Read the latest film reviews, the most recent releases at the top.
3:18 PM EDT, May 19, 2015
By now you probably heard that the series finale of "Mad Men" ended with adman Don Draper dressed in loose-fitting whites, chanting "om" on the lawn of a commune in California, perched at the edge of the Pacific, the 1960s having slid into the 1970s. Then, just as we assumed Don had found spiritual release, a smile flickered at his mouth. He had an idea, and the show cut to that most characteristic of '70s corporate hosannas — a field of people singing they would like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony, they would like to buy the world a Coke. There was ambiguity in those final images, but the message was plain: Someone, perhaps Don, landed on a deliriously catchy, and deeply cynical, way to sell hope and optimism.
4:14 PM EDT, May 14, 2015
She was never a great beauty, a model or magazine editor, never married anybody famous. But somehow, Iris Apfel was anointed a New York "fashion icon."
12:12 PM EDT, May 21, 2015
The closing credits for Gil Kenan's remake of the 1982 horror classic "Poltergeist" feature the band Spoon covering the Cramps' 1980 punk classic "TV Set." Spoon is a tasteful, studious yet largely anodyne indie-rock outfit that has become an NPR staple; the Cramps were a scuzzy, unhinged psychobilly band whose most famous gig took place in an actual mental hospital.
1:44 PM EDT, May 12, 2015
You remember "Happy Feet." This is George Miller's "Happy Wheels." The creator of the original "Mad Max" trilogy has whipped up a gargantuan grunge symphony of vehicular mayhem that makes "Furious 7" look like "Curious George."
11:04 AM EDT, May 13, 2015
Can we please talk about the snottiness of "Pitch Perfect 2"? It's seriously snotty. It's a two-hour lesson in how to act like a frenemy to your alleged friends. And it's not funny enough.
3:18 PM EDT, May 6, 2015
Equipped with its own brand of rough-hewn glamour, the new film version of the 1874 love quadrangle "Far From the Madding Crowd" is a long way from the widescreen, 171-minute running time and anachronistic Julie Christie eyeliner of the Thomas Hardy novel's best-known previous adaptation, released in 1968.
3:44 PM EDT, May 14, 2015
There have been better, more thorough documentaries about the seminal rock band The Who. "The Kids Are Alright" set the standard in '79, and "Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who" seemed to fill in the gaps of that earlier film.
4:05 PM EDT, May 14, 2015
"Where Hope Grows" is a sometimes moving and generally watchable melodrama about a drunken ex-ballplayer who finds purpose and a friend back in his home town.
3:53 PM EDT, May 14, 2015
Take away the armies and artillery, and a low-budget Civil War movie turns into a Western.
7:32 PM EDT, May 7, 2015
As a comic performer with admirably sneaky dramatic instincts, Kristen Wiig works like a pair of binoculars as peered into from the wrong end. Tiny throwaway mutterings become the activation point of an exchange, even an entire scene, while conventionally emotional big moments are often glancing, unexpected and gone before you know it.
6:31 PM EDT, May 7, 2015
The considerable cinematic charms of Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman are no match for the hell that is the New York real estate market in "5 Flights Up," a middling comedy about getting old, trying to downsize and running up against real estate agents, hagglers and looky Lous.
6:15 PM EDT, May 7, 2015
In "The D Train," Jack Black plays a guy who never forgot his first high school "man crush."
3:20 AM EDT, May 7, 2015
By this point in the virus's decades-long mutation, we've seen pretty much everything zombies have to throw at us. They won't die, even as their corpses rot and turn green, and they're always on the (usually slow) hunt for brains and human flesh.
3:05 PM EDT, May 4, 2015
See Helen Hunt surf. Check out how well-preserved Helen Hunt looks in a wetsuit. Remember how good Helen Hunt handles biting, witty banter.
11:38 AM EST, February 26, 2015
The courtroom drama is among the cinema's most irresistible genres, where rigid formula (the expected) meets the blurted-out confession or the pent-up and finally detonated hidden truth (the unexpected). In the week's best new film, a highly compressed, exquisitely acted tale of two people who do not belong together plays out as a courtroom saga that, in story terms, runs longer than many marriages.
3:20 AM EDT, May 7, 2015
Cheap, short and slow, "Hot Pursuit" is a comedy that never lets your forget that pairing up Sofia Vergara with Reese Witherspoon should have worked better than this.
10:33 AM EDT, April 28, 2015
When I say "Avengers: Age of Ultron" won't disappoint a majority of its pre-sold, culturally obligated fans around the world -- the world perpetually on the verge of extinction in the Marvel universe -- you know what I mean. You know what the movie promises, and would be foolish, or inept, not to deliver.
7:15 PM EDT, April 16, 2015
They don't call it haute couture for nothing.
1:33 PM EDT, April 23, 2015
Hollywood long ago ceded "love that stands the test of time" to the realm of science fiction and fantasy, so "The Age of Adaline" falls neatly into a genre that includes "The Time Traveler's Wife," "About Time," and even "Somewhere in Time."
5:34 PM EDT, April 23, 2015
Russell Crowe's feature directorial debut, "The Water Diviner," stems from an honest impulse to dramatize ordinary people who honor their dead. Yet the results are narratively dishonest and emotionally a little cheap. A single performance lifts the film above the level of mediocrity; more on that later.
5:33 PM EDT, April 23, 2015
"Little Boy" answers a question most tear-jerkers wouldn't have the nerve to ask: Can the bombing of Hiroshima be manipulated narratively, if briefly, into a position of warming our hearts?
5:32 PM EDT, April 15, 2015
A grandly ridiculous theatrical tradition born in ancient Greece, deus ex machina meant, literally, a god borne by a machine descending from the sky to determine a story's outcome.
1:03 PM EDT, April 9, 2015
"So you are an artist," an Iranian member of the Basij, the country's paramilitary morality police, hisses at the hero of "Desert Dancer," who is about to be punished. "Beat him … artistically!"
11:28 AM EDT, March 26, 2015
"Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" is a moody comic allegory about desperation, disconnection and dreams that uses "Fargo," the Coen brothers classic, as a touchstone to examine modern life.
1:07 PM EDT, April 16, 2015
"True Story" is a case of a well-crafted film, made by a first-time feature director with an impressive theatrical pedigree, that nonetheless struggles to locate the reasons for telling its story.
11:31 AM EDT, April 2, 2015
Watching "The Salt of the Earth," the compelling new documentary about photographer Sebastiao Salgado, it becomes clear early on just how odd it is to experience Salgado's work on someone else's timetable. With an exhibition or a book of photographs, you set your own clock, spending as much time or as little inside a particular image as you like. With film, that's not the case. Co-directors Wim Wenders (a huge Salgado fan) and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (the photographer's son) linger on certain canvases of catastrophe or human suffering while darting off others, and often I found myself engaging in an internal monologue: Wait! Go back! Other times it was the opposite, when Salgado's imposing, devastating images of famine and genocide victims became nearly too much to bear.
1:03 PM EDT, April 9, 2015
No less than the "Harry Potter" adaptations or the "Fast and Furious" movies, the novels of Nicholas Sparks form the basis of a consistent film franchise in which the characters' names and crises and letters-read-aloud voice-overs may change, but it's the same wish-fulfillment universe across title after title. The public likes what the public likes, even if the public likes some Sparks adaptations more than others.
12:14 PM EDT, March 12, 2015
Don't underestimate Robert Kenner's "Merchants of Doubt." It may sound like a standard-issue advocacy documentary concerned, as so many are, with the perils of global warming, but it's a lot more than that.
2:56 PM EDT, April 1, 2015
Under the hood, we're all Vin Diesel, trying to live a meaningful life a quarter-mile at a time. Yet the film series begun in the pre-9/11 era with "The Fast and the Furious" has sustained itself through weak sequels and exuberant ones, and has become not a drag race but the Indy 500 of the movies: a reliable if repetitive ode to fossil fuel. Keep it coming, pal. We'll tell you when we've had enough.
4:23 PM EDT, March 31, 2015
In "Woman in Gold," a paint-by-numbers account of a gorgeous Klimt and its tortured history of ownership, there's really no other word for what Helen Mirren is doing in certain reaction shots, out of subtle interpretive desperation: mugging. She's mugging. She is a sublimely talented performer, and this is material with fascinating implications, and I doubt there's a moviegoer in the world who doesn't like Helen Mirren. But even the best actors need a director to tell them to tone it down.
6:30 PM EDT, April 2, 2015
Genteel almost but not quite to a fault, "Effie Gray" is the decorous treatment of a story that shocked Victorian England: the romantic triangle of critic John Ruskin, his seriously unhappy wife, Euphemia "Effie" Gray, and his protege, the painter John Everett Millais.
11:22 AM EDT, March 26, 2015
On screen, looking like Keith Richards' bright-eyed, bushy-tailed life coach and partner in debauchery, Al Pacino is a man whose aura screams, "I love the '70s!" Meaning: his own. Turning 75 next month, Pacino has a high old time in the slight, moderately charming "Danny Collins," and he bounces off plenty of good and great co-stars, among them Annette Bening (as the New Jersey hotel manager he's hot for) and Bobby Cannavale, calmly effective as the estranged son of the aging rock star of the title.
10:55 AM EDT, March 26, 2015
The cuddliest alien invasion movie ever, "Home" contains nifty turns of phrase and some actual, verifiable verbal wit, owing in large part to its source material, Adam Rex's 2007 children's book "The True Meaning of Smekday."
11:19 AM EDT, March 26, 2015
An awful lot of "Get Hard" depends on gay-panic humor of a weirdly squirmy and dated sort, making you wonder if this new Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart mystery might best be viewed alongside reissues of "Cruising" and "Norman … Is That You?"
2:56 PM EDT, March 19, 2015
A film of slow builds and medium-grade payoffs, "It Follows" imagines a curse represented by a shape-shifting apparition that might be as ordinary-looking as the boy next door. The curse is transmittable only by intercourse, and the infected rid themselves of the deadly phantom by hooking up with someone else.
11:18 AM EDT, March 12, 2015
First performed in 1923, following an early chapter in that quaint, understated late 1960s-coined cycle of violence known as the Troubles, Sean O'Casey's play "The Shadow of a Gunman" imagined a crowded tenement house that becomes a microcosm of the Irish War of Independence. A key scene in that play depicts British Black and Tan forces conducting a raid, to deadly results.
11:40 AM EST, February 26, 2015
Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but Argentine writer-director Damian Szifron allows it to sit until it congeals in the dreary six-part anthology "Wild Tales."
6:09 AM EDT, March 18, 2015
Chicago has never looked less toddlin' than it does in "Insurgent," the second of four planned movies to be pulled, taffylike, out of the hugely popular Veronica Roth trilogy. At one point our fierce yet humble dystopian world saver, Tris Prior, played by the fierce but humble franchise saver, Shailene Woodley, strolls beneath rusted bridges along the dried-up remains of the Chicago River. I knew that St. Patrick's Day dye wasn't safe!
11:19 AM EDT, March 19, 2015
Speedy brutality is the spoonful of sugar in most action movies, making the narrative medicine go down for as large an international audience as possible. I'm not blowing any surprises by pointing this out. Besides, with "The Gunman," the surprises keep on not coming. You've seen a lot of it before, either in "Taken" (the same director, Pierre Morel, did this one) or out of "Taken."
5:07 PM EDT, March 12, 2015
To Beach Boys guru Brian Wilson, "they were the ones with all the spirit and all the know-how." To Nancy Sinatra, they were "unsung heroes," to Herb Alpert, "an established groove machine." And to celebrated songwriter Jimmy Webb, they were simply "stone cold rock and roll professionals."
12:04 PM EDT, March 12, 2015
Refreshingly free of all snark, the satisfying new live-action "Cinderella" from the princess manufacturing company known as Disney has generated a whirl of pre-screening publicity regarding the billowy blue gown with the terrifyingly narrow waist, as worn by the excellent British actress Lily James.
11:21 AM EDT, March 12, 2015
In a convention-bound action movie such as "Run All Night," some nicely rumpled actors can go a long way toward redeeming the cliches, the primary cliche being a flawed protagonist who seeks redemption for his sins.
2:11 PM EST, February 5, 2015
"Red Army" is a deceptive name for a charming documentary. Even if you know it's the story of a legendary hockey team and not the fierce Soviet-era military machine, you will be surprised by its sociopolitical and personal content and the engaging way it tells its story.
9:10 PM EDT, March 12, 2015
If Katherine Heigl thought the unappetizing dark comedy "Home Sweet Hell" might somehow help her flagging film career, she was greatly mistaken. As for her co-lead, Patrick Wilson, there simply had to be better choices out there for the talented, appealing actor. "Home Sweet Hell" makes his other recent outing — the messy, not-dissimilar indie "Let's Kill Ward's Wife" — look good in comparison.
March 5, 2015
Three years ago, on a somewhat different scale, the success of the first "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was weirdly akin to the success of the first "Avengers" movie. Both relied on ensemble superheroics and charmingly fractious banter among movie stars. This year brings sequels to both films. First up is "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," the one without the explosions.
7:00 PM EST, February 26, 2015
Eighty-five minutes of really funny, the New Zealand vampire mockumentary "What We Do in the Shadows" comes from the "Flight of the Conchords" folks and their pals. Let me restate: This is a comedy that works.
March 5, 2015
A comedy with its heart in the right place and everything else bizarrely out of joint, "Unfinished Business" finds director Ken Scott following 2013's "Delivery Man" with another dubious attempt to sell audiences on Vince Vaughn's sensitive side. Playing a down-on-his-luck family man who takes an ill-advised business trip to Berlin with two unfunny sidekicks in tow (Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco), Vaughn is admittedly the least of the movie's worries: Awkwardly wrapping a heartwarming message of self-acceptance in a layer of crude sexual humor, it's like a date who tries to pat you on the back with one hand while groping you with the other.
12:38 PM EST, March 5, 2015
I found lots to admire in writer-director Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" and, despite its heavy-handed universal health care polemics, the Matt Damon space station allegory "Elysium." But his latest science fiction outing, co-written (like "Elysium") with his wife, Terri Tatchell, is a misjudgment from metallic head to titanium toe. After Wednesday's advance screening, the dialogue en route to the parking garage was clear and pointed. Woman 1: "Wasn't that the worst?" Woman 2: "The worst. Could you hit P2, please?"
11:19 AM EST, February 26, 2015
In August 2016, Will Smith and Margot Robbie will lead the ensemble of the DC Comics adaptation "Suicide Squad," a presumptive superantihero franchise in the making. Meantime, consider the new film "Focus" as a sort of Intro-to-Chemistry test for the same actors. Do they pass?
January 8, 2015
A grand, brooding Russian crime drama set in a corner of the world you likely haven't seen, "Leviathan" is about an ordinary man taking on a dirty town that Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain would've been proud to call home.
11:55 AM EST, February 26, 2015
"The Lazarus Effect" is what happens when hip, smart actors commit themselves — body and soul — to a horror movie.
12:05 PM EST, February 26, 2015
Maria Laura, the heroine of "A La Mala," is a slinky bombshell of an actress who uses her talents to flirt with other women's beaus to test their loyalty. The acting roles aren't there, but there is no shortage of women who need a professional breaker-upper.
3:20 PM EST, February 16, 2015
"People loved 'Deli Man' — it is literally a mouth-watering film," said Ellen Wedner, director/executive producer of the Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival, at which the film recently played. "Everyone told me they were hungry after seeing it."
11:03 AM EST, February 19, 2015
A less talented and more shameless director might've turned it into cornmeal mush, but Niki Caro ("Whale Rider") has delivered unto the Disney corporation a Kevin Costner sports movie that works. Commercially? We'll see. But as an inspirational true story, fictionalized to the usual degree, it works.
11:52 AM EST, February 19, 2015
"The DUFF" stands for "Designated Ugly Fat Friend." From that cruel acronym, we now have a movie designed to appeal to fans of the source material. Kody Keplinger wrote the book when she was 17 and a merry slave to high school clique cliches. But her sense of humor appealed to older readers as well — basically to anyone who hadn't left behind the old teenage insecurities about looks, status, social stratification and feeling like a loser. We've all been there.
12:17 PM EST, February 19, 2015
John Cusack has been reduced to Z-grade action comedies, shot in Australia and co-starring Thomas Jane, at this stage of his career.
10:13 AM EST, February 12, 2015
Adapted and directed by women of considerably larger talent than novelist E.L. James, the film version of “Fifty Shades of Grey” turns out to be an intriguing tussle — not in the sack, or in the Red Room of Pain, but in its internal war between the dubious erotica of James’ novel (the first of three) and the far craftier trash offered by the movie.
10:00 AM EST, February 12, 2015
Silly, sadistic and finally a little galling, "Kingsman: The Secret Service" answers the question: What would Colin Firth have been like if he'd played James Bond?
11:41 AM EST, December 22, 2014
Some films assert their rightness and sureness in the opening shot. Mike Leigh's excellent "Mr. Turner" is one of them, though Leigh and his inspired cinematographer, Dick Pope, are less concerned with conspicuous camera movement than with a charged sort of stillness. It's a beautiful film, and not merely that. When it's over you feel as if you have been somewhere, to another century, peering at the world through a different set of eyes.
1:36 PM EST, February 12, 2015
The faith-based romance "Old Fashioned" is a slow, preachy romantic comedy opening Valentine's Day week opposite "Fifty Shades of Grey," counterprogramming "love" that's kinky with love from Corinthians: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud …"
8:59 AM EST, February 4, 2015
In "Jupiter Ascending" Channing Tatum's character is a "splice," an intergalactic bounty hunter with a distaste for shirts. His genetically engineered DNA contains both wolf and human strands. He sports wee pointy ears, a lemon-brown goatee and a terrific pair of jet boots. He's basically Shakespeare's Puck plunked down in a story recalling "The House of Atreus," but in space.
11:32 AM EST, January 15, 2015
Losing your mind is a terrible thing to watch, but the splendid acting in "Still Alice" makes it worth the pain. Scarier than any Elm Street nightmare, it succeeds despite itself not because of one strong performance but two.
3:48 PM EST, January 29, 2015
I have no idea which of this year's five nominated animated short films will win an Academy Award on Feb. 22. But if I ran the zoo, the prize would go to "Me and My Moulton," 14 minutes of sheer pleasure from writer-director Torill Kove. The "Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Animation" program is part of a presentation opening this week at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema.
4:37 PM EST, January 29, 2015
As an oddly shaped, highly stimulating gang of five, this year's Oscar-Nominated Short Films: Live Action slate comprises a couple of hours of cinema more worthwhile than 90 percent of what's out there at the moment. Therefore you should see the program being presented over at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences appears to have made some unusually strong decisions this year.
12:09 PM EST, February 5, 2015
There's a new "SpongeBob" movie out, "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water." It's passable. The trade publication Variety predicts it will be "equally popular among the franchise's key grade-schooler and head-shop-owner demographics," and that sounds right to me.
12:15 PM EST, February 5, 2015
Legend has it that the seventh son of a seventh son is born with certain special powers, which, in Joseph Delaney's "Wardstone Chronicles" fantasy-lit series, include the ability to see supernatural beings and, potentially, to kill witches.
10:53 AM EST, January 29, 2015
Is there anything more dispiriting than a sentence beginning with the phrase "It means well, but …"? Here's a variation on that, and a dispiriting movie to go with it. "Black or White" may not be racist, exactly, but it patronizes its African-American characters up, down and sideways, and audiences of every ethnicity, background, hue and predilection can find something to dislike.
11:20 AM EST, January 29, 2015
"Black Sea" is a submarine movie, so to many moviegoers of a certain age, that's two-and-a-half stars right there. Nothing promises old-school pressure-cooking the way the subgenre of the sub thriller can, and while director Kevin Macdonald's drama springs all sorts of leaks in its second half, there are modest satisfactions along the way.
11:58 AM EST, January 15, 2015
When we listen in on one-sided telephone conversations in the movies, often the behavior is not quite human. Rather, it becomes an actor's showcase for histrionic tears or smiling through tears — a good old-fashioned wallow in capital-O Overacting.
11:01 AM EST, January 15, 2015
Writer-director J.C. Chandor has made three good movies in a row, and they're his first three. He's a heartening exception to the usual percentages.
11:39 AM EST, January 22, 2015
As the song from "Meet Me in St. Louis" put it, in a different story context: How can she ignore the boy next door?
12:08 PM EST, January 22, 2015
There are good things in the animated musical fantasy "Strange Magic": the ultra-detailed, photorealistic animation; the name-that-tune pleasures of a mashup jukebox soundtrack; fine vocal performances from the cast's actor-singers; and a transcendent sequence featuring the 1975 title song.
11:09 AM EST, January 22, 2015
Why didn't Jennifer Aniston get an Oscar nomination for "Cake"? The short answer to that question: With one of the five best actress slots taken by Julianne Moore for "Still Alice," there was simply no room for another routinely made health-crisis indie, salvaged by a strong, confident, unfussy turn from its female lead.
12:41 PM EST, January 22, 2015
Should the recent surge in male facial hair as a fashion accessory stall in 2015, barbers would be within their rights to blame "Mortdecai," a perky but obstinately unfunny heist caper with a hero irksome enough to make any happily mustachioed man reconsider his life choices. Directed by an off-form David Koepp, the film shoots for the swinging insouciance of '60s farce, but this story of a caddish art dealer enlisted by MI5 to assist in a knotty theft case is longer on frippery than quippery. Only particularly dedicated devotees of Johnny Depp's latter-day strain of mugging — here channeling Austin Powers by way of P.G. Wodehouse — will delight in this expensive-looking oddity.
12:21 PM EST, January 22, 2015
It's common Hollywood practice to follow an Oscar win with a trip to big budget land, where the paychecks, the trailers and the impact on the culture are potentially huge. So Sandra Bullock did "Gravity" right after "Blind Side," and Anne Hathaway did "Interstellar" not long after picking up an Oscar for "Les Miserables."
10:37 AM EST, January 15, 2015
People will take what they want to take from "American Sniper," director Clint Eastwood's latest film. Already it has turned into an ideological war to be won or lost, rather than a fictionalized biopic to be debated.
January 15, 2015
Never judge by appearances. The poster image for "Paddington," already a hit in Britain, depicts the valiant little bear in the red hat and blue jacket careening down a flooded staircase in a bathtub, and the image (from the first of creator Michael Bond's 26 "Paddington" books) is rendered in such a way as to make the film look pushy and twee and eminently skippable.
11:35 AM EST, January 15, 2015
"The Wedding Ringer" is "Wedding Crashers Redux," a "Hangover Lite" that softens manic funnyman Kevin Hart's persona into someone almost as funny, but more sentimental than abrasive. That helps "Ringer" work as a bromantic comedy that feels like a romantic comedy.
12:19 PM EST, January 15, 2015
"Blackhat" is a thickly plotted disappointment, yet it has three or four big sequences proving that director Michael Mann, who gave us "Thief," "Heat," "Collateral" and others, has lost none of his instincts for how to choreograph, photograph and edit screen violence.
12:06 PM EST, January 15, 2015
"Spare Parts" is a pleasant enough run-of-the-mill outsiders-beat-the-odds dramedy in the "Race the Sun" mold.
12:41 PM EDT, October 23, 2014
As a filmgoer, do you require an admirable, likable protagonist? If you're in league with a large percentage of the populace, the answer is simple: yes. Life's too short to spend it in abrasive company, with characters who test your sympathy or make you examine your own worst impulses in a revealing light.
11:25 AM EST, January 8, 2015
It takes a genuine film artist to create an alternate-reality version of a familiar place — real enough to make us feel we've been there, or somewhere near there, unreal enough to push it over the edge of familiarity and even sanity.
1:05 PM EST, January 8, 2015
Running out of kidnapped relatives for Liam Neeson's ex-CIA killing machine to rescue, scribes Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen turn him into a fugitive framed for murder in "Taken 3," a mind-numbing, crash-bang misfire that abandons chic European capitals for the character's own backyard. French director Olivier Megaton, who at least paced "Taken 2" with workmanlike efficiency, executes the pedestrian plot without a shred of tension or finesse.
12:44 PM EST, December 30, 2014
You can scan any director's resume at your peril, because their work is on the screen, and in the right circumstances, as with director Ava DuVernay's fine, full and confident "Selma," the work speaks for itself.
10:48 AM EST, December 22, 2014
In the generation since "Into the Woods" opened on Broadway, the entertainment world has recycled a forest's worth of enchantress-based, princess-dependent and fairy tale-steeped mythology for mass consumption, from Disney's "Frozen" and "Maleficent" to the smaller screen's "Grimm," "Once Upon a Time" and "Charmed." And let's not forget the theatrical extravaganza "Wicked," whose anthemic, full-bore sensibility and songs (full-bore in both senses) are exactly what you do not find in "Into the Woods."
11:32 AM EST, December 18, 2014
"Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb," otherwise known as "Night at the Museum 3," rates as more determinedly heartfelt than the first and not as witty as the second (and best). Also, no Amy Adams as Amelia Earhart in jodhpurs this time around.
11:21 AM EST, November 20, 2014
A skiing holiday in the French Alps: What could possibly spoil that? In the terrific black comedy "Force Majeure," the question is answered early in the picture. With an extraordinarily dry and confident way of telling its story, the Swedish entry for this year's foreign language Academy Award becomes a recreational nightmare, driven (and riven) by panicky male behavior under duress.
10:34 AM EST, November 20, 2014
Does extreme privilege point, like an arrow, to a sort of rot within the true-blue American spirit? Putting criminal insanity aside for a moment, the answer's a qualified, sorrowful yes in director Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," a true-crime drama hailed in many quarters as a modern classic since it debuted six months ago at the Cannes Film Festival.
11:30 AM EST, December 24, 2014
Whether leaving his mark with the bizarre yet sweet sentimentality of "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice," the brilliant Oscar-nominated stop-motion animation of "Frankenweenie" and "Corpse Bride," or the brashness of his "Batman" reboots, Tim Burton has always been one of film's boldest visionaries. Except when it comes to women.
1:00 AM EST, December 24, 2014
3.5 stars (out of four)
5:09 PM EST, December 15, 2014
There is a moment late in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," after what may be the longest on-screen battle in movie history, when Ian McKellen's Gandalf sits quietly beside Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins and starts fussing with his pipe. No one fusses with a pipe more fussily than a great veteran English character actor, and as McKellen carefully scrapes out the bowl, getting it ready for a nice little smoke, you wonder if director Peter Jackson is going to turn this bit into his next three-film trilogy.
6:12 PM EST, November 28, 2014
Alan Turing, the pioneering British mathematician who cracked Nazi Germany's Enigma code and helped win World War II, gets the deciphering treatment himself in the new biopic "The Imitation Game" (opening today in limited release). Norwegian director Morten Tyldum's film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, examines Turing's personal and professional struggles as a brilliant but aloof man and a closeted homosexual at a time when being gay was a crime in England.
1:58 PM EST, December 4, 2014
Cheryl Strayed's 2012 memoir "Wild" has become a swift, solidly built movie capturing most of its author's most interesting baggage stuff — the weedy tangle of regrets, the reckless bumper-car behavior borne of grief — while offering a rather different experience of what Strayed called "radical aloneness."
10:45 AM EST, December 18, 2014
Those interested in the health and well-being of the screen musical are advised to wait a week for "Into the Woods" rather than take a flier on the wobbly, unsatisfying new update of "Annie."
11:03 AM EST, November 19, 2014
In honor of the title we'll break this part of the sentence with a colon, and then use a portentous dash:
11:30 PM EST, November 13, 2014
From the writer-director of the beloved "Love & Basketball," Gina Prince-Bythewood, "Beyond the Lights" seems like it will follow the tried-and-true celebrity-and-commoner formula seen in "The Bodyguard" and "Notting Hill."
November 13, 2014
Relationally, you can't entirely trust what you're seeing in "The Theory of Everything," the romanticized portrait of astrophysicist superstar Stephen Hawking and his many years spent with his first wife, Jane Hawking. Yet biopics are funny this way: Even satisfying ones can fudge and elide and gloss over any number of difficulties, while in this instance offering a steadily absorbing and movingly acted depiction of a marriage whose time comes, and then goes.
11:59 AM EDT, October 22, 2014
"Birdman" proves that a movie — the grabbiest, most kinetic film ever made about putting on a play — can soar on the wings of its own technical prowess, even as the banality of its ideas threatens to drag it back down to earth.
1:05 PM EST, November 13, 2014
Twenty years after they permanently lowered the bar on broad and dumb character comedies, Lloyd and Harry are back, "Dumb and Dumber" than ever in "Dumb and Dumber To."
November 6, 2014
In "Big Hero 6" we have a robot considerably more beguiling than his movie. Yet there's enough visual invention afoot, and enough spirited interplay among the human characters, to keep things bobbing along.
12:41 PM EST, November 13, 2014
How many casual American moviegoers would be interested in "Rosewater" if an unknown Jon had written and directed it, instead of Jon Stewart, famous "Daily Show" host and first-time feature filmmaker?
3:19 PM EDT, October 14, 2014
Whatever the ripping melodrama "Whiplash" says about artistic torment, or the price of ambition, or mentor/student relationships from hell or thereabouts, it's too busy providing serious excitement — both as an actors showcase and a confirmation of writer-director Damien Chazelle's cinematic chops — to get hung up on conventional uplift.
11:29 AM EST, November 6, 2014
In "Laggies," Keira Knightley tries on a generic American dialect. Based on the results, the actress defines that as "nasal, and how!"
1:13 PM EST, November 4, 2014
A knockout one minute, a punch-drunk crazy film the next, "Interstellar" is a highly stimulating mess. Emotionally it's also a mess, and that's what makes it worth its 165 minutes — minutes made possible by co-writer and director Christopher Nolan's prior global success with his brooding, increasingly nasty "Batman" films, and with the commercially viable head-trip that was "Inception."
4:38 PM EDT, October 29, 2014
Jake Gyllenhaal lost 30 pounds for his new movie, "Nightcrawler," and the result is simple and eerie, much like the film itself. He appears to be wearing a Jake Gyllenhaal mask, all cheekbones, sallow complexion and unblinking laser-beam eyes.
October 30, 2014
"Before I Go To Sleep" is a risky title for a genre exercise intended to keep viewers bolt upright in their seats, handing mirthful critics a ready-made punch line at the first sign of lethargy. The good news is that Rowan Joffe's adaptation of S.J. Watson's 2011 publishing phenom is far from a snooze; the bad news is that it's the film's escalating ludicrousness that holds our attention.
8:40 PM EDT, September 18, 2014
In the showy sci-fi fantasy "The Zero Theorem," a man spends his life waiting for an elusive phone call that will explain the meaning of life and, as a result, learns he has led a meaningless life. That kind of elliptical thinking permeates way too much of this latest carnival ride from idiosyncratic filmmaker Terry Gilliam, who directed based on a ponderous if undeniably ambitious script by Pat Rushin.
11:39 AM EDT, October 30, 2014
If "Horns" had the zip of the source novel's first two paragraphs, we'd have a movie instead of a mess. The book, published in 2010, begins by laying out the dilemma author Joe Hill invents for his protagonist. Ignatius "Ig" Perrish has a hangover, and the morning after a night of unspecified "terrible things," he puts his hands to his temples and realizes he has a "pair of knobby pointed protuberances" where none used to be.
October 16, 2014
For all the boozed and abusive amusement provided by the great Bill Murray in the good-enough "St. Vincent," the moment I liked best was Naomi Watts as a pregnant Russian stripper, manhandling a vacuum across the Murray character's ancient carpet. In movies as in life, it's the little things.
11:48 AM EDT, October 23, 2014
So many movies come out of the Sundance Film Festival, and others like it, laden with praise but oddly short on narrative invention, visual instincts and a story with something on its mind. Heartiest congratulations to "Dear White People," which is equipped with all three. It's a slyly provocative achievement and a serious calling card for its writer-director, Justin Simien.
12:56 PM EDT, October 23, 2014
9:51 AM EDT, October 16, 2014
"Fury" is a mixture of sharp realism and squishy cliches that combat movies don't really need anymore. It stars Brad Pitt as a 2nd Armored Division sergeant known as Wardaddy, commander of a battle-scarred Sherman tank whose nickname, painted on its gun barrel, gives writer-director David Ayer's film its title.
1:02 PM EDT, August 21, 2014
If Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon were even 7 percent less amusing, "The Trip to Italy" would have no reason to exist, even with its casually gorgeous scenery and shattering close-ups of seafood pasta fresh out of the kitchen.
10:56 AM EDT, October 2, 2014
Jason Reitman's serenely panic-stricken "Men, Women & Children" pushed every single one of my hot buttons as a parent while simultaneously setting off every single one of my warning bells as a critic. Based on Chad Kultgen's debut novel, it depicts modern-day America as the land of scarily unlimited digital opportunity. It is a place where honest personal communication without the filter, the crutch or the dodge of a personal electronic device has become a distant memory.
10:49 AM EDT, October 9, 2014
Of the 141 minutes in "The Judge," roughly 70 work well, hold the screen and allow a ripe ensemble cast the chance to do its thing, i.e., act. The other 71 are dominated by narrative machinery going ka-THUNKITA-thunkita-thunkita. This is the same sound a clothes dryer makes when a half-dozen John Grisham hardcovers are tossed in with an iron-plated movie star and 30 pounds of rocks.
10:55 AM EDT, October 9, 2014
Now that folks can get gay-married in Wisconsin and Indiana, it's safe to say a genial, fact-based British heart-warmer such as "Pride" can enter the U.S. marketplace without threatening the stability of the republic.
4:41 PM EDT, September 16, 2014
A pretty crafty genre pastiche until it stalls, director Adam Wingard's "The Guest" introduces its title character after he knocks on the front door of a small-town New Mexico family that recently lost their older son in the Iraq War. Door opens, a man's head is turned away from the camera …
9:30 PM EDT, September 30, 2014
September 30, 2014
David Fincher's film version of the Gillian Flynn bestseller "Gone Girl" is a stealthy, snake-like achievement. It's everything the book was and more — more, certainly, in its sinister, brackish atmosphere dominated by mustard-yellow fluorescence, designed to make you squint, recoil and then lean in a little closer.
10:52 AM EDT, October 2, 2014
The devil-doll lark "Annabelle" exists to make its host movie, last year's excellent "The Conjuring," look even better by comparison. As prequels go, it's not bad, though a couple of things keeping it from amounting to more are worth discussing, briefly, before we all get back to our lives.
11:23 AM EDT, October 2, 2014
And away we go! A little traveling music, please, for the Rapture, the special guest star of "Left Behind," starring a sadly becalmed Nicolas Cage as a married airline pilot whose unconsummated lust for a cheap harlot of a flight attendant, played by Nicky Whelan, is enough to bring on God's wrath, the end of days and a cycle of protracted calamity, starting with the film itself.
2:09 PM EDT, September 25, 2014
In "Hector and the Search for Happiness," a bedtime story for the eternal man-child, Simon Pegg plays a psychiatrist who lives in a world of WASP male privilege yet remains dissatisfied with his existence.
1:32 PM EDT, September 25, 2014
Fans of "Coraline" and "ParaNorman," the deft, eccentric supernatural fairy tales created by Oregon-based Laika animation house, have every reason to anticipate "The Boxtrolls." Laika's latest feature is based on Alan Snow's 2005 book "Here Be Monsters!" part one of "The Ratbridge Chronicles." For the film's purposes, the mythical hilltop town of Ratbridge has changed its name to Cheesebridge.
1:10 PM EDT, September 25, 2014
Based loosely on the 1985-1989 television series, on which Edward Woodward never stuck garden shears in an enemy's throat and never, ever stabbed anyone through the neck with a corkscrew, "The Equalizer" smells like a hit. But I wish it had one completely honest scene, where (for example) someone asks the avenging angel-hero: "Who are you?" And he answers: "I'm Denzel Washington. And Denzel Washington can make even this thing watchable."
4:39 PM EDT, September 10, 2014
Some weeks at the movies are like this. You settle for wonderful actors doing some wonderful acting with scripts that support those efforts even as they limit them.
4:19 PM EDT, September 24, 2014
‘Field of Lost Shoes’ ✭✭
They marched into battle — teenagers and younger — in parade order, and charged the enemy like the schoolboys they were. And when the smoke had cleared, there were shoes — sucked off their feet in the mud, torn from bodies yanked by cannonballs, Minie balls and bayonets.
10:35 AM EDT, September 18, 2014
Forever indebted to H.G. Wells, William Golding and other cranky visionaries, the hardy, cockroach-like "Hunger Games"/"Divergent" genre has a nickname: "dyslit," after the dystopian best-sellers in which young adult protagonists must prove their physical and mental prowess and lead the revolution to save what's left of their crummy old world.
11:39 AM EDT, September 18, 2014
Based on the international bestseller by Agota Kristof, "The Notebook" represented Hungary in the Academy Awards' foreign-language film competition but failed to garner a nomination.
11:21 AM EDT, September 18, 2014
Going by the new ensemble comedy "This Is Where I Leave You," you'd think Tina Fey was a medium acting talent at best, prone to overstatement and eye-rolling. Performers can't do it alone; they need guidance. But in the movies, very often performers end up doing solo acts in proximity to other solo acts, and the camera's either in the wrong place or the director and the editor hack up simple two-person conversations into frantic, competing moments.
10:49 AM EDT, September 18, 2014
Civilians and critics alike, a lot of them, loved "Tusk" in Toronto, where it played the Midnight Madness sidebar of the international film festival earlier this month. And it's fun to have writer-director Kevin Smith, of "Clerks" and "Dogma," whose filmmaking star has fallen while his podcasting prowess has risen, once again at the center of a debate or two.
12:36 PM EDT, September 18, 2014
You can't complain about the cast in "My Old Lady" — Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas going at one another in high style — and the setting of Paris at its most atmospheric is charm itself. The film in question, however, doesn't live up to the expectations its elements create.
11:38 AM EDT, September 4, 2014
Aubrey Plaza is so deadpan she's undeadpan, and not just in her new zombie movie. Playing April, Indiana's snarkiest state employee on "Parks and Recreation," the actress who'd be most likely mistaken for the MTV animated show goddess "Daria" slings so many bizarrely timed and unpredictable line readings at her skillful cohorts, with such straight-faced topspin, sometimes you don't know if you're in the company of an actress's extraordinarily practiced shtick or some kind of genius.
10:55 AM EDT, September 18, 2014
Films aren't so much born as worried into existence, and with some films the worrying — the concern that the audience won't get it, or get out for it, or make the required time commitment — never stops.
11:42 AM EDT, September 4, 2014
"The Last of Robin Hood" is the latest film starring the dashing Kevin Kline. It's also the latest of Kline's period pictures that wastes no time in dashing your expectations.
11:09 AM EDT, August 7, 2014
Think of them as Lazarus moments.
September 4, 2014
There are moments in any bad movie when an actor, conveying a character's anguish or disdain, suddenly appears to be critiquing the movie itself and expressing the actor's internal struggle with the material. Such is the case with Ray Liotta in the not-good new film "The Identical," which only an Elvis impersonator (sorry, "tribute artist") could love.
10:44 AM EDT, August 21, 2014
As long as this planet provides the roads, real and metaphoric, and the pals, the road-trip buddy movie may well outlive the movies themselves.
10:40 AM EDT, August 7, 2014
Scene: a confessional, somewhere in Ireland. The camera stays on Father James while an unseen male, the victim of clergy abuse long ago, speaks in seething tones about having "tasted semen" at a terrifyingly young age. Well, says the momentarily stunned priest. "Certainly a startling opening line."
1:15 PM EDT, August 21, 2014
I'm not sure what mood I'd have to be in to truly enjoy "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For." But I'm not in it.
1:15 PM EDT, August 21, 2014
Artfully assaultive, "If I Stay" is better than average young adult material, cleverly adapted from Gayle Forman's 2009 novel about a teenage cellist experiencing true love, a terrible car crash and magical realism for the first time.
5:31 PM EDT, August 13, 2014
At this point in the dystopian movie cycle, I'm ready for a story about a teenager with zero interest in questioning the system, let alone starting a revolution. A spineless conformist — that's what the genre needs.
11:02 AM EDT, August 7, 2014
"What If" brings up the distinctions among wit, jokes and robotic banter, and this new romantic comedy has a bit of the first and a few of the second, but it's largely a case of the third.
August 12, 2014
The laughs are loud, lewd and low in "Let's Be Cops," a spoof of cop "buddy pictures" that is pretty much the definition of an August comedy.
10:39 AM EDT, August 7, 2014
The "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" franchise earns a Michael Bay-produced 3-D reboot that spares no expense in special effects and spares no decibels in the volume that is the soundtrack to all their new mayhem.
July 24, 2014
Among recent Woody Allen films, the crabby but pretty "Magic in the Moonlight" is a well-thumbed playing card from the middle of the deck, not one of his fully good ones ("Midnight in Paris," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), not one of the whiffs ("Cassandra's Dream," "Scoop," "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger"). The new one's set in 1928 in the south of France, where people really do seem on the verge of asking, "Tennis, anyone?" every second. Coldblooded British illusionist Stanley, played with a tight grimace by Colin Firth, has been invited by a fellow magician (Simon McBurney) to debunk a celebrated American mystic working her way through the Cote d'Azur.
11:18 AM EDT, July 24, 2014
In Mike Cahill movies, bad things happen to good people, and other good people are guilt-ridden as a result. But the human connections and the spare sci-fi logic that characterized "Another Earth," Cahill's ethereal romantic dramatic debut, are muddied in "I Origins."
August 7, 2014
Like "The Passion of Joan of Arc," "Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" "Into the Storm" is a movie. And like the wind, this particular movie blows tall, unstable columns of hot air willy-nilly.
10:46 AM EDT, July 31, 2014
Everything about "Get on Up," a provocatively structured and unusually rich musical biopic, is a little better, a little less formula-bound, a little sharper than the average specimen in this genre.
July 16, 2014
By the midpoint of writer-director Richard Linklater's gentle marvel "Boyhood," the round-faced young Texas boy played by Ellar Coltrane has become a lanky, plaintive teenager. Already an hour or so of screen time has floated by. Linklater made the film with a core group of actors over a 12-year period, starting with the kids played by Coltrane and Linklater's daughter, Lorelei Linklater, at ages 7 and 9, respectively.
11:30 AM EDT, July 30, 2014
Like the '70s cassette mix tape so dear to its hero, "Guardians of the Galaxy" scavenges all sorts of "greatest hits" precedents, from "Iron Man" on down, to come up with its own summertime fling. It's looser, scruffier and more overtly comic than the average Marvel action fantasy. And despite the usual load of violence, not all of it properly handled, the film owes its relative buoyancy above all to Chris Pratt as the wisecracking space rogue at the helm.
July 24, 2014
It's impossible to watch the character anchoring Anton Corbijn's cool, clear-eyed film version of "A Most Wanted Man" without forgetting the fate of the bleary-eyed but fantastically vital actor who plays him.
12:30 PM EDT, July 24, 2014
Le schlockmeister Luc Besson has no beef with men and guns, or he wouldn't have made the "Transporter" movies with Jason Statham. Or written "Taken." But in the world according to Besson, older girls ("La Femme Nikita") and young women in wee skirts and stiletto heels, gliding in slow motion toward their latest deserving victims of firearm violence, carrying nicely polished automatic weapons in each perfectly manicured hand — that's the stuff, that's what makes Besson Besson.
1:01 PM EDT, July 24, 2014
"And So It Goes" is going for "cute," as in: "Oh, well, you know. It was cute." Michael Douglas stars as the grumpy old real estate agent with the broken heart, with Diane Keaton as the lounge singer next door. The title "And So It Goes" belongs on a list with "That's Life!" "Whatever Works" and "Enough Said," each film's moniker evoking that feeling of here-we-go-again and isn't-love-a-funny-thing.
12:58 PM EDT, July 17, 2014
Like "2001: A Space Odyssey," Jake Kasdan's "Sex Tape" is a grim cautionary fable about the evils of technology, in this case pitting its desperate protagonists against an unseen force people refer to as "the cloud."
1:50 PM EDT, July 17, 2014
"Scrubs" alum Zach Braff made his directorial feature debut a decade ago with "Garden State," and now, as writer, director and star, he has managed a second film about actors and their insecurities. This one, "Wish I Was Here," he co-wrote with his brother, Adam.
1:49 PM EDT, July 1, 2014
Small favors, but in "Tammy" we have a less grating road-trip comedy than "Identity Thief," the one Melissa McCarthy did with Jason Bateman, and a more deliberately heartwarming vehicle than "The Heat," featuring McCarthy and Sandra Bullock.
11:28 AM EDT, July 1, 2014
"Earth to Echo" is an engagingly unassuming "E.T." knockoff, a kids movie that serves up a similar alien-with-kids story in a "Blair Witch"/ "Paranormal" shaky-cam package.
11:27 AM EDT, July 1, 2014
Classed up by its cast, "Deliver Us From Evil" concludes with a deliverance from evil in the form of a rip-roaring exorcism, simply staged in a police interrogation room, though goosed up with the usual barrage of digital effects. Routine in nearly every aspect, the movie cannot be accused of holding out on its audience. The evil's delivered, and then dealt with.
12:40 PM EDT, July 1, 2014
"Begin Again" is an insistent puppy of a movie, just about willing you to like it. And while it has appeal — you'd have to be a troll to resist it completely — you may end up wanting to enjoy it more than its qualities will allow.
1:39 PM EDT, June 12, 2014
Not so many administrations ago, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Dirty Dancing" and a handful of other films dared to deal with abortion, off-camera and usually a little off the main plotline, as a medical option chosen by a sympathetic young woman dictated by the machinations of the screenplay, usually with the help of sperm donated by a dislikable supporting character.
10:46 AM EDT, June 19, 2014
"Jersey Boys" the movie is a different, more sedate animal than "Jersey Boys" the Broadway musical. Often this happens when a stage success comes to the screen, even with many of the same performers and artistic team members on board. Changes are made; ardent fans of the original are variously pleased or disappointed. And in this case, those who missed the theatrical edition of the tale of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — how they found their sound and wrestled with temptations — may wonder what the fuss was about.
9:57 AM EDT, June 19, 2014
A 105-minute ad for Caesars Palace, the passably engaging sequel "Think Like a Man Too" allows Kevin Hart, the ensemble's hottest potato, to hijack whole sections of the Las Vegas-set hijinks as he lets loose with his little verbal tsunamis of braggadocio. The way this comedy has been edited by Peter S. Elliot, presumably at the urging of director Tim Story, the shots barely hold themselves for two or three seconds before slam-cutting away to a pushy reaction shot. This isn't momentum; it's agitation, and antsy pacing such as this has a way of giving the impression of energy, rather than truly energizing a scene.
11:32 AM EDT, June 19, 2014
Don't take Eric's car. Don't take Eric's car. Don't take Eric's ... You get the idea.
11:57 AM EDT, May 29, 2014
Only in Texas could the neo-noir of "Cold in July" be so believable.
12:15 PM EDT, June 12, 2014
The peculiar sweetness of "21 Jump Street" has taken a hiatus in "22 Jump Street," a brazen sequel that's both slightly disappointing and a reliable, often riotous "laffer" in the old Variety trade-magazine parlance. No question about it, I laffed, more at the little things — Channing Tatum trying to cut glass with a laser pointer, for example — than the brawls.
June 12, 2014
Toothless it's not.
10:31 AM EDT, May 15, 2014
Written and directed by Gia Coppola, "Palo Alto" is adapted from a collection of short stories by James Franco and conjures a delicate, very specific sense of middle-class adolescence, the indeterminate, nascent feelings of the teenage years. Small moments can feel epic in scale, such as when a boy almost sending a girl a text message is an emotional turning point.
June 5, 2014
In the discreetly assaultive film version of "The Fault in Our Stars" there's a scene, faithful to the one in the best-selling John Green book, where Hazel and Augustus visit the Amsterdam home of a novelist whose cancer-related novel holds great personal meaning for two teenage Indianapolis cancer patients in love.
June 5, 2014
Insanely derivative, frenetically enjoyable, "Edge of Tomorrow" takes gaming to a new level of big-screen indulgence, sending Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt through the same alien-invasion scenario over and over until they learn how to win, put down the consoles and get off the couch for a little lunch and some fresh air, maybe.
1:51 PM EDT, June 5, 2014
"Words and Pictures," starring Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche, is a romantic comedy masquerading as a war between literature and art.
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