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October 2013

Film Review - The Trials of Muhammad Ali


I believe most people understand the legendary talents and showmanship of boxer Muhammad Ali. Less appreciated is his refusal to participate in the Vietnam War during the height of his fighting career, putting his entire life at risk to stand up for his principles, shaped during his transition to the Muslim faith. Eschewing tales of boxing greatness to inspect Ali as a man on a mission of self-preservation, director Bill Siegel (“The Weather Underground”) finds a fascinating angle to explore, detailing Ali’s war of words and legal tangles as he took on the U.S Government, combative media types, and the court of public opinion to stick up for his controversial beliefs. Read the rest at

Film Review - Escape Plan

ESCAPE PLAN Arnold Schwarzenegger Sylvester Stallone

“Escape Plan” is the kind of film that’s very entertaining, providing some bang for the buck, but it’s rarely fun in a throw down, screen-go-boom type of way. A prison escape picture starring action titans Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the feature has all the opportunity in the world to go completely nuts, matching the absurdity of the plot with a bit of directorial lunacy that keeps the effort sufficiently lubed with pure escapism. Instead, “Escape Plan” is merely serviceable with the rare moment of true inspiration, strangely dialing down the potential for blast ‘em insanity to carry on coldly, taking the mechanics of the titular scheme way too seriously. Read the rest at

Film Review - Carrie

CARRIE Chloe Moretz Grace

It’s difficult to treat “Carrie” too preciously. After all, the 1974 Stephen King novel has seen its fair share of screen incarnations, including the itchy 1976 classic from director Brian De Palma, a 1999 sequel (“The Rage: Carrie 2”), and a 2002 television movie. That Hollywood has renewed interest in the material makes perfect sense, though this version is more of a remake than a fresh realization of King’s original book. Playing it safe to appeal to a generation that hasn’t been exposed to this tale of telekinetic woe, the new “Carrie” is much like the old “Carrie,” only now the mayhem is more hard drive-based than wonderfully, inventively practical. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paradise

PARADISE Julianne Hough Russell Brand Octavia Spenser

After winning an Academy Award for 2007’s “Juno,” her first produced screenplay, writer Diablo Cody has finally graduated to the director’s chair with “Paradise.” In the interim, she flirted with horror (“Jennifer’s Body”) and achieved greatness with dark comedy (“Young Adult”), yet the saucy stuff doesn’t appeal to Cody for her helming debut. “Paradise” doesn’t play it safe but it does play it soft, pulling the teeth out of a fascinating story that concerns the rejection of religion and a brush with death, trying to pass the endeavor off as a feel-good movie about life and love. The sentiment doesn’t adhere, but the simplicity of the picture is agreeable, with Cody refusing to make the film laborious just to add weight. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chinese Zodiac


“Chinese Zodiac” is reportedly Jackie Chan’s swan song to massive action comedies, the type that tear up the screen with slapstick of enormous scope while celebrating the star’s inability to be killed by stunts of his own design. If this is truly the final bow for Chan’s cartoon persona (after all, he’s turning 60 next year), “Chinese Zodiac” is an appropriate note to end on. Teeming with Chan’s customary choreographed hellraising, the picture is routine but captivating in its widescreen craftsmanship, with Chan the director making Chan the star look like a superhero as the story smashes through all manner of infiltration and escape while trying to impart an important lesson on the raiding of history. Read the rest at

Film Review - A.C.O.D.

ACOD Adam Scott

“A.C.O.D.” (“Adult Children of Divorce”) has all the ingredients for a rollicking comedy concerning the battlefield of troubled relationships. It offers a familiar but promising premise and features a cast of profoundly funny people eager to tickle the audience. Sadly, the movie just doesn’t lift off the ground, burdened by disappointing direction and crummy editing, which never finds the ideal timing this type of venture deserves. “A.C.O.D.” has a few moments that shine, but the rest is shockingly leaden and clumsy, feeling around for a heart it hasn’t earned and for laughs that seldom arrive. Read the rest at

Film Review - Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve


The documentary “Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve” wasn’t planning on a collapse of government when it was originally assembled, but talk about primo release timing. Issued during a tempestuous era where leaders willingly turn their backs on their constituents and America’s financial future appears impossibly bleak, the picture looks to dissect some of the country’s more pressing monetary woes, hoping to give the average viewer a working knowledge of a complex system that basically steers the future of the nation. There are times when the movie seems expressly built for economists, yet there’s enough visual hand-holding in “Money for Nothing” to make its behemoth target understandable in a rudimentary way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Corruption

CORRUPTION Peter Cushing

The cover art for the "Corruption" Blu-ray contains an illustration of star Peter Cushing pinning a woman to the ground, slashing her throat with a knife while staring out expressionlessly, as though this act of ultraviolence was all in a day's work. It's disturbing, selling the movie as first class ticket to exploitation nirvana, promising a picture that's unhinged and excessive. Turns out, "Corruption" isn't that extreme, at least by today's standards, emerging not as a careless rampage, but as an engaging chiller with some sense of taste between brutal killings. For the most part, the feature is satisfactorily plotted, with superb performances from Cushing and co-stay Sue Lloyd, who manage to elevate the unseemly appetites of the script with a great deal of class, turning cheap theatrics into an absorbing depiction of manipulation and guilt-stained murder. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - My Tutor

MY TUTOR Matt Lattanzi Caren Kaye

In 1983, "My Tutor" played up the fantasy of an older teacher seducing her younger student. In 2013, that type of activity is typically greeted with a felony sex offender charge. How times have changed. Of course, "My Tutor" is only a movie, and a rather entertaining "teensploitation" effort from 30 years ago, engineered to titillate teen audiences hunting for a peek at naked breasts and horndog monkey business, employing a common scenario of temptation to lure ticket buyers in, only to hit them with a genuine sense of humor and an unusually muted seductress in actress Caren Kaye. "My Tutor" is simple but effective, and if approached on a lowered level of expectation, the picture captures all the hormonal urges of adolescence, frosted with a permissive '80's attitude that doesn't judge the taboo couple in question. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dark Blood

DARK BLOOD River Phoenix

If all went according to plan, “Dark Blood” would’ve been released in 1994, and we would be coming up on its 20th anniversary. But something went horribly wrong during the film’s shoot, with star River Phoenix dying from a drug overdose in 1993, leaving the picture with 80% of its scenes completed. Shelved and forgotten, “Dark Blood” was left as a curiosity, leaving fans of Phoenix to wonder what exactly was left behind, possibly displaying the actor in an unfavorable light. Facing his own medical crisis 15 years after production was halted, director George Sluizer decided to rebuild the movie as a way of confronting unfinished business, finally bringing the feature to the public in semi-finished form. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blue Caprice


“Blue Caprice” is a chilling account of the two men involved in the 2002 Beltway sniper attacks. Its truthfulness is never precisely understood, but its dramatic interests are cleanly observed, making the movie less about the cold, hard facts of the case and more about the damaged perspectives that motivated such senseless murders. It’s a spare picture without the reassurance of details, but director Alexandre Moors conjures an impressively unsettling mood, observing a seemingly mundane connection between two lost souls gradually corrupted by violent thoughts and overt manipulation, leading to devastating actions that shook the nation over a decade ago. Read the rest at

Film Review - Machete Kills

MACHETE KILLS Michelle Rodriguez

Developing into an unlikely franchise, the “Machete” series appears to only be warming up with “Machete Kills,” the second installment in the saga of this scowling Mexican superhero. Brimming with all types of over-the-top antics and ultraviolence, the follow-up matches relatively well with its 2010 forefather, with director Robert Rodriguez increasing his customary insanity as he forges a genre-smashing path to yet another adventure, teased at both the beginning and end of “Machete Kills.” Viewing this wacky universe of weaponry, villains, and doomsday as his personal “Star Wars” saga, Rodriguez leans even harder into the absurdity of it all, stuffing the feature with characters and catastrophes. The fun is infectious, even when the movie becomes winded due to all the superfluous business the helmer insists is necessary. Read the rest at

Film Review - Romeo & Juliet

ROMEO AND JULIET Hailee Steinfeld

William Shakespeare’s immortal play of melodramatic love, “Romeo & Juliet,” has been brought to cinemas on numerous occasions, dating back to the year 1900. The catnip charms of tragedy are easy to spot, wallowing in swoon and sacrifice, but to resurrect these tired words for the screen requires imagination, someone willing to color outside the lines. Think Baz Luhrmann’s delightfully bonkers take on the material in 1996, where he turned the world of Verona into a hellish smear of MTV aesthetics. For this new version of “Romeo & Juliet,” screenwriter Julian Fellowes has decided to discard much of the Bard’s original text, using his own version of Shakespearean sophistication to mastermind an unusual take on the everlasting play. It’s a baffling choice, but one with potential, eventually smothered by a glacial pace and a few ridiculous performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ass Backwards

ASS BACKWARDS June Diane Raphael Casey Wilson

“Ass Backwards” opens with a shot of urine streaming down a concrete sidewalk. Eventually, it’s revealed the waste product belongs to our two leads, who are seen squatting in the distance. It’s not exactly a welcome image, but it does sum up the “Ass Backwards” viewing experience accurately, with the leading ladies, June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson, gradually pissing away their charm on this disjointed comedy, which struggles to reach a pitch of absurdity while laboring through exhausted screenwriting cliches and good, old-fashioned bad ideas. The pee turns out to be more of a warning shot than a pass at gross-out comedy. Read the rest at

Film Review - CBGB


“CBGB” isn’t truly about the daily business of the iconic New York City club. The focus of the film is more on the establishment’s owner, Hilly Kristal, and his struggles to pay the bills as popularity of the place exploded during the 1970s. I suppose audiences wouldn’t show up to movie titled “Hilly Kristal,” so we have “CBGB,” which is bound to disappoint admirers of punk history and NYC culture (the picture was shot in Georgia), with director Randall Miller turning the whole big bang of music into a comic book experience that thickly underlines every move it makes. Unenlightening and overworked, the effort turns the raw energy of a movement into a Saturday morning cartoon, counting on a soundtrack of classics to carry the viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Muscle Shoals


2013 has become the year of the music studio documentary. Previously, there was Dave Grohl’s magnificent “Sound City,” which detailed the life and times of a L.A. studio that played a key role in the musical landscape of the 1970s and ‘80s. Now we have “Muscle Shoals,” a far more subdued journey into an Alabama hit factory that found its most fertile creative period in the 1960s. The soulfulness of the Muscle Shoals sound and surroundings is readily apparent from the opening minutes, and director Greg Camalier does an admirable job rifling through interpersonal conflicts and band breakthroughs in this engaging look at a little known corner of musical history. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Citizen


“The Citizen” is an earnest movie, to a point where it almost reaches self-parody. It’s an immigration story set during the turbulent years after 9/11, using that open wound in American history to explore the nature of citizenship and bigotry. As well-intentioned as it is, “The Citizen” is a clumsy feature, electing a broad approach for a complex subject, breaking down the particulars of hate and suspicion into bite-sized nuggets of moralizing, ideal for easy digestion. Although satisfactorily performed, the picture is such a pedestrian effort, it’s impossible to take seriously, diluting the troubles of the world to fashion the easiest sit possible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Captain Phillips


Director Paul Greengrass makes one type of movie, but he does it very well. Electing a documentary-style approach to works of fact (“Bloody Sunday,” “Flight 93”) and fiction (“The Bourne Supremacy,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”), Greengrass embraces a cinematic intensity that’s often overpowering to watch, with specific use of shaky-cam to thrust viewers into the heat of the moment. “Captain Phillips” plays directly into the helmer’s wheelhouse, offering a true story that makes extensive use of personal perspective and tight procedural timing. It’s a riveting picture, but one that seems like a safe choice for Greengrass, presented in a way that’s familiar to those already intimate with his work. Nails will be chewed, armrests will be gripped, but “Captain Phillips” feels like a rehash in its cold-blooded details. Read the rest at