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Strange Wilderness

Director: Fred Wolf
Cast: Steve Zahn, Allen Covert, Jonah Hill, Robert Patrick

(Paramount Pictures; 2009)

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Strange Wilderness Fred Wolf


Steve Zahn, a reliable character actor with a decent range, is paired with Allen Covert, an actor who appears almost exclusively in Adam Sandler productions. As Peter and Fred, they track Bigfoot in order to salvage their television show. While Pineapple Express benefited from the combination of hapless burnout characters with recognizable action film conventions, Strange Wilderness aspires to nothing more than self-satisfaction. Its plot is so ramshackle that one longs for even the basic episodic qualities of other slacker adventure films. The cast, also featuring Jonah Hill, Kevin Heffernan, Justin Long, and Ernest Borgnine (!) improvises uncomfortably through the entire film, which limply concludes with an outtake. Thomas Britt





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Rambo

Director: Sylvester Stallone
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Julie Benz, Paul Schulze, Matthew Marsden, Graham McTavish, Rey Gallegos, Tim Kang, Jake LaBotz, Maung Maung Khin, Ken Howard

(Lionsgate; US theatrical: 25 Jan 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 22 Feb 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [25.Jan.2008]

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Rambo Sylvester Stallone


A lot of people actually seemed to like Rambo, and I’ll admit there is some pretty solid action in the movie. But Sylvester Stallone tries to have it both ways, and he undermines the film before it even gets started. In trying to bring to light the atrocities committed on a regular basis by Myanmar’s ruling junta, Stallone uses actual footage of some of these gruesome atrocities at the very beginning of the movie. This real-world jolt casts a pall over all of the fictionalized, very bloody action to follow. Instead of giving additional justification to Rambo’s violent actions against the junta, it makes the whole thing rather sickening to watch. Chris Conaton





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Punisher: War Zone

Director: Lexi Alexander
Cast: Ray Stevenson, Dominic West, Julie Benz, Wayne Knight, Dash Mihok, Colin Salmon, Doug Hutchison

(Lionsgate; US theatrical: 5 Dec 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [5.Dec.2008]

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Punisher: War Zone Lexi Alexander


The newest attempt to make a franchise out of Marvel’s vigilante superhero (his less than epic power: owning many, many guns) succeeds mainly in making the Tom Jane version from 2004 look a lot more respectable, via a meatheadier Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson) and Z-grade everything else. Like Stallone’s newest Rambo, The Punisher: War Zone mistakes endless splatters of exploding human flesh for the purest form of badassery—‘cause it takes real guts, apparently, to have the effects technicians throw fake ones all over the walls. Don’t trust any geeks who try to sell any of this as intentionally sick comedy; the stupidity muffles any incidental laughs. Jesse Hassenger





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Charlie Bartlett

Director: Jon Poll
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr., Hope Davis, Kat Dennings, Tyler Hilton

(MGM; US theatrical: 22 Feb 2008 (General release); 2007)

Review [26.Jun.2008]
Review [22.Feb.2008]

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Charlie Bartlett Jon Poll


Has youthful rebellion ever seemed faker or more pretentious than it does in Charlie Bartlett?  The teenagers that populate Charlie’s school are all precocious know-it-alls suffering from the same secret misery: they have some unfulfilled creative impulse those no-good adults won’t let them express, man. Instead of seeing adolescence as a time of confusion and uncertainty, screenwriter Gustin Nash tries to imagines it as a black-and-white clash of smug teens against tyrannical adults. By the time the student body riots when their principal adds security cameras to their opulent student lounge (their rallying cry: “This is a school, not a prison!”), you’ll be rooting for everyone to wind up in detention. Just wait until these punks get a taste of the real world. Jack Rodgers





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Fool’s Gold

Director: Andy Tennant
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Kate Hudson, Donald Sutherland, Ewen Bremner, Alexis Dziena, Kevin Hart, Ray Winstone

(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 8 Feb 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 18 Apr 2008 (General release); 2008)

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Fool’s Gold Andy Tennant


Fool’s Gold is a romantic comedy sporting sunny weather and attractive lead performers—superficial elements that cannot mask the emptiness that plagues this passive treasure hunt. Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey speak with exasperated disbelief as they recite the script, which must hold some sort of record for force-fed exposition. At the end of the insufferably protracted first act, Finn (McConaughey) spends five minutes telling the story of a sunken ship as if pitching the idea to a film producer. At the conclusion of Fool’s Gold, after waiting in vain for something original or exciting to happen, the audience is also pining for that other, certainly more promising film. Thomas Britt





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Leatherheads

Director: George Clooney
Cast: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root

(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 4 Apr 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 11 Apr 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [4.Apr.2008]

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Leatherheads George Clooney


George Clooney seems like the perfect choice to direct and star in a movie that takes place in the 1920s. He has that old-school charm and the ability to rattle off the rapid-fire dialogue the movies of that period were known for. Yet Leatherheads ends up being curiously flat. John Krasinski, so appealing on The Office, doesn’t quite fit in his role as the young football star. Worse is Renée Zellweger, who tries hard but shows no real aptitude for the stylized dialogue. Although the football scenes work well and are amusing, whenever the movie attempts to do screwball comedy off of the field, and it happens frequently, it’s almost painfully unfunny. Leatherheads is not flat-out awful, but it does a lot of different things poorly. Chris Conaton





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One Missed Call

Director: Eric Valette
Cast: Ed Burns, Shannyn Sossamon, Ana Claudia Talancón, Ray Wise, Azura Skye, Jason Beghe, Margaret Cho

(Warner Bros.; US theatrical: 4 Jan 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 8 Feb 2008 (General release); 2008)

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One Missed Call Eric Valette


The American fascination with shoddily remaking Japanese horror films must stop! One Missed Call, a Western redux of Chakushin Ari features all the usual suspects of Asian and American horror fusion: Creepy vengeful spirit of a child? Check. Technology used against those who posses it by vengeful spirits who possess it? Check. A cast of actors pushing 30 passing themselves off as teens meeting a battery of grisly demises? Check. If you’ve seen one of these remakes, you’ve seen ‘em all. The only thing frightening about One Missed Call is just how much gets lost in the translation. Well, that and the rumor that there’s a sequel in the works. Lana Cooper





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Traitor

Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Cast: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Jeff Daniels, Neal McDonough, Saïd Taghmaoui, Archie Panjabi

(Overture Films; US theatrical: 27 Aug 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [27.Aug.2008]

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Traitor Jeffrey Nachmanoff


Don Cheadle plays a suspected American terrorist, and Guy Pearce is the FBI agent on his tail, from an original story idea by Steve Martin: all signs point to a sophisticated adult thriller. Give points to Traitor, then, for misdirection: what should be crafty becomes boilerplate, and what could be topical instead becomes relentlessly tedious. Cheadle will recover; it’s Pearce, one of Hollywood’s perpetually mis-or-underused actors, who has to bear the brunt of it, trading thuddlingly obvious good-cop/bad-cop ideologies with fellow agent Neal McDonough (a fine character actor whose misfortunate extended to an appearance in 88 Minutes). Jesse Hassenger





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Australia

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Brandoln Walters, David Gulpilil, David Ngoombujarra, David Wenham, Bryan Brown

(Fox; US theatrical: 26 Nov 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 26 Nov 2008 (General release); 2008)

Review [12.Mar.2009]
Review [26.Nov.2008]

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Australia Baz Lurhmann


Some have wondered what would have happened had Baz Luhrman been able to get his Alexander the Great project off the ground before Oliver Stone. Now with Luhrman’s widescreen epic Australia we have our answer: his version might have been even worse than Stone’s. A crass amalgamation of classic-poaching clichés (everything from The African Queen to The Wizard of Oz and about a dozen Westerns), Luhrman’s film attempt to encapsulate all his native land’s beauty and ugliness in one overstuffed package is enervating from start to finish. It’s a film so unconvincing that not even Hugh Jackman working on overdrive can save it; a rare but unwelcome accomplishment. Chris Barsanti





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Prom Night

Director: Nelson McCormick
Cast: Brittany Snow, Scott Porter, Jonathan Schaech, Jessica Stroup, Idris Elba, Dana Davis, Colin Pennies

(Screem Gems; US theatrical: 11 Apr 2008; 2009)

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Prom Night Nelson McCormick


In interviews promoting his remake (in name only) of the 1980 horror film, director Nelson McCormick cited Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock as influences. The finished film serves neither master. Brittany Snow plays Donna, who traverses the difficult emotional minefield of prom night with her cabal of dead-behind-the-eyes friends and becomes bait for her former teacher, an escaped convict who murdered her family years earlier. From blood- and scare-free kill choreography to wholly illogical character choices to detective characters who literally watch from the wings instead of intervening, Prom Night fails at its intended thrill-inducing effects and succeeds only as parody. Thomas Britt



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