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September 2010

Film Review - Ong Bak 3

ONG BAK 3 Still 1

At this point, one doesn’t enter into an “Ong Bak” feature film with much hope for storytelling simplicity. Though the production would like to believe they’re mounting a profound epic of spiritual oneness and mystical menace, the series is only remarkable for its brutality, flinging actors high and low to provide the necessary jolt that will appease action connoisseurs. For “Ong Bak 3,” the more outrageous gaps in coherency that have plagued the franchise so far have been pruned, but a few question marks remain, again buttressed by a limp-snapping, chest-caving ferocity that’s simply riveting.

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Film Review - The Social Network

SOCIAL NETWORK Jesse Eisenberg

As the co-founder of Facebook, the popular social networking site, Mark Zuckerberg is a rather enigmatic figure, rarely caught out in public these days, despite being the youngest billionaire in the world. “The Social Network” looks to map out Zuckerberg’s rise from zombified programmer to online dynamo, yet lacks the participation of the man behind the keyboard, preferring to pilfer the pages of the 2009 book, “The Accidental Billionaires,” to construct a suitable portrait. Perhaps this is why the film is so sharp and rapid-fire, forgoing the need to appease egos, instead stomping around acres of mud, portraying the young internet wizard as a ruthless, friendless, untrustworthy punk inside a barbed wonderland of  litigation and dot-com startup euphoria.

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Film Review - Catfish


The internet is a powerful tool for information and socialization. It’s also a portal to liberation for some, who use online hubs as a way to create an idealized life as far removed from reality as possible. It’s a digital age comfort zone that occasionally spirals out of control, with some participants building a castle of deception out of their white lies. “Catfish” examines the puzzle of online interaction, how it easily seduces and soothes, as well as exploring how it can all go so horribly awry. It’s a fascinating concept for a documentary, but “Catfish” isn’t a hard-nosed, highly prepared look at the topic. I’m not sure it’s even a documentary.

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Film Review - Let Me In

LET ME IN Kodi Smit-McPhee

I find myself in a precarious position with “Let Me In.” Rarely do I encounter a remake of a film (“Let the Right One In”) I’ve dearly loved before -- a picture that topped my Best of 2008 list, deploying an atypical artistry and sensitivity in the rigid horror genre that made it an instant classic. However, the film committed an unforgivable sin: it was foreign, assembled in the great land of Sweden. In Hollywood’s eyes, it’s like the feature never existed, so, a quick two years later, we have “Let Me In,” a gratuitous redo that nevertheless has a few intriguing visual flourishes worth a look. I can’t state that I enjoyed it, if only because this tale of disquieting affection and vampiric fury was executed so impeccably before.

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Film Review - Hatchet II


Filmmaker Adam Green has amassed a loyal cult following for his budget horror pictures over the years, though there’s never been much to celebrate. A schlockmeister with an appetite for broad displays of gore, Green likes to make a mess of matters, but rarely does he engage an enthralling cinematic spirit. “Hatchet II” covers muddy old ground for the writer/director, picking up mere seconds after the lifeless first installment of this series. A hoped for blast of renewed vigor does not ensue. Instead, it’s the same bland blood-spraying business -- 75 long minutes of questionable filmmaking effort.

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Film Review - Case 39

CASE 39 Still 1

Watching Renee Zellweger wiggle around a horror film is a novelty that makes “Case 39” stand out from the pack. However, the rest of the feature is tremendously unsatisfying killer kid leftovers, assembled idiotically in a bewildering fashion that suggests director Christian Alvart wasn’t expecting anyone to notice. Well, it’s easy to spot every false move this mess of a movie makes as it stumbles towards a preposterous final act. It’s nice to see Zellweger flexing atrophied acting muscles (her first chiller since 1994’s circus sideshow, “The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre”), but “Case 39” is not the deafening scream queen comeback hoped for.

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Film Review - Monsters


“Monsters” is a good film that should’ve been great. The raw materials promise a stunning bit of sci-fi grit from filmmaker Gareth Edwards, who brings around an intriguing perspective on a devastating alien invasion, scripted as a clever allegory on illegal immigration. For some reason, Edwards figured the film could use a love story as well, turning a promising excursion through extraterrestrial occupation into an irritating mumblecore drain. Edwards has a great directorial eye, but his way with flirtation leaves much to be desired.

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Blu-ray Review - 30 Days of Night: Dark Days


“30 Days of Night: Dark Days” has little in the way of a budget, electing the DTV route to give fans a further glimpse into a macabre comic book world, created by writer Steve Niles and illustrator Ben Templesmith. Despite the lack of coin, the sequel is an engaging diversion, making the most out of its limited resources, boosted by a capable cast and some nifty make-up effects. In fact, it’s a more satisfying bloodsucker yarn than the 2007 original, which never mustered much excitement, despite an ample budget to bring it to life. “Dark Days” may not have the polish, but it has a few effective tricks to hold focus.

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Blu-ray Review - Skellig: The Owl Man


I decided to review the English family film, “Skellig: The Owl Man,” because the name Annabel Jankel caught my eye. Perhaps best known as co-creator of ‘80’s icon “Max Headroom,” Jankel is more infamous for the last motion picture she co-directed: 1993’s soul-flattening bomb, “Super Mario Bros.” That’s quite a legacy to leave behind, with “Skellig” representing the filmmaker’s baby steps back into the industry. It’s been a long time since Jankel made a movie, and “Skellig” suggests the return wasn’t worth the wait.

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Blu-ray Review - Get Him to the Greek: Unrated Extended Edition

GET HIM TO THE GREEK Russell Brand Jonah Hill Running

When is a sequel not truly a sequel? When it’s “Get Him to the Greek,” a spin-off feature pulled from the womb of the uproarious 2008 comedy, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Knowledge of “Marshall” isn’t necessary to partake in the “Greek” debauchery, but it helps to locate the proper mood for this frequently hilarious, oddly poignant road movie, which once again captures actor Russell Brand in his most appealing form: tongue-floppingly lascivious.

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DVD Review - The Human Centipede (First Sequence)


“The Human Centipede” isn’t a horror film, it’s an oozing block of pure shock value, begging on stitched knees for audiences to find the material vile. It pushes buttons and dares the viewer to keep watching ghastly events unfold, while writer/director Tom Six kicks back satisfied, perhaps even aroused. To admit complete disgust with “Human Centipede” is exactly what the filmmaker wants; however, the picture commits an even greater sin, despite all the arm flailing and slosh of perversion: it’s a complete and unforgivable bore.

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Blu-ray Review - The Killer Inside Me


With “The Killer Inside Me,” the audience enters into the mind of a rather causal murderer, a man who’s been stewing in the reassuring juices of his vile “sickness” for his entire life. Director Michael Winterbottom makes the viewer feel every blink of that life in this sluggish, slow-motion adaptation of Jim Thompson’s lauded 1952 novel, which enjoys the art of stillness, frittering away any natural suspense to linger on a miscast lead actor well out of his range.

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DVD Review - Paintball

PAINTBALL Train Tracks

Paintball is a fascinating game, permitting average domesticated folk an opportunity to immerse themselves in a world of heated combat and precise military strategy, with the only possible downside being a few welts and stained clothing. “Paintball” is a low-budget thriller that twists purist enthusiasm for the sport in a rather macabre way, attaching life or death stakes to a pastime often associated with genial weekend warrior escapism.

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Film Review - Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps


In 1987, “Wall Street” climaxed with bitterness, revenge, and mournful resignation. The sequel, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” crescendos with a kiss. Much has changed in the world of money over the last 23 years, but more reinvention has befallen filmmaker Oliver Stone, who thoroughly defangs one of his more lacerating creations with a clumsy follow-up that struggles to humanize greed as the financial world goes mad.

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Film Review - You Again

YOU AGAIN Sigourney Weaver

“You Again” is insufferable. It’s a glorified sitcom burning through the hoariest of comedic circumstances with a cast not known for their jester gifts. Because when you think of laughs, you think of Odette Yustman. It’s almost shocking to witness how derivative the feature is, often begging on bloodied knees for a laugh, while displaying a cringingly broad sense of humor that would make Carol Burnett wince. This picture is a baffling, excruciating, cancerous lump. A complete waste of time for everyone involved.

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Film Review - Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole


Perhaps director Zack Snyder should stick to making cartoons. The filmmaker behind hits such as “Dawn of the Dead,” “300,” and “Watchmen” takes an unexpected career detour with “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole,” a CG-animated epic that’s teeming with technical Synderisms, yet is deployed inside a theatrical format that takes full advantage of the visual majesty. Pleasantly dark, lusciously animated, and richly performed, “Guardians” gives Snyder an occasion to spread his wings as a filmmaker, breaking his earthbound imagination to fully immerse himself inside fantasy filmmaking with a host of unlikely heroes.

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Film Review - Bran Nue Dae


There’s an explosive amount of screen energy radiating from the flashy Australian musical, “Bran Nue Dae,” but very little of it translates into approachable whimsy. Frightfully fearless, but exhaustively schizophrenic, this dynamite stick of a musical comedy is a difficult sit for anyone unable to tune into the film’s dedication to bootleg turns of plot and characterization, with the whole endeavor starting to feel like a dental drill after the first act.

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Blu-ray Review - Robin Hood (2010) - Unrated Director's Cut


The legend of Robin Hood has been fodder for countless adventure films, all bound together by a certain tights-n-woodsy appearance. It’s a story drained of tension long ago, populated with characters known the world over, rotated every few years to refresh moviegoers on the basics of outlaw justice and moony romance. Famed director Ridley Scott has accepted the challenge of a “Robin Hood” adaptation, and while the deck was stacked mightily against the filmmaker, he winds a flawed, but effective arrow-thwacked yarn, concentrating on the origins of Mr. Hood and his rise to fugitive hero status.

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