[#2016oscardeathrace] Cinderella (2015)

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Director: Kenneth Branagh

Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard, Holliday Grainger, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter

Screenplay: Chris Weitz

105 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Costume Design

 

Disney has always been hit-or-miss on their live-action adaptations of their animated classics. I was less-than-enthused about 2014’s Maleficent, but with Cinderella, and a solid director in Shakespearian artist Kenneth Branagh (Frankenstein, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit), it seemed like they had a real chance.

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The new iteration of the classic tale presents more backstory on Ella (Lily James, Wrath of the Titans, Burnt), her wicked Stepmother (Cate Blanchett, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Carol), and the Prince (Richard Madden, TV’s Game of Thrones, A Promise) she falls for. With the help of her Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham Carter, Fight Club, Suffragette), Ella becomes a beautiful princess for a night of magic and dancing with the Prince in his kingdom. When the night ends, the Prince must do anything to find the mysterious beauty he has fallen for.

From a storytelling perspective, the film reminded me a lot of the Halloween remake from some years back (I know, strange comparison), which chose to flesh out backstory to bulk up the characters and story. Both films do succeed in this dangerous endeavor, though Cinderella definitely doesn’t need all the build-up. Screenwriter Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) elected to grab from other versions of the tale to add new layers to the film, and it works.

Lily James and Cate Blanchett absolutely own their performances here, fitting right into the narrative nicely, and they are aided by Madden and thespians like Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, Anonymous).

Often, Branagh uses his superior storytelling tactics from his time studying the plays of William Shakespeare to influence his filmmaking style. It worked well in Thor, and it continues to elevate his craft here.

I must point out the masterful costume design, though likely not to win the Oscar this year, still looks astounding, especially in the ball sequence. The set design aids it well.

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Cinderella is one of the better Disney live-action adaptations, and while the film’s pacing comes into question more than once (too much exposition boggs down the film quite a bit), it succeeds in a lot of other ways and is worthy of a viewing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein, click here.

For my review of Kenneth Branagh’s Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, click here.

[#2016oscardeathrace] What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015)

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Director: Liz Garbus

Cast: Nina Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Walter Cronkite, Lisa Simone Kelly

101 mins. Not Rated

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [Pending]

 

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Netflix certainly has their documentary game down. This is the third consecutive year where Netflix has a doc in the Academy Award race.

What Happened, Miss Simone? is the 2015 look at the life of legendary musician and activist Nina Simone and lifelong journey she takes. The film is packed with performances and interviews with Nina and her family/friends/acquaintances alongside previously unseen footage from the entertainer’s life. It paints a mixed portrait, sometimes uplifting, often tragic, of Miss Simone’s world.

I’ve known about Nina Simone’s music for some time, and I’ve often found her to be a terrific musician. I did not know much about her from a personal standpoint. Much of the documentary is interesting but I did find it to drag at times trying to get the most out of its runtime. The pacing is off, and the film does suffer because of it. The look at Simone’s career and activism does remain unbiased, though, in areas where it would be all too easy to drag in one direction.

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Looking back on it now, it seems an all-too-fitting film to be a part of the Oscar race. In an Oscar race where people look to the #OscarsStillSoWhite actors but fail to see the powerful documentary about the African-American activist and the ethnicity of the people behind the cameras of some of the best films of the year, and while I didn’t exactly love this picture, I agree that it is an important film for our time and very fitting for such a world that we live in.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Spectre (2015)

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Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth

148 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Writing’s on the Wall”)

 

Well, let me assure you by saying that Spectre is the third best Bond film…featuring Daniel Craig (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin). Okay, I’m playing now.

Spectre opens with one of the single most impressive shots and sequences of the entire Bond franchise, due in large part to the masterful directing of Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Away We Go). Sadly, it is the film’s best moment, and while the rest of Bond 24 is exciting, it is missing something.

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James Bond has lost someone very close to him. In her place, he now has M (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Invisible Woman), who has bigger fish to fry when MI6 comes under political scrutiny. While M and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later…, Southpaw) try to protect the organization, Bond is off to discover the mysterious plans of the criminal syndicate known as SPECTRE, and his connection to its apparent leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Big Eyes). There are a lot of spoilers to stay away from, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Sam Mendes described Bond’s dedication to uncovering SPECTRE as a more focused passion, and if that is the intention, I did not see it. Daniel Craig feels bored in this entry.

Christoph Waltz brings a healthy dose of fear to the villainous Oberhauser, and his henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) feels nicely reminiscent of Oddjob from the glory days of Goldfinger, a much better version of homage than the way Die Another Day beats you over the head with it.

Fiennes, Harris, and Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, In the Heart of the Sea) as Q do their collective day’s work nicely, but the film rests far too much on a personal story for James, and Craig’s best work is when he is being tortured.

Director Mendes gives us a gorgeous Bond film, even after losing the incredible Roger Deakins to other projects. In his place, we get Hoyte van Hoytema, who does some better than expected work but fails to properly convey his visual medium to the story correctly. It isn’t easy, and he certainly tries.

In Bond girls, we get some of the most well-crafted Bond girling from Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and some of the most underutilized work from Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Revolutions, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice).

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Maybe that’s the problem with Spectre. It’s just so uneven. There are some truly incredible sequences, and there are some snoozy moments. It just didn’t keep me the way previous entries have. Not a bad Bond film, but a step down for the franchise, its director, and Craig (who gave us better work this year in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; oh, you didn’t know that?).

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Spectre? What’s your favorite James Bond movie? Let me know!

Focus (2015)

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Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie

Screenplay: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

104 mins. Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence.

 

I’m kind of done with Will Smith (Men in Black, Winter’s Tale). In recent years, he hasn’t given me much to cling to in terms of exciting projects. Granted, I’m very excited for his upcoming role in Suicide Squad, but to be honest, there haven’t been many great new projects for the actor, though he still ranks much higher than his son. As far as Focus went, I saw some initial possibilities for greatness, especially pairing Smith with Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Z for Zachariah), who will also be joining Smith in Suicide Squad. Well, that excitement lulled rather quickly after the film started.

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Focus is the story of Nicky (Smith), an incredibly fast-footed con man, and his mentorship and relationship with Jess (Robbie), a fledging con artist in the making. As he teaches Jess, he becomes more and more involved with her until the lines between the con and the attraction blur too much for comfort and Nicky must decide what he wants more.

Focus comes from writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You, Phillip Morris), but the film is nothing like what I expected. First of all, if this plot was cheese, it would be Swiss with all the holes I found. The story breaks its own rules almost from the moment the story begins. Nicky breaks his own code so easily that it made me wonder what caused him to create it in the first place.

But none of the plot holes would have even matter if the film wasn’t so damn boring. Seriously, I couldn’t keep my eyes open for this terribly disappointing slow moving dredge of a story. I couldn’t have cared less for the characters who made decisions willy-nilly because they weren’t even interesting characters.

And then there’s the ending. No spoilers here, but seriously, that ending is one of the dumbest I have ever witnessed. I kept thinking it was going somewhere and then it didn’t. It was so sad an attempt to cash in on shock value that it pulled me right out of the film.

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Focus lost me very early on. I couldn’t decide what was worse: the plot or the pace at which it sauntered along. Keep your money for better choices. Focus is nothing but a con trying to take your cash.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So what did you think of Focus? Did you get the mark or were you conned? Let me know!

Inside Out (2015)

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Director: Pete Docter

Cast: Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan

Screenplay: Pete Docter, Meg LaFauve, Josh Cooley

94 mins. Rated PG for mild thematic elements and some action.

iMDB Top 250: #57 (as of 9/27/2015)

 

Where did Pixar go? It’s been a few years since they have released something epic. Well, here comes their biggest risk: Inside Out.

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Inside Out is the story of Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), a young girl who is moving away from her childhood home in Minnesota for the new world of San Francisco with her mom (Diane Lane, Man of Steel, Every Secret Thing) and dad (Kyle MacLachlan, TV’s Twin Peaks, Justice League: The New Frontier). But the story is about so much more than that. It also follows Riley’s emotions, specifically the struggling partnership of Joy (Amy Poehler, TV’s Parks and Recreation, They Came Together) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith, TV’s The Office, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked). After Sadness creates a sad core memory for Riley’s first day of class in her new school, Joy feels the need to isolate Sadness from accessing Riley’s emotional control, sabotaging Joy’s friendship with her emotional partners.

Inside Out is a simple yet complex concept. It isn’t a kids movie; it’s an adult film that also appeals to children. This film challenges viewers and engages them in a thought-provoking story. The voice work from Amy Poehler, Lewis Black (TV’s The Daily Show, Accepted) who portrays Anger, and Richard Kind (TV’s Spin City, Obvious Child) who voices Bing Bong, Riley’s old imaginary friend.

The visual look of this film is glorious considering most of it is spent in a few specific locations. I didn’t find myself pulled out of the story in either Riley’s story or that of her emotions. The emotional characters too have such stunning animation that really brings out the individual emotions as characters rather than stock one-note beings.

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Looking back on Inside Out, I get the feeling that it may be Pixar’s riskiest move, but also one of their biggest successes. The company continues to leap forward in the storytelling medium by choosing difficult subject material and conveying it in such a unique and enjoyable way. Great job all around, Pixar, and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

So what did you think of Pete Docter’s Inside Out? Did it open you up or bring you sadness? Let me know!

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 12 – Infernal (2015)

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Director: Bryan Coyne

Cast: Andy Ostroff, Heather Adair, Alyssa Koerner, Jose Rosete

Screenplay: Bryan Coyne

99 mins. Not Rated.

 

Hey there everyone. Just stepping in tonight to tell you about the new film I saw today. It’s called Infernal, and it’s just awful. It stars Andy Ostroff and Heather Adair as newlyweds Nathan and Sophia who we flash forward to eight years later in their marriage. They have a daughter, Imogene (Alyssa Koerner) and life has gotten more difficult. Imogene shows signs of possible possession, but what can Nathan and Sophia do to save her, and can she be saved?

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Infernal is awful. Starting with the characters. Ostroff and Adair have no chemistry for a couple who should be together for eight years. Neither one can really act either, especially Ostroff, who vomits his lines as if to get rid of them rather than speak them. When the guy playing the Gollum-ripoff demon is the best character, you got a problem.

Also, is this film found footage? I just don’t know. There are times when it feels like found footage, and there are times when it doesn’t make any sense. Then, there are times when it’s painfully obvious that they are trying to say, “hey, there’s stuff going on here, check it out.”

Who picked the music for Infernal? It felt as though it was picked up for the reasonable resemblance to public domain music. Ugh, utterly terrible.

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There just isn’t anything that works in this film. It dredges on for what feels like hours. This film belongs in hell.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

Backstreet Boys: Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of (2015)

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Director: Stephen Kijak

Cast: Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, A.J. McLean, Kevin Richardson

101 mins. Not Rated.

 

The Backstreet Boys kind of just disappeared in the mid-2000s. Like many boy bands, the formula just stopped working after a while. The new documentary Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of chronicles the band reuniting for the 2013 album In a World Like This and the ups & downs associated.

Featuring rare footage of the many songs being worked on for the album mixed with a history of the band’s highs and lows and emotional scenes discussing the band’s difficulties in the past years since originally forming.

My big problem with the film is that we get a lot of people that seem to be upset but I wasn’t convinced by the tribulations of their lives. I understand that during the history of the band segments we see how they were screwed by management, but these performers still came off as over-privileged complainers. They bicker amongst each other over who is to blame for this or that and who should get lead vocals.

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I imagine the film would be impressive to hardcore fans much in the same way that the many Twilight documentaries outlined the terrible series that it was. It just didn’t work for me.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Director: George Miller

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoe Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton

Screenplay: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

120 mins. Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.

iMDB Top 250: #68 (as of 7/10/2015)

 

How often does a film get a good sequel 36 years after its initial release? Not often. That’s the answer, and it was my worry when I heard that Mad Max would be continuing the franchise with a fourth installment, Mad Max: Fury Road featuring a new Max in Tom Hardy (Inception, Child 44). In this new chapter, Max Rockatansky is captured and used as a blood bag by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Moby Dick, Sleeping Beauty) and his War Boys. When the War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult, Warm Bodies, X-Men: Days of Future Past) takes Max along on his hunt for Joe’s missing wives, stolen from him by his Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron, Prometheus, Dark Places), Max gets caught in a war on Fury Road and his alliances to only himself must be put into question.

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Director George Miller (Happy Feet, Babe: Pig in the City) proves that age is only a number as he controls the most high-octane action spectacle that I can recall in recent memory. His unique blend of story with nonstop action gives audiences a personal tale of freedom, redemption, and the ability to survive in a world without laws.

Tom Hardy is a great new Max. He doesn’t need to speak often to convey the complex emotions and depression that Max struggles from after the loss of his wife and child. His leadership struggle with new ally Furiosa, played excellently by Theron. Just like the previous films, this film isn’t entirely about Max. It’s a Furiosa movie all the way. Many have complained that the focus should be on Max, but what they should realize is that this series is rarely ever focused on Max. Each adventure is usually told as a legend from another’s perspective and in Fury Road, that perspective is Furiosa’s.

Hugh Keays-Byrne and Joe’s brides, including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Transformers: Dark of the Moon) and Zoe Kravitz (Divergent, Dope), all do great work as well, with a standout crazy performance from Nicholas Hoult as Nux.

The usage of 80% practical effects over computer-generated images helps create an astoundingly realistic yet overwhelmingly fantastical view of the apocalyptic landscape. The screenplay, a combination of sequences storyboarded and story written to format it, works so well. And then there is Miller’s reliance on trying new things, like hiring wife Margaret Sixel to edit the film. Sixel has no experience editing, but he entrusted her to use her novice skills to create something new and interesting, coupled beautifully with the furious score from Junkie XL.

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Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the best times you will have at the theater this summer and contains some of the best action sequences ever put to the screen. Miller’s creative decision to devise something new rather than fall back on remakes and rehashes helps to bring in fans of the original while attracting new attention from non-fans.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of George Miller’s Mad Max, click here.

 

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

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Director: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Hayley Kiyoko, Lin Shaye

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

97 mins. Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening images, some language and thematic elements.

 

Horror sequels are often looked at as a lesser film than the original. Horror prequels have it even worse. So how does Insidious: Chapter 3 (a sequel that is actually a prequel) stack up?

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Set two years before the haunting of the Lambert Family, Insidious: Chapter 3 follows Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney, TV’s Shameless, My Best Friend’s Wedding) and his daughter Quinn (Stefanie Scott, Wreck-It Ralph, No Strings Attached). Quinn has been trying to contact her deceased mother, but something else has reached back. She needs the help of gifted but retired paranormal investigator Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye, There’s Something About Mary, Ouija).

Being a prequel limits this installment to certain franchise pitfalls. Many prequels make the mistake of referencing future events in a tongue-in-cheek way. This is one area where, for the most part, the film doesn’t disappoint. There are two scenes at the end that make this mistake, but the earlier sequences of the film that make reference to the Lamberts and the haunting. It is a smart decision to tell an original story within the series as opposed to tell a story that leads directly the opening of the first installment.

New director Whannell, known for writing the first three installments of the Saw franchise, Dead Silence, and all three Insidious films, takes over for directing partner James Wan who makes a cameo known but was busy on Furious 7 at the time. He does a somewhat mediocre job handling the many hats of a filmmaker, but there is some serious potential here. The film’s scary sequences are hit-and-miss, but Whannell shows that he can learn from mistakes, so I have faith in his abilities.

The big winner here is Lin Shaye, who has an exploding career so far into her career. She carries this film so well that it is easy to overlook many of the failures, and it is fun to see her initial interactions with Tucker (Angus Sampson, TV’s Fargo, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Specs (played by Whannell).

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Insidious: Chapter 3 is the third best film in this franchise. It stumbles at times but shows definite talent for its cast and crew. I can see the forward trajectory of this series making its mark. Fans of the series should enjoy themselves; everyone else need not apply.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Insidious: Chapter 3? Did it take you Further or did you sleep well after? Let me know!

 

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (2015)

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Director: Steve Pink

Cast: Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Adam Scott, Chevy Chase

Screenplay: Josh Heald

93 mins. Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, graphic nudity, drug use and some violence.

 

After being pushed back each year, 2015 finally saw the release of the anticipated sequel Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Was it worth it?

Left to right: Clark Duke is Jacob, Rob Corddry is Lou, and Craig Robinson is Nick in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2, from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. 

After changing the future by fixing the past, Lou (TV’s Children Hospital, Sex Tape), Nick (Craig Robinson, This is the End, Get on Up), and Jacob (Clark Duke, TV’s Greek, A Merry Friggin’ Christmas) have been living the good life. That is, until Lou is attacked at a party and his friends are forced to travel through time to save him. The plot only gets more convoluted as it goes.

Hot Tub Time Machine is one of my all-time favorite comedies. I was absolutely shocked by how enjoyable the film ended up being. Hot Tub Time Machine 2 didn’t give the same reaction. This film took everything great from the first film and inverted it into something upsetting. First of all, the loss of John Cusack, who would’ve cost more money but would’ve been worth it. The way he was written out is all the more upsetting as they just sort of don’t know where he is but there are all clues that point him out as a possible villain. It just doesn’t make sense in the context of the story. John Cusack does return in a two-second cameo in the unrated version but it doesn’t help.

Without Cusack, we end up with a story led by Rob Corddry’s Lou, a wholly unlikable character. The only reason he works in the first film is that Cusack’s Adam is the more likable lead. Even Craig Robinson comes off as a less-likable person, which I thought was impossible.

As far as new characters go, Adam Jr. (Adam Scott, TV’s Parks and Recreation, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) is the underutilized son of John Cusack’s character that we meet in the future. The timeline is confusingly placed here and only furthers the unlikable way we view Adam Sr. The normally comedic Adam Scott in the role is wasted as his character comes off as too stupid to be funny. He doesn’t get the opportunity to flex his acting chops.

It’s hard to blame these actors because of the horribly confusing and ever-increasingly-convoluted screenplay. This is some bad writing put forth into a bad movie. Director Steve Pink (Accepted, About Last Night) seems to have lost what little good ability he had since the original film.

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2 has a few moments that feel like they are about to redeem the film, but each time it happens, the film falls back into the minutiae of regrettable choices that serve to demean the film and leave one with a horrible taste in the mouth. Do with that what you will.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Steve Pink’s Hot Tub Time Machine, click here.

 

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