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July 2011

Blu-ray Review - Overboard

OVERBOARD Goldie Hawn Chicken

The 1987 comedy “Overboard” is an incredible study of star power, displaying how a few seasoned professionals can take a limp script and turn it into something unremarkable, yet completely palatable. Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn are truly the only reasons to keep watching this otherwise flaccid comedy, which feels static when it should zing and oppressive when it should soar.

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Blu-ray Review - Paul

PAUL Pegg Frost

“Paul” should be a simple wacky sci-fi comedy filled with pot humor, unrelenting profanity, gay panic, and dry Brit humor. Instead, the film is primarily constructed as a valentine to the fantasy genre, showing more interest dreaming up inside movie references than spewing one-liners. “Paul” is pure geek bait, an oasis of unadulterated affection for all things sci-fi. The movie bleeds green. Thankfully, in the care of screenwriters/stars Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, the picture casts an amusing intergalactic spell, borrowing a Spielbergian concept and filling it with all sorts of enjoyable absurdity and R-rated mischief.

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Blu-ray Review - Jumping the Broom


With Tyler Perry spending his precious time driving his most popular character into the ground to sustain a hold on African-American entertainment dollars, burgeoning movie mogul T.D. Jakes (“Not Easily Broken”) has selected a softer approach for entertainment dominance, taking on the trials of family and marriage with the charming feature, “Jumping the Broom.”

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Film Review - Snow Flower and the Secret Fan


“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” features a sensitive story of bittersweet separation, reportedly altered quite a bit from author Lisa See’s original 2005 novel. A tale of patchy sisterhood and the circular patterns of betrayals and mistakes, director Wayne Wang has his hands full with melodrama and historical reflection, exploring China’s foot-binding past while returning to the intricacies of Asian culture, which served him well in the 1993 hit, “The Joy Luck Club.” Wang’s also made perhaps the most flavorless, outright boring picture of 2011, breaking down the plot into tiny, inert pieces of meaninglessness.

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Film Review - Cowboys & Aliens

COWBOYS & ALIENS Harrison Ford

Director Jon Favreau has quite a playground with “Cowboys & Aliens,” permitting the filmmaker a big-budget opportunity to stage classic western encounters while banging away with large-scale sci-fi elements. Although it lacks an extraordinary pace that would normally accompany the collision of two disparate genres, the picture is a comfortably entertaining slice of summer escapism, blasting away with a blissful discharge of six-guns and lasers.

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Film Review - Crazy, Stupid, Love.

CRAZY STUPID LOVE Ryan Gosling Steve Carell

The best compliment I can pay the comedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love” is that it works extremely hard to maintain a vital oxygen blast of vulnerability to an otherwise stiflingly sitcom plot. Actually, there are numerous compliments I can pay this hilarious, poignant motion picture, which mounts a tremendous effort to keep the audience guessing, undermining as much formula as it can. It’s a sharp movie, layered with impressive performances and a generous heart, yet it’s the sensation of surprise that truly matters.

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Film Review - Good Neighbors


“Good Neighbors” is suspenseful, but oddly unfulfilling. A distinctly Canadian production taking place during the 1995 Quebec referendum, this serial killer/psychological thriller relies on mood and stylistics to conjure a critical feeling of dread. However, writer/director Jacob Tierney is spun dizzy by the complex narrative of deceptions and confessions, laboring over moody particulars while the tension gradually dries up.

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DVD Review - Jackboots on Whitehall


A blazing WWII farce, “Jackboots on Whitehall” is acted out entirely by a group of puppets, which has to be every film director’s dream. Blending the alternate history rhythms of “Inglourious Basterds” with the freewheeling cartoon impulses of “Team America,” the picture is a refreshing offering of comedic insanity. The movie tuckers out quickly, but when its mix of chaos and slapstick comes together, it makes for a highly enjoyable curiosity.

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Blu-ray Review - Soul Surfer

SOUL SURFER Craig T. Nelson

The idea of a motion picture built around the rehabilitation efforts of a chirpy teen, with pronounced Christian messages to boot, doesn’t exactly promise a searing portrait of determination at the edge of catastrophe. Thankfully, “Soul Surfer” has an astonishing event to work with, dramatizing the incredible true story of Bethany Hamilton, a 13-year-old girl who faced an unimaginable test of survival, surrounded by her loving family, her faith, and tasty waves beckoning the surfer girl back to the spot of her greatest misfortune.

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Blu-ray Review - Take Me Home Tonight


“Take Me Home Tonight” has endured a bumpy ride on its way to theatrical distribution. Shot nearly four years ago, this comedy has been shoved around the release schedule, handled gingerly by studios that didn’t exactly know what to do with a comedy aimed at twentysomethings about the 1980s. Their hesitance is understandable, with the feature trapped between traditional coming-of-age sympathy and brazen nostalgia, presumably aimed at a generation that’s stopped going to the movies.

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DVD Review - To Kill a Priest

TO KILL A PRIEST Christopher Lambert 2

A political thriller mixing an unsettling cocktail of emotional speeds, 1988’s “To Kill a Priest” successfully translates broad political situations and tight psychological spaces. Although it dissolves in the end, the tragic story of Polish priest Jerzy Popieluszko makes for a surprisingly gripping statement on influence and resolve, brought vividly to life by two commanding and fairly odd performances from Ed Harris and Christopher Lambert.

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Film Review - Sarah's Key

SARAH'S KEY Kristin Scott Thomas

There are several abyssal melodramatic pits “Sarah’s Key” has difficulty avoiding, but it proffers a tale of breakthrough that’s engrossing, shedding light on a few dark corners of French history. Guided by Kristin Scott Thomas’s focused performance, the picture depicts disturbing, paralyzing feelings of loss and guilt, though it achieves a few too many moments through clumsy hysterics.

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Film Review - Captain America: The First Avenger


Being the fourth superhero offering of the summer, “Captain America” arrives in theaters without the benefit of a fresh launch, stuck trying to assemble thrills in a costumed crusader farmland already picked clean. The upside here is a distinctly retro adventure that feels like a funny book page-turner, playing up its WWII setting with obvious joy and care for the character’s origins. The downside is the influence of modern technology, shining up a 1940’s hero with glossy 2011 filmmaking tools, making the picture resemble more of a video game than an epic realization of jumbo comic book details.

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Film Review - Friends with Benefits


There was a visit to this comedy realm already, with January’s “No Strings Attached.” It wasn’t funny or particularly romantic then and a second pass at the trials and tribulations of the young and loveless yields pretty much the same entertainment value. “Friends with Benefits” isn’t simply charmless, it’s poorly scripted, edited with a butter knife, and features two lead actors turning blue as they frantically flail to overcompensate for their lack of chemistry. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis look swell with their clothes off, but does it really matter when they generate a sibling-like sense of sexual connection?

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Film Review - Submarine

SUBMARINE Craig Roberts

“Submarine” is certainly a humane picture, but it’s often so affected, a mouthguard should be issued with every ticket to prevent oral damage from all the reflexive teeth grinding triggered when writer/director Richard Ayoade blasts the screen with unrelenting quirk. It’s a film that commences with fidgets and concludes partially asleep, yet between the artificial moments lies an astute comedy about teen anxiety and the cruel realities of first love.

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