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June 2013

Blu-ray Review - Great Zebra Exodus


"Great Zebra Exodus" (an episode of the PBS program "Nature") sets out to communicate the hardship of the titular animal as it strives to survive in a harsh world of starvation and roving predators. We visit Botswana, Africa to greet the zebras, who embark on a monumental migration every year across the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, an area where rain and food are scarce, forcing the zebras to march for over 2,500 miles on the hunt for sustenance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Berberian Sound Studio


“Berberian Sound Studio” is a challenging picture that will be absolute catnip to film fans, especially those with a fondness for the Italian movie industry of the 1970s. Bizarre and tastefully incomprehensible, the effort is reserved for those who enjoy the process of interpretation without much in the way of clues. However impenetrable the work becomes, “Berberian Sound Studio” is a lush, disturbing voyage into a gradual mental breakdown, artfully crafted by director Peter Strickland, who provides magnificent attention to detail and a fixation on an unsettling sense of decay, enhancing the reptilian skin of this enticingly weird feature. Read the rest at

Film Review - Man of Steel

MAN OF STEEL Henry Cavill Superman

Superheroes do not get much more sincere than Superman. He’s a symbol of hope, a fantasy of justice, and a slice of Americana down to his red and blue outfit. So what happens when a lively character of pure bravery is brought to the big screen in 2013, when sour introspection, graphic violence, and doomsday action rakes in major box office bucks? The result is “Man of Steel,” a concentrated effort to bend the Superman mythos into the shape of the Bat-signal. While fresh narrative directions and a radical redesign of known elements are welcome, it’s odd to find the latest from Zack Snyder essentially reheating what’s come before, straining to give the faithful what they love while stripping away intrinsic emotional expanse and the joyful experience of superpowers. Superman has been turned into a song by The Smiths. He was much more interesting as a sweeping orchestral explosion. Read the rest at

Film Review - V/H/S/2

VHS 2 Kelsy Abbott

Fueled by an obsession with low-fi terror and how it could reinvigorate the horror anthology subgenre, 2012’s “V/H/S” misfired more than it maimed. Hobbled by artistic unevenness and a dim-witted wraparound story, the jerky, exceedingly violent endeavor didn’t seem like a natural fit for sequels. However, never underestimate the power of a cult audience. Less than a year later, we’re faced with “V/H/S/2,” which continues the saga of the haunted videotapes, only the quality of the shorts presented here is miles ahead of what’s come before, with a newfound dedication to turning these disparate visions of doom into interesting little slices of POV misery, finding noticeable care poured into the work to form a stronger, more cohesive sequel. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vehicle 19

VEHICLE 19 Paul Walker

I’ll give star Paul Walker this much credit: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. After blistering the box office with the powerhouse sequel “Fast & Furious 6,” Walker remains behind the wheel for “Vehicle 19,” another picture that requires an intense range of grimaces in tight close-up while a professional movie stunt team makes a mess of city blocks and fellow automobiles. Low-tech and initially diverting, the feature soon rides on dramatically bald tires with Walker in the lead role, unable to squeeze out the necessary anguish to communicate the wrong place, wrong time feel of the script, often caught slack-jawed and staring when the moment demands raw emotion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Storm Surfers 3D

STORM SURFERS 3D Tom Carroll Ross Clarke-Jones

Dating back nearly 50 years, documentaries concerning the sport of surfing have become an intriguing subgenre. Detailing the passions and pursuits of young men and their dreams of oceanic playtime, the pictures, such as “The Endless Summer,” share a common quest to outdo the competition, visiting exotic locales and taking on larger, meaner waves to make the requisite impression on a most impressionable audience. “Storm Surfers 3D” takes thrills and spills to the next level, following champion surfers Ross Clarke-Jones and Tom Carroll as they hunt for rare breaks and hidden locales using the gift of science. This is no spiritual journey, it’s a meteorological one, out the capture aquatic ferocity and personal victory using the latest in industry trends. Read the rest at

Film Review - This Is the End

THIS IS THE END James Franco Seth Rogan Jonah Hill

“This Is the End” is a rare picture that goes from being completely indescribable to being somewhat conventional. It’s a cinematic house party from star/co-writer/co-director Seth Rogen, who calls in a slew of favors and gathers his tight-knit crew of funny folk to make a scattergun comedy that touches on the apocalypse, exorcisms, estranged friends, cannibalism, and the comfort of a Milky Way candy bar. It’s the end of the world turned into screen insanity by actors playing themselves, and the results are undeniably amusing, but hardly supply the bellylaughs one would expect from such sleepover atmosphere of pals making a hearty, weed-foggy doomsday commotion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rapture-Palooza


The release of “Rapture-Palooza” displays some interesting timing, quickly ushered into theaters within the same week Seth Rogen’s “This Is the End,” another end-of-days comedy, makes its big debut. Making the situation even more uncomfortable, the dueling doomsday movies share a lead actor in Craig Robinson, who also takes an executive producer credit on “Rapture-Palooza.” The competition is unfortunate, since one film is authentically funny, features some sense of imagination when it comes to the grim details of the apocalypse, and provides a fantastically game all-star cast of funny folk, while the other effort is “Rapture-Palooza.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Tiger Eyes


It’s hard to believe that “Tiger Eyes” represents the first major motion picture adaption of a Judy Blume novel. The celebrated author (“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret”), once a mighty junior high library beacon to adolescents everywhere, seems like a natural fit for teen cinema tastes, with her frank discussions of growing pains and her commitment to an honest assessment of emergent emotions. While Blume’s world is long overdue for a big screen spin, it’s unfortunate that the first effort out of the gate is “Tiger Eyes.” While the feature is rich with malleable misery and juvenile disquiet, it makes for a leaden, rushed movie, with Blume’s own son responsible for mucking with the nuances of the source material, flattening promising conflicts and painful introspection. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Straight A's

STRAIGHT A'S Ryan Phillippe

"Straight A's" has elements of emotion and meaning, yet it's nearly impossible to understand exactly what screenwriter David Cole had in mind originally for this baffling tale of soulful rehabilitation. There's little here worth recommending to viewers, as director James Cox (making a return to filmmaking after 2003's similarly mangled "Wonderland") is lost in the details of craftsmanship, losing sight of the dramatic power that's supposedly meant to fuel the picture to its searing, poetic conclusion. "Straight A's" is messy and undernourished, struggling to make sense of itself while issuing sizable moments of confrontation and introspection, hanging limited actors out to dry as the production spends more time perfecting the lighting than connecting the players in this limp game of family dysfunction and temptation. Read the rest at

Film Review - I Give It a Year


Romantic comedies have it rough these days, but most invite misery through absurdly pedestrian screenwriting and dismal, overly vanilla casting. The British production “I Give It a Year” manages to indulge a touch of warmth via carefully managed bitterness, dissecting the genre to locate ideal notes of distress and embarrassment to play. In danger of becoming yet another relationship picture that misunderstands the Richard Curtis formula, the movie instead acquires its own personality of vulgar humor and matrimonial inspection, delivering on laughs and knowing cohabitational nods as it makes an agreeable screen mess of emotions and impulses, carried largely by an ensemble clearly enjoying the opportunity to send up the foibles of coupledom. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Internship

INTERNSHIP Vince Vaughn Owen Wilson

In 2005, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson co-starred in “Wedding Crashers,” a vulgar R-rated comedy that ended up becoming one of the biggest pictures of the year. Bizarrely, a sequel was never attempted. Instead of an official follow-up, there’s “The Internship,” which takes the opposite tonal route of “Wedding Crashers,” containing its outrageousness to a PG-13 uproar, while amplifying its feel-good intentions to win over the big summer crowds. The film feels weirdly gutless, especially from known rapscallions such as Wilson and Vaughn, showing surprisingly little hunger to land monster laughs, instead finding comfort in a tired underdog story gifted a tech-world spin. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Purge

PURGE Ethan Hawke

“The Purge” has a crackerjack premise it takes absolutely no interest in. It’s a disappointing feature that contains a substantial amount of stupidity, asking its audience to digest an entire buffet of illogic as it discards any hope for a profoundly satiric or meditative approach to a futureworld story of government-branded nationwide order via unspeakable violence. “The Purge” is careless work, more interested in summoning a haunted house atmosphere of cliched chills than exhaustively working over the potential of the piece, bringing to the screen a dire depiction of a world gone mad. Instead, the movie runs through the motions, gradually lobotomizing itself over 85 wasteful minutes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Violet & Daisy


Screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher won an Academy Award for his first produced work, 2009’s “Precious,” and now graduates to the director’s chair with “Violet & Daisy,” which is about as far removed from his industry introduction as possible. Taking on the assassin genre with initial hints toward the formation of a jailbait-killer satire, Fletcher soon loses the snap of his bubblegum, grinding the picture to a halt with banal stretches of dialogue and location claustrophobia. Leads Alexia Bledel and Saoirse Ronan show spark and interest to lean into the shaming Fletcher initially appears to value, but their efforts are gradually flooded by a helmer who doesn’t quite know what type of movie he wants to make. Read the rest at

Film Review - Before Midnight

BEFORE MIDNIGHT Ethan Hawke Julie Delpy

“Before Midnight” represents the next stage of development for the Richard Linklater-directed series, which wasn’t truly intended to be a string of movies in the first place. With 1995’s “Before Sunrise” and 2004’s “Before Sunset,” Linklater, along with star Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, crafted loquacious inspections of the human heart, studying the development of a tentative relationship as it grew from flirtation to promises, from loss to love. Now the topic is marriage and all its pitfalls and challenges, returning to the once springy lovers nearly two decades after they first met on a European train. True to form, Linklater doesn’t rock the boat with this second sequel, embarking on a familiar odyssey of conversation, personal inventory, and brutal honesty. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wish You Were Here


There’s an effective feeling of unease that hangs in the air of “Wish You Were Here,” a mystery film of sorts that walks a rough path toward tragedy. It’s a vacation-gone-wrong story, but one that’s not interested in generating fear, just unbearable tension as a simple journey into a foreign land proves disastrous, yet the participants refuse to divulge the details of their unraveling. Tightly constructed and honest with character relationships, “Wish You Were Here” is a riveting study of guilt and moral corruption, wisely using disorientation to sustain interest in the bleak proceedings. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Kings of Summer


There are moments in “The Kings of Summer” that conjure a feeling of pressurized adolescence, where innocence is depleting and parental quarrels turn into all-out war. And there are sequences presented here that resemble an audition tape for the Groundlings. It’s an unevenness that holds the picture low to the ground, despite its effort to come off as a document of juvenile concerns. Actually, there’s little about “The Kings of Summer” that’s consistent, rendering the film irksome in its randomness, finding a few profound windows to the soul before it lurches back into shtick coma mode, trying to come across silly when a more refined dramatic approach would support the intended emotional and nostalgic response. Read the rest at

Film Review - The History of Future Folk


“The History of Future Folk” is a perfectly pleasant picture. It’s not remarkable work, but a surprisingly gentle entry into the comedic musical duo sweepstakes once populated by the likes of Tenacious D and Flight of the Conchords, though the paring of Nils d’Aulaire and Jay Klaitz doesn’t aspire to any sort of comedic anarchy. Instead, directors John Mitchell and Jeremy Kipp Walker play it comfortable with this oddball sci-fi musical, trusting in their own scripted reality to a degree that such passion rubs off on the audience, disarmed by the feature’s generous spirit and set-list of toe-tapping tunes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Midnight's Children


“Midnight’s Children” is a sprawling motion picture that rarely pauses to allow its audience a moment to grasp the numerous leaps in time and enormous collection of characters. It’s based on the 1981 book by Salman Rushdie, who co-scripts and narrates this bizarre story of childhood trauma, magical powers, and crushing political changes, attempting to work its way to a grand summation of a life lived in full. Director Deepa Mehta fashions a lively movie for its first half, teeming with personality and digestible flights of fancy, only to be crushed by the overall narrative responsibility, unable to juggle faces and places to satisfaction. Read the rest at