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February 2012

January 2012

Film Review - The Flowers of War


For a film about nobility, sacrifice, and redemption, “The Flowers of War” is an unexpectedly macabre picture that frequently mistakes excess for realism. A work from lauded director Zhang Yimou (“Raise the Red Lantern,” “Hero”), the feature is a grueling sit, combining pedestrian melodrama with harsh images of wartime casualty, drowning salient points on heroism in an ocean of blood. Although it arrives with golden intentions to celebrate an exceptional act of sacrifice, the movie frequently misfires with its earnestness and unseemliness, losing whatever impact it hopes to make after the opening 20 minutes. The remaining two hours is merely an exercise in the obvious and the ugly. Considering the ghastly story being recounted, it’s amazing how little sensitivity the director shows the subject. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Animal House


In these modern times, the prospect of home ownership is akin to a cancer scare. It's a promise of oncoming misery, containing such anxiety and dread that fewer folks are taking the plunge, unwilling or unable to endure the financial commitment and extended period of responsibility. Who needs the headache? Life would be far simpler if we all could secrete a milky fluid from our hindquarters, using the goo to manufacture a temporary living space free from predators. With that evolutionary process millions of years away, we'll just have to make do envying the natural world, observing animals and insects go about their daily business of home assembly and defense, erecting massive dwellings of comfort and gob-smacking complexity in the wilds of the world. No mortgages, no association fees. Just some anal fluid, patience, and instinctual might. A short time later, there's a home to enjoy. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Grey

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Hollywood marketing efforts should never be fully trusted, often shaped by professionals merely looking to exploit combustible elements to guarantee a little box office hustle for the opening weekend. “The Grey” is an excellent example of a movie with misleading advertising, promising ticket buyers a roller coaster ride where planes crash, lives are lost, and Liam Neeson knuckles up with broken booze bottles, looking to plant a few jagged Irish kisses on hostile wolves in the remote reaches of Alaska. “The Grey” is not an overtly ridiculous film, it’s a searing study of survival and death, spending more time with distressed characters facing the end of their lives than the titular predators. Of course, telling potential viewers they’re about to watch a group of men slowly expire for two hours isn’t appetizing, leaving the suits scrambling for marketable elements that don’t even appear in the picture. It’s bad form, tarnishing a thoroughly horrifying feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - One for the Money


Breaking away from her recent focus on shrill comedies (“The Ugly Truth”) and noxious actioners (“Killers”), Katherine Heigl takes a slight career detour with “One for the Money,” portraying a beloved character in Stephanie Plum, the heroine of author Janet Evanovich’s long-running series of mysteries. It’s not a drastic change of pace for the actress, but it’s enough of a character to calm this confounding screen presence. “One for the Money” isn’t a strong picture, but it carries modest appeal that makes a sporadic impression, due in great part to Heigl’s charisma and the feature’s formulaic reliability. Fans of Evanovich’s work should walk away satisfied, perhaps even delighted with the adaptation. Everyone else will simply be able to walk away, which is saying something considering the debilitating toxicity of Heigl’s recent output. Read the rest at

Film Review - Man on a Ledge


“Man on a Ledge” is one goofy movie. Not in an enjoyably escapist manner, but a grabby one instead, where the production begs the audience to swallow numerous leaps in logic and rational behavior to connect the dots. The premise is undoubtedly exciting, concerning high-tech diamond heists and master plans of revenge, but the clichés outnumber the thrills, rendering the picture surprisingly stale. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to get lost in this collection of whoppers and wonky accents, but with this cast and proven premise, there’s no reason why “Man on a Ledge” isn’t a more exhilarating ride. Seems like a waste of a perfectly snappy set-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - Perfect Sense


“Perfect Sense” has a killer hook for its take on the end of the world. Instead of bombs or the wrath of nature, the film details the final days of civilization as a gradual loss of sensory function, spreading as a global pandemic. It’s reminiscent of last autumn’s “Contagion,” only here the erosion of society is handled more artfully and rationally, recognizing that such loss of perception wouldn’t crash the planet at first, but bring it to its knees slowly. David Mackenzie’s feature is frustrating at times, possibly too insistent when it comes to screen poetry, but the concept is intriguing, offering enough scenes of oddity and distress to hold attention and occasionally raise anxiety levels. Read the rest at

Film Review - Coriolanus


Every now and then, visionary filmmakers take on the challenge of contemporizing or reevaluating the illustrious works of William Shakespeare, performing a cinematic blood transfusion of sorts to energize material hundreds of years old. Think Kenneth Branagh’s “Hamlet,” Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” and Richard Loncraine’s “Richard III.” Pushing Shakespeare into a bleak battle zone is director/star Ralph Fiennes and “Gladiator” screenwriter John Logan, who inject “Coriolanus” with burning venom, assembling a tempestuous drama of betrayal and cruel authority that breathes fire and takes prisoners, dragging the material kicking and screaming into a modern environment, with pronounced political and societal parallels. The essence of the picture remains with the Bard, the rest carries on with a wrathful charge, generating frustrating distance and intensity, often in the same instant. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crazy Horse


Le Crazy Horse de Paris is perhaps the most celebrated nude cabaret in the world, enchanting and seducing visitors since 1951. Today, the company is still going strong, merging a classic vision of performance with the more demanding needs of style in the 21st century, striving to remain a chic hotspot and tourist destination while retaining its identity as a place of artistry and sensuality, established long ago. Documentarian Frederick Wiseman explores the daily rituals and refinement of a Crazy Horse production, studying the formation of the show “Desir,” capturing The Crazy at a time of creative unrest. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Finding Life Beyond Earth


The mysteries of the Earth are enormous, even after centuries of study and theory, yet questions about life cannot be answered on this planet. With an entire universe begging for exploration, the quest for knowledge has reached for the stars, with science making great strides in meticulous space inspection, opening up fresh realms of opportunity when it comes to locating signs of life and hospitable environments. The two-part "Nova" program, "Finding Life Beyond Earth," looks to uncover the potential of the galaxy, venturing to make connections between volatile locations on other moons and planets and our experience on Earth. It's a story of hope and science sold in a traditional PBS manner that merges facts with fantasy, endeavoring to shed light on a lofty ambition to understand how life, even in its most microscopic form, could be found in the great unknown. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Divide

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“The Divide” is not a feature one should watch to maintain a happy mood. It’s a pitch-black post-apocalyptic drama, teaming with murder, rape, and raw hostility, carrying an ambiance of dread that requires a Silkwood shower after viewing. It’s also a halfway compelling study of dehumanization and survivor instinct, supplying some easily telegraphed yet fascinating scenes of physical and mental decay. It’s not a film for everyone. Heck, it’s not a film for anyone, yet underneath the oppressive atmosphere of this insistently nasty movie are a few persuasive scenes of panic set against a terrifying doomsday scenario. Read the rest at

Film Review - Underworld: Awakening


It’s been six years since star Kate Beckinsale donned the latex and corset for an “Underworld” adventure, with the producers taking a prequel route for 2009’s “Rise of the Lycans.” It’s good to have the pint-sized porcelain bruiser back in command of a sequel, and with her long-awaited return comes a blessedly simplified resuscitation of the franchise. “Underworld: Awakening” won’t win any awards for sophistication, but what it lacks in refinement it makes up for in wall-to-wall vampires vs. werewolves action. It’s a deafening joyride crammed with plenty of destruction, slowing the development of the plot’s laborious mythos. Stripping down the experience to zero in on mayhem, the producers have reignited the fun factor of the series, keeping the focus on exploitative elements instead of continuing to widen a wheezing brand name. Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Tails


In typical George Lucas fashion, “Red Tails” is brimming with visual mastery, yet arrives a little light when it comes to searing drama. Bringing the tale of the Tuskegee Airmen to the big screen, Lucas keeps the human elements distractingly simplistic, creating an earnest but often ridiculous portrait of wartime racism and fighter pilot instability. Soaring into the skies, the movie comes alive, taking full advantage of the producer’s interest in digital effects, bringing a visceral push to the dogfight sequences, which are worth the price of admission alone to witness. “Red Tails” is a middling effort with a talented cast, perhaps two rewrites away from greatness. What’s onscreen has moments of grandeur, but there’s not enough to communicate the reverence Lucas clearly feels for this story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Haywire


I’ll admit there was a small part of me that was hoping filmmaker Steven Soderbergh would be interested in returning some Schwarzenegger-branded brawn the action genre, currently choked out by distracting editorial blizzards and stars ill-equipped to portray bruisers. However, “Haywire” is as Soderberghian as the rest of oeuvre, dragging 21st century beatdowns into a casual European arena, where the plot sits long enough to grow a five o’clock shadow, most of the actors are on break from other commitments, and the cinematography often looks as though it requires a doctor’s appointment. In a strange way, Soderbergh attempts to battle predictability with predictability, though it’s hard to argue with the movie’s sporadic concentration. When “Haywire” wakes up, it’s a blast. Read the rest at

Film Review - Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” is a frustrating movie to watch. Infuriating at times. It’s a heartbreaking story of 9/11 loss that carries a preciousness about it that nearly ruins the entire viewing experience. Dealing with devastating psychological issues, mind-bending stages of grief, and severe behavioral disorders, the film can’t quite decide if it wants to curl up in a ball and sob for 120 minutes or play lightly with its myriad of mysteries. I’m trying to remain settled on a mixed response to the picture, as there’s much to praise about Stephen Daldry’s latest effort. Nevertheless, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” has the tendency to be obnoxious and overwrought without even realizing it, torching most of the sincerity it intends to convey. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Rebound


It’s been a bizarre career for writer/director Bart Freundlich, who made his debut with the 1997 film fest darling “The Myth of Fingerprints,” only to weave between considered fare (2001’s “World Traveler”), family distractions (2004’s “Catch That Kid”), and misguided nonsense (2005’s “Trust the Man”). “The Rebound” marks a career low point for the battered helmer, bottoming out with this wrongheaded, hyperactive romantic comedy. Although it bears the marks of studio intervention, much of the blame remains firmly with Freundlich, who’s incapable of arranging a single honest moment in this uncomfortable, frightfully strained creation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Innkeepers


With 2009’s “The House of the Devil,” writer/director Ti West emerged from the horror community haze as a filmmaker worth watching. Investing in mood and style with a twist of retro appreciation, West hit a solid triple with his last effort, producing an engaging chiller pulled straight from the back pocket of the 1980s. “The Innkeepers” doesn’t provide the same attention to detail or rush of demonic force, instead holding back explicit terror to investigate paranormal activities inside an empty hotel. While it lacks the VHS ambiance of “The House of the Devil,” “The Innkeepers” retains some personality and a reasonable case of the creeps. West keeps the festivities rather subdued, but those exhausted by the current state of shock cinema might find themselves appreciating this spooky breather. Read the rest at

Film Review - Joyful Noise


Well, there’s certainly plenty of noise. I’m not so sure any of it is joyful. Looking to choke the life out of its audience with heaping helpings of melodrama and deafening gospel hollering, “Joyful Noise” is a mess of a movie, though one that spends 120 minutes of screentime determined to be loved. The carelessness is toxic, along with the script, most of the performances, and the feature’s idea of heavenly music. However, it’s a blindingly bright creation with enough programmed sass and plastic acts of redemption to tickle its target demographic, easily pleasing the easily pleased. Those with less tolerance for the stridently manic stylings of Queen Latifah and miserable Disney Channel-style conflicts should stay clear and thank the heavens for the ticket money saved. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Iron Lady


“The Iron Lady” is unlike the majority of bio-pics released these days, each playing repetitive notes of chemical abuse or artistic glory. This feature aims to worm inside the head of Margaret Thatcher, the controversial and enigmatic former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, keeping the film rooted in the present, finding the iconic woman in a state of mourning that’s frazzled her once sharp mind. Instead of ticking off a list of accomplishments, “The Iron Lady” smears a life across the screen, surveying triumphs and disasters, remaining as close to Thatcher’s personality as possible, favoring intensity of thought over a meticulous recreation of history. It’s a propulsive spin on a rather amazing existence, keeping viewers on their toes as the picture zigs and zags through Thatcher’s years. And there’s Meryl Streep. My god, Meryl Streep. Read the rest at