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February 2013

January 2013

Film Review - A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III


Charlie Sheen hasn’t starred in a motion picture since the 2003 release of “Scary Movie 3,” with years of television and, ahem, other pursuits taking up his time in the interim. One would think that Sheen would crave an opportunity to play a character unlike himself, venturing out in the great creative unknown to embody heroism or villainy, or perhaps a little bit of both in a wildly taxing film that stretches the actor to his breaking point. Instead, Sheen drops into “A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III,” a mildly surreal feature that finds the chemically obsessed one playing a chemically obsessed one, with a ferocious womanizing appetite and impish inclinations to spare. It’s not exactly a bold leap forward for Sheen, but, to his credit, he manages to survive a highly disorganized effort from fascinating helmer Roman Coppola. Read the rest at

Film Review - Amour

AMOUR still 3

Director Michael Haneke has built a career out of punishing cinema, slyly merging doomsday dramatics with a bleak sense of pace and an occasional burst of dark humor. Think of “The Piano Teacher,” “Cache,” and “Funny Games,” all powerful, sinister snippets of human behavior, but not films that demand a revisit outside of cinema education purposes. “Amour” is perhaps the least outwardly appealing effort from Haneke to date, asking viewers to watch a woman slowly succumb to the horrible effects of a stroke, while her husband carries on almost helplessly, confronted with the reality of death and separation for the first time in his life. It’s upsetting material lined with lead by Haneke, who searches for the meaning of love but can’t help but dwell on the details of decay. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Factory

FACTORY Mae Whitman

“The Factory” finally finds release after an extended period gathering dust on a shelf. Filmed in 2008, the production emerges from the wilted imagination of Dark Castle Productions, home base to such features as the ridiculous “Orphan” and “The Apparition,” one of 2012’s biggest box office bombs. “The Factory” is their worst effort to date, which I know isn’t much of a statement, but rarely has an exploitation thriller repulsed in a manner that seems entirely avoidable. Grotesquely misguided and conceived, “The Factory” asks viewers to sit patiently while all manner of ugliness is trotted out for the screen, chasing horror and procedural trends that are wildly out of date in 2013. However, its considerable age doesn’t excuse its carelessness and ugliness, which would’ve registered just as numbingly five years ago. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Sapphires


“The Sapphires” is such an earnest film with a distinct soulful beat, it’s easy to forgive its occasional heavy-handed screenwriting and abysmal third act. For the most part a cheery, pleasingly feisty musical comedy set during an era of powerhouse pop songs, the feature is almost too good to be true during the opening hour, delivering broad audience-pleasing moments while shaping amusing personalities, getting the movie up to speed with laughs and heavenly tunes. The party doesn’t carry to the end, but there’s enough gaiety and whirlwind plotting to sustain an upbeat attitude about the whole endeavor, even when director Wayne Blair seems utterly determined to exit the effort on a sour note. Read the rest at

Film Review - Officer Down

OFFICER DOWN Stephen Dorff

I’m not sure what type of film “Officer Down” wants to be, but it doesn’t appear particularly successful on any front. Part cop drama, part whodunit, with a dusting of action dynamics, the picture marches forward without a game plan, creating a confusing, overly fussed-with effort that depends on twists to keep the audience invested, only it’s a stretch to believe that anyone will be at the edge of their seat by the time the resolution arrives. However, “Officer Down” is surprisingly settled, eschewing hacky low-budget chaos to attempt a more sensitive understanding of a troubled mind. It doesn’t quite achieve its plan for a psychological breakdown, but the effort is appreciated, even in a feature as messy as this one. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Inventing David Geffen

Inventing David Geffen

Many images come to mind when the name David Geffen is mentioned. A protector of music, a producer of movies, a billionaire, and a tenacious businessman, Geffen has lived quite a life. Filled with the type of entertainment world high adventure few will ever be able to equal, Geffen has built a brand name of quality and longevity, often from mere scraps of ideas, trusting in his instincts and a good hearty yell to broker deals and secure interests, with over 50 years of ladders climbed, egos endured, and financial risks to show for his work. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Death Ship


The haunted ship subgenre is not something that's explored much these days, with 2002's "Ghost Ship" perhaps the last major effort to claim multiplex attention, and that didn't go well. Back in the 1970s and '80s, fascination with all things floating and demonic was more common, with "Death Ship" (released in 1980) a prime example of what the premise has to offer on an absurdly tiny budget. It's ridiculous and dips a toe in tastelessness, but the core terror experience is acceptable for fans of the scary stuff, eating up 90 minutes with creepy corridors, unexplained antagonism, blood showers, and the most dangerous peppermint candy ever committed to film. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Haunted House


The Wayans Family already had their way with horror film parodies, having masterminded (or slapped together) 2000’s “Scary Movie” and 2001’s “Scary Movie 2.” Apparently, the lure of slapstick was too great for star Marlon Wayans, who returns to duty with “A Haunted House,” which pilfers most of its material from the “Paranormal Activity” series and last year’s unexpected exorcism smash, “The Devil Inside.” As to be expected with a Wayans endeavor, the picture is crude, desperate, and permissive with its actors. What’s surprising here is how lazy “A Haunted House” is, doing away with the relative polish of “Scary Movie” to merely stitch together fart jokes and abysmal improvisations, gradually doing away with any type of connective tissue or, in the final act, elementary moviemaking coherence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gangster Squad

GANGSTER SQUAD Josh Brolin Ryan Gosling

“Gangster Squad” shoots itself in the foot right out of the gate by suggesting the movie is somehow rooted in fact. Sure, there was a mafia figure known as Mickey Cohen, and yes, he certainly had an interest in dominating Los Angeles, but the rest of this picture is more cartoon than history. While adapting a true crime book by author Paul Lieberman, the production doesn’t know when to stick with the facts or create its own narrative, fumbling an engaging take on mob warfare and police desperation by trying to turn it all into a stylized, overly emphatic actioner, complete with blazing Tommy guns, professional wrestling-style performances, and a simplified conflict to extract the most machismo. “Gangster Squad” disappoints in a big bad way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Struck by Lightning


“Struck by Lightning” is Chris Colfer’s attempt to wake up his generation while they passively walk into limited futures. Known for his work on the television series “Glee,” Colfer is attempting to expand his interests and employability as the show declines in popularity, scripting himself a chewy leading role in a story that’s built around a Big Idea, yet doesn’t have the finesse to leave the crater-sized impact it’s seeking to create. Instead, the actor/writer/producer cooks up a host of half-realized ideas, flaccid comedy, and strident melodrama, looking to serve the goulash as adolescent illumination. It’s not exactly ambitious, but “Struck by Lightning” is a noble failure, with individual elements more interesting than the strangled, distracted whole. Read the rest at

Film Review - All Superheroes Must Die


Superheroes have enjoyed a great deal of cinematic success in recent years, packaged in films blessed with enormous budgets capable of bringing intricate comic book worlds and high-flying superpowers to life. “All Superheroes Must Die” elects the opposite route for its fantasy feel, barely spending any money to detail trouble brewing between a team of troubled, costumed champions and their nefarious enemy. Painfully amateurish and poorly scripted, “All Superheroes Must Die” is a chore to sit through, even at only 75 minutes in length. Writer/director/producer/star/editor Jason Trost has a germ of an idea here that’s intriguing, but no coin to bring it to life, keeping his movie flat, generic looking, and tedious. Who knew masked avengers on a perilous mission could be so dull? Read the rest at

Film Review - Storage 24

STORAGE 24 Still 3

“Storage 24” is aching to be a gripping monster movie, but it’ll have to settle with being a merely serviceable one. The picture benefits from invested filmmaking, with the production working diligently to pull off a haunted house atmosphere populated with rounded characters, while unleashing a creature with a horrifying interest in the innards of its human prey. Certainly enjoyable with a few interesting stalking sequences, “Storage 24” isn’t remarkable, falling into a few low-budget traps along the way. It burns through a somewhat predictable routine of survival instincts, nutty outsiders, and betrayals, while the central alien antagonist could use 15 more minutes in the CGI oven to firm up some lackluster details. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mystery of Easter Island

Mystery of Easter Island

Unless you happen to be an archaeologist or a closet fan of the 1994 adventure film, "Rapa Nui," there are plenty of mysteries left to examine when investigating the cryptic Polynesian location, Easter Island. Researchers and scientists have spent the last century attempting to deduce the experience of the island's indigenous people, with special concentration on monolithic human statues called "moai." These enormous ancestral tributes are catnip to those with a curiosity about the area, providing an irresistible puzzle of movement, with the impossibly heavy rock creations (weighing about 14 tons) scattered around the island, despite little evidence on how they were actually able to reach their final resting places atop "ahus," or sacred stone platforms. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - An Original DUCKumentary

An Original DUCKumentary

Boasting over 120 species and a substantial history, it's about time the ducks of America receive their own "Nature" special. "An Original DUCKumentary" (hee-hee) endeavors to explore the strange, cyclical realm of behaviors and quest of survival for these peculiar birds, studying a year in the life of these animals. The journey is brief but informative, aided by oddly enthusiastic narration from Paul Giamatti, imparting a basic understanding of the duck experience, from the first steps out of the nest to the gamesmanship of finding a suitable mate, with feeding rituals, flight patterns, and regional habits inspected along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Texas Chainsaw 3D


Numerous questions are raised after viewing “Texas Chainsaw 3D,” more than any cash-grab sequel/remake should rightfully leave behind. A brazenly idiotic production that doesn’t bother make any sense or deal directly with the screwball timeline it arranges for itself, the picture is basically a glorified DTV effort that lucked into a January release, displaying minimal interest in storytelling cohesion, passable performances, and grim occurrences. The “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise has seen its fair share of brainless follow-ups and offshoots, yet this new production takes the cake in terms of absurdity, eagerly dispatching with coherence to rewire the tale back to its original elements, once again pitting a maniac with a chainsaw against his dim-witted, costume-challenged victims. Read the rest at

Film Review - Zero Dark Thirty

ZERO DARK THIRTY Jessica Chastain

In 2009, director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal hit a career peak with “The Hurt Locker,” a searing exploration of wartime strain and its addictive residue. The effort collected awards and Oscar gold, while bringing Bigelow into the big time after years helming cult hits and ambitious misfires. The pair return to the stress factory of the Middle East with “Zero Dark Thirty,” this time playing footsie with authenticity as they focus on the manhunt for Osama bin Laden in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on American soil. A direct and riveting procedural picture with a foray into military action, “Zero Dark Thirty” isolates a fascinating inner drive of revenge to fuel interactions with international terrorism, maintaining a hauntingly personal perspective that burns bright while the screenplay spins a sophisticated web of last names and motivations. Read the rest at