Previous month:
August 2011
Next month:
October 2011

September 2011

Film Review - Courageous


“Courageous” is a sloppy feature film that concerns an important subject. It’s a Christian-themed picture, leaving its messages unlikely to be viewed by those who need it the most, preaching to the choir about the challenges of fatherhood and responsibility. However, to achieve those pivotal moments of cloud-questioning submission, writer/director/star Alex Kendrick elects a route of cornball storytelling, encouraging flat performances and employing iffy racial stereotypes, unable to snap the increasingly tedious amateur-hour spell. The Godly messages are direct and sincere, but delivered ineffectively, leaving “Courageous” somewhere between a basic cable cop show and a church infomercial. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dream House

DREAM HOUSE Daniel Craig

If we’re supposed to take Hollywood gossip seriously, it seems there was quite a bit of disagreement when it came to the execution and assembly of “Dream House.” The actors and director have essentially disowned the effort, and Universal Pictures has done their part to hobble the enterprise by issuing one of the worst theatrical posters in recent memory, along with releasing a trailer that honestly gives away the intriguing twist of the movie. It goes without saying that “Dream House” is a distorted mess (and, for the record, isn’t a horror feature), playing like a workprint that somehow fell into a wide release, but the film is not quite the travesty its chaotic production history suggests. I’m not recommending it, but it’s always fascinating to watch a movie where everyone who made it has slinked away from the final product. Read the rest at

Film Review - What's Your Number?


The curious case of Anna Faris takes another step sideways with the release of “What’s Your Number?” A confused mishmash of physical comedy and googly-eyed romantic formula, the film is a misfire, though one not content to passively admit defeat. No, Faris isn’t going down without a fight, giving an agreeably daffy performance in need of better material. She’s such an amusing screen presence, it’s painful to see her stuck in this, a contrived offering of relationship blues where the worst thing in the whole wide world to be is single and without dating prospects. You go (away), girl. Read the rest at

Film Review - 50/50

50 50 Joseph Gordon Levitt

“50/50” belongs in that rare subgenre known as “The Cancer Comedy.” It’s not a popular cinematic topic, practically untouched throughout the years, yet this new film from director Jonathan Levine makes the troubling process of merging meaty laughs with exhausting medical emergencies seem like a piece of cake. This is a tremendously endearing, emotionally complex motion picture that gracefully inspects the stages of grief, worry, and, of course, catharsis, approaching a delicate subject matter with a disarming confidence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tucker & Dale vs. Evil


A glaring hillbilly with greasy overalls, iffy personal hygiene, and an askew trucker cap is an iconic image in horror cinema, guaranteeing a feature of haunting backwoods torment and chaw-spewing threat. Who better than the uneducated, unshowered people of the earth to trap and devour the privileged youth of today? The horror comedy “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil” looks to pull a little switcheroo with creaky genre stereotypes, disrupting the traditional redneck rampage to dream up something sly, frequently funny, and consistently surprising. In a season of routine scares, here’s something silly and occasionally gruesome, ideal for those who like their shock value with a little more slapstick flavoring. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thunder Soul


Music resides at the heart of this joyful documentary, yet the picture is more fascinated with the influence of music education, examining how that discipline and interest helped to inform and shape a generation of young African-American men and women. “Thunder Soul” is the story of the Kashmere Stage Band, a student group from Texas who rose to prominence in the 1970s under the director of Conrad O. Johnson, or “Prof” to his students. It’s a film flooded with memories and declarations of respect, laughs and tears, and plenty of funk to keep toes tapping along as director Mark Landsman investigates how one man’s authority carried from high school to the modern day.

Continue reading "Film Review - Thunder Soul" »

Blu-ray Review - Death of the Virgin


"Death of the Virgin" is a supremely cluttered horror picture with a few striking ingredients. It offers a bizarre concentration on nightmarish imagery founded in fine art and contemporary dance, yet it also desires to be a gross-out slasher film of sorts, along with mimicking several other terror subgenres of questionable repute. "Death of the Virgin" is a smear of ideas supported by a lackluster technical effort, raising a strident genre ruckus when more attention should've been paid to the fundamentals, supplying a more rigorous display of thespian confidence and cinematographic ability. Instead, a handful of lofty thematic concepts and inspirations are left to rot while director Joseph Tito gradually loses control of the picture, resorting to ugly acts of ultraviolence to make a hasty impression. I'm not suggesting the script ever held promise, but there's something interesting going on during this unpleasant mess that's never quite developed to its full potential. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Latter Days


On the outside, 2003's "Latter Days" appears like an average sitcom, presenting a formulaic collision of sexuality and religion, opening itself up to hundreds of broadly executed comedic possibilities. Mercifully, writer/director C. Jay Cox isn't interested in the crude workings of a primetime satire, instilling a beating heart into this tale of opposites attracting, facing disapproval from friends, family, and scripture. It's a hot potato of a story, challenging dogma and the reaches of personal doubt, yet the movie is surprisingly sensitive and illuminating, taking a very real approach to these characters when the urge to turn the proceedings into a cartoon must've been extraordinary. Instead of mockery, "Latter Days" is a vulnerable effort, rich with compassion and patience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Abduction

ABDUCTION Taylor Lautner 2

We’re not faced with the wide release of “Abduction” because Shawn Christensen wrote a scintillating screenplay with engorged silver screen promise. We’re faced with the wide release of “Abduction” because actor Taylor Lautner hit the big time with his role in the “Twilight” franchise and he’s ready to cash in on his fame. What better way to test box office appeal than with a PG-13 actioner that promises mild fisticuffs and heavy opportunity for shirtlessness, delivering exactly what the core demographic is paying their babysitting money to see. The rest of the world? We’ll just sit here, rolling our eyes, watching Hollywood’s latest heartthrob grunt his way through a junky thriller of no distinguishable personality. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Whistleblower


In dramatizing the true story of Kathryn Bolkovac, “The Whistleblower” is required to confront a few harsh realities of life, investigating and displaying the horrors of human trafficking in explicit detail. This is not an easy film to watch, but a critical story to share with the world, using one woman’s experiences to shed needed light on a growing epidemic of sexual and psychological invasion. However, as vital as the message is, director Larysa Kondracki is making a movie, with the conventions of the thriller genre occasionally stifling the story’s inherent terror. Read the rest at

Film Review - Killer Elite


“Killer Elite” claims to be based on a true story, adapting the novel “The Feather Men” by Ranulph Fiennes for the big screen. It’s difficult to buy into anything the picture has to offer, but it’s a determined effort, working with a convoluted script built out of last names and random encounters. It’s a political thriller with bloody knuckles, merging explosive, physics-defying stunt work with protracted exposition, and it rarely works. Nevertheless, there’s some merriment to be devoured for those magically able to block out the story and focus on the slickly produced mayhem. Read the rest at

Film Review - Flypaper


In the very same time period “The Lion King” has returned to multiplexes, flexing substantial box office muscle, “Flypaper” is debuting, in far fewer multiplexes. Practically none. Both endeavors were directed by Rob Minkoff, representing quite a drastic difference in terms of filmmaking interests for the helmer, who once helped to conjure a mighty animated vision of the animal kingdom, only to find himself 17 years later masterminding a low-budget Patrick Dempsey bank robbery caper, and a tepid one at that. Where’s Simba when you need him. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moneyball


There have been a great number of exceptional baseball films, but very few films about baseball. “Moneyball” eschews home runs, cutesy player idiosyncrasy, and game day excitement to permit a peek at frosty front office interaction, where the true mechanics of the sport are worked out in full. “Moneyball” is a pleasure to watch, insightful and entertaining all the way, but the educational elements shouldn’t be discounted. Even for baseball fans, the feature illuminates the managerial process, understanding that games aren’t won and lost by the players themselves, but how they’re meticulously assembled as a team. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dolphin Tale


“Dolphin Tale” is a true story of sea creature survival handed a sticky Disney-esque treatment. It’s a script with tight hospital corners and cast with dimpled child actors, hoping to offer mildly inspiring entertainment to family audiences starved for something that isn’t animated. Take it at face value and it’s a perfectly pleasant matinee diversion, overflowing with easy solutions, animal antics, and approachable adversity. Any scrutiny underneath the sunny exterior will reveal some questionable editing, cushy screenwriting, and a few performances ready to burst due to overt earnestness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Road to Nowhere

ROAD exterior

Filmmaking hero Monte Hellman hasn't made a feature in 21 years. The director of such cult hits as "Two-Lane Blacktop," "Cockfighter," and "China 9, Liberty 37" returns to the screen with "Road to Nowhere," a noir-flavored mystery about the puzzling creation of a complicated motion picture. In short, it's a movie about movies that's not really a movie. It seems fitting that this bewildering picture is the impetus for Hellman's return, as it appears the material is actually about him, dissecting the various jealousies and infatuations a driven director develops while in the midst of assembling a motion picture. Hellman is a true artist with a vision for disorientation that carries all the way through "Road to Nowhere," but the lasting impact of the film will be up to the individual viewer and their personal appetite for cinematic riddles. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hellbound: Hellraiser II


1987’s “Hellraiser” dared to challenge the stagnant horror genre. Instead of slashings and stalkings, the picture submitted a low budget, but exhaustively unnerving depiction of sadomasochistic wonder smashed together with distorted monster movie mechanics. Expelled from the bottomless pit of despair known as Clive Barker’s imagination, the film was an absolute humdinger, submitting a bold, original vision that genuinely terrified, making chiller product from that year resemble a church picnic by comparison. Finding cult success at the box office, a sequel was quickly ordered up by the producers, looking to capitalize on the uneasy introduction of the Cenobite invasion, hoping to extend the moderately profitable nightmare for one more feature. So, where does one take “Hellraiser” for its second adventure? To Hell, naturally. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bunraku

BUNRAKU Demi Moore

Perhaps hardcore anime and martial arts fanatics will find something to appreciate in the futuristic bruiser “Bunraku,” but there’s very little here for an outside audience to savor. A supremely labored, visually exhausting actioner, the picture is an overstylized, overwritten, overinflated jumble that doesn’t have a clue when to quit. It’s definitely colorful and eager to please, but a little of this convoluted mess goes a long way. Read the rest at