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May 2009

Film Review - The Brothers Bloom


A frothy brew of “The Sting,” “Bottle Rocket,” and Dr. Seuss, Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom” has its cheating heart in the right place. A twisty cinematic con game keen to stay one swindling step ahead of the audience, “Bloom” can be a dense, complicated puzzle of faces and places, with Johnson toiling away to preserve a fresh perspective on a horde of highly rusted screen clichés. However, his lube of choice is whimsy, and as the filmmaker pours an endless stream of cutesy behaviors and larger-than-life screenwriting into the stew, “Brothers Bloom” eventually curdles altogether, leaving an overcooked shell game aggressively trying to pass itself off as delightfully quirky fixins for the horn-rimmed, organic-brew crowd.

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Film Review - Drag Me to Hell


After the 1993 release of “Army of Darkness,” fans of director Sam Raimi clamored for a fourth entry in his adored “Evil Dead” series of horror bonanzas. “Drag Me to Hell” is the filmmaker’s first meaty scare effort since he sauntered off to make the blockbuster “Spider-Man” trilogy, but it might as well be subtitled “The Evil Dead Film You’ve Been Waiting For.” A wicked, highly stylized fright flick, “Drag” brings out the good-humored Sam Raimi we all know and love, allowing him a devilish playground to reawaken his rascally spirit sufficiently mummified by the big-league, big-buck “Spider-Man” features. Raimi hasn’t lost his touch in the years since he last galloped into screwball scares, and “Drag” is an awesome reminder that when unchained, he can still deliver the finest, wettest, slyest entertainment around.

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Film Review - Up

UP still 3

Magnified with the type of divine emotional majesty few animation spectacles could ever hope to reach, Disney/Pixar’s “Up” is a triumphant masterstroke for the studio and their Teflon reputation. Declining the red-carpet invitation to manufacture mawkish, feebly scripted pathos, “Up” instead aims for and achieves a splendid merger of heartache and soaring spirituality. For their 10th motion picture, the Pixar squad has hit pay dirt yet again, only with “Up,” the production team manages to weave together whimsy and poignancy in a visually dazzling, high-flying marvel of an adventure. Conceptually, it’s not a trailblazer, but the execution is perhaps Pixar’s most confident and irresistibly moving since their 1995 masterpiece, “Toy Story.”

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Reliving the Summer of 1989 Diary - Week One

Last Crusade

The excitable 1980s gave birth to numerous high-profile summer moviegoing seasons, most notably during 1982, 1984, and 1989. This was a pre-internet time of cautious optimism (as opposed to today’s unyielding cynicism), where the neighborhood movie theater was hallowed ground for Hollywood’s double-barrel releases, comfortable in the delicious, perfectly measured swell of old-media hype from magazines, newspapers, and in-theater marketing. Also, there was this miracle known as release schedule breathing room, where one or two pictures would snatch up multiplex space every week, and not the usual five we all endure these days. There’s not much to romanticize about the ‘80s (outside of Duran Duran), but those exceptional movie seasons still sparkle after all these years, due in great part to the plethora of talented professionals who were delicately honing their mastery during the era.

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Film Review - Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian


This being the second go-around with the “Night at the Museum” franchise, it’s clear to me that laughs shouldn’t be the focal point of the material. With all these fantastical events occurring within a cherished educational playground, it feels like a major directorial failure to pursue dollar-store jokes when there’s so much adventure to be had. “Battle of the Smithsonian” has the advantage of hindsight over its ramshackle 2006 forefather, yet it only occasionally lives up to its wondrous, chaotic premise. Instead the film appears more delighted with tiresome improvisational acrobatics than generating a welcoming tidal wave of wonder.

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Film Review - Dance Flick


What I’m about to write isn’t a recommendation of the new parody film “Dance Flick,” but more of a gentle warning that what the Wayans Brothers are serving up here isn’t nearly as wrist-slittingly disgraceful as expected. We’re still miles away from the bellylaugh miracles of the golden “Airplane!” and “Naked Gun” era, but “Dance Flick” has an appealing concentration on zany that’s eluded fellow yuksters such as Friedman/Seltzer and even David Zucker in recent years. Again, this is not a recommendation. More a blazing “all clear” signal flare to those partial to a little brainless comedy on occasion.

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Film Review - Easy Virtue


The droll poise of playwright Noel Coward is returned to the screen in Stephen Elliot’s “Easy Virtue.” A firecracker of a period comedy brought to life by some of today’s most elegant actors, “Virtue” possesses marvelous edge, wit, and pace, yet this latest incarnation of the 1924 play should be defined by one single, utterly shocking element: Jessica Biel. Turns out the young lady can act some, keeping up with the tempo of this culture comedy like seasoned pro.

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Film Review - Terminator Salvation


2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” was a frivolous entry in this brutal saga of man vs. machine, but it retained a suitably metallic scent of James Cameron’s original creation, and offered audiences a sucker punch of a doomsday ending, placing a respectable capper on a franchise that never bothered to plan too far ahead. We’re now confronted with “Terminator Salvation” because Hollywood is stuck in the “rebooting” phase of its history, scouring the vaults for once high-profile material it can reshape and resell to a public hungry for familiarity. Not unexpectedly, the Cameron-less “Salvation” is another trembling step backwards for this once persuasive series of time-traveling adventures, crafted by a filmmaker I was hoping could lead the charge and take the franchise in a whole new direction.

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"Manta" Coaster Review at Sea World Orlando


I’m not a wide-eyed roller coaster enthusiast, so please forgive me if I breeze through a discussion of the new Manta ride at Sea World Orlando with minimal attention to industry detail. I have little formal education in the world of inversions and pretzel loops, preferring to simply, perhaps mindlessly enjoy my limited time being heaved through the air, leaving the suspect jargon to those who know exactly how to wield it. All I can safely type is this: Manta is a gorgeous coaster with some serious deficiency in the awe department.

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Film Review - Angels & Demons

ANGELS still

Light the torches and sharpen the pitchforks, I enjoyed “The Da Vinci Code.” While long-winded, Ron Howard’s version of the Dan Brown best-seller provided a lovingly smothering mood of daredevil exposition and for-fans-only historical minutiae. Even if I didn’t seize the scholarly passion burning behind the dialogue or comprehend the larger religious misconduct of the plot, I enjoyed the cinematic bluster of the work and appreciated how Howard took the time to preserve the experience for the fanatics. Plus, a heaping dose of star power from the stately Tom Hanks never hurts, unless Nora Ephron is directing. “Angels & Demons” rolls up to bat three years after “Code” stormed the box office, and while Howard’s promise of a snappier pace is kept, it’s hard to sense much of a seismic difference between the two films. But that’s fine by me.

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Film Review - Sin Nombre


A little over a year ago, the simplistic, heart-tugging immigration drama “Under the Same Moon” opened in theaters, pouring honey and tears over the complicated subject of hazardous Mexican border crossing. While not explicitly a story of migration, the drama “Sin Nombre” boldly assumes a bleaker perspective of Mexican and South American individuals who seek the comfort of America any way they can find it. It’s one of many captivating, searing depictions of fear in this unflinching, outstanding debut feature film from director Cary Fukunaga.

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Film Review - Management


“Management” should come equipped with some type of safety restraint to best absorb the shock of all the uncomfortable tonal changes that continually derail the film. A romantic comedy that’s eager to make a commitment to its characters, yet never takes anything seriously, “Management” is only tolerable in small fragments of performance and laughs. As a whole, it doesn’t know what to do with itself, preferring to wander around blindly in search of a dramatic core instead of actively seeking one.

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Film Review - Big Man Japan


It seems these days every genre film wants to add a pinch of verisimilitude to their diet, searching to find a fresh take on antique thrills. “Big Man Japan” aims to rework the gravity of the monster movie, looking to create a world where not only monsters are real, but the man sent to battle them has terrible domestic problems, surrounded by a populace that would rather see him quit. Director/star Hitoshi Matsumoto’s graceful satire “Big Man Japan” is a viewing experience akin to a leisurely acid trip, but it’s also one of the more original, surprising visions of the year.

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Film Review - The Big Shot-Caller


In the opening section of the indie “The Big Shot-Caller,” there’s a suggestion that the material will swiftly transform into an underdog dance story, resting comfortably in the arms of cliché to win over the most audience members. It’s to the film’s credit that this familiarity doesn’t really surface for a good 60 minutes. The bad news is that “Shot-Caller” eschews tradition to summon its own quirky music, and in the hands of inexperienced filmmaker Marlene Rhein, the challenge to form a cohesive feature-length motion picture proves to be too large a task.

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"Twilight: Forbidden Fruits" Sweethearts Candy

Twilight Cover

I spied the “Twilight: Forbidden Fruits” brand of Sweethearts candy out of the corner of my eye today while at the grocery store and felt compelled to purchase a “collectible” box. While I hate to fork over my 99 cents to the freshly oiled “Twilight” merchandise machine, I’m afraid my curiosity got the best of me on this item, the latest in a series of hastily arranged Cullen Family knickknacks that fall under the headline, “Good lord, they actually showed up to see this movie! MAKE THINGS AND SELL THEM!”

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Film Review - Star Trek

STAR TREK kirk and spock

120 minutes of unrelenting goose bumps.

An artistic blood transfusion of immaculate execution, the new “Star Trek” boldly goes straight to the senses, providing a full-throated rush of operatic sci-fi, cleverly conceived characterizations, and a swarm of franchise homages and surprises that take incredible care of the brand name’s impossible 44-year-long pop culture reign, while forging firm new ground for those who couldn’t tell Kirk from Spock with a gun to their head. Director J.J. Abrams has achieved what many thought to be impossible, reaching bare-handed into the venomous depths of absurdly rigid canon, pulling together a sublime space adventure that flies as confidently and triumphantly as “Trek” ever has before. It’s not only a victorious series highlight, but perhaps one of the best pictures of the year.

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Film Review - The Girlfriend Experience


“The Girlfriend Experience” is a palate cleanser for director Steven Soderbergh, who embarks on one of these odd “personal” films every few years (“Bubble,” “Full Frontal”) when his fingers tire of counting “Ocean’s” trilogy money. A mood piece on vagaries of whorish behavior, Soderbergh is stuck in full wander mode with this picture, absent the sort of thespian effort that would enliven the cross-eyed atmosphere of disconnect Soderbergh is forever chasing.

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Film Review - Rudo y Cursi


I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over “Rudo y Cursi,” an oddball football dramedy that reteams actors Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna eight years after their breakthrough roles in the indie sensation, “Y tu mama tambien.” “Rudo” isn’t a strikingly original creation, but the efforts of the cast make the stale script sing, assembling a motion picture that coasts along nicely on pure performance oomph. Granted, all this uncut Mexican energy will perhaps take a night in a sensory deprivation chamber to properly expunge from the system, but it’s a wild ride of thespian effort that keeps the material amicable.

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