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May 2014

Film Review - Neighbors

NEIGHBORS Seth Rogen Zac Efron

With his first two pictures, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “The Five-Year Engagement,” director Nicholas Stoller proved himself skilled at navigating the “everything improv” mentality that’s absorbed all reaches of American comedy. He showed good judgment, balancing story and silliness with laudable timing, making sure the features held some type of emotional resonance even as they sprinted into stupidity. His latest, “Neighbors,” slips out of his control early and Stoller never quite recovers, forging ahead with a slapdash effort that continually blows its potential on a series of sketch comedy bits that have no connective tissue. “Neighbors” is a blunt instrument, which will be appealing to some, but when one steps back and considers the possibilities of the premise, the disappointment is crushing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return


Between the release of “Oz The Great and Powerful” and the 75th anniversary reissue of the 1939 classic, “The Wizard of Oz” is officially back in business. “Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return” hopes to continue this financially lucrative run, only here the focus is on CG-animation, executed with a smaller budget than most big studio offerings, hoping to reawaken author Frank L. Baum’s world for box office dominance one more time. Filled with musical numbers and celebrity voices, “Dorothy’s Return” isn’t the expected embarrassment from untested independent film producers, but it’s not exactly magic in the making. More bizarre than charming, the feature has a pleasingly earnest quality about it, but no rousing creative ambition. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Double


With 2010’s “Submarine,” writer/director Richard Ayoade proved himself to be a visually stimulating filmmaker with an addiction to idiosyncrasy, which nearly blocked out the dramatic power of the picture. “The Double” travels deeper into oddity, only here there’s a surreal story of identity to back up such cinematic detours. Inhaling the power of his favorite moviemakers, Ayoade submits a valentine to powerlessness with “The Double,” helming a mild comedy that’s eventually evolves into a technical exercise with the occasional blip of surprise. It’s a fantastic looking picture, but images are the only memorable element of this psychological puzzler, which works extremely hard to register as mischief. Read the rest at

Film Review - Devil's Knot

DEVIL'S KNOT Colin Firth

The saga of the West Memphis Three has been recounted in three documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, and another documentary by Amy J. Berg. That’s a lot of screentime devoted to a single crime, and while the tangle of evidence and suspects is considerable when detailing the arrest and prosecution of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin, most, if not all emotional and legal developments have been covered at this point. “Devil’s Knot” has the unfortunate task of dramatizing only a mere slice of the story, and its very existence is puzzling, arriving after so many other filmmakers have dissected the absurdities of the case. Although director Atom Egoyan has a commendable approach, “Devil’s Knot” is overwrought and, frankly, feels like old news. Read the rest at

Film Review - All Cheerleaders Die


Writer/directors Lucky McKee (“May”) and Chris Sivertson (“I Know Who Killed Me”) tried this once before. In 2001, the partners created “All Cheerleaders Die” during the infancy stage of their careers, using the little-seen horror picture as an example of filmmaking ability in the genre. 13 years later, the pair has elected to remake their debut effort, reawakening the feature with a fresh perspective and a larger budget, hoping to use early inspiration to fuel a new round of macabre highlights. “All Cheerleaders Die” is certainly ghoulish, with a pronounced nasty streak that keeps it on edge. It’s how this fury interacts with lighter material that poses a problem, with McKee and Sivertson perhaps too entranced with their own creation to fully appreciate how uneven it is. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hallucination Strip


"Hallucination Strip" (a.k.a. "Roma Drogata" and "The Hallucinating Trip") is an apt title for a movie that tends to wander around in a daze, never quite accomplishing anything as it serves up a feast of flesh and social commentary. The 1975 effort from director Lucio Marcaccini (unsurprisingly, his only feature) seeks to understand what the kids of Italy are up to as drugs and dissent flood the streets, but its appetite for concern is short-lived, with more concentration placed on sex and surreal adventures into psychedelics, limiting the world-changing impact the picture seems intent on achieving in its early going. "Hallucination Strip" is interesting in fits, but its ambition is more fascinating than its execution, with Marcaccini not exactly guiding the endeavor, he's just surviving it, hoping random jabs at profundity will cover the film's lack of absorption when it comes to the details of discontent and the weight of mistakes. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Super Skyscrapers


As the cities of the world gradually run out of space, the only direction left is skyward. Massive buildings were once the darling of any self-respecting metropolitan area, and now they're being replaced with concrete goliaths, massive displays of architecture that seek to merge style with practicality, while one tower in particular appears to exist solely as a symbol of perseverance. "Super Skyscrapers" is a four-part documentary that highlights a handful of superstructures as they endure the trial of construction, with setbacks, weather concerns, and the challenge of assembly contributing to a long, arduous process. While the program isn't exactly a global look at the triumphs of the business, the essential elements of anxiety and professional passion are accounted for, making for a surprisingly tense viewing experience. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Mr. Selfridge: Season 2

MR SELFRIDGE Season 2 Katherine Kelly

ITV's "Mr. Selfridge" was always a thinly disguised take on the hit show, "Downton Abbey," trying to replicate the formula of the rich and the working class existing uncomfortably in the same expansive environment. However, "Mr. Selfridge: Season 2" has shed its inspiration and simply gone after the same dramatic arcs as its competitor. Vaulting forward five years so the fine personnel and customers of London's top department store, Selfridge's, can deal with the commencement and ongoing misery of WWI, the series becomes mimicry of the worst kind. Already a program of iffy performances, plots, and emotional discoveries, "Season 2" somehow makes all new mistakes, growing ambitious with limited resources, while giving in to the some of the worst melodrama I've seen in quite some time. Not that "Downton Abbey" is the epitome of refined scripting, but the second go-around for Harry Selfridge and the commerce gang reeks of desperation, eschewing thoughtful, significant conflicts to become a turn-of-the-century "Days of Our Lives." Read the rest at

Film Review - Whitewash

WHITEWASH Thomas Haden Church

“Whitewash” is the strangest survival story you’ll see all year. A Canadian production, the film employs a criminal element of murder to lure viewers into an impossibly tight place with the lead character, watching desperation take hold in a forbidding, frozen landscape. And then, slowly but surely, the picture reveals bits and pieces about the crime and the men involved, moving away from mysterious intentions to play out as a game of endurance with a side of hypothermic madness. It’s a specialized viewing experience for more adventurous audiences, but “Whitewash” is accomplished, darkly humorous, and features a focused turn from actor Thomas Haden Church, showing rare commitment here. Read the rest at

Film Review - Walk of Shame

WALK OF SHAME Elizabeth Banks

I’m not sure what Elizabeth Banks was hoping to gain by agreeing to star in “Walk of Shame,” but I’m certain she’s not going to feel much in the way of positivity once the public begins sampling the picture. Uselessly crude and insistently moronic, “Walk of Shame” features the type of story that could be completely washed away if the main character simply stopped to explain herself. However, that approach would negate the movie, leaving writer/director Steven Brill to groggily dream up nonsensical ways to keep this attempt at a screwball comedy on the go, subjecting Banks to lethal screenwriting and aggressive supporting performances. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blue Ruin


Revenge stories tend to celebrate violence, cashing in on the visceral appeal of righting wrongs with extreme aggression. “Blue Ruin” is a familiar tale of pent-up distaste, though writer/director Jeremy Saulnier works diligently to avoid expectations of stylish comeuppance, returning the drive of revenge to its most feral state, where gut-rot anxiety overpowers any fantasy of psychological liberation. An exceptionally composed and imagined film, “Blue Ruin” finds suffocating spaces of contemplation, doing a masterful job exposing the frightening yet functional steps of murder as it plays with the conventions of an operatic blood feud. Saulnier establishes himself as a major talent with “Blue Ruin,” displaying refreshing care for emotional wreckage and abrupt acts of violence. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stage Fright


“Stage Fright” merges the worlds of musical theater and slasher cinema. The disparate traditions might not seem to be an ideal mix, yet writer/director Jerome Sable finds a splendid middle ground of camp and suspense, filling the picture with memorable songs and a traditional display of bloodshed. It’s certainly a bizarre movie, but also immense fun and surprisingly well-produced, having a ball as it dreams up ways to weave through musical numbers and stalker sequences. With the horror genre always chasing repetition to secure hits, it’s nice to see a feature that’s a little loopy and imaginative, delivering the goods with some hostility and a sense of humor. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Amazing Spider-Man 2

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 Andrew Garfield

The decision to bring multiple villains into a superhero extravaganza has always been a difficult one to digest. It works periodically (Christopher Nolan’s Batman films established a memorable community of foes), but, for the most part, it results in severe overcrowding, with the production failing to juggle the needs of the protagonist as it faces the wrath of numerous antagonists. “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” a quickie sequel to the 2012 effort, suffers from too much, too soon, cramming three different villains, a parental backstory, a tepid love story, and comic book hero adventuring into a single picture. The fatigue is immediate, even when director Marc Webb struggles to jazz up the feature with event movie excess, resulting in a mediocre follow-up to a mediocre original, with the production’s speed to explore spin-off possibilities damaging the dramatic potential of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Read the rest at

Film Review - Bad Johnson


There have been a few penis-centric comedies throughout the years (perhaps most notably, the 1988 Doris Dorrie picture, “Me and Him”), but “Bad Johnson” has the right approach for such an iffy cinematic premise. Instead of working around the oddity of a human organ suddenly attaining consciousness, the feature elects to personify the male member as a living, breathing wiseacre, thus allowing the movie breathing room to work out its plot. Mercifully, “Bad Johnson” has an adequate sense of humor, providing some hilarious punchlines here and there, but miscasting is the tight leash that keeps the film from truly inspired madness. When it comes to penis comedies, it always helps to cast funny people in the leading roles. Read the rest at