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Focus Review


A very odd blend of caper action, dark drama and romantic comedy, this slickly made con-artist romp never quite finds its stride. There's a merciful vein of sharp wit in the script, thanks to writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love) and a spiky performance from Margot Robbie. But Will Smith's presence leaves everything feeling rather tame, compromising his character by making him a nice-guy crook rather than the unpredictable black-comedy protagonist he really should have been.

It opens as the wide-eyed Jess (Robbie) approaches veteran grifter Nicky (Smith) about learning the art of the con. She follows him to New Orleans for some major pickpocketing and double-crossing in the run-up to a big football championship, but Nicky unceremoniously dumps her afterwards. Three years later, they meet again in Buenos Aires, where both appear to be running scams centred around the Formula One team owned by Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), who's never far from his right-hand goon (Gerald McRaney). With help from his old pal Farhad (Adrian Martinez), Nicky sets out to run his sting. But Jess is a distraction, and the stakes are too high for him to take his eye off the game.

While it's one of the running gags, Nicky's soft centre is a serious problem here, making the movie feel like a vanity project for Smith, who seems far too determined to be sympathetic. (Ficarra and Requa know how to make an anti-hero likeable: see Bad Santa.) Instead, Smith is a jarring combination of beefy physicality, fast-talking thievery and squidgy emotions. Robbie is able to more effectively merge Jess' gung-ho personality with her gleeful criminality, but when they're both together on-screen it's impossible not to feel like everything about the characters' relationship is a big con. So we wait for the script to reveal its clever twists and turns. But they're surprisingly few and oddly inconsequential.

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The Best Of Me Premiere

Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Nicholas Sparks and Denise Di Novi - Photographs of the stars on the red carpet for the premiere of "The Best Of Me" in Los Angeles at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live - Los Angeles, California, United States - Wednesday 8th October 2014

Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Nicholas Sparks and Denise Di Novi
Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato and Michael Hoffman
Michelle Monaghan
Michelle Monaghan
Michelle Monaghan
Michelle Monaghan

If I Stay Review


Based on the Gayle Forman novel, this teen weepie is wrenchingly emotional and packed with girly fantasies. But the characters and situations have a lot more earthy honesty to them than this summer's other big adolescent tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars. It may be just as relentlessly sentimentalised, but the issues involved are faced with a lot more grit and realism, so the film earns its sob-inducing emotions.

Set in Portland, Oregon, the story centres on the Hall family. Parents Kat and Denny (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) are former rockers who have mildly toned down their wild ways as they have raised their children: 17-year-old Mia (Chloe Grace Moretz) and the younger Teddy (Jakob Davies) to be independent and artistic. Although Kat and Denny are rather taken aback by Mia's obsessive love of classical music and prodigious gift with the cello. Then Mia is shocked to discover that the cool rock-god Adam (Jamie Blackley) at her high school is interested in her. As their relationship develops over the next year, it hits a few bumps along the way. And it's during one of these bad patches that Mia is in a life-threatening car crash with her family. In an out-of-body experience, she watches everyone react to her life-and-death situation, wondering, "Should I stay or should I go?"

Which of course would be a much better title for a rock-n-roll movie than this one. Never mind, since the film is structured as a peeling-onion of flashbacks and out-of-sequence revelations, Mia's conundrum is genuinely complicated, in a movie sort of way. But then everything about this film exists only in the movies, most notably Adam, the most perfect boyfriend in the history of cinema: a bad boy musician with a deep soul, open emotions and thoughtful reactions. He has so clearly been devised to appeal to the teen-girl audience that it's occasionally a bit ridiculous.

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The Lucky One Review

Zac Efron isn't a bad actor, but this kind of sappy movie will do nothing to build his credibility. The flimsy plot might just about hold a pre-teen girl's interest, but lazy writing and bland production waste the decent filmmaking and acting.

After three tours of duty, shellshocked Marine Logan (Efron) heads home with no plan for the future. At one point in battle he'd found a picture of a pretty girl who became a sort-of guardian angel, so he decides to locate her based on landmarks in the photo. Eventually he meets kennel-owner Beth (Schilling) in down-home Louisiana. Without telling her how he knows her, he takes a job and reluctantly falls for her while charming her smart son (Stewart) and sassy granny (Danner). But Beth's sheriff ex-husband (Ferguson) isn't happy about this interloper.

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Crazy, Stupid, Love. Review

A strong cast makes the most of an insightful, jaggedly hilarious script. And it also helps that the actors and directors cleverly depict real-life situations in ways that are both witty and emotionally engaging.

Cal (Carell) is shocked when his wife Emily (Moore) tells him she's had an affair and wants a divorce. He has never even dated another woman and has no idea how to start, but one night in a singles' bar the slick womaniser Jacob (Gosling) inexplicably offers to mentor him. But even though he learns quickly, Cal is still hung up on Emily. Meanwhile, Jacob finally meets his match in the spiky-sexy Hannah (Stone), while Cal and Emily's teen son (Bobo) pines after his babysitter (Tipton), who has a crush of her own.

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Happy Campers Review

It may be a bit of an acquired taste, but Happy Campers (from Heathers writer Daniel Waters), but the film definitely deserved a better fate than being dumped on home video. Nonetheless it's worth a spin if you happen to come across it: It's the usual hijinks at Camp Bleeding Dove, with horny counselors running amok when camp leader (Peter Stormare) is incapacitated and a hurricane strikes the grounds. Dominique Swain steals the show as a Jan Brady-like innocent who wants to entertain her young charges and keep them pristine, but also pines for Wichita (Brad Renfro) all the same. The film gets a little muddy as the movie gets weirder, suffering from the same problems that made Wet Hot American Summer a curious oddity instead of a cult classic. Characters make abrupt personality shifts, and the in-joke just goes a bit too far. Funny? Yes. Another Heathers? Not quite.

James And The Giant Peach Review

Lemme tell ya, this was the most unusual screening I've been to in a long time. After all, what better way to spend a Saturday morning than with 200 hyperactive children, all of whom are fawning over a guy dressed up in a giant, fuzzy, grey bat suit, complete with six-foot wingspan? (Note: as far as I can tell, the bat had nothing to do with the film.) And lemme tell ya, none of this was as strange as the film I was about to see....

Now I'm probably the last person in the world who ought to judge what makes for a good children's movie, but if you'd asked me that yesterday, I certainly wouldn't have said James and the Giant Peach. This is a story about a young boy, James (Paul Terry), whose parents are eaten by a spiritual rhinoceros. He is adopted by his cruel aunts (Miriam Margolyes and AbFab's Joanna Lumley), who abuse him cruelly. Then an "old man" (Pete Postlethwaite) gives James some "alligator tongues" which he spills on a peach tree, creating the aforementioned giant peach. Inside this peach, where James hides to get away from his aunties, he finds a bunch of giant bugs: a Brooklyn centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), a cowardly earthworm (which is, by the way, not a bug--David Thewlis), a sultry spider (Susan Sarandon), a matronly ladybug (Jane Leeves), and sundry other insects.

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A Walk To Remember Review

A Walk to Remember can and will be known best as "The Mandy Moore Project," the first feature where the popular teen singer stars on the big screen. She is the focal point of the marketing, the reason that most kids will see the movie, and the one player to be under the microscope. Luckily for Moore, and the film, her flaws are few, as she slides easily into one of the more interesting teen roles in recent adolescent films, as the originality of her character, her well-metered performance, and director Adam Shankman's lively delivery lift this movie above most of its counterparts.

The film may look like a relative to the Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicle She's All That (1999), but it's more like a cousin to Robert Mulligan's The Man in the Moon (1991). The story begins predictably enough: Landon (Shane West), a young teen sowing his oats through his high school years, is forced to take on charity work after orchestrating a stupid stunt that nearly paralyzes a kid. While mopping up hallways and tutoring youngsters, he comes across Jamie Sullivan (Moore), a level-headed duckling (not so ugly), with a good heart and religion at her core. If this were Prinze pap, Landon would spruce her up and show the world what it's been missing. Instead, in this Karen Janszen adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel, Jamie stays true to herself, and the shy girl has a life-changing effect on the guy.

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Almost Heroes Review

Farley and Perry, as powerful a comedic force as, say, Nixon and Hawking. Farley's final movie before he died, and pretty representative of his work on the whole.

Message In A Bottle Review

Most days I would love to be in the shoes of people in Hollywood. Much as participating in the play is every secret playwright's dream, and painting the picture is every secret photographer's dream, being in THE BIZ is the secret dream of every movie critic I know. We apply to film school. We try to make movies. Some of us even write them, such as Roger Ebert, author of the movie Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

But, one person to another, I wouldn't be in Robin Wright Penn's shoes if you paid me a million dollars.

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Little Women (1994) Review

Hollywood did put out one decent flick over the 1994 holidays, and that was Little Women, another remake of Louisa May Alcott's famed novel. Winona Ryder steals the show, and most of the supporting cast are perfect. The story of Little Women is given a new breath of life with this film, and it is still as relevant about our place in the world and overcoming its man-made obstacles as it was when it was written. I mean, I'm like, you know, a guy... and I really dug the movie. Alvarado and Mathis shine above an altogether good cast (while Danes disappoints).

Original Sin Review

Depending on who you ask, the original sin was either the eating of the apple, the act of disobedience against God, or the act of betrayal. But in case you didn't know this, don't bother remembering it... the words "original sin" never come up in the movie of the same name, let alone the concept of it. The closest the film even gets to Catholicism is in its narrative (the story is told by Angelina Jolie to her priest while on death row in Cuba, circa 1900).

Regardless of its senseless title, Original Sin does actually have a plot (albeit one of the most mangled acts of screenwriting since The Art of War, based on the book Waltz Across Darkness). Boy (Antionio Banderas) places personal ad sometime around 1900, searching for a wife. Since this is a century ago, we narrowly dodge a remake of Green Card, only to find that the Girl (Jolie) faked her photo and is actually beautiful. Skipping a few moderately useless sex scenes (getting the question out of the way, yes, we get to see Angelina Jolie's breasts again), the Girl turns out to be a con artist, swindles Boy for his money, and heads for the hills.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas Review

Just in time for Halloween and Christmas, the reissue of The Nightmare Before Christmas couldn't be more appropriate. With all of the attention thrown to "family films" in recent years, namely those starring pocket monsters and Nickelodeon characters, it's high time we raised the intellectual level of children's fare as well as the animation achievements of the movie studios. With that in mind, it was refreshing to revisit an animation classic on the big screen that still retains the originality and freshness it had seven years ago.

Nightmare is the story of one man's quest to discover his true purpose in life -- to look beyond the accolades of his peers, the achievements of his years, and the praise of his ego. Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloweentown, is the main dude behind the Halloween holiday for kids everywhere. But during his reign as pumpkin king, Jack has somehow lost his understanding of his place in the world and the magic he creates with his Halloween holiday. After the completion of one particular Halloween season, Jack walks with a heavy heart and ends up discovering in the woods outside Halloweentown a grove of trees with doors to all of the other holidays in the world. Imagine his surprise to discover Christmastown, a far more impressive and uplifting holiday than Halloween, surrounded by happy elves making toys, and with good cheer all around.

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Heathers Review

"My teenage angst bullshit now has a body count."

Never before has murder been so much fun than at the hands of Winona Ryder and Christian Slater, perfectly cast as foils for one another in one of the blackest comedies on film. A must-see for the Gen-X set, Heathers is a scathing lambasting of the American teen in the late 1980s, but its presence will be timeless.

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