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October 2011

Film Review - The Woman


In 2002, Lucky McKee made his writing/directing debut with “May,” a sinister little horror gem that created quite a stir with genre fans, all but guaranteeing the helmer a long, celebrated career and the adoration of gorehounds everywhere. The follow-up, 2006’s “The Woods,” was a dispiriting effort, tangled and ineffective despite evocative embellishments. “The Woman” suggests that perhaps “May” was merely a fluke. A bafflingly angry, ugly demonstration of dehumanization, the feature is a glacial, low-rent addition to the suffering subgenre, requiring the audience to not only sit through aggressive acts of bodily trauma, but long stretches of clumsy filmmaking as well. If there’s a larger societal point to this cinematic mess, it’s lost somewhere between the unsightly use of wide-angle lenses and an atrocious soundtrack that’s guaranteed to make theater speakers bleed. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Clowns

CLOWNS Hand Clowns

Having visited the circus once as a child and raised outside of the influence of the painted man arts, I'm not one to list clowns as a phobia, curling up in terror when a white-faced person of professional tomfoolery skips near. Those who suffer from coulrophobia (heavens, there's actually a name for it) would be well advised to steer clear of the 1970 Federico Fellini effort, "The Clowns." For viewers with a larger appetite for top shelf high jinks, the picture is an extraordinary time capsule of circus feats, blurring the line between fantasy and reality as a master filmmaker delves into his most cherished subject, whisking viewers across Europe on a hunt for unforgettable clowns. It's a movie containing extensive performance footage, bizarre tales from the vocation, and rosy-cheeked sorrow for a dying art form. It's Fellini's childhood obsessions splashed across the screen, producing a pleasurably disorientating viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Puss in Boots


Introduced to the world in 2004’s “Shrek 2,” the character of Puss in Boots went on to steal the movie away from the neurotic green ogre, blending common feline instincts with a feisty vocal performance from Antonio Banderas. The furry clown would go on to become the highlights of “Shrek the Third” and “Shrek Forever After,” leaving Dreamworks with no choice but to gift the frisky kitty his own starring vehicle. “Puss in Boots” isn’t exactly the freewheeling adventure the cat deserves, weighed down by a leaden script, but isolated antics remain as amusing as ever, demanding Banderas rear back and let loose with a full-body performance that carries the film heroically through some pointlessly heavy plotting. Read the rest at

Film Review - In Time

IN TIME Timberlake

If movies were judged solely on ambition, “In Time” would be one of the best pictures of the year. Alas, it’s actually on the lower end of 2011 releases, making a mess out of a nifty premise. Writer/director Andrew Niccol (“S1m0ne,” “Lord of War”) seems to think he’s creating a stylish, pointed social commentary with this futuristic Bonnie and Clyde tale, but he’s ruined the beguiling sci-fi effect through banal dialogue and wooden performances. It’s a stillborn feature, wasting its promise on emptiness when all Niccol had to do was sit back and enjoy the world he created, investigating its rituals and peculiar response. Instead, he’s elected to make an action movie, without any real practice with the genre and its demanding need for propulsive plotting. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rum Diary


Everyone’s favorite pirate, Johnny Depp, strolls giddily into the gravity pull of Hunter S. Thompson’s madness once again with “The Rum Diary,” a feature film adaptation of a 1998 novel from the legendary writer (who died in 2005). Avoiding the thick of bat country, Depp generates a slightly suave take on Thompson’s youth, pushing away the gobs of drugs found in Terry Gilliam’s 1998 scattergun, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” to guzzle gallons of booze, dancing around another tale of oddballs and hangovers, with the emphasis here on personal transformation, acting a prequel story of sorts for Thompson. It’s a muddled movie in dire need of a cleaner edit, but there are moments of tremendous clarity that bring out some amusingly crooked behavior, articulated with a tight Thompson shuffle by Depp. Read the rest at

Film Review - Circumstance


“Circumstance” is an imperfect film with stunning components. Part cultural drama, part lesbian love story, the picture endeavors to explore the urges of personal freedom inside Iran, observing the bonds of family and religion, focusing on two young women faced with a dire future of subservience, forced to choose between stifling tradition and the need for rebellion, which soon melts into primal elements of desire. It’s a potent picture cursed with fractured storytelling, displaying lively imagery that registers more powerfully than its drama. Read the rest at

Film Review - 13

13 group

Remaking his own 2005 feature “13 Tzameti,” writer/director Gela Babluani doesn’t expel all that much effort modifying his material; instead, he essentially reheats this vicious tale of Russian roulette for American audiences. There’s a decent amount of star power and established actors collected for this chiller, and those new to the premise might find themselves drawn into this foul underworld saga. However, fans of the original will likely be saddened to find Babluani making the same film all over again, only here he cools the efficiency of the previous picture, allowing a sense of staleness to permeate the production. While still rippling with tension due to the graphic subject matter, “13” remains an unnecessary remake. Read the rest at

Film Review - Anonymous

ANONYMOUS Shakespeare

Director Roland Emmerich has spent his career guiding Jean-Claude Van Damme, pushing viewers through a Stargate, staging a global alien attack, resurrecting Godzilla, and orchestrating the end of the world. He’s done very well sticking close to spectacle, but he’s never quite challenged himself in the dramatic realm. “Anonymous” is Emmerich’s first real stab at a human story, though even this modest costume drama carries a bold mystery: Was Shakespeare a fraud? It’s a complicated answer in a protracted motion picture. Sure, theaters are burned, incest is established, and several actors compete to be the biggest ham of the movie, but the concentrated mood is far removed from anything the director has done before. It’s a weird feeling to be bored by a Roland Emmerich feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trespass

TRESPASS Medelssohn

Oh, the yelling in this thing. “Trespass” must set some type of record for the longest screaming match in a motion picture; the verbal amplitude just drags on and on. Mix in some hyperventilation and vile overacting, and here’s the latest from Joel Schumacher, the once engaging filmmaker who’s spent the last five years crafting disappointments (“The Number 23”), misfires (“Blood Creek”), and turkeys (“Twelve”). Here, the director elects to make ears bleed in this insufferable home invasion thriller, which takes a fairly undemanding design for suspense and turns it into a frightfully pokey 85-minute collision of abysmal creative decisions. Not even a healthy blast of glittery star power can rescue this punishing movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Mighty Macs


As a film critic, I’m painfully aware that “The Mighty Macs” is one ridiculously clichéd piece of work. As a filmgoer, I was charmed by the G-rated gentleness and interest in providing young female audience members with a portrait of empowerment, free of heady sexual overtones. It’s not a remarkable movie by any stretch of the imagination, yet “The Mighty Macs” is good, clean entertainment for the whole family, snapping spare parts from hundreds of sports pictures together, fashioning a slight, but genial feature that should appeal to viewers hungry for lighter fare that isn’t animated.

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Film Review - Paranormal Activity 3


It’s the trend these days to whip a franchise back to the beginning when moving forward is no longer a viable creative direction. It’s this alleged “freshening” treatment that’s been dispiriting to watch, though the “Paranormal Activity” series is unique in that its third installment is actually a second prequel to the 2009 no-budget blockbuster. “Paranormal Activity 3” leaps back even further in time to survey the origins of demonic happenings and parental disposal, returning to an era of crude surveillance equipment and child endangerment. Sadly, the time machine treatment does nothing to reenergize the formula, with this latest ghostly rampage practically a shot-for-shot remake of the previous pictures. Read the rest at

Film Review - Johnny English Reborn


The idea of a sequel to the 2003 film “Johnny English” seems absurd, but the movie proved itself to be unexpectedly popular around the globe. Ditching his world-famous Mr. Bean character to create a James Bond parody, star Rowan Atkinson (who actually appeared in a Bond adventure) found another character worthy of his rubbery appeal, making light of suave spies and the action genre in his own floppy way. “Johnny English Reborn” brings back the character for another round of slipping and spying, but not much else has changed since the release of the original picture. “Reborn” is more of a spiritual title. Everything else in this silly but draggy comedy is pure rehash. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Three Musketeers


Alexandre Dumas’s novel “The Three Musketeers” has been adapted for the big screen countless times, finding great success (Richard Lester’s 1973 romp with Oliver Reed) and utter failure (2001’s martial arts turkey, “The Musketeer”) on its journey to find the preeminent cinematic incarnation that does justice to the original text while loading the frame with all sorts of swashbuckling antics. Director Paul W.S. Anderson falls short of sword-whooshing glory, but he certainly slaps together a pretty picture. His take on “The Three Musketeers” is a highly produced adventure that’s eager to please; unfortunately, every time the feature opens its mouth, disaster strikes, again confirming Anderson’s place as one of the most disappointing filmmakers working today. A feast for the eyes, this “Three Musketeers” is better seen than heard. Read the rest at

Film Review - Margin Call


Following in the footsteps of “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and “Too Big to Fail,” “Margin Call” examines the wreckage of the 2008 financial crisis, only this effort has the benefit of exploring the early hours of the insanity, observing the formation of escape plans and panic attacks, isolating the sweat-soaked calm before the storm. It’s a commendable film, but one that rarely engages beyond surface details of Wall Street crooks bracing for impact, stewing in the juices of contemplation a little too long. As an attempt to humanize the disaster, it’s successful, bolstered by an outstanding cast able to communicate the gut-rot squeeze of fraud and the sickening launch of its permanent impact. Read the rest at

Film Review - Take Shelter


To lure in potential audiences, “Take Shelter” is being marketed as a psychological thriller with disaster movie overtones, hope to entice people normally drawn to such heightened experiences of screen terror. Truthfully, the feature is something different, a decidedly complex and human portrait of developing madness, employing a few acts of showy suspense theatrics to emphasize the disorder in play. “Take Shelter” is a difficult film that runs about 30 minutes longer than it should, but it’s anchored wonderfully by two outstanding lead performances from Jessica Chastain and Michael Shannon, the latter communicating a bend of reality in such a hauntingly private manner, befitting a character who understands where a path of despair will lead him, yet can’t help but shuffle along to its inevitable conclusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Big Year

BIG YEAR Owen Wilson

The world of birding gets a hit of the Hollywood spotlight with “The Big Year,” a comedy that’s actually quite entertaining when it stays focused on the competitive aspects that come into play when tracking our flying feathered friends. The rest of the picture is devoted to only moderately interesting characters struggling with mundane domestic worries, boxed into a gentle PG-rated package that’s friendly enough, but lacks a vigorous wit. I’d write that “The Big Year” is for the birds, but it’s quite enjoyable at times -- a bright and colorful escapade across America (or likely Canada) with three affable comedians scrambling to make tepid material their own. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Women in Cages Collection


1971's "Big Doll House" is the first installment of what would later be recognized as the "Women in Cages" trilogy, a series distributed by Roger Corman focusing on the exploits of braless women struggling in humid, unforgiving prison systems. Shot on the cheap and spotlighting a cast of adventurous actresses, the pictures emerged as exploitation classics in the eyes of some, beloved for their gratuitous nudity and violence. "Big Doll House" kicked off the pervy merriment, with director Jack Hill setting an impressive tone for the run on the first outing -- a rough and randy incarceration extravaganza that's stuffed with forbidden delights, peppy performances, and decidedly eager attitudes when it comes to manufacturing sweat-soaked grindhouse distractions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fireflies in the Garden


“Fireflies in the Garden” has endured a rough ride to a U.S. theatrical liberation. Shot over four years ago, the domestic drama has seen its fair share of missed released dates and wary studios, though I’m not exactly sure why. Although far from perfect, the feature remains an honestly felt motion picture about the complexities of behavior and the wrenching pull of regret, using games of secrets and revelations to manipulate the characters into positions of remembrance. It doesn’t add up to much, but it seems writer/director Dennis Lee never intended it to, embracing the undeclared bonds of life, permitting viewers to study relationships and true levels of hostility. Read the rest at