Movie Review: “The Seventh Dwarf”

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As important as it is to remember that there were fairytales before “The Disney Version,” there’s little else to recommend the German animated take on Snow White, “The Seventh Dwarf.”
For starters, it’s not about Snow White. She’s just a short-skirted tart who is the real heroine’s BFF. That would be Princess Rose (Peyton List), about the celebrate her 18th birthday.
But as Red Riding Hood TV covers the big party, Rose pricks her finger and dozes off, becoming Sleeping Beauty.
She needs a “Kiss of True Love” to rescue her. And the clumsy dwarfs –Speedy, et al, different names from the Disney take on the tale — have to save her, since Bobo, the youngest, pretty much caused this calamity.
Norm MacDonald voices a dragon — yeah, there’s a dragon in this one. And there are songs — forgettable ditties about how “It’s a Pretty Good Day for Cake.”
The computer animation is of the Pixar 1.0 variety — the message, “We’re small, but that means nothing at all.”
Which you could say about the movie, as well, a time-filler for bored 5 year-olds, nothing more.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, G-worthy

Cast: The voices of Peyton List, Norm MacDonald, Cameron Elvin, others
Credits: Directed by Boris Aljinovic, Harald Siepermann, script by Harald Siepermann, Daniel Welbat and Douglas Welbat. A Shout Factory release.

Running time: 1:27

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Movie Review: “Best of Enemies”

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Listen children, to a story about those hallowed days before 24 hour cable news & opinion, before cable TV, even.
Americans watched political conventions, gavel to gavel, because the three broadcast networks insisted it was their civic duty.
And one year, third-place ABC brought in two smart, erudite patricians to bicker-ever-so-politely about the differences between the parties in the two-party state. They all-but-invented the “shouting heads” model of political argument that is the TV “news” rule almost 50 years later.
“Best of Enemies” is about that segment of 1968 convention coverage that ABC devoted to debates between conservative godfather William F. Buckley Jr. and gay novelist, gadfly and sometime politician Gore Vidal.
Or as Buckley called Vidal, “You queer,”
to Vidal calling Buckley, “a crypto-Nazi.”
In plummy locutions that reeked of class, breeding and mutual contempt, they went at it over who was “always to the right, always in the wrong” and who got his jollies by “being naughty.”
This bitterly breezy 87 minute film, co-directed by Morgan Neville (“20 Feet From Stardom”) and Robert Gordon (“Johnny Cash’s America”), uses the grainy TV footage of those personal/political arguments, interviews with the two lions’ respective biographers, relatives and friends (Dick Cavett is here) and media watchers such as the late Christopher Hitchens and NPR’s Brooke Gladstone to paint a lively, laugh-out-loud documentary about two titanic egos politely shouting each other down about the direction of America at its most divided — the Civil Rights Era/Vietnam War/Women’s Liberation/Drugs and Riots in the Streets ’60s. It got personal, profane and seriously entertaining.
Neither man ever quite got over the experience. John Lithgow reads from Vidal’s acidic memories of the debates, Kelsey Grammer delivers Buckley’s first-person embarrassment over them.
“Two visions of America” clashed, shared by the scary, bug-eyed Buckley of “The National Review,” and the vulpine, self-satisfied “Myra Breckinridge” author Vidal. The debates ebbed and flowed, from political commentary to bitter broadsides that started the “Culture Wars.”
And the viewer is left with one inescapable conclusion. Conservatives further to the right than Buckley could ever have dreamed control Congress. And gays, like Vidal, can get married. They both won.

3half-star
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content/nudity and language

Cast: Gore Vidal, William F. Buckley Jr., Dick Cavett, Brooke Gladstone, the voices of Kelsey Grammer and John Lithgow
Credits: Written and directed by Robert Gordon, Morgan Neville. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:27

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Box Office: “Ant-Man” and “Pixels” neck and neck, “Southpaw lacks punch

boxoffice“Pixels,” a kid-friendly Adam Sandler comedy, won Friday at the box office. But some are projecting “Ant-Man,” also kid friendly, will have a bigger Saturday and thus take the weekend from the Sand-Man — a $26-$24 million finish, Deadline.com says.

I wonder if “Pixels” will fall off that much (it earned a healthy, but not exactly world-beating $9 million+ on Friday). I weould not be surprised if the vid-game actioner pulled out the win.

“Ant-Man” is the weakest Marvel offering…ever.. So we’ll see. Sandler’s audience has kind of aged out of the movie going habit, though if they have kids, his strategy has been, they’ll still show up.

“Southpaw” is doing OK for a boxing picture that doesn’t have “Rocky” in the title. $16 million or so. Jake G. is good in it, not “Night Crawler” good.

“Trainwreck” lost over 40% of its opening weekend audience. Have to wonder if having a nut shoot up a theater in Louisiana will suppress Amy Schumer’s unshameable slut comedy.

The teen romance “Paper Towns” opened OK, and will manage a healthy $15 million. Not exactly a big name cast, decent (barely) reviews.

“Mr. Holmes” cracked the top ten, Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” a dog, opened a little wider and is doing some business.

“Amy,” the best doc of the year (until “Best of Enemies” opens next weekend) is slip sliding away, like our memories of Amy Winehouse.

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Weekend Movies: “Pixels” pounded, split decision on “Southpaw”

ox2If it was up to movie critics, Adam Sandler’s movie career would be over. Not winding down. Not shrinking, which it has been. But dead. Done.

But it isn’t, so we all, we ALL, vented at the failings of “Pixels,” a movie that might have managed to be something better had Sandler and his cronies Kevin James, Nick Swardson and Dan Patrick not stunk it up. There are five Sandlers in the credits, BTW. He knows it’s near the end and he’s bringing the family.

It is kid friendly, 80s nostalgic and it has Peter Dinklage as a badass mullet-wearing gamer doing hard time, so it has its moments. All of them drowned by the presence of Sandler in the OTHER moments.

Jake Gyllenhaal is promoting the heck out of “Southpaw,” a gritty boxing picture that feels like a project Eminem might have managed, right after “8 Mile,” had he wanted a film career. Eminem might have been more believable as a street rat/orphan turned prize fighter. Mixed to negative reviews on that one.

The best reviewed wider although not WAY wide release is the Cobie Smulders pregnancy dramedy, “Unexpected.” Basically a Lifetime Original Movie with a little swearing. She and Gail Bean, the actress who plays her inner city teen student, pregnant (unexpected, both) at the same time are good in it.

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Movie Review: “Three and a Half Minutes,10 Bullets”

bul2It all happened so quickly. In under four minutes, two vehicles pulled up at a Jacksonville, Florida gas station, one person from each of those cars ducked inside for a purchase or a bathroom break, and all hell broke loose at back the pumps.
It was the 2012 “Loud Music Shooting” case, when a white man, later to use Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” law as his defense, emptied his pistol into a Dodge Durango full of black teens who had their hip hop turned up too high.
The clumsily-but-accurately-titled “3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets” reconstructs the court case that spun out of this tragedy. Using trial footage, police interrogation footage of the accused, Michael Dunn, snippets of recreations and interviews with those who knew Jordan Davis, the teen killed that night, writer-director Marc Silver has created a compelling if myopic narrative of a trial that drew international attention.
Ron Davis, Jordan’s dad, remembers his son one donning a hoodie and remarking how much he looked like earlier Florida “Stand Your Ground” victim Trayvon Martin. But there the similarity with the Martin case seems to end. Jordan grew up in a nice neighborhood. He and his friends were strangers to law enforcement, normal spirited teens who wound up gassing up at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Silver confines himself to the trial mostly, showing an articulate prosecutor (John Guy) employing logic and righteousness in his persuasive arguments.
And then there’s Corey Strolla, the defense attorney, expertly planting the seeds of doubt in the jury’s minds, and in ours. Jordan had a temper. He was a typical mouthy teen. His client feared for his safety.
But the star of this show is Dunn himself — not interviewed for the film, but heard on jailhouse recordings of conversations with his fiance, the woman who went into that convenience store to buy wine. Dunn insists to her, and by extension the world, that “I’m not racist. THEY’re racist…I’m the victim here.”
The narrowed focus fits the subject. This never seemed as complex a case as the Trayvon Martin shooting, so following a family “seeking justice” through the courts should have been enough.
But the very “slam dunk” nature of the case in the court of public opinion makes “3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets” drag along and feel incomplete as it does. A law was on trial, and the more clear-headed local talk radio folk we overhear see that and fret about the consequences of a “Not Guilty” verdict. “Stand Your Ground” seems like “self defense” with a little something extra added on.
And “Stand Your Ground” is still with us., even if Jordan Davis is not.

2half-star6
MPAA Rating: unrated, with descriptions of violence, profanity

Cast: Michael Dunn, Lucia McBath, Ron Davis, Tevin Thompson, Tommie Stornes, Leland Brunson, John Guy
Credits: Written and directed by Marc Silver. A Participant release.

Running time: 1:30

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The Short film that “Pixels” is based on is here

Let’s do some good here. Let’s watch Patrick Jean’s arresting 2:44 short from a few years ago that was the inspiration for the Adam Sandler disaster that critics are tearing apart here, at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic.

Here is the ORIGINAL “Pixels,” in all its low-fi/DIY glory.

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Movie Review: “Pixels” suggests it’s “Game Over” for Adam Sandler

ox2For 15 or so glorious minutes, Peter Dinklage takes over and hilariously dominates “Pixels,” an Adam Sandler comedy saddled with the wrong star.
For four or five minutes, here and there, Josh Gad dials up the wacky.
And “Pixels,” a comedy about 1980s video arcade kings who learn their “useless” skills and life-wasting obsession are the only thing that can save the Earth when video game villains of alien origin menace the planet, isn’t the worst idea (from a Patrick Jean short film) for a Sand-man comedy. It’s kid-friendly and goofy and like Sandler, oh-so-80s.
But building it around Sandler, his tired wig and exhausted shtick — his character’s go-to joke is noting how this woman looks like Gandalf, that kid like Harry Potter or that military man reminds him of a movie character — “Lighten up, General Zod” — was a mistake. You can tell that much, just from the commercials and trailers.
The kid-friendly Chris Columbus, of “Home Alone/Harry Potter” fame, sets this up with an adorably retro 1982 introduction. Kids gather at a new local arcade for a championship face-off. Kiddie versions of Sam (soon to be Sandler), Fireblaster Eddie (Andrew Bambridge, very good at channeling the young Dinklage) and Ludlow (Gad as an adult) trash talk and battle it out over “Space Invaders,” “Asteroids” and “Donkey Kong.”
That event, we are told, is being videotaped as a representative moment of the culture — like the mullet haircut Fireblaster sports. NASA is sending it into space on a probe.
Cut to 30some years later, and the game Galaga attacks a U.S. military base in Guam. Aliens have seen the probe and challenged Earth to a do-or-die series of matches. Only the bumbling president (Kevin James) sees this. Only his childhood pal, Sam, now a home electronics installer, can save us. Well, Sam and the conspiracy nut formerly known as “Wonder Boy” (Gad) and the swaggering scam artist and King of Donkey Kong, Fireblaster (Dinklage), now in prison.
Michelle Monaghan plays a military officer at the White House and love interest for Sam, Brian Cox is head of the Joint Chiefs, Sean Bean shows up as a no-nonsense Brit, Jane Krakowski has nothing to do as First Lady and assorted Sandler hangers-on (Dan Patrick, shameless) pop in for jokes that don’t work.

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The way the aliens communicate with us — their death threats delivered in altered video featuring icons of the ’80s — Reagan, Madonna, Hall & Oates — is a hoot.
Gad’s bipolar Ludlow gets off a few zingers — barking at Navy SEALS.
“Are you SOLDIERS, or the cast of ‘Magic Mike’?”
But the reason “Pixels” exists is for that magic 15 minutes when they find Fireblaster in prison, where Dinkage swaggers into the frame and negotiates the terms of his help — “my own island” and a White House Lincoln bedroom “sandwich” with Serena Williams and Martha Stewart. A visual you won’t forget — Dinklage, in a Mini Cooper S, facing down a gigantic Pacman in the streets of New York.
The 3D adds little, and the hallmarks of the Chris Columbus directing “style” are generic unevenness and luck. With a little of the latter, this could be a huge hit. But with a better star, sharper script and more Dinklage, it could have been a champ. Failing that, “Pixels” feels like “Game over.”

1half-star
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and suggestive comments

Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Josh Gad
Credits: Directed by Chris Columbus, script by Tim Herlihy and
Timothy Dowling . A Columbia/Sony release.

Running time: 1:45

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Movie Review: “Dark Was the Night,” dull was the movie about it

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“Just stay calm,” the sheriff and his deputy tell the townspeople.
And they do.
They watched all the animals in town flee. They’ve noticed the moving shadows and noted the footprints.
“Cloven. Hooves.”
Maybe they noticed their story’s color palette change from wintry blue and grey and shades of crimson.
And sure, they’re gathered in the town church, holding out against…something. But at least they’re CALM.
That’s a big shortcoming of “Dark Was the Night,” a low-budget horror thriller set in timber country. Nobody gets too worked up, few even dare to raise their voices.
All this talk of Indian myth, the Devil, a forest creature disturbed by clear-cutting, all their pets vanishing, and the people of Maiden Wood treat it as just another burden to bear. And if they’re not scared, why should we be?
Kevin Durand (“X-Men: Origins — Wolverine”) is the sheriff, mourning a dead child, estranged from his patient wife (Bianca Kajlich). Former child actor Lukas Haas is the deputy sheriff, a one-time New Yorker who sees divine purpose in their work when this unknown beast starts menacing folk. They were “put here to protect people,” he reasons.
Memo to small towns — when you cut corners and don’t paint “To protect and serve” on your police vehicles, peace officers are confused.
After a bloody prologue, when a lumberman sprays his blood all over the interior of his pickup’s windshield, “Dark Was the Night” settles in for a long, creepy slumber — more sleepy than creepy, truthfully.
The deputy flirts with the horse rancher’s hot daughter, the sheriff tries to settle the nerves of his remaining son (Ethan Khusidman), who flinches at every shadow.
Maybe everybody else should have, as well. A reasonable response to supernatural slaughter, to be sure.
But every actor underplays to the point of drowsy, every conversation is in muted, low near-whispers.
And something is out there, in the woods. We don’t know it’s ridiculous until “the reveal,” and we don’t laugh at it until the coda. Which is even more ridiculous.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, body parts

Cast: Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich, Sabina Gadecki
Credits: Directed by Jack Heller, script by Tyler Hisel. An RLJ Media release.

Running time: 1:30

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Movie Review: “10 Cent Pistol”

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Joe Mantegna, Jena Malone, Adam Arkin and Thomas Ian Nicholas are in the cast of the heist-gone-wrong thriller “10 Cent Pistol.”
But it stars two unknowns — JT Alexander and Damon Alexander.
Nothing wrong with that. Everybody deserves their shot at a big break. Nice of these “name” actors to pitch in on writer-director Michael C. Martin’s movie to make that happen.
But playing two mugs, thieves and gunslingers, the Alexanders do little more than look tough and take up space. They’re the least interesting characters in this convuluted attempt at a tricky tale of betrayal and mass murder.
Easton (Damon Alexander) is fresh out of the joint, after doing time thanks to Punchy (Mantegna) who wanted him to just “pull this job for him.” The end result was “a crime scene with five dead bodies (Russians).” But Punchy, at least, got Easton busted for something less. The payoff? Bearer bonds. But Punchy never paid up.
Jake (JT Alexander) has been living in a nice loft, making time with E’s girl (Malone). But when E wants to hit Punchy’s place and collect what’s owed, Jake is all in.
That crime is the framing device in Martin’s movie, though he jumps back to the original heist as well. We keep coming back to Easton having bullets gruesomely fished out of his back (by Arkin), and “How We Met” moments with Malone.
But that opening heist — with a rich son (Nicholas) trying to tip the cops who come to investigate the burglar alarm at Punchy’s place that he’s being held hostage while Jake and Easton ransack the joint — is supposed to hold the film together. And for all its twists and turns, it doesn’t.
The dialogue has its snappy, hardboiled moments.
“They’ve got cameras watching the cameras,” and “You’re not going to get the opportunity to get the opportunity to say something stupid.”
But Jake’s narration, about how you can either “finesse” your way out of a jam, or “Bogart your way through it,” is drab. As are the performances. Especially the leads.

And the shoot-outs are spaced so far apart as to make this 90 minute picture feel much longer.
That makes “10 Cent Pistol” (as in “hotter than a 10 cent pistol”) too tepid to bother with.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout, some sexual references and drug use

Cast: JT Alexander, Damon Alexander, Joe Mantegna, Jena Malone, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Adam Arkin
Credits: Written and directed by Michael C. Martin. An eOne release.

Running time: 1:31

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Movie Review: Smulders rediscovers her range in “Unexpected”

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Cobie Smulders reminds us that she’s more than an agent of “S.H.I.E.L.D” in “Unexpected,” playing a pregnant teacher who bonds with her star student, who also happens to be pregnant.
Neither Samantha Abbott (Smulders) nor Jasmine (Gail Bean) planned these babies. Sam teaches high school and dreams of working at Chicago’s Field Museum, but she and her live-in beau (Anders Holm) did something that has her heaving over the toilet, Googling “pregnancy symptoms” and shopping for early pregnancy tests.
Jasmime is a rising senior at Sam’s inner city Chicago school, the kid most likely to get out. Then she falls into the same trap as the mother who dumped her on her grandmother — teen pregnancy.
Teacher and student give each other someone to lean on during when the menfolk are either inflexible (Sam’s man, who hastily marries her) or juvenile and MIA (Jasmine’s guy).
Elizabeth McGovern gives a nice neediness to Sam’s mom, hurling herself into her daughter’s pregnancy. The script contrives to make Sam resent that and lash out.
The student-teacher dynamic is what pays dividends, here, as Jasmine starts to feel the humiliation of the cliche she’s living out. White people patronize her, assuming “poverty” and “she just doesn’t know any better.” When she does, but she’s made her choice.
And Sam is the object of stereotyping, as well, via Jasmime, who assumes a planned pregnancy from a woman who might have to postpone — briefly — her dreams, thanks to the disappointment of a pregnancy, who looks as if “You always on your way to prenatal yoga!”
Jasmine?
“My whole life is a disappointment!”
Mumblecore maven Kris Swanberg co-wrote and directed this, a film which could have used more sparks in the confrontations, more snap to the banter and more originality — start to finish.
Strip away the profanity — because that’s how a lot of women react to the news that they’re pregnant, and later the unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy — and “Unexpected” is just a sweet “Lifetime Original Movie.” That’s movie fan code for “female friendly drama with most of the rough edges rubbed off.”
But Smulders and Bean make a believable pair, mismatched women who connect in a mentor-pupil way, then evolve into a deeper understanding thanks to unexpected pregnancies.

2half-star6

MPAA Rating: R for language

Cast: Cobie Smulders, Gail Bean, Anders Holm, Elizabeth McGovern,
Credits: Directed by Kris Swanberg, script by Megan Mercier and Kris Swanberg. A Film Arcade release.

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