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March 2013

Film Review - Mental

MENTAL Toni Collette

“Mental” is mental, living up to the potential of its title with a wild, uninhibited display of psychological fractures and grotesque comedy. The picture marks the return of writer/director P.J. Hogan to the screen, who long ago helmed the cult hit “Muriel’s Wedding” before embarking on a deflating Hollywood career that included “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” 2003’s “Peter Pan,” and “Confessions of a Shopaholic.” Revisiting his Australian roots, Hogan summons a tidal wave of mischief and manic activity with “Mental,” straddling a thin line between insanity and compassion. Hilarious but a tonal bucking bronco, the effort is perhaps best reserved for viewers in the mood for a runaway mine cart viewing experience, willing to absorb all the chaos Hogan happily provides. Read the rest at

Film Review - Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

Tyler Perry's Temptation Still 3

Tyler Perry makes two types of films: comedies and melodramas. He'll usually blend the genres to give his audience the most bang for their buck, but he's resolute in his directorial range, with "Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor" his most combustible picture to date, even out-heaving "For Colored Girls." A biblical parable dressed up as an unruly Perry extravaganza, the feature does a commendable job with fiery tempers and silky acts of seduction, showing signs of life as a cheap thrill for an audience more than happy to interact with the screen. Expectedly, Perry can't maintain the insanity for long, eventually drowning the effort in severity to make a chilling impression. Still, "Temptation," when it's just overheated and not apocalyptic, is engaging enough to pass, generating sufficient hullabaloo without taxing Perry's pedestrian moviemaking skills. Read the rest at

Film Review - Phil Spector

PHIL SPECTOR Al Pacino Helen Mirren

"Phil Spector" opens with a bizarre disclaimer the places the events in the film in a state of limbo, unable to comment on the murder trial of the titular musical titan and unwilling to give the man an exhaustive exploration of his life and times. It's an ephemeral picture, taking a thin slice from the chaos of Spector's legal woes and savoring each bite. It's also the latest work from powerhouse writer David Mamet, lending the feature a pair of lungs to ease its odd quest to remain a satellite in Spector's orbit for 90 minutes, making no judgments and no pleas about a divisive individual flailing as he fights for his freedom. Read the rest at

Film Review - G.I. Joe: Retaliation

GI JOE RETAILIATION Channing Tatum Dwayne Johnson

In 2009, director Stephen Sommers brought “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” to multiplexes, tasked with turning the popular cartoon series and toy line from the 1980s into a viable franchise for a new generation. He failed miserably, masterminding a leaden, nitwit film that actively ignored what made the original creation such a delight to a generation of kids. Rewarded with lackluster but passable box office returns, a sequel was ordered up. Now we have “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” from helmer John M. Chu, and while there was an enormous opportunity to course-correct the series, the follow-up is essentially more of the same nondescript action and unappealing characterizations as before. Although some baby steps are made to please the hardcore fan base, “Retaliation” doesn’t show the level of production bravery required to make this brand name mean something on the big screen. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Host

HOST Saoirse Ronan

Purists will likely scoff at the suggestion, but it’s hard to discount the “Twilight” DNA in the foundation of “The Host.” Both projects originate from author Stephenie Meyer, who made a killing with her sparkly vampires saga and has now moved over to sci-fi for her latest effort, once again cooking up a love triangle template to hang prolonged moments of swoon and physical contemplation on. It’s undeniably derivative and about as thrilling as “Twilight” was, returning to a droning ambiance of indecision to fashion a first step forward in a burgeoning franchise for a young audience aching for a new fixation now that Meyer’s original moneymaker has concluded. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wrong

WRONG Still 3

“Wrong” is an offering of absurdity from writer/director Quentin Dupieux. The picture exists in a dreamscape of uninhibited conversations and ridiculous occurrences, yet it’s par for the course for the helmer, who made his international introduction with 2010’s “Rubber,” a movie about the adventures of a tire that rolled around the southwest killing people with telekinetic powers while a group of onlookers slowly succumbed to the effects of poisoned turkey. “Rubber” was an acquired taste but showed great imagination and a reverence for the bizarre. “Wrong” returns Dupieux to a position of oddity, although his latest enjoys a slightly more human touch. Read the rest at

Film Review - Starbuck


The premise of “Starbuck” (A French-Canadian production) promises a wacky time at the movies, dealing with accidental fatherhood, delayed adolescence, and persistent loserdom. Perhaps other filmmakers would’ve leaned into the potential of the tale, but co-writer/director Ken Scott is hunting for something more meaningful with this tender blend of mischief and maturation. A few laughs are offered during the feature, yet “Starbuck” aims for more thoughtful storytelling, doing whatever he can to separate expectations of slapstick from the effort’s gradual influx of concern, eventually forming a warm, sugary feel of humanity that’s a more inviting viewing experience than the exterior of the picture promises. Read the rest at

Film Review - Family Weekend


“Family Weekend” doesn’t travel very far as a comedy, and it isn’t nearly as touching as the screenwriter would like to believe. It’s a picture stuck in mediocrity, attempting to form something heartwarming with a premise that demands a consistent blast of acid. A forceful lead performance from Olesya Rulin manages to take command of the movie, but her concentration is supported by a production that’s overwritten and tonally unsteady, in need of a more judicious editor and a game plan to approach the steady erosion of marriage with a profound hit of honesty, not just a sitcom-style presentation of forced therapy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Life on Fire: Wildlife on the Volcano's Edge

Life on Fire Wildlife on the Volcano's Edge

Volcanoes are mysterious, terrifying, and quite beautiful from a safe distance. Their secrets are nearly impossible to discover, buried deep in the Earth under layers of lava and furious gases, requiring a fine touch of science to extract samples for study, and even those efforts aren't nearly enough to understand the fury that powers these fire-belching titans. Endeavoring to paint a larger portrait of volcanic activity, director Bertrand Loyer has assembled "Life on Fire: Wildlife on the Volcano's Edge," a six-part series that inspects the balance of nature that sprouts up around these danger zones, heading around the world on a mission to understand instinct, survival, and risk with an epic cinematic sweep that provides atypical access to creatures conducting daily business in the shadow of certain doom. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Natural Selection

NATURAL SELECTION Rachael Harris John Diehl

"Natural Selection" has all the hallmarks of an average independent production, with its HD cinematography, mild razzing of religious conviction, and unshowered performers embodying the middle-class and the borderline insane. Writer/director Robbie Pickering isn't shy about following trends, but he's also smart about storytelling, endeavoring to disrupt the norm with a strange tale of devotion and love buttered on a road trip saga where things often go horribly wrong for the lead characters. "Natural Selection" is a comedy, with excitable personalities and broad confrontations, but Pickering clearly loves these screwed-up souls, bending the material away from mockery, gradually revealing his sincerity in a manner that's contagious. Supported by marvelous performances and a prominent soundtrack, the feature satisfies and even surprises on occasion, introducing Pickering as a filmmaker with an interest in emotional content instead of serving up pedestrian acts of humiliation. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Resurrection


“A Resurrection” will most likely be remembered as one of the last screen appearances for Michael Clarke Duncan, the behemoth actor who tragically passed away last autumn. It’s especially important to celebrate his role as Duncan is the best thing about “A Resurrection,” brightening up the picture with the ten minutes of screen time he has, showing more comfort and range than anyone else in this dreary, cheapy effort. With intentions to build a ghostly whodunit, the movie falls asleep instead, as writer/director Matt Orlando doesn’t show the kind of invention necessary to snap scares into position, working to shatter the suffocating monotony that pins the feature down. Read the rest at

Film Review - InAPPropriate Comedy


When there’s no creativity to be found, shock value always rears its ugly head. “InAPPropriate Comedy” is the latest picture to mistake crudeness for cunning, trying to nab attention through bad behavior and wretched use of comedy’s current crutch: interminable improvisation. It’s racist, gross, and vulgar, and for all the time the production put into constructing this movie (though that could be debated), there’s not a single laugh to be found. “InAPPropriate Comedy” strains to be outrageous, but it’s a corpse from the get-go, making the ensuing 75 minutes of screen time an extreme chore to sit through. The feature doesn’t offend, it just bores. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Croods

CROODS Still 1

After their stab at epic storytelling with last holiday's "Rise of the Guardians," Dreamworks Animation reduces the heat on the big movie sweepstakes with "The Croods," a production that's willing to be silly and sincere, employing a cartoon ambiance of pinballing people and exaggerated body language to produce a considerable amount of laughs, while also tending to the demands of heart that squeezes every family film offering released these days. Toppling cliche to make a deep impression as a fulfilling offering of entertainment, "The Croods" is superbly constructed, dazzlingly animated, and genuinely hilarious, with a spirited mood of adventure and a pleasing read of maturation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Spring Breakers


I'm willing to give writer/director Harmony Korine the special consideration he requires when he makes a movie. He's an impish artist, prone to deep free dives into excess while treating stupidity as sport. He's created interesting pictures during his career, including "Gummo" and "Julien Donkey-Boy," though even his best work has a way of feeling like an endless night spent inside an art-school drunk tank, surround by oddities as nausea sets in early. His latest is "Spring Breakers," currently sucking up blog buzz for the provocative way it parades around former Disney Channel stars in various stages of undress and intoxication. I wish there was more to the viewing experience than gyrating flesh and deep inhales, but Korine is trapped in a shtick coma, attempting to collect random images, poorly-defined fears, and swinging bare breasts and form it all into cinematic poetry. Read the rest at

Film Review - Admission

ADMISSION Tina Fey Paul Rudd

Perhaps we were spoiled with “30 Rock,” Tina Fey’s whip-smart, heroically silly network comedy show that recently ended its run on NBC. Graced with ace timing, a remarkably pliable cast, and a commitment to playfulness, the show was a free spirit that never grew old. “Admission” is Fey’s introduction to the world of Serious! acting, and while she’s capable of expanding her craft, this movie doesn’t challenge the actress in a manner that’s expected. Contrived and eventually gutless, “Admission” is boosted by a few meaningful moments and a sharp ensemble who always seem to be aware they’re being handcuffed by a disappointing screenplay. It’s certainly a pleasant picture, but far from the knuckleball wit and goofball wonder Fey is typically associated with. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Waiting Room


“The Waiting Room” is a documentary about health care. While a touchy subject these days in America, it’s also a topic worth every moment of exploration, allowing for a deeper education and a wider appreciation for patient and medical staff. Mercifully, it’s not a politicized effort eager to turn heads with opinions, instead treating the topic with the directness it deserves, highlighting the frustrations and complications that take place during an average day at a public hospital. “The Waiting Room” is grim but enlightening, perhaps required viewing for those who care to debate themselves blue about a crisis they’ll never fully understand. Read the rest at

Film Review - Barbara


Christian Petzold has proven himself to be a nuanced filmmaker with a specific interest in the heartbeat of his characters. With “Yella” and “Jerichow,” he’s displayed tight command of mood and visual communication, using body language to express what long passages of dialog cannot possibly convey. Even when the material doesn’t quite stimulate the senses, Petzold shows an investment in the life of his screenplay, refusing to hand his audience easy answers. “Barbara” isn’t a tightly wound story of sacrifice, yet its distance is alluring, retaining secrets and motivations, building to a satisfying conclusion. Petzold may not summon a gripping pace, but his concentration on the minutiae of behavior remains riveting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Eden

EDEN Jamie Chung

I don’t discount the importance of the message contained within “Eden.” Taking a look at the elaborate system involved in human trafficking, the feature is noble in its efforts to depict the horrors of prostitution and the psychological void of its victims. However, it’s not a very comprehensive picture, brushing by salient points of submission to achieve a conventional arc of consciousness punctuated with violence. There should be more to chew on with a story as horrific as this, yet writer/director Megan Griffiths isn’t interested in the crucial details of decay, robbing the film of necessary motivations and a lasting welt of reality. Read the rest at