“Deliver Us From Evil” is part horror film and part police procedural, but fails to add anything to either genre

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Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil wants so badly to be a different kind of horror movie, and there are several moments when it seems as though it might succeed. Not many movies like this would start with a scene featuring a group of soldiers fighting in Iraq, and a slightly later sequence in the Bronx Zoo feels particularly unique. Horror films have typically been bound to claustrophobic, dimly-lit indoor spaces, but in the first act of Deliver Us From Evil, Derrickson makes a concerted effort to bring the darkness out into the open. If the film stuck to these concepts, it might have had something. Eventually, it turns into a below-average cop story with intermittently effective horror elements. Instead of hunting serial killers, the cops in Deliver Us From Evil are doing battle with the devil, and that doesn’t turn out to be quite as interesting as it may sound. Continue reading

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With “22 Jump Street,” Phil Lord and Chris Miller maintain their remarkable winning streak

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There are two major factors driving the sudden and unlikely success of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller in the world of comedy. The first, and most important, is that their movies are funny. Really funny. The second factor is their ability to turn the inherent silliness of their projects into virtues rather than hindrances. In particular, their last three movies, 21 Jump Street, The LEGO Movie, and now the sequel 22 Jump Street, are ostensibly cynical projects conceived out of creative laziness or pure commercialism. Instead of turning their back to such notions, Lord and Miller have attacked them head on, via self-referential jokes and an uncanny ability to weave them into the very themes of their films. 21 Jump Street worked not because it simply poked fun at its own existence, but also because it became a film about nostalgia and attempting to relive the past. If anything, 22 Jump Street doubles down on the self-awareness, and in the process becomes a comedy sequel about comedy sequels. Continue reading

“Edge of Tomorrow” hits the usual marks, but does so in thoroughly entertaining fashion

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As Edge of Tomorrow begins, we are greeted with the kind of montage that has kicked off many a science fiction film before, as director Doug Liman assembles a collection of fake news footage that sets the audience up for the world they are about to enter. Tom Cruise appears in a couple of these clips as well, and the film lets you know that he is not a typical soldier, but a sort of media spokesman. It’s not a particularly auspicious first couple minutes, but then an interesting thing happens: the film quiets down. The first proper scene in the movie is a long, engaging conversation between Cruise’s Major William Cage and Brendan Gleeson’s General Brigham. The editing is patient, and there’s no manipulative music trying to drive anything home. It’s entirely about the two actors, and it allows them to play the scene in a way that establishes who they are and their place in the world. That, in a nutshell, is what makes Edge of Tomorrow so successful. There’s nothing terribly surprising about the story it’s telling, but it presents this story with refreshing wit and personality. Continue reading

With “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” Seth MacFarlane blissfully (and frustratingly) stays right in his comfort zone

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Scarcely a scene goes by in Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West without some joke related to the baser functions of the human body. Some are fairly simple—the passing of gas here is, of course, inherently funny—while others are far more elaborate. The most notable may be an extended bit of physical comedy on the part of Neil Patrick Harris, who takes a lowest-common-denominator gag involving the rather dramatic effects of laxatives and sells it harder than Daniel Day-Lewis could ever imagine. As far as gross-out jokes go, it’s an effective one—so much so that many audience members at my screening, myself included, literally gagged at what was being implied—but its impact might have been even greater had MacFarlane showed a bit more tact leading up to this poop de grâce. There’s something admirable and almost charming about a film so unpretentiously determined to live in the gutter, even though its effects can ultimately be numbing. Continue reading