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October 2011

September 2011

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

Film Review - Stay Cool

STAY COOL Mark Polish

“Stay Cool” is the latest effort from the Polish Brothers, the identical twins who’ve somehow managed to stay afloat in the industry after a decade of tedious esoteric efforts and box office bombs. Sure, the men have unearthed some exquisite screen poetry during their filmmaking years, but nothing profound, always lost in their own fog of indifference despite plots that encourage engorged passions. “Stay Cool” is their most grounded effort, attacking the formulaic discomfort and confusion of an impending high school reunion. It doesn’t always convince, but it’s the most approachable Polish production to date.

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Film Review - Straw Dogs (2011)

STRAW DOGS James Marsden

The obvious question: Why remake a movie largely considered to be an aesthetically sound, culturally significant effort of raw filmmaking from 1971? Why attempt to rework what came so naturally to legendary director Sam Peckinpah? The feature that shocked the world is back in a slightly dopier form courtesy of helmer Rod Lurie, who doesn’t bother reorganizing or deviating from the original material. Instead, he’s lessened the impact of this violent saga, preferring to tell instead of show, straining to introduce a classic to a new generation of moviegoers better off renting the original. Despite its dated appearance and stiff storytelling, Peckinpah infused tremendous threat with minimal fuss. Lurie practically burns his film to the ground, yet can’t summon a single surprise or suspenseful interaction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drive

DRIVE Ryan Gosling Car

With “Bronson” and “Valhalla Rising,” Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn established himself as an uncompromising architect of esoteric European cinema, creating two taxing features of poetic structure, brutal violence, and dreamscape storytelling. “Drive” motors the filmmaker over to Hollywood, transferring his persnickety tastes to a heist-gone-bad tale of mobsters and loners and the cars they salivate over. It’s familiar ground, but electrifyingly projected through the director’s cracked prism. “Drive” is a sensational picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Don't Know How She Does It


“I Don’t Know How She Does It” is an apt title for this dramedy since, by the time the end credits roll, there’s not a clarification on how the lead character, you know, does it. A spunky but disjointed rant on the severity of the business world and the nagging demands of motherhood, the feature doesn’t answer any questions, trying much too hard to come across likable and relatable when confronting rather provocative issues of self-loathing and extraordinary stress. To this film, there’s no head-squeezing dilemma of the heart and home a little slapstick can’t cure. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lion King 3D


There is no anniversary to celebrate here, no special achievement that deserves an “exclusive” theatrical launch. In fact, “The Lion King,” Walt Disney Feature Animation’s crowning achievement, is being hustled back into theaters to highlight a 3D conversion, a gimmick employed to generate some eye-catching publicity a few weeks before the picture makes its long-awaited debut on Blu-ray. Hooray.

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Blu-ray Review - Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff

Cardiff Portraits

Jack Cardiff is a certified filmmaking legend, yet a man perhaps few, outside of hardcore movie appreciation circles, have ever even heard of. His name may not be immediately recognizable but his visual touch is unforgettable, working as a cinematographer and director for over 60 years, with show business ties that trace all the way back to his adolescence. Although he passed away in 2009 at the age of 94, his glorious creative spirit lives on in numerous filmmaking efforts and a riveting documentary, “Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff,” a picture that celebrates the lifelong adventure of a man who worshipped color, utilizing his fascination with art to infuse the big screen with an enormity and vibrant passion few could rival. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Burial Ground: Nights of Terror


A zombie movie just isn’t a zombie movie without endless close-ups of rotting flesh, idiot lead characters incapable of summoning even the most basic of survival skills, and a brief subplot involving incest. Well, at least this is the type of unusual viewing experience “Burial Ground: Nights of Terror” (originally released in 1981) offers to hungry genre fans. An undeniably sluggish though pleasingly wacky gore show, the film is ripe with peculiarities and amusing inconsistencies, almost enough to make up for the complete lack of suspense. Almost. Nothing cuts the boredom of a flaccid zombie stomp quite like a creepy young boy coming on to his bewildered, not yet entirely disapproving mother. It’s that type of insanity that makes a forgettable picture into something one wants to share with the world. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star

BUCKY LARSON Nick Swardson

After accepting an invitation to join the Adam Sandler Rodeo a few years back, obediently working a string of cameos and supporting roles for the superstar, comedian Nick Swardson graduates to leading man status with “Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star” (shot two years ago). After sitting through this dreadful, monumentally humorless picture, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this is going to be the last Nick Swardson starring role. He’s a fine stage comic (or at least was for a time in the mid-2000s), but his sleepy, sarcastic sense of humor has found considerable trouble translating successfully to television and film. In fact, considering how excruciating “Bucky Larson” is, I regret ever referring to it as a “sense of humor.” It’s now officially a lethal weapon. Read the rest at

Film Review - Creature


It feels like every low-budget horror picture is looking for a way to kickstart a franchise, attempting to establish an iconic ghoul that could possibly carry on through various sequels and assorted marketing opportunities. The chiller “Creature” is no different, submitting its own contorted backwaters mythos in the form of Lockjaw, a half-gator/half-human beast keen to gobble twentysomethings and achieve 50/50, XXL horror t-shirt popularity. Too bad his starring debut is a shabby entry in the big screen monster mash, an earnest but far too predictable scary movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Contagion


“Contagion” is a scary movie where the villain is ourselves, the murder weapon our touch. It’s a thriller debuting 16 years after “Outbreak,” the last major virus extravaganza, only this latest effort has been updated to match today’s technological reach and governmental scrutiny, registering with a more subtle sense of fear than whipping around with wild hysterics. It’s a Steven Soderbergh film after all, so it’s going to maintain some equanimity. However, as reserved and procedural as it is, “Contagion” should have most audience members radically reassessing exactly what they touch during an average day. Read the rest at

Film Review - Higher Ground


What a challenging and unusual motion picture this is. “Higher Ground” marks the directorial debut of actress Vera Farmiga, one of the most astute performers in Hollywood today, and she reaches big for her first cinematic offering. A story of salvation and awakening, about religion and spirituality, “Higher Ground” is an exquisitely measured, fair-minded assessment of faith. It’s never mean or condescending. It’s honest and richly imagined, drilling to the heart of commitment and life. It’s difficult material from which to launch a filmmaking career, yet this is a splendidly confident, unexpected movie. One of the best of 2011. Read the rest at

Film Review - Warrior


“Warrior” is “Rocky” for the mixed martial arts generation, a fact the film itself acknowledges. It’s pure formula from start to finish, yet there’s a wellspring of sincerity here that softens the clichés, at least for the first half of the picture. It’s wholly predictable (Lionsgate marketing has done their part to give away the ending) and occasionally ridiculous, but the passions in play are convincing, often rousing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sympathy for Delicious

Christopher 2

Actor and future Incredible Hulk Mark Ruffalo makes his directorial debut with “Sympathy for Delicious,” a sincere but fragmented feature that bites off way more than it can chew. Although rich with intention and authenticity, this tale of tainted miracles and crooked salvation just doesn’t contain the creative gas to power it through some dreadful melodramatic dead spots, while leaning too heavily on cliché to find a conclusion. After working with some impressive filmmakers throughout his career, learning from the best, Ruffalo’s effort is tremendously disappointing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Burke and Hare


It’s been over a decade since John Landis last directed a feature-length comedy, spending the last 10 years working on various documentaries, perhaps waiting for the right material to come into view. “Burke and Hare” certainly plays to his sensibilities, combining slapstick comedy, English wit, and macabre occurrences into a sprightly picture that encourages more amused reactions than laughs. Landis is comfortable here, fluid and frisky, but the material just doesn’t have much snap to it. At least outside of all the broken limbs. Read the rest at