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July 2013

Film Review - The Smurfs 2

SMURFS 2 Hank Azaria

In 2011’s “The Smurfs,” we learned that Smurfs are capable of breaking wind. In “The Smurfs 2,” it’s established that Smurfs have testicles. I’m not entirely certain why the moviemakers are so consumed with the bodily functions of these little blue creatures, but the humor remains fixed at that level for much of the picture. Picking up where the last endeavor left off, “The Smurfs 2” shows some badly needed progression in the emotional resonance department, but the rest of the sequel is mired by an oddly joyless atmosphere of evildoing, while the promise of a fresh location is abandoned to pursue some of the lamest attempts at humor viewed in a family film this year. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Massage Parlor Murders


"Massage Parlor Murders" opens with a scene that finds a lowly, frugal john negotiating with a comely working girl for special clothes-removing enhancements to his anticipated rubdown (scored to Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker," natch). The scene has nothing to do with the rest of the picture, yet it's an apt start to the feature, which continues down a path of incoherence and slapdash filmmaking. Right from the start there's sleaze, a general reluctance to spend money, and naked breasts, which sums up the viewing event extraordinarily well. Exploitation cinema with a side serving of New York City travelogue, "Massage Parlor Murders" isn't much of a movie, but it's a heck of a viewing experience, packing in enough violence, vague confrontations, and nudity to satisfy those in the mood for gratuitous, no-budget entertainment. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Into the White


The intimacy of "Into the White" is fascinating, helping to move a routine tale about sworn enemies coming together in the face of certain death 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 occurring in the freezing cold, with a sharp, expressive collection of actors chosen to embody national pride as it's tested in a most unforgiving environment during a time of complete intolerance. Dramatically rewarding and geographically vivid, "Into the White" generates a satisfactory amount of suspense and thawing personality to achieve its limited goals, successfully spinning the familiar with welcome attention to character. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Frankie Go Boom

FRANKIE GO BOOM Charlie Hunnam

A comedic farce doesn't have to make perfect sense, but there should be something within the realm of logic fueling the insanity, grounding the effort in plausibility as fits of madness swirl around. The unfortunately titled "Frankie Go Boom" doesn't supply a single believable moment, sprinting around a most nonsensical, contrived offering of screenwriting. It's unbearable to sit through at times, watching decent actors flounder with intentionally ridiculous material, working themselves into a lather to serve writer/director Jordan Roberts's clumsy sense of humor. It's utter nonsense, but not an admirable type of tomfoolery that carries itself with an engaging creative vision. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wolverine

WOLVERINE Hugh Jackman

While greeted with robust box office, 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was met with fan apathy, with most complaints stemming from the studio’s attempt to make a colorful, cartoony mutant nation movie out of a solo effort (wedging into an acting role didn’t exactly help the cause either), crowding out the central appeal of the picture. With “The Wolverine,” the boat now rocks in the opposite direction, stripping away the theme park vibe of the previous film to craft a more pained take on the clawed superhero’s ongoing tango with mortality, eschewing big action for furrowed brows and Japanese melodrama. The change in scenery is attractive, yet “The Wolverine” is missing fire in its belly, feeling mummified by its intentional downshift into a mood piece. Read the rest at

Film Review - The To Do List

TO DO LIST Aubrey Plaza Rachel Bilson

“The To Do List” represents a change of perspective for the average sex comedy, taking a female POV in a genre typically dominated by the drooly interests of knuckle-dragging males. However, the refreshing view only lasts so long in Maggie Carey’s feature-length directorial debut, eventually blocked out by a few needless detours into gross-out comedy and a wooden lead performance from star Aubrey Plaza. “The To Do List” is out to shock, but it’s also interested in sympathy, making it one of the more disappointing pictures of this deflating summer, wasting a perfectly wonderful supporting cast and knowing attitude on impatient screenwriting and haphazard editing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hunt

THE HUNT Mads Mikkelsen

“The Hunt” tells the harrowing story of an impulsive accusation that develops into a wildfire of emotions and revulsion. It’s drama that’s out to rile up audiences with scenes of injustice and judgment, yet the explosive qualities of the work are skillfully managed by director Thomas Vinterberg and co-screenwriter screenwriter Tobias Lindholm, who ignore the temptation to lurch into hysterics, playing the spread of rumor and disease with striking minimalism, thus encouraging a more profound reaction to the work. “The Hunt” will have you balling up a fist and shedding a few tears as the tale unfolds, providing an exquisitely unpleasant conflict that’s simply riveting to study. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Band Called Death


There is an irresistible sense of joy to the music documentary “A Band Called Death.” It’s mournful work in many ways, but also carries itself with an air of triumph as it winds through an extraordinary story of dormancy and frustration. Similar in scope to the 2008 triumph “Anvil! The Story of Anvil,” “A Band Called Death” tracks the same emotional journey of delayed gratification, only here the players are atypical to the world of punk music, with directors Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett using the sheer oddity of the subjects and their strange road to a record release to fashion an exceptional look at artistic integrity, musical innovation, and the power of family ties. Read the rest at

Film Review - Drug War


The supercop genre isn’t distinctly American in design, but we certainly lead the pack when it comes to the stylized activity of police in the line of duty, questioning perps and blasting holes in baddies. Perhaps this is why the bluntly titled “Drug War” is so compelling, taking the clenched-fist fight against crime to China, where matters of public protection are more reservedly severe. Twisting genre elements into a fresh pass at dirty business, the latest from acclaimed and prolific director Johnnie To manages to seize atypical nuances when it comes to the battle between good and evil, deploying ace tech credits to mastermind a sleek, scary look at the collateral damage of a seemingly futile conflict. Read the rest at

Film Review - Crystal Fairy


“Crystal Fairy” (actually titled “Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus and 2012” before somebody wised up during the marketing process) is an odd picture made for a specialized moviegoing mood. It’s rambling and spaced-out, with an absurdly severe conclusion that mucks with the strange tonality of the work, yet writer/director/co-star Sebastian Silva finds a breezy rhythm that’s worth a look. There’s also a question of star Michael Cera, who finds a place of mild comedy and wickedly passive-aggressive behavior that suits his limited dramatic range, making his performance something special in a film that’s not especially convincing with its quirk and qualities of observation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fruitvale Station


“Fruitvale Station” isn’t interested in presenting cold, hard facts. Although it opens with actual video footage of Oscar Grant being shot by a BART officer, the rest of the movie is devoted to a broad representation of the young man’s life, mixing recreation with outright fiction. For some, the overwhelming sympathy shown to Grant will provide an exhaustively emotional experience, helping to mourn a senseless death. However, “Fruitvale Station” doesn’t do itself any favors by ignoring the mysterious workings of the incident, and while the picture is penetratingly performed, it leaves numerous questions behind in regards to the killing and Grant’s distressed demeanor, rendering the feature too calculated for comfort. Read the rest at

Film Review - House Party: Tonight's the Night


It’s interesting to find Warner Brothers attempting to sequelize/spin-off the film “House Party” 23 years after it opened in theaters. That there’s still value in the brand name is extraordinary, especially when the latest installment, “House Party: Tonight’s the Night,” is aimed directly at young “Step Up” fans that can’t get enough of the hat-askew, back-flipping stuff. I’m just going to assume that most viewers taking the time to watch “Tonight’s the Night” have never even heard of “House Party,” otherwise, they’d be watching the original “House Party” and not this decidedly unfunny, sophomoric creation that plays like an R-rated Disney Channel movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stranded


Horror films set in space are often a difficult proposition. Horror films set in space that have no budget to work with have more of a creative uphill climb. “Stranded” is a lunar adventure that takes place on a single set, with limited visual variance to help sell the sci-fi aspects of the story, while the script largely avoids anything that might require any type of specialized activity outside of actors stomping around looking frightened. It’s the latest from “Battlefield Earth” helmer Roger Christian, which should be enough of a review right there for most readers. Cheap, dull, and starring Christian Slater, “Stranded” is a generic effort that doesn’t set out to achieve much over 85 tedious minutes of screen time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Code of Silence

Code of Silence Chuck Norris

In 1985, Chuck Norris was in a peculiar place in his career. Having fought to build his brand name on a history of martial arts training and demonstration, Norris took on Hollywood with the same determination, starring in a series of actioners that transformed him into an icon, but one with questionable taste in screenplays and directors. By the mid-1980s, the star was trapped in a Cannon Films bear trap, churning out pictures such as "Missing in Action" and "Invasion U.S.A." However, in the midst of this contractual flurry, Norris managed to slip "Code of Silence" into the mix, toplining a gritty, low-wattage police thriller that only relies on Norris's standard display of kick-happy skills of defense in the final act, allowing the star to, gulp, act a little between displays of disgust. An entertaining ride through the underbelly of Chicago, "Code of Silence" manages to temporarily bring Norris to a realm of reality, sticking a bearded force for justice in the midst of mob warfare and a sickly sea of corrupt cops, gradually shaping his character into a lone wolf instead of just assuming the position before the opening titles have an opportunity to finish. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dealin' With idiots


To fully appreciate “Dealin’ with Idiots,” the viewer must have some working knowledge of its writer/director/star Jeff Garlin. Or perhaps patience is a more accurate description. The combative comedian who rose to fame on the HBO program “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Garlin is an acquired taste, repeatedly falling back on his skills of improvisation and observation to help him crack wise, often punctuated with his squealy, infectious laugh. The howl is sadly missing from Garlin’s second helming stint (following up his 2006 movie, “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With”), but the rest of his loose sense of humor remains in “Dealin’ with Idiots,” an impulsive character-driven effort that’s good for a few laughs and some serious confusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - R.I.P.D.

RIPD Jeff Bridges Ryan Reynolds

“R.I.P.D.” is a constipated picture. It’s easy to see what the production had in mind when cameras originally rolled, but editorial tinkering and general tonal indecision has coughed up a painless misfire -- a movie that could’ve been something sharper, sillier, and more direct with its action sequences. What’s up on the screen is flawed and noisy, trying to siphon “Men in Black” fuel without the imagination of Barry Sonnenfeld in play, and while it doesn’t come together, there are a few inspired moments to pick up the slack, and the presence of Jeff Bridges has the ability to lighten any mood, gleefully stomping around the effort like he owns it. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Conjuring

CONJURING Vera Farmiga

This second wind in the directorial career of James Wan has been fascinating to watch. Almost killing his career with dreadful pictures such as “Death Sentence” and “Dead Silence,” Wan rebounded with the 2011 horror humdinger “Insidious,” which inched the helmer away from gore and noise, challenging him in the art of the scare. With a sharp visual sense and welcome patience for the haunted house subgenre, Wan found an ideal match to his sensibilities, now returning to the deep dark with “The Conjuring.” Again favoring tension over bedlam, Wan issues a similar but successful follow-up to “Insidious” (as opposed to “Insidious: Chapter 2,” also from Wan and due in September), finding proper beats of fright and family to play in this throwback endeavor. Read the rest at

Film Review - Grabbers

GRABBERS Ruth Bradley

The monster movie tradition receives a delightful Irish makeover in “Grabbers,” a fast and funny horror comedy that finds a fresh angle to play in a subgenre that’s always in need of a change of pace. Led by marvelous performances from stars Richard Coyle and Ruth Bradley, director Jon Wright locates a specific position of insanity to play and commits in full, making the small-scale adventure feel significant while securing a healthy number of laughs during the ride. It’s cheeky and reverential, keeping the creature feature alive with a glass-clinking tilt, trading Americanized mayhem for Irish wit, a few close encounters, and plot that actually finds a way to celebrate binge drinking. Read the rest at