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October 2009

September 2009

A Visit to Gatorland

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Gatorland is an iconic Central Florida institution dating back to 1949, and has remained a popular roadside attraction ever since, providing visitors a flipside experience to the Disney routine. It’s Florida with the sleeves cut off: part zoo, part redneck oasis. While my initial desire to visit the park hovered around personal energy levels normally reserved for church and costume drama press screenings, I have to admit that Gatorland puts on one heck of a show for those willing to embrace its small, boiled peanut charms.

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Film Review - I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

I HOPE THEY SERVE BEER IN HELL Still

“I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” based on a book by author Tucker Max, spent a few weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. Forgive the disrespect, but who in the heck is Tucker Max? Clearly the man has some sort of following, necessitating a feature film version of his successful novel (though let’s be fair here, both Artie Lange and Tori Spelling also scored time on the Bestseller List). After seeing the picture, perhaps it’s best to keep a safe distance from Max, since he comes across as a truly nauseating human being. Who knows how the man conducts himself in civilian life, but as a force of entertainment nature, he’s the worst thing to happen to cinema in a very long time.

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Film Review - Pandorum

PANDORUM Ben Foster

“Pandorum” is primarily sponsored by claustrophobia and glow sticks. Created with slippery, slicing European instincts, this sci-fi/horror voyage into the dark recesses of the mind is perhaps best appreciated with the sound off. A gorgeous production design can’t save the picture from trying too hard to dazzle with very little inspiration, and while “Pandorum” is easy to stare at, it can be a seriously punishing sit.

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Film Review - Surrogates

SURROGATES Bruce Willis

Director Jonathan Mostow has never offended me as a filmgoer. His pictures have been routinely well constructed and visually interesting (“Terminator 3,” “U-571,” “Breakdown”), even in the face of underwhelming plots and misguided performances. “Surrogates” is undoubtedly a misfire for the filmmaker, but it’s an interesting failure, peppered with a few memorable sequences and an appropriate, timely message highlighting the acceleration of social disconnect. While ambitious, the rhythm is off on this limping picture, with the fingerprints of severe studio interference smudging up the movie from the start.

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Film Review - Paranormal Activity

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY still

While sitting on the shelf for quite some time now, Paramount Pictures recently figured out a way to properly sell the $11,000 chiller, “Paranormal Activity.” Playing up the film’s haunted house aspect and psychological grip on select members of test audiences, the studio is raring to fashion a fresh “Blair Witch Project” moviegoing event, to build something extraordinary out of an exceedingly modest motion picture. I’m not suggesting “Activity” isn’t effective, but those purchasing a ticket would be well advised to bring expectations down to a dull roar, allowing the movie a fighting chance to frighten.

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Film Review - Capitalism: A Love Story

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For his seventh feature film, Michael Moore assumes his prominent position of government watchdog, gathering fragments of corruption and humiliation to mold his latest attack on the powers that be in, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Obviously there’s plenty of maddening evidence to work with, and while the picture comes off as overstuffed and unfinished, it still squeezes out incredibly forceful points on the diseased state of the union. Whatever it lacks in a red-target focal point, it’s still Moore doing what he does best: chipping away the layers of fraud that have calcified America, hoping to inspire others to storm the streets and question authority.

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Film Review - Fame (2009)

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Remaking the 1980 Alan Parker hit, “Fame,” makes sense to me. After all, every teenager in the world today seems to be primed for a career in stardom, weaned on “American Idol” and the string of stupidity that makes up the nightly programming blocks on MTV. It’s a story that offers ample elbow room to indulge fantasies of idolmaking, but I was plenty stunned to find the new “Fame” shallow and charmless, especially when it has not only a feature-film guide rail to work with, but a successful television spin-off as well. Instead of seeking reverence, the producers gave the film to an untested director and stripped all the grit right out of the material. What was once a neurotic, awkward climb to the summit of personal achievement has been molested into “High School Musical 4.” Coco would not approve.

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Film Review - Bright Star

BRIGHT STAR Cornish

In 1993, filmmaker Jane Campion stunned the world with her soulful, harrowing portrait of warm-blooded lust, “The Piano.” Suffering a few creative setbacks over the years, Campion returns to fertile artistic ground with “Bright Star,” a similarly heaved portrait of love’s unforgiving boundaries. Lacking a certain spark that justifies its excessive length, “Bright Star” does manage to recharge the director’s creative batteries, with material that allows Campion to exercise her amazing ability to depict love’s ever scarring touch.

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Film Review - The September Issue

SEPTEMBER ISSUE Anna Wintour

Putting together a magazine has always appeared to me to be an impossible gauntlet of stress and dedication. Assembling the obscenely high profile fashion bible during its largest issue is a proposition fit for the loony bin. Enter Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, and a woman of precise temperament and icy control. Dispatching her underlings, photographers, and models early in the year, Wintour begins to assemble a phone-book-thick beast of a magazine, created for a prime, exalted month devoted to the next big waves in fashion and celebrity. It’s known worldwide as “The September Issue.”

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Restaurant Roam - Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort

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Character dining at Walt Disney World is always a mixed bag. Elementary culinary experiences aimed toward the Duggar crowd of mass appeal, these family feasts are a chance for broods to chow in total chaos while costumed icons roam the floor encouraging photo and autograph interaction. It’s really never about the food at these establishments, only the easy-peasy face time with characters that would normally be a hassle and a half to tackle within a theme park. Still, Disney does cough up a little extra effort for these daily events, leading me to visit the restaurant Chef Mickey’s, located in the Contemporary Resort.

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Blu-ray Review - The Dark Crystal

Crystal

Had Jim Henson simply rested after giving the world The Muppets, nobody would’ve complained. After all, that Kermit-led revolution changed the face of family entertainment and restored some needed edge to G-rated comedy world. However, Henson was an energetic, curious creator, which led to a follow-up project that ate away years of his life, severely challenged the agility of his performers, and solidified him as an absolutely dazzling filmmaking architect. The picture was “The Dark Crystal.”

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Film Review - Blood Creek

BLOOD CREEK Purcell

What if Joel Schumacher made a film and nobody cared? No, not “Tigerland,” this time it’s the ominously titled “Blood Creek,” a horror picture that Lionsgate Films (the blue ribbon brand of genre quality) is giving the “Midnight Meat Train” shiv treatment, dumping the film into grubby second-run theaters without a peep of promotion. Keep in mind this is the same company that willingly gave the wretched “Gamer” a 2,500 screen release a few weeks back, so clearly Schumacher must’ve irritated someone of great power to see his movie dumped so unceremoniously.

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Film Review - Love Happens

LOVE HAPPENS Jennifer Aniston

There are certain decisions a film production can make that will immediately cast doubt on the mental capacity of those in charge. Hiring irritating actors Judy Greer and Dan Fogler to play buddy roles in “Love Happens” is a terrific way to state to the audience that filmmakers have little to no imagination, looking to the routine and the tiresome to squeak by with a minimal amount of effort. “Love Happens” isn’t a horrendous picture, but it could’ve been so much more vital and textured, and it could’ve done without the wretched BFF sleepwalking of Fogler and Greer.

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Film Review - Antichrist

ANTICHRIST Charlotte

Grief, death, and rusty scissors collide in Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist.” A metaphysical sojourn with cinema’s loudest spoilsport, the picture stuns and sickens, almost daring viewers to keep watching as it articulates the ravages of the unwound mind, filling the frame with demented acts of unspeakable violence and deeply considered thematic stimulation. For fans of Trier, “Antichrist” is a return to his once irresistible provocative appetites, shamelessly exploiting suffering and misogyny to generate the outrage that fuels his daydreams (and bank accounts). It’s a pitch-black torrential downpour of pain, and should only be approached by those willing to allow Trier 100 precious minutes to play his madcap mind games.

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Film Review - Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS Surprise

Using Judi and Ron Barrett’s beloved 1978 book, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” as inspiration, the big-screen adaptation takes off in its own special direction, mixing clever cartoon timing with an Irwin Allen valentine, emerging as one of the strongest CG-animated efforts of the year. Energetic and dripping with the sort of cutting-edge, reference-heavy humor that rules the genre today, “Meatballs” makes for a hilarious and obviously mouth-watering sit, the hunger dialed to impossible levels if viewed in a house of 3-D.

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Film Review - Jennifer's Body

JENNIFERS BODY Fox Lighter

Let’s put aside the obvious blunders of the horror comedy “Jennifer’s Body” for a moment and focus on the major howler of the picture: an emo band is selected to be the agent of Satan in the story. Not Judas Priest or Dio, but a guyliner-wearing, whimpering-vocals emo band. Now where’s the PTA-alarming fun in that? The popped-collar doomsday device is only a tiny portion of the troubles that plague this uneven, obnoxious picture, but with a script that tinkers with teens, sex, and Lucifer, peeling metal out of the mix is not a bright way to kickoff a tale that reaches for a specific tone of wickedness.

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Film Review - The Informant!

INFORMANT Damon

There’s an exclamation point in the proper title of “The Informant,” but I’m not sure why. Nothing happens in the film that warrants such dramatic punctuation, but I assume it means something special to director Steven Soderbergh. It’s getting to be a private carnival for the once engaging filmmaker, who appears to be chasing a Peter-Sellers-meets-Forbes bite for his latest picture, only to bury the jokes in three feet of baffling stylistic choices and tin-ear scoring. “Informant” takes some exertion to appreciate, but the payoff doesn’t quite reward the moviegoing effort.

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