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December 2012

November 2012

Film Review - Killing Them Softly


"Killing Them Softly" isn't your average hitman movie. It isn't your average heist picture. Heck, it's not really your average Brad Pitt starring vehicle either. Reteaming with his "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" director, Andrew Dominik, Pitt assumes another role that's cushioned by an ample amount of atmosphere, never really requiring his full participation. Stylish and bleak, "Killing Them Softly" is also profoundly political, using the basic tenets of the mob genre to comment on the financial state of the nation, where even men who've devoted their lives to murder can't make a buck these days. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Collection


I wonder how many people outside of horror genre fanatics even remember the release of 2009's "The Collector." A low-budget effort slipped into the summer moviegoing season without much fanfare, the feature only attracted a small audience before it was shipped off to home video, where I presume it found its fair share of admirers. After all, over three years later, we now have "The Collection," a sequel that takes its job of continuation seriously, despite greeting potentially hazy memories at the multiplex. Vicious, loud, and shockingly short (72 minutes long), the follow-up only manages to match the scattered highlights of its predecessor, unwilling to challenge the proven formula the production orders up for round two. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hitchcock

HITCHCOCK Anthony Hopkins

After a thorough peeling in last month's unexpectedly bitter HBO offering, "The Girl," the life and times of cinema's reigning master of suspense returns to the screen in the appropriately titled "Hitchcock." Although the mood has been considerably lightened from the cable offering, "Hitchcock" remains equally troubled when it comes to the internal workings of the filmmaker, once again wading into the vast reservoir of the man's neuroses to decode how such a distanced, manipulative pop culture figure and industry legend went about his daily business during a particularly stressful stretch of his career. The results are entertaining and capably acted, but true insight remains at arm's length, despite a feature cooking up all sorts of ghoulish visions and barely concealed jealousies. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sister

SISTER Still 1

The easy move would be to compare the drama "Sister" to the 2011 feature, "The Kid with a Bike." Both pictures invest in the thinly-veiled agony of lost youth, following two boys as they deal with parental abandonment in aggressive yet painfully insular ways. While "Bike" was more demonstrative with its fits of pain, "Sister" takes a path of misdirection, conjuring an absorbing tale of thievery on the Swiss slopes while director Ursula Meier works her way into uncomfortable areas of truth and neglect. For the most part a distant film, "Sister" supplies a full behavioral experience that's riveting at times, with lead performances by Lea Seydoux and Kacey Mottet Klein communicating isolation in bravely vulnerable ways. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Double Impact

DOUBLE IMPACT Jean Claude Van Damme Twins

While never greeted with a rapturous response befitting a world-class thespian, Jean-Claude Van Damme made a welcome impression performing in low-budget actioners that didn't tax his English language skills, focused primarily on his feats of strength and flexibility. He was a built guy with a thick accent and a wide-open face that could register fear and fury (not to mention a stupendous command of plausible confusion), and his early work benefited from that simplicity. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Crooked Arrows


"Crooked Arrows" is a film I wanted to like, came close to enjoying, but was consistently pulled away by some poor storytelling decisions. It's one of the first movies to concentrate solely on the game of lacrosse, a sport that's grown in popularity in recent years after spending centuries as a sacred activity for Native American cultures, where it's known as "The Creator's Game." It's a highly athletic, fast-paced sport that deserves a better onscreen celebration than "Crooked Arrows," which slaps around every cliché imaginable, looking to win over viewers through the comfort of familiarity. It has charm and a refreshing cultural perspective, but the predictability is often too much to bear, tanking the potential for a proper cinematic exploration of lacrosse. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hellgate


“Hellgate” comes from writer/director John Penney, the helmer responsible for the 2006 thriller, “Zyzzyx Rd,” which holds the distinction of being the lowest-grossing movie of all time. Ouch. Returning to screens with a more marketable premise and pronounceable title, Penney develops a “Ghost Whisperer” riff with “Hellgate,” showering the viewer with images of bloodied demons, overly emotive actors, and supernatural happenings, molded into a strangely lifeless tale of alternate worlds and survivor guilt. Made cheaply and formulaically, the feature’s only real asset is its Thai locations, which provide the picture with personality and atmosphere Penney doesn’t bring to the writing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Holy Motors


“Holy Motors” is a puzzler with a mischievous spirit. It’s nearly impossible to understand the overall movement of this abstract French production, but its individual scenes possess sizable power, playing with emotional speeds and film genres while always on the hunt for ways to keep the viewer guessing as to where this collection of images and sound is going to head next. It’s far from an engrossing excursion into experimental cinema, yet “Holy Motors” remains determined to chase impulses and stage fascinating moments of life, death, sex, and musical performance. It’s not always the easiest sit, but it’s frequently memorable and commendably demented. Read the rest at

Film Review - Deadfall

DEADFALL Olivia Wilde

“Deadfall” is troubling on a variety of levels, with its general ineffectiveness taking a top position of concern. Populated with troubled, violent characters who march their way through slight but intriguing emotional barriers, the feature captures a stimulating feel for a multi-character design of dysfunction. It’s director Stefan Ruzowitzky who doesn’t mastermind a stable approach, failing to juggle the subplots in a substantial manner, making the movie more about minor moments with overly agitated characters. A few striking scenes of snowscape conflict and familial discord bring appealing poison to the proceedings, but the overall viewing experience of “Deadfall” triggers substantial frustration as it winds through a bizarre string of encounters without ever stopping to figure out a fulfilling narrative direction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Red Dawn (2012)

RED DAWN Josh Hutcherson Chris Hemsworth Josh Peck

The story about the creation and release predicament behind the “Red Dawn” remake is actually quite interesting. Originally shot in 2009, the picture hit severe financial turbulence when original studio MGM teetered on bankruptcy, a dilemma that also threatened the stability of the James Bond and “The Hobbit” franchises. “Red Dawn” was made to wait while the pennies were counted and sorted, eventually sold off to a smaller distributor altogether. And then questions were raised about its invading Chinese villains. Sensing a dent in its international box office potential, the producers hastily changed the baddies to North Koreans, requiring extensive dubbing, cosmetic CGI, and a rethinking of military motivation. After a three-year wait, countless abandoned release dates, and teases of intriguing behind-the-scenes turmoil, “Red Dawn” is finally here. And now having viewed the final product, I hope the ghost of Patrick Swayze forever haunts the producers for their creative cluelessness and unapologetic mangling of a once wildly entertaining war film premise. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rise of the Guardians


“Rise of the Guardians” might appear to be another holiday-themed romp released during a special time of year when audiences are in the mood for such festive distractions. However, one only has to read the credit “Executive produced by Guillermo Del Toro” to appreciate just what type of fantasy experience the feature actually contains. With a taste for nightmarish imagery and a detailed reworking of its league of extraordinary magical figures, “Rise of the Guardians” has a harder edge than I’m sure most families will be expecting, yet this focus on adventure and concentrated evil creates an engaging movie with plenty of excitement and a true sense of character motivation, gifting the material impact when all signs point to numbing frivolity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Life of Pi

LIFE OF PI Still 2

It’s difficult to label “Life of Pi” as soulfully nourishing, but it’s frequently amazing. A 3D adaptation of Yann Martel’s celebrated 2001 novel, the picture comes to life in ways the big screen hasn’t seen in years, taking the potential of a survival film to extraordinary heights of fantasy and spiritual meditation. It’s thrilling cinema, even if director Ang Lee doesn’t quite achieve a sense of thunderous enlightenment at the end of the effort. However, this deconstruction of storytelling remains a frequently mesmerizing, exhausting sit, highlighting some of the finest technical achievements of the year. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lay the Favorite


There is a lot of talented people involved with the making of the gambling dramedy, “Lay the Favorite,” rendering the non-committal attitude of the piece rather perplexing. Despite a swirling atmosphere of degenerates and jealousy, the material doesn’t spark to life, finding director Stephen Frears strangely powerless when it comes to infusing the work with resonance and, in some cases, genuine laughs. Perhaps those already hip-deep in the world of sports betting might be able to suck out the juices of experience that gift the movie its most authentic moments, though even that level of appreciation seems like a long shot, with much of “Lay the Favorite” sluggishly trying to make sense of a story it doesn’t appear to believe in. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Dust Bowl


When a documentary from Ken Burns steps into view, certain expectations are triggered that would never apply to a routine production. Building a golden reputation with his work on "The Civil War" and "Baseball," Burns supplies a certain regality to his efforts that's blended with a sensational amount of textured information, creating unforgettable portraits of American life and conflict. "The Dust Bowl" furthers his interests in the fragility and fortitude of the country. Read the rest at

Film Review - In Their Skin


“In Their Skin” deserves some amount of credit for even attempting to root its tale of a home invasion in a psychologically troubling place of envy and obsession. It’s an open attempt to understand the headspace of the antagonists, but the effect gradually washes away the longer the feature lingers on its cast to articulate the heightened concern. Although the movie kicks off superbly with a chilling opening half that’s inventive and disquieting, the payoff indulges the worst instincts of the subgenre, forcing shallow acts of intimidation and humiliation on material that’s at its best when stewing in a mystifying atmosphere of unraveling behavior. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2


Remember last year’s “Breaking Dawn – Part 1,” where Bella and Edward got married, had violent, bed-breaking sex on their honeymoon, and conceived a daughter that werewolf pal Jacob went all humuna-humuna-humuna over shortly after her birth, pledging his eternal love to a baby? I’m sorry to report that the ludicrousness of “Part 1” doesn’t carry over to “Breaking Dawn – Part 2,” which, in its ambition to manufacture an epic conclusion to a decidedly earthbound saga, mounts an incredible amount of exposition and adds a legion of superfluous characters to reach a point of explosion it ends up mischievously undercutting as a way to keep the die-hard fans guessing to the end. The series has been mopey, uninspired, poorly acted, and dramatically inert. Now, with “Part 2,” it’s become a total cheat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lincoln

LINCOLN Daniel Day Lewis

It’s interesting to find the new film from Steven Spielberg titled “Lincoln,” when in fact it’s barely about Abraham Lincoln at all. Attempting to transform the 16th President of the United States into an angel, Spielberg loses touch with reality, making a ponderous museum piece about a deeply complex man, focusing so intently on one page of history, it makes the subject even more enigmatic. Although richly constructed with impeccable cinematic style, “Lincoln” is an airless, directionless lump of a movie that somehow makes dependably committed work from star Daniel Day-Lewis feel like an audition tape for the “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” audio-animatronic gig at Disneyland. Read the rest at

Film Review - Anna Karenina

ANNA KARENINA Keira Knightley

Over the course of his last four features, director Joe Wright has developed a cinematic style that’s been irresistible to study, creating seemingly infinite screen pleasures in efforts such as “Pride & Prejudice,” “Atonement,” “The Soloist,” and “Hanna.” Masterminding a unique creative challenge with Leo Tolstoy’s celebrated novel, “Anna Karenina,” Wright imagines another lush world of stunning cinematography, lavish costuming, and impossibly beautiful production design. However, it remains “Anna Karenina,” a tale of jealousy and tragedy that, pointed in wrong direction, generates immense discomfort with unpleasant characters and their superficial concerns. Wright brings out the big guns to press his fingerprint on a classic story, but the material is too leaden to move as spryly as a helmer intends. Read the rest at