The Bad, the Worse and the Puppy

The Bad, the Worse and the Puppy

In a Valley of Violence is a funny, thoughtful Western semi-send-up
Ti West's In a Valley of Violence is a film whose appeal slowly unfurls itself. Its somewhat corny pre-credits sequence, in which wanderer Paul (Ethan Hawke) has an encounter with a preacher that culminates in an attack by Paul's trusty canine companion, sees its jarring ridiculousness tempered by the purposefully hokey, stylized opening title sequence that immediately follows it.

Furry Things

Christopher Guest revives his mockumentary franchise with Mascots
The sneaky manner in which Netflix rolls out its original feature films was a bit of a blessing for the cult fans of Christopher Guest, who had to endure only a month or so of anticipation before the release of Mascots. Devotees of Guest's oddball ensemble mockumentaries, featuring mostly improvised dialogue, have been jonesing for a film from the auteur since the mostly forgettable For Your Consideration in 2006.

Missed Connections

The Girl on the Train isn't the next Gone Girl
Gone girls are very big business. Certainly Paula Hawkins' bestseller The Girl on the Train benefited from the tailwind of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, with their overlapping interests in missing women, unfaithful men and unreliable narrators.

School Daze

Middle School aims for a softer, safer Ferris Bueller vibe
Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck), a budding artist, is starting over at his third middle school, a place governed by the rules-obsessed Principal Dwight (Andrew Daly) and his chief enforcer (Retta). As a tonic to the school's rigidity, Rafe and his only friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca) embark on a plan to break every one of the rules in the school's Code of Conduct handbook.

New Eyes

The story behind the story inevitably changes how you see The Birth of a Nation
I magine the opening scene of an achronological movie narrative, something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Perhaps it starts with something innocuous, like a conversation between a husband and a wife.


Queen of Katwe is a sports movie done right
A gainst the odds, an illiterate, dirt-poor girl from the slums outside Kampala, Uganda, discovers that she is a chess prodigy. With help from her coach, she pursues her dream to become a grandmaster and move her family out of their grinding poverty.

Real Disaster

Deepwater Horizon feels trapped between tragic facts and genre conventions
The disaster movie is a particularly curious beast in the always-curious history of movie genres. Like action movies, they're built around the kind of spectacle that seems to demand a big-screen experience.

The Kids Aren't Alright

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children can't quite strike the balance between whimsy and darkness
Tim Burton's been in a rut. While the director once brilliantly mixed charm with darkness, recent works like Dark Shadows have bordered on self-parody.

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.

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.

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.


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  • Re: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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