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April 2012

Film Review - God Bless America


With “God Bless America,” writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait has manufactured an exhilarating sensation of disgust, funneling a reservoir of frustration into an acidic script that somehow manages to be hilarious while remaining enormously unnerving. It’s a sniper-sure shot of rage striking the heart of American culture, having a blast wiping away the scum of the Earth. It’s a chaotic tear through reality shows, social irritants, and amateur singing contests that’s finessed superbly by the helmer, who commits in full to a lunatic idea. Even for a filmmaker who’s made pictures about bestiality, autoerotic asphyxiation, and alcoholic clowns, “God Bless America” still manages to astonish with its audacious content and ballsy execution. It’s a couch potato battle cry capturing the zeitgeist in a bold, bloody fashion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Touchback


The premise of a life relived is a favorite one for filmmakers. It’s a tempting fantasy, allowing viewers a chance to reconsider their personal choices through the experience of the lead characters, losing themselves in significant displays of nostalgia and perspective. Think “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Peggy Sue Got Married,” two features extracting an ideal amount of wonder and misery from their oddball presentations of askew time travel. “Touchback” isn’t quite as polished or deep, but it retains a sizable heart and commitment to a theme of appreciation, providing those who enjoy slightly hokier entertainment with a warm viewing event that’s predictable yet engaging. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Cabin in the Woods


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: dopey college kids, off on a trip to a remote forest getaway for the weekend, encounter a force of evil that picks them off one by one while the barely sober unit makes pathetic survival choices during a hellacious night. Turns out, screenwriters Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have grown tired of the horror routine, cooking up “The Cabin in the Woods,” a delicious satire of the genre that takes the art of cinematic deconstruction seriously, fusing black comedy and formula into a thoroughly satisfying terror experience. It’s funny, occasionally too silly, but also wildly committed to the bloodshed and jolts gorehounds have come to expect. It’s a smart, nasty picture, reinvigorating stale screenwriting ingredients -- a delirious valentine to slasher archetypes and monster mayhem. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Three Stooges


As The Three Stooges, Moe Howard, Curly Howard, and Larry Fine created a comedy institution. A vaudeville act that grew into a popular series of shorts and features, the Stooges developed into a household name, with young fans spending long hours replicating the trio’s signature moves of pain, to the consternation of parents everywhere. They are legends with a brand name that’s endured throughout the years, maintaining pop culture position despite an origin that dates back to the 1930s. Attempting to highlight their love for all things Stooge, filmmakers Peter and Bobby Farrelly have brought forth “The Three Stooges,” a bizarre attempt to return classic comedy flavors to the big screen, using an all-new cast to ape classic slap-happy moves. Although the mimicry is sincerely impressive, the picture is anything but, stumbling through a series of unfunny scenes in an effort that’s more for the kids, finding the Farrellys hoping to trigger a new wave of fandom with this love letter to ocular trauma, angry nicknames, and hair pulling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lockout


Luc Besson’s action factory burps up another disappointment with “Lockout,” a witless, sloppily constructed picture that carries the promise of a thrill ride in the opening five minutes. A prison adventure set in space, this should’ve been one of the premiere escapist extravaganzas of the year. Instead, untested directors and feeble creative efforts gradually scrape away the fun factor of this snoozer, which grows more tedious and oddly joyless by the minute. It’s not for lack of trying either, as “Lockout” puts forth thespian endeavors meant to be colorful and visual effects intended to be special. However, the labor is mismanaged, with time better spent constructing a stronger script and working with a seasoned editorial department. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bully

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It’s easy to be caught up in the mournful atmosphere of “Bully.” A documentary on the ravages of violence and humiliation in schools across America, the effort is dutifully impassioned and direct with its tales of unimaginable grief. However, pieces are missing in this call to arms, which jumps at the chance to film grief-stricken people is extreme close-up while a larger portrait of the problem is ignored, save for a handful of provocative, strangely unanswered moments. Certainly, this a picture worthy of study by both kids and adults, with director Lee Hirsch making a strong play for a grassroots revolution. The feature’s hope for hallway harmony is commendable. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hit So Hard


The account of a music star hit with a debilitating drug addiction while facing turmoil in their band isn’t anything new, inspiring scores of documentaries and bio-pics. What’s fresh here is the subject, with director P. David Ebersole investigating the life and times of Patty Schemel, the openly lesbian drummer for the band Hole, who spent a good chunk of her career sitting behind Courtney Love, absorbing her never-ending drama on a nightly basis. “Hit So Hard” is familiar in its examination of personal ruin and fortysomething redemption, but the alternative music era on display here brings a unique perspective to Schemel’s story. It also helps to have such a charismatic subject, who’s open and honest about her mistakes, hopes, and fears as she recalls her experiences as a female drummer, her wasted years, and her time as a cog in the Courtney Love machine. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blue Like Jazz


“Blue Like Jazz” is a faith-based production that preaches individual thought and makes the effort to display characters unsure of their devotion to religion as they search for God in their own lives. It’s an admirable endeavor, adapted from the book by Donald Miller (who co-scripts), yet it’s inescapably glacial as a motion picture. Bereft of personality and pace, “Blue Like Jazz” loses influence the longer it lingers on stillborn atmosphere, while the performances all lack conviction beyond the basics provided by the screenplay. It’s a drab movie about big ideas, best suited for die-hard fans of Miller’s writing. Newcomers will have to fight tremendously hard to stay invested in the humdrum antics and banal confessions. Read the rest at

Interview - Drew Goddard


Opening on April 13th is a film that’s almost impossible to describe. “The Cabin in the Woods” marks the directorial debut for screenwriter Drew Goddard, who achieved early industry success with his work on the monster movie “Cloverfield” and the hit television shows, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Lost.” Reteaming with Joss Whedon, Goddard looks to shake up the stale conventions of the horror genre with “Cabin,” a marvelous joyride of scares and giggles that’s a pure valentine to the moviegoing experience. Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down and discuss this wonderfully peculiar picture with Goddard, a man palpably excited to see his oft-delayed feature finally released. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Conversation Piece


A master craftsman of films such as 1963's "The Leopard" and 1971's "Death in Venice," Luchino Visconti settles down for 1974's "Conversation Piece," which is perhaps his most tranquilized effort. Taking a microcosmic look at life inside an Italian apartment building, the picture is exquisitely observational and finely acted, carrying a bold sense of unspoken desires and developing fears, playing smartly as both a domestic drama with pronounced period intentions and as a study of the aging process, with its distressing atmosphere of seclusion and routine. While a motionless feature in a visual sense, Visconti encourages a rising tension to the piece that's nurtured expertly for two generous hours of pointed conversation and acts of deception. The helmer's penultimate creation, "Conversation Piece" radiates an autobiographical touch underneath the theatrics, articulating private thoughts and broken dreams in an achingly human manner, making star Burt Lancaster's nuanced performance all the more potent. Acidic, with a few flashes of uneasy sexuality, the movie commences as a mannered story concerning an invasion of privacy, only to ultimately reveal itself as an open wound of feelings and political paranoia, shaped into a compelling sit by an influential, widely beloved filmmaker. Read the rest at

Film Review - Meeting Evil


“Meeting Evil” is a film that requires its audience to simply shut down and go along with the experience. Any outside intrusion of common sense immediately destroys the viewing event, leaving the picture best served to those able to swallow massive leaps in logic and sketchy characterization. Though not without a handful of sincerely intense scenes, “Meeting Evil” is a missed opportunity for a twisted ride with a confrontational stranger, gradually working its way to a wasteful anticlimax when the entire movie appears to be gunning for something grandiose, pitting enigmatic malevolence against the vanilla might of an average man with ordinary problems. There’s something about seeing Samuel L. Jackson with a gun and an attitude that promises more than this meager effort is willing to offer. Read the rest at

Film Review - 4:44 Last Day on Earth


“4:44 Last Day on Earth” is a violently esoteric feature about a shared experience. It comes from Abel Ferrara, a moviemaker perhaps best known for 1992’s “Bad Lieutenant” and 1995’s “The Addiction.” Ferrara makes a considerable amount of art films these days, though none carry as provocative a premise as his latest effort. While it teases end of the world events and emotional breakdowns, the picture holds tight to the lead character, studying his feelings and frustrations as a peculiar design of doomsday arrives. Uncompromising in its hallucinatory qualities and densely symbolic, “4:44” is a difficult sit, better appreciated for its appealing thespian swings than any of its intended meaning. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Reunion


A surprise smash back in 1999, “American Pie” was a low-budget offering of vulgarity that was meant to pass in and out of theaters quickly, picking up a few bucks along the way. When the feature provided more hustle at the box office than expected, “American Pie 2” quickly followed in 2001, with “American Wedding” rounding off the series with the original cast in 2003. Mining the brand name further, Universal Pictures subsequently released four DTV titles to lower monetary returns, trusting the fan base would follow the “American Pie” label anywhere it decided to roam. For 2012, the band is getting back together, with “American Reunion” corralling all the famous faces, naked breasts, and fecal matter gags the series is known for. Superfans will be super pleased, but viewers who are more astute might be a little shocked to find this latest collection of raunch and insincerity showing severe signs of fatigue. Read the rest at

Film Review - Titanic in 3D

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When it entered production in 1996, “Titanic” was widely considered to be a disaster in the making. Armed with an enormous budget (in all, over 200 million dollars was spent to create the movie), James Cameron set out to make the ultimate tribute to the 1912 ocean tragedy, blending a soft, romantic drama with a frantic recreation of maritime doomsday. It was a colossal undertaking, opening itself up to massive criticism even before a frame had been exhibited, with many fearing Cameron had gone too far and spent too much. And then “Titanic” opened in December of 1997 to positive reviews and mammoth word-of-mouth business, quickly establishing itself as a phenomenon that carried over to much of 1998, topping the box office, filling the airwaves with Celine Dion’s ubiquitous “My Heart Will Go On,” and sweeping up two armfuls of Oscars. “Titanic” went from a certain failure to a feature everyone had to see. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Little Bit of Heaven


Kate Hudson has become the poster girl for particularly lazy romantic comedies, spending nearly her entire career in the genre with efforts such as “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Something Borrowed,” and “Alex & Emma.” “A Little Bit of Heaven” is her most grotesque production to date, merging googly eyes with colon cancer in a stunningly tasteless picture that’s made up entirely of cheap sentiment and wretched direction. Turning on her high beams of charm, Hudson tap dances madly through this movie, trying to remain as effervescent as possible with a script that does a great disservice to the trials of cancer and the game of love. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - BuzzKill


A world-famous improvisational comedy factory, The Second City has been entertaining audiences for over 50 years, sharing their brand of impulsive wit via industry titans such as Bonnie Hunt, Tina Fey, John Candy, Martin Short, Gilda Radner, and Eugene Levy. The Second City also gave birth to arguably one of the greatest television shows of all time, debuting with "SCTV" in 1976. The brand name alone conjures concentrated memories of bellylaughs and cutting satire, executed by talented, fantastically quick-witted performers aiming to please. It comes with great surprise to find their film output is borderline intolerable, with corporate slapping their good name on "BuzzKill," a monumentally tiresome comedy that does considerable damage to their legacy. Woefully unfunny and feebly directed by Steven Kampmann, "BuzzKill" is a feature that spends the entirety of its run time struggling to acquire anything of worth to commit to the screen, floundering for what feels like an eternity with droopy material and a cast that overplays everything handed to them. It's a bad movie, but worse, it's an abysmal representation of The Second City, an organization I once believed retained such impeccable taste in the realm of humor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Five Element Ninjas


I'll admit that my education on the legacy of the Shaw Brothers Studio is lacking, having only picked up bits and pieces of their legendary filmography from television airings, daredevil revival house screenings, and the ultimate homage to their efforts, Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" saga (John Carpenter's "Big Trouble in Little China" also made an impact). Apparently, I need to introduce more Shaw Brothers into my moviegoing diet, with their 1981 effort, "Five Element Ninjas" (aka "Five Elements Ninjas" and "Chinese Super Ninjas"), a furious face blast of martial art choreography, blood-soaked violence, and marathon displays of poker-faced honor. A lovingly low-budget bruiser committed to the nuances of bodily harm and ancient weaponry, the feature is a total hoot, supplying superbly designed action and broad displays of anger. Considered by some to be one of the best Shaw Brothers creations in their extensive library, "Five Element Ninjas" certainly lives up to its reputation, bringing to the screen a fresh imagination for martial art battle scenarios and ultimate revenge, sold with a fist-first mentality that carries evenly throughout the production. It's raw, ridiculous, and addictive all the way. Read the rest at