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Movie review: 'Fury'

Oct 19, 2014 3:06 PM PT

The new World War II tank film "Fury" is a paint-by-numbers war film, but it uses a fairly high grade of paint.  The cast is solid, and the tank battle set pieces are thrilling stuff. 

Beneath its armor of Brad Pitt leading a group of recognizable faces (and a somewhat difficult-to-recognize Shia LaBeouf, clinging to his big post-meltdown comeback role with a white-knuckled grip) hums an off-the-shelf plot motor: wet-behind-the-ears baby-faced New Guy is thrust into a seasoned company of veterans on their biggest, toughest mission ever.  In this case, the New Guy appears to be about fourteen years old, causing Pitt's battle-hardened tank commander to bark in disbelief when they're first introduced.  "I was trained to type sixty words a minute," whines New Guy as he plops down behind a machine gun and discovers he can't even bring himself to pump a few rounds into ostensibly dead Nazis, just to make sure they're dead.  We all know that's not gonna last.

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Movie review: 'Gone Girl'

Oct 12, 2014 12:39 PM PT

Director David Fincher loves his big third-act reversals, which can make his movies tough to review in detail, since it's hard to examine their strengths and virtues without spoiling the surprise.  "Gone Girl"  starts dropping its plot bombs about halfway through, transforming into a considerably different film in much the same way "Fight Club" stopped being a movie about underground boxing.  Instead of that earlier film's blue-collar hooligans, "Gone Girl" goes to work on the upper middle class with Fincher's favorite power tools, including everything from a dash of unreliable narration, to protagonists who might deserve less sympathy than the audience is accustomed to giving characters in that position.  The extreme head games of "Fight Club" were really just an over-the-top way to chide the audience for placing too much faith in characters simply because they expect somebody to be the "hero" of the story; he's playing a longer, lower-key, somewhat less deranged version of the same game here.

So to review "Gone Girl" without spoiling too much, it's not quite the movie it appears to be from the trailers.  It's a deconstruction of both potboiler thrillers about men accused of heinous crimes, and of the media circus surrounding real-world stories of disappearing women.  There are a few times when "Gone Girl" veers close to satire... but then you remember how many real stories have unfolded the same way, with similar layers of wild speculations slathered on by media eager to fill the gaps in round-the-clock saturation news coverage.  Three days after a man's beautiful wife disappears under enigmatic circumstances, he's watching what he later describes as a panel of nitwits fill up an hour of cable news by speculating that he might be having a lifelong incestuous relationship with his twin sister.  When he eventually gets a chance to confront the offending cable hostess about that, she waves it off with a laugh, as though he were still complaining about a bad referee call from last year's Super Bowl.

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Movie review: 'The Boxtrolls'

Oct 8, 2014 3:12 PM PT

It's hard to say what audience the makers of "The Boxtrolls" were aiming for.  Judging by the box office returns, they seem to be having a bit of trouble finding one.  It's a stunning achievement in stop-motion animation, but its sensibilities seem guaranteed to keep it walled off as a cult film.  

Stop-motion hasn't gained the credibility with adult audiences that computer animation has, so it's tough sledding for "The Boxtrolls" that its fearsome and grotesque imagery makes it tricky to recommend for children.  The titular misunderstood friendly monsters are clever creations, but they're also kind of creepy - lumpy things with glowing eyes who mutter incomprehensibly at each other, live in sewers, and chow down on live bugs.  We are invited to consider the mental damage inflicted upon one character by spending years hanging upside down in solitary captivity.  The villain of the piece is genuinely scary and disturbing, driven by both great art design and a ferocious vocal performance by an unrecognizable Ben Kingsley.  He also delivers the musical centerpiece of the film while in drag, ogled furiously by a pack of oblivious blue-bloods... and without getting into spoiler territory, let's say that children's films don't usually deliver the villain's comeuppance with quite so much nightmare fuel.

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'Twin Peaks' returns

Oct 7, 2014 8:58 AM PT

The Internet is buzzing about something that it would have buzzed about 25 years ago, if social media had existed in anything like their current form, as Deadline Hollywood reports that "Twin Peaks" is coming back:

Twin Peaks fans’ quarter-century wait is over. One of the top cult series of all time is coming back with a new limited series on Showtime from its original creators, David Lynch and Mark Frost. The nine-episode series will go into production in 2015 for a premiere in 2016 to mark the 25th anniversary of when the series finished its run on ABC. In a fact that will delight Twin Peaks devotees, Lynch and Frost will write and produce all nine episodes, with Lynch set to direct every episode.

The new Twin Peaks will be set in the present day, more than two decades after the events in the first two seasons. It will continue the lore and story of the original series, with Lynch and Frost committed to providing long-awaited answers and, hopefully, a satisfying conclusion to the series. It is unclear which actors from the original series will be featured in the followup. I hear that star Kyle MacLachlan will be back, reprising his role as FBI Agent Dale Cooper who was at the center of the show. UPDATE: MacLachlan hinted at his return as Cooper on Twitter later today: “Better fire up that percolator and find my black suit :-) #Twinpeaks.“

The ABC series also featured some of Lynch’s favorite character actors, and it is likely that at least some of them will return. Leading to the 2016 debut of the Twin Peaks limited series, Showtime will re-air the first two seasons of the series, owned by parent CBS Corp.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson finally kinda sorta admits he got that Bush quote wrong

Oct 2, 2014 1:29 PM PT

After imperiously declaring that his infallible mind-powers override objective reality, scientist/entertainer Neil deGrasse Tyson finally got around to admitting he's been misrepresenting the allegedly intolerant and stupid George Bush quote he's been deploying during seminars for years.  

Tyson slandered Bush with an utterly fabricated quote whose false presentation by Tyson completely distorts its meaning.  He denied he got it wrong after Sean Davis at The Federalist called him on it.  Then, under pressure, Tyson finally conceded his total-recall super-brain might have failed him in a few particulars after all.  This is as close as he could bring himself to an apology:

For a talk I give on the rise and fall of science in human cultural history I occasionally paraphrase President George W. Bush from one of his speeches, remarking that our God is the God who named the stars, and immediately noting that 2/3 of all star-names in the night sky are Arabic. I use this fact to pivot from the present-day, back to a millennium ago, during the Golden Age of Islam, in which major advances in math, science, engineering, medicine, and navigation were achieved. The Bush reference is not written on my PowerPoint slides, which I keep sparse, but I remembered it from a speech he gave after September 11, 2001. And I presented it that way, as Bush’s attempt to distinguish “we” from ‘they.” When eager scrutinizers looked for the quote they could not find it, and promptly accused me of fabricating a Presidential sentence. Lawyers are good at this. They find something that you get wrong, and use it to cast doubt on everything else you say. Blogosphere headlines followed, with accusations of me being a compulsive liar and a fabricator.

What followed fascinated me greatly. As others had uncovered, the President indeed utter the following sentences:

In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.

But I was wrong about when he said it. It appears in his speech after the Columbia Shuttle disaster, eighteen months after September 11th 2001. My bad. And I here publicly apologize to the President for casting his quote in the context of contrasting religions rather than as a poetic reference to the lost souls of Columbia. I have no excuse for this, other than both events– so close to one another — upset me greatly. In retrospect, I’m surprised I remembered any details from either of them.

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'Z Nation': lightweight zombie contender for the 'Walking Dead' championship belt

Sep 14, 2014 11:19 AM PT

This weekend SyFy launched their entry into the zombie apocalypse genre, "Z Nation."  It's from the people who made "Sharknado."  It's trying to ride the coattails of the biggest show on television, "The Walking Dead," which is only a few weeks away from kicking off its new season on AMC.  The crazy thing is, it just might work, because this lightweight contender for the zombie championship belt is surprisingly good.

Sure, it doesn't have the production values of "The Walking Dead," and the cast is not playing in the same league as the heavyweight champeen.  I'm afraid to ask what the budget for "Z Nation" is, but I'll bet it's only a little more than what "The Walking Dead" spends on catering.  The zombie makeup is decent, but most of the other special effects are pretty lame, especially the gun blasts.  There's been more convincing gun animation in Nintendo Wii games.

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TV networks prep the cultural battlespace for the Hillary 2016 campaign

Sep 12, 2014 9:35 AM PT

Myra Adams at National Review notices the rather large number of Hillary Clintonesque characters popping up on TV shows this year, just in time for Madame Hillary's expected announcement of her 2016 presidential campaign:

On November 17, 2014, NBC, the unofficial propaganda arm of both the White House and the Democratic party, is scheduled to premiere its new weekly drama, State of Affairs. One of the show’s main characters is the president of the United States, who, “for some reason” (a reason that ignores the first-season cancellation of the last woman-president series, ABC’s Geena Davis vehicle Commander in Chief), just happens to be a woman.

[...] Another new Hillary imprint, titled Madam Secretary and portraying a “take-charge” secretary of state, premiers on CBS September 21. It could also be running when a former embattled secretary of state declares her presidential intentions in January.

State of Affairs features show-business stalwart Alfre Woodard as the president (and serial box-office bomber Katherine Heigl as the CIA heroine), but it still feels like a consolation prize. Last year, NBC announced plans to produce a miniseries about the real Hillary Clinton, but the project was shelved after the Republican National Committee complained.

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Joan, You Had Me at First Joke

Sep 7, 2014 5:40 PM PT

I was ten years old the first time I paid attention to Joan Rivers. I was sitting in my grandparents' apartment stuffing my face with pasta marinara at the kitchen table. I heard a woman's voice on the television behind me say something absolutely hilarious. I turned around and there was Joan.

I don't remember what she said, but I know it was filled with inappropriate madness and about as many curses as my Aunt Ana would spit out during any given dinner. I instantly loved her.

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ICYMI: Joan Rivers 2010 on Death Tax: 'Well I can't wait until [Obama] Decides to Tax Me Some More on my Deathbed'

Sep 4, 2014 12:16 PM PT

Joan Rivers died on Thursday at Mt. Sinai Hospital, her daughter Melissa Rivers told media outlets.   The 81-year old was rushed to the hospital after she stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest during elective surgery for her vocal cords last week.

Doctors at Mt. Sinai eventually removed Rivers from a medically induced coma and placed her on life support until Thursday afternoon.  The Brooklyn born television personality and comedian shot to stardom after her first appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1965.

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