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September 2013

Film Review - Rush

RUSH Chris Hemsworth

It’s a little weird to find mild-mannered director Ron Howard behind the wheel of “Rush,” even though he has plenty of experience filming fast cars, having kicked off his helming career with 1977’s “Grand Theft Auto.” It’s just that spinning wheels and revving engines aren’t expected out of him these days, coming off mild comedies (“The Dilemma”), blockbusters (“Angels & Demons”), and Oscar-bait (“Frost/Nixon”). “Rush” represents a change of pace for Howard, who sinks his teeth into an R-rated Formula One race drama, giving this volatile material an edgy concentration that’s uncommon. It’s a nervy movie, supported by two exceptional performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Bruhl, who show a commitment to character dignity and the unsteady steps of blossoming respect, making only spare use of overpowering cliche. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Single Shot

SINGLE SHOT Sam Rockwell

“A Single Shot” is an impressive detour in the career of Sam Rockwell. After his entertaining but routine turn in last summer’s “The Way, Way Back,” Rockwell returns to his dark side in this tense, unflinching thriller. Similar in a few ways to Sam Raimi’s “A Simple Plan,” “A Single Shot” has a spare quality that keeps it unsettling, while its coldly violent attitude encourages a steady pace. And there’s Rockwell, delivering a fantastic performance as a simple man in way over his head, reining in his flashier, boogie fever instincts, allowing director David M. Rosenthal’s gloomy mood of impending doom to carry the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Prisoners

PRISONERS Hugh Jackman

“Prisoners” is a kidnapping drama that aspires to be a morally complex tale of vigilante justice. It’s brutal, depressing, and supplied with a leisurely run time, and it’s almost a completely compelling movie. Director Denis Villeneuve gets the material 75% of the way there before the production completely falls apart, taking something intimate and ugly and turning it into a conventional slip ‘n slide of convenient resolutions. “Prisoners” deserves credit for its unflinching approach to the urgency at hand, asking viewers to sit through scenes of piercing torment and tearful desperation. However, the picture doesn’t stick its landing, a crucial misstep when working with such manipulative scripting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Battle of the Year


Over the last decade, we’ve seen the rise and fall of the hip-hop dance movie, with titles such as “You Got Served,” “Stomp the Yard,” and the “Step Up” series riding the trend to box office heights. “Battle of the Year” has arrived a little late to the party, though its concentration on a particular “b-boy” movement lends it some much needed individuality. Everything else in this pedestrian dance drama is either absurdly corny or just plain moronic, though the feature does win points for being so earnest with its hopeless pile of clichés, but it’s certainly not enough to make the picture memorable. Read the rest at

Film Review - Populaire


The French comedy “Populaire” is pure frosting. A lighthearted affair with an unusual premise, the picture coasts on its enormous reservoir of charm, with leads Romain Duris and Deborah Francois lighting up the screen, while period production elements create a candy-coated mood that supports the feature’s frothy intentions. Recalling the colorful zest of a Jacques Demy movie from the 1960s, “Populaire” is an entertaining, energetic effort, perhaps best appreciated for its dedication to the art of escapism as it utilizes romantic formula to inspire its own take on the competition film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Salinger


The mystery of J.D. Salinger is mighty because the author refused to provide the world with the details of his private life. Labeled a recluse to ease understanding of his disinterest in fame, Salinger positioned himself as the ultimate buried treasure for literary fanatics, leaving few particulars about his upbringing and daily business behind, thus creating rabid interest in anything connected to the writer. Joining the quivering pile of admirers is screenwriter Shane Salerno (“Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem,” “Armageddon”), who embarks on an impossible storytelling task, striving to paint a portrait of an icon who’s hidden all the color. Fascinating in spurts, maddeningly melodramatic, and bizarrely unfulfilling despite a two-hour run time, “Salinger” delivers a few facts worth further inspection, but the rest has the tone of a circus sideshow, concentrating almost entirely on Salinger’s oddity. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wizard of Oz (IMAX 3D)


1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” is a classic, adored by millions who grew up with the picture during its days as a network television perennial, where annual holiday showings bestowed the movie with its status as an event. These days, the feature is widely accessible on home video and cable, allowing the effort to be passed down to younger generations, freshening appeal. To celebrate the 75th anniversary of “The Wizard of Oz” (and to promote a new selection of DVD and Blu-ray releases), the work has been handed an IMAX 3D makeover, updating the screen adventure to the standards of a modern spectacle. There’s certainly no need for this treatment, but for those interested in an alternate look at the film, the overhaul is tasteful and engaging. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Colony

COLONY Bill Paxton

What’s strange about “The Colony” is how it’s a feature film that seems like it would be more comfortable as a short. There’s not much dramatic meat on these bones, but it’s a perfectly watchable B-movie distraction, with a passable eco-disaster storyline that collides unexpectedly with horror elements midway through the effort. Recognizable performers such as Bill Paxton and Laurence Fishburne certainly add to the experience, but this is not a substantial enterprise, requiring a few extra beats of storytelling and panic to pass as a full cinematic meal. Good for a few moments, “The Colony” doesn’t have enough ambition to make its intended impact. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - An American Hippie in Israel


"An American Hippie in Israel" isn't most subtle of titles, and its opening scene doesn't mess around with subtext. In a field of flowers, we see a steamroller making its way across the land, crushing natural beauty with its steely, heavy might. Amos Sefer's 1972 allegorical extravaganza announces its tone right up front, leaving little to the imagination as its threadbare plot and impulsive performances take over. It's been branded one of the worst films of all time by the guardians of cult cinema, and it certainly has enough clunky moments to merit such hyperbolic consideration. However, for all the nonsense and pull-your-hair-out padding that's included in the feature, Sefer has a weird vision for "Hippie" that almost works if one squints hard enough, attempting to make an anti-war picture that's soaked in oddity and nudity. It's an admirable effort, with periods of floppy B-movie shenanigans that are surprisingly entertaining. Read the rest at

Film Review - And While We Were Here


A sensual drama such as “And While We Were Here” doesn’t have to present likable characters, but something near the vicinity of understandable is a must. Flavorless and a tad mean-spirited, the feature asks the audience to accept the development of a life-altering affair when the participants have only known each other for less than a day, also forced to digest rather unsavory behavior as the couple quickly forges their unlikely bond. Warmth isn’t a priority, as writer/director Kat Coiro is actually making a movie about opportunity, creating a void where genuine feeling and confusion should reside. A sluggish, confused picture, “And While We Were Here” is cold to the touch. Read the rest at

Film Review - Short Term 12

SHORT TERM 12 Brie Larson

“Short Term 12” doesn’t cover any new dramatic ground, exploring the tentative connection created by shattered foster kids and their revolving door of handlers. It’s been fodder for television and movies for decades. There’s familiarity here, leaving writer/director Destin Cretton to find spaces of emotional complexity and guarded acts of vulnerability to explore with an emphasis on behavioral nuance. The filmmaker nails every single beat of personal expression and stymied confession, creating a picture that triggers a turbulent ride of reactions, hitting exquisite points of breakthrough and regression. “Short Term 12” is a beautiful effort that refuses the lure of cheap sentiment, electing to fashion characters worth inspection, feeling around the woe and frustration that informs each one of these superbly scripted personalities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jayne Mansfield's Car


It’s been a little over a decade since Billy Bob Thornton last directed a feature. That’s a long time between efforts, especially when the previous movie was 2001’s “Daddy and Them,” a forgotten southern story that effectively grounded Thornton’s interests in the job after securing accolades for his helming debut, “Sling Blade.” “Jayne Mansfield’s Car” plays directly to the lauded actor’s strengths, taking viewers down to the heart of Alabama to explore the fits and foibles of a dysfunctional family, leaving room for an able ensemble to bloody their fists some with a barbed screenplay, with Thornton a permissive leader, hoping to catch blips of fury and vulnerability as the picture takes a leisurely stroll down a path of self-destruction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Insidious: Chapter 2


Some films just don’t need sequels. 2011’s “Insidious” was a fine fright machine with plenty of atmosphere, a corker of a plot, and a genre drive to rattle its audience with a surefire burst of scary material. Its conclusion wasn’t open-ended, but it was definitive in its idea of inescapability, goosing the audience one last time before the end credits rolled. However, the movie was a hit, reviving director James Wan’s wilting career, opening the door for a follow-up. Admirably, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is determined to transform a one-note story into a franchise, but the energy is misspent, wasted a continuation that’s labored and dull, with only a few crisp ideas to aid digestion. Instead of furthering the premise to the next level of engagement, the production scrambles to make sense of itself, with a desire to pave a cleaner path to “Chapter 3.” Read the rest at

Film Review - The Family

FAMILY Robert De Niro

“The Family” is a rare English-language action outing for co-writer/director Luc Besson. Recently tackling political pictures (2011’s “The Lady”) and family fare (the “Arthur and the Minimoys” trilogy), Besson hasn’t touched idiosyncratic material like this since 1994’s “The Professional,” which ended up as one of his finest cinematic achievements. “The Family” doesn’t rate as high, which comes to be a frustrating revelation as the feature lumbers from one incident to the next, unsure of its tone or its storytelling cohesiveness. It’s not a terrible effort from the vastly talented helmer, but one that’s tremendously disappointing, failing to live to the promise of its premise, while its sense of humor is funereal at best. Read the rest at

Film Review - Musuem Hours


“Museum Hours” is almost a literal title for this picture, which has the characteristics of a visit to a fine arts establishment. It’s observational and reflective, allowing for personal interpretation and artist commentary as it shuffles along, taking in the enormity of space and meaning with atypical cinematic patience. It’s a lovely feature, relaxing and exploratory, making it an ideal sit for specialized moods, best suited for viewers able to slow their heart rate and enjoy the view, allowing writer/director Jem Cohen to guide the viewing experience as it weaves through a tale of two people and the city they experience in both a direct and casual manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rewind This


There’s now a film-loving generation that’s learned everything they know about cinema from VHS, the popular home video format of the 1980s and ‘90s. Moviegoing isn’t something they’re practiced in, only consumption, brought on by an industry revolution that brought practically everything out on the format, from heralded classics to material that redefines bad taste. The documentary “Rewind This” focuses on the intensity of these collectors and creators who embrace the possibilities of VHS, keeping the spirit of discovery alive as they hunt and create obscure titles, embracing the eccentricity and spirit that once packed the shelves at the local mom and pop video store. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Doll Squad / Mission: Killfast

THE DOLL SQUAD Francine York

1973's "The Doll Squad" has all the ingredients for a rollicking B-movie viewing experience. We have a diabolical villain bent on world domination, a team of bikini-wearing secret agents brandishing cartoony weapons, and a taste of chunky 1970's action choreography to sell the hysteria. It's an ideal blend of escapist elements and a film some suggest was a clear inspiration for the jiggling juggernaut known as "Charlie's Angels." However, as enticing as "The Doll Squad" is, it's also a strangely airless endeavor that's hampered by its no-budget ambitions, finding writer-director Ted V. Mikels striving to make his own Bond movie with mere pennies to spend, forced to rinse and repeat every single scene. There's gold in the corners of the effort, but it takes considerable patience to find the highlights of this strangely chaste, frustratingly repetitive picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Unseen

UNSEEN Barbara Bach

What "The Unseen" aims to be and what it actually becomes are two separate things. It's a horror picture exploring evil from an unusual source, with all the requisite scenes of violence and hints of perversion. There's another side to the work as well, a creative push that seems like it wants to construct a substantial character drama out of chiller materials, striving to instill personality into the effort to increase the movie's lasting potential. Interesting in fits, but also groggily paced and unsure of direction, "The Unseen" definitely has moments of tension, but there's also plenty of dead space littering the feature, reducing conflict and indulging oddity to a point of tiresome repetition. Read the rest at