Previous month:
December 2012
Next month:
February 2013

January 2013

Film Review - Stand Up Guys


The teaming of Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, and Alan Arkin seems like a can’t-miss proposition, offering the screen legends a premise that allows for light comedy and heavy emotion, making the most out of this rare moviemaking event. And yet “Stand Up Guys” is the opposite of inspiring, wasting the talent on a dreary collection of random adventures and unimaginative tomfoolery, hoping the sheer radiation of ability is enough to fog the fact that the script never decides what it really wants to be. Mostly baffling with a handful of bright moments, “Stand Up Guys” is a bust that doesn’t know when to quit. In fact, it doesn’t really know when to start either. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sellebrity

SELLEBRITY Britney Spears

With a documentary like “Sellebrity,” sympathy is in short supply. Photographer Kevin Mazur, notable for his front-line access to famous folks during red carpet events, endeavors to fashion a statement of unease and outrage when it comes to the Wild West world of tabloid photography, creating a portrait of anarchy to emphasize the divide between self-promotion and exploitation. However, when dealing with unshowered paparazzi types hunkered down on greasy street corners and immaculate interviewees captured in their palatial homes, it’s a lose-lose situation of sensitivity. “Sellebrity” is a numbing viewing experience that’s oddly constructed and a touch too sanctimonious to take seriously, eventually coming to blame the viewer for the ills of the tabloid industry, despite Mazur feeding into the same diseased hype with this cinematic effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Girls Against Boys


Feminism meets exploitation in Austin Chick’s “Girls Against Boys,” a particularly nasty revenge feature that attempts to explore a rattled psychological space as it indulges in murders and a few grisly acts of vengeance. It’s not particularly consistent or profound work from the “XX/XY” filmmaker, but the effort has a certain style that holds interest, scored to a throbbing range of soundtrack cuts that provide an electronic pulse to otherwise banal events. Sure to divide audiences with its fuzzy math and swing of the intellectual wiffle ball bat, “Girls Against Boys” is best appreciated as a sensorial experience, with the script successfully brushing against raw nerve endings of sympathy and rage. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - White Men Can't Jump

WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP Wesley Snipes Woody Harrelson

"White Men Can't Jump" is a lively movie, almost to a fault. Blessed with a provocative title, perfect theatrical release timing, and a commitment to the mischief of men conducting business on street basketball courts, the feature made a sizable impression when it was released in 1992, pulling in unexpectedly hearty box office returns while hinting at a bright screen future for the pairing of Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes. Audiences responded to the material's slack broheim attitude and attention to sporting detail, while its improvisational loquaciousness caught many off-guard, generating a rowdy atmosphere of put-downs and double-crosses, soaked in a distinctly urban Los Angeles atmosphere of desperation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Gamera the Brave


I'm sorry to report that my education in all things Gamera is sorely lacking. My only exposure to the longstanding film series (which kicked off in 1965) was though UHF viewings as a child, a time where the thrill of giant monster battle finds its greatest appreciation. And there's the exquisite tomfoolery of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the brilliant cinema-roasting show that poked fun at five of the "Gamera" movies, exposing the inherent weirdness and shrillness of the franchise with a sublime sense of humor. "Gamera the Brave" is a 2006 revival of the character, which alternates between a celebration of the magic turtle's heroic exploits and a reboot of his cash machine potential, aiming the production squarely at younger audiences to secure future interest. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters


Now here’s a film with incredible promise, introducing itself as an irreverent horror-comedy with profound interest in pantsing fairy tales and splashing around in thick gobs of gore. “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” aspires to be cheeky entertainment, sold with a wink and a fist to the face (helping out its 3D presentation), with plenty of ghouls, trolls, and horrible humans to populate a carnival atmosphere of genre delights. However, despite a colorful presentation, the movie fails to raise much hell, insisting on a flat tone of tedious storytelling when all anyone really wants to see are the titular heroes continuously slaughtering broom-riding she-devils, sprinting across this askew fantasyland on the hunt to save humanity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Movie 43

MOVIE 43 Terrence Howard

I have no idea what the title “Movie 43” means, but I do know what the picture is about. A series of sketches and commercials barely tied together with a flimsy wraparound story, the collection is intended to show off the zanier side of normally sedate talent, pushing Oscar-winners and more dramatically inclined thespians into taboo-smashing blasts of comedy, also making room for a few actors specifically known for their crudeness a chance to join the party. Stacked high with famous faces while the material is primarily bottom-of-the-barrel muck unfit for feature-length investigation, “Movie 43” looks to enchant with a proud parade of shock value, asking ticket buyers to delight in ugliness in the name of good fun. If this is “Movie 43,” I’d hate to see the previous 42 attempts at pronounced stupidity the production didn’t want to release. Read the rest at

Film Review - Parker

PARKER Jennifer Lopez

“Parker” feels like a three-hour movie that was whittled down to two hours due to test screening complaints. As a story, it’s all over the place, whipping around last names and refusing any deeper inspection of motivation. As a bruising offering of crime film entertainment, “Parker” is more successful, staging compelling heists and mano-a-mano contests of strength. The entire production fails to gel into a cohesive whole, yet parts of the picture remain agreeably distracting, while stars Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez deliver what they’ve been paid for, adding brawn and sex appeal when needed. It’s a messy effort with plot holes galore, yet director Taylor Hackford manages to convince with the essential elements. Just don’t think about the details too hard. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kon-Tiki

KON TIKI Still 2

Man vs. the elements is a common theme in moviemaking, allowing for an appealing sense of ruggedness and oneness with nature that instantly lends itself to movements of high adventure and the euphoria of personal discovery. “Kon-Tiki” accepts the genre challenge with an incredible story of survival and scientific craving to help power its cinematic urgency, delivering genuine awe as it details the unwavering curiosity of Thor Heyerdahl and his amazing trip from Peru to the Polynesian Islands in 1947. Rich with character and heavy with ocean-based peril, “Kon-Tiki” is unexpectedly exciting and refreshingly human, retaining a searing sting of heartache and doubt as it manufactures eye-popping moments of near-death experiences and the strange tranquility of total isolation. Read the rest at

Film Review - John Dies at the End


The title “John Dies at the End” is a clever one, at least before the film begins, promising a cheeky viewing experience with a boldly spoilerific title that presents quite a challenge to the production, tasked with keeping surprises when the very name of the effort gives away the twist. It’s quickly established that “John Dies at the End” isn’t going to be about a character named John, which is the first of many disappointments contained within the movie. I suppose one isn’t supposed take the picture so literally, but when the jokes are leaden, the fantasy mangled by cut-rate visual effects, and the performances rooted in sarcasm, there should be something here worth getting excited about, even if it is just a mischievous title. Read the rest at

Film Review - Knife Fight


“Knife Fight” often doesn’t know what type of film it wants to be. Attempting to braid together political sincerity, political satire, and a human element of guilt, the feature advances unevenly, stuck trying to make sense of its erratic tone. While an ambitious effort to expose the concentrated fraud of the campaigning process and all its collateral damage, “Knife Fight” is a decent editor and a rewrite away from being a passable statement of disgust. In its current form, the movie is a mixed bag, offering a few winning performances and moments of revelation, while the rest scatters aimlessly, in search of structure director Bill Guttentag doesn’t provide. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Downton Abbey: Season 3


Returning American network shows have the benefit of a summer hiatus, typically three quick months set aside for producers to get their act together and map out a creative battle plan that will carry over 20+ hours of television. "Downton Abbey" elects the opposite route, securing nine-month-long absences between seasons, creating a voracious appetite among superfans for all things Crawley. The extended period allowed for anticipation is incredibly brave, especially now with the program a permanent fixture of message boards, award shows, magazine articles, and personal diaries, creating an intimate universe of admiration and expectation that's turned the series into a smash where most efforts fail miserably. Emerging from the erratic but undeniably attractive second season, "Downton Abbey" picks up the baton for another round of heartache, frustration, humiliation, and doubt, sprinting ahead with a robust third series that corrects many of the minor, heartburn-inducing mistakes that ate away at the previous season, while establishing a bold new realm of mortality that's sure to keep the faithful at the edge of their seats, possibly hurling pillows at the screen in disgust. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Angry Boys

Angry Boys Chris Lilley

Having only a fringe comprehension of actor/creator Chris Lilley and his fondness for the mockumentary genre (explored in "Summer Heights High" and "We Can Be Heroes"), I was surprised by much of his latest effort, "Angry Boys." Billed as a comedy, the series is actually anything but at times, refusing opportunities for humor to take the entire enterprise with the utmost seriousness, as though Lilley was aiming for respectability with his well-rehearsed sideshow act, trying to breathe life into caricatures that he barely has a handle on. While his improvisational breathlessness is something to behold, Lilley doesn't have much to say with "Angry Boys" outside of some mild satire directed at the fragility of emotionally stunted men. The rest is a blend of profanity, touches of blackface and yellowface, anti-gay slurs, urine and semen jokes, and wild tonal swings that render the show a real patience-tester at times, watching the star feel around in the dark for a narrative direction that he's never able to find. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mama

MAMA Jessica Chastain

It’s important to take Guillermo del Toro’s executive producer credit seriously, as “Mama” bears all the signs of his previous work. It’s a ghost tale with an almost storybook atmosphere, despite its search for forbidding areas of confrontation between the unaware and the undead. It’s spooky and weird enough to work, with a knockout resolution that maintains the story’s integrity -- the cinematic equivalent of finding a four-leaf clover. Sure, flaws are readily apparent and length is an issue, but “Mama” is after a retro atmosphere of spookiness, trusting in the art of unease. It’s skillfully made and manages to provide the willies with only a few cheap shocks, making the movie something of an anomaly in a genre that routinely amplifies its scares and pulls its punches. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Stand

LAST STAND Arnold Schwarzenegger

It might be hard to believe, but Arnold Schwarzenegger hasn’t starred in a movie since 2003’s “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.” Sure, there have been cameos in two “Expendables” screen adventures and a weird part in 2004’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” but the once mighty action hero has laid low over the last decade, fighting different battles with a special group of villains as Governor of California. “The Last Stand” treats Schwarzenegger’s return as business as usual, dropping the star into the thick of the hunt, with only a few jokes addressing his advanced age before he’s back cracking skulls and blasting away goons. Sure, the gags could be better, the casting stronger, and the thrills continuous, but “The Last Stand” remains immensely enjoyable and occasionally freewheeling. At the very least, it’s good to have Schwarzenegger back on the screen where he belongs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Broken City

BROKEN CITY Russell Crowe

“Broken City” starts off with tremendous confidence, establishing a story that pits corrupt politicians against corrupt cops during an election season, with the future of New York City at stake. It’s Mark Wahlberg vs. Russell Crowe in a big screen battle of brawn, with director Allen Hughes creating an enticing web of lies to examine as the film unfolds. There’s promise here, and a satisfying opening act. And then the production begins to break down under the weight of its own ambition, laboring to make plot points stick and characters significant, eventually stumbling to a most unsatisfying close. In trying to super-size its suspenseful interests, “Broken City” becomes a broken record, hitting formulaic notes of fraud when the script is more convincing as a visceral study of men behaving badly. Read the rest at