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October 2012

Film Review - It's a Disaster


Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

“It’s a Disaster” features a perfectly clever premise ripe for a screen exploration interested in tonal extremes and adventurous characterizations. Filmmaker Todd Berger prefers to play this darkly comic doomsday tale somewhat on the safe side, forgoing a rigorous display of beguiling panic to poke fun at relationship woes and religious paranoia. Berger also overestimates the freshness of the plot, dragging out what appears to be a nifty short film to 90 minutes of sporadic comedy success. There’s something about “It’s a Disaster” that’s ripe with potential, but a slack atmosphere populated with overeager actors grows tiring, lessening interest in their ultimate fate. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Death Warrant

DEATH WARRANT Jean-Claude Van Damme

Excluding his recent work as the demented, Satan-worshiping villain in last summer's blockbuster, "The Expendables 2," the career of Jean-Claude Van Damme has suffered from an extensive period of stagnancy and, frankly, stupidity. 1990's "Death Warrant" is a dramatic reminder of the bruiser's rise to screen glory, starring in a kooky B-list prison picture that attempts to merge the subgenre's propensity for violence and community intimidation with a mystery of modest means, permitting the martial artist an opportunity to branch out as an actor, playing traditional fist-first beats while working on his range of reactions to uncovered clues. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stag

STAG Faison Cast

Reviewed at the 2012 Twin Cities Film Fest

“Stag” arrives in the shadow of “The Hangover,” though this tale of bachelor party shenanigans emerges from the Canadian film industry. Just how Canadian is this movie? Well, there’s a stripper, but she remains clothed for 99% of her screentime and the feature ends with a father reaffirming his love for his family. “Stag” isn’t exactly a raunchy explosion of men behaving badly, and it’s not all that funny either. True to its Canadian heritage, it’s mild stuff, hoping to come across triumphantly ill-mannered with erection jokes and the occasional curse word, missing a devilish spark that could amplify its tightly mittened tomfoolery to pleasing extremes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Atlas Shrugged: Part II - The Strike


I missed out on reviewing last year’s “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” for many reasons, with limited theater availability and a lack of personal interest my primary motivation to pass on an opportunity to screen the picture. Also a compelling reason to dodge the feature was the furor surrounding the film’s inspiration, as I knew little about author Ayn Rand outside of her basic philosophical leanings, which appear to cause a great deal of wonderful people a considerable amount of unnecessary frustration. Despite an admirable push to generate some hoopla around the release, “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” bombed at the box office and then gathered dust as a home video release. It seemed as though this “Part I” of a proposed trilogy would be as far as Rand’s most successful work would get on the big screen. However, never underestimate the power of a wealthy producer (in this case, John Aglialoro). 18 months later, and we now have “Atlas Shrugged: Part II - The Strike.” It’s time for me to bite the bullet. Read the rest at

Film Review - Smiley

SMILEY Caitlin Gerard

With the release of “Smiley,” the horror genre has reached a new low. Or perhaps a total exhaustion of malevolent possibilities is a more accurate summary of the monumental nonsense that’s intended to pass for a story, which two screenwriters have bravely taken full credit for. A ludicrous condemnation of hacktivism layered with worn out slasher clichés, “Smiley” is witless, charmless motion picture that imagines itself an ideal vessel for co-writer/director Michael J. Gallagher to purge his rudimentary ideas on the fragile state of online ethics, hoping to offer younger audiences a lesson on reckless behavior while mounting one of the most inept movies of 2012. The only thing truly scary about this terror film is that somebody paid to have it produced. Read the rest at

Film Review - Argo

ARGO Ben Affleck

If the triumph of “Gone Baby Gone” and “The Town” wasn’t enough to solidify Ben Affleck as a directorial force to be reckoned with, “Argo” is a feature that should silence even his most persistent critics. A nail-biter of the highest order, “Argo” is crackerjack mix of world politics, classic screen suspense, and knowing Hollywood ribbing, creating a strange cocktail of fact and fiction that Affleck handles with an exquisite cinematic polish. Riveting from start to finish, the effort manages to maintain a firm grip on a harrowing international incident while keeping an eye on the basic needs of dramatic tension. There aren’t many filmmakers capable of executing this style of tonal juggling anymore, and now Affleck has nailed his third consecutive attempt. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Paperboy

PAPERBOY Nicole Kidman

Before he acquired directorial legitimacy and accolades for his work on 2009’s “Precious,” helmer Lee Daniels made his debut with 2006’s “Shadowboxer,” starring Helen Mirren and Cuba Gooding Jr. It was spectacular trainwreck of a movie, inconsistent and overheated, attempting to generate a typhoon of emotions and violence without a steady creative force guiding the way. Daniels returns to this murky realm with “The Paperboy,” a feature that practically revels in its disorder. Chasing a sweat-stained sense of Floridian turmoil to buttress a thoroughly uninteresting story of murder, Daniels once again mistakes permissiveness for artistry, creating a picture that looks like it was shot on a reel of dirty underwear, developed in a mixture of spit, semen, and alcohol. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sinister

SINISTER Ethan Hawke

“Sinister” joins a growing trend of horror movies offering characters who don’t react appropriately to unequivocal proof of their own future doom, a bewildering screenwriting concept recently explored in the last three “Paranormal Activity” pictures. Genre admirers generally don’t seem to mind this gap in storytelling logic, but for those who like a little more thought put into their fright films, “Sinister” is a patience-tester with some genuinely interesting, atmospheric elements to cushion its fall. However, passage to the solid stuff is blocked by brazenly cheap scares, a hazy monster mythos, unreasonably idiotic characters, and excessive length, making “Sinister” an absolute chore to enjoy in full. Read the rest at

Film Review - Seven Psychopaths


I fully recognize that I was in the minority with my mixed review of 2008’s “In Bruges,” finding writer/director Martin McDonagh’s obvious cleverness overwhelmed by issues of pace and a formulaic sense of humor. The helmer has tightened his game some with “Seven Psychopaths,” though it’s another bumpy ride of black comedy and narrative wanderlust, this time supported by a wonderful cast of famous faces, who’ve arrived ready to play in McDonagh’s sandbox of graphic violence and daffy characters. “Seven Psychopaths” is uneven, but defiantly so, creating immense personality along the way, helping to absorb the randomness of the screenplay and his numerous tangents. Read the rest at

Film Review - Here Comes the Boom


After making a slew of films emphasizing his way with fall-down-go-boom comedy, star Kevin James is finally ready to make a picture where the comedic impulse is integral to the plot. Heck, it’s even titled “Here Comes the Boom,” giving James the easiest lay-up feature of his career. While there’s a triumphant physical commitment to the part, delving into the brutal realm of mixed martial arts, James’s screenplay is day-old bread, blending the “Rocky” formula with heaping helpings of “Nacho Libre,” creating an energetic visual experience throttled by a humdrum story. Indeed, James does plenty of fall-down-go-boom, but it’s wasted on a tediously conventional movie that does surprisingly little with the spectacularly strange sight of James in stampeding MMA mode. Read the rest at

Film Review - War of the Buttons


It makes sense to find producers continually working to bring Louis Pergaud’s 1912 novel, “The War of the Buttons,” to the big screen. Christophe Barratier’s French production is actually the fifth picture born from the original work, which spawned two features in 2011 alone. A tale of war that blends the innocence of youth with the realities of world conflict, “Buttons” is a seriocomic tale with ripe characterizations, opportunities for horseplay, and a piercing awareness of the evil that men do. Setting the story near the end of WWII, Barratier makes the viewing event obvious in theme and location, yet his classic Hollywood approach results in a satisfyingly glossy, endearingly acted movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - 3, 2, 1...Frankie Go Boom


A comedic farce doesn’t have to make perfect sense, but there should be something within the realm of logic fueling the insanity, grounding the effort in plausibility as fits of madness swirl around. The unfortunately titled “3, 2, 1…Frankie Go Boom” doesn’t supply a single believable moment, sprinting around a most nonsensical, contrived offering of screenwriting. It’s unbearable to sit through at times, watching decent actors flounder with intentionally ridiculous material, working themselves into a lather to serve writer/director Jordan Roberts’s clumsy sense of humor. It’s utter nonsense, but not an admirable type of tomfoolery that carries itself with an engaging creative vision. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Man Apart

MAN APART Vin Diesel

Technically, 2003's "A Man Apart" doesn't fall into the Vin Diesel career feeding frenzy that developed after the release of 2001's "The Fast and the Furious." Although issued after the monstrous "XXX," "A Man Apart" was actually shot in late 2000/early 2001, when the star was merely a curiosity with a minor hit ("Pitch Black") on his resume. However, post-production troubles kept the feature out of sight for the next two years, finally released when Diesel's brand name was red-hot and audiences were starting to question the Hollywood hype machine surrounding the growly brute. Intended to play into the actor's more dramatic interests, "A Man Apart" was marketed as a tough guy experience, emphasizing the lead's position as a thunderous force of big screen revenge, peppered with explosions and cowering villains. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - FernGully: The Last Rainforest


In the early 1990s, environmental education was beginning to take hold in both schools and pop culture, with a particular emphasis on the plight of the rainforest, largely viewed as a core problem for Mother Earth's woes. "FernGully: The Last Rainforest" emerged as a sensitive call to arms from a major movie studio (debuting two months after Disney's deeply flawed but interesting rainforest adventure, "Medicine Man"), hoping to entertain family audiences while emphasizing a harsh message of deforestation and pollution threatening to destroy the magic of the world. Read the rest at

Film Review - Taken 2

TAKEN 2 Liam Neeson

While Louis Leterrier’s “The Transporter” and “Transporter 2” were no diamonds of cinema, they were wonderfully amusing offerings of junk food, big on action and entertainment value, sold with a special Jason Statham growl. And then co-writer/producer Luc Besson handed “Transporter 3” to helmer Olivier Megaton, who cooked up a dreadful, comatose third installment, effectively killing interest in the series. Pierre Morel’s “Taken” was blissfully simplistic, focused, and served raw, using star Liam Neeson’s natural way with blunt force to fashion an absolute gem of an actioner. And now Besson has returned to his bad luck charm, calling up Megaton to guide “Taken 2,” a disappointingly flat, atrociously edited, and somewhat nasty sequel that doesn’t come close to the rapid-fire original. Read the rest at

Film Review - Frankenweenie


There’s no doubt that “Frankenweenie” is a Tim Burton film. That it’s a largely lifeless Tim Burton film is the real surprise, considering it's the man’s second shot at mastering this story. Originally brought to life by the helmer as a short in 1984 (where it was basically brushed aside by nervous Disney executives), “Frankenweenie” returns to screens nearly two decades later, this time as a stop-motion animated production, hoping to mirror the success of Burton’s similar efforts, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride.” While it’s crafted with gloriously ghoulish details and teeming with classic movie references, “Frankenweenie” shows great difficulty proving its worth as a feature-length effort, working through elements of monster rampage and scientific debate that feel more like padding than a naturally dramatic extension of the original creation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wuthering Heights


Emily Bronte’s celebrated 1847 novel has been adapted time and again by world cinema, with each production embracing the squeeze of unrequited love and the abundant atmospheric trimmings of the original work. It’s a timeless tale of obsession, yet this latest take on the material takes matters into a harsher direction of internalized agony and violent communication. It’s a lengthy picture with ambiance to spare, but it’s something to be seen, offering a rejuvenated approach to the story that dazzles with grit and grief, captured with an authentically terrifying atmospheric approach that beautifully supports the discomfort and anguish flowing through the veins of the performances. This “Wuthering Heights” is not something to be passively accepted, but deeply felt, down to the bone. Read the rest at