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December 2013

Film Review - Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

ANCHORMAN 2 Will Ferrell Steve Carrell Paul Rudd

The original “Anchorman” didn’t exactly tear up the box office, but the comedy did fairly well in the summer of 2004 before soaring as a cult hit on home video. It’s odd that it took nearly a decade for a sequel to come together, finding the creative team of co-writer/star Will Ferrell and co-writer/director Adam McKay a little rusty when it comes to the revival of screen insanity. While not quite as snappy as the previous effort, “Anchorman 2” remains loaded with laughs and heavy-handed but clever satire. Missing a certain hellraising attitude, the follow-up nevertheless finds its footing quickly, allowing Ferrell and his supporting cast time to feel around the edges of stupidity, locating old rhythms as Ron Burgundy is hit in the face by 1980. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Day of the Animals

Day of the Animals Leslie Nielsen

They certainly don't make films like this anymore. 1977's "Day of the Animals" was released during a time of "nature strikes back" horror pictures, looking to spook audiences with a plausible enemy born from the shadows of the great outdoors. It's an interesting subgenre, and one that doesn't find many takers these days due to strict animal handling issues, leaving a title like "Day of the Animals" doubly compelling as both an exploitation movie and a sneaky production that somehow masterminded brutal animal attacks on a limited budget, though perhaps it's best to leave behind-the-scenes particulars alone (call it the "Milo and Otis" rule). Although undeniably silly and ridiculously broad at times, the feature remains a beguiling look at an environmental meltdown, using hot button scientific study of the time to inspire a violent chiller that pits man vs. beast or, during one scene, boy vs. shirtless Leslie Nielsen. Either way, "Day of the Animal" is a terrifically entertaining look at a unique type of doomsday. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Big Gundown


As the Italian Western genre began to flourish in the mid-1960s, taking the world by storm, certain pictures, such as "A Fistful of Dollars," were quickly solidified as modern classics, making a director like Sergio Leone synonymous with squinty actors and ruthless Ennio Morricone scores. However, a few other gems managed to slip into view during this fertile period, including 1966's "The Big Gundown," a fascinating manhunt tale from helmer Sergio Sollima that employed a political slant to its tale of unlikely respect, making the feature as much about the changing tide of American and Mexican relations as it was about cowboy violence. Impressively shot and edited, "The Big Gundown" manages to thrill, tickle, and thunder in all the ways a masterful western should, adding a nice counterpoint of flawed heroism to the genre's operatic accomplishments. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Madea Christmas


In an effort to expand his empire, writer/director/producer/star Tyler Perry has set his sights on the holiday season and all the perennial business it offers. “A Madea Christmas” is the eighth film featuring the titular behemoth, though it feels like the hundredth, with Perry serving up the same stale brew of moral lessons and pratfalls, only here the antics are infused with a yuletide ambiance that’s only marginally convincing. Aggressively broad, half-realized, and intermittently inexcusable, “A Madea Christmas” is dead on arrival, and no amount of seasonal cheer and supporting turns from former “Facts of Life” stars is going to steer the sleigh to satisfaction. Even for a Tyler Perry movie, this feature seems excessively cheap and lifeless. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


The question posed last year was how director Peter Jackson was going to stretch the thinness of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel, “The Hobbit,” to meet the needs of three feature films. With the release of the second chapter, “The Desolation of Smaug,” the strain is beginning to show. Not built for such an extensive big screen adaptation, “The Hobbit” is fighting for oxygen in this sequel, failing to provide a reason (beyond a financial one) why the material should carry on for three years. It’s still enjoyable fantasy fun, but “The Desolation of Smaug” has difficulty coughing up reasons for its extended run time (161 minutes) and legion of characters. And this is only the midway point in the story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hours

HOURS Paul Walker

Under normal circumstance, this review of “Hours” would simply note that this is the fourth picture for actor Paul Walker in 2013, following his work in “Vehicle 19,” “Pawn Shop Chronicles,” and “Fast & Furious 6.” However, “Hours” will be forever remembered as one of his last movies, after his death late last month at the age of 40. I’ll admit, I was never a true believer when it came to the acting ability of Walker, who built a career around his good looks and enthusiastic physicality, yet “Hours” truly represents a change of pace for the performer, who delivers some of his best work in this odd thriller, which somehow transfers the bomb-on-a-bus concept of “Speed” to an infant-on-a-incubator ride of suspense and heartbreaking stakes. Walker’s clear limitations remain, but baby steps toward his maturation as a leading man were made here, sadly never to be realized in full. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Last Days on Mars


“The Last Days on Mars” has enticed a few very talented actors to participate in a production that’s essentially a DTV detour playing into current zombie-everything trends, with a dab of “Alien” flung into the mix as well. It’s derivative and thinly sketched, yet with lowered expectations, the picture has its moments of suspense, articulated by a cast that seems eager to take part in a sci-fi/horror hybrid, allowing them to stretch professionally. “The Last Days on Mars” isn’t going to rock anyone’s world, but accepted as a slightly more refined B-movie experience, and it’s engaging, refreshingly simplistic work. Read the rest at

Film Review - Go for Sisters


It’s been three years since we last saw a John Sayles film hit the screens, with the moviemaker taking his time between projects, maintaining a dramatic concentration that’s evident in his work. While Hollywood scrambles to adapt best sellers for the cinemas, Sayles creates literary experiences with his features, with his latest, “Go for Sisters,” another patient, layered viewing event marked by its interest in character nuance and the detail of storytelling. A tale of rekindled friendship wrapped up in a mystery, “Go for Sisters” doesn’t bring out the best in the helmer, but it remains an absorbing picture with two exceptional performances from LisaGay Hamilton and Yolonda Ross, who bring sublime presence to an effort that often needs their conviction. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Post Tenebras Lux


Interpretational filmmaking should be a great many things. We hope for mystery, symbolism, emotion, and art. To be in the hands of a helmer who takes this responsibility seriously results in dynamic, unforgettable cinema. "Post Tenebras Lux" is determined to stake its claim as a wonder of the subconscious, with writer/director Carlos Reygadas turning on the art-school afterburners to craft a vaguely defined ode to patriarchal concerns, class anxiety, and naturalistic splendor. It's not a feature that welcomes a thorough dissection, since most, if not all the movie exists in Reygadas's mind, where the images hold special meaning and the characters possess significant traits only one man is meant to understand. Undeniably beautiful but exhausting and intermittently intolerable, "Post Tenebras Lux" is one of those pictures that doesn't seek approval and doesn't particularly care if anyone is watching. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fanny Hill / The Phantom Gunslinger


Although the promise of a rare Russ Meyer work will sell this double feature to the curious, the pairing of "Fanny Hill" and "The Phantom Gunslinger" is more about broad comedy and Albert Zugsmith's commitment to the advancement of silly business. If boings on a soundtrack, cakes smashed into faces, people slipping and falling, and little people scurrying around are your thing, this double shot of absurdity is going to scratch that itch in a major way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Monty Python's The Meaning of Life


After the success of narrative-driven films such as "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian," it seems regressive for the lauded comedy group (including Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, John Cleese, and Terry Gilliam) to return to their sketch-show origin with "The Meaning of Life." Building momentum with fantastic adventures through history and religion, Monty Python's 1983 endeavor has a noticeable lack of energy and almost no cohesion about it, stumbling around big ideas on life and death with all the concentration of a group on the brink of going their separate ways. It's a hit-or-miss effort that features all the hallmarks of the team's work, offering rich design elements, puckered animation, gross-outs, and crack comic timing. Despite its obvious shortcomings, "The Meaning of Life" also happens to be devastatingly funny at times, hitting a few beats of silliness with traditional Python precision -- terrifically loony moments that manage to salvage the entire viewing experience. Read the rest at

Film Review - Expecting

EXPECTING Michelle Monaghan

While watching “Expecting,” I couldn’t help but feel there was something more to Jessie McCormack’s screenplay at one point. It’s a film determined to submit distinct characterizations, pushing idiosyncratic people into a plot of whirlwind circumstances, including pregnancy, marital distress, and post-rehab addiction recovery. There’s a concerted effort to communicate a fullness of behavior, yet the story carries no weight, floating along like a particularly unmotivated sitcom that can’t quit quirk. “Expecting” starts off promisingly enough, but editorial compromises soon eat away at the viewing experience, changing what appears to be a deeply felt journey of empowerment into a soggy parade of wackiness and hazily defined subplots. Read the rest at

Film Review - Out of the Furnace


“Out of the Furnace” is a rough picture about desperation and grief. It’s the second film from Scott Cooper, who turned heads back in 2009 with the Oscar-winning “Crazy Heart,” his portrait of country music misery. “Furnace” eschews the comfort of song, taking viewers into the bowels of America’s Rust Belt, where jobs are drying up, dreams are dying, and the police have no control over the escalating violence. Channeling the austerity of 1970’s cinema with a touch of folksy poetry, and Cooper builds an impressive engine of aggression with his latest endeavor, flattening and refolding a common tale of revenge to emphasize powerful moments of introspection and trigger-stroking deliberation. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Armstrong Lie


Cyclist Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven consecutive times, amassed a fortune in endorsement deals, and started his own charity. He almost married a rock star, rubbed elbows with world leaders, and became a sporting celebrity with a face and a brand recognized on a global scale. He also cheated to help achieve victory, using performance-enhancing drugs to help himself conquer competitors, only admitting to this deception in 2013, after a decade of denials. It’s difficult to sympathize with Armstrong’s manipulations, but it’s a little easier to understand his delusion after watching “The Armstrong Lie,” director Alex Gibney’s eye-opening condemnation of the athlete and exploration of his staunch refusal to accept responsibility for his destructive, dispiriting actions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Twice Born

TWICE BORN Penelope Cruz

The romantic and political sweep of “Twice Born” feels out of step with today’s moviegoing interests. It’s a throwback picture to a time where thinly glazed global weariness could pass for the recognition of worldly woe, eased along by a heaping helping of melodrama to make the medicine go down. Cinematic tastes have changed, yet director/actor/co-writer Sergio Castellitto clings to the Duraflame fires within for “Twice Born,” a handsomely crafted but empty feature hoping to recreate Eastern European horror and soap opera intimacy, stumbling along with a few less than inspired performances and a script that hopes for tight-jawed sophistication, but can only muster feeble cliche. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Perfect Man


There are moments in “A Perfect Man” where the material appears to be headed in an unusual direction. These teases of imagination are quickly diverted into formula, making the movie a frustrating sit despite convincing performances and an atypical setting. Director Kees Van Oostrum can’t decide if he wants to manufacture a gritty look at the dissolution of a marriage or a twinkly Hollywood-style romantic comedy, keeping the film trapped in a middle ground of unpleasant behavior and toothless characterizations in dire need of a more robust story. It’s a confusing, awkward picture, though “A Perfect Man” has its fair share of compelling incidents. Just not nearly enough of them to make the effort shine. Read the rest at