“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”: Bait and Switch

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is not what you’d expect from a movie starring Tina Fey, written by Fey’s 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writing partner Robert Carlock, produced by Fey and SNL boss Lorne Michaels, and featuring Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina, Christopher Abbott, Billy Bob Thornton and Josh Charles.

Then again: what do you expect from a movie with those credits?

The answer to that question might explain the movie’s piddling box office numbers this weekend. The marketing, from the mystifying title to the underwhelming trailers, suggested a broad, silly comedy about a hapless journalist’s adventures overseas. But the actual movie is a lightly comedic drama about Americans embedded among soldiers amid a dangerous conflict that no one, not even the people fighting it, really understands. That’s not an easy sell, even with someone as theoretically bankable as Fey in the lead role.

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“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies”: At Last, Closure

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Sometimes, low expectations pay off.

I skipped the second movie in the unnecessarily protracted trilogy of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies because I found the first one laborious and lumbering. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jackson & Co. mistake a lengthy running time and an enormous budget for grandeur and momentum. The narrative progresses listlessly, with an endless opening sequence that establishes the characters and plot in painstaking detail, lengthy battle sequences that neither advance the plot nor illuminate the characters, and an inevitably inconclusive ending that left me with little enthusiasm for one more round, let alone two.

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“Fargo”: Wonder, Chilled

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After nine increasingly brilliant episodes, the first season of Fargo concludes tonight at 10pm on FX. When this show was first announced, it was quickly derided as an ill-conceived attempt to capitalize on a cult favorite film that could not possibly be improved or enriched by a ten-hour adaptation. The first episode assuaged those concerns to an extent, with instantly arresting performances and a visual style that recalls the Coen Brothers without imitating them, but the show truly distinguished itself approximately halfway through its run, when it diverged almost entirely from the thematic arc of its source material while tying itself more overtly than ever to the film’s chronology. With just the finale to go, Fargo stands as one of my favorite television experiences of 2014. Here are five things I’ll miss after tonight’s much-hyped finale:

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