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October 2012

Film Review - This Must Be the Place


“This Must Be the Place” is a densely atmospheric feature and oddly evocative travelogue of America. It’s a movie with an enticing set-up and a wonderfully committed performance from star Sean Penn, but it always strains to resist obvious directions, preferring to take an esoteric journey into soul of a confused man finally reaching maturity well into his middle-age. It’s a gorgeous film with endlessly fascinating cinematography, but for a two-hour sit, the plot doesn’t add up to much in the end, almost getting in the way of co-writer/director Paolo Sorrentino and his quest to make the oddest road picture/revenge story around. He succeeds for much of “This Must Be the Place,” but it’s not an effort that lingers long after it concludes. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Loneliest Planet


Julia Loktev’s “The Loneliest Planet” continues the traditional of observational cinema revived over the last decade by Gus Van Sant, who experimented with screen stillness and improvisational dialogue in pictures such as “Gerry” and “Elephant.” “The Loneliest Planet” elects a travelogue route for its inspection of common behaviors and emotional wounds, trekking across the wilds of Georgia to soak up the natural beauty of the land as the characters work out some intense personal issues. It’s 110 minutes of hiking, subtitle-free conversations, and extended shots of stars Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal looking bored and concerned. For some, the interpretational opportunities of the production will be salivatory. For others, the relentless indulgence of the piece will feel like a trip where no one bothered to pack a map. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Broadway: The American Musical


"Broadway: The American Musical" is a 2004 PBS series that endeavors to compact a history of musical theater into a documentary that's a mere six hours in length. It's quite a task considering the extensive list of productions that have graced the heavily lit area, a few hanging around for years after opening. Director Michael Kantor is ambitious, but delightfully so, displaying unexpected confidence with his assembly of industry highs and lows, using his secret weapon, host Julie Andrews, to distract from a few gaps in the timeline. It's a colorful, tightly edited series with a healthy sense of humor, a dash of backstage venom, and a jubilant sense of Broadway expansion, bringing viewers into the thick of the creativity that fuels these big shows, using interviews with key industry players to carry the narrative along. Read the rest at

Film Review - Silent Hill: Revelation


Since 2009, there have been four “Paranormal Activity” pictures. The last “Silent Hill” movie came out in 2006, which is practically a century in horror film franchise years. Genre fans have short attention spans, making the delayed appearance of “Silent Hill: Revelation” a real curiosity, especially after the original feature didn’t scare up much business at the box office. Perhaps a faded memory of prior adventures is best for this soggy sequel, as writer/director Michael J. Bassett (“Solomon Kane”) shamelessly retcons the material to his liking, making the effort’s tenuous connections to the earlier work seem downright silly. Instead of starting from scratch, “Revelation” hopes to maintain the previously set course, only to alter the very elements that once defined the premise. Read the rest a

Film Review - A Fantasic Fear of Everything


“A Fantastic Fear of Everything” is an acquired taste, submitting such an itchy, darkly comic atmosphere that’s utterly guaranteed to energize those in step with its madness, while others will find the enterprise an overly mannered grind to get through. It’s polarizing work that carries immense creativity and sharp sense of humor, burrowing into the spinning mind of a destructively phobic man during an intense period of suspicion. Thankfully, star Simon Pegg is up for the challenge, bringing to the screen a truly scattered character who’s hilariously bound by his fears, articulated with all the spasms and pauses the actor is particularly skilled at delivering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cloud Atlas


Ambitious doesn’t even begin to describe “Cloud Atlas,” which marks the first collaboration between Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. Powerhouse screen visionaries, the trio find an unusual harmony for their mighty endeavor, providing a smooth melt of specialized sensibilities as they tackle an adaptation of an “unfilmable” novel by author David Mitchell. Overlong yet undeniably powerful and inventively arranged, “Cloud Atlas” demands viewers permit the creative team a chance to make their case. They take their time but come armed with exquisite production achievements and a byzantine story that actually manages to find a satisfying conclusion, despite a complex, borderline unintelligible first half that all but promises an oncoming narrative disaster. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fun Size

FUN SIZE Jane Levy Victoria Justice

A Halloween-themed picture without gloom, doom, and a rising body count? “Fun Size” is the alternative to the holiday’s dark cinematic offerings, pursing a farcical tone of teenage hijinks with an unexpectedly PG-13 edge, giving those unable to sneak into R-rated options something to see. Although hobbled by some ill-advised detours into bathroom humor and a few miscast adult characters, “Fun Size” reveals a surprisingly firm grip on silly behavior, bringing a generous sense of humor to an otherwise ho-hum story of adolescent panic and flirtation. The feature gets a little odd a times, a tonal choice that does a fine job airing out the staleness of the script. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sleep Tight


Having attained enormous creative and financial success with the “Rec” pictures with partner Paco Plaza, director Jaume Balaguero returns to individual duty with “Sleep Tight,” though his sense of disturbing behavior hasn’t been exhausted. A creepy suspense film with a handful of decent twists and a supreme grasp on unsavory behavior, Balaguero passes on shock jumps for a snowballing atmosphere of threat, generating superb chills for those who enjoy a slower drip of danger to their scary stuff. “Sleep Tight” lacks transparent thrills, but its dedication to psychological disease and escalating panic results in a tremendously satisfying feature, low-key but splendidly sinister. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chasing Mavericks


Like a surfer battling a particularly violent wave, “Chasing Mavericks” struggles to keep its head above water. Based on the life of Jay Moriarity, the picture has a strong biographical feel that keeps it compelling, backed by incredible surf footage and two engaged performances from stars Jonny Weston and Gerard Butler. However, the screenplay by Kario Salem doesn’t trust the purity of brotherhood and the natural challenges of the ocean to fill out the work, bringing in bullies and assorted melodrama to secure an emotional response that’s best earned free of overt manipulation. “Chasing Mavericks” is a gentle effort with modest thematic goals, and while it’s compellingly made, its spirit is diluted by dreadful formula. Read the rest at

Film Review - Smashed

SMASHED Mary Elizabeth Winstead

“Smashed” represents something of a coming out party for its star, Mary Elizabeth Winstead. In the business for the last 15 years, Winstead has rarely found a role that’s supplied a full reach for her gifts, recently seen slumbering through the pre-sequel “The Thing,” while used as decoration in pictures such as “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” Although it’s not the easiest movie to digest, “Smashed” finally brings the actress into view, delivering an interestingly chaotic interpretation of an alcoholic finally coming to terms with her path of destruction. She’s marvelous in this small but effective drama, sweetened a touch by darkly comic flavorings. Read the rest at

Film Review - Simon and the Oaks


“Simon and the Oaks” make a curious choice to be a WWII drama without much in the way of wartime suffering. Eschewing grand displays of European misery to keep confrontations intimate, the feature is an unexpectedly bitter effort, surveying the erosion of domestic protection as a situation of parenting assistance turns into a colossal shift in a household dynamic. This Swedish picture, based on the best seller by Marianne Fredriksson, is surprising but also frustrating, especially when larger ideas on musical liberation and environmental connection are lost to the melodrama, resulting in an intermittently powerful, yet vaguely detailed film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Silver Linings Playbook


Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

There’s only one filmmaker nutty enough to tackle the manic highs and lows of “Silver Linings Playbook,” and that’s David O. Russell. Rocketing forward after his last picture, 2010’s “The Fighter,” was showered with box office success and Oscar gold, Russell cooks up another vibrant spectacle of bad behavior and personal triumph, only instead of boxers and drug abuse, this material covers mental illness and a profound fear of pills. A slyly hilarious, refreshingly vulnerable dramedy, “Silver Linings Playbook” is a feature of constant surprise. And when Russell calls on cliché to dig out an ending, he does so with extraordinary skill and euphoric cinematic energy. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Late Quartet


Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

Like any great film about music, “A Late Quartet” is hardly about music. A searing drama about the disintegration of a triumphant string quartet, the picture merely uses gorgeous chamber orchestra sounds as a method to express pain and frustration when the characters are unable to speak for themselves. Although it deals with an exclusive world of exceptional talent, screenwriters Seth Grossman and Yaron Zilberman (who also directs) keep matters accessible with subplots that detail mighty betrayals and domestic erosion. It’s a powerful feature, outstandingly acted and pleasingly measured, employing a sense of refinement to better emphasize the numerous violations and disappointments that litter the story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Not Fade Away


Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

At its best, “Not Fade Away” is a phenomenal time machine, whisking viewers back to a time where music could honestly change the world, or at least America, where the kids were starving for a radical new direction in rock and roll. It’s a shame writer/director David Chase, the illustrious creator of “The Sopranos,” has done so little with the dramatic potential of the piece. While the details feel sufficiently lived-in, “Not Fade Away” is a weightless viewing experience with little in the way of riveting conflict and hypnotic musicianship. It’s a mute button movie, with the textures of the production worth all the attention Chase pays to them, while the rest of the effort slides around in a fog, waiting for inspiration that never arrives. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paranormal Activity 4


Being a prequel and somewhat inventive with its scares, “Paranormal Activity 3” managed to cut a small hole in the wall of illogical nonsense that’s been erected around this franchise, letting a little light into the darkness. Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost did a fine job boosting the cheap thrills of the series, but couldn’t outright reinvent the formula, leaving the third picture slightly more interesting than the two that preceded it, but still missing a heroic sense of purpose. Returning a year later for “Paranormal Activity 4,” the filmmakers stumble in their quest to push the story forward, sticking closely to the unchecked stupidity that forms the foundation of this demonic saga, while encouraging the absurd scare tactics audiences appear to value more than any pass at suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nobody Walks

NOBODY WALKS Olivia Thirlby

“Nobody Walks” pays specific attention to sensuality, with a certain rise of sexuality viewed through acts of flirtation, food preparation, and sound recording. It’s rare to find a movie devoted to the art of eroticism, though I wish “Nobody Walks” was a picture that deserved an audience, with something more to offer outside of the occasional moment of striking intimacy. A dull, flatly arranged offering of cinematic navel-gazing, the feature refuses form to wallow in the frustrations of desire, feeling aimless as it makes time for unhappy people forced to deal with easily avoidable interpersonal discomfort. A few scenes hint at the potential of the piece, while the rest of the effort seems more interested in curling up for a nap. Read the rest at

Film Review - Quartet

QUARTET Maggie Smith

Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

It’s nearly impossible to fathom that after 50 years of acting, Dustin Hoffman is only now hunting down a directorial career. It’s about time for the legendary performer, who brings a sublime sense of human need to “Quartet,” while permitting a team of premiere actors an opportunity to investigate emotional highs and lows in their own unique ways, resulting in a stunningly acted picture. There’s also a profound love for the performing arts flowing through the effort, taking a few moments to stand in the presence of greatness. While certainly aimed as an audience-pleaser, “Quartet” earns its friendliness, trusting in the power of performance to communicate troubling and euphoric matters with exceptional nuance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alex Cross

ALEX CROSS Tyler Perry

On his own, director Rob Cohen is responsible for movies such as “Stealth,” “The Skulls,” “XXX,” and “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.” On his own, star Tyler Perry is responsible for “Madea’s Witness Protection,” “Madea’s Big Happy Family,” “Madea Goes to Jail,” and “Madea’s Family Reunion.” To the financier who decided to pair these two up for “Alex Cross,” I ask, are you crazy? It doesn’t take a genius to comprehend that two dreadful forces of filmmaking are going to manufacture an abysmal film, and “Alex Cross” is an exceptionally rancid feature. When it’s not being completely idiotic, it’s frightfully tasteless, with both Perry and Cohen making sure the entertainment factor is thoroughly sucked out of this ludicrous thriller. Read the rest at