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January 2012

Film Review - Contraband


“Contraband” is a film about idiots. This type of escapism has the potential to be devilishly amusing, but “Contraband” takes itself seriously, despite a wildly miscast ensemble and a script scribbled in Crayon. Instead of a campy good time, the effort goes all hard, trying to compete in the bruiser cinema sweepstakes with various staredowns, putdowns, and threats, captained by Charles Bronson Jr. himself, Mark Wahlberg. The silliness is unrelenting, only outpaced by the picture’s total absence of logic, making the feature a Jenga game of screen stupidity, where each brick of measured moviemaking removed threatens to bring the whole endeavor crashing to the ground. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beauty and the Beast 3D


Last autumn, Disney hustled “The Lion King” back into theaters with a slick 3D makeover to help promote a Blu-ray release and sweep up any leftover box office coin from parents on the hunt for family entertainment as schools went back into session. Unexpectedly, the extra dimension proved to be a gold mine, restoring the feature’s pop culture roar, playing to packed theaters while a line-up of new movies not originally released in 1994 were rudely ignored. Was it nostalgia? A fluke? Never one to leave a nickel behind, Disney has dusted off another animated classic for a 3D enhancement, this time electing a softer route with the 1991 Oscar-winning smash, “Beauty and the Beast.” Read the rest at

Film Review - In the Land of Blood and Honey


She’s an international superstar, Hollywood bombshell, mother to a nation of her own, and tireless supporter of human rights. And now Angelina Jolie is a movie director. “In the Land of Blood and Honey” is her filmmaking debut, scripting and helming a harrowing tale of survival during the Bosnian War, selecting a premise that best mirrors her own global concerns, working to spotlight a period of inhumanity that was largely ignored during the early 1990s. It’s a grueling picture to watch, and while earnestly constructed, Jolie displays trouble maintaining the inner life of the piece. She’ll happily serve up sexual violence and disturbing gunplay to smack around her audience, but meaningful characterization is lacking, constipating the soulfulness of the screenplay. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shanghai


It’s easier to admire “Shanghai” than it is to enjoy it. A period mystery of debatable allure, the picture is best appreciated for its visual mastery, displaying stunning set design and elaborate noir-flavored cinematography. The movie is a feast for the eyes, yet the thrill of craftsmanship doesn’t carry over to the screenplay, which labors through a tepid puzzle of international allegiances, romantic interest, and wartime chaos. The feature certainly isn’t lazy, but it’s not a good sign to walk away from “Shanghai” more hypnotized by its assembly than its narrative rumble. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Is It Just Me?

ME Trio

"Is It Just Me?" is a perfectly kind and affectionate premise decorated with all sorts of clichés. It's a noxious brew of the sincere and the predictable, showcasing some seriously lazy screenwriting from a filmmaker who appears to have his heart in the right place. While it leans toward elements that concern an earnest questioning of the gay dating scene, writer/director J.C. Calciano is too distracted by the movie's oppressive sitcom interests, always trying to crack a joke or construct a labored misunderstanding when the picture is far more confident focusing on two like-minded souls finding each other in the petting zoo of Los Angeles. Conversations and confessions should be leading the way, not rejected ideas from "Three's Company," which weigh the feature down, making it impossible to entertain in full. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Make the Yuletide Gay


Coming just in time to light up the holiday season is "Make the Yuletide Gay," a softer, lighter romantic comedy emerging from a genre not traditionally known for its overt restraint. Eschewing heavy dramatics, "Yuletide" makes an admirable attempt to remain buoyant, sustaining the festive Christmas mood as far as humanly possible. However, the material eventually falls apart, caught between the rusty mechanics of an out-of-the-closet farce and a tender story of personal and familial acceptance. The festivities kick off with a hearty ho-ho-ho. They end with a disconcerting no-no-no. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Devil Inside


Over the last three years, multiplexes have welcomed the release of two moderately successful exorcism pictures (“The Rite” and “The Last Exorcism”) and three blockbuster “Paranormal Activity” movies. “The Devil Inside” is a no-budget effort seeking to combine the two aesthetics into one easily marketable event. Merging found-footage theatrics with demonic ragings, the feature is a formulaic snoozer carrying an enormous amount of exposition and very little scares. There’s just no discernable effort here that’s worth the time and money invested, with co-writer/director William Brent Bell coasting on fundamental fright moves, refusing to challenge the well-worn subgenre past audience expectations. What’s truly scary here is how little “The Devil Inside” invests in legitimate tension. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kill List


The best horror movies tend to include the audience on the doomsday celebration, creating a sizable point of entry to develop a lasting feeling of dread. “Kill List” is a deliberately incomprehensible offering of terror from Ben Wheatley, a filmmaker with an obvious command of the motion picture arts, but not someone interested in laying down a welcome mat for visitors to his dark imagination. He’s a fascinating creative force carrying an unusual amount of aggression, with “Kill List” a feature sure to disturb anyone able to make it past the leisurely opening act. Mumbled and intentionally impenetrable, the effort is a taxing sit with enormously skillful screen elements, molded into an interpretive shocker that’s often not worth the time to unravel. Read the rest at

Film Review - Norwegian Wood


“Norwegian Wood” is dark poetry, a tragic love story that combats the inherent cruelty of the tale with lush images of nature and location. It’s a troubling narrative perfectly packaged, unfurling a dramatic sweep of personal loss with a cinematographic precision that generates a specific appreciation of mood when the script occasionally leaves out the details. The expanded air allows director Tran Anh Hung space to feel around the frame, probing for unspoken ways to articulate the difficult relationships and growing pains scattered around this visually striking, melancholy feature film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Roadie

ROADIE Still 3

There’s much to appreciate about the independent production “Roadie,” and one element that’s fairly easy to detest. For the most part, this is a peaceful character study about lives in neutral, greeting a trio of adults clinging to the eroding vitality and promise of their youth, facing a far more dismal reality miles away from the glory they’ve envisioned for themselves. It’s a humorous, itchy ride of remembrance with one distinct creative speed bump, but co-writer/director Michael Cuesta grasps an appealing mood of discomfort that’s marvelously executed by the cast, hitting a few persuasive beats of disappointment and resignation that keeps the story grounded in an intriguing, lived-in reality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shelter

SHELTER Julianne Moore

Watching “Shelter” feels like viewing two separate pictures sewn hastily together. One side of the movie is an admittedly engrossing multiple personality disorder dissection with mildly effective suspense inclinations, the other side consists of undefined supernatural elements meant to give the story a unique kick, away from the genre norm. “Shelter” also comes from the screenwriter of 2003’s “Identity,” which is an excellent clue to the head games and cheats contained within. The conflicting speeds of the feature create chaos, derailing a familiar but promising junk food thriller, which tries much too hard to keep the viewer off the scent of a mystery they will likely show limited interest in to begin with. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America

SHADOWS frames

Every year since 1989, the National Film Registry selects 25 movies branded "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and offers them a safe haven inside the Library of Congress. It's an effort of preservation that spans all tastes and times, collecting an expanding group of creativity that reflects the cultural experience in America, from the very first acts of filmmaking to the blockbusters of recent memory. It's a yearly effort that brings out the best in cinephiles and academics, hunting for the ideal picture that sums up an era, perhaps useful to future generations curious about the country's history and legacy of artistic achievements. "These Amazing Shadows" is a skeletal examination of the National Film Registry's selection process, studying various titles welcomed into the protective hands of the organization's technicians and film lovers, revealing the diverse line-up of choices. It's light on the details of such an endeavor, but the flood of filmgoing memories and passion for the medium creates a riveting sit, basking in the glow of all these big screen oddities and masterpieces. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Radioactive Wolves


The PBS program "Nature" has an interesting way of remaining positive while investigating unimaginable environmental horror. It's not a chipper attitude, whistling along as it analyzes the end of the world, but there's a warm yellow beam of positivity and surprise that helps to choke down the razor blades of reality. "Radioactive Wolves" is a prime example of their unique tonality, exploring the vast wilderness left behind in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident, which successfully wiped out a chunk of Russia, leaving the land unlivable. Humans cleared out in a hurry, but wildlife wasn't afforded the same evacuation effort. In the decades following the disaster, animals have returned to Chernobyl, unaware of the poisoned soil and water, reclaiming their homeland away from human intrusion. For the grey wolf, the new predator-free zone brings a rare opportunity to expand its numbers, restoring what was lost long ago to merciless Soviet expansion. Read the rest at