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September 2012

Blu-ray Review - Killer Klowns from Outer Space


Horror productions tend to attract the same set of elements to shape scares, typically following trends to keep box office prospects alive. 1988's "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" blazes its own trail as a weirdo fright film with a healthy sense of humor, displaying a deep sense of originality as it invents new ways to kill hapless victims. Although budgeted with mere hopes and prayers, "Killer Klowns" is one of the more striking examples of genre invention of the 1980s, with filmmakers The Chiodo Brothers (Charles, Edward, and Stephen, who accepts a credit for direction) working diligently to build this oddball alien clown invasion in full, armed with puppetry, light gore, and a sense of mischief that knowingly weaves through camp and terror, while magically maintaining a PG-13 rating. The title alone encourages immediate dismissal, but for those on the hunt for something miles away from the norm that showcases truly inspired moviemaking minds, "Killer Klowns from Outer Space" is a superb cult distraction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bait

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Despite its eventual failure, “Bait” deserves some credit for trying to pull off an insane scenario capable of reigniting the killer shark subgenre. There are moments here, albeit few and far between, where director Kimble Rendall seems like he’s found a way to make this low-budget shocker work on a limited scale, playing with claustrophobia and oddity to turn a ridiculous script into a credible machine of terror. Scares are absent and the performances are wretched, yet “Bait” deserves a participation ribbon for its willingness to take an aquatic hunt in an unexpected direction, using recent world woes to inspire a shark tale that’s poorly executed yet charmingly absurd. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Horse Whisperer


Robert Redford actively pursued the rights to Nicholas Evans's 1995 novel, "The Horse Whisperer," clearly finding an ideal fit for his own sensibilities when it comes to the exploration of rural life on film. The match of material to performer couldn't be more appropriate, finding the author's sudsy imagination and depth of detail gracefully transferred to the big screen by the iconic star, resulting in a 1998 hit that generously played up the beauty of the Midwest, the mystery of animal rehabilitation, and the lure of Redford's autumnal good looks. Read the rest at

Film Review - Resident Evil: Retribution


There’s hope in the opening ten minutes of “Resident Evil: Retribution” that writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson might to able to turn this tattered franchise around, taking a few moments to reconnect to the previous sequels through an introductory recap from our monotone heroine, Alice. For a brand name that’s prided itself on nonsensical scripting, it’s strange to watch this fifth installment take a breath to fit the puzzle pieces together, pretending the earlier pictures actually made sense, with “Retribution” hinting at an enormous refocus of priority on an actual plot. Sadly, it’s all a tease. A loud, explosive tease. Instead of storytelling bravery, “Retribution” shoves the series deeper into absurdity, continuing the quest of 2010’s “Resident Evil: Afterlife” to contort a once promising zombie stomp into a stilted, baffling 3D fireworks display. Read the rest at

Film Review - Arbitrage


Unlike many other adult dramas, “Arbitrage” doesn’t feature a single sympathetic character. It’s a slightly incomplete story of privileged people using their influence to further fraud and dodge manslaughter, manipulating those beneath them. It’s a compelling tale of reptilian behavior and escalating legal woes, best appreciated for a few fine performances and writer/director Nicholas Jarecki’s attention to merciless acts of business world survival, embodied heroically in star Richard Gere’s bravely unlikeable work. Although it never ties together as securely as it should, “Arbitrage” carries itself with a confident sense of gloom and panic, keeping the mysteries at hand persuasive despite storytelling that flames out instead of building ominously. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sleepwalk with Me


Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk with Me” began life as a stand-up comedy piece before it was quickly transformed into a National Public Radio story, a comedy album, a Broadway show, and a book. And now it’s a movie. Not bad for a charming, mildly horrifying tale of sleep disorder and a life devoted to comedy tested by the pitchfork poke of domestic routine. Bravo to the gifted Birbiglia for his ability to reinvent the material for a diverse range of formats, with each stop on the “Sleepwalk with Me” creative tour revealing newfound emotional angles while basically rehashing the same jokes. Despite its intimate origin and spasms of humor, Birbiglia’s tale of woe makes a soft, easy landing on the big screen, finding a fresh approach to slide outsiders into the comedian’s world, while longtime fans will have fun discovering unexplored corners of the sleepless saga. Read the rest at

Film Review - Side by Side


There’s a revolution going on in Hollywood today, and I doubt few outside the industry are paying any attention to it. Enter Keanu Reeves, who’s determined to explore the changing landscape of moviemaking as it switches from a photochemical film process to a digital one, taking viewers through a history of production advancements and discoveries, interviewing most of the directors who’ve already taken position on the front lines of the fight. “Side by Side” is technical, possibly only of value to true cinephiles, but it’s a vital education on the highs and lows of film vs. digital as the medium moves into an exciting new direction of creative access and picture clarity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Solomon Kane


I believe the only viewers able to extract something of substance out of “Solomon Kane” will be those already tuned into the Robert E. Howard creation, which debuted in print in 1928. While it’s not a difficult film to dissect, the grit and groans seem programmed to satisfy longtime fans, not newcomers to the wrath of a God-fearing mercenary. Unfocused and noisy, there are numerous colorless, violent movies like “Solomon Kane” these days, with the effort’s combustibility more numbing than rousing, leaving a perfectly acceptable lead performance from James Purefoy to carry the lion’s share of the picture’s appeal, and it’s a weight that’s often too much for the actor to bear. Read the rest at

Film Review - Finding Nemo 3D


While 3D rereleases (this year alone has returned “Beauty and the Beast,” “Titanic,” and “The Phantom Menace” to screens) are motivated entirely by monetary needs, I must admit it’s been enlightening to revisit titles from the recent past, providing an opportunity to reevaluate movies that didn’t exactly penetrate the first time around. Back in 2003, I had a mixed reaction to “Finding Nemo,” an unpardonable offense to some, but the movie didn’t immediately impress with its overstuffed narrative, flashes of bodily function humor, and screenwriting formula. I didn’t hate the picture, but I’ve come to understand that any raised eyebrow directed at a Pixar production (outside of the “Cars” efforts) is an offense punishable by the death penalty in some corners of the internet, leaving me to wonder how a feature I wasn’t fond of nine years ago would play today, aided by the addition of 3D. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Evan Almighty


When it comes to a question of preference between 2003's "Bruce Almighty" and 2007's "Evan Almighty," I vote a little differently than the moviegoing public. "Bruce" featured a clever idea that posited Jim Carrey as God, using heavenly powers to alter the world as his character, Bruce Nolan, saw fit. Offering the star an open field to utilize his gifts with slapstick comedy, amplified with spiritual divinity, the feature nailed an impressive tone of mischief, sustaining a pleasant run of farcical activity for at least the first half of the effort. Eventually taking itself seriously as a vessel for moral lessons and melodramatic encounters, "Bruce" fell apart, abandoning impish behavior to become a tool of inspiration, prone to preaching instead of tickling. While far from a perfect film, "Evan" at least has the sense to settle down and enjoy its cartoonish premise, stripping away labored storytelling to carry on as a cartoon with a biblical pinch, saving the heavy stuff for late in the final act. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bitch Slap


Those expecting a seamy, Vaseline-uncorked ride through exploitation cinema heaven with "Bitch Slap" might be well advised to skip this picture entirely. More of an "Austin Powers" carnival of camp with YouTube production polish, "Bitch Slap" opens with a Joseph Conrad quote and ends in a hail of bullets, leaving the midsection fairly anticlimactic and insistently silly. It's criminal to dismiss something so utterly consumed with ample feminine assets and cross-eyed ultraviolence, but the goofball pitch of this fluff grows tiresome early in the first round, rendering the picture a splendid 10-minute short film idea stretched intolerably to 105 minutes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Branded


“Branded” is a head-scratcher of the film that could only be decoded after a long sit-down with its creators, writer/directors Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Dulerayn. It’s up to these two to fully flesh out their intentions to the general public, because the movie they’ve made is borderline incomprehensible, and not in an intriguing manner that immediately encourages closer inspection. Narrated by a cow-shaped constellation and set in the “dystopian future” of 2012, “Branded” is an outrageous call to arms with its shoelaces tied together, falling flat on its face the moment it gets around to charging ahead. Its ambition is decimated by its absurdly slapdash assembly and fogged messages on the zombification of consumerism. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Words

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“The Words” is riveting, illuminating, and communicative…for about 45 minutes. It’s enough time to convince an initially hesitant ticket buyer that something interesting is afoot, with writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal gracefully exploring the mechanics of a literary career (or lack thereof), while building toward a crucial act of plagiarism that feels like it could be dissected for two movies. And then the brakes are applied in an abrupt fashion, removing the professional urgency that drives the material, turning a pleasingly straightforward story of personal corruption into a tepid cinematic confessional. “The Words” commences so convincingly, there’s hope for a climatic return to form. Alas, the picture limps to a close, more interested in playing games than burrowing as deep as possible into a spellbinding situation of fraud. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Cold Light of Day


If there’s anything positive to glean from “The Cold Light of Day,” it would have to be its use as an educational tool, teaching young film students how not to make a mid-budget action movie. Perversely amateurish and astonishingly tedious considering its mouthbreathing screen elements, the feature stumbles from scene to scene, using violence and disorder to cover the fact that the script, credited to Scott Wiper and John Petro, is a complete load of rubbish, from dialogue to plotting. While the genre typically leans toward nonsense to provide cheap thrills, “Light of Day” launches into absurdity in the opening ten minutes and never recovers. Read the rest at

Film Review - For a Good Time, Call...


“For a Good Time, Call…” is the rare movie about the phone sex trade that doesn’t treat the experience as flypaper for dysfunction, instead generating a flighty, colorful atmosphere of salacious activity to backdrop a thin but merry story of friendship. It’s rarely funny, yet it sustains a jovial mood of naughty business, supported by two vivacious performances from Ari Graynor and Lauren Anne Miller. Indecent enough to fluster prudes and warm enough to win over female audiences, “For a Good Time, Call…” is only undone by its pedestrian screenwriting, which is so slavish to formula, it comes to destroy the big screen party director Jamie Travis is fighting to maintain. Read the rest at

Film Review - V/H/S

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To its credit, “V/H/S” attempts to attack the found footage genre from a slightly different angle, taking the herky jerky antics to the realm of the anthology movie, allowing six directors to have their way with all manner of POV horror. Unfortunately, with this aesthetic comes expected elements of blurred cinematography and amateur acting, and while the irritations are broken down into blocks of 20-minute-long stories, “V/H/S” remains protracted and dramatically undernourished. While two of the tales retain a satisfying bite, the experiment as a whole is tiring and often ridiculous, spending most of its energy supporting a concept that wears out its welcome after ten minutes of exposure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Samsara


Fans of the 1992 picture “Baraka” have been waiting two decades for some type of glorious follow-up to attack screens. “Samsara” is that long-awaited continuation, once again plunging viewers into the alien landscape that is our Earth, pulling at the threads of life to acquire a sharper sense of humanity in motion as it moves toward times of destruction and, in some cases, technological immortality. It’s a mesmerizing viewing experience, returning to the battle grounds and blissful encounters of “Baraka” while expanding on themes of humanity, existence, and consumption, captured with painstakingly precise cinematography and supported by a layered selection of music. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bachelorette


While I didn’t find myself overwhelmed with the insanity of last year’s hit “Bridesmaids,” its absurd length and dramatic decline is a Caribbean vacation compared to the forced acid bath of “Bachelorette.” Shockingly unlikable and unfunny, this latest round of women behaving badly is crippled by unnecessary excess, botched characterizations, and a calculated round of 1990s nostalgia to appeal to the core demographic. Aching to be irreverent and insightful when it comes to the flattened soul of the thirtysomething party girl facing the cell clank of adulthood, “Bachelorette” would be better off as a soulless farce, not the noxious semi-melodrama it eventually becomes. It’s a movie that doesn’t know whether to hug its characters or push them off a bridge. Read the rest at