True West

True West

The Magnificent Seven returns to a much-needed territory: Western heroism
There's a school of thought that remakes are a plague upon filmmaking, part of a desperate fear of risk-taking that encourages recycling proven concepts. And there is a smaller school of thought that tempers such justifiable criticism with the caveat that a remake might be acceptable if it does something radical and daring with the original premise.

Enemy No. 1

Oliver Stone's Snowden doesn't break new ground but is still a thrill ride
Oliver Stone, our national cinematic conspiracy theorist and all-around anti-establishment auteur, digs deep into the latest and most illuminating political scandal of our times with this taut and entertainingly paranoia-inducing biopic-cum-technophobic history lesson about the NSA's Public Enemy and Global Fugitive No. 1. At first, Joseph Gordon-Levitt seemed an odd choice to play Edward Snowden, the introverted, nerdy government contractor who pulled the curtain away from the U.S. government's all-seeing, all-surveilling extralegal wizardry back in 2013.

Scratch That

Bridget Jones's Baby feels almost proudly stuck in another era
A goofy meme has taken hold among a certain segment of the "Film Twitter" community, one that pokes fun at an archaic convention in broad comedies: the "record scratch/freeze frame." The joke is on movies employing obvious indicators that wacky things are afoot, but it's an idea that seems more like urban legend than reality.

Horror Re-runs

Blair Witch can't capture the found-footage magic of the original
Way back in the 20th century — 1999, to be precise — a couple of indie filmmakers named Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez came up with the truly brilliant idea to make a movie on an ultra-low budget by giving cameras to three actors and setting them loose in the Maryland woods, improvising a "documentary" about a search for the "true" story of a legendary local witch. The Blair Witch Project truly looked like it was what it purported to be, and the infant internet of the day wasn't much help in authenticating or debunking a maybe-fake, maybe-real "documentary."

Casted Away

The Wild Life abandons its Robinson Crusoe source material
So, a movie for kids — strictly for kids; more on that in a moment — that has already been released all around the world under the title Robinson Crusoe is about to open in the U.S. as The Wild Life. Why the title change?

Learning to Land

Sully's solid execution can't overcome its inherent lack of drama
Spoiler alert: The plane lands in the water. Clint Eastwood's Sully tells the story of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) piloting a commercial airliner to a water landing on the Hudson River with zero casualties (dubbed "The Miracle on the Hudson") in January 2009, and the ensuing investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board to determine if Sullenberger was at fault.

Silly Scientists

Morgan is reminiscent of too many other mediocre laboratory sci-fi flicks
Arrogant scientists create something unnatural and underestimate how powerful it is in a lot of movies. Maybe two-thirds of all science fiction?

Improv Material

Don't Think Twice is a brutally honest take on show biz
As in his 2012 indie film breakout, Sleepwalk With Me, writer/director Mike Birbiglia mines what he knows: stand-up comedy. The characters and settings of both films are based on the unknown, workaday comics who hone their craft in the dark, half-empty comedy clubs that dot every major American city.

Swing and a Miss

Hands of Stone can't carve out a distinctive space among boxing biopics
Y ou've got to hand this to Jonathan Jakubowicz, writer/director of Hands of Stone: It takes balls of stone to cast Robert De Niro in your based-on-a-true-story boxing movie. It's been 36 years since De Niro won his lone Best Actor Oscar for playing Jake LaMotta in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull, and that film remains a kind of gold standard, not just for capturing the visceral, kinetic intensity of boxing, but for shaking up the often predictable rhythms of the movie biography.

Texas Heat

Hell or High Water is the crime drama you've been waiting all summer for
T his West Texas crime drama barrels in with the force of a full-gale dust storm over the flat, dry plains of our parched movie summer. Hell or High Water is a good but not great movie with sensational lead performances that elevate it to enjoyably memorable status.

Gun Show

Jonah Hill and Miles Teller are armed and dangerous in the true story War Dogs
W ar Dogs was originally called Arms and the Dudes, which makes it sound like a stoner comedy about bumbling weapons dealers from the guy who made the Hangover movies. And it's not that at all.

Master of Puppets

Kubo and the Two Strings is a gorgeous, if conventional, epic journey
Pixar is widely regarded as the gold standard of animation in the 21st century. That makes sense: the studio has reeled off a series of masterpieces over the past decade or so (WALL·E, Up, Inside Out).

Meat is Murder

Sausage Party puts the gross in grocery store
In a letter to a friend, William S. Burroughs famously explained the title of his novel Naked Lunch by describing it as "a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork." At some point in human history, surely, after the third deep bong rip, some stoner must have heard that quote, grown very silent, and then wondered aloud, "But what if the food at the end of the fork, like... looked back?"

Magic Monster

Pete's Dragon is a reboot with an infectious spirit
I suppose this new Pete's Dragon falls under the umbrella of Disney's ongoing project to produce live-action remakes of all of its animated features. The 1977 film was mostly live-action, of course, except for the key element of the mischievous giant reptile itself, which was really cartoonish.

Old Tricks

Master of quirk Todd Solondz brings four stories together with Wiener-Dog
Call him a provocateur of the banal, a contrarian to the expected: Todd Solondz may be the original Peck's bad boy of American independent cinema, an uncompromising filmmaker with a perverse gift for going against the grain. In his eighth feature-length film, Wiener-Dog, happiness is not necessarily a warm puppy.

Villain the Blanks

DC tries too hard to play movie universe catch-up with Suicide Squad
At the Hollywood premiere for Suicide Squad, writer/director David Ayer took up the rallying cry suggested by a fan in the audience, and let loose with a hearty, "F--- Marvel!" For the benefit of those not caught up in silly fandom turf wars, enthusiasts of the Big Two comic-book publishers — DC (which includes Suicide Squad) and Marvel — have turned the movies based on their respective costumed characters into the latest battlefield in a grueling campaign over who rules and who sucks.

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