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July 2014

Film Review - Beneath


“Beneath” is a mining disaster picture that teases its opening with an “inspired by a true story” tag. The reality behind this label is dubious at best, but I suppose the production could claim it’s based on any mining mishap over the last century. I wish director Ben Ketai avoided this route of realism, as it adds nothing to what’s actually a possession story set 600 feet below ground. Repetitive and anticlimactic, “Beneath” has a host of problems to deal with before it tackles any issue of authenticity, emerging as a labored chiller that depends solely on claustrophobia and darkness to create points of pressure. The rest just doesn’t wind up as Ketai imagines, struggling to transform a limited setting into a hellish playground of madness. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason


2001's "Bridget Jones's Diary" was a complete charmer, and also a bit of a miracle. After all, the casting of Texan Renee Zellweger in an iconic British role was predicted to be a disaster, but the actress managed to make the part her own, gaining weight and perfecting her slapstick skills to portray the neurotic character. The film was a smash and featured a comfortably fairy tale-esque ending, making the promise of a follow-up difficult to understand. 2004's "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" is a commendable attempt to continue a good thing, reviving elements that defined the original effort while trying to master a few new tonal directions to inspire the challenge of a sequel. It's not completely successful, yet "The Edge of Reason" has its moments, and while it falls short of the previous picture's charisma and sense of mischief, it's nice to see these personalities back on the screen. If only there was a more cohesive story to aid this screwball game of love. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Break-Up

THE BREAK-UP Vince Vaughn

The Vince Vaughn of 2006 was coming off blockbusters such as "Dodgeball" and "Wedding Crashers," and while it's easy to be disappointed with his recent career endeavors (including the anemic "The Watch" and "The Internship"), it was awfully brave of the actor to follow-up two extremely silly, popular films with this sobering reminder of love gone wrong. "The Break-Up" isn't a particularly cohesive picture, but its intentions are fascinating, attempting to buck the trend of apple-cheeked romantic comedies by exploring the dissolution of a long-term relationship. European cinema does it better, but "The Break-Up" gets many gut-rot emotions right, trying to articulate such fist-shaking frustration without turning off a nation of moviegoers. Even if the effort isn't especially humorous, it gets far on ambition alone, fighting off a case of the cutes to make a feature that treats domestic antagonism with some degree of reality, avoiding fairy tale trimmings. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Duel at Diablo

DUEL AT DIABLO James Garner Sidney Poitier

"Duel at Diablo" is based on the Marvin H. Albert novel, "Apache Rising," which is perhaps why the film version is an ambitious but overwhelmed effort, never secure in its storytelling, even as it tackles some contentious topics. The 1966 picture, directed by Ralph Nelson, is atmospheric, with tremendous Utah locations that provide a sweltering backdrop to the action, and there's secure star power with actors James Garner and Sidney Poitier, who deliver leathery performances. What's missing is a point of view, with the screenplay (co-written by Albert) struggling to work out Native American prejudice and villainy, making it difficult to recognize what the movie is trying to communicate. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Purge: Anarchy


One year ago, “The Purge” arrived in theaters with a deliciously sinister premise. After pulling in a sizable opening weekend audience based on the marketing of this big screen idea, “The Purge” was greeted with a largely underwhelmed response, with viewers complaining that for a movie that promised citywide mayhem, the feature was actually a home invasion thriller. Couple in crummy performances and shabby filmmaking, and “The Purge” was nothing more than a fluke hit, with grosses tumbling when word of mouth spread. However, profit is profit, and now we have “The Purge: Anarchy,” a sequel that attempts to match expectations missed by the original picture, while creating a whole new batch of mistakes that continue to take this inspection of lawlessness in disappointing directions. Read the rest at

Film Review - Sex Tape

SEX TAPE Cameron Diaz Jason Segel

Just by the title alone, “Sex Tape” promises to be a saucy romp taking advantage of digital-age narcissism and its potential to embarrass, yet the film, directed by Jake Kasdan, often feels like a Steve Martin/Goldie Hawn collaboration from 1989. There are a few scenes that bring out bawdiness, but the picture as a whole plays it remarkably safe, insisting that its cast of characters deserve understanding, not mockery. It’s a strange tonal choice from Kasdan, but after creating one of 2011’s worst movies (“Bad Teacher”), perhaps his antennae are bent when it comes to creating funny business. “Sex Tape” doesn’t contain many laughs, even less heat, leaving the viewer with the sight of Segel and Diaz trying to turn a DOA script into the farce it has no interest in becoming. Read the rest at

Film Review - Planes: Fire & Rescue


One thing is certain about animated films: they take a long time to produce. Years are needed to perfect images and hash out the story, but Disney was so confident that audiences would show up to see 2013’s “Planes,” they put a sequel into production while the first effort was still being worked on. This is why, less than a year after the release of the original picture, there’s a “Planes: Fire & Rescue,” which hopes to continue down the same modest but profitable box office path, wasting no time between installments. While hindsight wasn’t available to director Roberts Gannaway, confidence was, and this sequel manages to fly a little higher than before, finding a passable mix of action and pathos as the “Cars” spin-off takes off on a new adventure. Read the rest at

Film Review - Wish I Was Here


In 2004, actor Zach Braff made his directorial debut with “Garden State,” a modest indie production that became a cult hit, pulling in an audience excited to share generational malaise with a screen character. For some viewers of a certain age, the picture became gospel. Shockingly, it’s taken Braff a decade to follow up on this success, with “Wish I Was Here” a little late to the party. Reheating elements of ennui that secured himself a hit years ago, Braff doesn’t advance as a filmmaker with his latest effort, a disastrous, insufferable movie that bungles emotion at every turn, coating everything in a toxic glaze of self-importance. “Wish I Was Here” is almost a parody of “Garden State,” with Braff flailing to recapture what was lost long ago, calling his shot instead of organically finding a mournful rhythm. Read the rest at

Film Review - Video Games: The Movie


Although it isn’t billed as the ultimate document of the industry, “Video Games: The Movie” certainly hints at an exhaustive overview of console and arcade achievements, dating back over 50 years. Those expecting some type of gritty, candid look at the world of gaming are going to be sorely disappointed with Jeremy Snead’s effort. While it’s a frantically edited exploration of innovation and attitude, “Video Games: The Movie” is pure kitten play, avoiding any type of abyssal discussion of controversy and artistic accomplishment. It’s such a toadying picture, it’s as if gaming corporations decided to fund the feature, knowing that in exchange for footage, they’ll be treated with kid gloves. Read the rest at

Film Review - Animal


Although it’s a minor credit, Drew Barrymore is listed as a producer of “Animal.” Primarily known for shepherding romantic comedies (“He’s Just Not That Into You”) and Barrymore starring vehicles (“Charlie’s Angels”), that her Flower Films company is even partially involved with a gruesome horror picture is a little strange. However, maybe this oddball influence is a positive thing, as “Animal” navigates an incredible amount of formula to emerge as a passably engaging creature feature, with emphasis on characters and suspenseful showdowns. It’s not revelatory in any way, but director Brett Simmons is a capable helmer, presenting a few choice moments of bloodshed and intimidation to make a pile of clichés sit upright for a change. Read the rest at

Film Review - Tarzan


There have been many adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic 1914 novel, “Tarzan of the Apes,” but few have commenced the story in space. “Tarzan,” a German motion-capture animated endeavor, reaches into the galaxy to set-up its take on iconic material, trying its best to separate itself not only from a legion of similar productions, but also the last cartoon effort, 1999’s “Tarzan,” a Walt Disney Animation enterprise. The change in scenery is strange, but it’s the least of the oddities contained within this earnest but underwhelming movie, which searches for a way to join the famous feral boy to a sci-fi plot while still maintaining a connection to all the famous elements that have endured and have been exaggerated since the release of the book. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Endeavour: Series 2


As "Endeavour" enters its second series, it faces a unique challenge. Beginning life as a prequel to the "Inspector Morse" program, "Endeavour" is now forced to find its own identity, having coasted on nostalgia alone for the initial episodes. It must become its own creation of mystery and drama. Although it doesn't hit any particularly potent creative highs in "Series 2," the show doesn't continue on as originally designed, reaching beyond the confines of procedural entertainment to explore the titular character as he wrestles with physical and mental trauma, while finding a love interest for this go-around of crime-solving. It's a needed expansion of personality that helps to navigate the knotty scheme of suspects the production works overtime to introduce. It's an overall softening that encourages investment in this standoffish character, making him more than just whirring mind. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Vanquished


Released in 1953, "The Vanquished" presented Michelangelo Antonioni as a work-in-progress, perfecting on his directorial skills as he experimented with tone, theme, and style. Curious about the post-war effect on the youth of the day, the helmer created three chapters ("Italy," "France," and "England") to explore the plague of violence, with callousness becoming all the rage, filling headlines with tales of murder and remorselessness. Over the course of three short stores, Antonioni wasn't looking to solve this crisis of conscience, only to dissect it, inspecting passionate characters caught up in ugly business. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


In 2011, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” was considered a risk by most box office pundits. Arriving a decade after Tim Burton’s financially successful but poorly received remake, it appeared as through the fire died out long ago for “Planet of the Apes” fandom. Turns out, the public was just waiting for quality damn, dirty ape entertainment, with “Rise” becoming one of the most successful movies of the year. Now there’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” a second chapter in the rebooted saga, and a sequel that is sure to please those who enjoy this premise serviced with the utmost seriousness. Captured with a refreshing patience and attention to character, not just pure spectacle, the continuation has moved beyond careful thin-ice dramatic advancement to establish itself as a powerhouse franchise that will likely inspire additional talking ape adventures to come, perhaps even rivaling the first go-around with the brand name in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ironclad: Battle for Blood


2011’s “Ironclad” wasn’t an extraordinary cinematic statement, but it managed to secure the right amount of brutality to convince. Blessed with some star power (including James Purefoy, Paul Giamatti, and Kate Mara) and a dusting of history (being one of the few Magna Carta-theme actioners), the feature had sword-swinging charm and a bloodlust unlike many period productions. Amazingly, someone, somewhere decided a sequel was in order. “Ironclad: Battle for Blood” attempts to cement a brand name for co-writer/director Jonathan English’s world of weary heroism, only without the same budget and number of familiar faces. Taking the low-budget route to keep his dream alive, English bites off more than he can chew with this follow-up, unable to summon the same level of excitement, despite returning to the ultraviolence that stained the previous picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Hellion


“Hellion” largely works due to its commitment to character. It’s a difficult picture that investigates the dissolution of a broken family, and how that separation anxiety guides the reckless actions of the participants. It’s also a juvenile delinquent story with a southern twist, supported with a steady steam of heavy metal hits. “Hellion” is a tense, confrontational drama, and while writer/director Kat Candler doesn’t know how to find a way out of it, the effort remains raw and poignant, capturing the bursting aggression of early teenage years and the mummifying trance of grief. It’s often heartbreaking and periodically frightening. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Long Way Down


“A Long Way Down” is a comedy about suicide. It’s not the most enticing description, but blame author Nick Hornby, a man responsible for cuddlier fare such as “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.” It’s his material that serves as the inspiration for the feature, offering a tonal juggling challenge that director Pascal Chaumeil and screenwriter Jack Thorne have difficulty managing, looking for ways to emphasize the light and dark of a tale that often doesn’t know what it wants to be. It’s messy and lays on the quirk, but “A Long Way Down” has performers gifted enough to manage the basics in characterization, and few scenes tug at the heartstrings as intended. There just isn’t enough consistency to make a substantial impression, leaving the movie insignificant, despite its emotional severity. Read the rest at