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June 2012

Film Review - Madea's Witness Protection


Without rehashing old criticisms, it’s been difficult to appreciate the work of Tyler Perry over the years. At this point in his career, the Madea movies act like his own personal ATM machine, raking in the box office coin to provide the filmmaker freedom to try on a few shades of melodrama in other features. After the general disinterest handed to February’s “Good Deeds,” it makes sense to be confronted with Madea again, with Perry sprinting to his most popular character as a way to hurriedly win back his audience before he’s off to his next endeavor. However, I suspect most of the icon’s die-hard followers won’t find much to enjoy about “Madea’s Witness Protection,” a picture that finds Perry channeling the comedies of Jerry Lewis. At least Lewis in his later years of performing. Like “The Day the Clown Cried.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Magic Mike


The daily business of male strippers isn’t something seen on the screen very often. There’s 1983’s “A Night in Heaven,” a subplot in 1987’s “Summer School,” and if you squint hard enough, perhaps 1997’s “The Full Monty” counts as well. Forgive me if I’m not 100% versed in the subgene, but I have seen enough tales of drug abuse and movies about womanizing to recognize that “Magic Mike” flounders in the storytelling department. Attempting to gyrate away the staleness of the screenwriting, director Steven Soderbergh pulls out every trick in the book to make “Magic Mike” mean something beyond its parade of shaved backs and tanned buttocks, but it’s a lost cause, endeavoring to bring meaning to material best appreciated for its surface appeal. Much like Magic Mike himself, the film is better seen than heard. Read the rest at

Film Review - People Like Us


“People Like Us” is the type of film that would be completely derailed by a simple act of honesty. The drama presented here could be wiped away in minutes if the lead character showed a little backbone and dumped his feelings at first contact, but that doesn’t happen. Instead, the screenplay is an exercise in prolonging the inevitable, making the viewer experience the discomfort of a man perfectly capable of solving his problems, but can’t quite make the leap in communication. The trick of “People Like Us” is making the audience not mind the unnatural delay, supplying characters dimensional enough to ignore their odd lack of common sense. The picture has that power. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ted

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Writer/director/actor Seth MacFarlane has built an empire with his hit cartoon “Family Guy,” so one can hardly blame the creator when his debut feature as a filmmaker, “Ted,” resembles an episode of the beloved series. Raunchy and ridiculous, “Ted” is an easy transition for MacFarlane, who brings to the screen a succession of gross-outs, non-sequiturs, and pop culture references, used to buttress a simple story of a magical wish gone horribly wrong. It’s a funny picture, never quite as sweet as MacFarlane imagines, but still generous with the silly stuff and captivatingly bizarre. And if you happen to adore the 1980 sci-fi extravaganza “Flash Gordon” as much as I do, than you should drop everything and purchase a ticket immediately. Read the rest at

Film Review - Your Sister's Sister


“Your Sister’s Sister” comes packaged in familiar wrapping, employing the loose improvisational techniques writer/director Lynn Shelton has favored throughout her career, last seen on the screen in the 2009 charmer, “Humpday.” Elevating her technical prowess and developing an ease with performers, Shelton hits an oddly touching note with her latest production, which machetes through dense emotional woods to grasp an appropriate balance between discomfort and disarming. It’s a funny, exposed picture that acts as a calamine lotion to the filmmaker’s itches, showing maturation that I hope carries Shelton to an exciting and insightful creative career behind the camera. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Ride


The dynamic between a father and his young son takes an especially dark turn in “Last Ride,” a largely atmospheric picture that carries itself confidently through some frightening displays of behavior. Mournful, with a central mystery more substantial than expected, the feature creates a compelling sit out of the barest of filmmaking elements, trusting the natural beauty of Australia to settle the soul while leads Hugo Weaving and Tom Russell spend the run time working to disturb with their unpredictable performances, capturing an uneasy and abusive familial relationship with a natural chemistry, guided patiently by director Glendyn Ivin. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The White Lions


In the wild, camouflage is a key component of survival, permitting creatures a chance to protect themselves using their natural skin or fur as defense against predators. For lions, sheer force is employed to help establish dominance, but their natural golden coloring assists in the routine of personal security, allowing the beasts to blend in with their surroundings, giving them an advantage in a land of continuous hunting. For the white lion, their bright appearance is akin to painting a target on their back, standing out like a snowball in a dry land, making them a particular curiosity in South Africa's wild bush country. How does a lion with ivory fur survive in a brutal land where concealment is a way of life? How could anything so obvious to the naked eye make it past life as a cub? Read the rest at

Film Review - Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter


Fun is in short supply during “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” a strange development for a picture that posits the 16th President of the United States as a fearless destroyer of bloodsuckers, armed with a silver-dipped ax and gentlemanly outrage. I’m not suggesting such a premise needs to be camp, but it should be a widescreen riot of the highest order. In director Timur Bekmambetov’s care, “Vampire Hunter” is a CGI-drenched drag suffering from a gutted script and dependence on noise to carry itself forward. Poorly cast and much too severe for its own good, this ambitious attempt to pants history in the blockbuster tradition carries unnecessary weight, eventually slumping to a dreary finale that renders the whole effort a missed opportunity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brave

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With “Brave,” the wizards at Pixar attempt to subvert the animated princess genre in a significant manner, constructing a story of self-reliance to shoo away all those outdated fairy tale inclinations towards the sweet relief of a princely entrance. It’s a wonderful idea, sharply executed through a few exemplary vocal performances and, of course, miraculous CG-animation. However, the core message of vibrant singularity is buried under folds of fur, as “Brave” is more of a bear story with magical overtones than a precise inspection of a restless princess spirit. It’s a fine picture but seldom remarkable, expelling far too much energy on fantasy when a firm human touch was all that required to bring the theme to life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Seeking a Friend for the End of the World


“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” is a delicate movie that does a fine job keeping predictability at bay, at least until the ending. A sensitive film about the apocalypse, the picture displays a fine sense of taste and timing, mixing laughs and discomfort with a love story that carries genuine weight. The directorial debut for actress Lorene Scafaria, the feature showcases a helmer with an interest in human emotion, despite a massive extinction level event ready to wipe out the world. With a premise that promises chaos of all shapes and sizes, Scafaria plays the effort with equal parts tenderness and madness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love Birds


With a title like “Love Birds” and a plot about a man discovering romance while nursing a bird back to health, eyes will understandably roll. However, not every duck-rehabilitation picture includes a sharp comedian like Rhys Darby, a wonderful dramatic actress like Sally Hawkins, and features extensive use of Queen on the soundtrack, including cuts from “Flash Gordon” and “Highlander.” While it ends up a muddled pile of subplots with an odd lack of common sense, “Love Birds” fights its way to the middle due to efforts from the cast and crew, who struggle heroically to bring character and sonic lift to a bland premise. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Love Guide

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It’s been a struggle during my filmgoing experience to fully embrace the idiosyncrasies of Parker Posey. She’s shined in a handful of pictures, but, more often than not, she plays the same role, always the semi-sarcastic acid queen on the prowl for the perfect sardonic barb. “The Love Guide” (previously known as “Sunny Side Up,” which is a better title) actually benefits from Posey’s spazzy energy, unleashing the former it girl of indie cinema in the role of a daffy spiritual guru, giving her plenty of room to improvise and wind herself around the frame. It’s not an especially good performance, but “The Love Guide” isn’t an especially good movie. Still, her fireworks display adds some needed life to an otherwise insignificant feature, bringing some mild fun to material that doesn’t deserve her. Read the rest at

Film Review - For the Love of Money


While I don’t dispute the authenticity of the “true story” behind “For the Love of Money,” the filmmaking choices are strictly second-hand, pulled from all areas of gangster cinema. An attempt to make an Israeli “Goodfellas” with a splash of “Scarface” on a minuscule budget, the feature simply bites off more than it can chew, fumbling through a series of underworld encounters while burdened with an ensemble of uncharismatic actors, a few who’ve frolicked in these blood-spattered fields before. Director Ellie Kanner-Zuckerman labors to fluff up the picture with a colorful soundtrack of rock and pop hits, but it’s merely a smoke screen to keep attention off the general disorganized atmosphere of the effort, which looks to ape Scorsese but can only muster Corman. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Keyhole

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The work of Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin is best described as polarizing, with audiences near and far torn between a profound appreciation for the helmer's stylistics and tributes to moviemaking processes of old, and his dedication to abstract thought, rarely embarking on a picture that isn't moderately impenetrable. He's not an artist to be embraced, but observed, especially when Maddin launches into his own orbit, recalling the early years of David Lynch, aiming to alienate a large portion of his audience with oppressive layers of interpretational cinema, meant to challenge the cineaste more than satisfy the average matinee warrior. Through efforts like "The Saddest Music in the World" and "My Winnipeg," Maddin has built a brand name with his dedication to surrealism and magical happenings, typically slathered with expressionistic images pulled straight from silent cinema. He's an acquired taste, though with "Keyhole," the impish prankster is beginning to repeat himself. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Wish

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“I Wish” is a sweet, gentle picture from Japan, directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, who specializes in softly wistful features of visual beauty. Although it runs for longer than it should, “I Wish” finds a charming position of curiosity and longing that helps to extend its interests to the audience, creating interesting characters facing adversity, who look to a bit of magic to help ease the discomfort in their lives. It’s also a movie about children told from a child’s perspective, granting the film a specialized concentration of adolescent energy that provides a unique thumbprint to an otherwise leisurely exploration of hope and travel. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - River of No Return


With the tradition of a wedding comes the honeymoon, a special time where a couple is provided a chance for intimacy after the ceremonial whirlwind. It's a period of closeness in the midst of an exotic location, demanding the twosome engage in all sorts of relaxation and mild adventuring, solidifying the union with an once-in-a-lifetime shot at glorious recreation. For wolf biologist Isaac Babcock and his new wife Bjornen, sealant for their matrimonial bliss wasn't cured under a Hawaiian sun, but in the harsh conditions of the wild, with the two embarking on a journey into the restless lands of Idaho to experience nature up close as a couple. Read the rest at