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May 2013

Film Review - Now You See Me

NOW YOU SEE ME Isla Fisher

“Now You See Me” is a movie about the world of magic that doesn’t contain a single frame of the real thing. It purports to understand the techniques and attitude of the profession, yet it does a great injustice to the skill of misdirection by turning elaborate deception into blunt blockbuster filmmaking, perverting sleight of hand beauty into moronic CGI-drenched escapades where anything goes. “Now You See Me” is a lousy picture, anchored by lazy screenwriting and dismal performances, but that it ignores the challenge of bringing authentic magic to the screen to support its caper interests is practically unforgivable, keeping the effort thoroughly plasticized and often tedious. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - American Mary

AMERICAN MARY Still 3

With “American Mary,” the Soska Sisters, identical twins Jen and Sylvia, become a force to be reckoned with in the horror community. While their screenwriting ultimately fumbles the climax, the picture remains a fascinatingly brutal, charmingly perverse creation that always maintains its composure, despite an open invitation to dwell on extreme personalities in a most untidy manner. Funky without feeling oppressive, “American Mary” is sharply made and well acted, keeping it ahead of routine genre offerings with its unique interest in the body modification subculture, approaching disturbing behavior with a palpable comfort level that’s not encountered often enough. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - After Earth

AFTER EARTH Will Smith

Although it’s nearly impossible to distinguish from the marketing push, “After Earth” is actually co-scripted and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the once mighty filmmaking force whose name used to be the guiding light for any promotional campaign. Now he’s barely mentioned, yet “After Earth” retains the atmosphere and odd accentuation of a traditional Shyamalan effort, down to awkward pauses and frosty performances. The big guns here are star Will Smith and son Jaden Smith, and while the actors have difficulty raising the pulse rate of such a lethargic project, it’s really the helmer’s iffy creative decisions that keep “After Earth” more of a wince-inducing drag than the heart-squeezing, mind-blowing sci-fi adventure it desires to be. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Stories We Tell

STORIES WE TELL Sarah Polley

From the outside looking in, it seems rather insistent of director Sarah Polley to present a documentary with her own family as the subject, suggesting an insufferably narcissistic viewing experience where the artist purges her demons for the world to see. However, “Stories We Tell” isn’t that shameless, embarking on a riveting odyssey of emotion, revelation, and storytelling perspective as it examines a most unusual situation of bifurcated love, resulting in a mystery of sorts involving a question of paternity and the very essence of family as Polley collects the jigsaw puzzle pieces of her life. While I can understand any reluctance to view the personal business of others, Polley moves beyond the routine of therapy to shape an expressive and beautifully considerate documentary. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Behind the Candelabra

BEHIND THE CANDELABRA Matt Damon Michael Douglas

As repeatedly reported in pre-release press, “Behind the Candelabra” represents the last feature film Steven Soderbergh plans to direct before entering a period of retirement nobody believes will last for long. On the off chance he actually follows through on this threat, “Behind the Candelabra” is an apt farewell for the frustrated moviemaker, who tackles a controversial script teeming with sordid details and cruel behavior, out to strangle the legacy of gaudy showman Liberace, viewed here a monster-in-the-making. Although a glacial pace ultimately undermines the passions of the characters, the picture does supply tangy performances from stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, who sink their teeth into the unsavory business of love gone wrong, captured by Soderbergh in a distracted manner that hints more at auteur fatigue rather than industry frustration. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Black Rock

BLACK ROCK Still 2

Exploitation cinema is rarely guided by women, making “Black Rock” something special in the often distasteful genre, which always seems to hold a remarkable amount of aggression toward female characters. However, don’t let director Katie Aselton fool you, as she’s crafted a roughhouse effort that serves up frenzied acts of intimidation and extreme violence. Unfortunately, she’s funneled such raw intensity into an unforgivably permissive picture, with hyperactive performances and thinly sketched screenwriting unraveling whatever highlights of terror manage to survive the viewing experience. The feminine approach is refreshing, but the novelty wears off quickly once a few of these actors decide to turn on the ham, making it difficult to buy much of what “Black Rock” is selling. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Shoot First, Die Later

SHOOT FIRST DIE LATER Luc Merenda

My education in the work of director Fernando Di Leo has primarily consisted of watching stoic men go about the daily business of murder, punctuated with the occasional feminine distraction and staring contests between antagonists. The ominously titled "Shoot First, Die Later" contains many of the same elements as before, happily showing off the hardness of character Di Leo built a reputation on. Heck, this movie opens with one of the villains ordering a mass murder of local dim-wits, with the camera enjoying the view of a gunman blasting away at the vulnerable legs of his victims. However, this 1974 feature is perhaps the strongest, most penetrative effort from the maestro I've seen to date, revealing an unexpectedly potent emotional core and richly defined moral struggle, giving the harsh violence and chest-puffing genuine meaning. It's a marvelous picture, spotlighting roughhouse action and a leather-jacket score, while reinforcing Di Leo's iconic status as a crime film craftsman tackling a challenging study of duality and honor. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Syrup

SYRUP Amber Heard

“Syrup” takes on the cutthroat world of marketing, a battleground where anything goes in terms of content, as long as it sells. The same disposability applies to the employees as well, who often engage in pure ruthlessness to secure work and reputation, handing the picture fanged potential that’s aching for a smart directorial approach to lend the material momentum and a biting sense of humor. “Syrup” doesn’t head in that direction, instead self-consciously watering down its acid splashes to appease sensitive moviegoers, introducing a dead weight romantic subplot to soften the blow. It’s a spunky film, but only in frustrating fits, with the majority of the feature overly concerned with its appearance, generating a sliver of irony to go with all the mediocrity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Fast & Furious 6

FAST AND FURIOUS 6 Vin Diesel Paul Walker

With its last outing, 2011’s “Fast Five,” the “Fast and the Furious” franchise reached a previously unimaginable creative high. Against all odds, it was a vastly entertaining picture that readjusted tonal goals for the series, dropping most the dead weight car race tangents to run full steam ahead as a caper, using the limited but colorful cast to generate an event film atmosphere populated with familiar faces and some exciting new ones. Rewarded with enormous box office returns, the producers have decided to maintain the pace, keeping “Fast & Furious 6” (titled “Furious 6” on the print) focused on a Bondian baddie, wrecking ball-style chases, and pro-wrestling fisticuffs. What’s missing here is a decent script, at least something approaching digestibility when it comes to the misadventures of this knuckle-dragging crew. The production insists the characters should verbalize their every thought. The production has made a horrible mistake. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Hangover: Part III

HANGOVER PART III Bradley Cooper

It appears Todd Phillips received the memo. After the successful sequel, “The Hangover: Part II,” was released in 2011, there was a great swell of disappointment, watching co-writer/director Phillips basically remake his original 2009 feature, merely switching locales and stakes but retaining the same crude sense of humor and trust in comedic madness. Perhaps aware of the apathetic response to “Part II,” “The Hangover: Part III” heads in a fresh direction, with a new plot and a different focus on certain characters. It’s not exactly an apology, but the production’s once mighty devotion to hard R-rated chaos has been dialed down considerably, coming off affectionate toward the Wolf Pack as they embark on their final disaster. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Painting

PAINTING Still 2

In this line of work, one sees plenty of animated movies, and while there are natural variances in quality, most fall into a familiar structure, guaranteeing a certain box office response. The French production “The Painting” generally refuses the temptations of formula, displaying remarkable invention as it builds a unique world of art appreciation and adventure, using smarts instead of sameness to provide a richly detailed viewing experience that will satisfy the whole family. It’s sophisticated and stunning, amusing and harrowing, and quite possibly one of the most interesting pictures of the year, raising the bar for CG-animated pursuits. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Epic

EPIC Amanda Seyfried

The Cartoon-o-Tron 9000 sparks to life and cranks out “Epic,” a feature filled with so many derivative ideas and formulaic events, it’s difficult to assess what’s actually novel about the picture. From the production team that brought the world the “Ice Age” series and “Robots,” “Epic” has its eye on a blockbuster plan of engagement, hoping to wow its audience with an expansive fantasy world populated with miniature heroes and villains. What’s missing here is a personality of its own, with director Chris Wedge more attentive to marketing needs and CG-animated minutiae than supporting an engaging story. It’s a mechanical, halfhearted effort, and while it’s lovely to look at, there’s little to the movie that lives up to its lofty title. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Frances Ha

FRANCES HA Greta Gerwig

Writer/director Noah Baumbach has spent the last chunk of his career working on his anger issues, funneling his insecurities into pictures such as “Margot at the Wedding” and “Greenberg.” “Frances Ha” comes off as a calculated attempt by Baumbach to remind his audience that he’s not such a creep, working intimately with star/co-writer Greta Gerwig on a tale of delayed adolescence hitting a rough patch of reality. It’s a comedy, though often a painful one, displaying bouncy pop songs and a chipper attitude despite its investment in depicting the natural progression of stale friendships, counting on Gerwig’s sludgy delivery and credible embodiment of woman-child impulses to sprinkle sugar on the behavioral poison. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's

SCATTER MY ASHES AT BERGDORF'S Still 1

In 1995, the Isaac Mizrahi documentary “Unzipped” opened to acclaim and box office interest. It was a strange picture at the time, revealing the backstage life of a fashion designer, detailing the work, the struggles, and the success of such an intense vocation, teeming with judgment and humiliation. Cut to today, and fashion stories are everywhere, with television shows and documentaries happily pulling back the curtain on industry secrets and cattiness while selling an image of artistry and unattainable luxury to those who relish such dreamtime opportunities. Finding a fringe topic rarely open for discussion, director Matthew Miele goes beyond style and into the store, establishing a cathedral of commerce and anecdotes for inspection in “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s.” Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Shadow Dancer

SHADOW DANCER Andrea Riseborough

Most films concerning The Troubles take a vitriolic stance, using stark images of violence and fiery participants to paint a disturbing portrait of sacrifice and circular movements of tragedy. “Shadow Dancer” is no less impassioned, but takes a more suspenseful route, locking on the internal churn of responsibility and personal protection as national events and schemes of war carry on in the background. It’s a terrific picture, bolstered by powerful performances from Clive Owen and especially Andrea Riseborough, who carries the restless effort with a singular display of discomfort peeking out from behind a mask of duty, capturing a precise projection of doubt in the midst of destructive political certainty. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - K-11

K-11 Kate del Castillo

"K-11" marks the directorial debut for longtime script supervisor Jules Stewart, though she's probably best known as the mother of "Twilight" superstar and famed stammer queen Kristin Stewart. Only able to talk her kid into a voice cameo for her first helming gig, Stewart is left without star power and a decent budget to bring her prison epic to life, with only a few tricks, some unusual sexual tension, and an overabundance of quirk and chaos to help sell her vision to the audience. "K-11" is an odd feature and it's rarely a successful one, sweating up a storm to come off edgy and unconventional. Tonally unsteady and dramatically asthmatic, the picture is only moderately tolerable due to few technical strengths and a key role played by Kate del Castillo, who manages to make a slight supporting turn into a grand display of camp, menace, and cockeyed sex appeal Stewart should've made the focus of the entire film. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Assault on Wall Street

ASSAULT ON WALL STREET Dominic Purcell

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an Uwe Boll picture, going to back 2008 when his last theatrical endeavor, “In the Name of the King,” blew in and out of multiplexes with the speed of a spring breeze. Since that time, Boll has gone on to direct 15 movies, living up to his Ed Wood legacy by churning out features at an alarming rate, with one of his last efforts titled “Blubberella” (oof). What was once goofy cult aimlessness has now become a private industry for Boll, who, despite his grim artistic reputation and the forgettable nature of his work, has managed to remain employed after all these years. Now the helmer puts the Financial Crisis of 2008 into his crosshairs, turning monetary ruin and one-percenter gloating into a revenge fantasy, putting a gun and a moronic script into the hand of the common man. Because it wouldn’t be Boll if there wasn’t borderline irresponsible storytelling. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com