Outside the Box-ing

Outside the Box-ing

Southpaw upends familiar underdog sports-movie expectations
Thanks to Rocky, we all know how the story's supposed to roll in a boxing drama about a guy from the streets getting a title shot. The scrappy underdog, lacking the resources of his rival, has to make do with an old, never-quite-a-contender trainer who has the fighter punching meat, or whatever new equivalent a screenwriter can come up with.

Surreal World

Think your parents are strict? See The Wolfpack
Imagine living in New York City, one of the most vibrant, exciting cities in the world, but having parents so fearful of what lurked outside that they almost literally never let you out the front door of your house. Then imagine those same overbearing parents having no issue providing you with a nonstop stream of TV and movies, from the violent to the fantastical to the profane, to occupy your time between home-schooling lessons.

Sad Clown

Trainwreck keeps derailing Amy Schumer's brand of comedy
About midway through Trainwreck, Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer) gets a particularly emotional moment — sad, darkly funny and shot through with the messiness of her character. And all I could think was, "Where the hell is the whole movie that's actually about this character?"

Small Wonder

Ant-Man rediscovers some of the playfulness of superhero adventure
In the scene from Marvel Studios' latest superhero tale Ant-Man in which Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) first tries out the suit that can shrink him to the size of an insect, his greatest threat is being washed down a bathtub drain, or flung from a spinning record during a dance party. During one late action sequence, Scott flees from explosions that reduce the buildings and landscape around him to rubble — the exploding surroundings are only a scale model.

Origin Tales

Minions is loaded with too much confusing backstory
I love the Minions. They made the perfect Despicable Me even loonier, and they were the only tolerable thing about the execrable Despicable Me 2.

Buried Personality

A director's distinctive style is lost in the rote thrills of Self/less
Despite a film journalist's most earnest efforts, we aren't clued into everything about movies all the time. While many features roll into theaters after months of hype, or a respected auteur's latest work is greeted with a similarly lengthy period of festival buzz, occasionally it happens that a new film arrives where we might absorb little knowledge regarding what it's about, or even who made it.

Winning Reboot

Somehow, Arnold's return to the Terminator franchise makes for solid sci-fi
There will be Terminator purists who insist that this fifth entry in the series breaks the rules of the Terminator universe. But it's hard to tell if that's something they're going to hate or celebrate.

Stripped Down

Magic Mike XXL can't recapture the substance that made the original more than hunky shirtless guys
There's an important, perhaps counterintuitive point that must be clear before we start talking about Magic Mike XXL: The original 2012 Magic Mike was not about male strippers. Make no mistake: It contained male strippers.

Dog of a Story

Max wastes a promising idea on forgettable characters
There's a promising premise at the beginning of Max, a "war is hell" setup involving a Marine coming home from combat duty in Afghanistan, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and trying to adjust to a life of normalcy. You've seen the posters.

The Me Problem

How to read the emotional emergence from narcissism in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The arc of critical response to a festival film is… well, let’s understate things a whole lot, and say that it’s complicated. In the swarm of an environment where members of the press are watching four or five films a day, reactions can be distorted by everything from sleep deprivation to the desperate need to find something, anything great to champion.

Hot Property

Sundance darling Dope gets its day in the sun
Drawing on sources as varied as 1980s Spike Lee, 1990s Quentin Tarantino and Risky Business is bound to result in something at least a little fragmented, but in Dope it's often a lot of fun watching those fragments drift and find their shape. Shameik Moore plays Malcolm, a geeky, straight-A high-school senior trying to carve out his own identity on the rough streets of Inglewood, California.

Mixed Emotions

Inside Out sells silliness to kids while delivering a powerful story for parents.
If there's anything we should realize by now about the way Disney markets its animated films — whether from Disney Animation Studios or Pixar — it's that there's simply no way to know from the advertising what these films are actually about. Brave's advertising played up the comic relief from the mischievous triplets, completely hiding the fact that the central story was about a complex mother-daughter relationship.

Island Issues

Is Cameron Crowe losing his mojo? His Aloha suggests as much
In the Hawaiian language, the word "aloha" has multiple meanings: affection, peace, compassion and mercy, to name a few. Early on, the films of Cameron Crowe navigated those concepts with earnest, well-told stories about people on redemptive journeys of self-discovery, such as the sweet slacker hopelessly in love with the class valedictorian in Say Anything..., the cynical sports agent humanized by loyalty and love in Jerry Maguire, and the innocent teenage reporter exposed to the rock & roll lifestyle in Almost Famous.

Good Vibrations

Paul Dano and John Cusack tag-team the role of Brian Wilson in Love & Mercy
Yes, "Based on the Life of Brian Wilson" is emblazoned on the screen near the beginning, but Love & Mercy isn't your standard rock 'n' roll biopic. It's an insightful look at two periods of the surfer boy's life.

Hooray for Bro-llywood

Entourage may be effective fan service, but it's barely a movie
Introductory disclaimer: Prior to sitting down for the feature film version of Entourage, I'd never watched a single minute of the 2004-11 HBO series that inspired it. Sure, I'd absorbed a few details simply through pop-culture osmosis, like the fact that its central character, actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), had starred in a blockbuster movie version of Aquaman, and that his high-strung agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), was prone to profane catch phrases like "Let's hug it out, bitch."

Covert Comedy

Melissa McCarthy and company provide female empowerment and plenty of laughs in Spy
Director Paul Feig has made two very bad movies with Melissa McCarthy. The Heat and Bridesmaids were popular, but they were also cruel and unforgivably unfair to the women they were about.


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