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June 2012

Film Review - Rock of Ages


Using the blockbuster success of “Mamma Mia!” as inspiration, the Broadway musical “Rock of Ages” gallops to the big screen in all of its neon-drenched glory. Merging the sonic power of hair metal from the late-1980s with campy performances intended to reach all the way to the back row, the feature is nothing short of a party, with glitzy actors prowling around the frame, belting out power ballads and anthems regardless of vocal ability. Director Adam Shankman plays the material as broadly as humanly possible, blasting the music, the costumes, and the hair at full volume, hoping to razzle-dazzle summertime audiences looking for a thrill that doesn’t emerge from the pages of a comic book. It’s a lively picture, beaming with energy and excess, evoking a debauched era of music and sexual gamesmanship with an exaggerated sway. It’s only a shame “Rock of Ages” is quite awful, because it looks like it was a ton of fun to make. Read the rest at

Film Review - That's My Boy


After the debacle of last holiday’s “Jack and Jill,” Adam Sandler officially hit bottom. After a decade softening his edge in romantic comedies and family pictures, Sandler returns to form with “That’s My Boy,” at least to a certain degree. While loaded with dud jokes and unnecessary gross-out material, the feature does return the star to a realm of cartwheeling, absurdist comedy he once churned out on a yearly basis. Now older and richer, it appears that Sandler is once again in the mood for some reckless fun, guiding this rare foray into R-rated monkey business, backed by a spirited cast of famous faces and a soundtrack of rock hits. I’m not suggesting “That’s My Boy” is a good film, but it certainly has highlights, returning some of the old goofball Sandman magic to the screen. Read the rest at

Film Review - Safety Not Guaranteed


“Safety Not Guaranteed” is dramatically all over the map, aching to be the lone movie about time travel that’s not actually about time travel. The lean toward characterization and heartfelt feelings shared between shattered souls is all well and good, yet the emotions are rendered meaningless when funneled into this messy picture. Painfully deadpan (the opening 15 minutes resembles an unofficial sequel to “Napoleon Dynamite”) and meandering, with plenty of dangling plot threads, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is one central recasting and brutal editorial session way from being a lovely little short film, where its mystery and sentiment is more easily controlled and considered. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lola Versus


“Lola Versus” is a loaded title pertaining to the main character’s struggles with life. The title is also an apt description for the creative woes that plague this surprisingly loathsome movie. “Lola Versus” flaccid screenwriting. “Lola Versus” punishing clichés. “Lola Versus” idiotic improvisations. “Lola Versus” common sense. The list is endless. Co-writer/director Daryl Wein has a lot of explaining to do with this punishing picture, which submits such contemptuous characters and harebrained situations, yet asks the audience to fall in love with these stock personalities from a failed IFC pilot. The entire film ends up depending on star Greta Gerwig to smile her way out of sticky dramatic situations, but she’s not an actress carrying a significant amount of inspiration to fuel her screen skills. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stash House


“Stash House” is a B-movie version of David Fincher’s “Panic Room,” struggling to cause a claustrophobic ruckus with little in terms of acting, directing, and screenwriting. It’s an uphill battle, though filmmaker Eduardo Rodriguez does manage to connect a few sequences of suspense, carrying the feature forward a couple of steps before it slumps back to the ground. For low-budget entertainment, “Stash House” is surprisingly long and loopy, trying to generate a high tech feel of domestic invasion when the material is probably better served as a roughhouse diversion, pitting desperate men against one another as they engage in a sleepless night of threats, gunfire, and stupid ideas. Read the rest at

Film Review - High School


The first character introduced in the stoner comedy “High School” is a young woman by the name of Charlyne Phuc. Lean hard into the pronunciation of that last name, and that’s the level of wit we’re dealing with in this picture. Taking three years to arrive in theaters, “High School” doesn’t break any new ground in the pothead genre, content to hit tired beats of confusion, perversity, and teen concerns, back by a terribly lazy script that stumbles from one scenario to the next. If the aforementioned surname joke sounds hilarious, by all means, the film will tickle you endlessly. For everyone else, stick with established stoner classics and avoid this unsightly jumble of jokes and stupidity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World


Bettany Hughes is a historian and a popular television documentary host with an interest in world culture and religion that she wants to share with her audience. "Seven Wonders of the Buddhist World" is a travelogue program devoted to her thirst for knowledge, moving beyond the classroom to consume religious locales and practices in person, bringing along cameras to share this wealth of experience, providing atmosphere to the education. Despite the ravages of humidity and arduous distances, Hughes finds her way to seven places of unimaginable beauty and spiritual depth, stepping foot on Buddhist history with a goal to provide the average viewer with a deeper understanding of Buddhism and all of its colorful and meaningful practices. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moonrise Kingdom


Wes Anderson has a specialized way of making movies, and he’s more than welcome to remain in his corner of idiosyncrasy because, well, he’s an outstanding filmmaker. Paying homage to the kid-lit books of yesteryear, “Moonrise Kingdom” is yet another cinematic trophy for Anderson’s crowded shelf of accomplishments -- an enormously lovely, hilarious, evocative adventure as viewed through the director’s prism of handmade splendor. Through repetition, Anderson has fine-tuned his vision, developing his habits and art of microscopic detailing to create a rich symphony of textures. “Moonrise Kingdom” also plugs into the glow of adolescent emotion with startling accuracy, keeping the picture gentle but also edgy, finding a tone of discovery that’s as potent for the characters as it is for the audience.

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Film Review - Prometheus


Firstly, yes, “Prometheus” is a prequel to “Alien.” 20th Century Fox has played coy with the pre-release details for a reason, hoping to create generous buzz and a bit of mystery surrounding a sensitive production. Unfortunately, it’s not an especially satisfying prequel to “Alien,” doing away with the original’s spare sense of terror and exposure to play this sci-fi world as a blunt instrument, hitting the viewer in the face with crude violence and spotty philosophy. While the return of director Ridley Scott to the franchise he originally shaped should be cause for celebration, yet the master visualist can’t find a perfect posture for material that teases the good stuff and embellishes the routine. “Prometheus” isn’t nearly as cinematically daring and intellectually stimulating as the filmmakers seem to think it is.

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Film Review - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted


As a filmgoer, it’s been a thrill to see the “Madagascar” series develop with each installment, culminating in “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” which is by far the best picture of the franchise and continues Dreamworks Animation’s renaissance of quality product. Ditching most of the heartfelt pit stops that marked the previous features to race forward as a farce, the movie is grand family entertainment with substantial laughs and a thoughtful use of 3D, keeping the visuals and the punchlines flying fast as our animated heroes face an unstoppable enemy and find themselves lured into the majesty of the afro circus.

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Film Review - Take This Waltz


Sarah Polley is a fine actress and a promising director (2006’s “Away from Her”), but her latest work as a filmmaker, “Take This Waltz,” is a frustrating creative step backwards. A story of hidden desires and brutal honesty, Polley takes on the enduring temptation of marital infidelity, or at least the consideration of such a brash endeavor, but approaches this critical dilemma of longing in a most unnatural manner, ornamenting the feature with quirks and indie music to set an artificial mood for an effort of supposed intimacy. While emotionally crippling in spurts, “Take This Waltz” remains frustratingly distant and processed, as though Polley couldn’t decide what type of characters she wanted to discover or what type of story to tell. For a picture of extreme concentration on a singular event, it feels hopelessly scattered and inconsequential.

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Film Review - Peace, Love & Misunderstanding


Jane Fonda doesn’t make very many movies, with “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” her first effort in four years. It’s a shame she doesn’t work more, because her veteran spirit is sorely needed for situations like this, where the script falls flat, the rest of the performances drag along the ground, and the direction is more permissive than authoritative. Fonda’s the only reason to sit through the lifelessness of the picture, with her thespian spark adding enormous verve to an otherwise tedious and formulaic multi-generational drama with a serious hippie spin. I can’t imagine what a bore “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” would be without her presence.

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Film Review - Hemingway & Gellhorn


There’s something far more interesting to the pairing of Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn than the HBO production, “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” dares to express. A twosome drawn together by mutual interests in war and life experiences, the couple’s barbed interplay hints at a great emotional displeasure barely contained by raw physical attraction and gender power moves common to the WWII era. Overlong and undercooked, “Hemingway & Gellhorn” does feature two compelling performances from Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, but a flavorful understanding of this relationship never emerges. Despite a globetrotting atmosphere of world history and lustful motivation, director Philip Kaufman falls short of a fulfilling screen investigation.

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Film Review - Piranha 3DD


It’s not like Alexandre Aja’s 2010 remake of “Piranha” was rocket science, but the production managed to create something ridiculous that felt like an invitation to a big screen party, slathered with gore, populated by gifted actors, and mindful of all the exploitation elements that make the genre such a riot. Aja had topless women performing an underwater 3D ballet, “Piranha 3DD” director John Gulager offers a David Hasselhoff cameo. It doesn’t take a genius to view this miserable sequel as one giant step backwards in terms of creative ambition and viewer satisfaction. Although filmed in 3D, the extra dimension in “Piranha 3DD” is the crushing wave of disappointment smacking the viewer roughly two minutes into the picture when Gulager’s toxic moviemaking touch is revealed in full, captured in a moment where the corpse of a cow farts out a piranha egg. It’s going to be a long 70 minutes (82 minutes with end credits).

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Film Review - Crooked Arrows


“Crooked Arrows” is a film I wanted to like, came close to enjoying, but was consistently pulled away by some poor storytelling decisions. It’s one of the first movies to concentrate solely on the game of lacrosse, a sport that’s grown in popularity in recent years after spending centuries as an activity for Native American cultures, where it’s known as “The Creator’s Game.” It’s a highly entertaining, fast-paced sport that deserves a better onscreen celebration than “Crooked Arrows,” which slaps around every cliché imaginable, looking to win over the audience through the comfort of familiarity. It has charm and a refreshing cultural perspective, but the predictability is often too much to bear, tanking the potential for a proper big screen exploration of lacrosse.

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Blu-ray Review - Female Convict Scorpion


I'm not sure what type of women-in-prison film "Female Convict Scorpion" is aiming to be, but it's not a very successful one. With a subgenre that typically thrives on outlandish behavior, overheated performances, and exploitation elements up the wazoo, "Female Convict Scorpion" only hints at a larger scale of madness, remaining subdued for the majority of its run time for reasons not fully understood. Boasting only a few celebratory screen elements and a handful of committed but not necessarily inspired performances, the feature is a disappointment, unwilling to truly rear back and vomit forth a particularly sticky mess of breasts, beatings, and elaborate designs of revenge. Read the rest at