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April 2012

Blu-ray Review - America Revealed

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Yul Kwon is a legal expert, management consultant, and, of course, the winner of "Survivor: Cook Islands," making him a most unusual choice to host "America Revealed," a four-part investigation into the systems that drive the American experience. Taking to land, sea, and air on multiple occasions to cross the country for maximum cultural immersion, Kwon grabs the reins of this enlightening but cushy documentary, an effort that carries a distinct ADD atmosphere of information overload. Perhaps fearful of exhausting scope as it dissects national manufacturing and connectivity 53 minutes at a time, "America Revealed" piles on numerous topics without any intent to investigate the true ramifications of agriculture and industrial advancements. While technically sound, the program is messy and disappointingly non-confrontational, sure to irritate those on the prowl for deeper meaning with issues of corporate responsibility and consumer protection. Still, as a surface blast of information, "America Revealed" highlights an enormous amount of issues worth investigating further, backing up ideas with fascinating visuals of life on the go. There's also Kwon, an appealing man making a smooth transition to PBS stardom, able to connect the dots with a few bad jokes, some distinct fear when accepting daredevil tasks, and an earnest sense of discovery. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Safe

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When it comes to Jason Statham and his action entertainment endeavors, one always knows what to expect. While maintaining a perfectly respectable career as an unshaven action figure, Statham’s movies haven’t always displayed a level of concentration and imagination that could solidify the star as a punch-happy icon. “Safe” is a fitting match of the actor’s growly determination to restless cinematic overload, with writer/director Boaz Yakin orchestrating a largely insane bruiser that invests in mesmerizing absurdity. It’s ridiculously violent and frequently flat-out ridiculous, but the picture’s commitment to the underlying promise of roaring bullet-drenched mayhem is kept in a big way. With “Safe,” Statham finds assertive material that fits his limited range like a glove, blending the diminutive scrapper into a larger portrait of New York City chaos, prizing every last broken bone and open wound.

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Film Review - The Pirates! Band of Misfits

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The latest from Aardman Animations, “The Pirates! Band of Misfits” (released elsewhere as “The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists”) carries all the hallmarks of the British studio’s wit, speed, and visual creativity. A stop-motion animated effort, the movie is a delightfully entertaining yarn that puts a little cheekiness back into cinematic pirating, especially after the gradual disruption of jollity found in the last three “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels. Besides, what’s more fun to watch, a mincing Johnny Depp or a plasticine figure of extraordinary flexibility and cartoon possibility, plundering and bumbling across a vividly designed and colored background, surrounded by pure mischief? It also doesn’t hurt that “Band of Misfits” is easily the most charismatic performance Hugh Grant has delivered in over a decade.

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Film Review - The Raven

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“The Raven” should be a lot more entertaining than it actually is. Extrapolating the final days of writer Edgar Allan Poe, the movie turns the author into a detective of sorts, playing up the man’s expertise with macabre situations as he races to save a damsel in distress. After all, who’s more skilled at catching murderers than a man who’s spent his life imagining indescribable horrors? What’s actually committed to the screen is stillborn, poorly arranged by director James McTeigue, who’s too caught up in stiff period details to keep suspense in play. It’s a neat idea for a film, but it doesn’t come alive in this uneventful attempt to refresh the serial killer genre.

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Film Review - The Five-Year Engagement

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“The Five-Year Engagement” highlights familiar cinematic working parts, keeping in step with previous Judd Apatow productions with its overreliance on improvisational comedy, unnecessary foul language, and a bloated run time (clocking in at just over two hours). Yet, the picture manages to locate a morsel of life left in the mummified romantic comedy genre, using relationship realism and blindingly charismatic stars to carry a heavy load of Apatowian formula. While a bit unwieldy, “The Five-Year Engagement” is a winningly silly effort to dissect pre-wedding tension and longtime commitment coziness, doing a capable job milking domestic discomfort for every drop of goofballery, punctuated with a sweet dollop of genuine affection shared between the lead characters. In an industry obsessed with wedding movies, here’s an anti-ceremony heartwarmer, executed with a spongy comedic imagination and a little touch of soul.

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Film Review - Headhunters

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From Norway comes “Headhunters,” a startlingly aggressive offering of thriller cinema that arranges quite a ferocious ride of murder and escape. While it introduces itself as a darkly comic heist picture with satiric flavors popping from its business world setting, the feature soon takes off like a shot, hitting the viewer with all sorts of gruesome acts of violence and desperate scenarios of survival, maintaining an outstanding pace as it mounts numerous twists and turns. Although it carries a few off-putting moments for the average moviegoer, “Headhunters” is a truly accomplished showcase of direction, with copious amount of surprises and neat corners on the storytelling. That Hollywood is rabid to remake the film is the least shocking thing about it.

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Film Review - 96 Minutes

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“96 Minutes” is a story about violence told in a violent manner. It’s an unsightly film, dreadfully cynical and obvious, but there’s a germ of an idea concerning the foundation of cruelty that’s worth noting, but it involves sitting through a 90 minute picture anchored by unnecessary shaky cam, one genuinely bad performance, and superfluous cursing to prove itself hard enough to dramatize life locked in dire urban centers. It’s a mediocre effort from writer/director Aimee Lagos, making her feature-length helming debut, but “96 Minutes” has moments of promise and severity that suggests the moviemaker might excel with better material one day.

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Film Review - Jesus Henry Christ

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Despite a provocative title, “Jesus Henry Christ” doesn’t really have anything interesting to share with its audience. It’s an empty calorie viewing experience, helped along by a few commendable performances, but the event is largely drowned in meticulous frame details, mimicking Wes Anderson’s directorial fingerprint. Helmer Dennis Lee (“Fireflies in the Garden”) comes to “Jesus Henry Christ” with a clear idea on how the feature should look, but the human element is sorely lacking from his whirring filmmaking tastes. It’s boldly colored and sharply designed, but there’s little to take away from the movie besides a surface appreciation for certain production accomplishments. The rest of the effort doesn’t share the same vibrant position.

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Film Review - The Moth Diaries

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“The Moth Diaries” initially caught my attention due to the participation of writer/director Mary Harron, the filmmaker behind such pictures as “American Psycho” and “I Shot Andy Warhol.” Last seen on the big screen with 2005’s “The Notorious Bettie Page,” Harron spent a considerable amount of time in television, with “The Moth Diaries” a long-awaited return to feature-length moviemaking. Sadly, Harron’s instincts have flattened some since her last major cinematic effort, as this latest offering lacks a confident vision and true storytelling clarity. While effectively eerie, “The Moth Diaries” doesn’t provide a sustained vibration of dread, mixing adolescent hysteria with monstrous developments to little effect.

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Film Review - Think Like a Man

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“Think Like a Man” is an extended infomercial for comedian Steve Harvey’s 2009 book, “Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.” There’s no real cohesiveness to the production, which basically stitches together various battle of the sexes shenanigans starring unpleasant characters intended to represent the average man and woman as they play the game of love. When it’s not hackneyed and abusive to the concept of a tender relationship shared between two people, “Think Like a Man” is exceptionally unfunny, utilizing noise instead of wit. In fact, the entire film is one long yelling match whacked up into dreary episodic adventures with personalities who deserve the single life. Harvey’s a terrific comedian and hosts the heck out of “Family Feud,” but when it comes to matters of the heart, the man has perverted passion into a moviegoing event that induces conversion disorder.

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Film Review - The Lucky One

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Even for a syrupy Nicholas Sparks adaptation, “The Lucky One” is awfully hard to swallow. However, it starts off promisingly enough, displaying dewy stars frolicking in dewy locations, trading bedroom eyes as the melodrama grows like weeds around them. We’ve been here before, in movies such as “The Notebook” and “Dear John,” yet “The Lucky One” stands out from the pack as material that could’ve found a distinctive position of romance and redemption, yet all ambition is thrown away on cartoonish villainy and a complete lack of rational thought from the main characters. There’s genuine heat between stars Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling, but the rest of the picture is utter nonsense, cruelly unaware of its own absurdity.

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Film Review - To the Arctic 3D

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A significant amount of nature documentaries are created every year, and each one of these productions tends to follow a common structure of introduction and behavioral understanding, punctuated with a harsh environmental message, hoping to inject a sense of action into the viewer. “To the Arctic 3D” is an IMAX effort that does away with friendly preambles to hit the audience right in the gut with the realities of life near the North Pole. Our world is heating up and the ice is melting, leaving those creatures dependent on ruthless conditions and steady climate changes to fend for themselves in a new frontier of water and warmth.

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Film Review - We Have a Pope

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When approaching cinematic investigations into the pope and Vatican affairs, most features take extra caution, often depicting the Catholic authority with a severe attitude befitting such religious and cultural power. “We Have a Pope” doesn’t attempt to deface the organization, but works to understand the clouded headspace of a man suddenly thrust into the spotlight, handed authority and publicity he’s not fully prepared for. The psychological study makes this film special and enlightening, seeking to find a human side to the misgivings inherent in any papal election, creating an uncertain lead character facing unimaginable responsibility, struggling with his fears as the world waits patiently for him to step forward and accept his heavenly duty.

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Film Review - Disneynature's Chimpanzee

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For Disneynature’s sixth worldwide release, the company turns their attention to chimpanzees and all the curiosity and cuteness they provide. “Chimpanzee” has plenty of personality to share as it constructs a tale of a baby fighting to find his place after the death of his mother, but this feature is more reality show than distanced animal documentary. Building a narrative out of random footage, the production aims to control nature to meet the needs of tired formula. The technical achievements of “Chimpanzee” are nothing short of stunning, but missing here is an authenticity of behavior and stillness of observance, wiped away to give audiences a cartoon rendering of the wild -- the producers fearful they might not sit still for the real thing.

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Film Review - Jiro Dreams of Sushi

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Here’s a documentary that expands a 10-minute-long subject into a hypnotic 80 minutes of food preparation and philosophy. “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” approaches the fine art of meal construction with a goal to revel in the gifts of a sushi master, only to discover something far more appealing about a highly respectful family dynamic behind the counter. Foodies will likely lose their mind watching a genius assemble bite after bite of world-famous sushi, but the picture’s command emerges from a heartfelt place of craft and expertise, working beyond gastronomy particulars to understand a deep sense of tradition and quality that’s carried on for decades, found in a most unlikely place.

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Blu-ray Review - Great Expectations

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Published in 1861, "Great Expectations" is one of the most famous works to emerge from author Charles Dickens, sustaining for 150 years as a devastating portrait of emotional frigidity and wild swings of fate. The source material has also found itself the subject of numerous film and television adaptations, each challenged to capture the writing's grim tone while servicing the needs of short run times and star demands. Perhaps most famously, the story was transformed into a highly beloved 1946 David Lean feature (I'm also partial to an ambitious 1998 modernization starring Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow). Attempting to return to well-worn literary ground, the BBC brings "Great Expectations" back to the small screen, laboring to restore Dickens's narrative scope and bleak sensibilities to a visual medium. The picture is immensely successful on multiple levels of execution, conjuring a forbidding realm of shattered lives and titular promise, carefully detailing a period of decay in such a vivid manner, every Blu-ray copy should come with a tetanus shot. With an impeccable cinematographic effort and a fabulously talented cast filling out all roles great and small, the material shines once again, convincing with its passions and its madness, inching closer to a definitive version of a tale it seems every creative type would like to take a crack at. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com