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April 2009

Film Review - Dragonball Evolution


Before anyone contacts me to complain about my lack of “Dragonball” knowledge, let me clarify right off the bat: you’re right. I’m not intimately involved with the fantasy world of “Dragonball” on any casual level, from the Japanese manga created by Akira Toriyama to the popular animated television series that followed. I believe my only real exposure to this franchise was found at various sci-fi conventions, where every other cosplay fanatic siphoned inspiration from the world of “Dragonball.” While it absolutely helps to have a prior understanding of the particulars before viewing this feature film, it doesn’t take a doctorate to spot that director James Wong has fumbled and ruthlessly condensed an expansive intergalactic narrative, making “Dragonball” a tedious blur of vigorous special effects, deflated slapstick, and dizzying exposition.

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Film Review - Observe and Report


Acting as a counterpoint to the Judd Apatow brand of edgy-but-huggable comedy is Jody Hill. The director of “The Foot Fist Way” and the HBO comedy series “Eastbound & Down,” Hill has built his name through a deployment of toxic absurdity, showcasing his favorite subject: the unholy wrath of the social reject who takes himself seriously. “Observe and Report” presents Hill with his largest cinematic canvas to date, and while the film doesn’t always balance its bizarre mojo with razor-sharp skill, I’ll give Hill credit for sticking to his morbid vision, submitting an acidic, anarchic layer cake of mental illness with comedy teddy bear Seth Rogen as its seal of approval. It’ll be fascinating to see how this demented, treehouse feature is received by audiences accustomed to far bouncier takes on smutty giggles.

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Film Review - Anvil! The Story of Anvil

ANVIL still

It’s easy to describe “Anvil!” as a real world version of “This is Spinal Tap,” and the comparison is incredibly accurate. Listen, “Spinal Tap” didn’t come out of thin air, leading me to believe that the antics of the Canadian metal band Anvil must’ve played some part in the 1984 comedy classic. While suitably absurd and prone to spotlighting rock cliché humiliation, “Anvil” is a far more reverberating and loving film than it seems at first glance. Taking a second look at the career of a band who was always this close to the success of their brothers in the headbangin’ congregation, “Anvil!” is a stupendous document of perseverance and crushing musical industry realities, brought to life by the two men who somehow managed to keep the devil horns raised for over 30 years of disappointment.

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Film Review - Hannah Montana: The Movie


I’m almost ashamed to admit this, but I was expecting plenty more oomph from “Hannah Montana: The Movie.” The Disney Channel show makes it a point to be as piercing to the senses as possible, which makes the molasses pacing and muted effort from the big screen incarnation definitely strange. It’s not like I’m demanding depth here, just a hope that the sparks stay ahead of the yawns, and maybe a genuinely inspired moment of slapstick or two. For a film that’s essentially a lengthy commercial for the soundtrack, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to wonder why the adolescent electricity was dialed down for this tricky crossover attempt.

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Film Review - Lymelife


“Lymelife” is certainly an impassioned motion picture. However, it’s not exactly a revolutionary one, guiding the viewer back into the cancerous heart of suburbia, circa the hazy, crazy 1970s. Brought lucidly to life by director Derick Martini, “Lymelife” suffers from a case of the blahs reaching from story to performance that holds it back from becoming the truly soulful, penetrating experience it aspires to be.

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Film Review - C Me Dance

C ME DANCE still

One of the common complaints thrown at movie critics is the inability to appreciate a film just for being a film. To celebrate how someone tackled the unimaginable effort to craft a lengthy piece of art, only to bravely send it out for the world to scrutinize. The sentiment makes some sense to me, but the reality is far too punishing to allow such lenient consideration to flourish. The Christian recruitment feature “C Me Dance” is one of those movies that’s hoping to skirt by on mercy, submitting uplifting themes and proletarian performances to rodeo clown while tirelessly showcasing idiotic filmmaking and zero-budget production value. Soul food or not, this movie is a joke.

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Film Review - Fast & Furious


Over the last eight years, I haven’t showed much love for the “Fast/Furious” franchise. So please, when I write that “Fast & Furious” is the best film of the series, it’s really not cause for a lynching. With an artistic recipe that calls for gaudy cars, awful actors, and frenzied visuals, I’ll go as far as to consider “Fast & Furious” merely adequate, not appetizing. Still, after three previous films that delighted in kicking the art of cinema in the groin, I’ll happily embrace the brooding, single-minded ride of cowboy vengeance the latest installment has to offer.

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Film Review - Adventureland


I'm positive "Adventureland" had a breathtaking original screenplay. The finished product hints at the magnificence of a layered, nuanced piece of writing that captures the bewildered minimum-wage happenings a cluster of young people encounter on their way to the finality of adulthood; however, very little of that character shading and dramatic ambition survived the brutal journey to the screen. It’s fantastic to observe "Adventureland" reach out and seek a timeless youthful uprising feel, but the film's eventual realization is a crushing disappointment.

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Film Review - Alien Trespass


I hate to mention it out of respect to the producers of “Alien Trespass,” but the 1950’s sci-fi lampoon genre was bled dry by the astoundingly unfunny 2004 picture, “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.” Thankfully, “Trespass,” while wading dangerously in toxic self-aware waters, heads the opposite direction, imagining a B-level monster outbreak movie as a real artifact from the bygone era. The patience and concentration of the film to not wink itself into a coma is amazing to behold, and I was flabbergasted over just how engrossing and playful the picture is. The exterior promises another punishing “Cadavra” headache, but the feature is quite skillful and inventive. And most importantly, it’s not entirely camp.

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Film Review - Forbidden Lies


In 2002, Norma Khouri penned the Jordanian memoir “Forbidden Love” (aka “Honor Lost”), recounting the tragic tale of her friend Dahlia, who was murdered by her brother in 1996 under the guise of an “honor killing,” after her illicit affair with a soldier. Published around the world, the book was an immediate smash, sending Khouri on a media appearance tour where she recounted her life after the devastating murder and touted her quest to spotlight Middle Eastern violence against women. Khouri became something of a superhero to the public, finding fame, fortune, and the attention of millions as she carefully rode the wave of success.

And then people started researching the book’s events.

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Film Review - Play the Game


There are a few things I’m resigned to never seeing materialize on the big screen: a competent “Highlander” sequel, a sincere performance from Kristin Stewart, and a modern horror film photographed and edited with imagination. Of course, “Andy Griffith in a senior citizen sex comedy” used to be on this list, but then “Play the Game” came along. Truly an oddball motion picture, “Game” is one part smutty romp, one part romantic comedy, with the entertainment value of the feature resting solely in how uncomfortably blunt it can get. Honestly, movies like this do not come along every day, making the film a welcome oddity; that is if one can stomach watching an American acting legend make his “O Face” while receiving oral sex from the woman who once played Jerry’s mother on “Seinfeld.”

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Film Review - Gigantic


“Gigantic” is a motion picture of colossal quirk, exceptional passion, and befuddling execution. Writer/director Matt Aselton is endeavoring to craft a sincere feature on the pains of maturity and the botched communicative effort of a new relationship, but there’s a psychological depth to the material that never quite reaches the screen intact. It leaves the film acceptable in small fragments, but overwhelmingly frustrating, as though Aselton gave up on his ideas halfway through the typically curative editing process.

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Film Review - Sugar

SUGAR still

Arriving with the upcoming baseball season is the drama “Sugar,” a modest minor league recruitment story that profits from an exceptional perspective on the customs of the game both on and off the field. True poignancy isn’t in large supply, but when the action visits the small town stadiums and long bus rides of the sport, “Sugar” grows into a something evocative and educational, along the lines of “Bull Durham,” only with absolutely zero sex appeal.

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