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Entries in Review (23)

Friday
Jul112014

Chef

Chef
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Released on: May 9th, 2014 LIMITED (July showtimes at Landmark
Grade: 3.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

After a series of high-concept spectacles including Cowboys & Aliens and the first couple Iron Man films, writer/director/actor Jon Favreau returns to the pleasant, character-driven fare that got his career off the ground with Chef. He stars as Carl Casper, the titular gourmet. A divorced workaholic, he spends the very limited time he has with his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony), making runs to the farmer’s market and buying ingredients for the Los Angeles restaurant where he serves as head chef.

In anticipation of a visit by prominent restaurant critic Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), Carl and his crew are hard at work to refine the menu, but restaurant owner Riva (Dustin Hoffman) forces him to instead keep the familiar menu, for it is his “greatest hits” that built up the clientele. When Carl’s cooking is panned in the review, he joins Twitter, launches a war of words via tweets, and ends up an embarrassing Internet meme. Choosing to keep his integrity rather than bow to the demands of Riva, Carl quits the restaurant.

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Thursday
May152014

Brick Mansions

Brick Mansions
Directed by: Camille Delamarre
Released on: April 25th, 2014
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

Hollywood lost a talented young star when Paul Walker tragically died last November. Through his role as Brian O’Connor in the The Fast and the Furious series, he was carving out a niche for himself as a reliable hero of pulpy, mindless action. As silly as those movies are, I can’t help but glue myself to the television or laptop if I come across the chance to watch one. They’re just pure escapism. Walker’s latest, and sadly one of his last films, is Brick Mansions, the English language remake of the French District 13. This work is in the same camp as F&F: harmless, silly fun.

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Thursday
Apr172014

Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez
Directed by: Diego Luna
Released on: March 28th
Grade: 4 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

It has been a long time coming, but finally somebody has made a theatrical film about Cesar Chavez, and it is my favorite 2014 film so far.

Born March 31, 1927 in Yuma, Arizona, Chavez grew up knowing what it was like to be exploited. After the Chavez family lost their home during the Depression, they worked in the fields for very little compensation. As all hands were needed in the field, Chavez did not attend school past the 7th grade.

After serving two years in the Navy, Chavez returned to the fields. From there he quickly rose through the ranks of the American labor movement working for the CSO (Community Service Organization), a human rights organization which encouraged Latinos to register to vote.

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Thursday
Apr172014

The Raid 2: Berandal

The Raid 2: Berandal
Directed by: Gareth Evans
Released on: March 28th
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Three years after the 2011 film, The Raid: Redemption, writer-director Gareth Evans returns with the highly anticipated, vehemently violent sequel, The Raid 2: Berandal.

Essentially commencing where The Raid: Redemption finished, the sequel finds the protagonist, Rama (Iko Uwais) going undercover to infiltrate a crime syndicate and bring everybody down, especially the crooked cops at the top.

As Rama falls deeper and deeper into his undercover role, he begins to lose his sense of what is right and wrong, incrementally becoming more punitive toward his aggressors. Of course, in a society where cops and government officials are as crooked as the gangsters, who can tell what is right and wrong? The only thing to know for sure is how to survive and fight another day.

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Friday
Mar212014

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted
Directed by: James Bobin
Released on: March 21st, 2014
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Picking up where The Muppets in 2011 ended, Muppets Most Wanted sees the gang touring across Europe, thanks to their new co-manager, Dominic Badguy (pronounced "bad gee"), played by Ricky Gervais.

Immediately, we suspect Dominic has ulterior motives for taking the "weirdo" troupe to Europe, but the Muppets are a trusting bunch and do not notice any of the obvious clues. Besides, Dominic's carefree managerial style is a welcome change from the sternness of their leader, Kermit (voice by Steve Whitmore). Now the Muppets can go crazy on the stage!

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Friday
Mar212014

Need for Speed

Need for Speed
Directed by: Scott Waugh
Released on: March 14th, 2014
Grade: 1 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is facing tough times. His father just died, and he is about to lose his local custom auto shop. As fortune would have it, local NASCAR hero Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) shows up — with Tobey's ex-girlfriend Anita (Dakota Johnson) in tow — to make Tobey an offer to rebuild a special car he and his band of irresponsible, socially inept, sexist and sexually repressed mechanics would be super stupid to reject (although there is a debate among them).

Once the $3M project (give or take $250,000) is completed and split to Dino's advantage, 75/25 percent, Dino challenges Tobey to a race where the winner takes all. Tobey accepts the wager.

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Friday
Mar212014

Bad Words

Bad Words
Directed by: Jason Bateman
Released on: March 21st, 2014
Grade: 2.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Justin Tucker

Jason Bateman, who usually is the straight man in a comedic ensemble, plays against type and takes the spotlight for himself while making his directorial debut with Bad Words. He stars as Guy Tribley, a crass, 40-year-old borderline sociopath who exploits loopholes that allow him to compete in children’s spelling bees. He makes it to the Golden Quill national competition, arousing the ire of both parents and bee organizers, and plays all sorts of nasty tricks on his moppet competitors to sabotage their bee performances.

Accompanying the wretched man-child in his quest to cruelly humiliate children is Jenny (Kathryn Hahn), a reporter covering his story and trying desperately to be granted an interview. Any attempt to probe Guy to discover his motivations instead leads to casual sexual encounters where she commands Guy not to look at her during the act.

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Thursday
Mar202014

The Double

The Double
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Released date: May 9th, 2014 [LIMITED]
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Poor, somewhat perverted, Simon (Jessie Eisenberg). His mother is dying at a disreputable rest home. People harass him on the train to work. The waitress (Cathy Moriarty) at his favorite restaurant gives him sass. His co-workers at a cold data processing center only recognize him when he makes mistakes. And his love life consists of watching, sometimes spying, on his coworker, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska). Simon, however, is not all bad; he makes a collection out of Hannah's scraps, and he has some good ideas for increasing efficiency at work.

What Simon really needs, or thinks he needs, is to speak to the Colonel (James Fox) via Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn).

Imprisoned by his own inertia, Simon's world becomes more complicated with the arrival of James Simon (Eisenberg). A confident, charming young man, James and Simon begin a partnership where James fights for Simon while Simon does James' work, even taking tests for James at work.

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Thursday
Mar202014

Ping Pong Summer

Ping Pong Summer
Directed by: Michael Tully
Released on: January 18th, 2014 | Sundance Film Festival 2014
Grade: 2 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Perhaps the most conventional film screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the third feature film from writer-director Michael Tully (Cocaine Angel; Septien) relays an all-too-familiar story about a young teenage boy who goes through a transformation during one summer vacation at the beach.

Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) is an awkward 13-year-old boy into rap music, popping and breakdancing. He is not very good at it, but that does not stop him from working his moves on a regular basis. Rad is also not very good at table tennis, but that does not stop him from walking around with a ping pong paddle — maybe because it matches his red parachute pants?

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Thursday
Mar202014

R100

R100
Directed by: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Released on: Sundance Film Festival 2014 | Forthcoming U.S. release from Drafthouse Films 
Grade: 3 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther 

Once upon a time, a mild-mannered man named Takafumi (Nao Omori) needed some sexual excitement in his life. His wife was in a coma, so sexual relations in the biblical sense may not have been the most decent thing for him to do.

Thinking, or feeling, he should just have his sexual needs fulfilled by sadistic, random encounters instead, Takafumi enters into a year long contract where dominatrices will appear unexpectedly to humiliate and hurt him until his head comic(book)ally swells — thus indicating sexual gratification. (It would have been funnier, more subversive and more apropos with the film's conceits if the filmmakers had done that with Takafumi's crotch area instead.)

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