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May 2014

Film Review - Palo Alto

PALO ALTO James Franco Emma Roberts

Teenage ennui is pushed into the digital age in Gia Coppola’s “Palo Alto,” an adaptation of James Franco’s 2010 collection of short stories. If the name Coppola sounds familiar, it’s because Gia’s the granddaughter of maestro Francis Ford Coppola and the niece of Sofia. In fact, there is a host of second generation entertainers swarming the picture as well, with Val Kilmer’s son, Eric Roberts’s daughter, and Polly Draper’s son taking starring roles (Michael Madsen’s son and Amanda de Cadenet’s daughter also appear), and even a Gretsky is somewhere around here as well. While casting peculiarities are interesting, “Palo Alto” doesn’t match such oddity, playing it relatively safe with a tale of messed up kids toying with irresponsibility, guided by parents without a clue. It’s wonderfully shot, with moment of rawness, but Coppola can’t shake the suffocating been-there, done-that atmosphere of the film. Read the rest at

Film Review - Bright Days Ahead


There’s an expectation of aging on film, a march of maturation that frequently involves quiet dignity or perhaps a comedic impishness that helps to dodge the branding process of senility. “Bright Days Ahead” touches on a rather modern quandary of forced obsolescence, where the old guard of society is lured into the pasture before they’re ready, while any spark of youthful activity refocuses energy in ways often discouraged. “Bright Days Ahead” isn’t profound, but it addresses a certain mentality of disposability as it sweeps through its tale of infidelity, while the lead performance from Fanny Ardant is superbly measured, bringing an interesting internalization to an occasionally, but not crushingly, routine look at the power of flirtation. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Dave Clark Five and Beyond: Glad All Over


The documentary "The Dave Clark Five and Beyond: Glad All Over" is intended to celebrate the career of the titular band, who rocked the British and U.S. charts during the 1960s with their thumping rock and roll sound and clean-cut looks. They were an integral part of the British Invasion, but a group that's often overlooked when talk of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones arrives, forcing Dave Clark himself to launch a media revival, using the two hour retrospective to remind viewers of such classics as "Glad All Over," "Bits and Pieces," and "Catch Us If You Can." His evidence is persuasive, but the control-freak tone of the effort is disconcerting, with Clark producing and directing the picture, which eventually abandons Dave Clark Five history altogether to focus on Clark's achievements as a burgeoning mogul and his forgotten stab at musical theater with 1986's "Time." A mixed bag of treats, "Glad All Over" is often more frustrating than enlightening, though there's pure joy in seeing performance footage from 50 years ago, watching the band tear through television and stage gigs with a unique sonic energy and cheery demeanor. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Countess Dracula


"Countess Dracula" is a confusing title for this 1971 feature, as traditional images of fangs, bloodsucking, and undead majesty aren't included in the story. A Hammer Film production, the picture eschews gothic severity to portray a unique panic tied to the aging process, with the titular character not interested in drinking blood, only out to bathe in the stuff. Details, people. While "Countess Dracula" runs out of drama after the hour mark, this is an engaging effort from director Peter Sasdy ("Hands of the Ripper"), who wisely plays up the exploitation aspects of the production to avoid answering questions, keeping the film more invested in a dark hunt for virgin flesh as it teases strange fairy tale elements, though, overall, it's executed with enough exposed flesh and growling jealousies to keep it engaging in a B-movie manner. Read the rest at

Film Review - Chinese Puzzle


While Richard Linklater collects deserved accolades for his upcoming experiment, “Boyhood,” and his ongoing “Before Sunrise” series, writer/director Cedric Klapisch has been working the same concept, tracking the lives of special characters throughout the years. The third chapter is what’s become a continuing examination of maturity, “Chinese Puzzle” follows 2002’s “L’Auberge Espagnole” and 2005’s “Russian Dolls,” catching up with these peculiar personalities as they prepare to greet the age of 40, with a fresh set of complications and responsibilities to manage as lives are turned upside down. Keeping up with a decent sense of humor and oddball interactions, “Chinese Puzzle” manages to sustain the mischief Klapisch started over a decade ago, making this update charming and funny when it’s not pursuing artificial conflicts. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Immigrant

IMMIGRANT Joaquin Phoenix Marion Cotillard

Over the past two decades, James Gray has directed only four features (“Little Odessa,” “The Yards,” “We Own the Night,” and “Two Lovers”), each with their own style, restless fixations, and beauty. His fifth picture is “The Immigrant,” a period melodrama that’s finally seeing release a year after its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, and it fits in perfectly with his oeuvre, using a decidedly cinematic approach to expose raw feelings and gut-rot acts of survival. It’s old-fashioned work befitting its time period, but “The Immigrant” is also gorgeously executed and incisively acted, depicting the isolation of the American Dream with a pure concentration on desperation and manipulation, gifted a sepia glaze to sell the step back in time. Read the rest at

Film Review - Godzilla


A legendary brand name built over the course of nearly 30 feature films, Godzilla has proven himself to be a valuable cinematic icon, with his monster-stomping ways thrilling audiences all over the world. Often the center of citywide destruction, there isn’t much to do with the character beyond large-scale violence, leaving the human factor to guide all these efforts, in a series that kicked off 60 years ago. 2014’s “Godzilla” isn’t a remake but a reboot, hoping to reignite the fervor for creature mayhem with a newly designed King of the Monsters and a supporting cast of talented actors hired to make awestruck faces and smoothly exchange expositional dialogue, with a newfound concentration on heartbreaking scenes of loss. There is might and fury to “Godzilla” that’s often amazing to behold, but its limitations and weird storytelling choices throttle the escapism, while the titular Goliath merely makes an extended cameo in his own picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Bachelor Weekend


The stag party is not an uncommon premise for a comedy, permitting filmmakers with ample opportunity to stage all types of drunken debauchery and expose pent-up aggressions. Emerging from Ireland, “The Bachelor Weekend” eschews traditional hell-raising to play out as a comedy of neuroses and secrets, trusting in the significance of character and sharp dialogue to help shape the evolution of a celebration as it goes from hesitation and dismissal to bonding. Hilarious and mindful of heart, “The Bachelor Weekend” does a fine job avoiding expectations, while the cast is simply perfect, managing pathos and punchlines with superb timing and feeling. Read the rest at

Film Review - Million Dollar Arm


Poised to become the sleeper hit of 2014, “Million Dollar Arm” plays a familiar feel-good tune to reach a mass audience. It’s a charmer, but not an especially original one, and those on the hunt for more challenging fare should seek their summer entertainment elsewhere. Instead of edge, “Million Dollar Arm” offers heart, assembling an off center baseball picture that’s big with culture clash comedy and character arcs of self-improvement, leaving little to the imagination. While it’s a formulaic effort, it’s not entirely lazy, putting some genuine thought into these personalities and the struggle of the foreign experience without resorting to mean-spirited stereotyping. Read the rest at

Film Review - God's Pocket


Acting veteran John Slattery makes his feature-length directorial debut with “God’s Pocket,” and while the performer has spent a lifetime around numerous filmmakers, absorbing the finer points of tonal balance, his own foray into storytelling often finds its shoelaces tied together. Death is played for laughs, life is miserable, and there’s not a problem that can’t be solved with alcohol in “God’s Pocket,” and while select scenes brim with a deliciously uncomfortable tension, the overall picture feels incomplete, lost in an effort to summon a sense of neighborhood decay instead of following through on interesting subplots and simmering animosities. Read the rest at

Film Review - Don Peyote


As an actor, Dan Fogler has always been a troubling screen presence. Often stuffed into sidekick roles where his red-faced, mumbly sense of humor could be counted on to bring the laughs, Fogler often floundered in hapless pictures such as “Fanboys,” “Good Luck Chuck,” and “Take Me Home Tonight.” With “Don Peyote,” Fogler aims to enhance his shtick with a heavy dose of surrealism, co-creating (with Michael Canzoniero) this expedition into the folds of consciousness, with emphasis on splattered visions, a taste of madness, and musical numbers helping to bring this no-budget effort to life. To write that this is the most appealing Fogler has been on-screen to date doesn’t mean much, but as scattergun, super-freak-out cinema goes, “Don Peyote” is almost patiently weird enough to work. Read the rest at

Film Review - Belle


“Belle” feels like sitting through the rehearsal process of a Broadway play that’s in serious need of work. A period drama from director Amma Asante, the feature is a handsome picture with a promising story in the plight of its lead character, who’s caught between her needs and her place during an unforgiving time. There’s plenty of ground to cover when it comes to English prejudices of the 19th century, but “Belle” would rather play to the back row with emphatic melodrama and neatly ordered subplots. When it comes to the business of slavery and bigotry, there’s little need for such formula, making the effort feel strangely safe and uneventful when detailing grandiose challenges to basic human rights. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blood Glacier


I appreciate how the Austrian horror film, “Blood Glacier” (now there’s an ominous title), has interest is using climate change revelations to jump-start a macabre monster movie. It’s not revelatory, but a nice change of pace, placing the blame for nightmarish developments on man’s misuse of Earth. However, not much is made of the premise, which loses intensity early and often, working to blend classic creature effects with low-budget CGI events, unable to drum up much excitement with either tradition. “Blood Glacier” doesn’t have a rich imagination, and while its locations are gorgeous, nearly saving the viewing experience, the mayhem contained within is lukewarm at best. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Stranger by the Lake

STRANGER BY THE LAKE Pierre Deladonchamps Christophe Paou

"Stranger by the Lake" is mysterious, sensual, and disarmingly casual. The latest from writer/director Alain Guiraudie, the feature is a splendidly crafted effort that sneaks up on the viewer, lulling them into a state of comfort with the characters before gradually introducing elements of murder and suspicion. It works due to Guiraudie's moviemaking control and patience, while the cast submits exceptionally interior work, projecting emotional concerns while working through the subtleties of small talk. Although it's a repetitive film, it winds with purpose, slowly ratcheting up the tension in a confident manner that keeps the picture riveting, even when it seems to have no direction at all. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio / A Clockwork Blue

The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio A Clockwork Blue

1971's "The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio" is notable for being one of the rarest VHS releases during the format's reign during the 1980s and '90s. Why collectors would go crazy for such a weirdo piece of work is beyond me, but the game of exclusivity seldom makes sense. Something tells me the treasure hunters that went after the tape never actually sat down and watched it. A softcore oddity that merges chilly sexuality with extreme violence, "The Jekyll and Hyde Portfolio" appears to be inspired by the 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson novella, but most likely came into existence after a night of heavy drinking. Read the rest at

Film Review - Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie


Although he’s already celebrated the end of the View Askewniverse, and even threatened to retire from filmmaking altogether, Kevin Smith can’t seem to quit his most enduring creation. Last seen onscreen in 2006’s “Clerks II,” Jay and Silent Bob return to the realm of animation for “Jay and Silent Bob’s Super Groovy Cartoon Movie,” a low-budget affair that plays directly to the Smith fanbase with copious amounts of inside references, crude humor, and weed-scented shenanigans. It’s easy to dismiss the softball screenwriting, but there’s a definite speed to the picture that’s encouraging, sprinting through bits of awful humor in an irreverent manner befitting these stoner superheroes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Moms' Night Out


“Moms’ Night Out” is a tamer take on the “The Hangover” formula, electing to play out its mischief as peacefully as possible to preserve its PG rating and respect its Christian inspiration. There’s an acceptable message on the fallibility of motherhood in here somewhere that’s worth screentime to develop, but that purity of feeling is buried under multiple layers of lame jokes and dim supporting performances, while the anarchic spirit the premise hints at never snowballs into a charming, mischievous comedy. “Moms’ Night Out” plays like a failed television pilot, consistently heading in the wrong direction while searching for funny business. Read the rest at

Film Review - Locke


“Locke” joins a special breed of movies that play out within a single location. Despite such an enticing filmmaking challenge, this is no thriller. Nobody’s been buried alive or pinned down in a phone booth, this is just the relatively simple tale of a man who’s devoted his entire being to a sense of order enduring the worst night of his life. Tension is conjured through tortured acts of recognition and passes at denial, while lead Tom Hardy delivers an exceptional performance that’s subtle and strong enough to hold viewer attention for 85 minutes, articulating an emotional breakdown with absolute precision. Although it might sound like unbearable directorial showmanship, “Locke” is a crisply defined drama that delivers on suspense and a swirling storm of heartache. Read the rest at