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October 2012

September 2012

Film Review - Won't Back Down


“Won’t Back Down” is such an exaggerated attempt to shed light on the failures of the public school system, it might have you rooting for illiteracy to win in the end. Nuance and some type of dramatic balance is punted away right at the top of the feature, making the next two hours a preachy, hokey bore boosted by a few sublimely devoted performances. Education is a critical topic worth a cinematic inspection, but thespian passion and good intentions do not carry a movie alone. A production like this demands a brain as big as its heart, helping viewers to understand complexity when dealing with the youth of the nation. “Won’t Back Down” merely uncorks a box of Crayons and broadly colors over the issues at hand, doing a disservice to the parents, students, and teachers who struggle with this impasse on a daily basis. Read the rest at

Film Review - Looper

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Writer/director Rian Johnson has developed a reputation for uncompromising, inventive work (with “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom”), and his latest, the sci-fi brainteaser “Looper,” is no different. While his features are intricately designed and heavily considered, Johnson’s not one to keep an eye on pace, often so enamored with screen particulars that a simple sense of forward momentum is missing, losing a primal cinematic drive to step back and admire his handiwork. “Looper” is the closest the filmmaker has come to a dazzling motion picture, toying with the conventions of the time travel subgenre to fashion his own thriller, a movie with real teeth and a working brain. Although intermittently ferocious, “Looper” doesn’t hold the viewer by the throat for two hours, showing a troubling lack of stamina the longer it develops the central conflict. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pitch Perfect


It’s difficult to believe “Pitch Perfect” was scripted by Kay Cannon, a vastly talented writer who made a name for herself working on “30 Rock,” a job that requires ingenuity, a samurai-sword-sharp sense of humor, and a mathematical understanding of screen timing. Cruelly, “Pitch Perfect” is a glorified episode of “Glee” with a “Family Guy” funny bone, bellyflop displays of improvisation, and a running joke concerning projectile vomiting. At one point, a character even slides around in the soupy stomach contents. Yeesh. Perhaps the target demographic of teenagers and music competition nuts will enjoy themselves wholeheartedly with this bothersome feature, losing themselves in the songs and fatigued silliness, yet “Pitch Perfect” is an unexpectedly lazy effort from a genuinely inspired writer, steamrolling through the world of a cappella in an uncivil manner that doesn’t inspire laughs or induce the chills that typically accompany true vocal power. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hole

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The particulars of film distribution have kept “The Hole” from American eyes for quite some time now. Originally shot in 2008 and released in Europe in 2009, the feature finally makes its way west for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, but I’m grateful regardless. The latest from director Joe Dante, “The Hole” is a modest production with a hearty sense of scare, tunneling into the psyche to find a human source of terror to compliment the monsters that occasionally pop into view during the picture. Entertaining, with a welcome sense of mischief, “The Hole” plays to Dante’s strengths, returning him to a suburban battleground where young characters face off against an unstoppable, often knee-high malevolent force. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hotel Transylvania


There’s a polar opposite difference between the gloriously elastic animation of “Hotel Transylvania” and its wretched screenplay, and it’s a heartbreaker to see such a wonderful premise torpedoed by a lack of storytelling consideration. A rare foray into spooky business for family audiences, the feature contains such promise that it seems almost impossible to screw up in a major way. Enter Adam Sandler, who brings his low-brow sense of humor to this monster mash, endeavoring to appease adults with a moldy tale of father-daughter strife, while he looks to tickle kids with bodily function humor. Although it’s a shame that “Hotel Transylvania” is so persistently crude, true disappointment emerges from the exceptional cartoon craftsmanship of the movie, which is wasted on ghastly writing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Perks of Being a Wallflower


It’s a rare event to find an author not only writing the screenplay adaptation of his own work, but directing it as well. It’s a heavy workload for Stephen Chbosky, who attempts to make the nuances of his book, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” compute on the big screen. Although gifted a trio of inspired performances from the lead actors, “Wallflower” is a muddled creation blessed with unique emotional sincerity, yet cursed with loose ends and poorly defined characters, huddled into a precious creation that might test the patience of those with a sensitivity to effusive teen melodrama. There’s enormous insight into the adolescent mind, yet Chbosky is hopelessly disorganized, creating a film of sporadic significance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bringing Up Bobby


“Bringing Up Bobby” has all the good intentions in the world to tell an honest story about separation and the lasting sting of mistakes. Writer/director Famke Janssen (the “X-Men” star making her filmmaking debut) portrays her story earnestly, massaging an arc of personal responsibility that’s kindly enough, but rarely is it ever felt down deep in this underwhelming picture. A mismanaged drama with overheated performances and a general disinterest in following through on characterizations, “Bringing Up Bobby” doesn’t provide the soulfulness it aims to share. Instead, it stumbles through scenes without a consistent tone, hoping to shape something meaningful out of its display of misguided parenting. Janssen just doesn’t have the vision to achieve it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Unconditional


There’s an enormous gust of passion blowing through “Unconditional,” though it seldom has the force to lift leaden scenes off the ground. Being a Christian production, its intention is peaceful enough, with a concentrated effort to reduce the audience to a puddle of tears through acts of goodness and confession. However, that aspiration to extract a massive amount of emotion from characters and viewers is clouded by scattered storytelling. “Unconditional” often goes out of its way to divert concentration from its most compelling subplots, trying hard to come across as an important movie on a myriad of topics. While strongly acted by stars Lynn Collins and Michael Ealy, it’s a clumsy picture that feels like it’s going to add up to more than it actually does. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The War of the Roses


After soaring together in 1984's "Romancing the Stone," and stumbling together in 1985's "The Jewel of the Nile," Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, and Danny DeVito were cautious with the selection of their next collaboration, looking to pick a project that would disturb expectations set by their previous adventures. "The War of the Roses" proved an apt left turn for the trio, with DeVito assuming directorial control over the material, looking to inject a darkly comic tone into a bitter story, building on his command of impish screen toxicity first explored in his previous production, 1987's "Throw Momma from the Train." Constructed with extraordinary confidence and exceptionally acted, "The War of the Roses" is perhaps the greatest cinematic achievement shared between the stars, dropping the high-flying dangers of jungles and deserts to partake in specialized marital warfare that utilizes relationship claustrophobia and escalating antagonism instead of explosions and plastic quips. The picture is greatly amusing, but its lasting achievement is DeVito's atmospheric authority, shaping a genuine filmmaking triumph in style and mood that deserves a standing ovation. Read the rest at

Film Review - House at the End of the Street


As Hollywood anoints Jennifer Lawrence as the Next Big Thing, there’s some unfinished business to tend to before she bathes in her “Hunger Games” franchise success or tastes Oscar glory with the upcoming “Silver Linings Playbook,” and its name is “House at the End of the Street.” Shot before her stint as Katniss in “The Hunger Games,” this B-list thriller reminds the world of more humble time for the actress, when she had to take any job that slipped into view, establishing her name with traditional genre career steps. It’s a terrible picture, but it’s hard to fault the star for its failure, as she delivers a performance best described as “embarrassed,” while the rest of the effort dissolves into an insipid bore with nearly a third of its running time devoted to an easily escapable situation. I hope Lawrence takes some time today to hug her “Catching Fire” producers for her good fortune. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dredd

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The last time we saw the character of Judge Dredd on the big screen, it was in a 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle from Disney. While interestingly designed and occasionally inspired, “Judge Dredd” was a misfire, tanking an opportunity to bring the cult comic book bruiser (first inked in 1977) to life in the manner he was originally conceived. It took time, but enterprising financiers have decided to try again with Dredd, this time sticking close to the source material to inspire a cinematic do over, shedding a Hollywood action bonanza atmosphere to go grittier, keeping the character masked and mean as he’s once again sent out to assess the wicked citizens of Mega-City One. Second time’s a charm with “Dredd,” which brings out the agony of this world and the duty of the protagonist with a welcome discomfort, hitting consistent points of futuristic fury in a supremely entertaining picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Master

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“The Master” attempts to simulate a collapse of hope brought on by tremendous trauma and acts of self-destruction. It’s the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the great filmmakers of our time, who makes a long-awaited return to screens after his last picture, 2007’s “There Will Be Blood,” barnstormed through cinemas, ending up with a few Oscars and a catchphrase that enjoyed time in the pop culture sunlight. “The Master” doesn’t share the sound and fury of “Blood,” with Anderson aiming for more spiritual matters rooted in real-world invention. Ambitious without a daredevil sensibility, this is not a feature that always commands the utmost attention, feeling a tad ponderous and unfocused at times. The creative elements are extraordinary as usual, yet there’s a palpable restraint to the material that keeps it from burrowing under the skin. “The Master” fumbles around in the dark, though it’s often an enthralling journey marked by fits of scorching passion and quaking frustration. Read the rest at

Film Review - End of Watch


“End of Watch” touches absolute brilliance with alarming inconsistency. It’s a procedural drama with a film school twist, using video cameras to dig deeper into the hardened cinematic routine of the L.A.P.D. Instead of “Cops,” where a cameraman is largely responsible for capturing criminal activity, “End of Watch” puts the video equipment into the hands of the police, creating a spirited atmosphere of intimacy to aid a tale of partnership put to the ultimate test on a daily basis. It’s an interesting concept with a trendy found-footage tilt, yet writer/director David Ayer doesn’t follow through with the possibilities. In fact, he doesn’t follow through with much of anything in this searing but problematic cop drama. Read the rest at

Film Review - Liberal Arts


Last year, writer/director/actor Josh Radnor made a small but impressive debut with “happythankyoumoreplease,” a precious title for sure, but a workably anxious creation dedicated to the collisions of life. Squeezing out a second picture between seasons at his day job, acting on the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” Radnor returns with “Liberal Arts,” a small-scale character piece that shows impressive growth in directorial confidence and screenwriting nuance. Despite its potentially formulaic collegiate setting, the helmer captures a full sense of thought and desire in work that’s undeniably human, striving to make a movie about whirring minds and anxious souls, not content to assemble a neurotic collection of intellectuals burning through literary references while swigging coffee. Read the rest at

Film Review - Trouble with the Curve


It’s rare to see an actor act their age these days, yet Clint Eastwood always seems determined to play above his years, recently drawn to cranky, senile characters, last seen on screen in 2008’s ode to senior might and lawn protection, “Gran Torino.” “Trouble with the Curve” introduces an even creakier side to Eastwood, playing an aging man facing the end of his career and his sight, while dealing with the normal irritations and blockages of old age. It’s not a comfortable watch, yet Eastwood has that irascible charm that keeps a sense of humor swirling around dark developments. The movie is lucky to have him and co-star Amy Adams, who both bring a fresh sense of life to an otherwise hokey, stale screenplay. To bring baseball terms into the review, the pair consistently hit home runs while the feature itself only manages the occasional ground rule double. Read the rest at

Film Review - 10 Years

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I must admit, I’m a sucker for the high school reunion subgenre. It inflames that primal itch to see close friends, enemies, and lovers reunited after a long absence, coming together to assess childhood hopes and adulthood realities, while surveying radical changes in body type and maturity levels. It also provides a solid foundation for ensemble work, gifting actors of various abilities brief glimpses of character to develop, while pinballing around a room of diverse personalities. “10 Years” doesn’t radically alter the basics of this type of story, yet it proceeds with caution, ignoring a grotesque display of concentrated nostalgia to explore intimacy, enjoying the process of personal discovery in a blessedly gentle manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - About Cherry


If “About Cherry” actually contained a story concerning the leading lady known as Cherry, it would be a far more enlightening picture. Instead, the movie is a drippy, incomplete effort from first-time director Stephen Elliot, who has a functional idea to drill inside the scattered mind of an aspiring adult film actress, yet he lacks the concentration required to shape these acidic experiences into a cohesive tale of panty-dropping enlightenment. The feature is all over the place, spending valuable time with vague characters and implausible personal exchanges, resulting in a muddled, inconsequential journey of a surprisingly unsympathetic character and her hazy ride to the top of the porno food chain. Read the rest at

Film Review - You May Not Kiss the Bride


I’m happy that the actors could secure themselves a lovely Hawaiian vacation with “You May Not Kiss the Bride,” but I only wish they contributed to a more substantial film. Surprisingly violent for a romantic comedy, the feature offers a broad display of slapstick and shootouts, positioning itself as a tropical adventure with a sense of humor. Without a single laugh or a convincing performance, “Kiss the Bride” ends up a South Seas home movie for key production personnel. It was probably a blast to make, but fails as an offering of big screen escapism. Read the rest at