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December 2011

Film Review - Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked


After two highly successful “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movies, it makes perfect sense that a third installment would be here in a hurry. However, I wasn’t expecting the producers to make such a shoddy, insistently mild follow-up, padded with unenthusiastic plotting and lame, moldy jokes. Even the prized musical performances have been dialed back some, making room for iffy CG-animated creatures to scurry around a desert island adventure, while the actors unlucky enough to appear in human form attempt to sell the chirpy fantasy, each cast member wearing a pronounced paycheck face. “Chipwrecked” assumes a DTV stance for this unimaginative sequel, dishing up the bare minimum to keep cashing in on the brand name. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Literary best-sellers are a funny thing. Sometimes they involve delicate tales about picturesque bridges in a place called Madison County, delighting the nation with a gentleness of spirit and fixation on rural sway, lulling fans into comfort with its anodyne dependability. Or, in the case of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the entire world finds itself wrapped up in a story that graphically details the particulars of torture, murder, invasions of privacy, and anal rape. Go figure. Because the author’s “Millennium Series” is so ragingly popular, moviegoers are now faced with an all-new cinematic take on “Dragon Tattoo,” a year after a Swedish production made a domestic box office dent worth noticing. While the European take on this guttural European tale was quite marvelous with its performances and frosty execution, the Swedes didn’t have David Fincher. With its isolation, rage, and penetrative possibilities, the celebrated director was practically born to helm this graphic murder mystery. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shame

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“Shame” is a film that crawls under your skin, isolating a specific velocity of obsession that’s unbearable to watch, yet it’s impossible to look away. Co-writer/director Steve McQueen takes a look at the ravages of sex addiction with this uninviting motion picture, plunging star Michael Fassbender into a murky world of urges and conquests, using 100 minutes of screen time to paint perhaps the most cleanly defined portrait of an overlooked compulsion, making viewers feel the euphoria and toxicity of such volcanic sexual pursuits. “Shame” has even been allowed the prestige of an NC-17 rating, allowing it the full intensity it deserves, rare in this age of soft-peddled adult dramas. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is an immaculately crafted picture, shellacked with a sickly brown coating of English indifference, used to communicate a 1970s world of spies and paranoia, originally conceived by author John le Carre nearly four decades ago. The movie is simply amazing to study. Digesting the staring contests and tangle of last names is another story, at least for those not privy to traditional le Carre mechanics. This is an icy picture, perhaps best appreciated by those who enjoy challenges of memory and patience, who don’t require a substantial influence of personality to feel around a knotted scheme of espionage and memories, communicated in the most detached manner imaginable. Dramatically dry as toast, “Tinker Tailor” remains a potent, heroically detailed visual experience, worth a look just to linger on the background details while the characters gradually slip into comas. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Another Gay Movie & Another Gay Sequel: Gays Gone Wild!

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Perhaps feeling "American Pie" was having too much heterosexual fun, writer/director Todd Stephens ("Edge of Seventeen") concocted his own parody picture in "Another Gay Movie," a 2006 effort that mirrors the 1999 blockbuster down to the pie-humping and insatiable teen lust. Of course, the spin here is homosexuality, with the helmer plowing full steam ahead on this unapologetic ode to the carnal delight of men seeking men, making a deranged farce that abuses a love of movies to buffer against the broadly staged madness of gross-out humor. Rarely funny but always willing to distribute unabashedly provocative humor, "Another Gay Movie" is best appreciated as a purging of mischief from an unspeakably blunt filmmaker, resulting in a Looney Tunes cartoon that features lot more anal play and exposed penises. At least 75% more if we're talking Pepe Le Pew. Read the rest at

Film Review - Young Adult


With “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body,” screenwriter Diablo Cody made a name for herself playing with paper dolls, dreaming up puckered dialogue for cartoon characters, hitting the industry with a pungent gimmick in serious need of refining. With “Young Adult,” Cody reveals astonishing maturation, unbuckling her belt of cutesy behaviors to sculpt a rough ode to the cocoon of extended adolescence, embodied to sheer perfection by a disheveled, Diet Coke-swilling Charlize Theron. “Young Adult” is a dark comedy with a few bellylaughs, but it clicks beautifully as an examination of a diseased thirtysomething mind enabled to a point of no return, fearlessly returning to her roots with a plan to sort out her idea of unfinished business. The writing is frighteningly spotless and the direction is refreshingly low-wattage, creating a tonally risky picture that’s deliciously mean yet crookedly insightful in a peculiar Codyesque way. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Sitter

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That sound you hear is “Adventures in Babysitting” breathing a sigh of relief, now confident in the knowledge that it still holds the crown as the top babysitting movie of all time. “The Sitter” doesn’t even come close, marking the second 2011 comedic disaster for director David Gordon Green, last seen in theaters blowing millions on the fantasy stoner extravaganza, “Your Highness.” Returning to his low-budget roots, Green appears lost with this material, stitching together customary R-rated monkey business with peculiar stabs at After School Special melodrama, constructing a comedy that’s neither funny nor sincere. It could very well be Green’s career low-point, though after this year’s disastrous efforts, I’m afraid to see what the filmmaker has in store for 2012. Read the rest at

Film Review - New Year's Eve


What kind of film is “New Year’s Eve?” Over a shot of cooing babies, freshly born in 2012, Louis Armstrong’s abused anthem of hope, “What a Wonderful World,” soars on the soundtrack. That’s right, director Garry Marshall has returned with a pseudo-sequel to 2010’s unexpected smash “Valentine’s Day,” once again cracking open a holiday to inspect the broken hearts and soiled dreams of troubled souls competing for happiness. What worked before will likely work again, with little of the formula changed to bring audiences a slightly more advanced viewing experience. However, the cast shines a little brighter and the festivities are much less obnoxious, but there’s little sorcery capable of loosening Marshall’s directorial death grip, which always manages to squeeze intriguing emotional disturbances and crucial acts of longing into a glop of unflavored cinematic pudding. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Melt with You


“I Melt with You” is more of a sensorial carpet bombing than a motion picture. Although cast with name actors and detailing significant emotions, the film is lost in its own swirl of pretention and indulgent HD cinematography. It’s a mess, but that’s exactly how director Mark Pellington intends it to be, dragging unlucky viewers through a military training field of sickly colors and harsh textures, loud music and obnoxious entitlement. “I Melt with You” is a rough sit, always distracted and synthetic, and while I’m sure a tolerant few will find smears of art buried somewhere beneath the relentless excess, I feel most who approach the feature will walk away with bloodshot eyes, tinnitus, and a urgent feeling to never sit through another Mark Pellington movie. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Nature: My Life as a Turkey

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When one considers the documentary premise of an isolated man spending a year living with a flock of wild turkeys, an enormous amount of comedic thoughts spring to mind, soon transforming into genuine concern about rural madness. The oddity of such a personal experience is monumental, approaching levels of parody that rival the reach of “SNL,” but the Nature production, “My Life as a Turkey,” is dead serious about the subject matter. Investigating a man who gave up a good chunk of his life to raise turkeys from hatchlings, the program is a shockingly emotional experience that leads with its heart, asking the viewer to process the highs and lows of life with these odd creatures, observing their devotion to leadership, feel for their surroundings, and examination of their instincts, guided by a reserved, mustached Floridian who didn’t anticipate becoming a mother during his lifetime. Read the rest at

Film Review - Answers to Nothing


The heavy hearts of Angelenos are once again united in sorrow in “Answers to Nothing,” a determined multi-character downer that aims to make its audience feel horrible about life and all of its challenges. Perhaps I’m being as overdramatic as the film, but it’s difficult to not feel overwhelmed by director Matthew Leutwyler’s effort, which is such a persistently melancholy creation, slowly foiling up the windows as it beats tepid subplots into the ground over the course of its indulgent 120-minute run time. Some impassioned performances ease the flow of gloom, but it’s a long, steady walk to the noose for a picture in dire need of Prozac and some fresh air. Read the rest at

Film Review - Outrage


Takeshi Kitano is a sublime Japanese comedic performer and poetic screen stylist, but one would never get that impression over here in the United States. His forays into violent cinema typically receive the widest international distribution, obviously due to their easily marketable content, but also because they’re often extraordinarily crafted. His latest, “Outrage,” continues Kitano’s exploration of vicious criminal behavior, yet this picture endeavors to be a knotty, cyclical viewing experience, an Eastern “Godfather” event, with numerous characters running various schemes to attain power, dividing families and destroying allegiances. A calculated bullet train of deception and aggression, “Outrage” is an outstanding genre exercise from an exceptional filmmaker, returning to the blood-soaked territory that helped to solidify Kitano’s reputation as an unflinching master of the thousand-yard stare. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sleeping Beauty


“Sleeping Beauty” is a grueling interpretive experience where writer/director Julia Leigh only gives her audience fragments of information and behavior to work with. For some, the inscrutable moviegoing experience will be bliss, a rare opportunity to piece together an unsavory puzzle of twentysomething recklessness and sexual immaturity. For others, viewing “Sleeping Beauty” will carry all the suspense and sexual fury of bread baking. A tepid series of vaguely salacious encounters mixed with mummified emotions, Leigh’s feature is a provocative idea in serious need of some actual perversion. Hoping to mimic the likes of Stanley Kubrick and Lars Von Trier with a challenging piece of painterly misery, all Leigh achieves here is a trivial slog featuring lots of cold naked bodies and nary a heartbeat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Martha Marcy May Marlene


Here’s a film that leaves a host of unanswered questions and uncontested behavior behind. A deliberately opaque psychological drama, “Martha Marcy May Marlene” is a frustrating picture to watch, and it’s not because of its gut-churning portrayal of survival and surrender. Writer/director Sean Durkin aims to produce a mood of escalating disease, watching the title character succumb to her demons, fighting to grasp an enormous amount of trauma incurred by enigmatic seducers and antagonistic types. There’s plenty of meaningful staring and teary acts of mental distortion, but insight? Not in this remote art-house effort, a feature that prefers to exhibit pain instead of understanding it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Puncture

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After years playing superheroes and cads, “Puncture” brings actor Chris Evans to the realm of the prestige production. It’s a noble cause for the performer, who’s flirted with dramatics before in messy features (“The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond”), but it’s another effort wasted on a terribly clichéd picture, an unlikely mix of “Requiem for a Dream” and “Erin Brockovich.” It’s a glorified television movie with its heart in the right place, only lacking any sharp cinematic curveballs that could elevate the material beyond the norm. Evans is good here, revealing an intensity of thought he’s rarely displayed before, but it just isn’t enough to pull “Puncture” out of neutral. Read the rest at