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May 2013

Film Review - The Iceman

THE ICEMAN Michael Shannon

What “The Iceman” has to offer, we’ve seen before. It’s a hitman story, a bio-pic of sorts studying the cold-blooded career of Richard Kuklinski, a mafia enforcer who murdered over 100 people during his two decades on the job, dealing with all types of godfathers and hot-heads as he tried to raise a family in relative peace. It’s a tough guy saga touched up with some texture by co-writer/director Ariel Vromen, who makes a passable attempt to deepen the displays of underworld gamesmanship by focusing on the nuclear power generated in Kuklinski’s mounting frustration with his eroding life. It’s not a feature that lingers after it concludes, but considering the cliches available to the production, it shows some taste when it comes to goombah happenings. Read the rest at

Film Review - Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay


I’m almost embarrassed to admit that my introduction to Ricky Jay was through his acting credits, watching him perform in the films of David Mamet and Paul Thomas Anderson, completely unaware of his legacy as a sleight of hand master. His magical authority would come later to me, making his accomplishments and skill even more impressive, with his very career a type of delicious misdirection to people of a certain age. “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay” returns focus to Jay’s far-reaching history with tricks and stage performance, sitting down with the subject to discuss his influences and career, placing attention on a man who would much rather communicate through his indescribable brilliance with something as simple as a stack of playing cards. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love Is All You Need


Danish director Susanne Bier has built a career out of difficult pictures with hard edges, gracefully exploring the limits of vulnerability with a decidedly humane approach, always aware of natural behaviors that have generated some spellbinding cinema (including 2004’s “Brothers”). “Love Is All You Need” is an unnerving step toward mainstream acceptance for the helmer, masterminding an unexpectedly conventional romantic drama that carries a predictability about it that’s a touch deflating. I’m not suggesting the movie is a Kate Hudson rom-com with Katrina and the Waves needle drops, but for every touch of emotional texture that’s inviting, there’s a wallop of formula that’s disheartening. Read the rest at

Film Review - Erased

ERASED Aaron Eckhart 2

After playing second fiddle to Gerard Butler in last month’s “Olympus Has Fallen,” it’s about time star Aaron Eckhart proved himself in the action arena. It’s only a shame “Erased,” as nondescript a title as can be, doesn’t reveal much ingenuity in the stale genre, electing to reheat plot elements and violent encounters viewed in other, better films. Eckhart commits to the material like a professional, but his feverish investment in Arash Amel’s repetitive script and Philipp Stolzl’s pedestrian direction is wasted, with “Erased” struggling to come across exciting when it’s really just painfully average, resembling a sleepy version of “The Bourne Identity.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The English Teacher

ENGLISH TEACHER Julianne Moore 2

I wish “The English Teacher” was as humorous and mischievous as it believes itself to be. A farce in serious need of speed and content, the picture doesn’t exactly achieves its minimal goals, falling short of its intended satiric aim toward high school theatrical productions, while lacking spitfire as a comedy of errors tinged with uncomfortable sexuality. Although the cast is invested in the shenanigans to a satisfying degree, there’s simply not enough to the feature that translates to dynamic filmmaking. “The English Teacher” unfolds with all the edge and depth of a television movie, and despite some tempting turns of unsavory behavior, it barely shows interest in itself. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sightseers


With “Down Terrace” and “Kill List,” director Ben Wheatley was striving for more of a severe atmosphere of family dysfunction and the dark unknown, creating interesting but indulgent cinema that fell short of its initial promise. “Sightseers” takes Wheatley in a distinctly broad direction, creating a pitch-black comedy that’s uproarious when it isn’t completely horrifying. It’s shocking in all the good ways, lead by two fantastic performances from Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who capture the elusive feel of cheery malevolence early on the feature, helping to sell Wheatley’s casual atmosphere of whiplash temper down to the last gasp. “Sightseers” is a legitimate doozy. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Bletchley Circle

The Bletchley Circle

"The Bletchley Circle" has an irresistible hook for crime-solving entertainment, following the actions of four brilliant codebreakers from WWII as they reteam to track down a serial killer in their hometown nearly a decade later. I'm surprised this isn't a Hollywood blockbuster, as the premise is ripe for maximum genre exposure. Instead of overblown theatrics, we have this humble ITV production that's made its way to America via PBS in an effort to show the audience there's a little more bite to public television than one might expect. Sensible with a few outrageous touches and smashingly acted by the four leading ladies, "The Bletchley Circle" is addictive and fulfilling, carrying on like a traditional British procedural, only with a delightful push of empowerment to give it identity and a spirit to celebrate. Read the rest at

Film Review - Aftershock


“Aftershock” is a strange disaster film that desires to merge broad comedy with utter depravity, looking to concoct a pungent brew of exploitation for those who’ve developed a taste for such bitter screen insanity. Unfortunately, the feature is lopsided, unfunny, and needlessly aggressive, or, in other words, it was co-written by Eli Roth, the horror player behind the “Hostel” series and “Cabin Fever.” Though Nicolas Lopez is credited as co-screenwriter and director of “Aftershock,” the picture bears all the birth defects of a Roth endeavor, including wild tonal swings, cruel violence toward women, and an overly jokey introduction. Although it hopes to depict the utter downfall of man in the face of a natural disaster, it’s mostly obnoxious and forgettable. Read the rest at

Film Review - Peeples

PEEPLES David Alan Grier

The marketing for “Peeples” has been stamped silly with the Tyler Perry brand name, though he only has a vague producer presence here, not a primary creative role. Actually, it’s probably a mistake to have Mr. Madea’s name anywhere near the picture, as Perry’s core fanbase will be expecting something volcanic from a movie that just wants to relax and have a little harmless fun. It’s more Huxtables than hysterical. That’s not to suggest “Peeples” is an especially good film, but when it finds its silly stride, there’s some amusement to be had, providing a few scattered laughs. Its even-tempered atmosphere of mischief is perfectly alien to Perry’s bazooka approach, so be warned acolytes, this feature isn’t going to scratch that pan-wielding melodrama itch. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Great Gatsby

GREAT GATSBY Leonardo DiCaprio

Director Baz Luhrmann is not a miracle man, but he’s successfully restored pluck to fatigued material with his unique brand of cinematic voodoo. He made Shakespeare dizzy with 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet,” sent turn of the century Paris to Mars in 2001’s “Moulin Rouge,” and restored romantic sweep to a majestic continent with 2008’s “Australia.” However, turning his laser focus to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel “The Great Gatsby” somehow tangles his antennae, faced with material that doesn’t allow for the type of spunk Luhrmann has turned into a brand. Despite his best intentions to make this collection of mope and alienation feel like a celebration of a euphoric era and its force of personality, the helmer can’t inject feeling into a cold-blooded creation. It’s a gorgeous film; sadly, it’s not a silent one. Read the rest at

Film Review - In the House


Continuing his barbed but playful filmmaking interests as of late, writer/director Francois Ozon works his way to an exploration of voyeurism with his latest effort, “In the House.” Playing to the helmer’s strengths as it details obsession and mental gamesmanship, the feature is a riveting endeavor that blurs the line between fact and fiction, working as delicious commentary on the mechanics of literary manipulation while managing a peculiar complexity as a tale of depressed people avoiding their own realities. It’s amusing and unexpected, capturing the compulsive spirit of writing with wit and attention to mischief that keeps it unpredictable to the very end. Read the rest at

Film Review - At Any Price

AT ANY PRICE Dennis Quaid

In the mid-eighties, there was bumper crop of films examining the plight of the red-blooded, family-oriented American farmer as they faced industry demands, corporate interests, and dwindling profits. In 2013, the vocation has changed radically, with little room for a personal touch, giving way to fields of crops born from genetically modified seeds, with Big Agriculture turning to science and law to control what was once an Earthly treasure shared by all. “At Any Price” uses the discomfort surrounding GMO seeds as a foundation for its story of domestic dissolve, but largely ignores the possibilities of the conflict. In fact, the results are quite disastrous when it steps away from farming concerns, resulting in a movie that’s unforgivably clunky, tone-deaf, and dreadfully acted. Read the rest at

Film Review - Java Heat

JAVA HEAT Kellen Lutz

After securing blushes from teen girls worldwide with his supporting role in the “Twilight” series (playing Emmett, the vamp bruiser), Kellan Lutz is looking to break out on his own, accepting starring vehicles that require displays of strength and beefcakery. However, the true star of “Java Heat” is the Indonesian island where the location takes place, often displaying more nuance and personality than any of the performers onscreen. Rote and uneventful, “Java Heat” could’ve easily starred Jean-Claude Van Damme 15 years ago and probably would’ve been a total gas. Today, we’re stuck with Lutz, who doesn’t have the Euro charm or martial art prowess required to gift the production an identifying trait. Read the rest at

Film Review - What Richard Did


“What Richard Did” doesn’t move in traditional melodramatic directions, preferring to sustain an air of realism that often results in startling turns of character. It’s a low-key production, perhaps painfully so to some viewers, asking those with patience to stick with the relatively mundane aspects of Irish teen life before it springs an act of violence that changes the entire rotation of the picture. “What Richard Did” isn’t shocking in obvious ways, preferring to stun the audience with an authentic atmosphere of guilt and indecision, investing in the frustration of delayed response over unapologetic manipulation. It’s a quiet film, with stillness its secret weapon. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gambit

GAMBIT Colin Firth Cameron Diaz

“Gambit” announces its retro intentions right away, kicking off with an animated title sequence not unlike those found in the “Pink Panther” series. Although credited as a remake of a 1966 picture starring Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine, the new “Gambit” is more of its own thing, only retaining the comedic sensibilities of the 1960s, along with a jazzy score. Colliding into today’s marketplace of irony and improvisation, and the update’s silly sense of rehearsed humor might appear ridiculously old-fashioned, yet it works in small doses. The feature is seldom funny, but it’s consistently amusing thanks to a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen and performances from stars Colin Firth and Alan Rickman, who appear to enjoying themselves immensely while the story concocts rising flood waters of humiliation and mischief. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bert Stern: Original Madman

BERT STERN Marilyn Monroe

The Bert Stern that we know is the legendary advertising and celebrity photographer, a man with a singular eye for feminine beauty and unforgettable composition, building his career on iconic pictures, most notably of Marilyn Monroe just before she passed away in 1962. The Bert Stern of the “Original Madman” documentary is an older gentleman with limited patience, allowing his longtime infatuation, director Shannah Laumeister, to track his life and career, interviewing the subject seemingly whenever she could find five minutes of his undivided attention. Candid but cold, “Bert Stern: Original Madman” remains a riveting sit, granted front-row access to an obsessive mind and a startling artistic visionary. Read the rest at

Film Review - Iron Man 3

IRON MAN 3 Robert Downey Jr.

When we last saw Iron Man saving the day, he was a member of the Avengers, teaming up with his superhero friends to save the Earth from a city-smashing alien invasion. Unable to topple that mighty achievement, co-writer/director Shane Black selects an insular path for the arrogant but lovable Tony Stark, and that unusual mix of spectacle and personal inventory keeps “Iron Man 3” stuck in neutral, unwilling to soar as summer entertainment while frustratingly confused with its gratuitously expansive storytelling. One major sequence nearly saves the whole endeavor, but what Black has here is flat and overstuffed with contrived comic book business, feeling about as heavy and immobile as Stark’s famous armor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Upstream Color


In 2004, writer/director/actor/producer/composer/editor Shane Carruth brought “Primer” into view. A no-budget but highly sophisticated picture that exhaustively explored the elasticity of the time travel subgenre, “Primer” was appreciated by a cult following that adored Carruth’s attention to detail and steely moviemaking approach. Nearly a decade later, the filmmaker returns to screens with “Upstream Color,” out to top his earlier work in the realm of abstract details and indie cinema polish. A brain-bleeder with no particular need for an audience, “Upstream Color” marks a bold creative step forward for the helmer, now blessed with more forgiving funding to explore his nervy yet calculated eccentricities. Read the rest at