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November 2011

Blu-ray Review - Nature: Jungle Eagle


The docile PBS program "Nature" takes a more summer blockbustery approach with its latest offering, "Jungle Eagle." Attempting to sneak into the lair of the Harpy Eagle, the most powerful bird of prey in the world, producer/star Fergus Beeley aims to create a sense of excitement as he inches closer to one of the most enigmatic creatures of South America. This is no common dissection of feeding patterns and defense mechanisms. Instead, it's a bit of an "Ocean's Eleven" sequel, with Beeley and his crew attempting to infiltrate an impenetrable treetop fortress, planting cameras and carefully timing visits to avoid being torn to shreds by the very beast they're seeking to observe. Beeley definitely deserves credit for building excitement, helping goose the educational aspects of an otherwise passive nature documentary. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Dangerous Method

DANGEROUS METHOD Michael Fassbender

It’s entirely appropriate that after decades of making movies that have flirted with the erosion of reality, director David Cronenberg would stumble upon material that actively probes the abyssal mysteries of the mind. Based on the play “The Talking Cure,” “A Dangerous Method” turns to the father of psychoanalysis to help pour a little disturbing cocktail of jealousy and dissolving self-control, using sex as a spoiler in a world of educated men, their well-researched theories, and a disturbed woman carrying a power even she doesn’t understand. Playing to Cronenberg’s tastes but lacking his usual visual serration, the picture is a reserved yet engrossing depiction of an inhibited man unraveling as he accepts the limits of his education, turning on those he loves and admires to hunt the ultimate prize of self. Read the rest at

Film Review - Like Crazy


Love is serious business. “Like Crazy” investigates the churning pit of romance with a soggy approach, finding director Drake Doremus putting his two leads through emotional hell as they express the ravages of attraction and the trials of commitment. It’s a movie for those in an interpretive mood, monitoring euphoric highs and tear-stained lows, yet the effort never uncovers the authenticity it’s desperate to achieve. “Like Crazy” is a plastic game of love, craving displays of affected behavior over an honest deconstruction of devotion. The film is never genuine, feeling like an improvisation class project that lucked into a theatrical release. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Page Eight


I’ll make this official: I’m deeply in love with Bill Nighy. Sure, he doesn’t have the greatest taste in screenplays, occasionally caught on the prowl for a solid paycheck, but when the British actor is permitted to sink his teeth into top shelf material, he’s unstoppable. “Page Eight,” written and directed by David Hare, is exactly the type of callous material Nighy requires to reach his full potential. Wrapping his talent around this cold-blooded tale of English spies and their backstabbing business, the actor delivers outstanding work, furtive yet vulnerable, able to articulate the weight of the world with the mere arch of an eyebrow. Of course, he’s far from alone here, with Hare drafting some of the best European actors into duty, breathing a rippling sense of antagonism into a tightly leashed tangle with secret documents and hallway paranoia. Although it gives off the appearance of homework, Nighy and his fellow performers give Hare’s script a thrilling workout, creating significant tension out of the most routine of encounters. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Muppets


For the purposes of this production, The Muppets have been basically dead since 1984. In reality, this isn’t the case, with numerous television specials, three feature films, viral videos, and a constant presence at Disney theme parks keeping the brand alert, if not entirely fresh. However, according to screenwriters Jason Segel and Nicolas Stoller, Jim Henson’s manic playthings lost their pop culture position in the 1980s, trapped in amber, never to be seen again. The premise is a bit of a stretch, but the goal of the material is to revive Kermit and the gang, offering their antics to a generation unaware of how wonderful The Muppets truly are, encouraging the development of a new fanbase to keep the comic critters beloved for decades to come. Thankfully, Segel and Stoller arrive fully armed with intensive franchise knowledge and respect for its early history, fashioning an immensely entertaining, brightly decorated valentine to the Henson dominion -- a picture so fixated on resuscitating The Muppets it practically bleeds felt. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Week with Marilyn


Marilyn Monroe has been the subject of numerous bio-pics and documentaries, leaving the filmmakers behind “My Week with Marilyn” at a tremendous disadvantage. However, this production has something extraordinary to assist in their characterization: intimacy. Adapting Colin Clark’s experiences working on the 1957 comedy “The Prince and the Showgirl,” the feature offers a lightweight but knowing look at the excitement, seduction, and caution that followed Monroe wherever she went. Eschewing a rigid, extensive recollection of personality for some melancholy fluff, “My Week with Marilyn” hits all the required beats of allure and misery, adding yet another compelling chapter to the ongoing deconstruction of a silver screen legend. Read the rest at

Film Review - Arthur Christmas


The 2011 holiday season receives an appealing boost of yuletide power with “Arthur Christmas,” a CG-animated effort from Aardman Animation, best known for their “Wallace and Gromit” productions. While overstuffed with domestic concerns, this tale of Santa’s family and their feverish need to carry out Christmas duties in full is an enjoyable matinee diversion, loaded with seasonal splendor and dry Brit wit, while offering spirited voicework from a gifted cast, who all display a firm grip on the tone of the piece, with its interest in slapstick comedy and snow-dusted sentiment. It’s not the tightest picture, but the primary elements are well cared for, providing a reasonable green-and-red rush of festive fun. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hugo

HUGO Clock

Just because he’s embarked on his first family film odyssey doesn’t mean Martin Scorsese is going to abandon his fascination with moviemaking. The maestro of cinema pulls away from his recent examinations of hoodlums and madness to craft a love letter to the origin of filmmaking with “Hugo,” a picture that pops a few blood vessels trying to maintain an impression of whimsy, yet remains hopelessly chained to a cinder block of solemnity even a master director can’t break free from. Heavens, this feature is gorgeous from top to bottom, with exquisite technical achievements that encourage a genuine sense of awe, yet it’s a production better valued for its ambition than execution, with Scorsese caught between his ease with gloom and his inexperience with warmth. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

BREAKING DAWN Taylor Lautner

The “Twilight” films have always been strictly for fans of Stephenie Meyer’s novels, a truth never more evident than in “Breaking Dawn – Part 1,” the first half of a series finale that essentially sheds any comforting sense of pace, reason, and good taste to yank the extended narrative arc into entirely bizarre directions. The movie is seriously bonkers, but not in a campy way that might offer a tingle of amusement. No, director Bill Condon plays it all as serious as a heart attack, giving in to the gush of melodrama with total abandon, doing his best to maintain the bucking bronco-like plot turns of this relentlessly harebrained story. What began as puppy love with sparkly vampires has devolved into a freak show of bodily trauma, with a great gooey gob of pedophilia slapped on the end of this feature, which requires another visit to the multiplex in a year’s time to complete. I’ll make sure to update my shots beforehand. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Descendents

DESCENDENTS George Clooney

Writer/director Alexander Payne doesn’t make very many movies, but when he does find the energy to sculpt a screen story, it’s typically something of substance, loaded with powerful emotional truths and manic behavior befitting chaotic situations. “The Descendents” is Payne’s most composed study of a personal meltdown, with much of the volatility occurring within star George Clooney, delivering one of the finest performances of his career. It’s a poignant, contemplative picture, flawless in the still manner it approaches crippling encounters with grief and disgust, dryly expressing the necessary unraveling of a distracted man. “The Descendents” is simply terrific, profound yet understated. Read the rest at

Film Review - Happy Feet Two

HAPPY FEET TWO Elephant Seal

2006’s “Happy Feet” was a jubilant, toe-tapping viewing experience…for about an hour. Its eventual slide into darker issues of animal captivity and environmental disaster was a laudable deviation but tore the pace apart, making the effort a bizarre, confused message movie featuring a cast of dancing penguins. With the cute factor off the charts, “Happy Feet” was a massive hit at the box office, which is why we’re faced with “Happy Feet Two.” Again, director George Miller looks to marry the Earth’s woe with the wiggly antics of flightless birds, but there’s really nowhere for this story to go after the conclusion of the original picture. There’s plenty of bopping, singing, and intense displays of global warming wreckage, yet the sequel is even more scattershot with these wildly disparate cinematic elements. If “Happy Feet” was tonally unsteady, “Happy Feet Two” is tone-deaf. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mike & Molly: The Complete First Season


“Mike & Molly” offers nothing new to the television sitcom realm, only catching outside attention due to its premise of two admitted overeaters finding each other in a time of need. It’s the “super-sized show,” presenting the producers with an opportunity to build the program into something disarmingly affectionate and playful, making the series more than just a crude vessel for obesity jokes. Instead, the characters’ battle with the bulge is often the sole focal point of the plot, rarely stepping beyond waistline-based punchlines to give viewers a significant creative experience, maybe even human on occasion. It’s a dire habit of humiliation that’s consistently gratuitous, especially forced upon a cast capable of so much more than a simplistic display of dreadful one-liners, coaxed by a relentless, soul-sucking laugh track. In fact, without the talents of Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell, “Mike & Molly” would be completely unwatchable. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Lake Placid 2


1999's "Lake Placid" was a lark, a minor key of monster movie escapism from screenwriter David E. Kelley, taking a break from his ranch of network television legal dramas to stretch a few genre muscles. Director Steve Miner ("Friday the 13th: Part 2," "House") was right there to support Kelley's vision, constructing a mildly diverting horror film with a pronounced sense of humor, a diverse cast, and a decent (for its time) display of visual effects. The feature was no box office king, but it made some monetary ripples, guaranteeing a cult following for years to come. A sequel was promised at the end of the picture, but seemed unlikely to materialize. Smash cut to 2007, and "Lake Placid 2" debuts as a Sci-Fi Channel Original Movie, dropping Kelley and the rest of the creative team to make a low-budget ruckus in Bulgaria, introducing inexperienced filmmakers to atrocious visual effects. Gone are the cheeky impulses and amusing thespian effort from the first round -- the sequel elects an unenthusiastic remake route, once again slipping into deep waters with a oversized crocodile who's ready to feast. Read the rest at

Film Review - 11-11-11

11-11-11 Still 1

Is the horror genre so dried up that we now must face the wrath of calendar dates? “11-11-11” submits a story of demonic overthrow with a specific gimmick, counting down the terror of times and dates that tie into 11/11/11, a day that will bring indescribable misery to the planet and its inhabitants. “11-11-11” will also bring plenty of misery to moviegoers who choose to spend time with the latest from Darren Lynn Bousman, the underwhelming director who previously masterminded a handful of the “Saw” pictures. Straining unbelievably hard to manufacture a take on calendar apocalypse shenanigans, Bousman overcooks a simple premise, spending too much time on laborious exposition and not enough on dramatic elements, allowing wooden performances and a low-budget chill to paralyze the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Immortals

IMMORTALS Isabel Lucas

“Immortals” is peeled from the mind of director Tarsem Singh, a visual stylist extraordinaire who previously gave birth to ornate epics such as “The Cell” and “The Fall.” He’s obscene with screen details, often cursed with a commitment to the movement of images, pulling influences from art and high fashion to shape imposing epics devoted to adventures of the mind. While stunning and extensively produced, Singh’s features never achieve a critical feel of humanity, always cold to the touch. They are museum pieces meant to be acknowledged, not necessarily enjoyed. “Immortals” is the director’s attempt to play ball with the blockbusters, marrying “Clash of the Titans” with a night at Studio 54, executing a violent epic in his own inimitable way. Once again, Singh comes up short, as his latest is decidedly mortal -- an eye-catching drag through the heavens overloaded with hackneyed screenwriting and expressionless acting. Read the rest at

Film Review - J. Edgar

J. EDGAR Old Hoover

140 minutes is a long time to devote to a bio-pic, only to learn absolutely nothing momentous about the subject. Perhaps that’s the way J. Edgar Hoover would’ve preferred his life story to be told, but as cinema, the caginess creates an interminable viewing experience. Handsomely mounted but otherwise devoid of passion and insight, “J. Edgar” is a bizarre attempt to catch a shadow, providing the audience with spicy bedroom details when the very basics of everyday motivation and behavior would be more welcome. Director Clint Eastwood shows too much leniency with Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay, dutifully following a flawed blueprint, ending up with a dismal, unenlightening motion picture, at times bordering on character assassination, even for a man as controversial as J. Edgar Hoover. Read the rest at

Film Review - London Boulevard

LONDON BOULEVARD Knightley Farrell

One doesn’t buy a ticket for “London Boulevard” expecting a vigorous display of originality, reshaping the con-goes-clean subgenre with an inspiring display of invention. No, material like this needs to be served with a certain sense of familiarity, hitting low notes of brutality and intimidation in a manner that’s both exhilarating and horrifying. It’s far from a perfect film, yet “London Boulevard” carries itself quite successfully for much of its running time, spinning a familiar story with panache and attention to the needs of trembling introspection. Flawed but impressively executed, the movie has a distinct reverberation that holds the formula together, making the mean business of unlawful behavior convincing in the face of absolute predictability. Read the rest at