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April 2014

Film Review - A Haunted House 2

HAUNTED HOUSE 2 Marlon Wayans Gabriel Iglesisas

While 2013’s “A Haunted House” was a disastrous, lazy spoof of horror films, its minor box office success was the most disheartening aspect of the release, with audiences rewarding screenwriter/star Marlon Wayans for essentially screaming into the camera for 80 minutes. Empowered and energized with a fresh assault of sophomoric humor, Wayans and his bulging face returns with “A Haunted House 2,” a quickie sequel released just over a year after the original. It’s abysmal work from a genuinely unpleasant actor who’s ready and willing to pander to the lowest common denominator with this hostile assembly of sex and anus-centric jokes. Wayans sets comedy and possibly his race back at least 50 years with “A Haunted House 2.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Fading Gigolo


“Fading Gigolo” isn’t the film you want it to be. Writer/director/star John Turturro isn’t interested in making a broad comedy, and while he’s persuaded Woody Allen to return to the screen as a supporting player, he’s crafted a picture that seems also dismissive of comedic situations. Electing to survey the flow of the life surrounding an older male escort and his adventures with women, Turturro selects a jazzy, NYC mood of interactions. There are appealing elements to “Fading Gigolo,” but the production doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to arrive at a satisfying dramatic destination, keeping the effort in stasis as the helmer figures out what he wants from the movie. Read the rest at

Film Review - Transcendence


Wally Pfister has worked as a cinematographer on the majority of Christopher Nolan’s filmography, dating back to 2000’s “Memento.” “Transcendence” is his debut as a director, and to preserve the box office odds of this maiden voyage, he’s selected material that closely mirrors the Nolan aesthetic, blending sci-fi, action, and scientific study into a thought-provoking movie that’s out to stir debate and summon a few thrills. Sadly, Pfister has a long way to go before he matches Nolan’s command of pace and visual invention, as “Transcendence,” while provocative, is a glacially paced endeavor that’s miscast and mopey, abandoning intriguing ideas on the suction of omnipresent technology to conjure a pedestrian love story that features the occasional blip of suspense. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dom Hemingway


At least “Dom Hemingway” never tries to hide what type of movie it is. Opening with an extended shot of the title character receiving oral sex while growling through a monologue about the majesty of his own penis, the feature announces straight away that it’s not for the faint of heart. Writer/director Richard Shepard’s “Dom Hemingway” is a take-no-prisoners character study that’s steeped in profanity and vile behavior, yet somehow emerges on the other side a semi-successful story of redemption in its most bruised and battered form. Riding the material like a rodeo cowboy, Jude Law’s starring performance is a true sight, often saving the picture from cliche with his magnificent impression of a human wrecking ball. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Railway Man


“The Railway Man” is a difficult film, both in subject matter and cinematic execution. Taking on the scars of war and the ravages of PTSD behavior, the story is divided into two time frames of misery, missing an overall design of psychological clarity that could create a singular narrative of immense emotional power. It’s a fragmented effort, missing some pieces of the puzzle, but there’s strength in the performances, which lend the picture a profound sense of impact the screenplay doesn’t always communicate to satisfaction. Acting as another exploration of post-war anguish, “The Railway Man” has valuable insight into the process of forgiveness, making it a worthy sit, even when it feels incomplete. Read the rest at

Film Review - Disneynature's Bears


After the 2012 release of “Chimpanzee” failed stir up much interest at the box office, Disneynature took a year off to regroup, returning this Earth Day with “Bears,” trying to once again stimulate young minds with images of nature in motion. Their finest release so far, “Bears” brings out the best of the Disneynature approach, detailing behaviors and quests for survival out in the wild. The documentary also manages to make its less savory aspects more appealing, thanks to friendly narration from John C. Reilly, who brings warm personality that aids the considerable storytelling manipulation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Heaven Is for Real


The mysteries of the afterlife are given the once-over in “Heaven is for Real,” which isn’t your typical faith-based feature emerging from unproven filmmakers. At the helm here is Randall Wallace, the screenwriter of “Braveheart” and the director of “We Were Soldiers” and “Secretariat.” The credit gives “Heaven Is for Real” a boost in credibility, but the final product doesn’t show the type of storytelling confidence expected from Wallace. Vague and gauzy, the effort posits a few interesting questions on the reach of belief, but doesn’t scratch below the surface, more consumed with extracting tears than challenging the unknown. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hateship Loveship


Ten years from now, it’ll be interesting to look back at the career of Kristen Wiig, especially during the years following her monster success with 2011’s “Bridesmaids.” She’s been involved in some goofy movies (including last year’s “Anchorman 2”), yet Wiig has largely avoided the supernova spotlight of another comedic starring vehicle, electing to sample indie cinema through an array of softer roles that permit access to range. “Hateship Loveship” is her latest attempt to upset outside expectations, participating in a loosely defined story of obsession and fallibility that utilizes her dramatic skills in a largely observational role. The picture doesn’t quite add up to anything in the end, but parts work as intended, with Wiig’s subtle performance a great asset to director Liza Johnson. Read the rest at

Film Review - Make Your Move

MAKE YOUR MOVE Derek Hough Boa

The “Step Up” franchise has display remarkable resiliency, issuing four installments that have charmed audiences in the mood for inconsequential drama interrupted by manic dance sequences. “Make Your Move” is the obligatory rip-off, but who better to steal from the “Step Up” formula than the man responsible for its creation? Writer/director Duane Adler returns to a world of misunderstood lovers and quaking bodies with this effort, which seeks to merge the worlds of Taiko drums and tap dance into a scintillating display of youthful expression. “Make Your Move” also offers dancer Derek Hough a starring role, following in the footsteps of sister Julianne, who also spent a considerable amount of time making forgettable features looking to cash in on moviemaking trends. Read the rest at

Film Review - Afflicted


“Afflicted” is the latest entry in the found footage sweepstakes, where young, hungry filmmakers strap on cameras and raise hell in a bid to make a name for themselves. It’s a trend, and one that’s coughed up its fair share of clunkers, with this tale of vampirism and world travel the latest example of a production that doesn’t quite grasp the intentions of subgenre. Ignoring reality to have fun with camera and editing tricks, “Afflicted” has moments of ingenuity and an interesting set-up, but it doesn’t take long for the feature to dissolve into the same old mess of shaky cam and unmotivated images. Read the rest at

Film Review - Authors Anonymous


The reason the films of Christopher Guest work is because of the talent involved. It’s a troupe of creative people with excellent timing and good taste, able to sell the reality of the faux-documentary approach while working in generous amounts of personality in minimal moves. “Authors Anonymous” stars Chris Klein and Kaley Cuoco, and is directed by a woman who was once the casting director for “MVP: Most Valuable Primate.” Bring expectations down. While devoid of laughs and screwy in execution, “Authors Anonymous” certainly isn’t lazy, with the production working up a sweat trying to turn banalities into hilarity, often settling on drab romantic subplots and marital dysfunction instead of probing the misery of the unpublished writer as it initially promises. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Murder on the Home Front


"Murder on the Home Front" appears to be a pilot of some sort, establishing the daily activities of forensic scientist Lennox Collins (Patrick Kennedy) and his assistant, former journalist Molly Cooper (Tamzin Merchant). For this program, the pair work diligently to locate a serial killer stalking the single women of London during The Blitz, and while "Murder on the Home Front" is a 90-minute-long show, it could easily feed into a weekly series, following the duo as they carefully gather cues during the early years of scientific study, with the "C.S.I." template happily pinched, refreshing the business of crime scene examination. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Bletchley Circle: Season 2


Most television programs take a few years before they begin messing with a good thing. "The Bletchley Circle" boldly shakes up the formula in its second season. The changes are a gamble, some of it perhaps contractually required, and it doesn't represent a positive new direction for the series. The first season of "The Bletchley Circle" was a surprising nail-biter, with a stellar cast and a consistent pulse of suspense that carried from the first episode to the last. The second go-around for the codebreakers and their itchy position in 1950's society has been sliced in two, which ruins any extended run of tension while awkwardly inserting a new cast member into a dynamic that hasn't had time to gel. The show remains intermittently impressive, always boasting top-tier acting, but there's a lack of dramatic consistency as the production tackles two major plots that deserve their own season-long explorations. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Joe Kidd

JOE KIDD Clint Eastwood

1972's "Joe Kidd" reads like a dream come true for cineastes. It stars Clint Eastwood and Robert Duvall, it's written by Elmore Leonard, and the director is John Sturges. Heck, if you're a Dick Van Patten fan, his brief supporting turn is merely icing on the cake. The feature boasts an impressive roster of credits, working within a proven genre that plays to everyone's strengths. However, the realization that "Joe Kidd" is a good picture and not a great one is a source of tremendous confusion, with all pistons firing on a project that really doesn't go anywhere in particular, with blurry characterization and the flaccid conclusion weakening a passable take on a manhunt adventure. While its lacks consistency and scope, "Joe Kidd" remains a superbly entertaining effort, offering the patient a few meaty showdowns and a cheeky lead performance from Eastwood, who delivers amusing work as the titular brute, carrying the movie with his proven western poise, while Sturges emphasizes naturalistic grandeur with magnificent Californian locations. Perhaps in filmographies shellacked with greatness, this simple tale remains forgettable, but for those who enjoy gunfights and acts of intimidation, the lean endeavor offers the goods with conviction. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Ireland's Wild River


In the heart of Ireland lies the Shannon River. Over 200 miles long, the river represents the soul of the country, with its serene beauty, delicate ecosystems, and unflinching patience with the elements. Wildlife cameraman Colin Stafford-Johnson has spent many years studying the Shannon, recording its personality and noting its changes, with "Ireland's Wild River" his valentine to the waterway. Taking a camera crew down the river, Stafford-Johnson curates a look at the seasonal residents and future of the Shannon as he floats downstream, appreciation the view. Read the rest at

Film Review - Oculus

OCULUS Karen Gillan

Haunted mirror movies don’t come around every day, making “Oculus” something special. Certainly after the 2008 misfire, “Mirrors,” it’s about time a production reclaimed the dread of reflection as a viable cinematic device. There’s good and bad news about “Oculus,” which is a sharply made picture boasting a surefire revenge plot that teases explosive elements to come as the mystery unfolds. Unfortunately, the wait for something to happen is eternal, as director Mike Flanagan prolongs suspense to such a degree, it barely registers as excitement when the payoff arrives. Filled with potential, “Oculus” merely scratches the surface in terms of mirror-demon evasion and evil manipulation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Perfect Sisters

PERFECT SISTERS Georgie Henley Abigail Breslin

If one absolutely requires a film that features teenage girls conspiring to kill an adult, why not seek out Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures,” a darkly imaginative odyssey into the minds of murders, emphasizing the madness and obsession of such a toxic pairing. “Perfect Sisters” endeavors to capture the same sense of juvenile desperation, only here the execution is frightfully amateurish and the subjects are insufferable, contributing to an exhaustively sloppy picture that strives to illuminate the steps of ruin for two siblings tired of their deadbeat mother’s ways. Cruelly, director Stanley M. Brooks crafts a glorified basic cable movie, complete with stiff staging, obvious performances, and clunky screenwriting that turns absolute horror into unintentional comedy. Read the rest at

Film Review - Draft Day

DRAFT DAY Kevin Costner

There wouldn’t be a “Draft Day” without a “Moneyball.” The 2011 picture took viewers into the front offices of baseball general management, studying the contentious process of trading and selling a team. And audiences bought it, turning “Moneyball” into a popular film despite a lack of sporting hustle. “Draft Day” has the same idea, only this effort elects to expose the NFL as it nears its most holy day of team construction. Missing the poetic textures of “Moneyball,” “Draft Day” nevertheless scores with a more mainstream take on managerial headaches and panic, leading with a swift pace and accomplished performances, also pulling off the impossible: it makes football look fun. Read the rest at

Film Review - Joe

JOE Nicolas Cage

After realigning his cinematic chi with last year’s “Prince Avalanche,” director David Gordon Green returns to his filmmaking roots with “Joe,” which often plays like a sequel to his 2000 debut, “George Washington.” Poverty, alcoholism, and violence are the topics covered in this harrowing but intermittently ridiculous story, covered with habitual oddity by the helmer, who takes author Larry Brown’s novel and turns it into a circus of angry behavior and desperation, chasing whims whenever Gordon feels as though he can get away with it. It’s messy and crude, but “Joe” has meaning that breaks through eccentricity, finding a tale of bruised compassion to help balance out all the sticky Greenisms. Read the rest at