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June 2011

Blu-ray Review - Ceremony

CEREMONY Uma Thurman

“Ceremony” is a film that thrives on chaos, refusing to establish characters or situations before it tosses the viewer into the thick of discomfort. The disorientation is irksome, but so is much of this exhausting picture, which seems to value secrecy as a way of initiating interest, yet doesn’t offer anything worth the time invested, issuing derivative characters and tuneless situations of longing coated with an ineffective layer of crooked whimsy that often acts like salt in the wound.

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Blu-ray Review - Ocean Wonderland


There have been many deep-sea documentaries, but rarely is there one narrated by a turtle. “Ocean Wonderland” is a 2003 IMAX release that employs a whimsical storytelling method to pull viewers in tightly, observing a big blue community through the eyes of its most passive resident. Considering the agreeable but formulaic structure of the picture, any sort of unusual deviation from the norm is most welcome.

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Blu-ray Review - Beastly

BEASTLY Alex Pettyfer Beast

I’m honestly baffled by “Beastly” and I’m not sure if it’s just my personal reaction to this brain-dead feature or if there’s something genuinely crooked about its assembly. I walked away from the film with a host of questions, as far away from the state of swoon the producers intended as possible. It’s a cold, often unbearably illogical film, but I almost need to recommend it just for the opportunity to read varied reactions from viewers. Surely, I’m not crazy, yet “Beastly” made me feel disconnected from reality, and not in an enchantingly escapist manner.

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Film Review - Green Lantern


“Green Lantern” is a superhero film where nothing genuinely super occurs. A longtime bridesmaid in the comic book realm, Green Lantern finally takes command of his own cinematic vehicle, but for all the shiny visual effects and unabashed goal to kick off a franchise, the production has forgotten to include fundamental elements of compelling drama and excitement, spending so much time building the world, they don’t have any fun with it. It’s a lifeless, tremendously disappointing motion picture, consistently making dreary choices with a limitless universe of powerful heroes and complicated villains.

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Film Review - Jig

JIG Still 2

Irish stepdancing has enjoyed worldwide visibility due to the efforts of touring shows like “Riverdance” and “Lord of the Dance.” “Jig” looks to study the genesis of the training, observing the considerable physical efforts from teens and pre-teens as they prepare, worry, and compete, all hoping to achieve a title at the Irish Dancing World Championships, held in Glasgow, Scotland. It’s all sweat, stomps, and caked-on make-up as these girls (and a few boys) chase their dreams, for personal glory and, of course, to appease their parents.

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Film Review - Mr. Popper's Penguins


Jim Carrey has made a number of stinkers during his career, but what makes the repellent “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” such a heartbreaker is that it arrives so soon after the domestic release of one of his finest performances, as the sneaky Steven Russell in “I Love You Phillip Morris.” It’s paycheck time again for the famous funny man, who finds himself sharing a frame with CG-animated penguins, barely staying awake while a moronic screenplay and an unimaginative director take turns urinating on a 1938 kid-lit classic. Come for the penguins, stay for the four fart jokes, four defecation gags, one shot of testicle trauma, and a series of sketchy messages for the wee ones.

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Film Review - The Art of Getting By

THE ART OF GETTING BY Freddie Highmore

“The Art of Getting By” is a decidedly formulaic motion picture, but it’s reassuring to see writer/director Gavin Wiesen present some effort into combating the clichés, eliciting acceptable performances and a few relatable beats of teen malaise as the script follows a familiar path of self-discovery and the heartbreak of first love. It’s a rickety picture, but one that captures a strong feel for city life and the reluctance of personal application.

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Film Review - The Tree of Life


Before anyone dares enter the cinematic realm of “The Tree of Life,” this much must be emphasized: it’s a Terrence Malick motion picture. The famously enigmatic filmmaker emerges from the shadows once again with this mystifying elegy, returning for his fifth motion picture since 1973. Malick doesn’t work a whole lot, but when the man feels the urge to create, he doesn’t screw around. A meditation on life, family, innocence, grief, and the origins of the universe, “The Tree of Life” is essentially Malick calling his shot, stepping up with Babe Ruth swagger to examine, you know, the meaning of life. And bless his no-publicity heart, he actually achieves a few tangible answers.

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Blu-ray Review - Billy Madison


In 1995, after years in supporting roles and working his way to fame on “Saturday Night Live,” Adam Sandler was ready for his own starring vehicle. His first offering, “Billy Madison,” is many things, often labeled crude, dopey, and obnoxious -- all true. However, the feature is also 100% Sandler, boldly unleashing his specialized sense of humor in a high concept comedy that proudly marches to its own beat. It’s easy to dismiss the picture as unsophisticated twaddle, but doing so misses the point of Sandler’s unique grasp on goofballery, with “Billy Madison” gifting the future superstar his first open field to run around and get dizzy within.

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Blu-ray Review - Rubber

RUBBER hotel

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?  

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Blu-ray Review - Kill the Irishman


There’s nothing in “Kill the Irishman” that you haven’t seen before. It’s a clichéd offering of criminal worship, even cast with squad of recognizable character actors who’ve all logged plenty of hours in the genre. However, there’s a certain clenched-fist tonality to the picture that helps it wade through routine, and it’s nice to see the city of Cleveland used for change when detailing the horrors and intimidation of mob rule, giving New York City and Las Vegas the day off.

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Blu-ray Review - Blue Crush 2

BLUE CRUSH 2 Shasha Jackson 2

Has it really been nearly a decade since “Blue Crush” paddled into theaters? The 2002 film was a modest success, but quickly established an awkward place as a feminist anthem, drinking up the gorgeous beaches and waves of Hawaii. Never mind the fact that director John Stockwell invested more in leering than liberation, the reputation stuck. An eternity later, Universal has revived the “Blue Crush” corpse with a DTV sequel, ditching Hawaii for the budget landscape of South Africa, while losing the original’s lascivious behavior to tinker with Disney Channel dramatics and candied characterization.

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DVD Review - In Her Skin

IN HER SKIN Miranda Otto

“This is a true story” reads the opening card of “In Her Skin,” throwing down a bold promise of truth to a film of shifting perspectives and hearsay. Though it opens as a routine missing person drama, the feature soon heads down some unspeakably grim areas of murder and psychological disease, hoping to emphasize the shock of the offense being recounted. It’s an intense picture that boils over too easily, but the purity of horror on display here is extraordinary.

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Film Review - John Carpenter's The Ward

THE WARD Amber Heard

It’s been a decade since director John Carpenter released a feature-length motion picture (2001’s “Ghosts of Mars”), and frankly, I’ve missed the guy. Sure, his output hasn’t been consistent since the 1980s, but I’ll take a Carpenter misfire over the latest music video trainee looking to make their mark with a sloppy showing of shock value. “The Ward” feels a little weightless for the filmmaker, but it’s a mildly entertaining effort, just nowhere near exceptional.

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Film Review - Trollhunter


“Trollhunter” exists somewhere between “The Blair Witch Project” and a particularly edgy Rankin/Bass holiday special. It’s a crafty motion picture with ingenious visual effects and a healthy sense of humor, but it overstays its welcome, looking to stretch a thin concept to an unsteady feature length running time, losing its fresh appeal and sensation of surprise in the process.

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Film Review - Super 8

SUPER 8 Joel Courtney

For the last year, moviegoers have been bombarded with mysterious marketing for the new J.J. Abrams feature, “Super 8.” The footage suggested an experience of awe, sold with teasing shots of aliens, magically floating debris, and slack-jawed actors reacting to unknown sights of indeterminate hostility. Though it’s unfair to judge a film solely on marketing, this is Abrams after all -- one of the more ingenious architects of hype around. The man knows how to bait a hook, yet “Super 8” is not the movie promised in the advertising. While tender, it’s not sweet. While enigmatic, it’s not endearingly so. While wonderful, it’s also strangely disappointing. Perhaps this whirlwind of reaction speaks to the chaos of surprise, though I do wish Abrams permitted more of a peek into this world of nostalgia and terror sooner rather than later.

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Film Review - Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer


“Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” is an aggressive, unpleasant motion picture. Surely younger viewers will take a shine to its hyperactive charms, but they won’t be challenged or celebrated, just visually assaulted by all manner of shock value and crude behavior, with studio suits ready to get their hands on that delicious “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” money.

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