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October 2010

Film Review - You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER Josh Brolin

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” marks the 40th motion picture for writer/director Woody Allen. It’s wonderful to see the filmmaker step up with a new picture every year, but when he misses, Allen knocks himself to the ground. “Dark Stranger” represents one of the more myopic screenplays he’s ever churned out, stopping time with a film that isn’t a comedy and barely registers as a drama. I’d call it a tragedy, but the only ones truly suffering will be the paying audience, forced to endure Allen’s umpteenth variation on the false comfort provided by marriage.

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Film Review - Waiting for "Superman"

WAITING FOR SUPERMAN Still 1

It’s tough to avoid coming across as a Grinch while writing a disapproving review of the documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman.’” Yet, when I exited the theater after 100 leisurely minutes of dripping sincerity, I felt nothing. There was no anger, no sense of hope. Just a mild tremor of disgust and a wave of suspicion. This is the type of movie that should galvanize a nation, urging the population to rise up and change the system. Instead, “Waiting” seeks a good cry and some cuddling time as it charts the erosion of the United States of America.

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Film Review - Lost Boys: The Thirst

LOST BOYS THE THIRST Feldman and Newlander

The best part of “Lost Boys: The Thirst” has to be that it isn’t “Lost Boys: The Tribe,” a putrid DTV sequel released in 2008 that did a masterful job tarnishing the legacy of the original, and much beloved, Joel Schumacher film from 1987. Though nobody explicitly asked for it, outside of Corey Feldman’s agent, the plague continues in this second sequel, which is a lighter, brighter, more cartoon take on the vampire-hunting premise, but still lacks the flavorful horror-comedy ingredients that made the first picture such an enduring classic.

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DVD Review - Not of this Earth (1988)

NOT OF THIS EARTH Traci Lords Promotional

“Not of this Earth” first came into my life when I was around 13 years of age. Despite its Roger Corman-produced shenanigans and endearing B-movie fixings, I was more interested in the actions of the film’s nubile star, Traci Lords. Revisiting the film two decades later for this review, I’m able to appreciate the picture’s ragged low-fi spectacle, lively sense of humor, and the rather creative ways its stretches its budgetary dollar. Yet, my attention returns to Traci Lords, capture here in all her post-porn, pre-mainstream magnificence, matched exceedingly well with Corman’s pervy exploitation legacy.

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Blu-ray Review - Disneynature's Oceans

OCEANS still 3

At this point, there are as many oceanic documentaries as there are stars in the sky, or perhaps fish in the sea. “Oceans” is the latest entry in the big bottomless blue sweepstakes and while it doesn’t necessarily redefine the genre, this Disneynature release is more artful and considered than its competition, permitting viewers a far more meditative take on the mysteries of the deep than the average educational film would allow.

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FIlm Review - The Six Wives of Henry Lefay

SIX WIVES OF HENRY LEFAY Tim Allen

I’m not sure what type of film “The Six Wives of Henry Lefay” was supposed to be, but I guess there’s a comfort in knowing the filmmakers didn’t either. Part madcap comedy, part weepy funeral saga, the picture is a mess, hopelessly failing a colorful cast making an effort to lend the film some personality. It seems director Howard Michael Gould didn’t value the attempt, wasting a few commendable performances on a meaningless feature that doesn’t provide profundity or laughs.

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Film Review - Buried

BURIED Ryan Reynolds Still 1

“Buried” is a triumph of filmmaking design, as well as fierce thriller sure to give viewers a serious case of the heebie-jeebies. It’s a film situated entirely inside of a coffin, with 85 minutes set aside to watch a sweaty man squirm, panic, and hope without ever seeing the light of day. It takes a truly ingenious filmmaker to pull off a stunt like this without losing his nerve, and Rodrigo Cortes tackles this challenge with exceptional skill, huffing a full can of Hitchcock fumes before plunging into this claustrophobic, ruthless nightmare.

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Film Review - My Soul to Take

MY SOUL TO TAKE Still 1

In 2005, Wes Craven directed “Red Eye,” a ripping assassination thriller that allowed the filmmaker a rare chance to step away from horror and attack the challenge of generating chills from a different genre. The experiment didn’t last, and now Craven is back to dismal fright films with “My Soul to Take,” a particularly confused and wooden slasher feature that drags the director’s once mighty name back into the mire.

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Film Review - It's a Wonderful Afterlife

IT'S A WONDERFUL AFTERLIFE Still 1

“It’s a Wonderful Afterlife” is a particularly lumpy bowl of Tim Burton leftovers. Sure, it’s a cheery, determinedly macabre creation, but there’s little merriment to be had under such leaden direction. Spirits abound, yet filmmaker Gurinder Chadha can’t slap it together without resorting to tiresome clichés, which robs the film of needed life.

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Film Review - Secretariat

SECRETARIAT John Malkovich

“Secretariat” has a challenging journey ahead of it, released relatively soon after the 2003 legendary racehorse picture, “Seabiscuit.” Without much in the way of controversial elements or a suspenseful conclusion, “Secretariat” feels like a nonstarter, though it’s handsomely mounted by director Randall Wallace. It’s simply a slice of cinematic apple pie for autumn, handed a firm inspirational Disney scrubbing and sent out void of a personality. I can’t fault a film for comfort food aspirations, but this tale of horseracing’s greatest champion doesn’t breathe enough fire to make a lasting impression.

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Film Review - Nowhere Boy

NOWHERE BOY Aaron Johnson

The life and times of John Lennon have been documented on the big screen on several occasions, with each film endeavoring to probe the specialized madness of the reluctantly bespectacled musician who changed the world. “Nowhere Boy” travels back to Lennon’s formative years, looking to dramatize the unique domestic quagmire that helped to shape his fractured personality. Occasionally energetic, but primarily frantic, “Nowhere Boy” appears more fascinated with melodrama than investigation, mashing down Lennon’s surprisingly complex adolescence into a flavorless paste.

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Film Review - Never Let Me Go

NEVER LET ME GO Carey Mulligan

To review “Never Let Me Go” requires me to spoil “Never Let Me Go,” and I understand how delicate a situation that is for some readers. However, the “twist” of the movie isn’t a twist at all, but a casual revelation that requires a modest readjustment of perspective. Still, I want to preserve as much of the experience as I can for curious filmgoers, so, if the delicate nature of this knowledge is a mighty burden, please do not read any further. Actually, one more thing: this is an exquisite, artful tragedy of a motion picture. A film not to be missed.

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Film Review - Life as We Know It

LIFE AS WE KNOW IT Trio

There’s something about Katherine Heigl’s big screen output lately that’s become absolutely intolerable. Once thought to be a bright, sharp young actress, Heigl has settled into making dreadfully grating romantic comedies, pitching her charisma to a female audience seemingly ravenous for tales of flustered love with loathsome/lovable Peter Pan men. “Life as We Know It” moves Heigl into itchy dramedy territory, pawing motherhood clichés to pull her demographic in tighter. The picture is wheezy wish fulfillment, brutally concentrated on Crayola filmmaking while feeling out utterly unlikable characters who, we’re led to believe, represent a romantic ideal. Phooey.

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Film Review - It's Kind of a Funny Story

IT'S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY Keir Gilchrist

To make the obvious joke: “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” actually isn’t. A chronicle of suicidal tendencies, the core of the picture is driven by a huge reservoir of sadness, emerging from wounded people working slowly to deduce their failures. The title should be an ironic brand, but directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck attempt to liven up the premise with sunshine, assembling an eager beaver of a picture, looking to treat mental illness with a preciousness that often burns like shock treatment.

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Film Review - Passenger Side

PASSENGER SIDE Still 1

Brotherhood walks on thin ice in Matt Bissonnette’s “Passenger Side,” an aimless indie production that hands much of its dramatic burden over to stars Adam Scott and Joel Bissonnette. Leisurely, but sporadically pointed, the picture is a conventional journey of estrangement, capturing a fractured relationship on a day-long car ride, where souls are poured out and secrets are revealed. It’s nothing ingenious, but those in the mood for a touch of visual poetry to their familial torment might find plenty to enjoy about this modest drama.

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A Visit to the Family Feud

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Years ago, I did some P.A. work on a game show set inside the vast home of Midwestern capitalism, Mall of America. I spent roughly four weeks dinking around the set doing menial work while filling my pockets with craft service Twizzlers, but during this magical time I was allowed access to the world of game show production, observing how they’re cast, assembled, and, well, faked. Not “Quiz Show” faked, but enhanced through retakes and intense coaching to make cash and prizes feel like CASH AND PRIZES! The disillusionment was substantial.

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