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November 2012

Film Review - A Royal Affair


“A Royal Affair” commences much like any other costume drama, introducing woe and innocence lost with the arrival of an arranged marriage and a life lived away from the comfort of loved ones. However, instead of a mummification of emotions to portray era-specific conflicts, the feature finds a way to express deep desires and betrayals without expanding into bloated hysterics. Director Nikolaj Arcel manages to capture a sense of insanity and desire with “A Royal Affair,” while tending to all the decorative and ornately costumed staples of the genre. It’s a satisfactory offering of tension and manipulation boosted by excellent performances. Those well-versed in such tightly-corseted matters will remain one step ahead of it, but the essentials are convincing and, at times, successfully agonizing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hunky Dory


Minnie Driver has always struck me as a freshly animated, appealing actress with an interesting range and askew emotional sensitivity that’s helped her to stand out in a crowded field of competition. She hasn’t enjoyed a substantial film role in quite some time, perhaps dating back to 2003’s “Owning Mahowny,” which makes her latest movie, the English picture “Hunky Dory,” something special even if the overall effort isn’t remarkable. An amiable endeavor boasting a soundtrack of rock hits from the 1970s, “Hunky Dory” has a spark that never catches fire, leaving the bulk of its personality up to Driver and her interesting take on the often strange moods of this coming-of-age musical drama. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Comedy

COMEDY Still 3

“The Comedy” is a misleading title, especially with deadpan extraordinaire Tim Heidecker in the lead role, while regular co-conspirator Eric Wareheim pops up in the supporting cast. Those expecting something along the lines of “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” are going to be in for a rude awakening, with “The Comedy” more of a bleak character study about a specific type of person: the sweaty, bearded Brooklyn hipster. Laughs are nil in this extended staring contest, finding director Rick Alverson more consumed with exhaustive nothingness, punctuated with a few genuine scenes of behavioral study. It’s a long, painful sit that claws at interpretational ambition, but only nails the rare moment of enlightenment, wasting 90 minutes of screentime to acquire about 15 minutes worth of substance. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Love, Wedding, Marriage


Dermot Mulroney seems like a very capable filmmaking professional. As an actor, he's been involved with a few challenging, thought-provoking pictures ("Zodiac," "About Schmidt," "Longtime Companion") to help counterbalance the studio fluff ("My Best Friend's Wedding," "Big Miracle"), building a filmography that's not especially impressive, but consistently interesting, with varied performances to match. "Love, Wedding, Marriage" is Mulroney's directorial debut, which typically promises a least a modicum of creative control, spending time calling the shots, shaping a picture with a sense of purpose. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - ABBA: The Movie


I'm not exactly sure what "ABBA: The Movie" was originally intended to be when director Lasse Hallstrom first climbed aboard the production, but what he ultimately constructed out of a 10-city Australian tour in 1977 is something that not only captures the band at the peak of their popularity and musical creativity, but isolates the swirl of hysteria that greeted the group inside the one area of the world that treated their presence like a coronation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Little Bit of Heaven


Kate Hudson has become the poster girl for particularly lazy romantic comedies, spending nearly her entire career in the genre with efforts such as "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," "Something Borrowed," and "Alex & Emma." "A Little Bit of Heaven" is her most grotesque production to date, merging googly eyes with colon cancer in a stunningly tasteless picture that's made up entirely of cheap sentiment and wretched direction. Turning on her high beams of charm, Hudson tap dances madly through this movie, trying to remain as effervescent as possible with a script that does a great disservice to the trials of cancer and the game of love. Read the rest at

Film Review - Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning


Comparing 1992’s “Universal Soldier” to 2012’s “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” is impossible at this point, with the franchise far removed from its original intent, despite the continued participation of stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. The latest round in the UniSol saga (the sixth film in the tattered franchise) is its darkest yet, digging into psychosis and severe examples of violence to secure a doomsday atmosphere for the story. Co-writer/director John Hyams aims to bring a “Heart of Darkness” overlay to the proceedings, which is an inspired choice, especially for a movie series that once prided itself on summertime popcorn escapism. Now it just wants to scare the bejesus out of the audience. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bay

BAY Still 1

The found-footage experience has been a young man’s game in recent years, allowing hungry filmmakers a chance to tell a horror story on a shoestring budget, using the trendy subgenre to establish themselves. Enter Barry Levinson, the 70-year-old director of such hits as “Rain Man” and “The Natural,” who summons his years of experience and mature tastes to construct “The Bay,” a genuinely frightening production that’s easily the strongest, most plausible found-footage feature to date. Blending real-world environmental woes with a few wicked jolts of gore and public panic, Levinson cuts through the unrelenting nonsense that plagues so many of these efforts, preying on everyday fears to fashion a terror tale that slips right under the skin. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Details

DETAILS Laura Linney

“The Details” marks a return to the screen for star Tobey Maguire, who’s only been seen in two pictures since the 2007 release of “Spider-Man 3.” The feature also welcomes writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes back to filmmaking, with his absence dating all the way to 2004’s muddled drama, “Mean Creek.” This distance between productions is felt in “The Details,” with its star and helmer feeling a little rusty, attempting to conquer impossibly dark material with a semi-comedic spin, finding themselves off-balance more often than not. There are a few highlights worth a look and an accomplished supporting cast to ease the oddity along, yet “The Details” doesn’t add up to much despite its rather elaborate design of misery. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pusher

PUSHER Still 3

The opening of “Pusher” swiftly runs through a visual identification of the main players as though the audience is already familiar with this group of strippers, drug dealers, and goons. And maybe they are, with the film a remake of a 1996 Danish production that launched the career of director Nicolas Winding Refn. However, that’s unlikely, with the introductory greeting perhaps the last true understanding of character in this empty calorie viewing experience. There’s anxiety to spare with this heated story of criminal survival, yet director Luis Prieto treats the experience like a music video, with superfluous visual ornamentation getting in the way of gritty suspense. “Pusher” is a sound and light show that should have its power strip unplugged. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stolen

STOLEN Nicolas Cage

It’s easy to blame Nicolas Cage for his horrible career choices as of late, especially when so many of them seem driven primarily by monetary woes, with script quality and directorial competence secondary concerns to the lure of the almighty paycheck. However, with “Stolen,” Cage is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise offensively dopey thriller, powering through the motions with a little of the old Cage spitfire while the rest of the production relies on violence to make its blunt points. “Stolen” is junk but it’s intermittently amusing junk, best when locked in demolition derby mode, while Cage attempts to jazz up the acting by swallowing his sighs to the best of his ability. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nature Calls

NATURE CALLS Patton Oswalt

“Nature Calls” hopes to make its audience intentionally uncomfortable, but it’s the unintentional uneasiness concerning certain elements of the picture that immediately jump into view. Released during a time when accusations of pedophilia share headlines with the Boy Scouts brand name certainly doesn’t improve the feature’s comedic aspirations, while the late Patrice O’ Neal takes on an eerie supporting role, playing a frustrated father out to prove to his son that he’s not dead. Granted, filmmaker Todd Rohal can’t be blamed for the movie’s unfortunate timing, but he’s perfectly culpable for a crummy screenplay and tuneless direction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Skyfall

SKYFALL Daniel Craig

The first shot of “Skyfall” is an unfocused image of James Bond approaching the camera. It’s a disorienting view, almost alien in appearance, yet it serves a perfectly appropriate purpose for the spy series as it struts into its 50th year of existence, displaying the character as the stranger that was left at the climax of 2008’s abysmal entry, “Quantum of Solace.” As actor Daniel Craig walks into view, we finally see Bond as he should be: suave, secure, and ready for action. “Skyfall” is a glorious return to form for a franchise that’s struggled to develop its identity since its beefy star took over in 2006, feeling ready to take on traditional 007 attributes while advancing the latest Bond’s firm position as a blunt instrument in a triumphantly rock ‘em, sock ‘em big screen extravaganza. Read the rest at

Film Review - Miami Connection


Cult films are a difficult thing to force on audiences. Typically, cinematic junk needs time to cure in obscurity, developing a fringe appreciation before widespread acceptance arrives, along with all the necessary media attention. “Miami Connection” isn’t a DOA offering that’s been basting in the juices of bad moviedom for decades now, it’s a harmless, clueless 1987 Floridian production that’s been recently plucked out of obscurity, paraded around on a brief theatrical tour so film geeks and students of schlock can point and laugh at its awfulness, developing a new midnight movie secret language. There’s no doubt that “Miami Connection” is awful, but a celebratory, gut-bustin’ awful? Not exactly. In fact, you might walk away feeling sorry for the amateurs who pieced this effort together 25 years ago, with their collective mistake coming back to haunt cinemas once again, reigniting the humiliation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta


Although it seems strange to commit this thought to the page, it appears the "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" saga is improving as it motors along, now firmly ensconced in DTV mode. Please contain your eye-rolls, I'm not comparing this talking animal franchise to "The Godfather," but as a harmless family film diversion with an emphasis on good-natured adventures, mild screenwriting, and accelerated colors, the producers are heading in the right direction, reducing the scale of these efforts as they go. The original 2008 picture was all-around awful, yet the 2011 sequel and now "Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3: Viva La Fiesta" have developed a modest personality, keeping the antics on an approachable level of mischief and domestic concern, free of a theatrical release burden that once plagued the creative credits. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Christmas Story 2

CHRISTMAS STORY 2 Braeden Lemasters

It’s not as though the works of Jean Shepherd have been refused numerous radio, television, and movie interpretations over the years, but submitting a direct sequel to the holiday perennial “A Christmas Story” almost 30 years after its initial theatrical release? That seems like a foolish idea, or perhaps an act of loathsome corporate teat-yanking with a cinematic gem. Indeed, we are now faced with a follow-up to a bona fide classic, and it happens to be the most environmentally conscious feature I’ve come into contact with, unafraid to brazenly recycle anything and everything about the 1983 film, hoping to entice a new generation of Ralphie admirers. Shamelessly derivative and plasticized, “A Christmas Story 2” will only have you wondering why you’re not watching the original picture again. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Man with the Iron Fists


I’m delighted that the RZA received an opportunity to create a valentine to the fantastical kung fu films he enjoyed as a boy, a passion that’s carried throughout his entire life. However, the RZA isn’t an actor, a screenwriter, or a director, making his debut feature as a triple-threat, “The Man with the Iron Fists,” an exceedingly leaden picture, displaying a lack of finesse with seemingly obvious moviemaking elements. Glacial, stitched together with hopes and dreams, and submitting dreary action choreography and cinematography, “Iron Fists” makes plenty of lousy creative decisions as it unfolds. However, its most unpardonable sin is one of camp, treating the material with a pronounced silliness that undermines all this supposedly hardcore entertainment. Read the rest at