Previous month:
November 2013
Next month:
January 2014

December 2013

The Worst Films of 2013

WORST OF cover

The end of John McClane, matrimonial misery, parodies galore, Lindsay Lohan’s unfortunately placed iPad, west coast sexual gamesmanship, the first of two terrible White House-under-fire pictures, Mischa Barton’s haunted apartment, the futility of fast cars, and funny people trapped in an unfunny movie. These are the Worst Films of 2013.

Continue reading "The Worst Films of 2013" »

Blu-ray Review - Big Ass Spider!


B-movies don't have it easy these days. Thank the SyFy Channel, who've built a brand name on obvious schlock, constantly ruining the fun with their formula of intentional absurdity and dangerously low budgets, hoping to transform the network into a year-long meme that attracts the attention of social media watchmen and the easily entertained. SyFy has gone out of their way to take the zip out of bottom shelf discoveries, making the bluntly titled "Big Ass Spider!" even more of a surprise. From the outside looking in, the feature resembles yet another backyard creation hoping to create a monster movie ruckus with limited resources, armed with shaky CGI and a wink-happy sense of humor. However, "Big Ass Spider!" proves to be a real charmer with a professional sense of cinematic duty, deftly merging mayhem with chuckles as writer Gregory Gieras and director Mike Mendez set out to reclaim the tattered subgenre with some degree of invention and a belief in the simplistic screen power of a giant spider invasion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lone Survivor


There’s an incredible story of tenacity buried somewhere in “Lone Survivor,” but it’s difficult to embrace the searing aspects of the tale when director Peter Berg (fresh off the 2012 flop, “Battleship”) insists on turning the effort into an action movie, wrapped in the American flag. The true-life tale of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and his astonishing fight out of an Afghanistan war zone, “Lone Survivor” doesn’t need much ornamentation to explore the heat of the moment when processed by an elite military unit. Sadly, Berg doesn’t trust the inherent nobility and stress of the situation, changing the blurred dynamic of conflict to fit the needs of cliched screenwriting and unimaginative direction, reducing a primal fight for life to a patriotic “Die Hard” sequel. Read the rest at

Film Review - 47 Ronin

47 RONIN Keanu Reeves

“47 Ronin” has received its fair share of press due to its runaway costs and missed released dates. Branded a troubled production, it’s with some relief to report that the feature is not a mess, just misguided in a manner familiar to moviegoers who’ve previously been subjected to the runaway ambition of a first-time director with access to unlimited funds. His name is Carl Rinsch, and while his career will undoubtedly survive “47 Ronin,” let’s hope the experience assembling a fantasy samurai picture of this magnitude will provide him with much needed focus for any future endeavors. This one simply gets away from him, and while it’s handsomely made, the work is stiff, still, and tonally unsteady. Read the rest at

Film Review - Grudge Match

GRUDGE MATCH De Niro Stallone

“Grudge Match” finally puts the Raging Bull and Rocky Balboa into a boxing ring, though I fail to recall anyone actually demanding this showdown. It’s the gimmick that drives the movie, with plenty of inside jokes pushed into the pockets of the picture, but it’s not a particularly tempting offer. In dire need of a fresh sense of humor and imaginative screenwriting, “Grudge Match” is made passable by its two stars, Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone, who are amusing to watch as they trade insults and, eventually, punches, showing surprising interest in this limp dramedy, boosting the viewing experience with their innate charm. If only the rest of the effort followed their lead. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Secret Life of Walter Mitty


Ben Stiller is primarily known for funny business. While every artist deserves the opportunity to expand their creative horizons, it’s difficult to understand what Stiller was aiming for with “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” After “Reality Bites,” “The Cable Guy,” “Zoolander” and “Tropic Thunder,” the director/star drops the overt laughs to play lyrical, helming this hymn to the human experience that’s insistent in its importance, but void in its emotions. While gorgeously shot and peppered with sweet, alert performances, “Walter Mitty” doesn’t add up to much, stuck in neutral as Stiller attempts to figure out what type of movie he wants to make. It’s the most elaborate piece of mediocrity in the 2013 film year. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wolf of Wall Street


“The Wolf of Wall Street” is a work of pure insanity. Mercifully, it’s also the latest from director Martin Scorsese, which guarantees some degree of cinematic refinement when it comes to the depiction of excess in all its forms. It’s a rowdy, relentless picture, chasing a rowdy tone of chemically-drenched madness and lip-licking greed, eating up three hours of screen time as it beats a repetitive sense of physical collision and brain-spinning hyperactivity into the ground. Although it overstays its welcome, “The Wolf of Wall Street” has some truly inspired chaos to hold attention, led by an eye-bulging, spittle-spraying performance by Leonardo DiCaprio, who once again takes the title as the most feral actor working today, channeling his inner badger to portray a man without morals, decency, and self-control, flaming out in a most spectacular manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

MANDELA Idris Elba

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is a strong, articulate portrait of South African leader Nelson Mandela, but it wouldn’t be as compelling as it is without the participation of stars Idris Elba and Naomie Harris. Two powerful performances that are direct in their firepower and subtle in emotion, the actors bring density to the traditionally thin bio-pic genre, allowing the viewer to understand deep-seated motivations and the passage of time, which is a crucial element to this story. Competently assembled by director Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) and screenwriter William Nicholson (“Les Miserables”), the feature is surprisingly honest and welcomingly underplayed, generating an understanding of the Mandelas instead of blindly celebrating their accomplishments. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Love in the Animal Kingdom

Nature Love in the Animal Kingdom

It seems appropriate for the "Nature" series to devote an entire episode to the business of creature copulation, because the subject always seems to creep into every show anyway. Assembling an assortment of clips from various global documentary excursions, "Love in the Animal Kingdom" seeks to summarize various acts of seduction from a few of the world's most interesting animals, showcasing the long, tiring battles some males are faced with when trying to attract a little attention from the opposite sex. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Nature of Genius

Nature of Genius Inspirations David Bowie

The balance between the science of life and its inherent, untouchable mysteries is what drives the human experience. It's a hunger for knowledge and understanding that motivates a mind into constant analysis and reflection, and for some, the push and pull of such thinking slowly develops into obsession. Director Michael Apted, captain of the masterful "Up" documentary series, explores this insatiable drive of intelligence in two documentaries, 1997's "Inspirations" and 1999's "Me & Isaac Newton," capturing the process of art, the study of self, and the quest for answers in an exceedingly complex world. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Octagon

OCTAGON Chuck Norris

1980's "The Octagon" was the fifth starring role for martial arts master Chuck Norris, and the first to try a few things differently as he built a career on mindless actioners. Instead of the traditional intimidate and pummel routine, the picture strived to include a worldwide sense of doom, tackling a story about the swelling state of terrorism with a sizable roster of players, leaving the heavy lifting to a group effort, allowing Norris to concentrate on his contemplative looks. It's ambitious work but not always successful, with director Eric Karson biting off a little more than he can chew when it comes time to build momentum with such a top-heavy film. Read the rest at

Film Review - White Reindeer


The holiday season receives a dose of troubling behavior in “White Reindeer,” a darkly comic tale of mourning from writer/director Zach Clark. Working with a limited budget, the helmer brings to the screen an unusual tale of mourning, employing Christmas cheer as a mocking reminder of false sincerity as we watch a woman’s life fall to pieces. Sounds like a treat, right? Well, in many ways “White Reindeer” is a delight, with a sharp script of surprises and a finely bewildered lead performance from Anna Margaret Hollyman contributing to an amusing, vaguely horrifying journey into psychological paralysis, soaked in eggnog and scored to the repetitive sounds of seasonal hits. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Hustle

AMERICAN HUSTLE Christian bale Amy Adams Bradley Cooper

Somewhere underneath all the hair and costumes is a fine motion picture called “American Hustle.” It’s a period piece sampling from the style and discomfort of the 1970s, and it’s the latest from writer/director David O. Russell, a helmer currently on a tear with the back-to-back successes of “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” That momentum is halted a bit by “American Hustle,” but the movie remains an evocative, churning inspection of responsibility and deception, only communicated in a Russellian cinematic language that takes some time to get used to. A bizarrely still, tortured caper, the feature offers exceptional performances and a coarse script, yet attention always manages to return to its visual impression, calling up the decade in the strangest ways. Read the rest at

Film Review - Saving Mr. Banks

SAVING MR BANKS Emma Thompson Tom Hanks

“Saving Mr. Banks” tells the story of how the 1964 smash “Mary Poppins” came to be, weathering a difficult creative process that featured intense disagreements between author P.L. Travers and Walt Disney. Although it may seem like a joyous picture about the birth of a classic, “Saving Mr. Banks” is unexpectedly dark, prone to belaboring its mournful elements as if to apologize for its lighter side. Masterful performances carry the effort, and observance of the screenwriting process is fascinating, but here’s a movie that seems far too bland to truly explore the diseases that haunted Travers for the duration of her life, leaving director John Lee Hancock powerless to manufacture the tearjerker the screenplay is aching to become. Read the rest at

Film Review - Walking with Dinosaurs


“Walking with Dinosaurs” is based on the popular 1999 documentary series that tried to put the viewer into the world of these massive, fierce creatures through a mix of CGI and live-action cinematography. A massive hit, the program spawned a brand name that carried on to a live stage show that used puppetry to wow audiences. Now it’s time to conquer the big screen, though the producers have decided to water down the educational inspiration behind the material, hoping to capture more imaginations through action sequences, cartoon voicing, and jokes about fecal matter. “Walking with Dinosaurs” is impressively constructed, with stunning animation, but it’s a frustratingly insulting endeavor that pushes away the awe of paleontology for the comfort of family film convention. Read the rest at

Film Review - Inside Llewyn Davis


Joel and Ethan Coen make movies a certain way -- a thumbprint that’s created some of cinema’s most powerful and delightfully lopsided features. They rarely miss, and even when they fail to live up to expectations, their pictures are exceptionally layered, idiosyncratic efforts that charm with their tight craftsmanship and impish sense of humor. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is perhaps their most challenging endeavor, asking viewers to process the existence of a man who refuses to get his life together, embarking on an aimless tour of his own misery with razor-sharp edges to his personality that cut those daring to get close. Evocative and steadfastly Coen-esque, “Inside Llewyn Davis” is nevertheless a chore to sit through, missing a certain snap that usually comes so easily to the filmmakers. Read the rest at