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May 2012

Film Review - Snow White and the Huntsman


A few months ago, there was “Mirror Mirror,” a fantasy confection that endeavored to turn the “Snow White” fable into a highly stylized circus act with lousy punchlines. While bearable, it wasn’t remarkable. Curiously, movie two in this cinematic fairy tale war, “Snow White and the Huntsman,” takes the opposite storytelling approach, treating the material like it’s dragging a corpse across a fantasyland of doom. The rival “White” is an intentionally joyless creation, investing in a grim atmosphere of murder, sexual perversity, and medieval combat. However, the dwarfs remain, keeping the uneventful effort gasping for gulps of oxygen while it’s being smothered in anger. The producers are obviously trying to butch up an age-old saga of purity and romance, yet by elongating the plot, the filmmakers have inadvertently revealed the source material’s limitations.

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Film Review - Hysteria


“Hysteria” is about the invention of the vibrator. Now that’s an invitation for either a cheeky exploration of sex toy history or a brave offering a drama, willing to plunge into a most extraordinary area of expertise to bring knowledge to the masses. Unfortunately, “Hysteria” doesn’t head in any extreme direction, with the movie attempting to shape itself into a romantic comedy of sorts, ruining the potential fun. Lively moments and some sly wit aside, the feature has a nasty habit of getting in its own way, halting the flow of astonishing medical reality and mischievous discoveries to play everything conventional, which is perhaps the least effective approach for a picture about the creation of the vibrator to take.

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Film Review - Apartment 143

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We’re in the midst of a trend in horror movies, with producers scrambling to cash in on “Paranormal Activity” fever, furthering the use of the “found footage” technique to generate realism while adhering to pure formula. “Apartment 143” is a rather unabashed rip-off of “Activity,” but a film that works to unearth its own identity as a psychological study of supernatural chaos, rather than simply erecting another haunted house viewing experience. The concept has potential, but the picture is lackluster and, at times, completely absurd. Trying to overthink a ghost story, “Apartment 143” goes from appealing to ridiculous in a hurry, saved slightly by a handful of good frights.

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Film Review - For Greater Glory


Branding itself as “based on a true story,” “For Greater Glory” appears more interested in offering every cheap cinematic trick in the book. An overwrought, overlong recreation of the Cristero War, the movie eschews essential details of time and location to fetishize violence as a way to celebrate faith. Not that Catholicism has ever shied away from elaborate acts of pain and suffering, yet “For Greater Glory” doesn’t have the benefit of good taste, or filmmaking clarity for that matter, laboring over death and devastation as a way to keep viewers glued to their seats. Treating the conflict with the complexity it deserves is a foreign concept to this production, which takes its cues from the Mel Gibson School of Screen Martyrdom, making sure this education on Mexican history carries significant ugliness.

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Blu-ray Review - Smokey and the Bandit


When discussing the top box office draws of 1977, a certain range of familiar movies comes to mind. "Star Wars." "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." "Saturday Night Fever." Placing fourth on that list is "Smokey and the Bandit," perhaps the most improbable blockbuster of the year, riding a drive-in cinema obsession to greater monetary glory, turning Burt Reynolds and the Pontiac Trans Am into legends along the way. Not bad for a modestly budgeted production with a bizarre premise that will have to be explained in full to future generations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show

HORROR SHOW strangle

Writer/director Gabriele Albanesi is a major fan of horror. It's a cinematic obsession that oozes out of every pore of "Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show," a spooky psychological production that's obviously intended to pay tribute to the titans of the genre, with principal interest in the Italian boom of the 1970s. Unfortunately, fandom can only take the feature so far, and while the movie has all the goopy particulars gorehounds will appreciate, along with a pronounced literary creep to bring it a specialized sensuality, "Ubaldo Terzani Horror Show" ends up a malformed lump of intentions without the necessary directorial polish to bring the material to its full potential. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Intouchables


Some blockbusters are planned, backed by expensive advertising campaigns and carefully orchestrated waves of buzz. Other efforts come out of nowhere to slay box office competition, riding a positive word-of-mouth high to pop culture glory. “The Intouchables” is as unassuming a picture as they come, yet its towering European success is nothing short of astonishing, with the feature smashing attendance records, generating a must-see magnetism usually reserved for movies about invading aliens, superheroes, and robots that turn into cars. And to think, all this hullabaloo over a simple tale about two men forming a friendship while engaged in a unique caretaker arrangement. Perhaps there’s still a filmgoing appetite for human stories after all.

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Film Review - Bel Ami

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For a film that has such a bustle of visual activity, “Bel Ami” ends up a rather dull feature. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the effort gradually deflates, as there’s a wealth of exemplary technical credits, a story of utter moral corruption, and a few manageable performances. Nevertheless, “Bel Ami” flatlines, abandoning the potential ruthlessness of the plot to wander through a series of vacant reactions to tepid revelations. At the very least, the picture gives star Robert Pattinson something with a little more snap to play, furthering his career as he begins to step away from the comfort of the “Twilight” movies and its most forgiving fanbase.

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Film Review - Men in Black 3

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In one of those realizations that makes your brain hurt, “Men in Black II” came out a decade ago and was a genuinely awful movie. Bloated, poorly cast, and lacking the essential fun factor that made the original 1997 picture such a treat, the sequel stunk up the room, killing interest in a third installment. It took the producers a significant amount of time to slap together a second sequel (keep in mind the public has greeted six “Harry Potter” films since 2002), but “Men in Black 3” (roman numerals are so noughties) is finally a reality, and it’s a marked improvement over the last Agent K and Agent J adventure. Although the simplicity and carefree attitude from “Men in Black” is missing, the third installment of this graying franchise finds some much needed inspiration in the realm of time travel. How it actually copes with such a laborious screenwriting turn is another story.

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Film Review - Tonight You're Mine


The career of director David Mackenzie has been an unpredictable journey with pronounced highs and miserable lows, but I must admit the man is rarely boring. Hitting solid doubles and triples with features such as “Mister Foe,” “Young Adam,” and “Perfect Sense,” Mackenzie also struck out with a wretched Aston Kutcher drama, “Spread.” His latest, “Tonight You’re Mine” (titled “You Instead” overseas) is an experimental piece about love and connection in the midst of celebratory chaos, and it’s certainly one of his lesser efforts. Improvisational and cold to the touch, the picture is a noble failure, capturing the musty rush of a music festival and all of its madness, with a dreary love story awkwardly wedged into the film, souring the atmosphere.

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Film Review - The Tortured


“The Tortured” enjoys an enticingly visceral premise, working a heavy exploitation mood to generate cheers and jeers from its audience. Sadly, the promise is fleeting, as the film is produced by the team that gifted the world the “Saw” movies, which is exactly the direction “The Tortured” takes as it burns through vicious acts of murder and comeuppance. It’s an angry picture, but that dependable sense of rage doesn’t carry through to the end. Instead, the effort dissolves into a strange genre predictability, almost afraid to take the story exactly where it should rightfully lead.

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Blu-ray Review - The Mystery of Edwin Drood


It's perfectly understandable why "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" would remain such an enticing title for adaptation. After all, it's not every day one gets to complete the work of Charles Dickens, who died in the middle of writing the novel, leaving the narrative and the mystery itself hanging in the air. With such a storytelling gap to fill, screenwriters and playwrights have been offered a rare opportunity to finish what Dickens started, taking this tale of murder and jealousy into multiple directions while attempting to remain true to the general lean of the source material. This BBC take on the trials and tribulations facing the good residents of Cloisterham is a mixed bag of Dickensian distractions. Read the rest at

Film Review - What to Expect When You're Expecting


There’s actually nothing to expect from “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” as most audiences have already seen this material processed countless times on television and film, perhaps even radio for a few viewers out there. Like a bad sitcom without fresh idea to share, the picture is a miserable, formulaic descent into the vast wonderland of neuroses surrounding oncoming parenthood, with most variations of baby acquisition and delivery covered to communicate the diverse experiences of pregnancy and adoption. The large ensemble is here to distract from the flaccid scripting, with director Kirk Jones putting a lot of faith in star power to motor through a movie that’s intending to be the definitive word on family life. Too bad it’s all been covered a hundred times before.

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Film Review - Beyond the Black Rainbow


Who really needs drugs when there are screen offerings like “Beyond the Black Rainbow” around? A psychedelic voyage into center of the mind, this sci-fi/horror hybrid is a visual humdinger, immersing the viewer in a liquid landscape of hallucinations and hellish visitations. It’s a movie that’s nearly impossible to disregard, but it’s also one of the slowest pictures I’ve come into contact with so far this year. “Beyond the Black Rainbow” demands submission, otherwise the nightmarish funhouse experience is going to feel like a long Sunday afternoon watching DVRed C-SPAN reruns on half-speed. It’s a motion picture reserved for the most adventurous audiences around, matinee mavericks willing to fling themselves into an abyss of madness, guided by a filmmaker who’s seen more than his fair share of Laser Floyd.

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