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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Movie Review: For Better and Worse, Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water Is a Beautiful Children’s Movie for Adults

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 5:00 PM

The Shape of Water★★★ Opening Friday, Dec. 15 Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a moral tale for troubled times. An Amazonian sea creature held captive in a Cold War-era American research lab is watched over by tyrannical government functionary Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). He tortures the creature and plans to vivisect it in order to one-up the Soviet Union in the race for scientific knowledge. All goes smoothly until a mute janitor, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), starts to fall in love with the creature and tries to save it from certain doom. The screenplay by del Toro and...

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Movie Review: Justice League's Concoction of Snyder's Bombast and Whedon's Wit Actually Kind of Works

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 2:18 PM

Justice League ★★★½ Opening Friday, Nov. 17 Earlier this year, after the death of his daughter, Zack Snyder—the de facto patriarch of the DC Extended Universe—stepped away from post-production on Justice League, which brings together Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman with other classic DC Comics characters. Enter Joss Whedon, who directed both Avengers films. The result is a Justice League that seems born of two fathers, combining Snyder’s bombastic iconography with Whedon’s crowd-pleasing wit. Superman/Kal El (Henry Cavill) died at the end of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and his legacy is now the stuff of black bunting and...

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Movie Review: Lady Bird, a Winning First Film from Greta Gerwig, Is Alert to Class but Falters on Race

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 11:01 AM

Lady Bird★★★ Opening Friday, Nov. 17 In many ways, Lady Bird is a winning directorial debut by Greta Gerwig, who also wrote the film. It captures the fuzzy nostalgia as well as the pains of coming of age at the start of the twenty-first century, as the Iraq War blares through the television in the background of a bustling Catholic family’s life. Saoirse Ronan plays the title character, a slightly rebellious Sacramento teen battling for autonomy with her financially struggling, overwhelmed nurse mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf). But for all of Lady Bird’s blurred lucidity, its anxieties about race and the...

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Chelsea Theater, the Last Old-School Art Cinema Standing in Chapel Hill, Might Close at the End of the Year

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 3:56 PM

Though the Chelsea Theater is a Chapel Hill institution, it has never made a big deal about itself. Tucked away in the Timberlyne strip mall, almost literally in the shadow of the Regal multiplex, the little-art-house-that-could has discreetly held its ground in a volatile cinema market for almost thirty years. So it’s no surprise that the Chelsea recently slipped a major announcement onto the “News and Notes” page of its ancient website, where no one would ever think to look. Unless a buyer comes through, the theater’s long legacy looks likely to end when the calendar rolls over to 2018....

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Friday, November 3, 2017

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin Is Too Squishy to Bear

Posted By on Fri, Nov 3, 2017 at 1:42 PM

Goodbye Christopher Robin ★★ Now playing There's a certain kind of overproduced classic rock sound that makes me lunge for the car radio dial whenever it rolls around. The 1970s band Boston is an infamous example of this production style, which polishes every sonic texture to a smooth and unnatural sheen. When I hear a Boston song, I think, No actual live group of musicians has ever sounded like this. The same holds true for certain overproduced films, usually somberly reverent British period dramas, and I have the same reaction: no actual group of living people ever sounded like this—or...

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Movie Review: In Thor: Ragnarok, a Stodgy Franchise Springs to Life with Demigods Delightfully Out of Their Element

Posted By on Thu, Nov 2, 2017 at 4:40 PM

Thor: Ragnarok ★★★★ Opening Friday, Nov. 3 There’s a short sequence early in Thor: Ragnarok in which an Asgardian acting troupe plays out the events of 2013’s Thor: The Dark World. The scene is framed as a lark, from its dialogue to the cameos from famous actors playing Thor, Loki, and Odin, which I won’t spoil. It’s also a sidelong admission that the Thor, nay, the entire Avengers franchise, had become too stodgy—self-parodies in which dour characters yammer away, with faux gravity, about Infinity Stones and interstellar realms. Thor: Ragnarok is the fun(ny) Guardians of the Galaxy sequel we didn’t...

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Movie Review: Less a Whodunit Than a “Who Cares,” The Snowman Is Truly Abominable

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 5:15 PM

The Snowman★ Now playing In theory, there's a good movie swirling around The Snowman. The drab, snowy Norwegian setting is an effective canvas for a Nordic noir. The film has an award-winning director in Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), two Oscar-winning editors, a pair of Oscar-nominated screenwriters, and Martin freakin’ Scorsese as executive producer. The glittering cast includes J.K. Simmons, Rebecca Ferguson, Toby Jones, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Michael Fassbender as detective Harry Hole. But there’s an early, seemingly innocuous clue that things are awry when a character refers to a city being “a...

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Movie Review: The Paintings of van Gogh Come to Dazzling Life in Loving Vincent

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 12:05 PM

Loving Vincent ★★★½ Now playing The historical drama Loving Vincent, concerning the life and death of Vincent van Gogh, is being billed as the world's first fully painted feature film. Indeed, each of the 65,000 frames in this movie was hand-painted by a small army of artists over the course of seven years, with the intention of bringing the paintings of van Gogh to life. The outcome of all this effort is exceptionally vivid and beautiful. The film's animation technique essentially combines rotoscoping—painting on top of each film frame—with elements of form and style from van Gogh's most famous paintings....

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049 Reminds Us It Works Best to Mess with the Classics When There's Actually Something Wrong with Them

Posted By on Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 9:16 AM

Blade Runner 2049 ★★★★ Now playing Blade Runner was influential and groundbreaking cinema, a science-fiction film noir that applied classic philosophical and religious themes, particularly on creation and mortality, to humankind’s technological and moral trajectory. It is also insistently inscrutable and bears the scar tissue of excessive, repeated editing, first in a futile effort to make the theatrical release more accessible and then to restore director Ridley Scott’s original narrative vision. Like its retrofitted future, the film is heady bricolage. Set thirty years after the original, Blade Runner 2049 achieves the best of both worlds. The same basic premise remains:...

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Movie Review: In Battle of the Sexes, Billie Jean King Overhand Smashes a Paper-Thin Glass Ceiling

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 2:43 PM

Battle of the Sexes ★★★½ Now playing The most pitched battle in Battle of the Sexes is not strictly on the tennis court. Odds makers and popular opinion alike were very much against Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) in her famous 1973 tennis match against Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). The question the match posed was not whether a professional female player could beat a male peer. It was whether the best female tennis player in the world could beat any competent man, in this case, a cartoonish, fifty-five-year-old former pro. The film’s true foil is a male-dominated culture ripe for...

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Movie Review: In American Made, Tom Cruise Is Back in the Cockpit—But For Coke, Not Country

Posted By on Fri, Sep 29, 2017 at 8:09 AM

American Made ★★★½ Now playing In Top Gun, a young Tom Cruise played an eighties-era pilot in the service of the U.S.A. More than thirty years later, Cruise—still flashing a cocksure facade of pearly whites and aviator shades—goes back to the eighties to portray the real-life pilot Barry Seal, a cynical analog to that previous role. In American Made, the enemy is no longer faceless bad guys in black fighter planes. The hindsight of history reveals a tangled web of black ops and duplicity, with splintered American law enforcement agencies as much at odds with one another as with their...

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Movie Review: It Is Plenty Scary, But It Also Has Heart

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 3:52 PM

It ★★★★ Now playing Theodicy is a theological term that refers to the problem of evil as an active force in the world.  More specifically, it's an attempt to resolve the dilemma in many Western religions of how evil can exist in a universe supposedly created and governed by an all-powerful and benevolent God. It's a puzzler, all right. In the very excellent, very scary horror film It—based on Stephen King's famous novel—there's no ambiguity about the existence of evil. In the hard-luck town of Derry, Maine, the power of darkness manifests as a terrifying clown named Pennywise, a shapeshifting demonic...

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Movie Review: Though Brightened by Its Lead Actor, Patti Cake$ Is a Sub-8 Mile Hip-Hop Contrivance

Posted By on Fri, Sep 1, 2017 at 3:05 PM

Patti Cake$ ★½ Now playing As Chuck D sagely warned us, so many years ago: Don't believe the hype. Patti Cake$, the hip-hop drama that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, is getting a lot of frankly baffling hype as it rolls into theaters for a late-summer release. Fox Searchlight Pictures, the boutique imprint that has backed a long list of very good films over the years, including Birdman, Slumdog Millionaire, Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine, and Beasts of the Southern Wild, snapped it up at Sundance. But Patti Cake$ doesn't belong anywhere near that list, and it's...

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Movie Review: Ferguson Documentary Whose Streets? Portrays a Police Force and Judicial System Obsessed with the Idea of Black Criminality

Posted By on Wed, Aug 30, 2017 at 2:35 PM

Whose Streets?★★★ Now playing Three years ago, Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot unarmed eighteen-year-old Michael Brown, whom Wilson was attempting to apprehend for stealing a box of Swisher cigars from a convenience store. Following the police’s destruction of Brown’s memorial, a series of riots ensued that would play out in months of unrest, highlighting systematic police brutality against African Americans as one of the most pressing issues facing the country. Whose Streets?, the new documentary by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, tells the story of the Ferguson uprisings. It powerfully stages the issues roiling our historical...

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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Twenty-One-Year-Old Finds a Welcoming Space at the Twenty-Two-Year-Old N.C. Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

Posted By on Wed, Aug 23, 2017 at 12:46 PM

North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival August 10–13, 2017 Carolina Theatre, Durham The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival has been an institution at the Carolina Theatre in Durham for twenty-two years. Over the course of its history, the festival has grown exponentially in terms of submissions as well as the number of people in the audience, leading to its current status as one of the largest gay and lesbian film festivals in the Southeast. It's rare to find spaces that are focused on the celebration of queer people outside of the alcohol-drenched club and bar scene. I...

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Movie Review: Scary Nuns, Creepy Dolls, and Not a Few Plot Holes in The Conjuring Franchise's Latest Spawn, Annabelle: Creation

Posted By on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 at 4:33 PM

Annabelle: Creation ★★★½ Now playing On a recent library whim, I picked up an anthology of contemporary horror stories—nominees for the annual Bram Stoker Award for short fiction, I think it was. It was a very nice surprise, actually. Fans of the genre will be happy to hear that innovative and sophisticated horror is alive and well in that old-fashioned analog medium we call books. Annabelle: Creation, the latest installment in The Conjuring horror series, plays like a pleasant little short story, and by pleasant I mean eerie, disturbing, and occasionally gory. Technically a prequel to a spinoff, the movie...

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Movie Review: Atomic Blonde Is More Like Dime-Store John le Carré than Joan Wick or Jane Bond

Posted By on Fri, Jul 28, 2017 at 4:38 PM

Atomic Blonde★★★ Now playing There’s a futile fatalism floating around Atomic Blonde, set in 1989 during the days leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The East-versus-West spy game still carries life-or-death stakes, but it also feels propelled by a dutiful inertia, predestined to play out like the gunslingers in Once Upon a Time in the West squaring off for a final climactic duel before getting freight-trained by the march of capitalism. This contrast figures prominently in Antony Johnston’s 2012 source graphic novel, The Coldest City. Adapted for the screen by David Leitch (codirector of John Wick) and...

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie Review: Like the Films of Terrence Malick, Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk Is Both Epic and Meditative

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 3:57 PM

Dunkirk ★★★½ Now playing The evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk in 1940 holds an iconic, solemn place in British culture. Any film made about this historical flashpoint will have a prewired emotional impact for English audiences, as movies about Pearl Harbor or 9/11 do for Americans. In Dunkirk, British director Christopher Nolan assumes, intentionally or otherwise, that viewers will arrive with the necessary contextual underpinnings already in place. It’s an English film for English people, so historical exposition is scarcer than usual. In its optimal format—Nolan, long an IMAX advocate, shot most of the film using 70mm IMAX...

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Movie Review: Luc Besson Breaks the Bank for the Visually Extravagant, Emotionally Empty Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Posted By on Fri, Jul 21, 2017 at 2:02 PM

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets★★½ Now playing Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, the latest sci-fi extravaganza from famed French director Luc Besson, aims to be the cinematic equivalent of a perfect dessert soufflé: rich and sugary-sweet yet light as air. With a budget of about $180 million, it’s said to be both the most expensive European film and the most expensive independent film ever made. Besson saturates every frame (or every gigabyte) with wacky aliens and design concepts, and every big action set piece zips along at a clip just shy of incomprehensible. In...

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Movie Review: War for the Planet of the Apes Isn't Kidding with That "Ape-Pocalypse Now" Joke

Posted By on Fri, Jul 14, 2017 at 5:02 PM

War for the Planet of the Apes ★★★★ Now playing The war for the planet of the apes is seemingly fought on two fronts. On one side is the troop of freedom-fighting primates still led by their hyper-intelligent leader, Caesar (Andy Serkis). On the other is an unseen but approaching human army, temporarily tasked with terminating one of their own, with extreme prejudice. In the middle is a colonel (Woody Harrelson) whose name tape reads McCullough, but who may as well be called Kurtz. The bald colonel speaks in messianic riddles, controlling his renegade paramilitary faction, named Alpha-Omega, through fear...

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

N.C.-Based Filmmaker Patrick Read Johnson, One of the First People to See Early Star Wars Footage, Relives the Magic Four Decades Later in 5-25-77

Posted By on Thu, Jul 13, 2017 at 2:18 PM

5-25-77 Thursday, July 13, 7:30 p.m., $10 North Hills Stadium 14, Raleigh The wheels of Hollywood turn slowly, and the term “development hell” is regularly thrown around to explain why a project hasn’t become a finished film. But Patrick Read Johnson, a faculty member at the North Carolina School of the Arts, waited an especially long time to see his semi-autobiographical comedy 5-25-77, which screens at North Hills in Raleigh tonight, on the big screen. Its release comes thirteen years after he started filming. “Did I set out to make a film that would take thirteen years? No. Am...

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Movie Review: Despicable Me 3 Shows Signs of a Franchise Wearing Thin, but Your Kids Won't Mind, Because Minions!

Posted By on Fri, Jun 30, 2017 at 3:58 PM

Despicable Me 3★★½ Now playing There's an old Hollywood story about Buster Keaton and animated movies. Apparently, the first time he saw cartoons on the silver screen, he nearly quit show business altogether. He immediately saw that he couldn't compete with the kind of physical comedy animation made possible. No matter how many elaborate stunts he invented, he could never simply ignore physics and gravity the way cartoons could. Another craftsman felled by technology. This story occurred to me early in Despicable Me 3, the latest installment of the reliable animated series starring Steve Carell as recovering super-villain Felonius Gru. Counting...

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Movie Review: All Eyez on Me Claims to Be Tupac Shakur's Untold Story, but You Could Cobble Most of It Together with YouTube Clips

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 3:20 PM

All Eyez on Me★★½ Now playing When I heard that legendary hip-hop artist and social activist Tupac Shakur was to be the subject of a biopic, following the box-office success of Straight Outta Compton, it seemed like Hollywood had finally realized that hip-hop could be at the forefront of cinema as well as of music. With the likes of 50 Cent, Biggie Smalls, and Eminem already having their own movies, I was ecstatic that Tupac’s story was coming to the silver screen. All Eyez on Me director Benny Boom had an impossible task: to tell “the untold story” of one...

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Movie Review: Letters from Baghdad's Experimental Approach Doesn't Entirely Work, but Its Subject, Gertrude Bell, Still Fascinates

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 1:32 PM

Letters from Baghdad★★★ ½ Chelsea Theatre, Chapel Hill Describable only as an experimental documentary, Letters from Baghdad tells the story of Gertrude Bell, the British government official, explorer, and occasional spy who helped draw the borders of modern-day Iraq in the years after the first world war. Bell is sometimes called the female Lawrence of Arabia, although this film argues she was much better at her job than T.E. Lawrence ever was. Bell was born into a wealthy British family, and her devotion to exotic travel made her useful to the officers of imperial Britain in the Middle East....

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Movie Review: Cars 3 Is a Smooth Ride Because It Runs on Cruise Control

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 10:05 AM

Cars 3 ★★★ Now playing The most perplexing part of Pixar’s Cars universe is that while anthropomorphized automobiles are the sole living creatures, they clearly inhabit a world that’s either parallel or subsequent to our own. It’s full of landmarks we know, from Route 66 to the Eiffel Tower. Cities exist and crops are grown, all for no discernible reason. The American flag even appears at one point. Recently, Cars creative director Jay Ward offered a wholly unofficial explanation: the franchise takes place in a near-future in which the autonomous cars we're developing now turned into something like the machines in...

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The Carolina, the Varsity, now the Chelsea. These movie houses were among the reasons we moved here 25 years ago. …

by JO in CHNC on The Chelsea Theater, the Last Old-School Art Cinema Standing in Chapel Hill, Might Close at the End of the Year (Arts)

The Chelsea Theatre has to be saved! Chapel Hill and the Triangle would be greatly diminished without it. Other theatres, …

by Jonathan H on The Chelsea Theater, the Last Old-School Art Cinema Standing in Chapel Hill, Might Close at the End of the Year (Arts)

...as did I, Ms. Margolis -- in a very small handful of moments over a two and a half hour …

by Byron Woods, INDY Theater and Dance Critic on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

I certainly heard the accents.

by Elizabeth A Margolis on Theater Review: The South Is Hard to Hear in the Opera Version of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain (Arts)

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The Carolina, the Varsity, now the Chelsea. These movie houses were among the reasons we moved here 25 years ago. …

by JO in CHNC on The Chelsea Theater, the Last Old-School Art Cinema Standing in Chapel Hill, Might Close at the End of the Year (Arts)

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