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July 2014

Film Review - Guardians of the Galaxy

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Chris Pratt Bradley Cooper Zoe Saladana Vin Diesel

Up to this point, Marvel Studios didn’t have it easy, but they certainly had an advantage. Mining its most popular characters to create a cinematic universe filled with heroes and villains, the fantastic highlights of icons such as Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man filled the screen with familiar moves of derring-do and outrageous power. But now it’s time for a change, with the creative team turning their sights on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a relatively unknown property that traditionally earthbound action into deep space. It’s a gamble that pays off splendidly for Marvel, who not only strike gold with this oddball collection of adventurers, but manage to create one of the most satisfying pictures of the series. Read the rest at

Film Review - Magic in the Moonlight


What’s so interesting about Woody Allen’s work ethic is how unpredictable he can be. One year, he’s masterminding Oscar-winning material that plays to his strengths of comedy and melodrama, puckered to perfection, as found in last year’s “Blue Jasmine.” “Magic in the Moonlight” represents one of the writer/director’s down years, where the inspiration isn’t quite there and his habitually sharp timing is off. It’s certainly not one of his worst, but after the wonderful layers of his previous effort, which aced every theme and emotion it pursued, “Magic in the Moonlight” spends much of its run time spinning its wheels, failing to gain traction with laughs and interesting conflicts despite a corker of a premise. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mood Indigo

MOOD INDIGO Audrey Tautou

“Mood Indigo” is perhaps the saddest episode of “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” The latest from director Michel Gondry, the film is yet another explosion of art-school ambition, this time unleashing his insatiable appetite for whimsy on a melodrama, attempting to fuse matters of the heart with visual idiosyncrasy. The sheer craftsmanship of the movie is astounding, with intricate details filling every frame. Gondry can always be counted on for oddity, but “Mood Indigo” doesn’t bother with consistency or, at times, even coherency. It’s a personal flight of fancy for the helmer, who’s so far up into the clouds with this endeavor, he forgets where to land this insistently peculiar picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - 4 Minute Mile

4 MINUTE MILE Richard Jenkins

The cleansing process of long distance running gets a new workout in “4 Minute Mile,” a drama that often takes on more than it can handle. Director Charles-Olivier Michaud is blessed with capable performances from key cast members, and the picture gets surprisingly far on its sincerity, presenting some real psychological blockage that takes time to work through. “4 Minute Mile” has the capacity to explore some compelling areas of doubt, but the screenplay by Josh Campbell and Jeff Van Wie goes overboard in an attempt to secure tears, torching the third act with brazen manipulation that nearly sours everything that comes before it. Read the rest at

Film Review - Louder Than Words

LOUDER THAN WORDS David Duchovny Hope Davis

To find fault in a picture about the construction of a children’s hospital feels potentially ghoulish, but “Louder Than Words” is a muddled take on a heartfelt subject. Based on a true story, screenwriter Benjamin Chapin has an enormous number of characters and incidents to package into a 90 minute movie. Instead of braiding subplots together to create a richly dramatic viewing experience, Chapin merely samples anguish and moves on the next bit of overwhelming business. It’s frustrating to watch, as “Louder Than Words” does feature some promising conflicts that suggest a more profound film is on the way. Read the rest at

Film Review - My Man Is a Loser

MY MAN IS A LOSER Bryan Callen

It’s difficult to discern exactly what audience “My Man Is a Loser” is intended to appeal to. Male viewers should be offended by the screenplay’s assertion that all married guys are nitwits incapable of managing their problems, constantly befuddled by the opposite sex. Female viewers probably won’t appreciate the paint-by-numbers broheim vibe writer/director Mike Young establishes, with strip club visits and exposed male genital humor likely lost on most ladies. Of course, all could be forgiven if the movie was even the slightest bit funny, but Young doesn’t make much room for wit, depending on tired improvisations and a clichéd battle of the sexes scenario to fill up the feature, which runs out of breath as soon as it commences. Read the rest at

Film Review - Behaving Badly


Comedy is subjective, perhaps the one genre that divides audiences the most. However, it’s important to spot when a production is actually trying to secure a healthy sense of humor and when filmmakers are simply flinging anything at the screen with hopes something sticks. “Behaving Badly” doesn’t try at all. It’s vulgar and lazy, and most importantly, there’s not a single titter to be had. Co-writer/director Tim Garrick imagines himself the conductor on a symphony of the outrageous with this feature, but its ugliness shouldn’t be underestimated simply because the movie is looking to provide a good time. “Behaving Badly” is one of the worst pictures of 2014, a tribute to “Risky Business” made by people who only read the synopsis on the back of the DVD box. Read the rest at

Blu-ray 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 for a moment to explain herself. However, that sensible approach would negate the movie, forcing 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

Blu-ray Review - Endless Love

ENDLESS LOVE Gabriella Wilde

The 2014 version of "Endless Love" has taken some drastic steps to avoid comparison to other incarnations of the same story. Originating from a 1979 novel by author Scott Spencer and adapted into a popular 1981 picture starring Brooke Shields (featuring an omnipresent theme song that ruined roller skating for everyone in the early eighties), "Endless Love" is a tale of dark obsession and manipulation, powered by a bittersweet quality that reinforces the dangerous games of affection played by the characters. The New "Endless Love" is defanged claptrap for 13-year-olds with no sense of how the world actually works, drained of any threat, heat, or logic as it manufactures a love story where idiocy is celebrated as laudable passion. If you're familiar with the book or the earlier feature, this "Endless Love" won't be recognizable. Imagine if "Star Wars" was the cinematic adaptation of "Bridget Jones's Diary," and that's as close as co-writer/director Shana Feste gets to the source material here. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - You, Me and Dupree

YOU ME AND DUPREE Kate Hudson Owen Wilson

2006's "You, Me and Dupree" arrived in theaters during a time when Owen Wilson could do little wrong. Graduating from Wes Anderson appearances to major studio films, Wilson was coming off such smashes as "Wedding Crashers" and "Meet the Fockers," with hungry studios eager to build comedic vehicles for the star. While enthusiasm was pure, quality was lacking. "You, Me and Dupree" is perhaps the worst of the bunch, and not because it's offensive or simply unfunny, it just doesn't even try to be anything but a predictable comedy lacking the energy to color outside the lines. And there's Wilson in the middle of the malarkey, trying to whine and wince his way around material that never had a pulse to begin with. Perhaps the production was launched with good intentions, but it lands with a tremendous thud. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes


1970's "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" isn't concerned with radically reworking Arthur Conan Doyle's celebrated character, but it does retain a surprising bluntness when it comes to the behavior of the consulting detective that few adaptations have pursued. It's a movie from Billy Wilder, created during the twilight of the iconic filmmaker's career, interested in merging traditional Holmes-style mystery with fussy character business, highlighting relationships and curiosity as clues are followed and suspects are studied. Assembled with real snap by Wilder and his frequent collaborator, co-writer I.A.L. Diamond, "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" is an extremely amusing and engaging picture, taking care of all the expected detective work as it offers a few surprises of its own. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Scalphunters


As western romps go, "The Scalphunters" hasn't aged very well. A tale of racial paranoia and partnership, the feature traffics in a level of barbed dialogue that would trigger P.C. alarms in this day and age, but in 1968, times were certainly different. Navigating the movie's period attitude is relatively easy, but finding its sense of humor takes some work. Everyone onscreen appears to be having a ball with this adventure, but the spirit isn't infectious. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hercules

HERCULES Dwayne Johnson

In the race of competing productions, Brett Ratner’s “Hercules” clearly bests Renny Harlin’s January misfire, “The Legend of Hercules.” However, in a way, the audience actually loses twice when it comes to the big screen exploits of the famed demigod, with both pictures so obsessed with mammoth production scale, they forgot how to be fun. With Dwayne Johnson in the title role and Ratner trying to remind viewers that he’s the king of action and comedy, it doesn’t make sense that “Hercules” is as leaden as it is. It’s a bloated, tonally wonky effort that hits all the summer popcorn entertainment highlights but, in the end, it feels like empty calories, lacking the spirit of power and heroism that’s defined this character throughout history. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lucy

LUCY Scarlett Johansson

The great thing about “Lucy” is how it brings writer/director Luc Besson back from the dead. At least career death, with recent fare such as “The Family” and “Arthur and the Invisibles” showcasing a once vital filmmaker trying to find his voice again. “Lucy” isn’t that strong of a movie, but it has guts, a real sense of bravery for a summertime release, trying to give audiences a little more to chew on than your average slam-bang production. It’s surreal, exploratory, and interpretational -- a puzzle of the mind that Besson manages with immense concentration, even when it reaches for the stars in terms of philosophical and scientific concepts. Trying to create his “2001,” Besson overestimates his ability to tie it all together, but when it’s interested in challenging viewers with its brain-melting ways, it’s quite the spectacle. Read the rest at

Film Review - And So It Goes

AND SO IT GOES Michael Douglas Diane Keaton

While watching “And So It Goes,” I experienced a strong feeling of déjà vu. So much of the curmudgeonly character played by Michael Douglas felt like a watered down riff on the role Jack Nicholson portrayed in “As Good as It Gets,” which earned him an Oscar. Sure enough, both films are scripted by Mark Andrus, who’s attempting to reheat the golden formula for director Rob Reiner, who’s never met an act of cinematic repetition he didn’t suck the marrow out of. “And So It Goes” is practically a remake of “As Good as It Gets” with a few key changes in supporting personalities, and while James L. Brooks is skilled at creating human moments out of cliché, Reiner can only manage a tedious obviousness that strips the life out of most scenes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Siddharth


Without an interior drive to whip this story into a frenzy of melodramatic panic, writer/director Richie Mehta finds a reflective position of concern in “Siddharth,” which manages to deepen already understated emotions. It’s a heavy film, but cautiously so, working to preserve an experience of discovery and understanding for the audience, without resorting to clichés to finger-paint conflict. It’s moving, aching work, outstandingly performed by lead Rajesh Tailang and crafted with an evocative sense of India, understanding the pressures of poverty instead of exploiting it. Due to its subject matter, it’s not the easiest sit, but “Siddharth” rewards the brave with a study of pained determination and portrait of Indian life that offers a few surprises. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Most Wanted Man

A MOST WANTED MAN Philip Seymour Hoffman

In many ways, Anton Corbijn’s “A Most Wanted Man” feels like a reaction to his last picture, 2010’s “The American.” The George Clooney effort was esoteric and distanced, refusing to indulge audience expectations for a thriller, creating a considerable divide between those who appreciated its artistry and those who found the film cold to the touch. “A Most Wanted Man” is a more traditional spy story, utilizing the rattled remains of a post-9/11 world to set the scene for a story that concerns the limits of trust and the demands of manipulation, isolating the frigidity of duty, taking its inspiration from a 2008 John le Carre novel. Although it remains deliberate in pace, “A Most Wanted Man” is more approachable and engrossing, failing to tarnish the helmer’s considerable reputation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Happy Christmas


Writer/director Joe Swanberg makes tiny movies. He’s built an impressively determined filmography of no-budget productions, some that remain quite obscure, while others, boosted by star power, have reached the art-house circuit, connecting with audiences on the prowl for modest but meaningful stories about feelings and fears, such as last year’s “Drinking Buddies.” “Happy Christmas” goes out of its way to articulate a loose sense of conflict, but Swanberg’s intent is crystal clear, crafting a fidgety picture that’s flush with human behavior. It’s not focused in any traditional manner, but little portions of comedy and domestic tension get the feature where it needs to go, even if the destination is nowhere in particular. Read the rest at

Film Review - Very Good Girls

VERY GOOD GIRLS Dakota Fanning

Although it’s gifted a rich summery atmosphere and the potential for honest emotions, “Very Good Girls” can’t quite shake its position as a lukewarm effort, often resembling forgettable young adult fiction. There are troubles writer/director Naomi Foner (making her helming debut) has trouble navigating, and the longer she lingers on awkward interactions emphasized by poor editing and mismanaged characterizations, she loses whatever power the picture retains with its perspective, following a confused young woman on the precipice of adulthood as she endures seismic personal problems at a most vulnerable time. What could be illuminating and heartbreaking is left merely serviceable, as Foner gradually abandons control of her own work. Read the rest at