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February 2009

Film Review - The Echelon Conspiracy


Last fall’s surprise smash “Eagle Eye” concerned the nightmare of a NSA computer system gone haywire, using the deep technological reach of modern society to control the fate of the human race. “The Echelon Conspiracy” is about the nightmare of a NSA computer system gone haywire, using the deep technological reach of modern society to control the fate of the human race. You see the difference? While “Echelon” walks accidentally (I hope) in very recognizable footprints, this latest take on Bush-era paranoia and cell phone alarm might arrive in theaters somewhat dramatically moldy and short-sheeted in the budget department, yet it’s actually a more rewarding sit than “Eagle Eye” if viewed with minimal attention paid to the details.

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Film Review - Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience


Sometimes being a film critic is being at constant war with your instincts. This time last year, the “Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour” film was hitting screens across the country, with distributor Disney doubling ticket prices and keeping the press away from the final product out of fear of rotten reviews spoiling the moment. I walked in cautious and came out smiling, finding a bouncy performance film that utilized cutting-edge 3-D technology and bubblegum pop theatrics superbly, bestowing the devoted the party atmosphere and you-are-there point of view that formed one heck of a show. Now it’s time for the Jonas Brothers to play the 3-D concert film lottery, and, once again, I have fear.

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Film Review - Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li


If memories could be dialed back to the dark ages of the mid-1990s for a moment, recall that the last time the “Street Fighter” video game empire was adapted for the big screen, it concerned a cartoonishly costumed Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kylie Minogue trying to save the world from the demonic clutches of an infirmed Raul Julia. Unsurprisingly, the film tanked. Now 15 years later, a new challenger has arrived with “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li,” and this production is armed with a few clumsy television actors, Chris Klein, and a member of the Black Eyed Peas. This is not progress.

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Film Review: The Velveteen Rabbit


Author Margery Williams’s 1922 novel, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” is one of those ageless children’s books that’s so entirely heartbreaking it burns an imprint onto the soul that’s impossible to remove. Adapted throughout the decades for generations of audiences to enjoy, “Rabbit” finds its way back into the limelight with a new feature film that only borrows thematic bullet points from Williams to form its own pass at an age-old tale of love and childhood maturity. A little rough around the edges, the new “Rabbit” is nevertheless successful with the small goals it sets for itself, providing a richly fulfilling movie night for the entire family.

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DVD Review - Ace Ventura Jr.: Pet Detective

ACE 3 Ace

It’s been a treat to watch the 1994 underdog “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” grow from a critical open sore to something resembling a slapstick classic. Along with its deliriously madcap 1995 sequel, “When Nature Calls,” the Ace franchise has developed into a beloved comedic institution, due in great part to Jim Carrey’s fluid, berserk work as the titular animal sleuth. Imagine the ecstasy of a third “Ace Ventura” movie, with the promise of Carrey returning to his career-making role after a 14-year-long absence spent trying to sell himself as a serious actor, ready to slap on the bouffant and spastic mannerisms to conquer the world all over again. Viva la Carrey! 

Would you settle for Josh Flitter instead?

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The Terrace Theater in Robbinsdale, Minnesota (1951-1999)

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Perhaps in this age of the antiseptic multiplex atmosphere and assorted corporate banalities that ensue, the diamond concept of the movie theater as a sort of makeshift cathedral for filmgoing worship doesn’t exist anymore. I know my golden era of cinema awareness came at the twilight of the mall multiplex craze, where I was still able to enjoy a few of the decaying treasures of previous moviegoing trends before their eventual demolition. At the time I visited these gems, I just lived in the moment, barely able to process anything besides purchasing a cheap ticket and an oily bucket of popcorn. Nowadays I yearn for the theaters of my youth, especially when visiting the soulless moviegoer farms that pass for cinemas today.

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DVD Review - Howard the Duck: Special Edition

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There was an outrageous amount of bad cinema released during the 1980s to calcify the senses, but nothing retained the absurdly vitriolic reputation of “Howard the Duck.” A lump of top-heavy comedic/sci-fi filmmaking, the blame for the failure of this messy movie has always been forced onto the bearded shoulders of producer George Lucas, who was torn a new anal cavity by the press and select members of the public for this big screen blunder. After viewing the film, I’m fairly certain Lucas is the least of the picture’s problems. A bloated, mismanaged attempt to mingle brash irreverence and crunchy blockbuster aesthetics, “Howard the Duck” isn’t quite the booming nightmare its reputation suggests, but I defy most viewers out there in DVD land to sit through the entire feature without maintaining a sweaty, alert finger on the fast-forward button.

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Film Review - Madea Goes to Jail


Times are tough for Tyler Perry these days. With critical accolades in short supply and box office returns slowing to a worrisome degree, it’s time to bust out the old drag routine again to stimulate the faithful. Discounting a microscopic cameo in last year’s “Meet the Browns,” “Madea Goes to Jail” is the first time the titular Georgian hell-raiser has assumed a starring role in three years. I’ll be honest: she wasn’t missed. An unpardonably primitive, repetitive dramedy that promises a farce yet delivers the same tiresome Perry brand of spiritual and empowerment hooey, the “Jail” of the title is more apt as a metaphor for the ticket buyer’s situation than a comic location for Madea to prance around within.

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Film Review - The Rock-afire Explosion


Nostalgia, the undiluted variety, can assume the form of tender memories that enhance the human experience, providing illumination in the strangest of places. Nostalgia can also foster obsession, either for objects or a return to a supposed simplicity of life that’s impossible to reconstruct in the modern world. “The Rock-afire Explosion” itemizes the efforts of sensitive individuals who ache to grasp the elusive comfort of the past to help brighten their future, only the object of desire at play here might raise a few eyebrows.

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Film Review - Fired Up!

FIRED UP still

Actors Nicholas D’Agosto and Eric Christian Olsen are aged 28 and 31, respectively. In the cheerleading epic “Fired Up!,” these men have been hired to play teenagers, which remains the one and only piece of hilarity to be treasured within this terrifyingly miscalculated, nastily adrenalized comedy. Man-boys, nubile girls, sporting hijinks, and beloved actor John Michael Higgins in a cameo; one would think with these tools the filmmakers could’ve invited any reaction from the viewer other than the one they achieve: self-immolation.

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Film Review - Fanboys


Shot three years ago and soon after became the bruised victim of a heated post-production war that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, the comedy “Fanboys” finally emerges from Harvey Weinstein’s dust-laden vault to placate the faithful who hoped (and eventually kicked and screamed) to one day enjoy this carousel of “Star Wars” references and male bonding humor on their own. The war is over, the movie is available in some form to the general public, and the natural response after viewing? The film wasn’t worth all the fuss it generated.

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Film Review - Must Read After My Death


Allis was a mother, wife, and frustrated feminist who lived a problematical life of anxiety and depression. When she died in 2001, her children found 300 pages of transcripts, 50 hours of audio recordings, and 200 home movies in the backyard shed with explicit instructions to peruse after her passing. With a fractured family scattered to the four winds, grandson Morgan Dews took over the task of research, finding an entire existence he knew nothing about, documented with alarming precision that revealed deep psychological wounds disregarded long ago.

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Film Review - Confessions of a Shopaholic


Is crippling debt and a reckless spending habit ideal fodder for a comedy these days? Is “Confessions of a Shopaholic” so much of a fantasy that audiences can forget the world’s current financial woes and give themselves over to a romantic comedy concerning money troubles? With a stronger picture, sure. As it stands, “Shopaholic” is a trifle with fangs; a brutally insincere, borderline sci-fi excursion into Prada-packed, “chick-lit” distraction, puffed with shameless abandon by the cast and crew, who really seem to be enjoying themselves. The feeling doesn’t rub off the screen.

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Film Review - Friday the 13th

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I approach the “reimagining” of the slasher perennial “Friday the 13th” with the same moderately ajar mind I employed to absorb 2007’s feverish reworking of “Halloween.” After all, there’s a mass of sequels already out there that have managed to eat away at the sanctity of the original 1980 film, discovering new depths of awful as the follow-ups tried to cash in on an unexpected smash hit. Remaking “Friday” is not exactly dabbing a mustache on the Mona Lisa, and if embraced on a lowered scale of expectation and artistic requirement, this new spin on an iffy “classic” feels pretty nifty in miniature doses.

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Film Review - The International


When Hollywood slips into action/thriller mode, it usually involves dimly lit warehouses or the rampant destruction of a major interstate. When a European production wants to play hardcore, it trashes a modern art museum. “The International” attempts to blaze a few new trails in the big screen suspense game but comes up frustratingly short. The intent is written clearly, but the execution fails to grab the viewer by the throat like a dazzling thriller should. However, the museum bit is a nice touch.

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Film Review - Gomorrah


Through films such as “The Godfather” and “Scarface,” along with the television smash “The Sopranos,” there’s been a definite glamorization of life inside the deep layers of the mafia. The breakneck Italian crime saga “Gomorrah” seeks to sever that golden lure of brutality, power, and money, presenting an unflinching look at the inner workings of the Camorra criminal organization as they choke Italy for every last cent.

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Film Review - Two Lovers


Despite the come hither title promising warm ribbons of sensuality, “Two Lovers” is actually quite dire; a film that could make the unprepared viewer swear off romance for a substantial amount of time. Accept it as a cautionary tale of misplaced affection and “Two Lovers” is a terrific observational film, built upon layers of dense psychological curiosity and soul-flattening displays of rejection.

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Film Review - Push

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While watching the loathsome “Push” I couldn’t help but wonder why people were so hard on last year’s satisfying actioner, “Jumper.” Certainly there was plenty of disbelief to swallow with Doug Liman’s hyperactive film, but it had a thrilling pace, top-notch special effects, and delved into a sci-fi mythology with some sympathy for the bewildered audience. The similarly plotted “Push” is opposite in every way: a ruthlessly tedious film that doesn’t make a lick of sense, is captured with cringing cinematography more at home on a skateboard accident compilation tape, and peppered with confused performances. People, give “Jumper” a second chance.

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Film Review - The Pink Panther 2


“Pink Panther 2” is a sequel that’s not concerned with rocking the boat, dishing up the same velocity of slapstick that made the 2006 remake a modest hit, profitable enough for a second installment. This is not a motion picture worthy of disdain, but when a piece of comedy emerges from the mind of Steve Martin, shouldn’t there be more of a bite and not just a rolling succession of pratfalls and weirdly kid-unfriendly sexual innuendo? If you enjoyed the original “Pink Panther,” there’s no reason you wouldn’t like what Martin has cooked up for the sequel. Of course, if you embraced the 2006 film in a distinctly yawn-inducing way, you’ve already seen the follow-up.

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Film Review - He's Just Not That Into You


“He’s Just Not That Into You” is a cluttered motion picture that has a lot on its mind about the state of the modern romantic union, but lacks perspective. It’s a rambling, unfair runaway snowball of a movie lacking any leadership behind the camera, instead relying on the gifts of the enormous cast, who do their best to keep this cartoon from falling apart.

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