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April 2014

Film Review - The Protector 2


Despite obvious limitations, 2005’s “The Protector” was a pleasingly weirdo action fest from Thailand that chased every impulse it could get away with, from elephant adoration to a transsexual villain. Featuring thrilling fight choreography, the film was a stepping-stone in the once thrilling career of star Tony Jaa, who was building a powerful brand name at the time, using “The Protector” to inch his way into the global marketplace. Nearly a decade later, and there’s now a sequel, which arrives years after Jaa’s momentum cooled, hoping to trigger fond memories of the hero’s abilities by returning to one of his most popular characters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Touch of Sin


The director of "Still Life" and "Unknown Pleasures," director Zhangke Jia continues his commentary on Chinese society with "A Touch of Sin." Gathering four tales of despondency and behavioral extremity, the helmer embarks on an odyssey of desperation, tackling issues of corruption and dismissal that guide the characters to situations of impulse and reckoning that alters their lives forever. Sold in a meditative manner that makes the innate horror of the stories all the more terrifying, "A Touch of Sin" is an evocative and devastating portrait of demoralization, with the origins of these tales based partly on factual events. However, the intermittent intensity of the effort doesn't carry throughout, as gaps in understanding add up in the end, leaving these tattered people and their woe curiously unexplored beyond key details that lead to their unraveling. It's a strikingly shot picture with some genuine dramatic weight, but as an overall piece of understanding, the movie leaves too much obscured, keeping the viewer in the dark despite some incredibly intimate acts of deliberation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Demons

THE DEMONS Jess Franco

The late Jess Franco was an insanely prolific director with a specific appetite in exploitation cinema. Perhaps 1973's "The Demons" doesn't summarize his skills as a helmer, but it's a solid introduction to his fetishes, delivering a movie that's stocked with graphic violence and softcore sex scenes. It's a ludicrous picture at times but it's undeniably fascinating, with Franco pursuing a provocative screen energy that's often impossible to achieve, merging lustful antics with historical hysteria. It's a Penthouse Letter written during Sunday School, and while it's never secure in its storytelling, often trailing off into inscrutable conflict, "The Demons" is memorable, with a specific visual approach and strange sense of evil that keeps it moving along for its entirely excessive two-hour run time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The House on Sorority Row


1983's "The House on Sorority Row" was released during a fertile time for slasher entertainment, when everyone with access to a camera, topless actresses, and fake blood decided to launch their own horror experience to cash in on the macabre merriment. Unfortunately, most of these productions were derivative of one another, riding trends to a point of exhaustion. The surprise of "The House on Sorority Row" is how it teases such genre fatigue, yet manages to build a semi-effective scare machine of its own, merging "Friday the 13th" levels of gore with a distinct Hitchcockian influence that pushes the picture into thriller mode over your basic rampage-and-stab viewing experience. Creative particulars are unexpectedly tight, with writer/director Mark Rosman investing in suspense over pure exploitation, though the basics in nudity, bloodshed, and screamy panic are covered. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Skeleton Twins

SKELETON TWINS Kristen Wiig Bill Hader

“The Skeleton Twins” is going to attract a lot of media attention for its casting of comedy stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig in an edgy, indie drama. Mercifully, the movie isn’t a steady display of severity, but a strongly imagined screen depiction of desperation and clinical depression, with welcome breathers of levity and warm sensitivity. It’s a beautiful picture that understands the tenuous bonds of family and pressures of self-delusion, winningly explored with an emotionally consistent, graceful screenplay and assured direction from Craig Johnson. While it appears foreboding, and perhaps that’s the most tantalizing direction for all marketing efforts, “The Skeleton Twins” is approachable and meaningful, confronting an impossible darkness with a generous flow of humanity. Read the rest at

Film Review - Boyhood

BOYHOOD Patricia Arquette

When a movie wants to communicate the passage of time, it typically takes tricks in casting or make-up to sell the illusion of the years floating by. Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” attempts something different. Production actually commenced in 2002, with short segments of the helmer’s script filmed over a 12 year period, allowing the stars to age naturally, with emphasis on its youngest characters, who naturally work through adolescence as the feature progresses. It’s a fascinating experiment but a surprisingly relaxed effort. Linklater eschews the poignancy of time passage with this ode to growing up, instead highlighting the development of personality, interests, and defense mechanisms as he observes the world around him. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Quiet Ones

QUIET ONES Jared harris

“The Quiet Ones” had potential. A creepshow co-produced by Hammer Films, the feature has the right ingredients to at least reach a comfortable plateau of scares and demonic happenings, boasting a creepy doll, unexplained telekinetic events, and a remote location. Disappointingly, director John Pogue doesn’t trust the essentials, trying his best to amplify every single creak and slam to goose the audience, never allowing them to slowly slip into the foreboding atmosphere. Although it’s well-acted, “The Quiet Ones” whiffs on true terror, caught between a habitual need to artificially jolt the viewer and a languid pace, unable to increase pressure in a manner that would benefit the chilling intentions of this misfire. Read the rest at

Film Review - Only Lovers Left Alive


Jim Jarmusch always makes interesting pictures, but it’s been a while since he’s made a great one. “Only Lovers Left Alive” toys with the waning trend of vampire stories, only instead of plastic passions and teen angst, there’s conversation, history, and a heaping helping of ennui. Shellacked with Jarmusch-branded wit and coolness, the feature is kept in play through near-perfect casting, with stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton carrying the effort’s mystery and understandable concentration on fatigue with wonderful timing and physical presence. Eased with pockets of humor, “Only Lovers Left Alive” is comfortable in its own skin, permitting disparate moods room to breathe as the helmer searches for an angle that might make vampirism fascinating again. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Machine


It’s interesting timing to welcome “The Machine” into theaters a week after the release of “Transcendence.” Both pictures share an interest in the possibility of A.I. and human experimentation, but the Johnny Depp movie is a big-budget slog of half-baked ideas, while “The Machine” is a low-budget effort with a stellar visual presence, competent performances, and a tighter grasp on its message of humanity withstanding an artificial form. Although constructed with bits and pieces from other sci-fi films, “The Machine” retains a dynamic presence, with interesting futureworld ideas sharply realized by writer/director Caradog W. James, who submits quite a cinematic vision for next to no production money. Read the rest at

Film Review - Young & Beautiful


“Young & Beautiful” is the latest effort from writer/director Francois Ozon, and it features his interests in behavioral anomalies and troubling domestic developments. It’s a coming-of-age story with a steep learning curve for its lead character, but there is a sense of understanding that permeates the picture, even when it inspects some rather unsavory bedroom business. Distanced but attentive, “Young & Beautiful” remains an intriguing look at a life derailed, though whether or not all this disturbance is intentional remains a question left up to the viewer, with Ozon providing the pieces of a fracture psyche, not the instruction booklet to put it all together. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Other Woman

OTHER WOMAN Kate Upton Cameron Diaz Leslie Mann

I’m not exactly sure what audience “The Other Woman” is for. There’s an enormous amount of bathroom humor, a comedic crutch typically aimed at young males, and director Nick Cassavetes loves to ogle the exposed skin of his stars, making it difficult to comprehend its intention to appeal to a female audience. There’s a graphic conversation about pubic hair and scenes of bloodshed, vomiting, and defecation, and the leading man ends up assaulting a woman in the final moments of the movie. There are so many unappealing ingredients to “The Other Woman,” it’s difficult to remember what exactly works in the picture. Thankfully, that list is short, but the film feels very long. Read the rest at

Film Review - Brick Mansions


The Luc Besson-created “District 13” and its sequel, “District 13: Ultimatum,” were interesting riffs on the “Escape from New York” template. Boasting a distinct French style and appropriately curt lead performances from David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli, the features also had a hand in bringing the evasion discipline of parkour to the masses, employing fleet-footed antics to jazz up the norm. The films were awfully fun, dusted with that Besson magic that makes mediocrity highly engaging. “Brick Mansions” is the Americanized remake, and Besson (who returns as co-screenwriter) is all out of sorcery. Dismal, appallingly shot and edited, and cast with the least interesting actors around, it’s clear that this carnival ride of flips, jumps, and gentrification should’ve remained a distant European memory. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cuban Fury

CUBAN FURY Nick Frost Chris O'Dowd

I like Nick Frost. Who doesn’t like Nick Frost? But I’m not sure what the actor is trying to accomplish with “Cuban Fury,” his English take on the American underdog genre. Ostensibly a movie that celebrates the art of salsa dancing, it’s filled with all sorts of clichéd screenwriting that barely makes sense. There’s a terrific cast here ready to play with Frost, a few of them more jubilant than the leading man, but “Cuban Fury” doesn’t have a personality of its own, in dire need of a more robust collection of laughs and a few less painfully contrived subplots. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wolf Creek 2

WOLF CREEK 2 John Jarratt

A hit in its native Australia, 2005’s “Wolf Creek” failed to find much of an audience in the U.S. Compounding the pain of its cold box office dismissal, the effort is one of a handful of movies to receive a grade of F from the audience-polling firm, Cinemascore (a dubious company, but the distinction remains), suggesting that those who saw the picture hated it. Glacial and needlessly sadistic, “Wolf Creek” wasn’t the type of horror experience than lends itself to a franchise expansion, but don’t ever doubt the conviction of a struggling filmmaking. Director Greg Mclean returns to duty with “Wolf Creek 2,” a did-anyone-ask-for-this? sequel that manages to improve on its predecessor, but I’m not entirely sure that could be classified as a positive reaction. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden


There’s a specific fantasy tied to the idea of abandoning society for the wild, where such solitude and self-governing promises a richer life, far away from the poisons of the world. “The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Paradise” details such ambition, with the documentary exploring the events surrounding Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch, two Germans who left their homeland in the late 1920s to oversee their own island kingdom in the Pacific Ocean, hoping to expand their minds with unencumbered thinking and daily labor. Instead, the pair endured a troubling existence that welcomed new arrivals to their private lives, triggering tensions and eventually suspicious disappearances. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Big Fat Liar

BIG FAT LIAR Paul Giamatti

The manic energy of "Big Fat Liar" is almost too much to handle. Aimed toward the attention spans of 8-year-olds, with agonizing screenwriting simplicity to boot, the picture is a dizzying display of slapstick comedy with an industry insider lean, taking on the immoral cesspool of Hollywood with a pronounced Nickelodeon tone of pre-teen mischief. Marking Shawn Levy's big studio debut as a director, "Big Fat Liar" plays as broadly and obviously as possible, missing necessary laughs that could make it all palatable. Instead of considered humor, there's Paul Giamatti, who pops a lung with his bellowing performance here, leaving no scene unchewed. It's an aggressive, obnoxious turn from an actor addicted to harmful decibel levels, slamming the otherwise witless endeavor with his wall of noise. It's a feature best viewed on mute. Or not at all. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - A Simple Wish

A SIMPLE WISH Martin Short

There's a reason why Martin Short is largely considered to be a comedic genius. Through his television work on "SCTV" and "Primetime Glick," supporting roles in films such as "The Big Picture," "Father of the Bride," and "Three Amigos," Broadway productions, and numerous talk show appearances, Short has displayed a sharp wit, endless supply of energy, and a rascally spirit. However, translating that delightful impishness to starring roles has proven difficult for the actor, who's been primarily stuck in unimaginative duds like "Pure Luck," "Captain Ron," and "Three Fugitives." Outside of 1987's "Innerspace" (a wonderful picture), Short hasn't found his niche when it comes to toplining major movies. 1997's "A Simple Wish" is another misfire for the funny man, although the premise provides more than a few opportunities for Short to shine. Instead, he appears handcuffed by the production, forced to work through habitual acts of physical comedy to compete with crude CGI and an aggressive cartoon vibe director Michael Ritchie (who passed away in 2001, making this his final feature) seems intent on selling as loudly as possible. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Making of a Lady

MAKING OF A LADY Linus Roache Lydia Wilson

Period pieces are all the rage these days, thanks to the success of "Downton Abbey," yet "The Making of a Lady" offers a slight deviation from the tea-and-dismissal routine. It's a thriller, based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett, hoping to lure viewers in with a portrait of romance before it turns into a semi-horror effort. The intent of the production is clear, but the execution is hopelessly mangled, leaving a picture that commences with dignity and concludes as an absolute mess. Read the rest at