Previous month:
December 2013
Next month:
February 2014

January 2014

Film Review - Devil's Due


“Devil’s Due” is the second of three found footage productions hitting theaters in January. What started as an innocent trend has now turned into a threat to the horror genre, with directors growing comfortable with the subgenre, but failing to do anything new with it. “Devil’s Due” is stale, derivative (a knock-off of “Rosemary’s Baby”), and largely uneventful, testing the patience of moviegoers as directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett elect to conjure a sense of rehearsed reality, only to skip any justification for the images on the screen. Of course, sizable scares would be enough to forgive the lethargy of the film, but the feature is missing those highlights as well, leaving ticket-buyers with more questions than chills. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


Hollywood can’t quit Jack Ryan. The famous character from the books by Tom Clancy (who passed away last year), Jack Ryan have survived four adventures in global terrorism on the big screen, portrayed by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck. Quality has ranged some (1990’s “The Hunt for Red October” is masterful, 1994’s “Clear and Present Danger” is not), but the core espionage experience has remained the same, resulting is a satisfying run for the franchise, even with all its sudden changes in creative direction. 2014 brings us “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit,” another attempt to revive the brand name for a new round of sequels, this time gifting Chris Pine the clipboard and the gun. Despite the occasional dollop of dopiness, the new Jack Ryan extravaganza carries itself confidently as an actioner, reworking the titular analyst to fit a tech-heavy world, with director Kenneth Branagh excited to stage a global nightmare for our hero to conquer. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ride Along


It usually takes a few moments before the average action film gets up to speed and reveals its creative strength. “Ride Along” doesn’t waste any time, staging a mall shootout and car chase not before or after the opening titles, but during, pausing the movie to highlight the names of the professionals tasked with manufacturing the final product. Instead of taking care of the contractual business during a more appropriate time, director Tim Story elects to disrupt the momentum of the picture, crippling what’s already a pedestrian collection of lame motorcycle wipeouts, CG explosions, and flaccid quips. The ill-conceived opening of “Ride Along” is representative of the entire feature, which doesn’t seem to care about the specifics of chaos and comedy, only maintaining a vague presence to fill up a run time, never displaying a vibrant personality of its own. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Nut Job


In the current state of CGI animation, projects are either massive blockbuster entries with a regal voice cast or disposable cartoons with actors taking work to impress their kids. “The Nut Job” follows last Thanksgiving’s “Free Birds” in the forgettable category, with the potential of a spiraling 3D caper featuring squirrels and forest friends lost to the drudgery of formulaic screenwriting and a reliance on bathroom humor to keep younger viewers entertained. It’s a bright picture with a certain Looney Tunes energy (and a love for a 2012 K-pop hit), but it’s also a tedious comedy missing proper punchlines and inspired plotting, giving moviegoers something they’ve seen before, often in a most laborious manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jamesy Boy


Prison pictures, once the cornerstone of gritty cinema, don’t have it easy anymore. With the debut of HBO’s “Oz” in 1997, the standards of realism have been raised considerably, with any movie exploring the wearisome experience of incarceration required to have something of substance to support nearly two hours of screen time. “Jamesy Boy” offers the true story of James Burns, a juvenile delinquent whose mistakes cost him his formative years, but it’s not nearly enough of a journey to carry the feature, resorting to a non-linear structure to introduce surprise to a story that doesn’t contain any. Although it aims to dissect a trail of poor decisions and establish a horizon of self-awareness, “Jamesy Boy” lacks dramatic muscle and a credible lead performance. Read the rest at

Film Review - Freezer


Money for film production is scarce these days, requiring screenwriters to dream up new ways to stage suspense without traipsing all over the world. “Freezer” takes the challenge to an extreme, containing the action to a restaurant walk-in freezer, where the characters argue, accuse, and figure out a way to free themselves from an exceptionally cold prison. Where it lacks in scope, “Freezer” makes up for in sass, with Dylan McDermott having a grand old time here as a Willis-style wiseass, while the production organizes levels of punishment for the leading man, creating a passably entertaining B-movie that has enough spunk and gruesome behavior to forgive its dreadful ending. Read the rest at

Film Review - G.B.F.

GBF Evanna Lynch

For marketing purposes, the comedy “G.B.F.” is labeled as the new film from “The Director of ‘Jawbreaker’.” Technically, this is true, but it’s also the first work of fiction from Darren Stein since the release of the 1999 feature, a movie that tanked during its theatrical run. In the 14 years since the release of “Jawbreaker,” it appears Stein’s cinematic tastes haven’t changed much, as “G.B.F.” is practically a remake, once again slipping into the skin of superficial teens and their specialized problems, with self-conscious scripting and confused direction suppressing the production’s obvious spirit. Read the rest at

Film Review - Summer in February


The suds flow in “Summer in February,” so much so that moviegoers could probably sneak in some laundry time while they wait for the film to play out its melodramatic tale of longing and woe. Although handsomely shot, the feature emerges from a tradition of irrational behavior and chest-heaving passion, yet director Christopher Menaul can’t seem to wake the material up, with the majority of the effort uncomfortably uneventful and tonally mismanaged. It’s a period excursion into unnecessary suffering, leaving a wide open opportunity for gloriously pained performances and a steady dispensing of anguish, but “Summer in February” just doesn’t register as intended. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Notting Hill


If the 1994 sleeper hit, "Four Weddings and a Funeral," kicked off the whole middle-class, Richard Curtis-scripted notion of the "Britcom," 1999's "Notting Hill" turned such submissive endeavors into a formidable industry, creating a sizable dent at the box office, even directly competing with the behemoth known as "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace." Its impressive performance isn't surprising, as the picture is the type of Casual Friday film audiences love when they take time to find it, only here Curtis has an ace up his sleeve with star Julia Roberts, who tempers the English bite of the effort with her flashy Hollywood charisma, forcing the production to find a halfway point between comedy and romance that would be able to register worldwide. Moments charm and the screenplay has a wonderful fondness for its characters, yet "Notting Hill" takes its time to arrive at a foregone conclusion, glacially working through quirk and stuttered contemplation that doesn't carry the pace it should. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wrong Cops

WRONG COPS Eric Wareheim

With “Rubber” and “Wrong,” writer/director Quentin Dupieux has established a bizarre sense of humor that’s resulted in two extremely odd but hilarious pictures. Blessed with a cinematic touch and solid timing, Dupieux goes for a trifecta of absurdity with “Wrong Cops,” a shapeless satire of police procedurals populated with idiots, opportunists, and aspiring musicians. Admittedly, with a series like “Reno 911!” in the rear-view, it’s difficult to find the originality in Dupieux’s concept, but his love for ridiculousness and his eye for casting helps the film stand out as its own borderline insane event. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Legend of Hercules

HERCULES Kellan Lutz

There has been no shortage of movies detailing the exploits of the legendary figure Hercules throughout cinema history. The character was a fixture of matinee distractions in the 1950s and ‘60s, eventually finding renewed popularity with a 1997 Disney Animation production and cult television series starring Kevin Sorbo. Apparently, 2014 has been designated the Year of Hercules, with two pictures hitting screens hoping to reignite interest in the powerful hero. The first out of the gate is “The Legend of Hercules,” director Renny Harlin’s attempt to transform the figure of might into a clichéd, slo-mo stabbing machine, siphoning tricks and imagery from seemingly every popular adventure film since 2000. Painfully derivative and miscast up the wazoo, this effort to return mythical majesty to the multiplex triggers more yawns than cheers. Read the rest at

Film Review - August: Osage County


If one were to cut open the belly of this film, bile, beer, and blood would flood the room in a matter of seconds. “August: Osage County” is one of the most volatile pictures I’ve seen this year, besting horror efforts in terms of sheer terror and horrifying encounters, making the idea of a dysfunctional family more unnerving than the boogeyman. It’s head-rattling work, adapted by Tracy Letts from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, bringing this toxic material to the screen with help from an all-star cast ready to sink their teeth into this meaty drama. Consistently surprising, enchantingly vicious, and thematically profound, “August: Osage County” is a rough sit, but one that rewards with a shotgun blast of emotion that’s riveting to watch. Read the rest at

Film Review - Her

HER Joaquin Phoenix

There are lots of things to love and lots of things to tolerate about “Her.” The latest from writer/director Spike Jonze (his first since 2009’s “Where the Wild Things Are”), the effort is a strangely accurate depiction of the mounting disconnect modern society is facing as glowing screens consume our lives, as well as a sharp depiction of fear emboldened by solitude, isolating an antisocial vibe that lends the film frightening accuracy. “Her” is a feature of locations, textures, and profound emotions, scattering itself all over the screen as it explores the highs and lows of love. Jonze has something spectacular here, but he’s all too eager to bury the movie in unnecessary pauses, with a glacial pace hurting the picture’s ambition to find a climatic place of catharsis. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Past

PAST Berenice Bejo

True to its title, “The Past” remains stuck in a shared history with its characters, with the weight of guilt and resentment powering much of the drama as tension is slowly stoked for two hours of screen time. It’s the latest work from Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian filmmaker who previously detailed the erosion of a relationship in the powerful 2011 picture, “A Separation.” In many ways, “The Past” is an extension of concerns and antagonism that informed the earlier work, only here the feature builds toward an ill-fitting mystery element that’s nowhere nearly as compelling as the blunt reality of an imploding family trying to preserve a semblance of peace as old emotions return to the forefront during a particularly combustible weekend. Read the rest at

Film Review - Black Coffee

BLACK COFFEE Darrin Dewitt Henson

Simple pleasures carry the romantic comedy, “Black Coffee.” Writer/director Mark Harris works with a tiny budget and limited cinematic scope, but his dedication to sensitivity and character is compelling enough to pass, making the feature something different in a marketplace overstocked with the same story. A film from a black perspective that doesn’t invest in hysteria, stereotype, religion, and appears genuinely interested in articulating themes of self-improvement without resorting to brutal pandering to bring its message to the masses? “Black Coffee” isn’t a major force of moviemaking, but it’s a refreshing picture, displaying impressive restraint and intelligence as it details the trials of new love. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Truth About Emanuel

The Truth About Emanuel Kaya Scodelario

It takes a special sensitivity to process the strange feelings swirling around “The Truth About Emanuel.” It’s an impressive tonal tightrope walk from writer/director Francesca Gregorini, who asks the audience to observe an extreme form of emotional trauma that takes a few odd turns as it works itself out, some ideas coming close to unintentional comedy. Thankfully, the helmer displays a suitable amount of understanding to make this story penetrate as intended, riding a turbulent wave of emotions, symbolism, and psychosis to capture the sense of healing and connection that ultimately emerges from the material. Read the rest at

Film Review - Banshee Chapter


The expanse of the mind and its multitude of mysteries form the basis of “Banshee Chapter,” a particularly odd title for a film that has little to do with an overt poltergeist presence. Taking cues from H.P. Lovecraft’s 1934 short story, “From Beyond” (also the inspiration for a 1986 Stuart Gordon film), “Banshee Chapter” is a low-budget hodgepodge of found footage disorientation and hallucinatory cinema, though one convincingly mounted by writer/director Blair Erickson. Although it doesn’t push the limits of horror as far as it could, the feature offers a mildly unnerving journey into the abyss of the brain, dialing up the creep-out factor as it investigates a nightmare rooted in reality, goosed here with some old-fashioned alone-in-the-dark scares. Read the rest at