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August 2012

Film Review - The Apparition


The trailer for “The Apparition” contained more story than the picture it was promoting. In fact, I think the trailer for “The Apparition” is actually more of a movie than “The Apparition.” A wildly incoherent effort that spends most of its running time avoiding its own plot, “The Apparition” is one of those major studio releases that is so stunningly inept, it’s a wonder it’s receiving a theatrical release. However, maybe a brief stay in multiplexes is a positive thing, allowing those with heavenly B-movie patience to sit down and decode the bungled filmmaking. Perhaps there’s someone out there who could possibly explain the feature to me one day. Read the rest at

Film Review - Killer Joe


After his lackluster turn in the recent “Magic Mike,” it’s encouraging to watch star Matthew McConaughey dig his teeth into something positively evil like the character of Joe Cooper. A cop drenched in Texas swagger, Joe is a man you wouldn’t want to cross, yet he carries a seductive, strangely respectful aura about him that’s almost appealing. It’s a tremendously controlled and creepy performance from the actor, matching the intensity of director William Friedkin, who summons a humid atmosphere of desperation and humiliation for “Killer Joe,” a ripe, captivatingly repellent picture that challenges its cast with stark portrayals of stupidity and intimidation, roasting in the Dallas heat. It’s a punishing viewing experience, but a uniquely vile sit that rewards the brave with exemplary technical credits, a sure pace in the early going, and the sight of McConaughey reacquainting himself with excellence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Premium Rush


The rush in “Premium Rush” only arrives in short bursts, often after lengthy offerings of exposition I doubt most ticket buyers will care about. A chase film that consistently torpedoes its momentum, the picture is frustrating sit, finding co-writer/director David Koepp insisting on a story that matches the intensity of the pursuit. He fails to find one, though “Premium Rush” is determined to deliver on characterization despite a premise that works just fine focusing on the heat of the moment, supported by a marvelous display of bicycle stunts and streetwise navigation that’s depicted with the utmost urgency. Koepp doesn’t trust the basics of the hunt, bending over backwards to paste a soul on a simplistic machine of suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Thunderstruck


It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since the release of “Like Mike,” leaving “Thunderstruck” ample room to pick up where the teen-centric sports fantasy left off. However, while “Like Mike” at least made a faint attempt to conjure curiosity concerning the iffy magic dust it was spreading, “Thunderstruck” doesn’t even attempt to pinpoint its basketball enchantment. It’s a peculiar creative choice in an otherwise bland, feebly acted comedy, concentrating more on laughs and half-realized messages of adolescent responsibility than solidifying a truly bizarre premise, at least to a point where it appears as though the production actually cared about telling a coherent story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cosmopolis


“Cosmopolis” requires viewers to set aside their every thought, perhaps every motor function too, and focus on the enormous exchanges of knotted dialogue launched between comatose characters. There’s no possible way to appreciate the movie in a half-hearted manner, yet writer/director David Cronenberg isn’t exactly inviting outside interest in this polarizing work. With its stretches of byzantine conversations, bloodless characterizations, and inert thematic push, “Cosmopolis” is a rare miscarriage from the always exciting filmmaker. Cronenberg seems like he has something specific, possibly devilishly satiric in mind, but his screen instincts are numb, constructing a feature that lurches from scene to scene, convinced it possesses a wicked intellectualism it rarely finds the energy to display. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hit and Run


A great car chase movie should inspire the viewer to leap out of the theater when the end credits hit, sprint through the parking lot, dive into their automobile, and burn rubber back home, dodging imaginary bad guys on the way. It should trigger a dormant recklessness that’s frowned upon in daily life, creating a surge of pedal-to-the-metal daydreams. “Hit and Run” doesn’t bring out four-wheeled fantasies. It actually encourages a great deal of boredom as it lumbers from scene to scene, placing its emphasis on a troubled relationship between two insipid individuals, while the “Run” of the title is a rare occurrence, making more of a cameo appearance as writer/co-director/star Dax Shepard provides more screen time to dreary drama than an electric pursuit element most will be itching to dig into. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Awakening


There has been a rash of supernatural stories with period settings in recent years, with “The Woman in Black” a box office smash just this last February. “The Awakening” contains familiar working parts, carrying a somber tone of torment in a secluded English setting, and while the material doesn’t win points for originality, co-writer/director Nick Murphy captures an immersive atmosphere of frights and paranoia, creating a ghost story with a nice kick and deeply felt emotions. The surface details suggest a banal return to a formulaic haunting, yet “The Awakening,” while imperfect, captures an intensity of gradually eroding conviction that carries the iffy material all the way to the intriguing head-scratcher of an ending. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Nutty Professor


After the one-two-three punch of "The Distinguished Gentleman," "Beverly Hills Cop III," and "Vampire in Brooklyn," there was legitimate concern in 1996 that Eddie Murphy had lost his big screen mojo. After 15 years of solid entertainment, Murphy was low on creative gas, requiring material that would allow him to shine brightly in a brash manner audiences had grown accustomed to. Remaking Jerry Lewis's 1963 smash "The Nutty Professor" was the boost the comedy legend needed at the time, triggering enormous box office returns while renewing faith in Murphy's abilities to charm with comedic chaos. The movie restored his marquee value, though it did so by emphasizing a crude imagination and a fondness for bodily function humor, often caught playing all the way to the back row to keep the energy of the lukewarm update zooming along. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Step Up

STEP UP lift

In the mid-2000s, dance movies became all the rage in Hollywood, boosted by the surprising box office performance of 2003's "Honey" and the out-of-nowhere success of 2004's "You Got Served." Bringing hip-hop dancing to the masses, while offering studios low-budget entertainment to exploit, the films took flight, creating a profitable string of dramatically flabby efforts that bewitched younger audiences in the mood for flashy body movement and corny plots typically involving young thugs reaching their potential on the dance floor. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Expendables 2


I was a great admirer of Sylvester Stallone’s “The Expendables,” released two years ago. A brutal throwback to the sweat-stained, no-nonsense actioners of the 1980s, the picture was undeniably rough around the edges, yet contained a slick appreciation for genre necessities and broheim comfort. After its unexpected box office success, we’re now faced with “The Expendables 2,” a crisp sequel that employs a great deal of hindsight to move ahead as a possible franchise. Stripped of Stallone’s tendency to ramble, the follow-up is a more traditional bruiser, barreling forward with waves of violence, self-aware humor, and a rowdy supporting cast pieced together out of newcomers, B-actors, and martial art icons. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Odd Life of Timothy Green


“The Odd Life of Timothy Green” forces an enormous amount of whimsy down the throat of its audience in the early moments of the picture, though it doesn’t take very long to develop a taste for the sweet stuff. Heartfelt and genuinely magical, this Disney release is perfect for a family moviegoing outing, touching on themes of parenthood for adults, while kids will likely be charmed by the mysteries presented. A touching fable, “Odd Life” benefits from an eager cast and a unique sensitivity, finding a comfortable, endearing position between a bizarre premise and its enthusiastic execution. Read the rest at

Film Review - ParaNorman


Those used to the animated movie routine of princesses and anthropomorphized animals might find themselves shocked by “ParaNorman.” A macabre adventure that pays tribute to zombie cinema while working out its own scares and iffy stabs at irreverence, the picture is a stunningly animated effort carrying unexpected bite, taking its horror reverence seriously with a ghoulish tale of a community haunting that’s occasionally broken up by traditional cartoon shenanigans. Those tuned into the screen tributes and surprisingly severity of the story will enjoy themselves immensely. Others would be well advised to pay attention to the PG rating, as “ParaNorman” creeps into a few dark corners that aren’t solved with musical numbers or tears. Read the rest at

Film Review - Searching for Sugar Man


In 1970, an album titled “Cold Fact” was released in America. A product of a Detroit-based man known only as Rodriguez, “Cold Fact” (and its single “Sugar Man”) went out into the world with an expectation of success, wowing those in the industry who were knocked flat by Rodriguez’s skills as a songwriter and performer, revitalizing the folk rock genre. The record flopped in the U.S., as did a second effort, 1971’s “Coming From Reality,” leaving the artist without a future in the industry, joining the ranks of millions who tried and failed to make a career out of music. And then it all came to a horrible end in later years, when Rodriguez, after a particularly painful gig, put a gun to his head and killed himself on stage. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sparkle


“Sparkle” is a film that should’ve snapped together beautifully. Boasting a promising director in Salim Akil (“Jumping the Broom”), an earnest performance from star Jordin Sparks, and period setting drenched in the miracle of the Motown sound, the feature is also a remake of a 1976 Joel Schumacher-scripted cult hit, which came to inspire the Broadway hit “Dreamgirls.” The material is there for the taking, but “Sparkle” is a disaster, choked out by some of the worst displays of botched screen storytelling I’ve seen in some time. It’s a heartbreaker, especially with all this talent waiting to pounce on the electricity of the premise, not to mention the final screen appearance of Whitney Houston, who passed away in February. Instead of a celebration of music, the movie is a tonal wreck. Read the rest at

Film Review - Twixt


After the release of 1997’s “The Rainmaker,” legendary director Francis Ford Coppola retreated into his folds of own mind, giving up the Hollywood filmmaking routine to construct personal stories and indulge visual kinks. After “Youth Without Youth” and “Tetro,” Coppola returns with “Twixt,” a bizarre mosaic of grief, mystery, murder, creativity, and vampirism, unleashed inside a low-budget dreamscape that shows little interest in storytelling lucidity. It’s an interesting shotgun blast of ideas and moods from the filmmaker, and while it doesn’t braid together as evenly as Coppola might’ve hoped, the picture maintains a full punch of atmosphere, while giving star Val Kilmer something substantial to play after years of making moronic actioners with 50 Cent. Read the rest at

Film Review - Celeste & Jesse Forever


“Celeste & Jesse Forever” is an independent production about a marriage in crisis. It’s not the most original concept, but the script attempts to disrupt the norm by greeting the heartache after the domestic divide. It’s the post-marriage movie about marriage, endeavoring to find a sincere take on separation while it stumbles through hoary scenarios and jokes. Although it means well enough, “Celeste & Jesse Forever” is cold to the touch, too exaggerated and fussy to register as meaningful, while laboring through two shallow performances by Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, who come across as more of a dysfunctional improvisation duo than a plausibly aching couple. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bindlestiffs


“Bindlestiffs” is a backyard production from young filmmaking novices that lucked into a distribution deal when Kevin Smith took a shine to the picture’s juvenile hostilities and no-budget aspirations. It’s a heartening story of Hollywood discovery that every indie production dreams of, yet the pixie dust seems wasted on “Bindlestiffs,” a motor-mouthed, overshot gross-out comedy that suggests a larger satire in play, but who could find such stimulation buried under layers of cheap jokes, amateurish performances, and camerawork that’s on par with the average YouTube cell phone video. A few punchy moments are detected through the creative smog, but laughs are a rare occurrence in this labored lark. Read the rest at