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"Are We Out Of The Woods Yet? D'oh!"
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Practically from the moment that it made its debut on stage in 1986, musical theater fans have been salivating over the prospect of a big screen version of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods." After years of rumors and failed attempts, the show has finally made the leap from the stage to the screen but unfortunately, the old adage that is thematically at the heart of the show--"Be careful what you wish for. . . "--proves itself to be unfailingly and unsparingly accurate in the case of this film. Having never seen the show in its stage incarnation, I cannot specifically comment on how it may have changed along the way, for good or for ill, but based solely on watching the film, I can instantly recognize that something must have been lost in the translation because this is a depressing, lugubrious and wildly overproduced bore that, with maybe one or two exceptions,never manages to connect with viewers on any level." (more)
ANNIE (2014)
"Some interesting notions are left orphaned in this safe update."
2 stars
Brett Gallman says... "The opening gag of “Annie” is a clever if not obvious wink at itself, as it presents the familiar image of an overly sprightly red-headed girl named Annie who is quickly shoved aside in favor of a new, less syrupy and precious (but no less precocious) Annie Bennett (Quvenzhane Wallis). Upon assuming the mantle, she announces this update’s newfound sense of sass—this is a thoroughly millennial “Annie,” self-assured and somewhat full of itself. Then again, reviving a Depression-era tale for a modern, even more jaded milieu probably requires some measure of confidence." (more)
"Right characters, wrong story."
2 stars
Jay Seaver says... "It can be kind of interesting to watch a movie like "Back in Time" ("Cong Cong Na Nian" in the original Mandarin, translated onscreen as "Fleet of Time") which comes from another culture, though often kind of puzzling: It's at least partly someone else's nostalgia, and if you don't know the late-1990s mandopop song accompanying a scene, you may be missing the punchline. Then again, it's not like the movies that make an appeal to one's own youth generally wind up being very good beyond that knee-jerk reaction, even without this movie's specific problems." (more)
ANNIE (2014)
"Annie Hell"
1 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... ""Annie," the stage musical adaptation of the long-running comic strip, has, of course, gone on to become one of the biggest hits in Broadway history but when it came time to transfer it from the stage to the screen in 1982, the end result was a critical and commercial disaster, largely due to the bizarre decision to turn the directorial reins over to John Huston, a legendary filmmaker who, as it turned out, had absolutely no affinity for the genre and its trappings--essentially it was the "Jersey Boys" of its day. Because of the show's enduring popularity, though, it was almost inevitable that someone would try to film another version of it at some point and now, after years of false starts, "Annie" is back and, astonishingly enough, it is worse than ever. Despite the incredibly low bar set by the previous film, this incarnation is such a grim and joyless slog in almost every imaginable way that not only did Huston make a better "Annie" back in the day, he made a better "Annie" when he did "Victory"--at least that one had something vaguely resembling choreography going for it." (more)
"Cuts right through the haze."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Thomas Pynchon kicked my butt in both classes where I had to read one of his books twenty years ago, and the film adaptation of "Inherent Vice" seemed like it was going to be the same sort of experience - I felt like I had lost the plot about two minutes into a 148-minute movie, which shouldn't even be possible. Of course, sometimes the plot matters much less than the telling, and the telling of this story is exceptional." (more)
"Kids Conjure Up The Damnedest Things"
4 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "Even the most forgiving genre apologist would have to admit that 2014 has not exactly been a banner year for horror films with most of the year being dedicated to the usual array of lame sequels, spinoffs, knockoffs and standard-issue craptaculars whose most notable characteristic have been their utter forgettability--it has only been a few weeks since I saw them but if I had to take a test on the differences between "Annabelle" and "Jessabelle," I am not entirely confident that I could pass it. However, if the last few weeks are to be believed, all of that is about to turn around with the arrival of the Australian import "The Babadook." Having made a splash earlier this year at Sundance, the film has been slowly building a wellspring of support amongst fanboys and critics alike, sometimes in the most unlikely of places (when you see a low-budget horror film being discussed in earnest on "CBS Sunday Morning," you know something is up), and the hype was further stoked recently by no less a figure than William Friedkin, the director of a little thing called "The Exorcist," who recently dubbed it the scariest movie that he had ever seen. Now that it is hitting theaters at last, audiences will finally be able to determine for themselves whether the film is a genuinely classic on the level of "Halloween" or "Let the Right One In" or if it just another snoozefest like "All The Boys Love Mandy Lane" that unaccountably found itself on the receiving end of praise from people desperately trying to anoint a film as being the next big thing without quite deserving it." (more)
"Are We Out Of The Shire Yet?"
2 stars
Peter Sobczynski says... "As long-time readers have no doubt heard me pontificate about before at excruciating length, I have a general aversion to most medieval fantasies involving elves, pixies, sprites, broadswords, dragons (especially those of the talking variety) and other such accoutrements of the genre. Even when an example comes along that I am able to embrace on some level, as was the case with the "Lord of the Rings" films and "Game of Thrones," there is still something about the genre in general that keeps me at a distance and prevents me from embracing them as fully as their most rabid fans do. And yet, I felt a certain degree of elation while heading into the theatre for the screening of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the concluding chapter of Peter Jackson's ridiculously elongated adaptation of JRR Tolkien's relatively slim predecessor to his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. This sense of anticipation was not due to any sense of love for the film's predecessors--I found both "The Unexpected Journey" and "The Desolation of Smaug" to be bloated nightmares that found him stretching a thin narrative to unconscionable lengths for no obvious reason other than to milk the property for every possible cent. No, this anticipatory delight was due almost entirely to the realization that not only would the story finally have to find some focus in order to get to its conclusion but once the end credits finished rolling, it meant that I would almost certainly no longer be professionally required to give a damn about orcs, white wizards, walking trees and those goddamn talking dragons ever again. (Any smart-ass out there who even thinks of mentioning the title "The Silmarillion" is going to get SUCH a pinch.)" (more)
"A strong, if lesser-known, effort."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "When a modern film lover stumbles across "The Strong Man", it is almost certainly as an early work of Frank Capra, with something between mild surprise and retroactive retroactive acknowledgment that his career extends back to the silent era. At the time, it would have been different, with Capra a relatively anonymous name directing the new one from top-five comedian Harry Langdon. Today, Langdon is all but forgotten, but the film itself is nifty to see, an entertaining and representative example of a body of work, no matter what direction you approach it from." (more)
"Chris Rock & Rosario Dawson are a great top two."
5 stars
Jay Seaver says... "It took roughly a minute of "Top Five" for me to realize that I really hadn't been anticipating this film enough - it is, after all, built around Chris Rock and Rosario Dawson hanging around and verbally jousting with each other, and I like both of them a lot. It's not much longer than that before it's clear that we're getting both of them at their best, and that makes for a formidably funny movie." (more)
"Daffi and company are, in fact, kind of daffy."
4 stars
Jay Seaver says... "Having a crappy job or two is often a rite of passage for folks in their late teens and early twenties, and if you live in a country like Israel with mandatory military service, having that turn out to be your crappy job means that you've probably gotten pretty lucky, compared to how things could have turned out. The joke, of course, is that those for whom that is the case are too young and fortunate to realize it at the time, and that adds a nice little sting to the already quite funny "Zero Motivation"." (more)

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