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Monday, May 30, 2016

Movie Review: Whit Stillman's Classist Nostalgia Is Untempered by Wit in Love & Friendship

Posted By on Mon, May 30, 2016 at 11:47 AM

Love & Friendship ★★ Now playing Whit Stillman’s latest, Love & Friendship, finds the director treading new territory in a period adaptation of a Jane Austen short epistolary novel, Lady Susan. Kate Beckinsale plays the cunning, eponymous lady, with Chloë Sevigny as her meek American sidekick, Alicia Johnson. It’s an intertextual echo of their 1998 roles as frenemies Charlotte and Alice in Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco. But while the film's title tantalizingly suggests a return to the repulsion-attraction dynamic that Last Days captured so well, both love and friendship are conspicuously absent. Love & Friendship tells the story...

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Movie Review: Go See Alice Through the Looking Glass For the Visual Design or Not at All

Posted By on Fri, May 27, 2016 at 11:52 AM

Alice Through the Looking Glass★★★ ½  Opening Friday, May 27, 2016 Disney has been in the spectacle business for more than eighty years now, and its fantasy movies, both live action and animation, tend toward visual extravaganzas, especially in the modern summer blockbuster season. In this regard, Alice Through the Looking Glass does not disappoint. There are maybe half a dozen glorious set pieces designed to pop your eyeballs right out of your skull. That's all you really need to know before springing for the 3-D version, which is the version to see if you're going to see it at all....

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Theater Review: In Musical Thought Experiment If/Then, There Is No Road Not Taken

Posted By on Thu, May 26, 2016 at 11:39 AM

If/Then★★★ ½  Through May 29 DPAC, Durham Overthinkers of the Triangle: arise, and see If/Then at DPAC. Yes, I realize this unambiguous endorsement raises many more questions than it answers: Which night? Which seat? Invite a friend or go stag? Which restaurant—and which appetizer? Climb those decision trees. Just go. As for the rest of the region’s theatergoers? You might want to think about it a bit first. At the start, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s optimistic follow-up to 2008’s Next to Normal merely seems devoted to a different mental malady than the manic depression that was the focus...

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Nice Guys, The Meddler, and Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2016 at 10:00 AM

The Nice Guys ★★★ ½ The Meddler ★★★ Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising  ★ Opening Friday, May 20, 2016 Hollywood in the 1970s is not just the seamy backdrop for The Nice Guys. It’s the uproarious foreground of the buddy action comedy, which smartly borrows from its genre forerunners—an homage giddily reflected in a funhouse mirror. The narrative is immersed in the adult film milieu of 1977 Los Angeles, accented by such era touchstones as smog alerts, The Waltons, and the hysteria over killer bees. As a boy ogles a nude centerfold featuring a porn actress named Misty Mountains (Murielle Telio),...

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Movie Review: Captain America: Civil War Is Like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice with a Marvel Smirk Instead of a DC Frown

Posted By on Wed, May 4, 2016 at 4:01 PM

Captain America: Civil War★★★½ Opening Friday, May 6 Given the factious fervor of fans on both sides of the aisle between Marvel and DC Comics films, it’s a droll coincidence that Captain America: Civil War, the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, shares the same general premise as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, DC’s most recent blockbuster. Both films revolve around humankind’s attempts to rein in demigods and the collateral damage of their heroism. Both feature clashes between seminal superheroes who are manipulated by a bad guy and at odds over how much power they should be...

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Friday, April 29, 2016

Movie Review: TV's Key & Peele Make Unlikely Hollywood Bid With Cat-Meme-Slash-Action-Comedy Keanu

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 2:04 PM

Keanu ★★ Opening Friday, April 29 Keanu—the feature-film debut of TV comedy team Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele—is surely the biggest disappointment at the movies so far this year. It's one thing to see a bad movie. It's another thing when you're fully expecting a good one. For five seasons on Comedy Central, Key & Peele delivered high-octane funny business by blending sharp writing, kinetic physical comedy, and inspired goofiness. The idea of a movie seemed natural and promising, and the first trailers were very, very funny. Alas, Keanu is one of those movies where the three-minute preview is...

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Movie Review: Bloody Action and Bloodless Politics in Punks-Versus-Skins Horror Thriller Green Room

Posted By on Fri, Apr 29, 2016 at 9:21 AM

Green Room ★★★ Opening Friday, April 29 With Green Room, writer/director Jeremy Saulnier solidifies his burgeoning reputation as an action auteur capable of making brutally effective thrillers on a modest budget. Those looking for exploitation-style thrills and chills won't be disappointed, but those intrigued by the subcultural conflict between punks and Neo-Nazis may be left hanging by the film's surprisingly bloodless politics. The high-concept premise involves a touring Washington, D.C. punk rock band, booked at the last minute to perform for a "boots-and-braces crowd" of white-power skinheads in the woods of Washington state. Stumbling upon an internecine murder gets the...

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Theater Review: Little Green Pig Meets Tom Waits in a Night of Boisterous, Boozy Cabaret

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 4:54 PM

The Piano Has Been Drinking: A Tom Waits Cabaret ★★★½ Friday, April 22, 8 p.m. Arcana Bar & Lounge, Durham If you’re putting on a Tom Waits cabaret—as Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern did at Mystery Brewing Company last Saturday, and will do again at Arcana in Durham on Friday—you’re going to need more than one vocalist. Actually, you’re going to need more than one band. It’s hard to believe the same mind that produced the wistful heartache ballad “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love With You” went on to pen the jaded observations and acid sentiments of...

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Movie Review: The Jungle Book Creatively Brings the Essence of Disney's Animated Classic to Life

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 at 1:46 PM

The Jungle Book ★★★★ Opening Friday, April 15 As a CGI bear named Baloo in Disney’s new, live-action The Jungle Book, Bill Murray channels the kind of surrogate-big-brother camp counselor that made him famous in Meatballs. He doesn’t try to hit the exact same notes as Phil Harris in the 1967 animated classic, but it’s the same principle—laidback, laconic, irresponsible but protective—capturing the essence while doing something new. That’s the strength director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks bring to this update, which honors the iconography of the original while restoring some of the darkness of Rudyard Kipling’s stories, which...

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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Theater Review: The Elephant Man Is a Theatrical Autopsy of Victorian England's Selective Morals

Posted By on Thu, Apr 14, 2016 at 4:32 PM

The Elephant Man★★★ Theatre in the Park, Raleigh Through April 24 Perhaps the subject’s medical nature had something to do with it, but by the end of the first act of The Elephant Man at Theatre in the Park, I’d concluded it was a theatrical autopsy that stripped the title character's tale to its bones, until the last act more fully fleshed it out. It vexed me enough to send me back to Bernard Pomerance’s Tony Award-winning script from 1977—where I found skeletal scenes and underdeveloped characters, hobbled by exposition, throughout Act One. It’s hard to fault director Ira David...

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Theater Review: The Consequences of Virtual Play Laid Bare at Manbites in The Nether

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 3:51 PM

The Nether ★★★★ Manbites Dog Theater, Durham Through April 23 In The Body in Pain, Elaine Scarry writes about how technology has extended our physical abilities and senses. The hammer and handgun concentrate applied force; the telescope lengthens eyesight; microphones and loudspeakers amplify voices; bicycles and cars expand mobility. But as networked computers exponentially increase our computational, sensory, and data-gathering powers, some say the human body is becoming increasingly dislocated in the digital rush. Soon, it might be all but discarded. Jennifer Haley explores a very unsettling facet of this possibility in The Nether, her creepy 2013 sci-fi drama. Director Jules...

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Monday, April 11, 2016

Full Frame: A Quirky Sunday Surfing the Net With Werner Herzog and Reading New Yorker Cartoons

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 3:31 PM

Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World Very Semi-Serious Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Durham Sunday, April 10, 2016 This weekend’s late-spring freeze turned attendees of the nineteenth annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival into puffy little cotton balls, their down jackets swishing together in tight theater aisles, making the cinemas feel even fuller than usual. By Sunday, everyone had gotten the hang of the ticketing process, screening locations, and which bathrooms had the fastest moving lines. The festival moved like a well-oiled, well-bundled machine. I’ll admit it: this was my first time at Full Frame. I was afraid...

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Movie Review: City of Gold Deliciously Translates a Celebrated Food Critic's Style to the Screen

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2016 at 12:19 PM

City of Gold ★★★ ½ Now playing For dedicated foodies, City of Gold is the best dinner-and-a-movie option to hit local theaters since Jon Favreau's underrated Chef. This sprightly new documentary profiles the life and work of Los Angeles Times writer Jonathan Gold, the first food critic to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Gold made his bones in the eighties by wandering away from the usual high-end French restaurants and exploring the city's humbler eateries, often tucked away in dodgy neighborhoods or shabby strip malls. Gold's abiding love of Los Angeles and its endlessly colliding cultures powers his writing and...

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Friday, April 8, 2016

Full Frame: The Newsploitation Industry Made Anthony Weiner a Punch Line, But the Joke's on Us

Posted By on Fri, Apr 8, 2016 at 6:24 PM

Weiner ★★★★ Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Durham Thursday, April 7, 2016 Look, I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to say it: Everyone at Full Frame last night seemed very excited about Weiner, and all the delicious innuendo it unleashed. For example, when I said I was looking for Weiner, one usher at the Carolina Theatre gave me a subtle smirk that seemed to say, "We don’t need to go there, but we know." Another shot back a much franker double entendre. “I’ve been waiting all night to say that,” she added, laughing, “and you looked like the guy.”...

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Theater Review: Trapped Somewhere Between Ape and Man in Kafka's Monkey

Posted By on Thu, Apr 7, 2016 at 2:08 PM

KAFKA’S MONKEY★★★★ Common Ground Theatre, Durham Through April 9, $10–$15 History has shown that when captives address their captors, the experience can transform each party. It can even transform the cultures and times in which they live, as in the cases of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Albert Camus’s clandestine “Letters to a German Friend,” which he wrote in occupied France during World War II. But the words of the forcibly assimilated—from Southern slave narratives to the testimony of the Cherokee and Lakota—are sober reminders that transformation can also be ambiguous, corrosive, or fatal, a reality...

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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Theater Review: A Star-Studded Sweeney Todd from PlayMakers Rep

Posted By on Tue, Apr 5, 2016 at 4:36 PM

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET★★★ ½ Paul Green Theatre, Chapel Hill Through April 23 I was mildly aghast: noticeably tentative—and not always audible—voices, sometimes pitchy and off time? True, it was only a Facebook video preview for Sweeney Todd at PlayMakers Repertory Company, but as an online advertisement, it hardly instilled confidence in the show to come. So despite the marquee leads of Broadway’s David St. Louis and TV’s Annie Golden (Orange Is the New Black), and the up-to-now unshakable music direction of Mark Hartman, there was a somewhat larger question mark than usual hanging over...

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Movie Review: A Very Dark Knight and Cold Man of Steel in Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice

Posted By on Thu, Mar 24, 2016 at 11:30 AM

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice★★★ Opening Friday, March 25 A millennium hence, our descendants might try to decipher our current superhero obsession the way we study ancient Greek legends. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which conflates modern religious and mythological allegories, will be rich material. In a span of minutes, eccentric nemesis Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg, too manic by half) positions Kal-El, Superman’s Kryptonian name, alongside Zeus, Yahweh, and Horus. A messianic parable, the film explores how mortals might really react to the arrival of an omnipotent being. Eighteen months have passed since the calamitous climax of Batman...

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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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First comment sounds like Crawford wrote it.

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Aurora got really hurt by projectile (in movie it hit her arm). It should …

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