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Sometimes all a movie needs to be entertaining is a character having a really bad day. Breakdown might not have the most story or thematic depth to it, but having Kurt Russell try to track down the men who kidnapped his wife leads to one tension-filled scene to the next. It's a great showcase for the small towns and empty stretches of highway that make up so much of America, lending to the film the feel of a western, with violence and stuntwork that feel edgier than most '90s action fare. There are no guarantees here that our hero will win the day, which makes the danger he's in that much more exciting.

Genre: Action, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Ancel Cook, Gene Hartline, Helen Duffy, J.T. Walsh, Jack McGee, Jack Noseworthy, Jonathan Mostow, Kathleen Quinlan, Kim Robillard, Kurt Russell, M.C. Gainey, Moira Sinise, Rex Linn, Rick Zieff, Ritch Brinkley, Thomas Kopache, Vincent Berry

Director: Jonathan Mostow

Rating: R

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A peculiar Western that might not please everyone if it wasn't for its main star, Kurt Russel. It's a mix between classic western material, a horror flick, and a fantasy movie. Yes, it's a lot. And not only that, it can be slow at times. However, in those perks it also finds a lot of originality in a saturated genre, and one more time: Kurt Russel. He's amazing as can be expected, playing the sheriff of a quiet town that gets struck by sudden disappearances. The suspect is a faraway tribe known for its cannibalism practices, the movie follows the sheriff as he leads an expedition to save a disappearing woman.

Genre: Drama, Horror, Western

Actor: Alex Meraz, Brandon Molale, David Arquette, David Midthunder, Eddie Spears, Erick Chavarria, Evan Jonigkeit, Fred Melamed, Geno Segers, James Tolkan, Jamison Newlander, Jay Tavare, Jeremy Tardy, Kathryn Morris, Kurt Russell, Lili Simmons, Maestro Harrell, Mario Perez, Matthew Fox, Michael Emery, Michael Pare, Omar Leyva, Patrick Wilson, Raw Leiba, Richard Jenkins, Robert Allen Mukes, Sean Young, Sid Haig, Zahn McClarnon

Director: S. Craig Zahler

Rating: Not Rated

Chances are good you missed this movie the first time around due to the studio's big mishandling of it's promotion. The posters and trailers were squarely aimed at the lowbrow audience, ironically turning off the kind of viewers that would have appreciated the film. They promised an exploitation flick about an old black man keeping a sexy half-naked young white girl chained up in his shack. Which is, to be fair, exactly what you get - minus the exploitation. Samuel L. Jackson absolutely nails the role of Lazarus, a retired bluesman. He finds and rescues Rae (Christina Ricci) after she's left for dead in the road, and yeah, there's a chain, but.. well, you'll just have to see. Black Snake Moan is funny, sexy, tense, and (surprisingly) heartwarming. And oh hey by they way, its a helluva music-lovers' film in the bargain. Sporting a tremendous soundtrack full of that lowdown dirty blues (some performed by Jackson himself), you owe it to your ears to watch this someplace you have a decent sound system.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adriane Lenox, Amy Lavere, Christina Ricci, Clare Grant, Claude Phillips, Cody Block, David Banner, David Chapman, Dhonna Harris Goodale, Jeff Pope, John Cothran, John Cothran, Jr., Justin Timberlake, Kim Richards, Leonard L. Thomas, Michael Raymond-James, Neimus K. Williams, S. Epatha Merkerson, Samuel L. Jackson, Willie Hall

Director: Craig Brewer

Rating: R

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Even if it follows nearly every trick in the playbook, American Underdog positions itself on a big enough scale that makes it work like a charm anyway. Following the story of legendary undrafted NFL quarterback Kurt Warner (Zahcary Levi), the film elevates its familiar beats through stunning, wide-angle football sequences that make the sport feel as thrilling as ever, and a particularly solid performance from Anna Paquin, as Warner's long-suffering partner. But what ultimately becomes American Underdog's real secret weapon is the fact that this isn't a sports movie about skill, strategy, or success; Warner becomes an inspiring figure because of how long he had to persevere with his dream just barely out of reach.

Genre: Drama, Family

Actor: Adam Baldwin, Anna Paquin, Beau Hart, Bruce McGill, Chance Kelly, Cindy Hogan, Dennis Quaid, SerDarius Blain, Steven Chester Prince, Zachary Levi

Director: Andrew Erwin, Jon Erwin

, 2013

Chadwick Boseman who you might now know as the Black Panther had his break out role in 42, the true story of the first Black major league player Jackie Robinson. A story of expected struggle but also a humbling and humane account that is full of warmth. Jackie Robinson's coach is played by Dustin Hoffman, adding to the caliber of amazing performances in this movie, all put together by Oscar-winning writer/director Brian Helgeland (Mystic River, L.A. Confidential). From the baseball sequences to the personal life of Jackie Robinson, and of course his confrontation with racism, this is a powerful and uplifting movie.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Aaron Farb, Alan Tudyk, André Holland, Andre Holland, Andrew C. Mullins, Anthony S. Goolsby, Ari Blinder, Barry Suttle, Brad Beyer, Brett Cullen, Chadwick Boseman, Cherise Boothe, Christopher Meloni, Danny Vinson, Dax Griffin, Derek Phillips, Dusan Brown, Gino Anthony Pesi, Hamish Linklater, Harrison Ford, Hunter Clowdus, Jackson Walker, James Pickens Jr., James Rackley, Jamie Ruehling, Jayson Warner Smith, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jesse Luken, Joe Inscoe, Joe Knezevich, John C. McGinley, Jon Kohler, Jud Tylor, Karole Foreman, Kelley Jakle, Kenny Cook, Linc Hand, Lou Criscuolo, Lucas Black, Marc Gowan, Mark Harelik, Matt Clark, Maury Covington, Max Gail, Michael H. Cole, Monnae Michaell, Nicole Beharie, Peter Jurasik, Peter MacKenzie, Rhoda Griffis, Ryan Merriman, T.R. Knight, Tobias Michael Finn, Toby Huss, William Flaman

Director: Brian Helgeland

Rating: PG-13

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Inside is a technical wonder and a fascinating vehicle for Dafoe’s character Nemo, who holds the entire thing together with a singularly insane performance. It also poses interesting questions about art, namely, what value does it hold at the end of the day? When you’re seconds away from dying of hunger and thirst, what good is a painting, a sculpture, a sketch? Are they really only as good as what they’re materially made out of or can they contribute something more? Inside plays with these questions, but unfortunately, not in any engaging, thoughtful, or creative way. The movie stretches on and on, recycling the same ideas and leaning on the inevitably disgusting ways humans survive as a crutch. An argument could be made that that is the point, to reveal the emptiness and dullness of expensive art, but Inside tries so hard to capture that feeling that it becomes the thing it critiques in the end.  

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Andrew Blumenthal, Cornelia Buch, Eliza Stuyck, Gene Bervoets, Josia Krug, Willem Dafoe

Director: Vasilis Katsoupis

Rating: R

Seven years after Zootopia, Pixar takes another crack at a racial prejudice metaphor — but, while the analogy is less creaky here, it’s still an awkward one, as diametrically opposed elements like fire and water stand in for human beings. The gaping flaws in its central concept aside, Elemental does wring something compelling out of its story: an exploration of second-generation immigrant guilt.

That might seem like an oddly specific and complex topic for what is ostensibly a kids’ film to grapple with, but this is the Pixar of Soul and Bao, not Finding Nemo and Toy Story. Ember (Leah Lewis) is an anthropomorphized young flame whose parents migrated from their home in Fireland to run a store in the NYC-like melting pot of Element City; she’s keenly aware of the sacrifices they made to give her a better life and believes the only way to repay them is to abandon her own dreams and run their store. This is the one part of Elemental’s metaphor that really lands, but it’s unfortunately sidelined to make way for an inter-elemental romance between Ember and a water-man that only pulls the focus back onto the film’s biggest weakness. Still, its emotional specificity and beautiful animation prevent it from being a total washout.

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Romance

Actor: Alex Kapp, Catherine O'Hara, Joe Pera, Jonathan Adams, Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Mason Wertheimer, Matthew Yang King, P.L. Brown, Ronnie del Carmen, Ronobir Lahiri, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Wilma Bonet

Director: Peter Sohn

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Big George Foreman ticks all the boxes of what a biopic should be. It shows us his troubled childhood, his bumpy rise to the top, and his eventual reconciliation with fame and boxing. It’s also nicely shot and polished, an accurately dressed period piece that looks and feels the part. But nothing about the film hits you as particularly new or exciting. Prickly topics like faith and infidelity aren’t so much explored as they are simply covered, and the dialogue sounds like something you’ve heard a thousand times. There’s also a sense that the filmmakers noticed this problem because halfway through, the movie switches into a more lighthearted tone, as if it were suddenly bored of itself. Sure, Big George Foreman is easy to follow and nice to look at, but its formulaic structure fails to distinguish itself from a long and ever-growing line of sports biopics.

Genre: Drama, History

Actor: Al Sapienza, Anthony Marble, Bill Martin Williams, Billy Slaughter, Deion Smith, Deneen Tyler, Erica Tazel, Forest Whitaker, Jasmine Mathews, John Magaro, Judd Lormand, Julia Lashae, Khris Davis, Lara Grice, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Martin Bats Bradford, Matthew Glave, Matthew Rimmer, Michael Harrity, Michael Papajohn, Philip Fornah, Robert Cicchini, Sam Trammell, Samantha Beaulieu, Shein Mompremier, Sonja Sohn, Sullivan Jones, Tom Virtue

Director: George Tillman Jr.

Rating: PG-13

Yu Katayama lives in a remote village with a garbage disposal business that's slowly turning into a landfill. When his childhood friend Misaki Nakai returns to the village, she encourages Yu to make a better life for himself despite his mother's gambling and the village ostracizing him. The Village is a slow-burning film interested in Yu's struggles as an outcast and in discussing the takeover of small villages for capitalistic industrial motives. The film is shot beautifully with dark, brooding visuals and lingering shots of Yu's quiet intensity throughout the film. Unfortunately, secondary characters are not fully developed outside of their interactions with Yu, causing the film to feel flat outside of pivotal moments. An evocative idea with parts more memorable than the whole.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Arata Furuta, Daiken Okudaira, Hana Kino, Haru Kuroki, Naomi Nishida, Ryusei Yokohama, Sakuma Ryuto, Shidô Nakamura, Tetta Sugimoto, Wataru Ichinose

Director: Michihito Fujii

Rating: R, TV-MA

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What seems like The Good Mother's biggest asset is actually its downfall. Yes, the three main actors (Swank, Cooke, and Jack Reynor as the civil servant son, Toby) are all good at what they do, but they're incapable of resuscitating a script that's never truly come to life. These casting choices, obviously made to give some clout to a very mediocre project, feel even more disappointing because the disconnect between actor and character is way too big. For example, Swank is not the alcoholic, fed-up mother we need her to be in this case, and its hard to see this as something else than a derogatory take on her previous more tender and glam roles. Director Miles Joris-Peyrafitte's Sundance-winning As You Are carried a whiff of fresh air, The Good Mother is drained out of all its energy, avoiding reflective depth at all costs, not to mention skirting around the ambivalences of motherhood. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Dilone, Hilary Swank, Hopper Penn, Jack Reynor, Karen Aldridge, Larry Fessenden, Laurent Rejto, Norm Lewis, Olivia Cooke

Director: Miles Joris-Peyrafitte

Rating: R

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Hipgnosis’s body of work is so rich, brilliant, and recognizable, that it’s hard not to at least sit in awe as they flash by you in this documentary. The accompanying stories behind their creation, sometimes told by Thorgerson and Powell, other times by their musician clients like Jimmy Page and Paul McCartney, are also pleasant and informative enough to paint, in whole, an interesting picture. But apart from the covers themselves, Squaring the Circle doesn’t have much else going for it. The co-founders’ history is too brief and plain to render drama, and their upbringing too upper-class and male to be relatable. A more broad, ambitious goal would’ve been to parallel the history of these artworks with the history of rock music itself, but this niche documentary seems uninterested in explaining itself to outsiders and newcomers. That said, it still serves as a precious account for those familiar with Hipgnosis’ pieces. 

Genre: Documentary, Music

Actor: David Gilmour, Jimmy Page, Nick Mason, Noel Gallagher, Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel, Robert Plant, Roger Waters

Director: Anton Corbijn

Set in the quaint city of Burlington, Vermont, Paint is a cute and folksy comedy that has a Wes Anderson-esque charm to it. The characters are dressed in blocked pastels and wooly sweaters, while the protagonist Carl seems stuck in the ‘70s, and not just sartorially, too. He drives a “Vantastic” custom van, swears off cell phones, and manages to incorporate phrases like “far out” in his daily lingo. It all makes for whimsical viewing, but underneath the flair, there’s very little substance holding this picture up. It tells the tale of an aging narcissist who learns the error of his ways when a younger version of himself is hired to aid and eventually replace him. Narratively, it’s familiar and forgettable, and it becomes immediately clear that style is a crutch that the film leans on. It’s funny, at times, thanks to a very likable Wilson and a strong supporting cast (there are occasional laugh-out-loud moments too, like when Carl does the big reveal about his portrait). But ultimately, it’s just too flat to be as special as the art it admires. 

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Ciara Renée, Denny Dillon, Evander Duck Jr., Joel Leffert, Kristin Hensley, Lusia Strus, Michael Pemberton, Michaela Watkins, Owen Wilson, Rob Figueroa, Ryan Czerwonko, Ryan Gaul, Sarah Baker, Scott Beehner, Stephen Root, Wendi McLendon-Covey

Director: Brit McAdams

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Dropping on DVD and digital download in America at the end of summer 2023, Mavka: the Forest Song made its Hulu debut this November. Taking the plot of the 1912 poetic play and rewriting the tragic deaths into lighthearted, fantastical adventures, the film is precisely the sort of generic, child-friendly fairy tale that we’ve come to expect from Disney, albeit with a Ukrainian twist. The plot is predictable, and the humor is rife with cliche, but it’s still a fairly entertaining watch for young audiences.

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Andrii Mostrenko, Artem Pyvovarov, Julia Sanina, Nataliia Denysenko, Nataliia Sumska, Nazar Zadniprovskyi, Oleh Skrypka, Olena Kravets

Director: Oleg Malamuzh, Oleksandra Ruban

Rating: PG

This a small-town, true-crime thriller that has John Hamm (Mad Men) as the detective, Nick Mohammed (Ted Lasso) as the trusty sidekick, and Tina Fey (30 Rock) as the love interest. They’re a charismatic cast helming a bizarro story whose real-life details are already teeming with juicy details, and yet, the resulting film, directed by John Slattery, is as lackluster and forgettable as can be. There is no sense of mystery, the jokes fall flat, and every scene looks like it’s shot from a studio lot. There is plenty of better fare out there for anyone looking for comedy capers, and I bet the true crime documentary of the real-life Maggie Moore case is infinitely more engaging than its filmic counterpart. 

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Mystery

Actor: Allison Dunbar, Bryant Carroll, Christopher Denham, Christopher Kriesa, Debrianna Mansini, Derek Basco, Happy Anderson, Jodi Lynn Thomas, Jon Hamm, Louisa Krause, Mary Holland, Micah Stock, Nick Mohammed, Oona Roche, Peter Diseth, Richard Lippert, Roni Geva, Sewell Whitney, Tate Ellington, Tina Fey

Director: John Slattery

Rating: R

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