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February 2013

Film Review - The End of Love

END OF LOVE Mark Webber

At the risk of coming off cold-hearted, I admit I wasn’t moved by Mark Webber’s “The End of Love.” It’s too incomplete and calculated to truly engage emotions, though it’s not without a few surprises, chiefly in the performance department. Webber appears to be making an audition tape with his second directorial effort, using screen time to display a range of moods and dramatic encounters that could go on to secure future jobs for the actor, never quite gelling as a film of its own. Still, elements of note do break through the artificiality, keeping “The End of Love” more interesting than infuriatingly self-promoting, as it’s inclined to be on occasion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spiders


“Spiders” is a latest attempt to bring the creature feature explosion of the 1950s to the modern age, and the newest example of why the genre should remain in stasis, or perhaps regulated to the intentional ridiculousness of basic cable productions. While giant spiders rampaging around New York City sound like an amusing, potentially thrilling night at the movies, “Spiders” doesn’t have the budget, the talent, or the ingenuity to really explore the potential of the premise. Disappointingly backlot-bound and teeming with halfhearted chase sequences, the effort is stale and repetitive, failing to create a worthy and suitably diverting cinematic panic. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Playroom


“The Playroom” is a disappointing film with an intriguing premise. Dealing with insecurities and marital dissolution in the 1970s, it’s fair to compare the feature to Ang Lee’s 1997 effort, “The Ice Storm,” which also mined the same material, but to greater effect. “The Playroom” doesn’t share the same narrative drive or depth of emotion, instead coasting on a tedious wave of anticlimactic incidents, weaving metaphorical content with half-realized melodramatic confrontations. It’s a misfire from screenwriter Gretchen Dyer and director Julia Dyer, who can’t connect the puzzle pieces, resulting in a movie of attentive performances working through ill-defined storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Good Day to Die Hard


With 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” the once venerable franchise hit a shocking creative low, thwacked with a bout of amnesia that prevented the picture from recalling what made the previous three installments of the series so special to action film fans. It didn’t walk and talk like a “Die Hard” production, generating immense disappointment after waiting 12 long years for the return of iconic screen cowboy, John McClane. Turns out, the worst was yet to come, with “A Good Day to Die Hard” effectively killing off the brand name with an asinine, immobile feature that’s dripping with trendy cinematography and toxic banter, while a visibly bored Bruce Willis hobbles through this dud, putting in the least amount of effort possible. “A Good Day to Die Hard” isn’t just a lousy movie, it’s the cement shoes on a once amazing collection of movies. Read the rest at

Film Review - Beautiful Creatures


“Beautiful Creatures” explores a romance between a slack-jawed mortal and a magical being, it features characters performing spells and dealing with a lifelong burden of destiny, and a few of the participants sport wild outfits and colorful hairdos. The movie is also based on a blockbuster series of young adult books. Sound a little familiar? That’s the idea, with the producers clearly hoping such formula will attract an audience aching for screen adventure now that “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” have ended, and “The Hunger Games” is between installments. Thankfully, “Beautiful Creatures” has a little more on its mind than simply rehashing stale fantasy fodder, but the pressure to distill the 2009 book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl proves to be trouble for writer/director Richard LaGravenese, who’s overwhelmed by the challenge once the film reaches its second half. Read the rest at

Film Review - Safe Haven

SAFE HAVEN Josh Duhamel

At this point, it’s fruitless to fight the Nicholas Sparks formula, having already serviced hits such as “The Notebook,” while also worked into pictures like “Nights in Rodanthe” and last year’s “The Lucky One.” The man has a devoted fanbase, those who adore breezy North Carolina beachside locations, dewy love between opposites, and wildly implausible turns of fate that kick on the melodramatic afterburners. “Safe Haven” (adapted from the 2010 novel) pours neatly into the same mold, only here there’s more of a prominent thriller element that mirrors Nancy Price’s 1987 book, “Sleeping with the Enemy” (turned into hit film in 1991), employing even more proven formula to strengthen the proven formula. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Life

LIFE Eddie Murphy Martin Lawrence

In 1999, the pairing of Martin Lawrence and Eddie Murphy was considered a major event. While the two already worked together in 1992's"Boomerang," "Life" caught the pair during a celebratory career run, with Murphy riding high on the success of "The Nutty Professor" and "Doctor Doolittle," while Lawrence was burning off his "Bad Boys" goodwill, developing his transition from sidekick tomfoolery to leading man responsibility. This collision of comedic spirits creates an interesting atmosphere of improvisational skill in "Life," though the movie itself feels short-sheeted, without a full sense of the titular experience, despite a premise that could reasonably carry a pleasing episodic narrative. Laughs are found in the film, supplied by its varied cast and director Ted Demme's patience, but "Life" is far from satisfying, only masterminding a few compelling scenes of character interaction and conflict before it's buried back in the screenplay, which never figures out exactly what it wants to be, often content to permit star power to carry the story along. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Queen of Versailles


David Siegel took the real estate world by storm when he founded Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company based out of Orlando, Florida that quickly grew in stature and profit with its slick sales techniques and luxurious accommodations. Soon spawning multiple properties around America, Westgate blossomed into a billion-dollar business, peaking five years ago when the average vacationer could easily borrow money to purchase their dream getaway. The corporation permitted David a lavish lifestyle, a trophy wife in Jackie, and a family of eight children. The man could buy anything his heart desired, and he did, culminating in the construction of Versailles, a 90,000-square-foot home in Orlando inspired by a vacation to France. In 2007, this cavernous dwelling sounded like a great idea. In 2010, the unfinished domicile came to represent everything that soured in David's life after the financial collapse of 2008. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Magic of Belle Isle


The direction of Rob Reiner's career has been quite curious as of late. After scoring a major hit with 2007's "The Bucket List," the helmer has retreated into smaller films of a more wholesome nature, including 2010's unexpectedly tedious family offering, "Flipped." "The Magic of Belle Isle" furthers Reiner's newfound interests in unexceptional entertainment on a slightly more victorious note, though the picture isn't something that demands attention. Better with intimacy than artifice, the movie shines intermittently, holding out hope that Reiner will wake up before the feature concludes and deliver a string of amazing scenes. Instead, "Belle Isle" contains very little magic, at least the sustained kind. Read the rest at

Film Review - Top Gun: The IMAX 3D Experience

TOP GUN Tom Cruise

Looking to promote an upcoming Blu-ray release, Paramount has decided to make over the 1986 blockbuster “Top Gun” with some 3D mascara and IMAX blush, hoping to entice the faithful to once again pay money for a movie I assume most know by heart at this point. Indeed, the need for speed has returned to theaters for an exclusive one-week run, and while the takeoffs and landings show incredible dimension, the Kenny Loggins is cranked, and the roar of the jet engines could loosen fillings, it’s still the same old “Top Gun,” retaining every frame of ridiculousness and emphatic acting that turned the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer production into a legend. Read the rest at

Film Review - Identity Thief

IDENTITY THIEF Jason Bateman Melissa McCarthy

I don’t believe I’ve come across a screenplay as fundamentally flawed as “Identity Thief” in quite some time. It’s a comedy that’s not really much of a comedy, and it forces the audience to sympathize with a monster of a woman, even while she shows no remorse for her awful crimes. If there was some type of comedic mayhem in play, with characters tossed around the frame for a breezy 80 minute sit, perhaps the feature could’ve skated by on delicious madness. Instead, “Identity Thief” stops for violence and tears as it lumbers through nearly two hours of strident performances and faux heart, convinced there’s a soul in here worth the laborious effort to find it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Side Effects


If there’s any filmmaker working today who should go after the labyrinthine pharmaceutical industry, it’s Steven Soderbergh. A helmer who enjoys the challenges of cinematic control and thematic precision, Soderbergh knows how to wield a whip. Unfortunately, “Side Effects” is a mystery with only a fringe appreciation of pills and the process of medical zombification, using the elements as a Trojan Horse to smuggle in a routine thriller that sinisterly slides into view after a particularly haunting opening half. While it seems like material with a lot on its mind about the state of the world, “Side Effects” would rather work out an implausible scheme of betrayals, robbing the audience of the agitation they deserve. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sound City

SOUND CITY Buckingham Nicks

“Sound City” is more of a rabid appreciation for the life and times of Sound City Studios (located in Los Angeles) than a crisp documentary of its history. However, the raw energy works in the movie’s favor, zipping along at top speed as its worships iconic music created sparingly, preferring talent over touch-ups. It’s a fan film from musician Dave Grohl, who directs and appears in the effort, straining to impart his enthusiasm for the essentials of musical recording, fetishizing a dumpy studio located in an industrial park that gave the world sonic booms delivered by bands such as Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Metallica. Read the rest at

Film Review - The ABCs of Death


“The ABCs of Death” is an unusual experiment in omnibus filmmaking, but its uniqueness doesn’t wash away its persistent unpleasantness. Looking to shock, tickle, and horrify its audience, the production bends over backward to be the vilest movie of 2013, and it succeeds in many cases. However, being unrepentantly ugly isn’t enough to support two hours of twisted entertainment, and while there is a handful of highlights to hold out hope that the feature may be coming to its senses, the majority of the effort is either deathly dull, superhumanly moronic, or just plain angry for reasons best communicated to a therapist. If “The ABCs of Death” doesn’t put you to sleep, it’ll have you repeatedly lunging for the fast-forward button. Read the rest at

Film Review - 56 Up

56 UP Still 1

It’s been an extraordinary journey for director Michael Apted and his longstanding “Up” series of documentaries. It’s a singular event that’s managed to carry on for decades, arriving at its latest stop, “56 Up.” We return to familiar faces and places with the new effort, catching up with individuals who’ve been followed on film since 1964’s “Seven Up,” and with this reintroduction comes an additional inspection of life in motion, watching the participants come to terms with their families, vocational and educational choices, and their very existence. Absorbing as always, “56 Up” has the benefit of age, able to look back on these personalities and gather a larger appreciation for their contributions to this historic documentary odyssey. Read the rest at

Film Review - Noobz

NOOBZ cast

While teeming with questionable attitudes and taste issues, gaming culture deserves a more respectful representation than what “Noobz” has to offer. Built out of moldy stereotypes and crummy improvisations, the comedy is painful to watch, with numerous opportunities for laughs and satire flushed down the toilet so co-writer/director/star Blake Freeman can parade around the most insipid material imaginable. The picture has the premise and the atmosphere to at least inch toward a significant razzing of video game particulars, yet Freeman seems almost afraid to really dig into the personalities that clutch the controllers. Instead of lighthearted adventuring, “Noobz” makes “The Wizard” look like “The Matrix,” slogging through stupidity for what feels like an eternity at times. Read the rest at

Film Review - Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation


Imagining yourself as Indiana Jones in the thick of adventure wasn’t a difficult task during the 1980s. He was a fixture of screen heroism and pre-teen cool; a surrogate father for adolescent boys with bottomless imaginations. However, what would happen if the adoration, that pure impulse of cinematic love, turned into extensive homespun flattery? What if three boys from Alabama, still tipsy from their “Raiders” theatrical experience, decided to create their very own backyard version of the Steven Spielberg gem, armed only with sky-high intentions, collective allowances, and a Betamax camera? Read the rest at

Film Review - The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia

Haunting in Connecticut 2 - Ghosts of Georgia Abigail Spencer

Franchises can be a funny thing, especially when there’s no room for the story to grow organically, necessitating some fuzzy name brand math to keep the cash rolling in. The absurdly titled “The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia” has nothing to do with the 2009 hit that starred Virginia Madsen, and not a frame of it takes place in Connecticut. It’s a new story in an alien state, with the producers once again taking shelter under dubious “true story” claims to concoct a chiller of limited ambition, this time delving into the real-world pain of slavery to locate a new conflict between the living and the dead. Read the rest at