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December 2011

Film Review - We Need to Talk About Kevin


“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a deliberately obscure feature, never allowing the viewer access to clarity of thought. It’s an exercise in screen stylistics and editorial precision, overseen by director Lynne Ramsay, who’s worked this routine before in “Ratcatcher” and “Morvern Callar.” Her fussy visual process results in striking images, but little emotional connection to the events unfolding, which require an appreciation of psychological nuance to even begin to understand. Instead, the director keeps outsiders at arm’s length, perhaps even refusing an audience all together, with the film perfectly happy in its own orbit, raising Hell for reasons unknown. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pariah

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Rarely does a filmmaker approach the internalized disorientation of sexual identity with the same amount of integrity as Dee Rees and “Pariah.” It’s a deeply flawed picture, but the core intensity of contemplation and hesitation is outstanding, allowing the characters a life beyond cliché as they hunt for some form of stability in a tumultuous time of adolescence and domestic discord. It’s a passionate, superbly acted movie, with Rees making her feature-length directorial debut. I have a feeling we’ll being hearing about her dramatic efforts for a long time to come. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - In My Sleep


I'm not sure why sleepwalking isn't used more often in thriller cinema. It's a perfectly useful dramatic device, mysterious and forgiving when it comes to leaps in logic, but few filmmakers show interest in pursuing the topic. Of course, "In My Sleep" doesn't exactly help the cause, using involuntary nocturnal activity to motivate a spectacularly flaccid, no-budget thriller, bogged down by shabby technical achievements, uninspired acting, and bloated direction. Writer/director Allen Wolf is aching to recreate some pulse-pounding Hitchcockian delights with this twisty endeavor, but there's little screen finesse to support his aspirations, leaving behind an ambitious but inept production that has difficulty maintaining chills, thrills, and, well, camera focus. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Darkest Hour


At the very least, “The Darkest Hour” has a unique idea for its attempt at an alien invasion, imagining a world being overrun by beings of pure energy, essentially making the malevolent outer space force invisible for most of the film. To get to the creature feature basics, one must endure a full court press of ghastly moviemaking decisions, creating a dispiriting amateur ambiance with a premise that seems capable of coughing up a few easy thrills. Director Chris Gorak won’t allow any fun to peek through this defiantly lifeless motion picture, which consistently resembles a product that’s been hacked down to the bone in terms of characterizations and plot, trying to hit as many marketable alien attacks as it can over 80 minutes, taking a torch to narrative cohesion. Read the rest at

Film Review - War Horse


20 years ago, Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” would’ve been a very different movie -- lighter, schmaltzy, and soaring. Today, the feature represents the director’s current tastes in wartime realism and elongated emotional momentum, trying diligently to cater to the old Spielberg screen magic, only to be blocked by a matured filmmaker who’s rusty with this type of material. The two creative sides never quite settle on a consistency for this episodic adventure, keeping “War Horse” unsteady, earnest yet painfully dull. While it seems like grand slam material for the bearded maestro, the story rarely gets off the ground, lost between its dreamy storybook qualities and need to reinforce the bone-chilling tragedy of war. Read the rest at

Film Review - We Bought a Zoo


To be underwhelmed by a Cameron Crowe movie feels awful. He’s a filmmaker with such an open heart, a defenseless master of the soulful ache, and it kills me to admit that I was rarely moved by “We Bought a Zoo,” painfully aware of its well-oiled mechanical parts. It’s a sweet picture, but rarely genuine, working through a formulaic journey of enlightenment and grief in a manner that recalls a particularly flaccid Disney production. Crowe tries valiantly to find crevices of authentic woe, but a few searing moments of honest pain are steamrolled by a feature that wants to be loved in a big bad way. It’s troubling to watch the desperation unfold. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Artist

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“The Artist” is perfectly pleasant, affectionate, studied, charming, and masterfully performed. It’s a fine motion picture with an inescapable hook of nostalgia, crafted with care and attention to detail. Its artistry is never in question, and cinephiles will surely slap themselves silly with delight, standing before an affectionate resurrection of the silent film era. Appreciating “The Artist” is simple, enjoying the feature is another matter entirely. It’s tough not to come off as a Grinch with this sort of effortlessly lovable effort, but there are certain productions that wear a broad smile and carry little personality, with director Michel Hazanavicius’s valentine to moviemaking days of yore perfectly, utterly, monumentally…fine. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Adventures of Tintin


For most of the world, the character of Tintin is a hero, a staple of literary efforts dating back to 1929. For most Americans, Tintin is an example of stuttering. Enter director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson, who’ve partnered to produce a brand new Tintin extravaganza for the digital age, using motion capture technology to envision a vast world of ruthless pirates, endless deserts, and spunky sleuthing, giving old-fashioned entertainment a slick update. Having no prior knowledge of the character, it’s difficult for me to ascertain how faithful the production has remained to the original material. Beyond detailed comparisons, “The Adventures of Tintin” is a satisfactory but slightly poky romp, saved by marvelous, expressive animation that generates a crisp, colorful feel for the world Belgian artist Herge created so very long ago. Read the rest at

Film Review - Albert Nobbs


“Albert Nobbs” is a picture designed to showcase the versatility of its lead actress. In this case, the star is Glenn Close, a highly celebrated performer who’s been tearing up basic cable in recent years during her stint on FX’s “Damages.” “Albert Nobbs” is a rare big screen outing for Close (her first in four years), and her performance as the titular enigma is extraordinary in its study and interior emotional shiver. It’s a shame there’s more to the movie than just Close, as the conventional screenwriting and distracted direction tends to dilute this powerful show of thespian control. While it never comes together is a satisfying manner, the feature contains a few scattered moments of captivating awakening from Close, making the film worth a view if only to observe the actress find her footing in a challenging, highly bizarre role. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol


Without causing much of a film culture ruckus, the “Mission: Impossible” franchise has grown into one of the most dependably entertaining action brand names around. Credit star Tom Cruise, who’s guided four installments to different ends of the globe, always looking to shake up the series and refresh its thrill ride allure. “Ghost Protocol” offers the brightest, boldest action sequences of the bunch, merging spotless visual effects with superb smash-em-up stunt choreography, making sure this latest installment packs the hardest punch. It’s difficult to believe that after three exhaustive efforts Cruise would have anything left to give, yet the newest challenge for the Impossible Missions Force is their fiercest, welcoming a director into the fold who knows a thing or two about flexible superheroes and colorful locations. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


With the element of surprise now a distant memory, the “Sherlock Holmes” franchise elects a threatening route of sleuthing to entice fans back into multiplexes. Although never grim, “A Game of Shadows” dials down the mischievousness that defined the 2009 blockbuster, an impish quality that did an amazing job clearing away the cobwebs, nudging the Holmes brand back into pop culture consciousness. While it runs a little harsh at times, the sequel remains a sturdy vehicle for Robert Downey, Jr. to weave about with playful concentration, while director Guy Ritchie extends his period recreation further, establishing a pronounced European vibe to the adventure. As follow-ups go, “A Game of Shadows” is most certainly a part two in posture and scowl, but it’s impossible to snuff out the smirking spirit of this wildly entertaining material. Read the rest at

Film Review - Carnage


“Carnage” is a film of pure acid, spraying across the screen like the gush of vomit unleashed from the churning stomach of one of the lead characters (more on that later). It’s a harsh sit, watching four perfectly reasonable people slowly reveal their fractured self over 75 minutes of screen time, thrashing and bickering as a peaceful New York City apartment summit explodes into a revelation of true natures and brazen opinion. “Carnage” is uncomfortable to watch, but that’s part of the fun, observing a complete breakdown of courtesy performed by four top actors having a ball gnawing away on such meaty material. Read the rest at