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February 2012

Film Review - Undefeated

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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.com


Blu-ray Review - Downton Abbey: Season 2

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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 Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Father's Day

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“Father’s Day” is the type of genre entertainment that gives its audience plenty of reason to refuse its blood-soaked charms. It’s an unbelievably violent and nasty enterprise with a taboo-smashing, genital-eating attitude certain to make the unprepared run screaming for the exits. It’s also one of the funniest features I’ve seen in quite some time, using its inherent sickness to come together as a clever, sublimely silly grindhouse goosing, able to assemble disparate elements of gore and goofballery in a fluid manner missing from similar efforts searching to shock and guffaw. While leaning on chaos to fill its running time, “Father’s Day” is a triumphantly diseased motion picture, easily the best movie to pop out of Troma Entertainment in quite some time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D

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Writing anything about the “Star Wars” prequels is a dangerous pursuit. I’m convinced there are people who live only for the opportunity to disparage George Lucas online, leaving any type of discussion or opinion about these now-controversial pictures an open invitation for geek savagery, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one tired of it. Nevertheless, just when everyone thought it was safe to put the “Star Wars” saga back on the shelf, Lucas has ordered up a 3D makeover for his most polarizing work, 1999’s “The Phantom Menace.” That’s right, kids, it’s now possible to have Jar Jar Binks fumble and bumble right at the tip of your nose. Granted, it’s not the ideal way to commence a planned series of 3D reissues, but the film does lend itself to the format. And, to be perfectly honest, despite its obvious faults and unnecessary pandering to children, “The Phantom Menace” is…you know…kinda…sorta…fun.

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Film Review - Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

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While I don’t doubt its appeal with family audiences, 2008’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” wasn’t exactly a screaming artistic success. Released during the early stages of the current 3D revolution, the picture was a novelty, capturing box office attention with its commitment to in-your-face Jules Verne-inspired spectacle, buttered up by the rubbery antics of star Brendan Fraser. Four years later, Fraser is gone and it now appears a great deal of audiences resent 3D releases, making the conception and timing of “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” precarious at best. While burdened with a leaden script built only with cliché, the sequel manages to pack a harder punch of adventure than its predecessor, making better use of its 3D environments, bringing in Dwayne Johnson to restart the party while co-star Michael Caine classes up the joint. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Vow

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“The Vow” opens with the tag “Inspired by a true story,” which is Hollywood code for “There are only one or two things in this movie that are actually true.” The real-life tale of Kim and Krickett Carpenter has been magically transformed into a big screen romance with Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams, stripped of its Christian overtones to play into gooey Valentine’s Day sentiment, boiling down a remarkable tale of recovery and personal integrity into a puddle of semi-repellent sap. Taking the soap opera route, the production has robbed the tale of its oddity and intriguing preservation of marital contract. Instead, the picture supports schmaltziness and half-realized conflicts, trusting Tatum’s puppy-dog eyes and McAdams’s high-pitched stammer will sufficiently express the emotional fracture at the core of this defanged story. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Safe House

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"Safe House" is a satisfactory movie that's capable of greatness. It suffers from a common lack of creative courage, terrified to leave the audience to interpretation for very long. What begins as an enigmatic actioner with a marvelous handle on pounding screen energy is slowly brought to its knees over the course of two hours, eventually sized down to a standard display of black hats and white hats, with a hefty helping of government conspiracy hogwash to aid easy digestion. "Safe House" is at its finest locked in pursuit, with the viewer handed morsels of information between scenes of men shooting at one another. Once it settles into explanation mode, the enterprise grinds to a halt, leaving two convincing performances from Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington to drag on to a point of total disinterest. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Pina

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Watching "Pina" is like attending a funeral for a total stranger. It's a stunning visual event, elegant and artful, paying close attention to the majesty of movement and the crashing of elements. However, if the name Pina Bausch means nothing to you, there's no motive to spend time with this vague greatest hits package of her work in modern dance. Director Wim Wenders projects nothing but love with this ode to form and tense choreography, but it's an empty affair providing a meager education on the life and times of a respected figure. Fans might not mind the drifting attention span of the 3D feature, perhaps thrilled with any chance to sit in the imposing shadow of the master, but those new to this subject might find themselves lost in a hurry. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Return

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“Return” is an unsettling portrait of domestic reintegration without the customary flails of melodrama that would typically assist in the storytelling. It’s a meaningful picture that plays modestly, opting to express itself through haunted reactions from star Linda Cardellini and its somber small-town America setting, where the dream of prosperity through industry is gasping its final breath. Enlightening and at times heartbreaking, “Return” superbly communicates the difficulties of military transition and its ensuing confusion, executing its perspective with a refreshing trust in its audience to detect the waves of anxiety battering the lead character without a moronic need to underline every little step of the struggle. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Rampart

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Filmmakers routinely gravitate to the saga of dirty cops, eagerly investigating the ugliness of those entrusted with protection. It’s a fascinating topic, yet “Rampart” refuses to indulge itself when it comes to assembling the evil business of a police officer. While injected with plenty of bile and street smarts, director Oren Moverman’s latest is a bloodless affair watered down by its obsessive moviemaking flair. It’s more of a sound and light show than a hard-charging character study, rendering the lethal events surrounding the lead character almost meaningless when they’re flattened and packaged into this grab bag of style. There’s certainly something here that’s enticingly multifaceted and unstable, but it’s dark behavior that’s never communicated on screen in full. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection

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Filmmaker Fernando Di Leo was a well-regarded helmer who specialized in severe crime stories pulled from the bowels of Italy -- tales of grizzled men hunting other grizzled men, burning through numerous power plays, assassinations, and monetary disruptions. They were films of pure Italian personality, monitoring political turbulence while bashing around baddies, creating a roughhouse Euro genre with realism that would come to influence American directors looking to add some bitterness to their own cinematic brew. Collected here are four of Di Leo's most prominent efforts, each blessed with unique qualities and rage issues, all possessing a singular desire to depict criminal behavior at its lowest rung of decorum. The results are uneven but unforgettable, blasting viewers with two-fisted tales of unrepentant Italian machismo, soaked in J&B. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - America In Primetime

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Television has transformed radically over the last 60 years. While most viewers remain well aware of the seismic media shift, it's quite remarkable to see the winding path of storytelling recounted in "America in Primetime," a documentary dissection of programming highlights. The shows discussed here are singled out for the inimitable perspective and ability to shift the cultural POV, guiding the general public to a greater consciousness with stellar achievements in characterization, tonality, and awareness. Divided into four episodes, each with a specific theme for inspection, the series delves into the leadership position T.V. gradually established, helping to reflect attitudes, fears, and politics along the way. Offering interviews and insights from the likes of Mary Tyler Moore, Roseanne Barr, Marc Cherry, Diablo Cody, Norman Lear, Jerry Mathers, Carl Reiner, Danny DeVito, Paul Feig, Garry Shandling, Larry David, Alan Ball, Andre Braugher, Gillian Anderson, and Candace Bergen, "America in Primetime" covers a wide range of reflection and celebration, searching to uncover the alchemy of the addictive television tradition. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Wicker Tree

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Surprisingly, writer/director Robin Hardy didn’t pursue much work in the entertainment industry after the release of his 1973 cult classic, “The Wicker Man.” It makes sense that his return to the screen is a pseudo-sequel/remake/kissing cousin to his previous achievement, with “The Wicker Tree” looking to capture the same pagan terror, this time without Nicolas Cage and the damn bees of the goofball 2006 “Wicker Man” remake. Boldly developing a tone of high camp for this follow-up, Hardy looks to attack expectations by turning the premise into something silly, playing broadly to keep viewers off-guard. It doesn’t work in full, yet “The Wicker Tree” is an interesting failure, ultimately handcuffed by its low budget and thespian limitations. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Chronicle

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The found footage phenomenon sneaks into the superhero genre with “Chronicle,” an uneasy cross between a Morrissey record and a middling “X-Men” sequel. Chasing a trend with a slightly different goal in mind, director Josh Trank appears to be more interested in wowing his audience than selling a consistent tale of teenagers flirting with ultimate power. Little of the movie’s mysteries are developed, the acting is distractingly obvious, and the teen angst formula is laid on thick as tar, yet when the feature gets mean, it suddenly gets interesting. A visual effects demo reel in search of dramatic impact, “Chronicle” is frustratingly mediocre, absent a visionary filmmaker skilled at extracting a sense of peril from the material. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Woman in Black

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During his tenure as the boy wizard in the “Harry Potter” franchise, star Daniel Radcliffe spent very little time away from the grind of blockbuster filmmaking, accepting challenges in the theater over building his big screen reputation. “The Woman in Black” marks the first acting effort from Radcliffe post-Hogwarts, turning to a bare bones chiller that’s almost entirely devoid of dialogue for the actor, instead deploying his well-honed abilities of wide-eyed reaction. “The Woman in Black” contains a few jumps and creeps, but it’s a disappointingly sluggish ghost story without a convincing antagonist. Admittedly, there’s a curiosity factor with Radcliffe’s performance. Beyond that, the picture doesn’t provide much excitement. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - A Separation

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“A Separation” is a frustrating sit, as both a dramatic endeavor and a motion picture viewing experience. Anxiety runs red hot in this Iranian production, which unfolds in a purposefully tangled style of lies and half-truths, forcing the characters to communicate in an unrelentingly argumentative manner. It’s an oppressive moviegoing encounter, but a film richly layered by writer/director Asghar Farhadi, who embraces the bulging passions of the players, forcing outsiders to feel the bind of contradictions and oppression of life in the Middle East. Expectedly, the volatility is penetrating, but the feature is methodical, stewing in every last moment of unease and contemplation, stretching to a point where Farhadi is practically lapping himself. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Big Miracle

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Schmaltz swallows “Big Miracle” whole. Here’s a film of excessive sentimentality, coating the picture with softball conflicts and interpersonal friction, bonding the subplots together with syrup and tears. It’s a story of whale rescue that doesn’t spend nearly enough time with the whales, trying to inflate itself into an environmental statement and valentine to humanity’s occasional display of selflessness. Disapproving of the feature’s brazen manipulation is like slapping a kitten, yet “Big Miracle” pushes too hard for too long, fogging up the meaning of the movie with all of its heavy breathing, madly dashing for obviousness when a little refinement with such an strange story would’ve done the trick. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - All Things Fall Apart

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For the last seven years, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson has attempted to become an actor. The rapper has worked his way through the Hollywood system, going from a top-billed behemoth to a DTV mainstay, gradually taking command of his projects as a way to market his interests in full. “All Things Fall Apart” is perhaps Jackson’s most brazen attempt to achieve thespian respectability, co-scripting himself a tender story of life’s cruelties, the dissipation of dreams, and the undying human spirit, employing a backdrop of today’s medical industry and job market frustrations to assist in the accessibility of the material. Straining to be meaningful until its blue in the face, “All Things Fall Apart” is a hackneyed, stilted production, held back in great part by Jackson’s decision to insert himself in the lead role. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com