Pains theme. Like Laura Linney and Mark Ruffalo in 2000's You Can Count on Me, Wiig and Hader play estranged siblings who haven't spoken for a decade but who reunite and slowly realize that as much as they can't stand one another, they're also the only ones who truly get each other. They're two broken souls secretly hoping the other might have the spiritual Krazy Glue they need.

Milo, a gay, depressed wannabe actor in Los Angeles, returns home to New York's Rockland County and moves in with Maggie and her sunny, frat-boyish husband, Lance (an excellent Luke Wilson). Both Maggie and Milo are masters at keeping secrets and sabotaging whatever happiness they manage to inadvertently bring into their lives. But for a while at least, they fall back into being the same kids who shared confidences, played hers-and-hers dress-up, and finished each other's sarcastic, smart-ass jokes. In the film's funniest scene, Wiig and Hader do a lip-synch duet to Starship's schmaltzy anthem ''Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now.'' As wince-inducing as that reads in print, it's impossible not to smile watching it on screen.

Of course, we know that whatever caused Maggie and Milo to stop talking is bound to resurface. And it does, right on cue. The main problem with the film is that too many of the beats created by director/co-writer Craig Johnson (True Adolescents) feel as programmed as the outline of a screenwriting manual (especially the maddeningly improbable ending). Still, the two costars elevate the film beyond formula. Their onscreen rapport is infectious and believable. Wiig has done this kind of heavy lifting with a light touch before in both Bridesmaids and Friends With Kids. Hader, though, is the film's real surprise. It would have been easy for him to turn Milo into a gay cartoon like his after-hours alter ego Stefon. But he resists the temptation to go for easy laughs and broad strokes and delivers something darker and deeper. It's a shockingly vulnerable performance, one of the best I've seen all year. B+

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THE SKELETON TWINS Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader]]>
EW.com-20849676 <![CDATA[Wetlands]]> Wed, 3 Sep 2014 15:00:00 EDT Those of weak stomach and squeamish constitution, be warned: David Wnendt's German comedy isn't just dark, it's also moist, gooey, icky, and sticky. Carla Juri, an uninhibited Greta Gerwig look-alike, plays Helen, a plucky skateboarding teenager obsessed with her own bodily fluids, perhaps as a side effect of her dysfunctional upbringing. What that means to the viewer, though, is lots of humor about...humors (blood, semen, urine, feces, mucus, the whole pungent gamut). It isn't so much shocking as transparently transgressive. Is this movie for you? Well, the opening line should give you your answer: ''As long as I remember, I've had hemorrhoids...'' C

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Those of weak stomach and squeamish constitution, be warned: David Wnendt's German comedy isn't just dark, it's also moist, gooey, icky, and sticky. Carla Juri, an uninhibited Greta Gerwig look-alike, plays Helen, a plucky skateboarding teenager obsessed with her own bodily fluids, perhaps as a side effect of her dysfunctional upbringing. What that means to the viewer, though, is lots of humor about...humors (blood, semen, urine, feces, mucus, the whole pungent gamut). It isn't so much shocking as transparently transgressive. Is this movie for you? Well, the opening line should give you your answer: ''As long as I remember, I've had hemorrhoids...'' C

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WETLANDS Carla Juri]]>
EW.com-20848603 <![CDATA[As Above, So Below]]> Fri, 29 Aug 2014 12:00:00 EDT It has been 15 years since The Blair Witch Project. That decade and a half has seen the rise of a number of cinematic innovations, from the resurrection of 3-D and the rise of jumbo-size formats in blockbusters to advances in digital technology that have made filmmaking far more accessible to anyone with a story to tell.

And yet, despite all that movement forward, we're still somehow putting up with found-footage horror movies. It would be impossible to present these flicks as ''real'' anymore—when Blair Witch cashed that chit in, that particular rope-a-dope was gone for good. It's little more than a lazy storytelling crutch, as characters can simply say exactly what they're thinking and narrate what they see even if the budget doesn't allow those images to show up on screen.

The reliance on those tired tropes really drags down As Above So Below, a cheapie horror flick from Drew and John Erick Dowdle, who last made the insipid M. Night Shyamalan-presented Devil. The film follows archaeologist Scarlet (Perdita Weeks) on a quest to retrieve the legendary Philosopher's Stone, a medieval artifact said to be the secret of alchemy. The clues lead her into the catacombs of Paris, a 200-mile system of tunnels that houses the remains of over 6 million people. She drags along friend George (former Mad Men star Ben Feldman), a videographer (Edwin Hodge) to document her search, and a local outlaw catacomb explorer named Papillon (Francois Civil, from TV's Rosemary's Baby).

The catacombs are an awesome place to film a horror movie. All the human skulls, claustrophobic passages, and general darkness create plenty of unsettling spookiness even before things start to go bump in the night. In fact, the first part of As Above recalls the unnerving underground discomfort of The Descent, another caves-are-terrifying thriller. But once As Above devolves into supernatural nonsense, the narrative wheels fall off. The stakes begin as gut-wrenchingly real with the team feeling disoriented hundreds of feet beneath the streets, but the film gets downright silly once the caverns become malevolently sentient.

And of course, any half-interesting ideas are undermined by the fact that most of the final act is invisible thanks to a dropped camera and the dying batteries of the cast's headlamps. As Above has some genuine scares (though nothing as unnerving as when Feldman's Mad Men character cut off his own nipple). But like other movies of its ilk, it's missing a very simple bit of next-level Hollywood technology: a tripod. C

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It has been 15 years since The Blair Witch Project. That decade and a half has seen the rise of a number of cinematic innovations, from the resurrection of 3-D and the rise of jumbo-size formats in blockbusters to advances in digital technology that have made filmmaking far more accessible to anyone with a story to tell.

And yet, despite all that movement forward, we're still somehow putting up with found-footage horror movies. It would be impossible to present these flicks as ''real'' anymore—when Blair Witch cashed that chit in, that particular rope-a-dope was gone for good. It's little more than a lazy storytelling crutch, as characters can simply say exactly what they're thinking and narrate what they see even if the budget doesn't allow those images to show up on screen.

The reliance on those tired tropes really drags down As Above So Below, a cheapie horror flick from Drew and John Erick Dowdle, who last made the insipid M. Night Shyamalan-presented Devil. The film follows archaeologist Scarlet (Perdita Weeks) on a quest to retrieve the legendary Philosopher's Stone, a medieval artifact said to be the secret of alchemy. The clues lead her into the catacombs of Paris, a 200-mile system of tunnels that houses the remains of over 6 million people. She drags along friend George (former Mad Men star Ben Feldman), a videographer (Edwin Hodge) to document her search, and a local outlaw catacomb explorer named Papillon (Francois Civil, from TV's Rosemary's Baby).

The catacombs are an awesome place to film a horror movie. All the human skulls, claustrophobic passages, and general darkness create plenty of unsettling spookiness even before things start to go bump in the night. In fact, the first part of As Above recalls the unnerving underground discomfort of The Descent, another caves-are-terrifying thriller. But once As Above devolves into supernatural nonsense, the narrative wheels fall off. The stakes begin as gut-wrenchingly real with the team feeling disoriented hundreds of feet beneath the streets, but the film gets downright silly once the caverns become malevolently sentient.

And of course, any half-interesting ideas are undermined by the fact that most of the final act is invisible thanks to a dropped camera and the dying batteries of the cast's headlamps. As Above has some genuine scares (though nothing as unnerving as when Feldman's Mad Men character cut off his own nipple). But like other movies of its ilk, it's missing a very simple bit of next-level Hollywood technology: a tripod. C

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EW.com-20848082 <![CDATA[The Congress]]> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:00:00 EDT was in the dumps instead of at a House of Cards peak. Maybe Folman should've called Sean Young? (Also on VOD) C]]> was in the dumps instead of at a House of Cards peak. Maybe Folman should've called Sean Young? (Also on VOD) C]]> EW.com-20848085 <![CDATA[The Last of Robin Hood]]> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:00:00 EDT Hollywood Babylon scandals were made of. Stars Kevin Kline (who seems born to play the part), Dakota Fanning, and Susan Sarandon do their best to bring some A-list shine to this modest period piece. But in the end it's a fond, fairly toothless B-movie take on a romance that wasn't so much May-December as straight-up statutory. B]]> Hollywood Babylon scandals were made of. Stars Kevin Kline (who seems born to play the part), Dakota Fanning, and Susan Sarandon do their best to bring some A-list shine to this modest period piece. But in the end it's a fond, fairly toothless B-movie take on a romance that wasn't so much May-December as straight-up statutory. B]]> EW.com-20848091 <![CDATA[Life of Crime]]> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:00:00 EDT The Switch may be the worst of the bunch. yasiin bey (a.k.a. Mos Def) and John Hawkes play small-time crooks who kidnap a rich Detroit housewife (Jennifer Aniston) and put the squeeze on her no-good husband (Tim Robbins) for $1 million. They're inept, but not nearly as inept as Daniel Schecter's lifeless script and direction. In fact, the only mystery in this limp caper is why Aniston took such a meh role. At least the kitschy, '70s-era details provide some distraction. (Also on VOD) C-]]> The Switch may be the worst of the bunch. yasiin bey (a.k.a. Mos Def) and John Hawkes play small-time crooks who kidnap a rich Detroit housewife (Jennifer Aniston) and put the squeeze on her no-good husband (Tim Robbins) for $1 million. They're inept, but not nearly as inept as Daniel Schecter's lifeless script and direction. In fact, the only mystery in this limp caper is why Aniston took such a meh role. At least the kitschy, '70s-era details provide some distraction. (Also on VOD) C-]]> EW.com-20848079 <![CDATA[The Calling]]> Thu, 28 Aug 2014 12:00:00 EDT shiver). And yet, as two detectives (Susan Sarandon and Topher Grace) hunt down a homicidal cult leader, there's not much else to fear, beyond déjà vu. The Calling shares a little too much with atmospheric TV mysteries like The Killing and Broadchurch: the hard-living female detective, the cloudy weather, the small-town existentialism. Don't serial killers ever work in big cities anymore? (Also on iTunes and VOD) B-]]> shiver). And yet, as two detectives (Susan Sarandon and Topher Grace) hunt down a homicidal cult leader, there's not much else to fear, beyond déjà vu. The Calling shares a little too much with atmospheric TV mysteries like The Killing and Broadchurch: the hard-living female detective, the cloudy weather, the small-town existentialism. Don't serial killers ever work in big cities anymore? (Also on iTunes and VOD) B-]]> EW.com-20847713 <![CDATA[The November Man]]> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 12:00:00 EDT There seem to be four big-screen modes for Pierce Brosnan: James Bond, magnetic sly fox (The Thomas Crown Affair, The Matador), way out-of-his-depths leading man (Mamma Mia!), and action-thriller paycheck-coaster. The November Man, which reunites Brosnan with his Dante's Peak director, Roger Donaldson, falls squarely but surely in the last category.

Brosnan plays boozehound and ex-CIA agent Peter Devereaux, who is coaxed out of retirement to stop a conspiracy involving a war criminal (Lazar Ristovski). He's also asked to protect a relief worker (Olga Kurylenko, a former Bond girl of the Daniel Craig era) who holds more secrets than anyone could guess—except the audience, that is—while ducking a past protege (the stiff-as-a-board Luke Bracey) who chases him in some rather meh cat-and-mouse power play. (There's even an actual cat that makes some cameo appearances.)

The movie, based on Bill Granger's popular spy novel series, could easily have been made in Brosnan's post-Remington Steele days, with its fondness for familiar '80s action tropes like smashed BMWs and heavy arterial spray. Once in a while, there's a certain drive-in/double feature junkiness that elicits a chuckle or two (especially any scene with an oily officioso played by the growling Bill Smitrovich, the only performer who seems to be having any fun). But the utter lack of originality eventually sinks the movie, and the climax has more howlers than a wolf convention. The November Man may be an August release, but its silliness would make it a non-event any month of the year. C

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There seem to be four big-screen modes for Pierce Brosnan: James Bond, magnetic sly fox (The Thomas Crown Affair, The Matador), way out-of-his-depths leading man (Mamma Mia!), and action-thriller paycheck-coaster. The November Man, which reunites Brosnan with his Dante's Peak director, Roger Donaldson, falls squarely but surely in the last category.

Brosnan plays boozehound and ex-CIA agent Peter Devereaux, who is coaxed out of retirement to stop a conspiracy involving a war criminal (Lazar Ristovski). He's also asked to protect a relief worker (Olga Kurylenko, a former Bond girl of the Daniel Craig era) who holds more secrets than anyone could guess—except the audience, that is—while ducking a past protege (the stiff-as-a-board Luke Bracey) who chases him in some rather meh cat-and-mouse power play. (There's even an actual cat that makes some cameo appearances.)

The movie, based on Bill Granger's popular spy novel series, could easily have been made in Brosnan's post-Remington Steele days, with its fondness for familiar '80s action tropes like smashed BMWs and heavy arterial spray. Once in a while, there's a certain drive-in/double feature junkiness that elicits a chuckle or two (especially any scene with an oily officioso played by the growling Bill Smitrovich, the only performer who seems to be having any fun). But the utter lack of originality eventually sinks the movie, and the climax has more howlers than a wolf convention. The November Man may be an August release, but its silliness would make it a non-event any month of the year. C

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EW.com-20847811 <![CDATA[Starred Up]]> Wed, 27 Aug 2014 00:00:00 EDT It took a good half hour for my ears to acclimate to the indecipherable accents and rapid-fire bursts of convict slang in David Mackenzie's harrowing new prison drama Starred Up. But it's a case where patience pays off, thanks to a ferociously intense performance from Jack O'Connell. The actor, from the U.K. TV series Skins, plays Eric Love, an ironically named 19-year-old powder keg with the psychotic swagger of a crazed rottweiler. The movie's title refers to juvenile offenders who are so dangerous that they're moved up to adult incarceration. And as the film opens, we see Eric being processed, strip-searched, and then led into the high-risk bowels of his new hell. Mackenzie (Young Adam) shot the movie in a Belfast prison, a place so authentically bleak there might as well be a sign over the entrance that reads ''Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.''

Eric's no stranger to life behind bars. His mother died when he was just a kid, and his father (Ben Mendelsohn) has been an inmate for most of his life in the facility Eric now calls home. The rotten apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. Needless to say, the family reunion isn't all finger-painting and hugs. Mendelsohn, an Australian actor who's delivered a run of excellent supporting turns in Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Animal Kingdom, is riveting as a career thug beyond rehabilitation. You can see the torment etched on his face when he can't help his son out of a scrape and the betrayal he feels when Eric starts to form alliances that don't include him.

To be honest, though, Eric doesn't need much of anyone's help. He already seems to know all the tricks of prison life: how to defend himself with his bruised knuckles, how to fashion a shiv out of a disposable razor and toothbrush, and how to oil down his body to make himself harder for the guards to restrain. After dishing out a string of brutal beatdowns on his cell block, Eric is enrolled in a therapy group run by Homeland's Rupert Friend. And it's here that the film feels a bit too familiar and superficial. It could have burrowed deeper into Eric's past and offered more layers to his rage. Still, O'Connell gives the movie everything he's got. He's explosive and feral, and you can see why Angelina Jolie picked him to play the lead in her upcoming film Unbroken. Like Eric Bana's menacingly raw breakout in 2000's Chopper or Tom Hardy's in 2008's Bronson, O'Connell bristles with terrifying hair-trigger unpredictability. Watching him, you feel like you're witnessing the arrival of a new movie star. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B

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It took a good half hour for my ears to acclimate to the indecipherable accents and rapid-fire bursts of convict slang in David Mackenzie's harrowing new prison drama Starred Up. But it's a case where patience pays off, thanks to a ferociously intense performance from Jack O'Connell. The actor, from the U.K. TV series Skins, plays Eric Love, an ironically named 19-year-old powder keg with the psychotic swagger of a crazed rottweiler. The movie's title refers to juvenile offenders who are so dangerous that they're moved up to adult incarceration. And as the film opens, we see Eric being processed, strip-searched, and then led into the high-risk bowels of his new hell. Mackenzie (Young Adam) shot the movie in a Belfast prison, a place so authentically bleak there might as well be a sign over the entrance that reads ''Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.''

Eric's no stranger to life behind bars. His mother died when he was just a kid, and his father (Ben Mendelsohn) has been an inmate for most of his life in the facility Eric now calls home. The rotten apple doesn't fall very far from the tree. Needless to say, the family reunion isn't all finger-painting and hugs. Mendelsohn, an Australian actor who's delivered a run of excellent supporting turns in Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Animal Kingdom, is riveting as a career thug beyond rehabilitation. You can see the torment etched on his face when he can't help his son out of a scrape and the betrayal he feels when Eric starts to form alliances that don't include him.

To be honest, though, Eric doesn't need much of anyone's help. He already seems to know all the tricks of prison life: how to defend himself with his bruised knuckles, how to fashion a shiv out of a disposable razor and toothbrush, and how to oil down his body to make himself harder for the guards to restrain. After dishing out a string of brutal beatdowns on his cell block, Eric is enrolled in a therapy group run by Homeland's Rupert Friend. And it's here that the film feels a bit too familiar and superficial. It could have burrowed deeper into Eric's past and offered more layers to his rage. Still, O'Connell gives the movie everything he's got. He's explosive and feral, and you can see why Angelina Jolie picked him to play the lead in her upcoming film Unbroken. Like Eric Bana's menacingly raw breakout in 2000's Chopper or Tom Hardy's in 2008's Bronson, O'Connell bristles with terrifying hair-trigger unpredictability. Watching him, you feel like you're witnessing the arrival of a new movie star. (Also on iTunes and VOD) B

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STARRED UP Jack O'Connell and Rupert Friend]]>
EW.com-20804917 <![CDATA[If I Stay]]> Fri, 22 Aug 2014 12:45:00 EDT What is it about teenage girls clinging to life that speaks so directly to the YA audience? Earlier this summer, Shailene Woodley found a momentary stay from a cruel death sentence in the arms of an impossibly upbeat hunk in The Fault in Our Stars. That film was melodramatic and manipulative, but at least it was packaged with a handful of scenes that felt true (no, not the Anne Frank Museum one). It's hard to say the same for R.J. Cutler's If I Stay.

Based on Gayle Forman's best-selling tearjerker novel, the film stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a shy Portland high school cellist named Mia Hall. As the story opens, Mia's at home with her younger brother (Jakob Davies) and her parents (The Killing's Mireille Enos and Higher Ground's Joshua Leonard), who can't stop reminding their kids just how hip they used to be. They toss off references to Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry like cheap shorthand confetti, never realizing that if they really were cool, they wouldn't have to keep repeating it over and over. Not that Mia would care anyway. Her musical hero is Yo-Yo Ma.

After school is called off for a snow day, the family decides to distract Mia, who's nervously awaiting a decision letter from Juilliard in the mail, with a scenic car ride. Bad idea. They endure a horrific accident, and Mia wakes up amid the wreckage, standing over the injured bodies of not only her family members...but also of herself. No one can hear her or see her. She's in some sort of helpless metaphysical limbo. At the hospital, she races from operating room to operating room, willing her family to pull through. Teetering between life and death, Mia reflects on her life and whether she wants to keep living—a choice, according to one of the least believable ER nurses in movie history, that is up to her. From there, the movie becomes a string of flashbacks to the key moments in Mia's life with her family, friends, music, and most crucially for If I Stay's target demographic, her boyfriend, Adam—an earnest, non-threatening bad-boy rocker played by Snow White and the Huntsman's Jamie Blackley, who seems to be channeling the young Johnny Depp (or at least the young Skeet Ulrich). It's only a matter of time before we witness the young lovers passionately embrace and talk about ''making music together.''

Like The Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay paints teen romance as little more than a wish fulfillment fairy tale. Boys like Blackley and Fault's Ansel Elgort always seem to be there with a sweeping gesture, a sensitive ear, and whispered promises about how their love will last until the end of time—if not longer. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. Young women should expect men to be chivalrous and kind. But there's something about the way that Hollywood keeps churning out these puppy-dog knights that I suspect will lead to a lot of disappointment and broken hearts a few years from now. These Romeos are unrealistic fantasies.

At just 17, Moretz is already an actress with enough smarts and self-possession to convince you that Mia has her head screwed on straight. Bach is just as important to her as her boyfriend—a choice that comes into sharp relief when she has to decide between staying in Portland with Adam or heading off to Juilliard in New York. Still, as believable and relatable as Moretz's wallflower is, the supernatural story swirling around her is so mawkishly rigged to work your tear ducts that it squanders whatever honesty she invests in it. The other stand-out in the film is Stacy Keach, who, in a pair of scenes as Mia's grieving grandfather, shows how much better the film could have been if it were more interested in real sentiment than gooey sap.

I suspect that the problem may lie with the man behind the camera, R.J. Cutler, a director better known for documentaries (The September Issue, A Perfect Candidate) than slick, three-hankie studio fare. You'd think that someone so used to working in non-fiction would have a better handle on realism. But If I Stay never bothers to go after authenticity when there's a cliché hovering nearby. That may not be enough of a drawback to prevent teenage audiences from lapping up the movie with a spoon, but they certainly deserve better. C-

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What is it about teenage girls clinging to life that speaks so directly to the YA audience? Earlier this summer, Shailene Woodley found a momentary stay from a cruel death sentence in the arms of an impossibly upbeat hunk in The Fault in Our Stars. That film was melodramatic and manipulative, but at least it was packaged with a handful of scenes that felt true (no, not the Anne Frank Museum one). It's hard to say the same for R.J. Cutler's If I Stay.

Based on Gayle Forman's best-selling tearjerker novel, the film stars Chloë Grace Moretz as a shy Portland high school cellist named Mia Hall. As the story opens, Mia's at home with her younger brother (Jakob Davies) and her parents (The Killing's Mireille Enos and Higher Ground's Joshua Leonard), who can't stop reminding their kids just how hip they used to be. They toss off references to Iggy Pop and Debbie Harry like cheap shorthand confetti, never realizing that if they really were cool, they wouldn't have to keep repeating it over and over. Not that Mia would care anyway. Her musical hero is Yo-Yo Ma.

After school is called off for a snow day, the family decides to distract Mia, who's nervously awaiting a decision letter from Juilliard in the mail, with a scenic car ride. Bad idea. They endure a horrific accident, and Mia wakes up amid the wreckage, standing over the injured bodies of not only her family members...but also of herself. No one can hear her or see her. She's in some sort of helpless metaphysical limbo. At the hospital, she races from operating room to operating room, willing her family to pull through. Teetering between life and death, Mia reflects on her life and whether she wants to keep living—a choice, according to one of the least believable ER nurses in movie history, that is up to her. From there, the movie becomes a string of flashbacks to the key moments in Mia's life with her family, friends, music, and most crucially for If I Stay's target demographic, her boyfriend, Adam—an earnest, non-threatening bad-boy rocker played by Snow White and the Huntsman's Jamie Blackley, who seems to be channeling the young Johnny Depp (or at least the young Skeet Ulrich). It's only a matter of time before we witness the young lovers passionately embrace and talk about ''making music together.''

Like The Fault in Our Stars, If I Stay paints teen romance as little more than a wish fulfillment fairy tale. Boys like Blackley and Fault's Ansel Elgort always seem to be there with a sweeping gesture, a sensitive ear, and whispered promises about how their love will last until the end of time—if not longer. There's nothing wrong with that, per se. Young women should expect men to be chivalrous and kind. But there's something about the way that Hollywood keeps churning out these puppy-dog knights that I suspect will lead to a lot of disappointment and broken hearts a few years from now. These Romeos are unrealistic fantasies.

At just 17, Moretz is already an actress with enough smarts and self-possession to convince you that Mia has her head screwed on straight. Bach is just as important to her as her boyfriend—a choice that comes into sharp relief when she has to decide between staying in Portland with Adam or heading off to Juilliard in New York. Still, as believable and relatable as Moretz's wallflower is, the supernatural story swirling around her is so mawkishly rigged to work your tear ducts that it squanders whatever honesty she invests in it. The other stand-out in the film is Stacy Keach, who, in a pair of scenes as Mia's grieving grandfather, shows how much better the film could have been if it were more interested in real sentiment than gooey sap.

I suspect that the problem may lie with the man behind the camera, R.J. Cutler, a director better known for documentaries (The September Issue, A Perfect Candidate) than slick, three-hankie studio fare. You'd think that someone so used to working in non-fiction would have a better handle on realism. But If I Stay never bothers to go after authenticity when there's a cliché hovering nearby. That may not be enough of a drawback to prevent teenage audiences from lapping up the movie with a spoon, but they certainly deserve better. C-

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LIFE OR DEATH A difficult decision for one to make, let alone for a teenager.]]>
EW.com-20804916 <![CDATA[Sin City: A Dame to Kill For]]> Fri, 22 Aug 2014 12:00:00 EDT There's only so much pulp you can ingest before it starts to get stuck in your teeth, and that's the takeaway from Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Miller's sequel to their hit black-and-white-but-sorta-color CG noir from 2005. For all the watermelon-like smashing of noggins and copious nudity (with a particularly odd choice of rendering males genital-less), the overall effect is less titillating than numbing. That more or less puts Dame on par with its predecessor, even if the narrative focus is as blurry as the film's resolution when you remove your 3-D glasses. (The 3-D, by the way, is at least warranted and not half bad.) Revenge is the order of the day here, with a slick card shark (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, recalling his teen gumshoe in Brick) attempting to swindle ruthless politico Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), while the now-hardened, boozy exotic dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba), looks to settle the score that forced her beloved protector (Bruce Willis, cameoing as a ghost) to take his life in order to preserve hers.

Any movie whose cast includes two dozen famous actors has to coast on those thesps' abilities, and that proves to be the case here—though, disappointingly, Alba, Rosario Dawson, and the Mother Monster herself, Lady Gaga, share about 15 lines of dialogue. Mickey Rourke is back as biker brute Marv and Josh Brolin takes over for Clive Owen's tortured ladies' man Dwight. With their low-rumble vocal stylings, they were born for this type of flick. The filmmakers wisely hired the fearless, magnetic Eva Green to play—what else?—the delectably twisted femme fatale Ava, who offers up most of the aforementioned copious nudity. Reminiscent of Linda Fiorentino's classic turn in the seedy suspenser The Last Seduction, and far more resourceful than the movie she's in, Green's Ava more than lives up to this picture's subtitle. C+

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There's only so much pulp you can ingest before it starts to get stuck in your teeth, and that's the takeaway from Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez and graphic novelist Miller's sequel to their hit black-and-white-but-sorta-color CG noir from 2005. For all the watermelon-like smashing of noggins and copious nudity (with a particularly odd choice of rendering males genital-less), the overall effect is less titillating than numbing. That more or less puts Dame on par with its predecessor, even if the narrative focus is as blurry as the film's resolution when you remove your 3-D glasses. (The 3-D, by the way, is at least warranted and not half bad.) Revenge is the order of the day here, with a slick card shark (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, recalling his teen gumshoe in Brick) attempting to swindle ruthless politico Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), while the now-hardened, boozy exotic dancer Nancy (Jessica Alba), looks to settle the score that forced her beloved protector (Bruce Willis, cameoing as a ghost) to take his life in order to preserve hers.

Any movie whose cast includes two dozen famous actors has to coast on those thesps' abilities, and that proves to be the case here—though, disappointingly, Alba, Rosario Dawson, and the Mother Monster herself, Lady Gaga, share about 15 lines of dialogue. Mickey Rourke is back as biker brute Marv and Josh Brolin takes over for Clive Owen's tortured ladies' man Dwight. With their low-rumble vocal stylings, they were born for this type of flick. The filmmakers wisely hired the fearless, magnetic Eva Green to play—what else?—the delectably twisted femme fatale Ava, who offers up most of the aforementioned copious nudity. Reminiscent of Linda Fiorentino's classic turn in the seedy suspenser The Last Seduction, and far more resourceful than the movie she's in, Green's Ava more than lives up to this picture's subtitle. C+

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SINFUL It should be a crime to look as good as Alba in her role as an exotic dancer]]>

Foie Gras In The Mess?

Diplomacy may not have averted war with Iraq, but it brought a truce in a nasty food fight last week in Washington. The skirmishing began last month, when Congressman Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, gathered signatures from 59 of his fellow lawmakers for a letter asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to cancel the $881 million contract of a company called Sodexho to cater 55 Marine mess halls. Reason: Sodexho is the U.S. subsidiary of a French company. "I think you will agree that it is inconsistent for us to continue to pour billions of dollars into the French economy in the...

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