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April 2013

Blu-ray Review - Earth from Space


Earth is an extremely complex planet, and we don't always have the best perspective when it comes to assessing its sophisticated performance. Up high in the sky is a network of satellites (some reaching up to 25,000 miles above Earth) tasked with studying the meteorological systems of the planet, helping to create useful graphics that provide a deeper understanding of routines and changes in the atmosphere. "Earth from Space" is a "Nova" episode that details the work of this eye-in-the-sky team as it isolates planetary habits and sudden changes, helping scientists understand significant threats facing the continents, while solving a few mysteries along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Numbers Station


“The Numbers Station” earns points for being a somewhat original take on the bunker thriller subgenre, using a spy vs. spy world of codes and assassination attempts to beef up an otherwise simplistic siege story. While not a terribly convincing picture, “The Numbers Station” has a few moments of workable suspense and puzzle solving, while star John Cusack supplies an appealing restless energy to the effort, strengthening scenes that would otherwise die on the vine. Strictly for fans of the stars and perhaps those with an insatiable curiosity about career low points, the feature is certainly digestible, but rarely memorable. Read the rest at

Film Review - Arthur Newman


It’s interesting to consider how some actors find their way into starring roles. A few years back, Colin Firth won an Oscar for his work in the worldwide smash “The King’s Speech,” and now he’s found himself in “Arthur Newman,” which is far removed from the high-profile screen challenges the leading man has enjoyed recently. Although the material is threatened with a dark undertow of mental illness, the overall inertia of the effort comes to rob the film of such intensity, meandering through misadventures with the two leads instead of attacking the story at hand. Though Firth and co-star Emily Blunt work to inject honesty into their performances, the feature doesn’t sustain much substance deeper than surface ache. It’s more indulgently mournful than motivated. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Big Wedding

BIG WEDDING De Niro Keaton

It doesn't take long, perhaps five minutes, before it's abundantly clear that "The Big Wedding" is going to be of no use. Commencing with vague introductions, the material is soon asking Robert De Niro to prepare Susan Sarandon for an impromptu session of oral sex on a kitchen countertop before Diane Keaton nervously interrupts, resulting in a touch of physical comedy as the amorous characters try to find their composure while dealing with dangling underwear and an untamable erection. It's how the movie begins, folks, and the next 80 minutes aren't an improvement. Unlikable, unthinkable, and unwatchable, "The Big Wedding" proves that bright stars and a reliable romantic event is no match for an ugly and tone-deaf screenplay, chased by amateur direction. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Brother the Devil


"My Brother the Devil" has powerful individual moments, truly honest emotional searching that gives the material depth the movie doesn't otherwise possess. Though it comes across as yet another inspection of misspent youth in a rap-saturated council estate setting, writer/director Sally El Hosaini scratches a little deeper to explore the bonds between siblings, where influence and approval reign supreme. Being her first film, "My Brother the Devil" is kneecapped by stiff scenes and overcooked performances, but as a whole, the picture introduces the world to a promising storytelling talent with more on her mind than sneers and straightforward criminal interests. Read the rest at

Film Review - Birdemic 2: The Resurrection

BIRDEMIC 2 Whitney Moore

The key to 2010’s “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” was its sincerity. It was a genuinely awful feature from an enormously incompetent filmmaker, a man who thought he could match his idol Alfred Hitchcock in the suspense department, only to make a mind-numbingly tedious, technically disastrous picture about global warming, attacking birds, and young people dealing with vaguely defined vocational triumphs. Of course, it was hilarious to watch, leaning into every last creative pothole writer/director James Nguyen created, studying a movie that had absolutely no ambition beyond being a movie, and it often failed at that. Molded into a midnight movie phenomenon, sold on its badness, “Birdemic: Shock and Terror” transformed into something of a hit. And with any unexpected cinematic success comes a sequel, whether we want one or not. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pain & Gain


After the 2011 release of the global blockbuster “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” director Michael Bay wanted to challenge himself again. After years of gargantuan features, “Pain & Gain” represented a return to roots planted with the 1995 action comedy “Bad Boys,” offering Bay a chance to cause a comparatively low-budget ruckus in his favorite filming location: Miami. The robots in disguise are gone, replaced by equally destructive bodybuilders on the hunt for the American Dream, and while the potential of this true story is immense, Bay resorts to his old tricks, making the picture more frustrating and deadening than raucous. Intentionally ugly and mean-spirited, “Pain & Gain” somehow believes itself to be a coked-out, body-smashing good time at the movies. Instead, it’s quite a chore to sit through. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mud

MUD Still 2

The power of great cinema is a special thing. With “Mud,” the screening audience I attended the film with fell in love with the picture, physically and verbally invested in story and character to a degree I haven’t been exposed to in a very long time. It was a unique moviegoing adventure for a classically conceived effort, standing somewhere between a Mark Twain novel and a David Gordon Green feature (at least one where he’s not trying to be funny). Somber and engrossing, “Mud” is like paging through a terrific book containing a few dull chapters, with writer/director Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”) creating an evocative atmosphere of mystery and misfortune, captured through well-rounded personalities, patient screenwriting, and ace acting from most of the cast. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Central Park Five


With "The Central Park Five," Sarah Burns enters the filmmaking scene, accepting the challenge of a documentary concentrating on a monumental perversion of justice. Of course, Burns has a few aces up her sleeve, bringing in husband David McMahon and father Ken Burns (the man behind such iconic programming as "The Civil War," "Baseball," and the recent "The Dust Bowl") to co-direct, joining the family business as a seeker of truth and an admirer of history. Those already in step with the Burns way won't be surprised by the look and feel of "The Central Park Five," but the story is unforgettable, detailing a nightmare scenario for five Harlem teenagers facing hard prison time and the condemnation of America for a crime they didn't commit. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mr. Selfridge


After the rampaging worldwide success of "Downton Abbey," it was inevitable that a knockoff would emerge, cut from the same elegant cloth. With "Mr. Selfridge," a game of rumor, disaster, and manners returns to the small screen, though it's miles away from countryside opulence and aristocratic concerns, turning to the inner workings of a department store to embark on a multi-character odyssey of melodrama. It's tart, expansive material, yet the endeavor is weighed down by a significant case of déjà vu. Hoping to satisfy ravenous "Downton" fans between seasons, "Mr. Selfridge" comes across as a soggy carbon copy, laboring to cook up the same regality and ridiculousness that defined the smash Julian Fellowes show, only here the results are uneven, uninteresting, and anchored by an actor who's physically and psychologically uncomfortable in the leading role. Read the rest at

Film Review - Welcome to the Punch


“Welcome to the Punch” is a steely, stylish picture, yet it lacks much of its titular promise. Weirdly abrupt and largely inconsequential, the feature is only good for a few decent shoot-outs and chase sequences, where writer/director Eran Creevy shows potential with visceral elements. However, consistency of storytelling eludes him, with “Welcome to the Punch” prone to meandering with complex character associations, almost showing disinterest in itself. Thankfully, a cast of solid U.K. actors pick up the slack, bringing intensity and behavioral nuance to an otherwise airy actioner that feels severely pared down from its original intent. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lords of Salem

LORDS OF SALEM Sheri Moon Zombie

After flirting with the abstract and the surreal in the midst of slasher film shenanigans with “Halloween II,” writer/director Rob Zombie has decided to scratch the itch in full with “The Lords of Salem.” A bizarre mind-bomb of a movie, the feature represents a slight change in direction for the helmer, who once had a ball raising hillbilly hell and now appears to be consumed with atmospheric nightmares, with a heavy tilt toward psychological erosion. “The Lords of Salem” isn’t for every taste, with those hankering for a vicious joyride into the black heart of witchcraft sure to walk away disappointed. The effort is best suited for viewers willing to allow Zombie time to chase artistic impulses and genre obsessions, to let the doomsday weirdness gradually wash over them. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cheech & Chong's Animated Movie


Despite a few public animosities and a prolonged break-up period, Cheech and Chong have remained a force of comedy for over 40 years, which is no small achievement. Fans have come to expect a certain impish, pot-laced sense of humor from the duo, and “Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie” delivers exactly that, playing like a greatest hits album of old bits, interpreted through the click-and-point miracle of modern cartooning. Strictly for the faithful, the feature is essentially a victory lap for the pair, recycling their brand of drugs-n-fart humor in an attempt to entice a new generation of stoners aching to see such antics colorfully rendered onscreen. Read the rest at

Film Review - Manborg


Their name is Astron-6. A filmmaking collective from Canada, the production team specializes in retro entertainment with a distinct wink, fueled by a love of eighties cinema and the freedom of no-budget creative challenges. Their debut feature, “Father’s Day,” was an unexpectedly hilarious, imaginative take on splatter shenanigans, cutting the toxicity of the gore with a sly sense of humor, articulated by a sharp ensemble of capable comedians. Astron-6 returns with “Manborg,” another dip into the warm waters of violent B-movie reverence, this time channeling “RoboCop,” Sam Raimi, and the “Mortal Kombat” video game to generate an acid-washed cornucopia of action and laughs. Short, silly, and superbly crafted with next to no money, “Manborg” is a delight. Read the rest at

Film Review - Oblivion

OBLIVION Olga Kurylenko

“Oblivion” is sci-fi entertainment that recalls genre pictures from the 1980s and ‘70s, where character and spectacle were more evenly matched. It’s a strikingly designed and photographed effort that indulges only a handful of blockbuster bonanza moments, more attentive to its knotted exploration of identity and paranoia, almost old fashioned in its inspection of psychological disruption. That’s not to suggest “Oblivion” isn’t exciting, but it carries more of a literary tone, hoping to extract suspense through intimacy instead of explosions, constructing a beguiling atmosphere of isolation and revelation that keeps the production alert, despite a few convoluted twists along the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Company You Keep


Robert Redford is no fool. The screen icon and celebrated director knows full well that audiences wouldn’t be very patient with his latest film, “The Company You Keep,” without the security and color of a large cast made up of famous faces. It’s a smart move, providing a sense of stability with this labyrinthine tale of aging radicals, weighty secrets, and dubious journalism, with the talent helping to ease the often scattered feel of the storytelling -- an effort that faces a difficult job of establishing numerous names and places. Never underestimate these modest flashes of star power, as the ensemble manufactures the suspense and reflection necessary to make “The Company You Keep” stick as a stirring drama and as a statement of generational idealism greeting the golden years. Read the rest at

Film Review - Disconnect

DISCONNECT Jason Bateman

In the interconnected world we live in, dangers are abundant. With so many people exchanging their inner most thoughts and fears, along with all kinds of sensitive information, the potential for catastrophe is great, yet the warning signs remain hazy. “Disconnect” seeks to navigate the divide between machine and humankind, initially setting out to inspect intimate violations brought to life via online communication. It’s a fascinating topic and one of utmost importance in today’s plugged-in society. Unfortunately, director Henry-Alex Rubin doesn’t examine the issues long enough, soon clearing away a promising cautionary tale to sermonize with a heavy, almost suffocating melodramatic approach to close out this crushingly formulaic picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bachelorette


While I didn't find myself overwhelmed with the insanity of the 2011 hit, "Bridesmaids," its absurd length and dramatic decline is a Caribbean vacation compared to the forced acid bath of "Bachelorette." Shockingly unlikable and unfunny, this latest round of women behaving badly is crippled by unnecessary excess, botched characterizations, and a calculated round of 1990s nostalgia to appeal to the core demographic. Aching to be irreverent and insightful when it comes to the flattened soul of the thirtysomething party girl facing the cell clank of adulthood, "Bachelorette" would be better off as a soulless farce, not the noxious semi-melodrama it eventually becomes. It's a movie that doesn't know whether to hug its characters or push them off a bridge. Read the rest at