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March 2014

Film Review - Bad Words

BAD WORDS Jason Bateman

First time directors usually select material that’s comfortable, providing a familiarity that eases the pressure of such a herculean professional task. For Jason Bateman’s feature-length helming debut, he’s selected “Bad Words,” a cynical, sarcastic, profane picture that’s cut from the same cloth as “Bad Santa” and “Bad Teacher,” celebrating the juvenile antics of an unstable human being, providing a wide berth for improvisation. It’s Bateman’s wheelhouse, though it’s surprising to find “Bad Words” rather pedestrian as it peruses its corroded imagination, relying on cheap jokes and predictable situations to carry the movie, while Bateman the actor coasts through the effort half-asleep, playing aloof with material that demands more pronounced representation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Just a Sigh

JUST A SIGH Gabriel Byrne

“Just a Sigh” seems to understand that it’s working with a flawed premise, which concerns the passionate interests of two strangers who meet on a train and engage in a heated affair, satisfying needs beyond primal sexual desires. To combat the familiar, writer/director Jerome Bonnell attempts to transform his picture into an immersive event, following the lead character as she feels everything, hoping to communicate decisions through physical movement and the odd shot of cheeky scripting. “Just a Sigh” doesn’t capture the senses in a compelling manner, but its elusiveness is actually effective, requiring an audience willing to give up on reason to take on the mysteries of attraction. Read the rest at

Film Review - Particle Fever


“Particle Fever” brings physics to the big screen. Not the high school stuff, but hardcore science from brilliant minds excited to share experiments and findings with the world. The worst possible outcome with the picture is a feeling of homework, putting intense, specialized concepts into the minds of viewers, expecting them to piece together a sophisticated understanding of the work and the culture. “Particle Fever” has moments like this, but impenetrability isn’t a common occurrence, with the majority of the documentary user friendly as it details the highs and lows of the Large Hadron Collider and the team of physicists devoted to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. Read the rest at

Film Review - Enemy

ENEMY Jake Gyllenhaal

“Enemy” is fashioned in the tradition of brain-bleeder cinema, putting the weight of interpretation on the audience as it deliberately reaches into abstraction to keep the average moviegoer off its scent. Think the work of David Lynch or Lars Von Trier, with a distinct fingerprint of Stanley Kubrick thrown in for fun. A picture like this is overflowing with oddity and most vague of clues, only in need of a filmmaker capable of turning question marks into a riveting mission of big screen puzzling. Denis Villeneuve, hot off his success with last autumn’s “Prisoners,” doesn’t work “Enemy” into a lather, instead deliberately keeping his distance in a manner that doesn’t encourage deeper inspection. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stay

STAY Aidan Quinn Taylor Schilling

To embrace the fine qualities of “Stay” requires patience with its incompleteness. Writer/director Wiebke van Carolsfeld has her heart in the right place with this sensitive relationship drama set largely in Ireland, but the connective tissue is missing, often robbing scenes of their true power when backstory is blurred and motivations are lacking urgency. Thankfully, there’s thespian feeling providing by stars Aidan Quinn and Taylor Schilling, who provide a push of emotional understanding when the screenplay fails to connect the dots. Boasting lovely locations and an endearing community spirit, “Stay” seems like such an easy film to love, yet its deficiencies are difficult to manage. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Fried Green Tomatoes

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES Mary Stuart Masterson Mary-Louise Parker

When it finally saw a wide release in January 1992, "Fried Green Tomatoes" shocked Hollywood with its box office staying power, ending up with grosses nobody could've predicted. Finding its audience at the right time, it's easy to spot why the film connected in a big way. With characters worthy of emotional investment, sassy humor, and a female perspective rarely viewed in such a frank manner, "Fried Green Tomatoes" is a full course cinematic meal, retaining its literary origins with ideal confidence. Quibbles aside, it's a well-told tale with unexpectedly secure performances, also retaining a nice edge that helps to dial down the potential for syrup. After all, it's not every day that one encounters a sensitive tale of sisterhood that also contains an element of cannibalism. For that alone, the movie deserves respect. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Far and Away

FAR AND AWAY Nicole Kidman

Although other films have made the attempt to master the same moves as epic cinema of old, 1992's "Far and Away" was perhaps the last effort to come the closest to a David Lean-style spectacle without employing sizable help from CGI. Director Ron Howard's throwback feature doesn't achieve iconic status, but it's fine entertainment overall, exploring a classic tale of immigration and desire, set against the backdrop of the American Dream. Even with a few hiccups in storytelling, the production satisfies a sizable amount of its goals, hitting beats of romance and tragedy while stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman bring reassuring star power to the picture, allowing Howard to find his sense of sweep as the movie makes its way to a wonderfully widescreen conclusion. Read the rest at

Film Review - Better Living Through Chemistry


“Better Living Through Chemistry” is a jaunty ride around the dismantling of an everyman. The screenplay by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier (who also co-direct the effort) is filled with formula, never disapproving of a cliché we’ve seen in other, better movies, but the energy of the feature is pleasing. It helps to have a cast who’s come to play, with Olivia Wilde, Michelle Monaghan, and star Sam Rockwell contributing lively work to a picture that needs a boost of a personality. Sporadically funny and sharply paced, “Better Living Through Chemistry” manages to achieve most of its goals, just don’t walk in expecting a radical reinvention of the ruined suburbanite routine. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Single Moms Club


For his latest effort, writer/director/co-star Tyler Perry looks to pander to his female audience in a more welcoming manner than last year’s “Temptation” could provide. Preying on insecurities concerning the challenges of single motherhood, Perry heads into his creative kitchen and whips up the same stale concoction of melodrama, comedy, and hysteria. The wine flows and the punchlines die in “The Single Moms Club,” and Perry can’t seem to fulfill the promise of the title. Instead of breezy jocularity and patient moralizing, the feature is a joyless to-do list of cliches, sold by actresses who appear confused by the material, unsure if they should treat the conflicts with a touch of realism or head off into space, hamming it up while the director takes a nap. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Grand Budapest Hotel


The return of Wes Anderson brings enormous expectations for style, whimsy, and tone. Thankfully, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” lives up to the American Empirical brand name with a tart but soaring display of madcap comedy and lush visual presentation. After the tempered sweetness of “Moonrise Kingdom,” it’s interesting to watch the helmer indulge a peppery sense of mischief, constructing an R-rated misadventure with dubious characters and a valentine to the golden age of hospitality, playing with time, aspect ratios, and an enormous cast of familiar faces to shape a cheeky, occasionally shocking feature that’s thoroughly and blissfully managed by its idiosyncratic creator. Imagine a blend of “The Muppet Movie,” Mel Brooks, and “Where’s Waldo?” and you’re halfway to the carnival ride viewing experience Anderson delivers with this gem. Read the rest at

Film Review - Need for Speed


“Need for Speed” is an adaptation of the popular video game series (over 20 installments), finally bringing its mix of velocity and evasion to the big screen. But let’s be honest here, after the billion-dollar grosses associated with “The Fast and the Furious” franchise, a rival studio wanted its own street race film to call its own. Bloated and nonsensical, “Need for Speed” only has a demolition derby to share with the audience, as all attempts to inject human behavior into this joyless endeavor come up painfully short. If the sound of revving engines and exaggerated enunciation for over two hours of screen time is your thing, by all means, dig into the picture with both hands. Everyone else should seek their cheap thrills elsewhere. Read the rest at

Film Review - Patrick: Evil Awakens


Remakes are a common occurrence these days, but the horror genre is practically stuffed with do-overs. Easy to assemble and market, rehashes, or reimaginings, often disappoint, never quite living up to their original inspiration. “Patrick: Evil Awakens” is an update of a 1978 “ozploitation” classic, largely considered to be one of the best chillers to emerge from Australia. Armed with a brand name and movie geek recognition, the producers have elected to mount “Patrick” once again, using contemporary fright film mechanics to sell a familiar tale. Against all odds, they’ve managed to succeed where many efforts fail, returning the tension and peculiarity of the premise for another go-around of telekinetic terror. Read the rest at

Film Review - Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me


At the age of 86, Elaine Stritch doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. An accomplished actress, singer, and all-around broad, Stritch’s career contains an amazing run of theater, television, and feature film credits, all boosted by her innate charms and brassy attitude, most recently viewed in the series “30 Rock,” a comedic turn that gifted her a third Emmy win. Refusing insincerity, demanding attention, and committed to the art of performance, Stritch’s life seems tailor-made for a documentary, allowing director Chiemi Karasawa access to a wealth of anecdotes and daily experience to draw from, resulting in “Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me,” a potent look back at a life lived in full and a future that remains unwritten. Read the rest at

Film Review - Child's Pose


We’re used to seeing screen depictions of motherhood that lean toward heroism or self-sacrifice in a quest to preserve a future for their children. “Child’s Pose” posits the idea that this noble selflessness could be a programmed response to strife, following a woman’s attempt to relive her son of obvious guilt and legal interests out of habit, not an innate need to protect her own. A Romanian production, “Child’s Pose” is observational and manipulative in a fascinating manner, asking the audience to digest the mechanics of concern without ever feeling as though the lead character is capable of such an emotion. Raw and frighteningly authentic, the feature has a causal immorality that’s fascinating to watch unfold. Read the rest at

Film Review - U Want Me 2 Kill Him?


The crudely titled “U Want Me 2 Kill Him?” has a few tricks up its sleeve as it recounts a true tale of online obsession that led to murder. Misdirection is a major selling point, managing to keep the story wound tight as it surveys various acts of gullibility, most stemming from the easily swayed mind of an undersexed teenage boy. That any of this absurdity is rooted in reality is simply amazing, and director Andrew Douglas (his first effort since the 2005 “The Amityville Horror” remake) does a fine job massaging tension out of the tale. Opening as a demonstration of adolescent lust, “U Want Me 2 Kill Him” takes some interesting left turns as it unfolds, holding attention with its weirdness. Read the rest at

Film Review - Teenage


It’s the older generation’s right to lament the disorderly state of the average adolescent, but it wasn’t always that way. “Teenage” is an unusual documentary that probes the development of juvenile attitude and independence throughout the first half of the 20th century, isolating certain movements and incidents that helped shape the marvel of youth. Using eye-opening footage of kids on the prowl and parents on the defense (along with dramatic recreation), director Matt Wolf paints a striking portrait of development and unity, sold through individual experiences that add intimacy to a broad sweep of change, articulated through a range of narrators. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Face of Love


“The Face of Love” boasts a terrific premise that promises to inspect the difficulty of the grieving process, especially when faced with the comfort of the familiar versus the reality of the unknown. The potential for honest heartache is great, but a few ideas break the concentration of the picture as it enters its third act. At the very least, there’s phenomenal work from Annette Bening, who invests in the frailties of human emotion, and Ed Harris, showing uncharacteristic warmth in a difficult role. Co-writer/director Arie Posin almost nails the subtlety of temptation, delivering an hour of compelling, provocative drama. He doesn’t stick the landing, which ends up the most important element of this interesting effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Right Kind of Wrong


The name Jeremiah Chechik hasn’t been associated with a major motion picture in quite some time. The director of “Benny & Joon,” the “Diabolique” remake, and the mangled “The Avengers” big screen adventure from 1998, Chechik retreated to television when his multiplex fortunes soured, finding a medium that welcomed his interests in quirk and speed. “The Right Kind of Wrong” is a return to feature-length storytelling for the helmer, but old habits die hard. Overly cutesy and strangely unpleasant, the picture endeavors to rework stale romantic comedy clichés with flashes of R-rated behavior and escalating misery for the lead character. Mostly, the movie comes off fatigued and unfunny, laboring to fashion a farce that never gets off the ground. Read the rest at

Film Review - Shirin in Love


I wouldn’t call it hope, but there was a desire to see “Shirin in Love” attack a romantic story with a distinct Iranian perspective, shaking up the routine. Unfortunately, writer/director Ramin Niami isn’t interested in a substantial exploration of culture, keeping the material as Hollywood as possible, with Iranian influences mere decoration that often get in the way of numbing cliché. Although it seeks to be soft, approachable entertainment concerning the needs of the heart versus the demands of tradition, “Shirin in Love” almost seem ashamed of its heritage, electing shed its personality to make a movie we’ve all seen a hundred times before. Read the rest at