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September 2013

Film Review - Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2


2009’s “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” was a silly yet sincerely awe-inspiring animated picture. Adapted from a popular children’s book, the feature took its visual potential seriously, imagining a wild adventure with hyper characters and an edible apocalypse, attempting to charge up the audience with slapstick comedy while making filmgoers practically lick the screen in a daze of food lust, watching a lusciously detailed buffet-gone-mad from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who engineered a charming, pleasingly tilted disaster movie. While it wasn’t exactly a story that lent itself to a franchise exploration, “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2” is here. It’s not as sweet and funny as the original effort, but as these types of cautious cash-ins go, it’s quite entertaining, while once again offering an eye-popping visual experience that supports the saggy screenwriting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

Released in 1990 to low box office and critical disinterest, Clive Barker’s “Nightbreed” (an adaptation of his novel “Cabal”) went on to achieve a modest cult following, tempting those used to the helmer’s passions for violent imagery and fantastical storytelling. However, Barker was outspoken in his distaste for the theatrical cut of the movie, which underwent editorial butchery and extensive reshoots to turn a sophisticated monster mythology into a run-of-the-mill slasher film, though one that retained a great deal of Barker’s personality due to intricate creature design and gothic overtones. After a search for materials that made up the original version previewed in 1989 resulted in the retrieval of two VHS workprints, we now have “Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut,” a restoration that reworks and expands the theatrical cut, adding 43 minutes of footage, altering 70% of the picture. For fans, it’s the holy grail of restorations, bringing an admittedly rough looking but mostly complete version of the feature to the screen, almost as a thank you gift to Barker.

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Film Review - The Congress

CONGRESS Robin Wright

Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

“The Congress” is a particularly dizzying, challenging film that has something to share concerning the state of Hollywood and its future appetites, also touching on the struggle of employment opportunities for actors as they march into old age. There are satiric elements to the material, but this is no lampoon, instead charging forth as a brain-bursting, sci-fi/animated endeavor, not unlike a Ralph Bakshi production, only with a little more self-control. Writer/director Ari Folman submits an audacious vision of color and content, displaying a consistent sense of creativity while the script flounders from time to time trying to dream up encounters worthy of the picture’s curious premise. Read the rest at

Film Review - Escape from Tomorrow


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

“Escape from Tomorrow” has a gimmick. And it’s an interesting one. Taking cameras, a script, and actors into Walt Disney World, writer/director Randy Moore set out to make movie without permission, utilizing the theme parks as a chaotic backdrop for a tale concerning a mental breakdown. The idea opens itself to satiric brilliance, contrasting this screaming psychological erosion with visions of costumed characters and spinning rides. Yet, Moore does absolutely nothing with this rare production event, failing to build a story or even a passable sense of hallucination with “Escape from Tomorrow,” which often relies on strained surrealism and shock value to pass the time between park visits. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Green Inferno


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

Writer/director Eli Roth adores the cannibal pictures of the 1970s and ‘80s, and he wants to share that appreciation with his own take on the subgenre, “The Green Inferno.” His enthusiasm for this grisly, borderline irresponsible series of movies is understood throughout his first helming effort since the 2007 misfire, “Hostel: Part II,” but his natural instincts toward jocularity and uninspired casting work to dial down the true terror of the feature. It’s a blood-soaked ride into the jaws of Hell, but “The Green Inferno” is too frivolous to score as nightmare material, finding Roth displaying habitual timidity when it comes to truly shocking encounters. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Sacrament


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

Writer/director Ti West has made quite an impression in the horror genre where many of his contemporaries have failed. With 2009’s “The House of the Devil” and 2011’s “The Innkeepers,” West successfully reworked formula to fit his own vision for chills, showing a healthy amount of invention in an industry that’s content to refuse such ambition. “The Sacrament” is a slight detour from the boogeyman routine, taking on the reverberation of a real-world nightmare as West dramatizes the Jonestown incident from 1978. However, instead of pushing the heavily reported story in a fresh direction, the helmer clings to the basics of manipulation and sacrifice, keeping “The Sacrament” predictable, cranking up violence and extended scenes of suffering to help the picture leave the audience with a lasting bruise. Read the rest at

Film Review - Metallica: Through the Never


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

It’s tough out there for a concert film these days. Ever since Miley Cyrus brought Hannah Montana to box office gold in 2008, Hollywood has been chasing the big money with efforts devoted to The Jonas Brothers, Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, and One Direction. The genre receives a much needed kick in the behind with “Metallica: Through the Never,” a blistering performance picture that blends riotous stage action with an actual street riot, while asking fans to digest a heaping helping of surreal imagery. Its buzz saw execution is magnificent, making sure the audience exits the theater with melted brains and blood pouring out of their ears, but director Nimrod Antal (“Predators,” “Vacancy”) leaves the movie with more than a few question marks, which probably isn’t the best course of action to take when dealing with such a blunt cinematic instrument. Read the rest at

Film Review - Man of Tai Chi

MAN OF TAI CHI Keanu Reeves

Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

Keanu Reeves is no stranger to the world of martial art cinema. The star of “The Matrix” trilogy, Reeves has spent a considerable chunk of his career in training, learning the moves of several martial art traditions to best serve the vision of The Wachowski Siblings. Now he’s stepping behind the camera, taking command as the director of “Man of Tai Chi,” employing his interests and expertise with screen movement to build a simplistic but volatile fight film. The picture isn’t exactly an intellectual pursuit, but the essentials of brutality, choreography, and cinematographic patience are well cared for under Reeves’s watch. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don Jon

DON JON Joseph Gordon Levitt

Making his feature-length filmmaking debut, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has selected a fascinating topic to build a picture around. Inspecting a man addicted to internet pornography while keeping his life in meticulous order, Gordon-Levitt threatens to make a Very Special Movie, teaching the audience about the ills of objectification and all its temptations. Mercifully, “Don Jon” doesn’t elect that approach, instead providing a fresh view of an age-old weakness, updating the prowl of the New Jersey Guido to include technological woes that match all the pumped-up macho concerns. Read the rest at

Film Review - Enough Said

ENOUGH SAID Julia Louis Dreyfus

It’s bizarre to think that after 30 years of acting, Julia Louis-Dreyfus seems like a newcomer when it comes to her big screen performances. Finding monumental success on television, including her iconic run on “Seinfeld,” Louis-Dreyfus hasn’t shown much interest in a movie career, with this scarcity of credits preserving her ability to surprise. She lands a humdinger of a role in “Enough Said,” teaming up with writer/director Nicole Holofcener to work through a series of complex emotions, all of them realistically executed and universally understood, and she’s aces in every scene. Louis-Dreyfus gives “Enough Said” exquisite vulnerability and crack comic timing, helping the helmer lift a slightly tiresome plot off the ground, finding behavioral realism in the midst of sitcom tension. Read the rest at

Film Review - Curse of Chucky


Admittedly, the idea of Chucky the killer doll was always a little goofy, but the original “Child’s Play” pulled off the tonality of horror and absurdity with skill, launching the character as an unlikely horror icon. While 1998’s “Bride of Chucky” had a certain irreverent snap to it, the sequels have largely missed the mark when it comes to making the doll menacing, with 2004’s “Seed of Chucky” representing the bottom of the barrel in terms of creativity. After nearly a decade of dormancy, creator Don Mancini just can’t let the Good Guy go, resurrecting the plastic killer for “Curse of Chucky,” a DTV sequel that aims to restore severity to the wheezing franchise, though it doesn’t bring anything new to the table beyond a brief makeover for its knee-high star. Read the rest at

Film Review - Baggage Claim


To learn that “Baggage Claim” is based on a book is quite surprising. There’s nothing in the feature that even remotely hints at any literary inspiration, with most of the movie devoted to the romantic comedy formula, hitting the same beats of flirtation and separation viewed in thousands of pictures. Adapting his own novel for the screen, writer/director David E. Talbert (“First Sunday”) plays the material in a most obvious manner, hoping to achieve a little old-style Hollywood glow, yet story certainly isn’t the effort’s strong suit, with “Baggage Claim” more convincing with silliness than meaningful characterization. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Field in England


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

It’s become clear that director Ben Wheatley is only interested in making pictures for his own pleasure. It’s a noble creative quest, joining a few other helmers who’ve eschewed audience acceptance to forge their own cinematic interests, and the distance suits Wheatley. After the darkly comic delights and a rare turn of accessibility with “Sightseers,” the helmer returns to the abstract, unexplained, and interpretational impulses of his earlier work, including “Down Terrace” and “Kill List.” “A Field in England” features top-shelf tech credits and lively performances, and it will likely find a place of comfort near the bosom of fiercely analytical moviegoers. But is the film compelling? Not particularly, with Wheatley going about his business in a casually numbing manner that almost completely turns its back on the viewer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Morning


“Morning” tackles a devastating subject matter, surveying the psychological wreckage left behind after the death of child. It’s certainly not an easy filmmaking endeavor, demanding a special sensitivity to avoid television movie hysterics, preserving the nuances of such unfathomable pain. In director Leland Orser’s hands, “Morning” eschews the organic grind of grief and all its unpredictable behaviors to play out as an extended acting exercise, trying to pass off excessive indication as profound feeling. It’s a difficult sit, and not nearly as moving as it should be, with its central idea of lost communication buried under layers of artificiality, damming the mournful flow. Read the rest at

Film Review - When Comedy Went to School


There is a great tradition in American comedy of Jewish performers, men and women who conquered the funny business with exceptional wit, timing, and stage presence, triumphing over prejudice and intense competition to become legendary names. However, industry dominance has to start somewhere, and for the likes of Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, and Jackie Mason, that place was a Catskill Mountains, a sprawling landscape of natural beauty that developed into a beloved tourist destination during the 20th century. The documentary “When Comedy Went to School” delves into the story of resort life, where Jewish families gathered to feast, mingle, and enjoy up and coming comedians hungry for the spotlight. Read the rest at

Film Review - Coherence


Reviewed at Fantastic Fest 2013

Writer/director Shane Carruth has only masterminded two pictures, 2004’s “Primer” and last spring’s “Upstream Color,” yet he’s made enough of an impression to inspire something of a knockoff of his brain-bleeding work. “Coherence” is an ironic title for this twisty, talky indie effort, which labors to braid wandering improvisations with the finer points of quantum physics. As one might imagine, the results aren’t exactly compelling, but writer/director James Ward Byrkit does have a superb way of ratcheting up the suspense and mystery of the story, making it the rare movie that actually improves as it unfolds, gradually abandoning obvious acting to delve into the parallel universe panic room with a band of bewildered friends. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th

Crystal Lake Memories Blu-ray

In the realm of horror cinema, the "Friday the 13th" franchise is a behemoth. It wasn't the first to dream up the concept of a masked maniac slicing and dicing his way through a throng of idiot teenagers, but it gave the concept pop culture enormity, with healthy box office and an explosive home video presence to help guarantee longevity with its rabid, fall-on-their-sword fanbase. Other movies have made more money, displayed more gore, and showed more creativity, but nothing has touched the genre omnipresence of this series. Without warning, "Friday the 13th" became a cult classic and Jason Voorhees grew into the Elvis of slasher icons. Not bad for a picture that began life as a rip-off of "Halloween." Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Castle Freak

CASTLE FREAK Jeffrey Combs Barbara Crampton

In the curious career of writer/director Stuart Gordon, his dedication to the work of author H.P. Lovecraft could never be called into question. With cult classics such as "Re-Animator" and "From Beyond," the filmmaker has explored and cinematically transformed the celebrated writer's fascination with depths of depravity and the hypnotic hold of terror, turning fandom into a personal quest. Picking a 1926 short story ("The Outsider") as inspiration, Gordon returns to his Lovecraftian cravings with 1995's "Castle Freak," a bluntly titled genre exercise that provides the necessary amounts of lip-quaking panic and goopy gore, gifted a mildly gothic touch by the picture's remote, forbidding setting. It's a slim tale of redemption and survival, with excitable acting that practically transforms the effort into 3-D, but the macabre essentials are provided with skill by the helmer, who's clearly enjoying this opportunity to romp around an empty castle, dreaming up way to repulse and creep-out the audience. Read the rest at