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December 2012

Blu-ray Review - Babes in Toyland (1961)

BABES IN TOYLAND Annette Funicello

"Babes in Toyland" represented a bold step forward for Walt Disney in 1961. His first live-action musical, the mogul proceeded carefully with the work, updated from the operetta by Victor Herbert, casting fan-favorite and loyal Mouseketeer Annette Funicello (the girl who launched an entire generation of boys into puberty) in the lead role, while filling the frame with all kinds of advanced Disney wizardry to keep audiences amazed and, at times, distracted. Experimental in nature but familiar in design, the picture is a mixed bag of delights, with the majority of its success tied to the designers and animators, who bring a surprising amount of invention to the screen, working to open up the limited stage setting Disney requested. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


2001’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” was a genuine moviemaking risk. The first chapter of an expensive, unproven trilogy, the picture carried an extraordinary level of doubt alien to most features, with the fate of a studio and the career of director Peter Jackson tied to its success. But it hit, hit huge, becoming one of the biggest movies of the noughties, while commencing a bold fantasy series that helped to redefine epic filmmaking for an entire generation. At least the Extended Cuts did. We don’t speak of the Theatrical Cuts anymore. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” marches into theaters 11 years later, only now there’s a different type of pressure on the financiers and Jackson: expectations. They be a brutal mistress, matey, yet “Journey” manages the weight with some degree of grace, making sure longtime fans are sated while urging the prequel into directions unique to this new trilogy of hobbit and dwarf travel. So bust out the elf ears, heat up a square of lembas, and pack in the pipe-weed. It’s finally time to return to Middle-earth. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wake in Fright


In 1971, “Wake in Fright” (also known as “Outback”) made its celebrated debut at the Cannes Film Festival, but it was a difficult feature, finding trouble collecting an audience in its native Australia, soon slipping into obscurity without television and home video releases to keep it fresh in the minds of movie fans. Over time, it was believed to be lost. Decades later, a print was located, polished up, and returned to glory, resulting in the reissue of powerful, frequently horrifying picture from director Ted Kotcheff, perhaps finally receiving the audience it deserves. Brutal, but in a deceptively causal manner, “Wake in Fright” submits one the sharpest depictions of Outback life I’ve come into contact with, imagining the vast land as a sun-baked prison from which there is no escape. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hyde Park on Hudson


Much of “Hyde Park on Hudson” is devoted to misdirection. With the gorgeous wilderness of the titular location, polished and primed period details, and the central casting of Bill Murray as Franklin D. Roosevelt, it’s a not a film that outwardly suggests a troubling tale is approaching. Even the marketing pushes a tone of jovial antics featuring the 32nd President of the United States. However, while the movie is playful at times, it’s primarily an unsettling tale of submission detailing affairs and humiliations, though one that’s habitually respectful to the participants. While it refuses a deep inhale of distress, “Hyde Park on Hudson” successfully undertakes a challenging story with a welcome detachment, preferring to focus on the characters, not the larger fallout from their actions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Freeloaders


Broken Lizard is no longer a brand name, it’s a warning label. “Freeloaders” arrives from Broken Lizard Industries, and while it doesn’t boast the comedy troupe’s participation beyond a few cameos and producing credits, the feature falls perfectly in line with their style of crude and clueless comedy. Although the effort is mercifully short (72 minutes long), “Freeloaders” is a lazy, unfunny film that doesn’t make an effort to dream up interesting situations and create memorable characters. A few odd touches stand out, but not for reasons that contribute to the entertainment value of the movie, finding the picture lifeless and in dire need of genuine screenwriting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Amber Alert


With found footage endeavors, we’ve seen giant monsters tearing through New York City, ghosts haunting a suburban California home, and adults getting lost in Maryland woods. Are you ready to watch one about pedophilia on Arizona freeways? “Amber Alert” is the latest entry into the DIY moviemaking sweepstakes, only this time the results are painfully amateurish, frustratingly dim-witted, and just a touch too tasteless. If the sound of child being molested and moronic lead characters endlessly bickering is your thing, perhaps the feature won’t feel like swallowing glass for 70 minutes. For everyone else, “Amber Alert” is a repetitive, dreadfully padded event, employing a real-world horror to fuel cheap shocks and a bogus dissection of moral responsibility. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Heavyweights


When "Heavyweights" opened in 1995, it bombed. It was an unsurprising fate for the feature, which was cursed with a ridiculous poster, a flaccid trailer, and a February release date, keeping the summer camp adventure away from more appreciative summer audiences. I caught the film during its initial theatrical release and was left a tad puzzled by the effort, watching the production stitch together a traditional Disney-style family film experience with an edgier comedic aim, keeping what should've been a forgettable matinee distraction interesting, dusted with a few sizable laughs. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Thunderstruck


It's hard to believe it's been a decade since the release of "Like Mike," leaving "Thunderstruck" ample room to pick up where the teen-centric sports fantasy left off. However, while "Like Mike" at least made a faint attempt to conjure curiosity concerning the iffy magic dust it was spreading, "Thunderstruck" doesn't even attempt to pinpoint its basketball enchantment. It's a peculiar creative choice in an otherwise bland, feebly acted comedy, concentrating more on laughs and half-realized messages of adolescent responsibility than solidifying a truly bizarre premise, at least to a point where it appears as though the production actually cared about telling a coherent story. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Apparition

APPARITION Ashely Greene

The trailer for "The Apparition" contained more story than the picture it was promoting. In fact, I think the trailer for "The Apparition" is actually more of a movie than "The Apparition." A wildly incoherent effort that spends most of its running time avoiding its own plot, "The Apparition" is one of those major studio releases that's so stunningly inept, it's a wonder it ever received a theatrical release, possibly finding a more appreciative audience with the no-risk Redbox crowd, allowing those with a few bucks in their pocket and heavenly B-movie patience to sit down and decode the bungled filmmaking. Perhaps there's someone out there who could possibly explain the feature to me one day. Read the rest at

Film Review - Playing for Keeps


At this point, I’m positive Gerard Butler selects his scripts by blindfolded dart throw. There’s really no other way to explain why he, and a bevy of capable actresses, could be drawn to such a shallow, predictable hodgepodge of plasticized feelings and sitcom mechanics. “Playing for Keeps” has moments where its intent as a human story of yearning and regret is visible, but it takes a considerable effort to find, forcing ticket buyers to wade through abysmal dialogue and unfortunate performances to locate a few passably endearing moments. The rest of the feature is determined to chase nonsense, with the whole thing so awkwardly orchestrated, I’m surprised director Gabriele Muccino kept his name on the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Fitzgerald Family Christmas


“The Fitzgerald Family Christmas” represents a return to the basics for writer/director/star Edward Burns, who long ago shot to fame with his indie darling, “The Brothers McMullen.” Taking supporting work in awful movies (like the recent “Alex Cross”) to support his micro-budgeted filmmaking habit, Burns looks to resuscitate a little of the old Irish-Catholic magic with his latest endeavor, which reunites him with “McMullen” stars Michael McGlone and Connie Britton. Encouraging the dysfunction is a seasonal setting, providing Burns with a fertile battlefield of sibling discontent and parental resentment, creating a prickly but inviting familial atmosphere that offers enough variation in woe to ease the script out of its occasional dalliance with clumsy melodrama. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cheerful Weather for the Wedding


A costume drama like “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding” has to have an emotional hook, some type of profound feeling that eases the rigidity of the characters and their carefully mapped banter. Mercifully, the feature has such a grip, though it’s not as tight as hoped, only just enough to register momentarily before the entire effort washes away. Charmingly acted and bravely concluded, “Cheerful Weather” entertains intermittently with its stiff-upper-lip community interplay, only truly taking command when it focuses on unspoken desires and stymied confessions, creating more of a captivating fuss with its fixation on misery over any attempt at biting wit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chasing Ice


Bring up climate change in a crowded room and a fight is likely to break out. It’s a controversial subject that raises the ire of those passionately involved with educational efforts and individuals out to dispel the notion of such a global event. Sensing an impasse on the issue, environmental photographer James Balog decided to document the shift himself, traveling to the far reaches of Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska to capture unprecedented glacier melt with a multitude of cameras, hoping to create unforgettable time-lapse shots that might convince those still wary about the climate reality facing our planet that something needs to be done. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Comic Book Confidential


Full confession: I'm not a fan of comic books. It's not my field of expertise, not a page-turning pastime that was burned into my routine as a young boy. These days, it's difficult to go without an OCD knowledge of the industry, especially as someone who spends most of the day watching comic-inspired screen entertainment, hit with all types of heroes and obscure characters boasting rich ink and paint histories only the truest of the true fan could decode. And colleagues in possession of such knowledge? Transformed into message board deities. The beauty of director Ron Mann's 1988 documentary, "Comic Book Confidential," is that it requires little homework to enjoy, creating an air of artistic accomplishment and expression without working through the suffocating details of history, hitting the viewer with brief blasts of idiosyncrasy and storytelling that provide a secure appreciation of the personalities involved with the production. Read the rest at

Film Review - Price Check

PRICE CHECK Eric Mabius Parker Posey

"Price Check" is an unassuming dark comedy that packs a decent punch. Using cover fire provided by the picture's workplace setting, with its numbing talk of stats and strategies, the screenplay is actually quite poisonous, treating the lure of temptation and casual lying with a refreshing forthrightness, unencumbered by melodrama. Guided by a fireball performance from Parker Posey, "Price Check" is uncomfortable to watch in all the good ways, finding authenticity from an ugly situation, while working through "Office Space" particulars with a sly sense of humor and an appreciation for the humiliation and anxiety of an exhaustive 9-5 life. Read the rest at