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November 2010

Blu-ray Review - The Sorcerer's Apprentice

SORCERER'S APPRENTICE Still 6

I’m starting to believe there’s a massive steel machine in super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s office, and, when he makes a movie, he feeds the pleasing results into the furious engine, which then takes whatever clicks wonderfully about the film and smashes it to pieces. “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” began life as a riff on the iconic Mickey Mouse segment of “Fantasia,” but what’s onscreen isn’t nearly as inviting or whimsical as the animated short. Instead, the feature is a winded stunt show, brought to its knees by overcooked writing and insistently fruitless attempts at comedy. Once again, Bruckheimer’s contraption takes a pure idea for adventure and kills the enjoyment by overthinking matters to a paralyzing degree.

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DVD Review - The Winning Season

WINNING SEASON DVD 1

There’s nothing in “The Winning Season” that you haven’t seen before in other, better underdog motion pictures. It’s an exercise in cliché that benefits from the charms of the cast, chiefly Sam Rockwell, who sweetens the tiresome formula with his eccentric, sardonic ways. It doesn’t win points for originality, but the film keeps to a steady rhythm of entertainment, delivering a few laughs and tears along the way on DVD before it settles into its rightful home on basic cable, where the modest elements of this basketball picture will find a fitting audience.

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Blu-ray Review - Flipped

FLIPPED Blu-ray 5

Perspective is a key component of Rob Reiner’s “Flipped,” yet the film doesn’t have enough of it to go around. A disagreeable ride into calculated nostalgic spasms and draining melodramatics, “Flipped” isn’t some frothy jaunt into the past, dancing with the ways of young love. It’s far more oppressive and artificial, counting on a hit-packed soundtrack and the innocence of years gone by to secure a tender reaction. If the feature doesn’t latch on to the senses immediately with its sugared claws, it’s a long, ugly 85 minutes of dreadful behavior to endure, waiting for an ending that never arrives.

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Blu-ray Review - The Expendables

EXPENDABLES Blu-ray 1

With “The Expendables,” co-writer/director/star Sylvester Stallone looks to take viewers back to the action cinema heyday of the 1980s, to a time when muscle men picked up ridiculous weapons and slammed bad guys around with ease. Taking that problematic aesthetic and giving it new life in 2010, Stallone has revived his machismo mojo, making “The Expendables” a gonzo moviegoing experience teeming with perfectly modulated absurdity and gifted an ensemble of charismatic badasses the screen hasn’t seen in years.

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Film Review - Burlesque

BURLESQUE Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera makes her big screen starring debut with the musical “Burlesque,” following the career trajectories of such aspiring pop princess thespians as Britney Spears and Mariah Carey. The good news is that while stiff, the former “Dirrty” girl has the makings to become an energetic screen presence in future films. The bad news is that while shellacked with shiny things, “Burlesque” is even more cringe-inducing than “Glitter” or “Crossroads,” bestowing Aguilera a loathsome script patched together from every cliché imaginable. All the jiggly bosoms, skimpy outfits, and garish songs can’t disguise the fact that this picture is utterly brain dead.

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Film Review - Faster

FASTER Dwayne Johnson

Spending the last few years of his career trying to make family audiences adore him, Dwayne Johnson has elected to return to his action roots with the thriller “Faster.” Wonderfully sleazy in spurts, R-rated, and filled with asphalt-peeling car stunts, the picture has enough nasty attitude in the early going to inspire unexpected confidence in director George Tillman, Jr. The woozy sense of sick doesn’t make it to the very end, but it carries the picture far enough to extract a faint recommendation, especially to anyone feeling nauseated by Johnson’s recent career choices.

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Film Review - Love and Other Drugs

LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS Still 1

There’s one single moment during “Love and Other Drugs” that ushers in some much needed reality to the proceedings. It comes off as alien because it contains a genuine feeling of vulnerability, prominently sticking out in a film that drips with drab romantic comedy clichés and Penthouse Letter-style sexuality. If director Edward Zwick could’ve nurtured that moment for longer than a few measly minutes, this picture might’ve found a meaningful core. Instead, the filmmaker speeds on by, itching to return to the unpleasant, trivial business that forms the rest of this disappointing movie.

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Film Review - Tangled

TANGLED still 1

The CG-animated “Tangled” is perhaps Disney’s most calculated effort since 1997’s “Hercules,” often caught begging for love from every demographic. It’s a gorgeously mounted motion picture with impeccable artistic flair, but there’s something rattling in the engine of this film that doesn’t sit right, a desperation that grows more insistent as the movie motors along. Disney magic gives the feature a satisfying lift, but the ride is rocky, caught between the lights of Broadway and the battering ram comedy tempo of a Looney Tunes production.

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Film Review - 127 Hours

127 HOURS Still 1

Throughout his career, filmmaker Danny Boyle has taken chances. Some have worked (“Slumdog Millionaire,” “Sunshine”), others have failed (“A Life Less Ordinary”), but he’s remained a captivating, intrepid presence on the movie scene. “127 Hours” is perhaps his most astonishing work to date, bringing to the screen the staggeringly nightmarish true story of Aron Ralston, who found himself literally between a rock and a hard place as he fought for his life in the wilds of Utah for just over five days. It’s just Boyle, star James Franco, and a canyon filled with anxiety and delirium for 90 extraordinarily compelling minutes.

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Blu-ray Review - The Disappearance of Alice Creed

DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED Gemma Arterton

An intimate thriller imbued with potent twists and turns, “The Disappearance of Alice Creed” is a sneaky creature, invested in a bleak mood of imprisonment that repels as much as it fascinates. While writer/director J. Blakeson can’t fill out the entire feature with delirious suspense, he executes a few superb surprises here, sold by a cast of three talented actors in various stages of gut-wrenching distress.

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Film Review - The Next Three Days

NEXT THREE DAYS Elizabeth Banks

With “The Next Three Days,” writer/director Paul Haggis steps into the thriller genre after losing himself to matters of the heart with films such as “Crash” and “In the Valley of Elah.” The change is needed, but the demands of drama have bent his sense of timing, leaving his new picture a perfectly stimulating jailbreak movie that doesn’t know exactly when to start or when to quit. Consistently entertaining, the picture nevertheless has a nasty habit of wandering aimlessly, disrupting the visceral extravaganza at hand.

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Film Review - Heartless

HEARTLESS Still 1

“Heartless” exists purely in visual terms. It’s an art project not meant to be understood or interpreted, but merely gawked at, with the filmmaker in question, Philip Ridley, creating a swirling, vicious depiction of grief and madness, heading in abstract directions that are easily appreciated but rarely satisfying. It’s a wicked film with convincing nightmarish imagery, but there’s no story here to cling to, making this abyss of torment rather easy to disregard.

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Film Review - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART 1 Daniel Radcliffe

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is at least 1/2 of a proper conclusion. The seventh book in author J.K. Rowling’s wizard phantasmagoria, “Deathly Hallows” has been chopped into two feature films to capture the full lung capacity of the material, and perhaps yank some additional box office coin along the way. But that’s cynicism, and there’s nothing cynical about this gorgeously crafted, perilous journey with three heroes who’ve grown up before our eyes over the last decade, iconically repelling evil with the support of a miraculous, focused production team. The first half of this final battle is a tonally unstoppable creature, blessed with a startling sense of stamina and grandeur to support the epic tale of a boy wizard facing a dire journey towards manhood.

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Blu-ray Review - The Lightkeepers

LIGHTKEEPERS Blythe Danner

When I viewed “The Golden Boys” during its limited 2009 theatrical release, I never imagined it was situated to be the first part in a planned trilogy of movies concerning the romantic woes of turn of the century Cape Cod residents. “The Lightkeepers” is the second chapter of this interminable saga from writer/director Daniel Adams, and while it’s a feature of commendable morality and casting accomplishment, the filmmaker once again submits a bloodless viewing experience slavish to retro dramatic ambiance, while lacking the directorial chops required to keep it all awake.

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