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August 2013

Blu-ray Review - The Life of Muhammad

The Life of Muhammad

The mystery of Islam is a powerful puzzle of interpretation and emotion that seem impossible to approach in our modern era, with the passions of certain participants discouraging outsiders from acquiring a deeper appreciation of the complicated religion. "The Life of Muhammad" isn't the final word on the vast sea of experience found within Islam, but it's an excellent starting point of understanding. Credit host Rageh Omaar, a composed journalist who dares to work his way into the nuances and controversies of the Prophet Muhammad's channeled wisdom, submitting a fascinating overview of an extraordinary life that touches on diverse acts of divinity, experience, aggression, and education. It's three hours devoted to the opinions of scholars and participants, with Omaar traveling around the Middle East on a quest to bring the intriguing layers of Islam to those unaware of its profound significance in world history and individual consciousness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff


"Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff" is an uncomfortable viewing experience for numerous reasons, though the secure melodramatic grip of the film is undeniable, keeping attention on the screen as the screenplay details some truly awful acts of sexual violence and psychological manipulation. It goes without writing that this is a bizarre picture, adapted from a 1970 book and released in 1979, issued during a time of racial sensitivity and bedroom liberation, yet utterly old-fashioned in its design of conflict -- think Douglas Sirk meets Melvin Van Peebles and you're halfway there. "Good Luck, Miss Wyckoff" is an unusual feature for unusual tastes, but the acting is brave and the darkness of the material is routinely confronted without blinking, forcing the viewer to work through this smorgasbord of Freudian probing and sexual awakening as the movie escalates its illness, often in a most captivating manner. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Oranges

The Oranges Hugh Laurie Leighton Meester

It's a tremendous challenge to make a movie about an unlikable character, especially one who commits to unsavory business despite enjoying all the opportunity in the world to avoid trouble. It takes a special directorial touch to pull off such a juggling act, making sure the viewer doesn't completely turn on the person intended to act as the emotional through line for the entire picture. "The Oranges" almost achieves a surprising stability when it comes to the dirty business of its lead character, displaying refreshing comfort with repugnant behavior that openly trashes numerous lives. That "The Oranges" hopes to tickle a few funny bones along the way is a bit of a stretch, yet helmer Julian Farino manages to corral a decent comedy about domestic disorder, working through clichéd bits of toxic suburban unrest with a modicum of dignity, keeping the effort light and approachable despite subplots that would register as chilling in real life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paranoia

PARANOIA Harrison Ford

For a decent thriller to work, there should be some sense of plausibility to help develop a connection with the audience, allowing them into the scheme of things through recognizable elements of suspicion, espionage, and accusation. “Paranoia” doesn’t exist on the Earth that we know and love, but a parallel dimension where handheld technology is capable of anything, destroying lives with the press of a smartphone button. Director Robert Luketic’s mistake is that he doesn’t brand “Paranoia” as sci-fi, instead trying to wow viewers with a contemporary tech-based suspense film that’s so focused on glowing screens and the titular anxiety, it abandons any shred of realism, thus turning a simple story of corporate spying with enticing possibilities into an extended run of silly make-em-ups that never congeal into nail-biting astonishment. Read the rest at

Film Review - Kick-Ass 2

KICK-ASS 2 Jim Carrey

This review contains strong language.

I was no fan of 2010’s “Kick-Ass,” though I was mildly beguiled by the feature’s comic book vigor, playing directly to the core demographic with a violent, sarcastic atmosphere that divided the audience into geeks fully invested in the work and outsiders who couldn’t compute the mixed messages director Matthew Vaughn was transmitting. Despite the original film’s inability to attract much attention at the box office, a small profit has triggered a sequel, once again adapting a comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. Vaughn’s stepped down, taking a producing role, and the insider shine has been scraped off, reducing “Kick-Ass 2” to a glorified DTV sequel that’s determined to outgun, out-slice, and out-diarrhea its precursor. It’s a vicious, ugly, unfunny picture, and one that’s lacking the millimeter of polish Vaughn rubbed into the first movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lee Daniels' The Butler

BUTLER Robin Williams

“Lee Daniels’ The Butler” is the official title of this picture due to ridiculous studio tensions that forced distributor The Weinstein Company to make a slight alteration to the label to prevent additional retitling banality. Turns out, the Lee Daniels brand on the feature is more appropriate than previously imagined, as “The Butler” is sopping wet with his filmmaking DNA, forgoing a clean sense of history and timing to slosh around numerous eras and interactions, almost forming a narrative by accident. It could some extra baking time in an editing suite, but the movie is undeniably passionate work, doing a commendable job making sense out of the helmer’s scattershot approach to a highly ordered life. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jobs

JOBS Ashton Kutcher Josh Gad

“Jobs” is a baffling motion picture, asking the audience to spent two hours with a narcissistic creep who stomped on those who helped to build an empire, flushed his family down the toilet, and treated underlings cruelly. Of course, it was all in the quest for perfection according to the screenplay by Matt Whiteley, giving Steve Jobs a free pass to sainthood, where his tech world innovation, not his dubious character, preserves his legacy at Apple Inc. Not that “Jobs” has any interest in behavioral complexity to challenge the exalted subject, instead behaving like a confused television movie that doesn’t exactly know how to transform extended examples of unbridled arrogance into a hard-edged celebration of dogged ambition. Read the rest at

Film Review - In a World

IN A WORLD Lake Bell

Although writer/director Lake Bell aims to construct a romantic comedy with her helming debut, “In a World,” the effort almost registers as a tribute film to the late voiceover artist, Don LaFontaine. One of the most famous voices in the history of the vocation, LaFontaine was turned into a pop culture player when his use of the titular phrase in movie trailers became the ubiquitous opener for any production needing that extra introductory punch. Bell aims to celebrate the industry and its players with the picture, which is always most confident inspecting the neuroses and power plays of the participants. The ooey-gooey material just doesn’t share the same personality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Last Passenger


“Last Passenger” isn’t a particularly innovative movie, but it does have the sense to at least attempt to break away from the thriller norm. A runaway train picture spotlighting a collection of desperate commuters, the film isn’t about pinpointing the root of all evil, instead valuing the cinematic appeal of sheer panic in the face of possible doom, working nuances of character over an enormous display of malice. For some, the lack of explicit evil behavior will register as frustrating, as the feature does lack a certain edge when it comes to antagonism. Others might enjoy the change in scenery, as “Last Passenger” is more interested in the steps of survival, not the mechanics of villainy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Standing Up


As a film director, D.J. Caruso has primarily pursued more bubblegum thriller material with “I Am Number Four” and “Eagle Eye,” while inspecting the dark side of life in pictures such as “The Salton Sea” and “Taking Lives.” “Standing Up” is a major change of pace for the helmer, who loses interest in visual effects and suspense set pieces to make a movie about two kids getting to know each other in the wake of a terrible incident involving summer camp bullying. It’s a sweet, sensitive story, guided benevolently by Caruso, who emphasizes the tale’s kindness and bittersweet qualities, creating one of the more humane tales of preadolescence to hit screens in some time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Street Trash

Street Trash Tenafly Viper

It's difficult to be truly offended by "Street Trash" because the picture is designed to repulse. It's not a movie for the faint of heart or the easily disturbed, spending 100 minutes running through all sorts of grotesqueries, sticky incidents, and nasty behavior, forging a subgenre known as "melt," which is exactly what the brand promises. The film is vile and frenzied, but it's also shockingly well made, crafted by a production team taking the challenge of a splatter film seriously, generating an outstandingly designed and photographed effort that's beguiling in its screen toxicity. Nobody's going to mistake "Street Trash" for Shakespeare, but saddled with a low budget and a premise that all but demands immediate dismissal, the endeavor somehow emerges slickly crafted and darkly comic, only overstepping its authority occasionally, perhaps just to make sure the viewer doesn't grow complacent with this phantasmagoria of carnival-colored death. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Tomboy

Betsy Russell Tomboy

"Tomboy" is a bizarre teen comedy from the 1985, revealing a surprisingly limited sense of humor while sending a confusing message of female empowerment. It's not stellar cinema by any means, but for those who have an affinity for a simpler time, when guys could get away with being unrepentant cads and donuts were sold on pure sex appeal, might take to the movie's moderate charms. At the very least, "Tomboy" provides an amiably earnest performance from star Betsy Russell, a bushy-haired actress who manages the screenplay's unsteady view toward the objectification of women with grace, communicating a fleeting sense of innocence and a more charged tone of exploitation as well. Russell's fun to watch in this ephemeral feature, with her natural spunk going a long way to even out directorial distraction from Herb Freed, who displays more interest in photographing naked breasts than he does massaging the heartfelt potential of the picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prince Avalanche


It’s been a long time since director David Gordon Green explored humanity. After a stretch guiding one inspired comedy (“Pineapple Express”) and two wretched ones (“The Sitter” and “Your Highness”), Green returns to his backwoods roots with “Prince Avalanche,” an oddly hypnotic tale of vulnerability that trusts the power of silence and imagery, managing to attack central conflicts from unusual angles. Beautifully shot and refreshingly performed from two actors in need of a change of pace, the movie settles into a position of isolation and finds rich character notes to play, spun with that special Green idiosyncrasy that once defined his career before Hollywood came calling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Elysium

ELYSIUM Matt Damon

Four years ago, Neill Blomkamp made a splash with his directorial debut, the alien immigration saga “District 9.” A sleeper smash that created a career for the helmer and star Sharlto Copley, the picture was pure overkill, but offered an enticing glimpse of Blomkamp’s undeniably fertile creative vision. “Elysium” is his big-budget follow-up, allowing the moviemaker a chance to romp around an immense sci-fi sandbox, with major stars to conduct and immaculate CGI machinery to manipulate. Even though the features are identical in many ways, “Elysium” is more polished than “District 9,” filling out Blomkamp’s visual potential in full. However, old, ugly habits remain, keeping his latest work frustrating to watch as it avoids greatness to monkey around with numerous noisemakers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lovelace

LOVELACE Amanda Seyfried

“Lovelace” isn’t a bio-pic about the star of “Deep Throat.” The film is merely a slice of her story told from two different perspectives, highlighting the perceived thrill of adult cinema fame and its haunting reality. It’s not an education on the life and times of Linda Lovelace, but a glimpse of her years as a victim, with barely any effort put forward to secure a rounded portrait of a complicated existence. Although it’s nicely shot and agreeably acted by Amanda Seyfried, “Lovelace” is a superficial examination of profound pain and dubious character, keeping the material disappointingly one-note when it aches to be so much more comprehensive. Read the rest at

Film Review - Planes

PLANES Dane Cook

Let’s not kid ourselves here, Disney’s “Planes” has arrived to facilitate the creation of a new generation of toys. It’s classic Hollywood marketing disguised as moviemaking, only here the groundwork has been laid by “Cars” and “Cars 2,” the Pixar pair that didn’t exactly win critical favor, but ran away with billions in merchandising. Billions. Of course the Mouse House was going to test the limits of this fandom, especially when the last “Cars” picture showed signs that audiences were growing a little tired of the automobile flavor. Now we have airplanes, but the story, the jokes, and the corporate manipulation remains the same. However, “Planes” does possess the fluid animation “Cars” lacked, taking to the sky with a slick presentation of aerial balletics and cartoon antics. Read the rest at

Film Review - Computer Chess


“Computer Chess” has a gimmick, and it’s a pretty fantastic one. Set in the early 1980s, the picture is shot with antique Portapak equipment, the kind of camera one wouldn’t dare point directly toward the sun. It lends the feature an endearingly low-fi look that’s played almost entirely straight, setting the retro mood with an authentic visual presence that’s amusing to simply study, unearthing vivid memories concerning the early stages of the video moviemaking revolution. Unfortunately, the effort’s imagination is limited to its look, as “Computer Chess” appears to mistake stasis for subversion, leaving the material’s quest to depict programming authenticity admirable, but hardly enough to fill out an entire film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jug Face


Horror films are a dime a dozen, often viewed chasing trends or lazily slopping the frame with blood to complete the genre task at hand. When a production comes around that seeks out a different tonal direction, it’s easy to notice the atmospheric changes. “Jug Face” is such a movie, with the presence of originality helping to make helmer Chad Crawford Kinkle’s debut feature stand out from the suffocating pack. It’s short (80 minutes long), sparingly severe, and mysterious, asking viewers to follow an unusual premise doesn’t reward with shocks, but a steady pulse of dread, making the macabre aspects of the work all the more unsettling. It’s a terrific picture, smartly made and sharply acted, and it’s one of the best chillers of the year. Read the rest at