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February 2014

Blu-ray Review - Fantastic Mr. Fox (Criterion Collection)


When most directors repeat themselves, it's typically a sign of artistic exhaustion or perhaps unshakable fixation. In Wes Anderson's case, his visual repetition has become an irresistible thumbprint, and one of the great moviegoing joys I've encountered in recent years is the opportunity to watch this supremely gifted filmmaker use his leather-bound imagination to impart varying stories of eccentric outsiders and their enduring emotional wounds, with each picture connected by exotic aesthetic degrees of detail-oriented splendor. Now Anderson takes his cinematic language to the hand-woven field of stop-motion animation for "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and, yet again, the helmer shapes a breathtaking cinematic marvel; he finds a magnificent home nestled firmly in the lush textures of the animation, the dancing vocal performances, and delicious wry tone that makes for stunningly fanciful cinema. Read the rest at

Film Review - Our RoboCop Remake


As the underwhelming “RoboCop” remake enters theaters this weekend, the flexibility of fandom is put to the test, asked to accept an inferior product with an iconic brand name. However, there’s an alternative, and it doesn’t cost any money to view. “Our RoboCop Remake” is a fan-based parody of the 1987 Paul Verhoevan picture, with 50 filmmakers uniting to build a silly valentine to a beloved movie, creating comedic madness scene by scene, without a stitch of connective tissue beyond vague attention to the original narrative. Juvenile but inventive, with more than a few bellylaughs, “Our RoboCop Remake” is a creative lark that transcends its corner-of-the-internet position of obscurity, showing off some substantial no-budget craftsmanship. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jimmy P.

JIMMY P Benicio Del Toro

The unfortunately titled “Jimmy P.” takes a semi-serious look at a man’s unraveling. The psychological potential of the picture is outstanding, promising a richly defined plunge into an abyss of fear, with special attention paid to the unease of cultural divide and the immobility of festering guilt. There are plenty of combative elements to the feature, yet “Jimmy P.” carries itself with a frustrating detachment, electing to attack fertile elements of distress with a casual sense of exploration. Solid work from stars Benicio Del Toro and Mathieu Amalric lubricate the movie’s hunt for understanding, but overlength tends to erase the effort’s achievements in the end. Read the rest at

Film Review - Endless Love

ENDLESS LOVE Alex Pettyfer

The 2014 version of “Endless Love” has taken some drastic steps to avoid comparison to other incarnations of the same story. Originating from a 1979 novel by author Scott Spencer and adapted into a popular 1981 picture starring Brooke Shields (featuring an omnipresent theme song that ruined roller skating for everyone in the early eighties), “Endless Love” is a tale of dark obsession and manipulation, powered by a bittersweet quality that reinforces the dangerous games of affection played by the characters. The New “Endless Love” is defanged claptrap for 13-year-olds with no sense of how the world actually works, drained of any threat, heat, or logic as it manufactures a love story where idiocy is celebrated as laudable passion. If you’re familiar with the book or the earlier feature, this “Endless Love” won’t be recognizable. Imagine if “Star Wars” was the cinematic adaptation of “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and that’s as close as co-writer/director Shana Feste gets to the source material here. Read the rest at

Film Review - Like Father, Like Son


“Like Father, Like Son” is a sensitive Japanese drama that asks pointed questions about the true definition of family and the environmental effects of childhood. It explores a test of nature versus nurture, but in a gentle manner, acutely aware of the fragility of feeling that’s overtaken the characters. Writer/director Hirokazu Koreeda (“I Wish”) mounts an emotionally restrained but expressive portrait of parental reflection and choice with “Like Father, Like Son,” employing a refined cinematic language to articulate the struggle within, doing away with expected hysterics to connect with the viewer in a more instinctual manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - Winter's Tale

WINTERS TALE Jessica Brown Findlay Colin Farrell

Akiva Goldsman won an Academy Award for screenwriting for his work on 2001’s “A Beautiful Mind.” He also wrote 1997’s “Batman & Robin.” The yin-yang balance of Goldsman’s career achievements is important to keep in mind while watching “Winter’s Tale,” as the inconsistency of his career unravels whatever lofty dreams of the fantastic and the romantic are meant to show up onscreen. Muddled and distractingly bizarre, the writer/director attempts to craft a complex fairy tale featuring heavenly forces of good and evil, flying horses, and agelessness, only introductions aren’t properly made, launching viewers into a mystifying world without a compass to help guide the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - Gloria


To watch “Gloria” is to behold a magnificent performance from star Paulina Garcia. It’s a tricky role, walking a thin line between empowerment and misery, yet the work is frighteningly real, brimming with vulnerabilities and frustrations that any person who’s had to hunt for love could easily relate to. Co-writer/director Sebastian Lelio wisely elects the observational route with this picture, stepping back to inspect the titular character as she begins to shape a sense of self while enduring a disrespectful relationship. “Gloria” has a casual atmosphere that sneaks up on the viewer, and the reward for such patience is the opportunity to spy a seasoned character realized onscreen with refreshing honesty. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Returned


The horror genre has a nasty habit of repeating itself, with productions rabidly pouncing on trends, churning out product until a concept dies from exhaustion. Zombie entertainment is big business these days, leaving the producers of “The Returned” all the opportunity in the world to cough up a lazy chapter in the ongoing saga of the undead. Instead, some imagination takes hold, submitting a tale that’s not precisely about the details of the plague, but how average citizens avoid transformation into ghouls through the power of medicine and commitment. “The Returned” doesn’t overwhelm, but it manages a smart tone of dread mixed with panic, reviving stale elements by attacking the subject matter from an unusual point of view. Read the rest at

Film Review - Easy Money: Hard to Kill

EASY MONEY 2 Joel Kinnaman

Although it didn’t make much of an impact during its American release in 2012, “Easy Money” was a sensation in its native Sweden, conquering the box office with its vision of suspense and class desperation, using style and violence to turn an age-old tale of ambition into something exciting. Two sequels have been produced to continue the story, with “Easy Money: Hard to Kill” assuming “The Empire Strikes Back” role in this unexpected trilogy, torching structure and satisfaction to bring the characters to an impossibly low point, thus setting up a rebound scenario for “Easy Money: Life Deluxe” (which currently doesn’t have a U.S. release date). Read the rest at

Film Review - About Last Night


It’s interesting to note that “About Last Night” isn’t an update of David Mamet’s 1974 play, “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” It’s a remake of the 1986 screenplay adaptation by Tim Kazurinsky and Denise DeClue, making sure to avoid Mametian poison to pattern itself off the original Hollywood take, which starred Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Elizabeth Perkins, and Jim Belushi. It seems strange to go to all this work, rehashing a pleasant but safe take on sexual politics, and unleash four unlikable characters in the process, killing off the potential for a truly eye-opening, frighteningly honest inspection of relationship nuance. It strives to be warm and funny, but “About Last Night” mostly dishes up moldy leftovers from the he said/she said recycle bin. Read the rest at

Film Review - RoboCop

ROBOCOP Joel Kinnamen

1987’s “RoboCop” is a special film. A roaring mix of satire and action, the movie is unspeakably violent, slyly scripted, and masterfully crafted by director Paul Verhoeven, who gorged on police procedural pictures and vomited up a hardcore ode to heroism and humanity. For 2014, there’s a remake, a chance to return the iconic character to the screen, bewitching old fans and tempting new. Of course, all the CGI, chaotic action, and screaming characters can’t even begin to match the assertive steamroller experience of the original feature, and while the remake tries to have an identity of its own, it forgets a personality. It’s easy to label the new “RoboCop” a failure, a pale imitation, but the effort makes dismissal painless, coming off as a basic cable production from CNN. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - That's the Way of the World


It's easy to dismiss the music business these days as a soulless machine of mediocrity, always chasing a buck with any novelty act or trend it can massage for a few years before moving on to the next big thing. "That's the Way of the World" is a troubling reminder that it's always been this way, with the 1975 picture employing a mildly satiric approach to expose the vulgarity of record companies as they pick and choose popularity, tossing talent aside to invest in pap for the masses. It's a potent message, and one the feature isn't shy to share, often taking the most obvious route possible to expose the mind-numbing predictability of the industry. However, while its messages are about as subtle as an air horn, "That's the Way of the World" remains a successful, entertaining interpretation of vampiric business practices and the burden of selling out, scored to a series of hits from Earth, Wind & Fire, who also appear in the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Nurse

NURSE Paz De La Huetra Katrina Bowden

In the opening five minutes of “Nurse,” a promise is made by director Douglas Aarniokoski (“The Day”) that the next 70 minutes of the feature will be devoted to an atmosphere of sleaziness so thick and colorfully B-movie, it will be impossible to resist. The promise isn’t kept. As mischievous as “Nurse” is, winding through extended displays of nudity and violence, it’s also surprisingly uneventful, only coming alive when it has ghoulish behavior to detail. Actually, for all the ugliness this effort commits to, it’s surprisingly tasteful, electing to mount a tale of obsession over a more enticing plot concerning a gradual psychological unraveling fueling a twisted vision of heroism. “Nurse” is gruesome, but it’s never nasty. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cold Comes the Night

COLD COMES THE NIGHT Bryan Cranston Alice Eve

After his award-winning turn on the cable hit “Breaking Bad,” it seems like Bryan Cranston would have his pick of roles, able to choose anything that provides a unique challenge. It’s somewhat of a surprise to find the actor starring in “Cold Comes the Night,” a small-scale noir that pairs Cranston with Alice Eve, exploring the seedy underbelly of crime and corruption in rural New York. It’s due to Cranston’s participation that the film remains involving and mildly surprising, with co-writer/director Tze Chun wisely trusting his talent to bring out the steel edges of the material, giving it an emotional punch. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vampire Academy


Perhaps J.K. Rowling should contact her lawyers. “Vampire Academy” is the latest young adult literature adaptation with dreams of becoming the next big screen sensation, spawning sequels and hysteria as it marches into a profitable future. The source material is a six-book series from author Richelle Mead that was first published in 2007, right in the midst of “Harry Potter” mania. The similarities between the franchises are striking, with “Vampire Academy” providing a vague prophecy of purpose for the lead characters, a school for special beings who practice magic, and a revolving door of adult characters with nothing but secrets to share. All that seems to be missing is the butterbeer, but blood will have to do here. A road map and a glossary would’ve been nice to have as well to help navigate through this convoluted mess. Read the rest at


Film Review - Welcome to the Jungle


This production takes the time and effort to hire a group of comedians and habitual improvisational types, and it’s Jean-Claude Van Damme who turns out to be the funniest part of “Welcome to the Jungle.” Going for a workplace-gone-mad comedy, director Rob Meltzer hits more than he misses, though this is surprisingly slack work with a guaranteed premise. The stunt casting of Van Damme is the only true inspiration of the film, asking the normally stoic action star to play silly for a change, bestowing the picture with some surprise as it hits familiar targets. Laughs are present, but “Welcome to the Jungle” could be a tighter production -- it merely entertains, and is quickly forgotten. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Lego Movie

LEGO MOVIE Chris Pratt Elizabeth Banks

“The Lego Movie” is a 100-minute-long commercial for the world-famous building bricks, but it’s marketing executed in a truly inspired manner. Taking advantage of the cinematic possibilities of the construction toy, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller explore a vast realm of color and cartoon snap, creating a boldly designed, stop-motion-style tour of the Lego universe, arriving with a pronounced sense of humor and an unbeatable sense of screen energy. It’s a snappy, amusing picture with a long list of characters to help flavor the film, but its greatest asset is imagination, living up to the promise of Lego play with a charmingly berserk creation that’s wickedly entertaining and effective as a tool to sell more bricks. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Monuments Men

MONUMENTS MEN Bill Murray George Clooney

There’s no way around it: “The Monuments Men” is flawed work. The latest from George Clooney, who co-scripts, stars, and directs, the picture lacks the firm narrative glue that its deserves, making the film feel like random chapters in a compelling book that’s missing every tenth page. However, many of these chapters are wonderfully executed, brimming with tension and an oddly mournful approach that maintains interest in the wartime quest at hand. Cohesion is missing, but Clooney makes up for the random quality by making moments stick beautifully, blurring the limitations of the feature by treating its working parts so well. “The Monuments Men” can be a frustrating sit, especially when it becomes clear that greatness rests just outside its reach. Read the rest at

Film Review - After the Dark


“After the Dark” posits provocative questions of survival in the face of certain doom, approaching such quandaries from an academic point of view, establishing a cooler approach to situations of panic and emotion. It’s an interesting picture with a different sense of dramatic conflict, rooted in hypothetical situations instead of realism. However, “After the Dark” doesn’t maintain its intellectual muscle, eventually giving in to a Hollywood mentality that demands a melodramatic arc of obsession to taint the purity of debate. Predictability doesn’t sour the viewing experience, but it does leave a nagging feeling that writer/director John Huddle isn’t pushing hard enough to challenge his audience in a manner that befits the plot. Read the rest at