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February 2013

Film Review - Jack the Giant Slayer


The fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk” gets an aggressive update in “Jack the Giant Slayer,” a vividly imagined fantasy film with an unexpected appetite for destruction. Director Bryan Singer can’t lift the feature off its feet, yet his vision for towering threat and lands far, far away is virile enough to supply a hearty adventure, sold with unusual visual effects and a welcomingly blunt attitude when it comes to the violence of men and monster. It’s an impressively large-scale endeavor, only lacking a sharp wit and a blistering sense of urgency that could carry it to greater heights of grandiose entertainment. Read the rest at

Film Review - 21 & Over

21 AND OVER Still 1

One year ago, there was “Project X,” a feature about a party populated by teenagers swinging wildly out of control. “21 & Over” is similar in many ways, with the primary difference being the legal drinking age, allowing the characters to carry out their boozehound fantasies in public. There are few surprises contained in “21 & Over,” which marks the directorial debut for Scott Moore and Jon Lucas, the screenwriters behind the two “Hangover” pictures, who try to resuscitate the binge drinking formula for the college crowd. The result is a shamefully calculated effort to merge party chaos with a coming of age tale in a manner that tickles the audience while making them feel for the dim-witted characters that populate the movie. Moore and Lucas do not pull off the tricky juggling act. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hansel & Gretel Get Baked


In January they were witch hunters, and now they’re getting high. “Hansel & Gretel Get Baked” returns the fairy tale siblings to the screen, this time reimagined as a pot-loving, crime-solving young woman and her picture-snapping, straight-laced brother facing off against a drug-dealing witch. Obviously, it’s not a traditional retelling of this classic story of temptation, but more of a bizarre gorefest punctuated with a joke or two. Considering the ridiculous title and the production’s lack of budgetary might, “Hansel & Gretel Get Baked” might come across as an overlong, underwritten late night television sketch, but there are a few highlights here worth waiting around for, especially for those with a hankering for motivated no-coin, bottom-shelf entertainment. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Sweeney

SWEENEY Ray Winstone

“The Sweeney” is based on a British television series that began life in 1975, making its American theatrical run a little on the baffling side, though one should never doubt the drawing power of Ray Winstone. The beefy, growling actor makes a fine if familiar impression in this hard-charging actioner, gifting depressingly conventional material a personality as the story high-fives every cop movie cliche imaginable. Regardless of predictability, “The Sweeney” has its share of thrilling moments and inventive showdowns, managing a sufficiently entertaining ride when it allows Winstone and the cast to fulfill their bruiser promise. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Jeffrey Dahmer Files


Considering the wealth of news coverage surrounding the activities of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, it appears there’s little left to be learned about the man and his unnervingly calm modus operandi. “The Jeffrey Dahmer Files” doesn’t add anything to the conversation outside of a few psychological dimensions that have recently come to light, with co-writer/director Chris James Thompson making more of an art piece crossed with a network news magazine show. Taking on the incredible details of the gruesome case and its aftermath, Thompson accepts quite a burden of informational responsibility, only to generate an aimless, tedious picture that’s part documentary, part re-creation, and mostly unenlightening. Read the rest at

Film Review - If I Were You

IF I WERE YOU Marcia Gay Harden Leonor Watling

I can easily see why a respected actress like Marcia Gay Harden decided to take part in a dreary picture like “If I Were You.” It’s a meaty role that requires broad comedic skills and subtle dramatics, while offering the performer a chance to play around with romantic interactions and boozehound sway, hitting all the corners of characterization while spewing out a mouthful of dialogue. Heck, there’s even a touch of Shakespeare in the mix as well. Professionally, I’m sure it seemed like a smart movie, yet “If I Were You” is a strangled endeavor that’s 30 minutes too long and short-sheeted in the laugh department. Perhaps it was a blast to make, but to sit through the feature requires an extraordinary amount of patience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Night of the Devils


"The Night of the Devils" arrives with a little extra pedigree than the average Italian shocker. The 1972 release was based on Aleksey Tolstoy's 1839 story, "The Wurdalak," providing inspiration that's more interested in mood than overt scares, aided by leadership from director Giorgio Ferroni (the mind behind "Mill of the Stone Woman," in his penultimate film), who embraces the hauntingly straightforward interests of the material. Startlingly fulfilling while remaining minimal in its terror output, "The Night of the Devils" is an engaging viewing experience, perhaps best suited for those open to its simplistic narrative design, odd sensuality, and period-rich macabre details, shaped into an entertaining examination of trauma and vampirism, sold with all the sustained stares and zooms a viewer could ever want. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fear

FEAR Mark Wahlberg

Before he was Mark Wahlberg, king of Hollywood, he was once Marky Mark. A flexing rapper with his group The Funky Bunch, Wahlberg enjoyed some degree of MTV-assisted success, but clearly there was no future in shirtless video dancing and the occasional modeling campaign. Acting was his big ticket out, and the industry welcomed him with open arms, feeding him supporting work in "The Basketball Diaries" and "Renaissance Man," but the real test of Wahlberg's skill as a potential leading man arrived with 1996's "Fear." Handed a role that required a certain level of insular emoting and broad display of serpentine brawn, Wahlberg was a perfect candidate for the part, guided by director James Foley, who was coming down from a career high working on 1992's "Glengarry Glen Ross." Cruelly, instead of creating a feature of sinister ooze, the production serves up a laughable thriller that's one of the all-time goofiest movies, avoiding a tough inspection of troubling emotional speeds and stunted communication to sneeze out a confused, half-realized story of obsession and domination, with the layers of ultimate evil handed to a guy who can't act. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dark Skies

DARK SKIES Keri Russell

Scott Stewart is a former visual effects artist who’s directed two major features: 2009’s angel revolt picture “Legion,” and the 2011 sci-fi actioner “Priest.” With that type of gloomy filmography, the prospect of spending more time with Stewart’s blurred cinematic vision is less than appetizing. To write that “Dark Skies” is his best effort to date is a tad misleading but undeniably true. It’s not a profound movie, but technically competent, while huffing Spielberg fumes in a big bad way to pay tribute to the man who made the ultimate alien invasion event. “Dark Skies” contains promise in its earliest moments that suggest Stewart has finally broken out of his carbonite brick of mediocrity and found material that benefits from his nondescript touch. However, it all eventually falls apart. Although, compared to “Legion” and “Priest,” it’s more of a gradual comedown instead of a free fall without a working parachute. Read the rest at

Film Review - Snitch

SNITCH Dwayne Johnson

“Snitch” doesn’t have a clue what type of movie it wants to be. A cautionary tale? An actioner? A domestic drama? A political statement? It’s a muddle of ideas and moods, and too many of them are not worth the price of admission. Despite a passionate performance from Dwayne Johnson and a few provocative ideas floating around the production, “Snitch” takes an interesting story and renders it impotent, trying too hard to appeal to the widest possible audience with difficult material. It’s broad and brawny, dealing with a subject matter that requires a fine touch of intimacy and stillness. No amplification was necessary. Read the rest at

Film Review - Small Apartments


Matt Lucas is a British comedian who received his first taste of American success with the release of “Bridesmaids,” where he played Gil, the working man trying to push unemployed Annie (Kristen Wiig) out of an apartment he shares with his sister (Rebel Wilson). The small supporting role caught significant attention, leading to a starring role in “Small Apartments,” a comedy about Los Angeles residents in various states of disrepair. It’s a not a particularly impressive feature, but it does offer a creative step forward for Lucas, who provides a bravely unglamorous performance and a general muting of his comedic impulses, also surrounding him with an oddball ensemble inhabiting all forms of disillusionment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inescapable


Why should Liam Neeson have all the fun? “Inescapable” is a rather brazen attempt to rework the “Taken” formula with a different lead actor, asking Alexander Siddig to suit up as a raging father on the hunt for his missing daughter. While the feature has a fiery attitude and Siddig’s full commitment, it’s also painfully clunky, clearly unprepared for the challenge of a revenge film. Although politically aware and careful with its handling of pre-war Syria, “Inescapable” doesn’t have the juice normally associated with such violent entertainment. Its interest in characterization is admirable, but there’s little firepower where it counts the most. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vamp U

VAMP U Still 3

“Vamp U” is a bad film, though not terribly offensive. It’s an attempt to pants Hollywood’s waning vampire obsession with a no-budget production aiming for laughs over mystique, though the potency of the gags leaves much to be desired, and it has a tendency to underline its “Twilight” target with temple-rubbing regularity. Still, on the spectrum of wacky monster comedies starring untested and unknown actors, “Vamp U” retains a modicum of spunk and a few smiles as it goes about its business of slapstick and bloodsuckery. Dial expectations way down, and perhaps writer/directors Matt Jespersen and Maclain Nelson will be able to entertain you for 90 unremarkable but innocuous minutes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Porky's

PORKY'S Shower

Part of the mystery of Hollywood is the general inability of anyone to predict a hit movie. Sure, there's a handful of blockbuster formulas that are often used to great success, but the general rush of box office triumph usually emerges from surprising titles. In 1982, the sleeper hit of the year was "Porky's," a little raunchy comedy that home studio 20th Century Fox didn't even want to release, yet the picture ended up as the fifth highest grosser of the year, just above such classics as "Star Trek II" and "Poltergeist." It was lambasted by critics and beloved by audiences, but why? Could it be that writer/director Bob Clark tapped into a vein of nostalgia much like George Lucas did with "American Graffiti," returning viewers to the eroding innocence of youth? Was it the evocative Floridian atmosphere of backwoods clowning? Maybe the compulsively silly performances were just that irresistible? Or was it the boobs? I'm guessing the latter, as "Porky's" isn't a very accomplished storytelling effort, wandering blindly around pranks and melodrama as it fights to find a higher purpose beyond being just another horndog teen feature. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ultimate Mars Challenge

Mars Rover Curiosty Ultimate Mars Challenge

The quest to unlock the mystery of Mars has bewitched scientists for over 50 years, dating back to early probe discoveries of the 1960s. It's a planet of untold resources and possible life, yet exploring efforts with rovers have only managed to scrape the dust off the surface. Enter Curiosity, a behemoth of a rover that was launched in 2011 in an effort to send a machine skyward capable of doing a little more than to simply collect soil samples. Here was a work of engineering mastery, with drills, wheels, and cameras able to observe and tour Mars in ways previous thought unimaginable. And while the rover made its miraculous touchdown on the red planet in 2012, the story of Curiosity begins with its construction -- a concerted effort to build a machine durable enough to withstand the harsh elements of an alien landscape. Read the rest at

Film Review - Escape from Planet Earth


As low impact CG-animated moviemaking goes, “Escape from Planet Earth” is surprisingly persistent when it comes to staging mind-numbing mediocrity. The potential for a rip-roaring alien adventure is there for the taking, but the production doesn’t bother, instead recycling beats of irreverence, action, and sentiment from other, better pictures. It’s a drag, but a needlessly stupid one, begging on bleeding knees for younger audiences to fall in love with it, which translates to emphatic voice work, extended slapstick routines, and a precocious child character meant to act as a surrogate for the nosepickers. And just to make sure the feature radiates complete nonsense, every time a character falls in “Escape from Planet Earth,” there’s a fart sound effect piped in. Surely your children would rather watch “Argo” instead, right? Read the rest at

Film Review - Would You Rather


Out of all the horror productions that flood the market every year, it takes a special idea and level of execution to catch attention. Basic shock value is no longer enough to pass muster. “Would You Rather” isn’t blessed with a comfy budget or particularly strong actors, but there’s a suffocating feeling of suspense and personal ruin carrying the proceedings along, with a healthy amount of tension to savor. It’s a humdinger of a picture at times, guaranteed to rile up even the most jaded viewer, while presenting in interesting, if incomplete, portrait of human nature as it’s faced with a cold reality of choice and survival. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Gladiators


Last year saw the release of “Goon,” a hockey comedy (starring Seann William Scott and Liev Schreiber) that took special interest in the job of the enforcer, a man recruited to provide violent protection for players, picking fights with anyone to claim dominance on and off the ice. It’s a genuinely funny picture with an amusing ugliness, but there’s an undeniable dark side to the profession that wasn’t illuminated in full. Director Alex Gibney picks up the slack with “The Last Gladiators,” a sobering documentary on the true price of this NHL fight club, featuring interviews with a few of its most notorious participants. Read the rest at