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March 2013

Film Review - Love and Honor

LOVE AND HONOR Liam Hemsworth Teresa Palmer

Tempted by the success of all things Nicholas Sparks, the producers of “Love and Honor” attempt their own take on the proven formula, offering a story trafficking in warm acts of attraction and nostril-flaring moments of decision. Also mirroring the Sparks touch is the picture’s distracting weightlessness, tackling a significant story of choice and heartbreak with all the impact of a soap opera, failing to find the feral emotions inherent to such a taxing series of life choices. It’s easy enough to digest, yet “Love and Honor” is capable of much more than predictable melodrama, though director Danny Mooney seems absolutely determined to ease this effort into a honeyed coma as quickly as possible. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Blu-ray Review - Hoffa

HOFFA Jack Nicholson

"Hoffa" is a presentation of shameless mythmaking, though one that's supported by such barnstorming direction, it's impossible to dismiss it outright. It's a boldly designed, volcanically acted endeavor that doesn't seek to understand its subject on anything more than a surface level of engagement. This is not "Jimmy Hoffa: The Movie," but a valentine to a shifty guy who didn't let anything stand in the way of his vision for a unionized America, shielding his unsavory interests behind an ideal of blue collar protection, where the common man could be comfortable in the knowledge that loyal brothers and sisters were there to defend his right to work in a safe, financially rewarding environment. There's little dimension to Danny DeVito's picture, replaced with shockwaves of cinematic orchestration that help to preserve interest in the titular titan, even if viewers walk away from the film with only a slightly more refined appreciation for Hoffa's dedication to the cause. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Upside Down

UPSIDE DOWN Kirsten Dunst

“Upside Down” is a stunning visual experience spoiled by a trainwreck of a screenplay. It’s an awful film that’s easy to watch, utilizing intense CGI artistry to manipulate frame activity in a way that’s rarely been seen before, out to manufacture a bizarre alternate universe of swirling gravity defiance and megacity juxtaposition. Dramatically, the feature goes nowhere fast, wasting the potential of the premise on tiring clichés and absurdly earnest characterizations. Perhaps writer/director Juan Solanas understood he had a clunker of a script, watching him gradually downplay the story in favor of elaborate visual effects. “Upside Down” is certainly something to see, but difficult to sit through. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Call

CALL Halle Berry

With “The Machinist,” “Session 9,” and “Vanishing on 7th Street,” director Brad Anderson has developed a reputation for smart, challenging thrillers that embrace the art of manufacturing suspense instead of pulverizing the audience with cheap thrills. Well, intelligence apparently doesn’t pay the bills, finding Anderson in command of “The Call,” an idiotic offering of tension (co-financed by World Wrestling Entertainment) that plays like an exploitation picture made by a man who’s never seen an exploitation picture. With plot holes galore, hammy performances, and an easily telegraphed screenplay, “The Call” goes from passably engaging to insulting in a hurry, finding Anderson unable to make the sloppily cut puzzle pieces fit, relying on moldy trends in horror cinema to maintain pressure. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE Steve Carell

“The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” is a great title for a promising premise involving dueling Las Vegas magicians fighting for stage glory. Unfortunately, the feature moves beyond the basics to beef up a sense of character and fuel formulaic story arc ambitions, dropping its sense of cartwheeling absurdity to tend to a tale of spray-tanned rebirth I doubt few will be on the edge of their seats to see played out in full. Thankfully, it’s an entertaining picture when locked on silly business, and hilarious when the gifted cast is permitted to let loose pantsing casino entertainment icons long overdue for such a treatment. It should be funnier and tighter, but there’s amusement to be had for those who can endure a few considerable comedic roadblocks. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Blancanieves

Blancanieves Still 1

Even with the monster success of “The Artist,” the 2011 French production that cleaned up at the box office and took home Oscar gold, it seemed unlikely that similar silent film endeavors would follow. The Spanish feature “Blancanieves” is proof that perhaps a renaissance of the lost cinematic art form is in order, returning directorial ingenuity and blissfully exaggerated performances to the screen. It’s a humorous, heartbreaking return to old moviegoing habits, using fairy tale inspiration to emphasize heroes and villains while retaining a bittersweet quality that keeps the effort earthbound, despite a sense of humor that tends to carry the picture away at times. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Lore

LORE Saskia Rosendahl

“Lore” is a post-WWII picture, but don’t let the relative familiarity of the setting fool you. This is a powerful, sensorial effort to understand the mentality of hate and its programmed origins, mixed with a survival story set during a dark period of countrywide evaluation. Exceptionally crafted by director Cate Shortland, “Lore” is a film of few words but contains robust atmosphere, sifting through the pieces of soulful wreckage with an unflinching concentration on the erosion of routine and the bitter challenges of truth, using a quaking Malickian visual sense of nature and intimate struggle to bring a troubling tale of acceptance to the screen. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Stoker

STOKER Nicole Kidman

“Stoker” is Korean director Park Chan-wook’s English language debut. A master of the macabre, Park’s previous ventures include “Oldboy,” “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” and “Thirst,” solidifying his taste for the violent and the extreme, though he’s a very patient filmmaker, interested in manipulating his audience with baroque visual elements and suffocating emotional weight. Refusing to go Hollywood, Park retains his personality with “Stoker,” a vicious head-rattler of a feature that blends horror and raw psychological exposure, while inspecting a most diseased family tree. Unpredictable and enchantingly outlandish, the movie is often extraordinarily composed. Perhaps it’s far from perfect, but the atmosphere is deliciously thick with psychosis and the characters ideally unraveled. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - From Up on Poppy Hill

FROM UP FROM POPPY HILL Still 1

The animation masters at Studio Ghibli are well-versed in the realms of fantasy, routinely offering odd creatures and faraway lands to adventurous viewers (recent efforts include “Ponyo” and “The Secret World of Arrietty”). “From Up on Poppy Hill” returns the filmmaking collective to reality, avoiding the fantastical and the bizarre to focus on a tender story of human connection, feeling out a delicate mood of thinly veiled emotions while expectedly gorgeous animation supports the characterizations. “From Up on Poppy Hill” might initially come off as inconsequential, yet it actually isolates what Studio Ghibli does best: constructing an evocative landscape of vivid personalities scrambling around a compelling conflict dusted with idiosyncrasy and visual poetry. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Ginger & Rosa

GINGER AND ROSA Elle Fanning Alice Englert

With “Ginger & Rosa,” writer/director Sally Potter searches for ways to isolate the internal churn of adolescence as it’s rocked by troubles ranging in intensity, from global fears to silent shame. It’s an intimate story brought to life by a sharp cast, who locate the wounded spirit Potter is looking to communicate, while the inherent burn of the screenplay creates a welcome heaviness despite a few corners cut in characterization. “Ginger & Rosa” is emotional and real, even when it takes a few soap opera detours, always returning to a place of scrambled teen introspection that’s engaging and, in many ways, relatable. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Into the White

INTO THE WHITE still 1

The intimacy of “Into the White” is absorbing, helping to move a familiar story about sworn enemies along. It’s based on a true tale of survival and unexpected companionship at the outset of World War II, and the feature gets plenty of mileage out of tense confrontations in the freezing cold, with a sharp collection of actors chosen to embody national pride as it’s tested in a most unforgiving environment. Dramatically rewarding and geographically vivid, “Into the White” generates a satisfactory amount of suspense and personality to achieve its limited goals, successfully spinning routine with welcome attention to character. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Dead Man Down

DEAD MAN DOWN Colin Farrel Noomi Rapace

It’s extremely frustrating to watch “Dead Man Down.” Frustrating because there are so many bright, inventive production participants making very dim decisions with suspense and action, turning a promising thriller about instability and revenge into a gun-worshiping DTV-esque downer. Teasing complexity and a sincere pass at full-bodied characterizations, “Dead Man Down” has the raw materials to redirect steadfast genre elements into new and interesting directions. Director Niels Arden Oplev only manages to tease potential, strangely second-guessing himself as he brings a crude script to life. For every step forward, Oplev takes two steps backwards, consistently undermining the positive aspects of the picture by remaining so slavish to its palpable stupidity. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The Girl

GIRL Abbie Cornish

It’s been difficult to get a proper read of Abbie Cornish as an actress. She’s done some interesting work in pictures such as “W.E.” and “Limitless,” but she’s not a performer who commands the screen, preferring coolness of character and deep introspection. Often, this can read as simple disinterest. “The Girl” provides Cornish with a leading role of substantial weight and patience. In fact, the entire movie hinges on her body language, with the small-scale drama uninterested in outbursts of melodrama, instead holding to subtleties of thought and urgency to generate essential tension. Cornish is marvelous in “The Girl,” finally proving herself to be a formidable actress after years spent struggling to be noticed. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Oz the Great and Powerful

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL Still 1

After the raging success of 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” reworking, it makes sense to find Disney sniffing around for another literary property open for a high-tech update. Mixing the world created by author L. Frank Baum with the 1939 classic, “The Wizard of Oz,” “Oz the Great and Powerful” comes into view, and mercifully, a few lessons were learned after Tim Burton’s blockbuster fairy tale left many cold. While limping along in a few areas of production, the “Oz” rebirth/prequel/tribute is truly extravagant family entertainment, gifted an epic swell courtesy of director Sam Raimi, who manages a troubling balance of reverence and originality with style and sweetness. Obviously, it’s impossible to touch the Judy Garland perennial, yet Raimi manages to return to this well-worn fantasy world and find new notes to play, while retaining his unmistakable filmmaking interests in dented valiance and spooky developments. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - No

NO Still 1

“No” is a creative take on political filmmaking, using a simple step backwards in terms of camera equipment to isolate a time and place with a subtle sense of the video age. It also endeavors to tell a specialized story of marketing, observing the use of television commercial techniques and promotional stratagem to win an election, reducing the urgency of the issues to play a mind game with the masses. It’s fascinating work from director Pablo Larrain and screenwriter Pedro Peirano, who manage to slip into the skin of a beleaguered country and detail the urgency of a revolution, sold one jingle at a time. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - Emperor

EMPEROR Tommy Lee Jones

Many films dramatize the aftermath of World War II, but few have tackled the immediate steps of research after combat has ceased. There’s a novelty to “Emperor” that makes it inviting, investigating conversations concerning the reconstruction of Japan mere days after atomic bombs were dropped in 1945. An historical treatment seems to be a perfectly acceptable route for the production to take, yet “Emperor” is concerned that hardened men talking procedural events won’t make much of a movie, so a romantic subplot is introduced, trying to humanize the enormity of war. It’s an unnecessary addition, but there’s a lot more disappointment to come with this lackluster effort. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com


Film Review - The We and the I

WE AND THE I Still 3

I like where director Michel Gondry’s heart is at with “The We and the I,” attempting to capture the impulse-driven behaviors of teenagers as they journey home together on a city bus. It’s a movie that’s loose and raw, using an ensemble of amateur adolescent actors to embody the free flow of emotions and reactions that typically follow characters of this age. Communicated with Gondry’s beloved sense of visual mischief and devotion to the art of the non sequitur, “The We and the I” is a production that’s worth at least a surface appreciation as it endeavors to make a film about kids starring kids. However, such ambition only carries the viewing experience so far, as most of the effort is strangled by a persistent unpleasantness and Gondry’s tone-deaf way with establishing sympathy for this public transit motley crew. Read the rest at Blu-ray.com