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February 2014

Film Review - Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues - The Super-Sized R-Rated Version


It’s always interesting when a filmmaker decides to return to the source of a great success. Released last December to strong box office and reasonable audience approval, “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” fulfilled a promise made a decade earlier, finally bringing a sequel forward to satisfy those who were dangerously close to exhausting their fandom. Sensing a premium opportunity to squeeze out additional coin from the faithful and the curious, director Adam McKay has gone back to the movie, swapping out jokes and extending scenes to create the “Super-Sized R-Rated Version” of the feature, stripping PG-13 shackles off the work to fashion a more impish take on the “Anchorman” follow-up. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wind Rises


“The Wind Rises” marks the final film for director Hayao Miyazaki, who recently announced his retirement. The legendary animator, creator of such pictures as “Ponyo,” “Spirited Away,” and “Princess Mononoke,” has enjoyed an illustrious career of critical acclaim and hefty box office returns, manufacturing beloved characters and expansive fantasy realms that have filled the hearts and minds of fans for nearly three decades. With “The Wind Rises,” Miyazaki focuses on a different flight of fancy, turning attention to historic matters from a controversial era in Japanese history. While dramatically short-sheeted, the movie retains visual beauty and respect for intelligence, striving to find a comfortable middle ground between the foreboding details of the past and a hope to find humanity in the midst of memories. Read the rest at

Film Review - Non-Stop

NON STOP Liam Neeson

At the age of 61, Liam Neeson has developed into one of the screen’s great action heroes. However, in this quest to remain a superman, the actor has shown questionable judgment in scripts and directors. “Non-Stop” reteams Neeson with helmer Jaume Collet-Serra, with the pair previously collaborating on the dismal 2011 thriller, “Unknown.” Despite a crackerjack premise and a decent first hour of suspense, “Non-Stop” abandons the art of surprise to magnify its menace, losing the promise of clandestine evildoing to play up Neeson’s knighthood. Instead of unleashing a proper thrill ride, the picture eventually clings to predictability and irrationality, ignoring the sinister potential of the material to go through the motions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Odd Thomas


Writer/director Stephen Sommers makes a specific type of feature, even when he’s trying to broaden his horizons. The helmer behind the first two “Mummy” extravaganzas, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra,” and “Van Helsing,” Sommers is an architect of noise and speed, bringing his interests to the delicate story of “Odd Thomas,” adapting the popular book by Dean Koontz. Although it plays swiftly, the picture doesn’t unleash excitement, with the demands of exposition and the moviemaker’s insistence on explosions and swirling visual effects diluting the pleasingly weirdo vibe. As a television pilot, “Odd Thomas” is agreeably small-scale and wide open for episodic exploration. As a film, it’s unnecessary overkill, either explaining things or destroying things as it inspects the titular character’s powers. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stalingrad


If America can have Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor,” why can’t the Russians too? “Stalingrad” sets out to tell the story of a major turning point in World War II, but from a Russian perspective, adding some dimension to a cinematic tapestry of combat pictures. However, instead of grit, there’s gloss, with the production electing the Bay route of slo-mo spectacle to tell a story of monumental loss and developing insanity. It’s familiar terrain but historically motivated, allowing “Stalingrad” to be sporadically entertaining and illuminating while it walks in established directorial footprints. At the very least, the bigness of the movie is diverting, showing the world that Russia can create just as much noise at the multiplex as its competition can. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chlorine


“Chlorine” is a throwback to the mid-1990s, where independent film flourished via young directors and hungry distributors. It’s such a retro feature, I had to check the date of production after a viewing, just to make sure the effort wasn’t actually from two decades ago. Turns out, there’s some age to the movie, which was shot in 2010 and is only now receiving release, with studios understandably wary of spending money on a picture that doesn’t have an identity or even secure tech credits. Derivative and unresponsive, “Chlorine” tanks every idea it submits, incapable of achieving the pathos it sets out for itself, lost to filmmaking limitation and thematic inertia. Read the rest at

Film Review - Barefoot


There was once a time when director Andrew Fleming made fantastic films. It was the 1990s, with the trifecta of “Threesome,” “The Craft,” and “Dick” showcasing the helmer’s ease with genre-hopping and his skill with a punchline, tapping into the youth experience with entertaining results. His career has stumbled in ensuing years with misfires such as “The In-Laws” and “Hamlet 2,” but “Barefoot” is where Fleming hits rock bottom. A borderline tasteless romantic comedy featuring seriously disturbed characters, the picture is without consequences and appeal, carrying along as an unfortunate road movie and commentary on the fragility of love. And there’s not a single scene of humor that works. There are a host of bad decisions competing for screen time in “Barefoot,” keeping Fleming juggling tone as the story runs into a brick wall. Read the rest at

Film Review - HairBrained


It’s all about the hair. Sporting a poofy, unruly hairdo, the tangled bush that resides on top of star Alex Wolff’s head in the unofficial star of “HairBrained,” often showing more expression and interest in the plot than its co-stars. A routine underdog story, the movie endeavors to be a quirky, spunky take concerning the troubles of being a kid genius, but the whimsy is so strained, it fatigues the entire film. Unable to launch jokes and form engaging characters, director Billy Kent (last seen in action with 2006’s “The Oh in Ohio”) relies on cutesiness to help lackluster elements congeal, muting whatever charm manages to reveal itself during the course of the picture. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Frankenstein Created Woman

Frankenstein Created Woman Susan Denberg

By the time "Frankenstein Created Woman" arrived in theaters in 1967, the series, from legendary horror factory Hammer Films, was already three installments into its run. Facing a new cinematic adventure, the producers elected to avoid coarse savagery of the flesh to travel within, sparking to a story concerning the trappable aspects of the human soul. Of course, some gore zone visits were required to please the fan base, yet, for the most part, "Frankenstein Creates Woman" is a movie with ideas, just no real sense of how implement them into a riveting feature. Lead work from Peter Cushing is reliably passionate and regal, and bombshell Susan Denberg makes an impression as an innocent vengeance machine, but the effort lacks a certain macabre zest present in other Hammer Horror endeavors. While it's digestible, with a handful of respectable scenes, the picture doesn't rise to the occasion, reaching its potential as a Frankenstein film with a minor in metaphysics. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Hungover Games


We just did this a few months ago. Late last year, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer unleashed “The Starving Games,” a wretched attempt to further their interests in parody cinema. Granted, “The Hunger Games” is ripe for pantsing, but not from those guys. “The Hungover Games” is the second entry in what’s become a lampoon sweepstakes, and while I’m comfortable labeling the picture as an improvement, laughs remain nonexistent and pure laziness passes for writing. Director Josh Stolberg takes a more old-fashioned direction with this razzing of the last decade’s blockbuster movie releases, a laudable choice, but an enterprise like this is measured by the strength of its funny bone, and “The Hungover Games” is a total dud. In other words, Jamie Kennedy takes a co-story credit and plays three characters. It’s that unfunny. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Company You Keep


Robert Redford is no fool. The screen icon and celebrated director knows full well that audiences wouldn't be very patient with "The Company You Keep" without the security and color of a large cast made up of famous faces. It's a smart move, providing a sense of stability with this labyrinthine tale of aging radicals, weighty secrets, and dubious journalism, with the talent helping to ease the often scattered feel of the storytelling -- an effort that faces a difficult job of establishing numerous names and places. Never underestimate these modest flashes of star power, as the ensemble manufactures the suspense and reflection necessary to make "The Company You Keep" stick as a stirring drama and as a statement of generational idealism greeting the golden years. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Art of the Steal


Kurt Russell doesn’t make many movies these days. It’s an unfortunate development, with the charismatic, gifted actor content to walk away from his career, with only seven major screen appearances spread out over the last decade. Russell’s starring turn in “The Art of the Steal” is a good reason to seek out the picture, as the actor gives a funky comedic turn in this bizarre cross between “Ocean’s 11” and a Guy Ritchie film. Surprises are intended but rarely matter in the long run, as writer/director Jonathan Sobol finds the rhythm of the piece in its set-up, watching rumpled characters plan out their bad behavior with the aid of tart banter and slick editing. Read the rest at

Film Review - 3 Days to Kill

3 DAYS TO KILL Kevin Costner

Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp production company has been responsible for many of the mid-range actioners that have hit screens over the last decade. Fueling releases with screenplays and Parisian locations, Besson has introduced a European flavor to a Hollywood genre, yet the quality of these pictures has been frustratingly erratic. For every “Transporter” and “Taken,” there’s been a “Columbiana” and “From Paris with Love.” “3 Days to Kill” brings director McG and star Kevin Costner into the Besson stable, and the pair seems a little lost with this tale of fatherhood and assassination. Desperate to be something, “3 Days to Kill” chooses to be everything, resulting in an extraordinarily confused feature that’s all over the map in terms of tone and execution. Read the rest at

Film Review - Pompeii


When one thinks of history, of powerful screen romance, of epic cinema, the name Paul W.S. Anderson doesn’t immediately spring to mind. The director of “Death Race,” “Aliens vs. Predator,” “The Three Musketeers,” and numerous other disappointing pictures, Anderson swings for the fences with “Pompeii,” his take on a “Titanic”-style spectacle. Typical of his work, this doomsday romance flounders from the get-go, unable to make a sizable imprint on the heart with its cast of dullards, while volcanic bedlam is reduced to a cameo as the screenplay clings to matters of gladiatorial bonding and political corruption. Because when one buys a ticket to a movie called “Pompeii,” one expects a prominent subplot about a jittery horse and stale banter between two slaves. Read the rest at

Film Review - Date and Switch


Although sexual awakening and ownership remains a hot topic in 2014, “Date and Switch” feels like a relic from the mid-1990s, playing shallow with difficult questions of self-awareness. Writer Alan Yang and director Chris Nelson (“Ass Backwards”) appear appropriately motivated to create something of value, addressing anxieties surrounding the act of outing, but good intentions do not hold this shabby, unfunny comedy together. In place of authentic emotion and searing personal communication, there’s cliché and passivity, plasticizing the kindly nature of the picture to a point where all the tension begins to resemble a bad sitcom, down to its programmed happy ending. Read the rest at

Film Review - If You Build It


The challenge of education, or at least one of many, is how to engage young minds when they’re so easily distracted these days, disengaged from the real world as a battalion of glowing screens vie for their attention. This organic connection to creation is on a path to extinction, threatening the purity of experience at a chaotic time of personal development. The documentary “If You Build It” (try hard not to complete that title) settles into a small town to explore how such an impossible task of concentration is achieved, observing students confronted with labor and design for the first time in their lives, studying how these kids react to a considerable effort of construction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Adult World

ADULT WORLD Emma Roberts

“Adult World” strives to articulate the test of maturity facing today’s college graduates as they move from adolescence to responsibility while working out the true price of dream chasing in the marketplace. Trouble is, screenwriter Andy Cochran (“Super Sweet 16: The Movie”) doesn’t have a firm grasp on the subject, caught between a compulsion to instigate comedic situations and tend to the frustratingly vague needs of his characters. Unfunny and unenlightening, “Adult World” remains in a troubling holding pattern, unable to land on a profound development that might instigate some type of tension worth paying attention to. A handful of scenes find their footing, but the overall impact and generational perspective of the story is missing, resulting in a deflated film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Knights of Badassdom


LARPing (live-action role playing) has been explored cinematically in such movies as “Role Models” and the documentary “Monster Camp,” but it’s never been treated with the utmost respect. The pastime lends itself to mockery, watching costumed participants play fight with elaborate rules, leaving “Knights of Badassdom” an opportunity to handle the subject matter as exhilarating fantasy combat, weaving colorful characters with a war saga that celebrates the lifestyle and the game. Something went horribly wrong in the translation. Although spirited at times, “Knights of Badassdom” takes on familiar targets, while its escalation of oddity is forced when it isn’t confusing. Going broad instead of observational, the feature stumbles right out of the gate. Read the rest at