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Friday, March 18, 2016

Movie Review: The Divergent Series: Allegiant Diverges From the Franchise's Intriguing Sci-Fi Sociology

Posted By on Fri, Mar 18, 2016 at 9:55 AM

The Divergent Series: Allegiant★★ Opening Friday, March 18 I have a suspicion that our future overlords (probably robotic) will look back at the first years of the twenty-first century and wonder: What was up with all the teenage wasteland movies? The Divergent Series: Allegiant is the latest installment in an increasingly weary genre, one in which Attractive Young People dodge strange perils in dystopian near-futures. Think The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, and so forth. (For a superior specimen, look up the 2013 British entry How I Live Now, with Saoirse Ronan.) In the Divergent saga, Shailene Woodley headlines...

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane Has Wit and Suspense, Not Just Mysterious Marketing

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2016 at 1:08 PM

10 Cloverfield Lane★★★ ½ Opening Friday, March 11 The crazy survivalist just might be right, but he’s still crazy. That’s the lesson of 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film that begins like a prequel to Room and ends like a sequel to Alien. Or, well, Cloverfield. A gripping cold open introduces Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a Louisiana seamstress sideswiped off the roadway while fleeing her estranged husband (a disembodied Bradley Cooper) and her presumably dispirited life. She awakes with an injured leg and an IV in her arm, chained to a water pipe in a barren concrete bunker. Its armed...

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Movie Review: London Has Fallen Isn't the Action Movie We Need

Posted By on Thu, Mar 3, 2016 at 2:01 PM

London Has Fallen★ Opening Friday In London Has Fallen, U.S. president Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart) is back after escaping capture in 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen. To paraphrase the eulogy for another Eckhart character, Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, this isn’t the action movie we need, but it’s the one we deserve. A cavalcade of jingoism and xenophobia varnished in terror porn, it espouses a fanatical worldview fueled by Old Testament-style vengeance. Clumsily directed by Iranian-born Swede Babak Najafi, it makes 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi seem measured by comparison. Against the advice of his Secret Service director...

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Friday, February 19, 2016

Movie Review: The Witch Conjures the Demon-Haunted World of English Settlers From Real Accounts

Posted By on Fri, Feb 19, 2016 at 12:34 PM

The Witch ★★★ ½ Now playing For seventeenth-century English Puritan Joseph Glanvill, belief in the supernatural was a prerequisite for belief in God. Folktales about ghosts, witches, and devils weren't just children's pastimes, but a vital part of the historical record. The stories Glanvill collected captured readers’ imaginations long after skepticism became the norm for England's educated bourgeoisie, inspiring early gothic novelists who saw supernatural fiction as a history of consciousness. Through meticulous research and detailed craftsmanship, director Robert Eggers returns to the roots of Anglo-American horror in The Witch, reconstructing the demon-haunted world of early English settlers from their...

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Theater Review: Revising A.R. Gurney's Love Letters Pays Off in Poignancy

Posted By on Thu, Feb 18, 2016 at 1:31 PM

Love Letters ★★★ ½ Bare Theatre @ Sonorous Road Productions, Raleigh Through Feb. 28 Love Letters, A.R. Gurney’s unconventional epistolary drama from 1989, usually features two actors seated side by side on an otherwise empty stage, traversing the lifelong friendship of central characters Melissa and Andy through five decades of their correspondence. As the text proceeds from the illicit classroom notes and birthday cards of childhood to the deeper disclosures of high school, college, and adulthood, the challenge to an actor’s range is obvious. But in this Bare Theatre production of Love Letters, director Rebecca Blum declined that test in...

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Friday, February 12, 2016

Movie Review: Deadpool Is Spider-Man But With Nudity, Gore and No Fourth Wall

Posted By on Fri, Feb 12, 2016 at 12:42 PM

Deadpool ★★ ½ Now playing With the irreverent action comedy Deadpool, Marvel Entertainment jumps headfirst into the hard-R end of the comic-book movie spectrum. The results are mixed. The good news is that the film is better than the trailers suggest—largely because the best jokes are far too filthy to put in general-audience previews. The bad news is that the movie isn't as clever as it thinks it is, and the essential shabbiness of the concept can't be obscured. Deadpool is basically a wisecracking superhero movie, like Spider-Man, but with extended nudity, extreme gore, and lots of wink-nudge meta irony....

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Theater Review: Blue Sky is Politically Admirable. But What About Artistry?

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 11:49 AM

Blue Sky ★★★ CAM Raleigh, Raleigh Through Feb. 14 When a playwright, a director, and actors are unable to create fully believable characters and situations, it’s sometimes hard to say where the difficulty lies. Often enough, gifted work in one or two categories can overcome the problems in a third; in a recent example, inspired performances and direction in Temple Theatre’s The Addams Family compensated for an iffy book. But it’s not so hard to say regarding Blue Sky, in a co-production from Burning Coal Theatre Company and CAM Raleigh. The discouraging words “stick figures” appeared in my notes at...

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Movie Review: A Delightful Satire of Postwar Hollywood in Hail, Caesar!

Posted By on Fri, Feb 5, 2016 at 11:11 AM

Hail, Caesar!★★★★ Now playing If Hail, Caesar! is the Coen brothers’s Contempt—Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 mock epic about the making of a historical blockbuster in postwar Hollywood—then it's an homage that inverts Godard's satirical aims. Caesar’s moral center doesn’t belong to a lone writer or director struggling against the corrupt studio systems, but to producer and studio executive Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), who has the unenviable task of managing the egos and personal crises of the “creatives” in his charge. Mannix is an actual historical figure, and a colorful cast of Coen regulars, newcomers, and star cameos is playfully split between real...

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Movie Review: A Body in a Glacier Cracks Open a Long Marriage in 45 Years

Posted By on Thu, Feb 4, 2016 at 11:20 AM

45 Years ★★★ ½ Opening Friday Writer-director Andrew Haigh’s most fiendish ploy in 45 Years is that he provides precious few hints of the good times shared by Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling), a retired schoolteacher, and Geoff (Tom Courtenay), a retired factory manager. No pictures of the couple adorn the walls of their provincial English home, nor has their four-decade-long marriage produced any children. There’s little enmity—just the agreeable everyday of an “old married couple” on the occasion of their forty-fifth wedding anniversary. But their languid tranquility is rattled when Geoff receives a dispatch from Swiss authorities informing him that...

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

In Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, Science-Fiction Writer Lawrence M. Schoen Poignantly Probes Our Relationship With Death

Posted By on Wed, Feb 3, 2016 at 2:34 PM

Lawrence M. Schoen Flyleaf Books, Thursday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m. Quail Ridge Books, Friday, Feb. 5, 7 p.m. When was the last time a science-fiction novel made you cry? Until recently, I would have said it was Cormac McCarthy’s emotionally devastating The Road, which I read as a new father. But then I read Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard (Tor Books, December 2015), Lawrence M. Schoen’s moving novel about—stay with me—space elephants. Almost ten years after McCarthy took us into a post-apocalyptic wasteland of hopelessness and gray dust, I’m approaching the age when I read more obituaries than birth notices. While...

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Theater review: Vivienne Benesch's first production as artistic director of PlayMakers is a fresh, indicting take on Chekhov

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2016 at 2:11 PM

Three Sisters★★★★ 1/2 PlayMakers Repertory Company, Chapel Hill Through Feb. 7 In a prosperous society it’s easy to forget the taste of ashes—their acrid presence on the tongue contrasting with their lack of substance to the touch. That forgetfulness, as much as the problems of language, can make Anton Chekhov’s last three plays, Uncle Vanya, Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard, read like documents from a different world. In a sense, they are. By 1900, Chekhov knew he was writing at the end of an age-old Russian social order. His central characters are members of a privileged class who have coasted...

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Friday, January 29, 2016

Movie review: Real-life maritime rescue story The Finest Hours is Disneyfied disaster porn

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 9:05 AM

The Finest Hours★★★ Now playing On February 18, 1952, a massive nor'easter crashed upon the New England coastline with colossal waves and gale-force winds. The storm was so powerful that not one but two massive oil tankers split in half off the coast of Cape Cod. With four separate floating husks in the water—and four potential rescue situations—the local Coast Guard was stretched dangerously thin. The circumstances ultimately led four very brave men to pilot a ridiculously small boat into a ridiculously big storm. That's the set-up for Disney’s real-life seagoing drama, which delivers astounding visuals wrapped in unapologetic hokeyness....

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Movie review: The awful, ugly Dirty Grandpa is the comedy equivalent of torture porn

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2016 at 1:50 PM

Dirty Grandpa ★ Now playing Dirty Grandpa is easily the worst movie of the new year so far, and it will surely be a strong contender at the end of the year, too. In fact, in the dizzying moments after being bludgeoned by this miserable specimen, I was convinced it's among the worst movies ever made. That's a rare moment in a film lover's life, and something to savor, in a weird way. Zac Efron headlines, ostensibly, as uptight law-school graduate Jason Kelly, who's preparing to wed his even more uptight fiancée (Julianne Hough, suffering through a standard-issue bridezilla role)....

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Movie review: Charlie Kaufman returns with Anomalisa, a singular stop-motion fable about consumer capitalism and the male ego

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2016 at 12:26 PM

Anomalisa★★★ Now playing In the opening shot of Anomalisa, Charlie Kaufman's return to film after 2008's divisive Synecdoche, New York, an airliner is framed against a majestic sunset. A cacophony of voices—passenger chatter, a flight attendant's recited instructions—surrounds us as the camera slowly pulls back to reveal our vantage point as that of neither god nor man, but of a puppet in another plane. It's a marvelous way of introducing us to Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson's stop-motion simulacrum of the modern world's most banal environments: airports, hotels, the Midwest. This ambiguity of perspective carries through the rest of the one-of-a-kind...

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Movie review: Todd Haynes' Carol is a harrowing, exquisite story of forbidden love in the 1950s

Posted By on Fri, Jan 8, 2016 at 3:03 PM

Carol★★★★ Now playing With Carol, filmmaker Todd Haynes continues to delve into forbidden love during a tense, conflicted era. In 2002, he had ’50s housewife Julianne Moore flirting with African-American gent Dennis Haysbert (while her husband, Dennis Quaid, was busy failing to suppress his homosexuality) in the period melodrama Far from Heaven. But while that was practically a Douglas Sirk tribute in ironic quotation marks, Carol is more like a same-sex Brief Encounter. And just like that classic love story, the subject matter is handled with genuine, romantic sincerity. Once again tripping back to the beautiful but hopelessly repressed ’50s,...

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dance review: What Doesn't Work sets an allegory of striving and failure on the brute fact of the body

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2016 at 1:03 PM

What Doesn’t Work★★★★ The Carrack Modern Art, Dec. 19, 2015 Often I go to see dance to lose myself in a beautiful or terrifying (ideally, both) fantasy world where sets, costumes and music are at least as prominent as movement. The dancers can shrink to mere moving parts in an intricate mechanism. But I was excited to go to the Carrack the weekend before Christmas because I knew I was going to see something else entirely—something raw, corporeal and purifying, all seething disgust and primitive slapstick.  No one who has followed the performances of Culture Mill directors Tommy Noonan and...

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Toilet humor meets family values in Sisters, the new comedy starring Amy Poehler and Tina Fey

Posted By on Fri, Dec 18, 2015 at 9:57 AM

Sisters Now playing Sisters stars Amy Poehler and Tina Fey as Maura and Kate Ellis, terminally immature siblings whose empty-nester parents decide to finally sell their childhood home. Poehler sweetly plays the straight woman to Fey’s not-totally-believable middle-aged lady gone wild. It’s a completely competent comedy that occasionally hits some very funny notes, though it mostly stays within the tried-and-true formula of mainstream American comedy: toilet humor meets family values. In the spirit of revenge—and for the sake of giving Maura the bad-kid fun she never allowed herself to have—the sisters decide to throw a rager the night before the...

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Movie review: J.J. Abrams potently remixes a modern myth for a new generation in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted By on Wed, Dec 16, 2015 at 4:24 PM

Star Wars: The Force Awakens★★★★ Opening wide Friday Remember the moment near the end of the original Star Wars when Luke Skywalker piloted his X-wing through a last-ditch run on the Death Star, turning off his targeting computer to rely on the Force instead? That’s what director J.J. Abrams does with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the gargantuan commercial and artistic endeavor opening wide on Friday. He's delivered a triumph in an unexpected fashion, flouting the usual reboot expectations and grooving with the Force to essentially make a disco remix of franchise mythology. Dodging spoilers with this release is an...

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Movie review: The Good Dinosaur is a throwback, and not just in the evolutionary sense

Posted By on Tue, Nov 24, 2015 at 1:58 PM

The Good Dinosaur ★★★ Opening Wednesday The publicity materials for Disney and Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur focus on the fact that it’s set in a world where an asteroid didn’t hit Earth and dinosaurs continued to evolve. What goes unmentioned is that the premise is an excuse for an old-fashioned children’s adventure story—a “boy and his dog” tale where the dog is the boy and the boy is a dinosaur. Making the protagonists the more expected species would have resulted in something not unlike the adventurous coming-of-age tales that once populated children’s literature—and which were often adapted into Disney films...

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Movie review: Suffragette is a fiery political thriller disguised as a British prestige picture

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2015 at 3:08 PM

Suffragette ★★★★ Now playing Those expecting a proper period piece will be sorely disappointed by Suffragette, a restless and angry drama that sometimes plays out like a violent political thriller. The film is set in London, eight years before the 19th Amendment was ratified in the U.S., at the moment when the women's suffrage movement was turning militant. Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, a desperately poor washerwoman eking out a miserable existence in London circa 1912. Maud is a wage slave in an era when the term is, for all practical purposes, nearly literal. The industrial laundry she's been laboring at...

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Movie review: Reclaiming original Bond lore, Spectre is a step back for the franchise

Posted By on Fri, Nov 6, 2015 at 11:52 AM

Spectre★★  Now playing Until now, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the rest of the SPECTRE global crime syndicate hadn’t appeared in a James Bond film since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But in 2013, after decades of rights-wrangling, MGM and the estate of film producer Kevin McClory finally reached a legal settlement, allowing Bond’s original infamous foes to return to the franchise. As its title might let on, the 24th Bond film is overeager to reintegrate its birthright, shoehorning it into the narrative reboot that began with Daniel Craig’s 007 and temporarily rejuvenated the franchise. But the slapdash Spectre is a nostalgic...

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Geeking out with John Hodgman at the Carolina Theatre

Posted By on Fri, Oct 30, 2015 at 2:03 PM

John Hodgman Carolina Theatre, Durham Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015 You got me: I was being a little cheeky about my dislike of John Hodgman in my preview for the INDY. I’m a fan. Yes, he’s something of an epicure and clothes horse, a blue-blooded New Englander. Yes, he plays ukulele and sings in a lovely tenor voice. And yes, he has a permanent twinkle in his eye. But he’s also a huge nerd, and this is where my affection for him begins. In his Carolina Theatre show, Vacationland, Hodgman revealed that he grew up watching Doctor Who. He admitted a...

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Movie review: The Assassin is a gorgeous, unusually intimate martial-arts costume drama

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 1:45 PM

The Assassin ★★★ ½ Opening Friday Listen, I’m not going to mince words: Good luck finding out what the hell is going on in The Assassin. Renowned Chinese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s first movie in seven years, which earned him the best director award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is an epic martial-arts period piece that’s beguiling, ambiguous and—for some, at least—frustrating in its storytelling. Good thing it’s also one of the most visually breathtaking films you’ll see this year. Nie Yinniang (Shu Qi, a ravishing Hou regular) is an assassin in 9th-century Tang Dynasty-era China. She’s ruthless and efficient,...

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Movie review: Steve Jobs is a bittersweet symphony about the man who put a thousand songs in your pocket

Posted By on Fri, Oct 23, 2015 at 11:52 AM

Steve Jobs★★★★ ½ Now playing Steve Jobs is essentially a three-act opera. Each part is set at different times, inside different California concert halls, with composer Daniel Pemberton’s soundtrack accompanied by dollops of Bob Dylan and indie rock. The same characters rotate through each act, and at one point, Jobs (a mesmerizing Michael Fassbender) likens them to an orchestra that he conducts. But instead of being sung, the lyrics are set in screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s distinctive cadence. When scolded for shunning his young daughter, the stubborn, visionary and messianic Apple guru retorts, “God sent his only son on a suicide...

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Theater review: A dreamlike, spiky and star-studded Antigone at Carolina Performing Arts

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 1:51 PM

Antigone★★★★ Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 Carolina Performing Arts at Memorial Hall When Juliette Binoche insists the new production of Sophocles' Antigone she stars in is really about Kreon, it sounds like the kind of counterintuitive reading actors use to freshen up classic works that seem to have run out of things to say. This 2,500-year-old mainstay of classical Greek tragedy certainly qualifies. Dozens of translations and adaptations—verse, prose, drama, opera, flamenco, on and on—have flourished in the last 150 years, by tough competition including the likes of Brecht, Heaney and Anouilh. But when the play sold out Memorial Hall Oct. 9...

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You stopped the arts coverage to cover the election..... You were probably better off just covering the arts, rather than …

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