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February 2012

Film Review - Albatross


There’s not much originality to the coming of age picture “Albatross,” covering similar dramatic terrain found in dozens of teen-centric scripts observing on the highs and lows of fractured adolescence. However, it’s a memorably acted piece with a breakout starring turn from Jessica Brown Findlay, perhaps best known for her stately work as Lady Sybil Crawley on the hit series “Downton Abbey.” While most audiences have grown comfortable seeing Findlay sustain a youthful dignity loosely clad in all manner of period garb, “Albatross” provides the young actress with an outlet to explore other, darker sides to her talent, matched well with a committed supporting cast who breathe needed life into a conventional story of personal growth. Read the rest at

Film Review - Playback


Horror films can be made on the cheap, requiring little to no star power, so it’s understandable why so many novice moviemakers gravitate to the genre. However, “Playback” is yet another reminder that it takes a little more inspiration to truly scare an audience. Shellacked with stupidity, working with an insipid premise, the feature is a hopelessly shrill creation that doesn’t come together in the glorious manner writer/director Michael J. Nickels imagines. In fact, a great deal of the picture triggers unintentional laughs, which goes against the general atmosphere of ghoulish video possession and display of crummy slasher film cliches. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Interrupters


"The Interrupters" takes a look at the fingerprint of violence on the dangerous streets of Chicago's south side. There are no easy answers provided to help guide the experience and absolve sin, only a rough understanding of circular behavior and redemptive intentions, shaped into a searing, evocative documentary that does more to understand the psychological chokehold of aggression than any polished media report. Daring to enter the lives of those typically left behind by society, "The Interrupters" is a valuable educational tool and a terrific picture, spotlighting the efforts of those who are dedicating their lives to the betterment of America, using past mistakes and turbulent instincts to attack the root of violence and the fruitlessness of intimidation, working their way through fractured communities one soul at a time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Treasure Train


1982's "Treasure Train" (also known as "Odyssey of the Pacific" and "The Emperor of Peru") emerges from an era when family entertainment provided a little more leeway in terms of political overtones and fantastical encounters. It's an utterly bizarre motion picture, but one made with a certain endearing permissiveness, attempting to give younger audiences exactly what they crave from matinee entertainment while carrying some impressively complex emotions for adults. "Treasure Train" is also a Mickey Rooney movie, permitting the production an opportunity to indulge a zanier side of life, with the screen legend treating his screentime like a vaudeville audition. I'm not exactly sure I understood what director Fernando Arrabal was aiming for with this merging of dreams and doom, but it's certainly an ambitious, agreeably askew cinematic offering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gone

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“Gone” is a relentlessly bland mystery, playing much like a tepid CBS pilot, with pauses for commercial breaks and a conclusion that could realistically open itself up to a weekly series. It’s a not a cinematic creation, with one-dimensional characters displaying little to no common sense, while the thrills are regulated to Portland car chases and 10-minute-long cell phone conversations. At the middle of all this nonsense is Amanda Seyfried, who once again fails to enliven dreary material, showing little star power needed to bring a sense of urgency to such a persistently snoozy movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Good Deeds


With his last three efforts devoted to sequels (“Why Did I Get Married Too?”), the curse of Madea (“Madea’s Big Happy Family”), and a stab at Oscar glory (“For Colored Girls”), it makes sense to find mogul Tyler Perry attempting to come back down to Earth. “Good Deeds” is the softest picture the filmmaker has attempted to date, constructing his own romantic drama for the month of love. While his habits get the best of him, Perry’s work here is surprisingly non-toxic, at least for extended periods of screentime. “Good Deeds” isn’t a well-built movie, but it’s by far the least repellent feature he’s put together, dialing down the screaming and seething long enough to reveal sensitivity about the icon that’s actually quite pleasant. Read the rest at

Film Review - Act of Valor


The “Call of Duty” video game franchise is a billion-dollar enterprise at this point, outgrossing even the most formidable Hollywood blockbusters in the time it takes to say “Call of Duty.” Movie producers, wanting a slice of that action, have cooked up “Act of Valor,” a “realistic” take on Navy SEAL procedures and camaraderie that’s about as geopolitically conscious as an episode of “The A-Team.” Draping itself in the American flag to counteract anticipated criticisms of its low-rent production values, “Act of Valor” is a disturbingly simplistic take on intensely complex matters of the heart and home, distilling the ferocious nature of combat down to heavily caffeinated gulp of jingoism, tarted up like a discount bin PS3 game purchase. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wanderlust


“Wanderlust” isn’t perfect, perhaps a little too cruel for some viewers, but those who come to the movie in a relaxed state of mind might find themselves enjoying the modest pleasures of this comedy. His follow-up to the unexpected 2008 smash “Role Models,” co-writer/director David Wain assembles a rickety but pointed take on hippie contradictions and personal liberation, with plenty of sex and bathroom jokes to help disguise his satiric jabs. I laughed quite a bit while watching “Wanderlust,” but it’s a specialized viewing experience. Frankly, I could see a great number of people immensely disliking Wain’s more scattershot sense of humor this time around. Read the rest at

Film Review - Margaret


Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret” is a disaster, though one that contains its fair share of haunting moments and informed performances. Considering all the struggles the production has endured to even see a limited release, it’s amazing the feature is coherent at all. However, underneath the blindfolded editing, piercing performances, and wandering plot, there’s a great deal of substance to “Margaret” that’s either been completely disfigured or defanged, rendering the effort more of a fascinating curiosity than an ideally defined exploration of guilt and growing pains. It’s far from perfect, but hey, I’m just happy it’s finally available for viewing in some form. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tomorrow, When the War Began


The similarities between “Tomorrow, When the War Began” and 1984’s “Red Dawn” are numerous, perhaps litigiously so, yet the differences in execution are extreme. Adapted from the 1993 novel by John Marsden, the teen guerrilla concept has been comprehensively sugared up to appeal to today’s younger audiences, turning the stomach-churning prospect of WWIII into a daffy high school melodrama where the characters are more preoccupied with love interests than world-changing events. Junky, with an emphasis on theme park stunt show heroics, “Tomorrow, When the War Began” is undeniably entertaining, but also profoundly silly, making “Red Dawn” look like a documentary by comparison. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thin Ice

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In the case of “Thin Ice,” comparisons to the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo” are inevitable. The two pictures inhabit the same space of Midwestern noir, keeping tabs on unsavory types doing their best to make life more difficult for themselves. It’s a brisk, entertaining feature with an unforgivable ending, making the viewing experience primarily about treasuring the filmmaking elements that do come together satisfactorily, from wily performances emerging from a gifted cast to the bitter winter chill of Wisconsin, which plays a critical support part, urging the devious events along with a growing seasonal impatience that fits the tale superbly. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Kangaroo Mob


In popular culture, kangaroos are traditionally beloved for their odd shape and undeniable cuteness. Just thinking of kangaroos inspires images of bouncing bundles of fur hosting adorable joeys in their pouches, peacefully hopping along on the hunt for martinis (hey, it's my daydream). In Canberra, the capital of Australia, the kangaroo is a decidedly unstable element of daily life. Facing a surge in population numbers, residents have witnessed an onslaught of kangaroo activity in the area, with the oblivious beasts taking over parks and backyards while prowling for food. The forward behavior of the kangaroo has created a major problem in Canberra, necessitating a culling period to help reduce the population and ease the worrisome increase in roadway collisions. Once thought to be a harmonious symbol of Australia, the kangaroo has become a destructive nuisance to some, leaving local authorities, animal activists, and suburban bystanders unsure of how to attack this problem in a manner that satisfies the public and protects the innocent animals at the center of the disruption. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Deadly Spawn


"The Deadly Spawn" is one of those no-budget horror pictures crafted by filmmakers who love horror pictures that just barely classifies as a horror picture. Time and a vocal fanbase have elevated the endeavor to cult status, celebrating its schlocky appeal and ferocious monsters, but there's really nothing to "The Deadly Spawn" beyond some ingenious special effects and a few formidable visits to the gore zone. Look past the phallic fiend and here's a comatose effort that's hardly making an effort to provide characters worth cheering on, while the central otherworldly threat is a vaguely defined pest that seems entirely avoidable. I know, I know, it's all in the name of B-movie fun, yet it's difficult to get into an enterprise that appears to fall asleep on occasion, doing extraordinarily little with a promising concept collected from hundreds of merry creature features. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance


Released to considerable fanfare in 2007, Mark Steven Johnson’s “Ghost Rider” rode in on a wave of blockbuster comic book adaptations, boasting a colorful lead character in Johnny Blaze and a juicy budget to bring his fiery tragedy to big screen life. Met with critical yawns and fanboy frustration, the feature didn’t ignite the box office quite like its funny book brethren, leaving star Nicolas Cage without a superhero franchise to call his own. In 2012, Sony looks to maintain their rights to the Marvel character, cooking up a lower-budgeted sequel with Cage to give the concept another try, this time eschewing a traditional studio take on dark valor, passing the keys to the franchise to “Crank” directors Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine, allowing the spastic cult pranksters a shot at energizing a troublesome character. Sony would’ve been better off letting the rights lapse. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Secret World of Arrietty


Taking a break from their usual interest in dense fantasy worlds and eccentric characters, the illustrious Studio Ghibli brings their imaginative filmmaking resources down to a decidedly smaller scale with their latest offering. “The Secret World of Arrietty” is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers” book series, bringing the furious survival plans of teeny-tiny people to a lush animated realm, where such whimsical plotting and miniature antics can be represented in an awe-inspiring manner. Crafted with customary attention to the tiniest of details and blessedly concise, the feature doesn’t possess the epic scope fans might be used to from regal Ghibli offerings, but it retains a lovely spirit of adventure and alliance, forming a modest but sublime picture worthy of the exalted brand name. Read the rest at

Film Review - This Means War


There was once a time where I didn’t shudder at the thought of a McG motion picture. An admirer of the 2000 pop tart “Charlie’s Angels” and its underappreciated 2003 sequel, the filmmaker has proven himself highly capable with stylized escapist fare, always quick with a glossy frame and an amiable comedic spirit. Then came 2009’s “Terminator Salvation,” a rusted lump that effectively torpedoed any excitement for the franchise, and now there’s “This Means War,” which is easily the worst movie of his career. A disaster on a conceptual level, McG’s latest is a trainwreck of botched stunts, unfunny gags, and tuneless performances, pieced together with minimal interest in any sort of engaging cinematic clarity. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Theater Bizarre


Every now and again, a team of inspired filmmakers takes on the challenge of a horror anthology picture, bonding their ghoulish perspectives and creepy inspirations together to create a provocative exercise in revulsion, perfect for short attention spans. “The Theater Bizarre” is a low-budget attempt to provide a wealth of fresh nightmare material, sharing six stories of death and obsession that range from the pleasingly monstrous to the tediously abstract. As with most anthology efforts, only a few of the segments truly shine, yet the production as a whole carries itself confidently and shares a few scattered pleasures. Read the rest at

Film Review - Undefeated


An inspirational documentary on the highs and lows of an inner-city football team might not sound like the most appetizing moviegoing choice. It’s a sufficiently kneaded topic to cover, yet “Undefeated” displays more vulnerability than most films of its ilk, searching to understand how young men facing countless physical, financial, and educational challenges manage to band together and find a common goal. “Undefeated” dissects the interpersonal dynamic of the unit and the near-spiritual nature of the coaching position, covering a single season in the life of the Manassas Tigers as the squad looks to reverse a losing trend that’s swallowed the morale of the school and its surrounding community. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Downton Abbey: Season 2


When I was assigned to review "Downton Abbey: Season 2," I was filled with dread. I find most costume dramas difficult to process, most constructed so frigidly that interpretation becomes a chore, not a rewarding challenge. Also creating terror was my moderate awareness of the program, gathered primarily from award show recaps and the occasional social media pledge of devotion. Not wanting to be left out in the cold, I crammed season one in anticipation of this release, ready to swallow whatever televised dry biscuit creator Julian Fellowes was intending to serve. Seven episodes later, I was deeply in love, completely blindsided by a program boasting refined social graces on the outside, while the inside exposed the beating heart of a sublime soap opera, offering immaculate emotional pull and full-bodied attention to a multitude of characters, creating a thickly sliced, yet overwhelmingly effective British drama -- a viewing experience that was much more than droning talk of matchmaking and sips of tea. Suddenly, the prospect of viewing season two wasn't a brutal professional obligation anymore. It became an absolute necessity. Read the rest at