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January 2014

Film Review - Best Night Ever


Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer make up the filmmaking duo behind efforts such as “Meet the Spartans,” “Epic Movie,” and “Vampires Suck.” Divisive industry figures like Uwe Boll often get knocked as the worst director working today, but this twosome has a legitimate claim to the title. Building their brand name with movie parodies that feature no actual parody, Friedberg and Seltzer have managed to sustain a career on painfully obvious imitation, replacing funny bone invention with bodily function humor and bug-eyed punchlines. “Best Night Ever” promises a change of pace for the pair, who shed satire to make a found footage take on “The Hangover,” freeing them of their toxic routine. Sadly, old habits die hard for the partners, with their lethal sense of humor and tuneless timing decimating whatever plans “Best Night Ever” had to throw a cinematic party. Although it might be difficult to believe, this is their worst picture to date, if only because it offers a creative opportunity to prove themselves, and they blow it on yet another round of substandard stupidity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Big Bad Wolves


Movies do not come more chilling than “Big Bad Wolves.” While writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado strive to inject the feature with a modest amount of darkly comic moments, there’s very little to laugh at during this frightening effort, which submits a grisly plot of revenge only to have the gumption to nurture its nightmare all the way to its natural conclusion. An Israeli production that doesn’t shy away from the brutality of life, “Big Bad Wolves” is a semi-masterful suspense picture that blends the violent appetites of Chan-wook Park and Quentin Tarantino, pouring such delectable disease into a film that’s hypnotic, even as it details unimaginable suffering. Read the rest at

Film Review - Labor Day

LABOR DAY Kate Winslet Josh Brolin

A solid literary adaptation will preserve the feeling of paging through a book, advancing chapter by chapter through a story. “Labor Day,” originally a 2009 novel by Joyce Maynard, retains this wonderful feeling of narrative movement. It’s a corny premise, ideal for a Harlequin hangover, yet writer/director Jason Reitman takes the endeavor seriously, engaging in a sensorial ode to human connection and coming-of-age awareness. Gracefully handled by stars Josh Brolin, Kate Winslet, and Gattlin Griffith, “Labor Day” is comfort food filmmaking with a few rough edges, ideal for those who prefer to get lost at the movies, discovering strange sensuality and sturdily built drama. Read the rest at

Film Review - That Awkward Moment

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT Zac Efron Imogen Poots

It’s not entirely clear what decade “That Awkward Moment” is supposed to originate from. Its synth-based score is pulled from the 1980s, its blind adulation of New York City emerges from the 1990s, and its treatment of women seems dated around the 1950s. Struggling to execute a brohiem comedy in a hopefully enlightened age, writer/director Tom Gormican makes a mess out of the game of love. When “That Awkward Moment” isn’t funny, it’s painfully confused, attempting to celebrate louts as lovable, while female characters are disposable, treated as mere decoration in this allegedly romantic comedy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Love Is in the Air


“Love Is in the Air” is a French romantic comedy that makes a controversial dramatic decision by making its leading man unpleasant and its female characters unreasonable. It’s a bumpy flight for the movie, though director Alexandre Castagnetti has firm control on the picture’s exemplary style and effervescent performances. There’s a sizeable amount of unpleasant behavior to work through here, most of it emerging from the temporary blindness of sexual attraction, yet “Love Is in the Air” somehow remains appealing, hitting a few beats of genuine emotion to help cut through its mangled sense of honorable actions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stranger by the Lake


“Stranger by the Lake” is mysterious, sensual, and disarmingly casual. The latest from writer/director Alain Guiraudie, the feature is a splendidly crafted effort that sneaks up on the viewer, lulling them into a state of comfort with the characters before gradually introducing elements of murder and suspicion. It works due to Guiraudie’s moviemaking control and patience, while the cast submits exceptionally interior work, projecting emotional concerns while working through the subtleties of small talk. Although it’s a repetitive film, it winds with purpose, slowly ratcheting up the tension in a confident manner that keeps the picture riveting, even when it seems to have no direction at all. Read the rest at

Film Review - At Middleton


To appreciate any part of “At Middleton” requires swallowing an extreme case of the cutes. A romantic comedy with a French film fixation, the picture tests patience on occasion as performances go silent comedy broad and certain narrative steps are skipped on the road to mutual attraction. There are flaws to be dealt with, yet “At Middleton” retains a great deal of charm due to work from leads Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga, who look like they’re having the time of their lives in this indie production, relishing the opportunity to play faulty characters powerless to the urgency of love. Without their spunk, the movie would be nothing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Downton Abbey: Season 4

Downton Abbey Season 4 Laura Carmichael

There were moments during the course of the third season of "Downton Abbey" where it felt as through creator/writer Julian Fellows was trying to turn his beloved creation of manner and misconduct into a slasher film. There was a sizable body count of main players as the program concluded its most successful year, generating a divisive response amongst fans, especially those who promised themselves to noble Aryan knight, Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens). The demise of Lady Sybil (Jessica Brown Findlay) was equally shocking, though, to be fair to Fellowes, it appears he didn't have much of a choice when it came time to shed characters for actors who no longer wanted to be a part of the production. Keeping the turbulent tone of Season 3 in mind while embarking on this latest journey of refined melodrama is important, as Fellowes has elected to soften the majority of the narrative this time out, possibly hoping to lure back viewers left cold by all the senseless carnage of the previous year. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Making Stuff 2

Nova Making Stuff 2 David Pogue

Credited as a "technology columnist and best-selling author," David Pogue is one animated guy. He's the host of "Making Stuff 2," a follow-up to his lauded 2011 series for "Nova," once again embarking on a journey around the globe, now on the hunt for scientific breakthroughs born from "Wilder," "Colder," "Safer," and "Faster" exploration. The goal of the series is to display the enormity of human ingenuity that remains active, with geniuses and ambitious types searching the natural world for inspiration that could possibly fuel innovation, with many of the visits concerning radical changes in bioengineering. The result is an entertaining show that values a sense of discovery, allowing the viewer to find excitement as experimentation unearths surprising results, creating a more advanced scientific viewpoint. The series is also comedic and slickly edited, making sure accessibility greets even the most complex theory. Pogue works to maintain dignity about the work, but he's not above a cartoon moment or two. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cottage Country


“Cottage Country” is a wicked, amusing black comedy that satisfies with its ghoulish sense of humor and appetite for escalating acts of frustration. Unfortunately, the blood-caked merriment only lasts for the first act of the film, with the rest of the effort failing to live up to its opening as it hunts for macabre business without much in the way of inspiration. Brightly mounted and nicely performed, “Cottage Country” has moments of delicious insanity, but screenwriter Jeremy Boxen can’t sustain the frantic tone, leaving the feature top heavy instead of building to a devastatingly funny and frightful conclusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - I, Frankenstein


“I, Frankenstein” has been promoted as the latest release from the creators of “Underworld.” What the marketing fails to mention is that the effort is more of a remake of the hit 2003 picture starring Kate Beckinsale than a kissing cousin, trying to replicate the fantasy recipe to help launch a new franchise. The formula worked relatively well for “Underworld” and its three follow-ups, but I doubt we’ll see another chapter of the “I, Frankenstein” saga beyond this lumbering movie. Far too synthetic and dramatically self-conscious to embrace as genre escapism, the feature never builds its own dark personality, more invested in drab mythmaking than hearty, exciting storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Invisible Woman


We all know Ralph Fiennes as one of the industry’s top talents -- an actor of extraordinary skill and stamina, giving life to some of the screen’s finest tragedies and villains. After all, to remain a force of considerable malevolence in a role such as Voldemort in “Harry Potter,” played without the benefit of a nose, is a remarkable achievement. Quietly, Fiennes has been building steam as a director, with 2011’s “Coriolanus” storming across the screen as a particularly charged reworking of Shakespeare. And now there’s “The Invisible Woman,” which takes a tale of forbidden love and social decimation and turns it into fine art, with a beating heart that carries the viewing experience. Sumptuously made, with stellar performances from Fiennes and Felicity Jones, “The Invisible Woman” stuns with its cinematographic beauty and batters with its mournful examination of increasing isolation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Enemies Closer

ENEMIES CLOSER Jean Claude Van Damme

The last two decades has been rough for director Peter Hyams. With efforts such as “The Musketeer,” “End of Days,” and “A Sound of Thunder,” the helmer has experienced a creative downfall that’s all but destroyed his once fruitful career. In fact, his last passable picture was 1994’s “Timecop,” making a reunion with star Jean-Claude Van Damme for “Enemies Closer” understandable, bringing the action star in to liven up this limited thriller, hoping their chemistry has endured long enough to fuel another collection of chases, shoot-outs, and hand-to-hand combat. Approached with lowered expectations, and “Enemies Closer” is a reasonably engaging B-movie, benefiting from Van Damme’s nutty performance and Hyams’s dedication to cinematic economy. Surprises are few, outside of the eye-roll count, which is unexpectedly low. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gimme Shelter

GIMME SHELTER Vanessa Hudgens 2

“Gimme Shelter” has the appearance of Oscar bait that simply failed to reach its intended goal of award season consideration. The film represents the first official stretch for star Vanessa Hudgens, once the darling of the “High School Musical” pictures and recently a poseable plaything in Harmony Korine’s cross-eyed “Spring Breakers.” Losing the glamour and turning up the New Jersey accent, Hudgens truly breaks away from her sunny day screen persona, and while the work is often beyond her reach, she provides an interesting read of ache in “Gimme Shelter,” fighting to preserve her character’s point of view while writer/director Ron Krauss consistently undermines the effort with scattershot storytelling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Reasonable Doubt


The title “Reasonable Doubt” suggests a legal drama with a thriller edge, keeping in step with a genre that’s become unpopular in recent years, with 2011’s “The Lincoln Lawyer” perhaps the most recent example of a courtroom-based hit. What’s surprising about “Reasonable Doubt” is how desperately it refuses cerebral pursuits, dropping elements of mystery and legalese to sprint ahead as an offering of suspense, and a poor one at that. Riddled with unanswered questions and problematic motivations, the picture is series of feeble performances and dreadful scenes trying to pass itself off as excitement, hoping to appeal to base sensibilities instead of teasing the viewer with provocative questions of guilt. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis

Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis

Referred to as the "Godfather of Gore," filmmaker Herschell Gordon Lewis built a legacy on the wonders of repulsive, violent entertainment. With "Blood Feast" and "Two Thousand Maniacs," Lewis gifted moviegoers a new style of horror picture that erased boundaries, delivering grotesque imagery typically involving dismemberment and torture. However, big screen pain didn't always pay the bills and, under various pseudonyms (such as "Mark Hansen" and "R.L. Smith"), Lewis returned to sexploitation endeavors that originally launched his career, before bloodshed turned him into a genre legend. With "Ecstasies of Women," "Linda and Abilene," and "Black Love," Lewis stumbles through three particularly patience-testing productions, armed only with flat cinematography and an army of actors willing to bare all for the camera, engaging in all types of softcore and hardcore shenanigans while the helmer works diligently to pad these efforts out to feature-length status. Read the rest at

Film Review - Raze

RAZE Zoe Bell

“Raze” is an exercise in screen savagery. It’s bound to attract some extra attention due to its large female cast, with horrifying violence typically the playground of men, making the picture a novelty in this day and age. However, it’s not a film to be taken lightly, as director Josh C. Waller (making his feature-length debut) approaches the material with a solemnity that’s penetrating, investing in raw aggression to snap viewers to attention, watching the characters beat one another into bloody pulps. “Raze” is strong stuff, but also briskly paced and interested in the psychological ramifications of such unrelenting brutality. Read the rest at

Film Review - Back in the Day


A high school reunion movie without the actual reunion? That’s what writer/director/star Michael Rosenbaum attempts to pull off with “Back in the Day,” a comedy tinged with nostalgia that supplies viewers with a subpar round of juvenile shenanigans and lackluster acts of pining. Rosenbaum’s intent seems pure enough, but his concepts for comedy and intimacy leave much to be desired, making the picture difficult to understand as it weaves through heartfelt confessions and fart jokes. The lack of an actual reunion is also a bizarre choice, with space for mingling and thirtysomething philosophy punted out of the picture to make room for unpleasant and unfunny nonsense. Read the rest at