I’ll freely admit that I have a sensitivity to movies set in the Midwest, a place that I called home for the majority of my life. To most Hollywood productions, the Midwest is an alien landscape for hopelessly naïve folk going about their naïve business while the coasts take care of the culture and style for America. That’s not the Midwest I know. I shouldn’t take “Cedar Rapids” seriously as an incisive take on “flyover” country ethics, but the least this tepid comedy could do is provide a vibrant sense of humor. Instead, it’s a riff-heavy, wildly formulaic modern comedy that uses stereotypes and improvisations in a gentle, but tedious manner to bring the laughs.
“Helena from the Wedding” is a film festival wet dream come to life. Shot on HD, filled with a cast of exploratory actors salivating over themes of temptation, and set inside a secluded cabin during a snowy winter, the picture has all the ingredients necessary to delight the average art-house theater. The film almost reaches a resonate plateau, observing the frosty nuances of relationships with a game cast and an intriguing plot. The picture ultimately doesn’t end up anywhere, but moments are accounted for nicely, creating a warm bath of razors for those who prefer their onscreen relationships to be as hesitant as possible.
Movies that pursue a campy tone always walk a thin line of execution. Play the absurdity just right, and there’s a mess of good times to be had. Play silliness too aggressively, and the insincerity burns, making the jesting intolerable. “Drive Angry” belly flops into the latter category, pitching its winky tone to the rafters, making certain everyone in the audience is aware that the filmmaker is in on the joke. For a picture that aims to please, “Drive Angry” is far more proficient at summoning aggravation.
To explain “Rubber” in full virtually guarantees turning off potential audiences to this bizarre French comedy. It’s a furious run of absurdity that toys with perspective and convention, exploring the relationship between spectators and entertainment while staging an adventure rooted in the film’s strict “no reason” policy, as explained in the opening moments. Oh, and it features a tire that comes to life, rolling around the American southwest on a killing spree using its telekinetic powers. Have I already written too much?
I used to believe the 1998 smash, “There’s Something About Mary,” was the best thing that could’ve happened to the filmmaking duo, Peter and Bobby Farrelly. I now realize I was wrong. The boys have been chasing that success for over a decade, deploying the once enchantingly comfy Farrelly Formula time and again, looking for that elusive box office champion that could restore luster to their tarnished brand name. “Hall Pass” is quite possibly their least organic offering to date, coldly calculating shock value and emotional connection to piece together yet another feature film that’ll make the audience shift from uncomfortable laughter to tender appreciation.
Star Michael Matthias wants to be Vin Diesel in the worst way. With his pumped-up exterior, shaved head, and unconvincing way with the English language, Matthias is a J.V. screen brute looking for his chance at big time stardom. “The Bleeding” (shot in 2008) won’t turn the hulk into a major action star. In fact, it might kill his leading man career altogether. A slapdash mess of genres with zero storytelling capability, “The Bleeding” looks to coast on red-hot vampire trends. Instead, the film bites, and not in a satisfyingly monstrous manner.
2003’s “S.W.A.T.” was a wildly entertaining noisemaker. An update of the 1975-76 television series, the original film combined bold Hollywood theatrics and frosty police procedure comfortably, led by a generous portion of star power and muscular direction from Clark Johnson. Eight years later, we have “S.W.A.T: Firefight,” a DTV sequel that does away with procedure, star power, and secure direction. While amusing in the moment, with a merry junk food cinema rhythm, the low-budget follow-up isn’t nearly as brawny as the original feature, electing video game stylistics and movie-of-the-week plotting to dream up a new “S.W.A.T.” adventure.
“See You in September” is yet another roll around the muck of New York City neuroses, fiddling where many films have fiddled before. Missing a performance miracle or outstandingly scripted concern, the picture instead wilts instantly, offering viewers a snapshot of slapstick anxiety that’s neither merry nor original. It’s all just utterly forgettable.
When “Big Momma’s House” was released in 2000, I can’t imagine there was any honest expectation of a sequel. An undemanding drag comedy merging action and antics from star Martin Lawrence, the original picture fulfilled whatever need there was to see the comedian rock an enormous fat suit and channel the child-rearing sass of his grandmother. Well, there actually was a sequel in 2006, straining the concept to a breaking point. And now, 11 years later, we’re faced with a third installment, providing Lawrence an opportunity to flex his atrophying box office muscle and reinvent the “Big Momma” brand, bringing in rising star Brandon T. Jackson to carry on the glorious cross-dressing cause.
Devouring a steady diet of horror pictures and charged thrillers over the course of the moviegoing year, a film critic becomes unavoidably accustomed to witnessing random acts of violence. That’s not to say bloodshed doesn’t retain its frightening qualities, but after a while, a certain numbness sets in with anarchy that is more artless. The medieval saga, “Black Death,” honestly scared the stuffing out of me, in a way I haven’t felt from a movie in a very long time. Brutal, austere, and ultimately an effective educational tool, the picture is an unflinching, haunting dissection of fundamentalism, translating the rigors of faith into a grotesque poetry of pain and suffering.
“Brotherhood” is more of a slick directorial exercise than a substantial feature film. Packed with shaky-cam tension, screaming performances, and near-comical turns of plot, the picture doesn’t make much of an impression past a few visceral flashes of conflict, with the majority of the film a frustrating sit that seems to drag on far longer than its 70-minute-long running time.
It was bound to happen sooner or later. With “I Am Number Four,” Hollywood attempts to branch out to other genres to find a new “Twilight” -- something with heavy romantic and superhuman overtones that could be massaged into a brand new franchise to take over the hearts and wallets of teens when the sparkly vampires take a bow in 2012. Though dealing with intergalactic invasion, corporeal powers, and laser guns, “I Am Number Four” is a relatively tame creation, lacking a thunderous, textured cinematic quality that would separate it from the average ABC Family movie.
“Unknown” doesn’t know when to quit. Traditionally, relentlessness is a positive attribute for any thriller, but “Unknown” kicks off with an inert concept for suspense and proceeds to hog pile on the plot with total abandon, slapping on the whoppers and clichés like a maniac. In fact, the only thing missing from this Liam Neeson thriller is a cameo by Liam Neeson. Everything else is pretty much accounted for.
One has to accept “The Resident” as it is, otherwise there’s just no fun to be had. A mindless horror/chiller that preys upon numerous single lady fears, the picture is generally well crafted and supplies a few satisfying jolts. Logic and editing aren’t the movie’s best friends, but accepted as a modest creep-out with a few semi-salacious touches and “The Resident” delivers the icks and scares, permitting star Hilary Swank a chance to relax her intense method approach and explore her lung power.
I suppose Hilary Duff isn’t the adolescent, semi-innocent Disney starlet she once was, though I find it completely bizarre that it took an unremarkable ABC Family production to inform me that the actress is ready to tackle adult roles that deal with…you know…sex. “Beauty & the Briefcase” is Duff’s trampoline bounce toward the next phase of her career: playing neurotic, overprivileged twentysomething characters in vapid basic cable movies for networks that label themselves as family friendly, yet offer programming that celebrates dubious behavior for impressionable young eyes.
“Carnival Magic” is a forgotten family feature released in 1983 that was filmed in 1981 but looks like it was shot in 1972. It features a talking chimp, telepathic powers, sideshow melodrama, and a cast of buxom women who’ve never heard of a bra before. Did I mention the talking chimp? The picture is a Z-grade curio that’s slowly garnered a cult following over the years, confronting schlock hunters with completely sincere nonsense. I’m not suggesting “Carnival Magic” is a good film, but I will admit to delighting in its peculiar behavior and bootleg turns of plot. In an age where high camp is daily business, it’s amusing to find a 28-year-old film about a wisecracking ape that’s utterly convinced of its emotional resonance.