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August 2014

Film Review - When the Game Stands Tall


“When the Game Stands Tall” wants to be “Friday Night Lights” so bad, it can taste it. The football melodrama, based a true story, is riddled with cliché, depending a vague faith-based perspective to give what audiences have seen over and over some identity. It’s a weird collision of Christian morals and gridiron action, flailing to find depth with perhaps one of the most one-dimensional sporting stories to hit the screen in a long time. “When the Game Stands Tall” hopes to be about the miracle of coaching influence, but it’s really about a team that’s used to winning sampling loss for the first time. The rest is just tired decoration from the Screenwriting 101 textbook. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Five Star Life


“A Five Star Life” is an Italian production that has a few things going for it. For starters, it features a relatively original occupation to follow, with the main character a service inspector sent around the world to test hotels on their five-star status. That type of fastidiousness and globe-trotting life deserves its own film, but “A Five Star Life” would rather fixate on the human details, generating a mild dramedy that spotlights just enough honest emotions to help secure an otherwise featherweight movie. Well-acted and shot, the picture isn’t likely to knock anyone’s socks off, but on a scale of measured, intimate storytelling, it manages to articulate a sense of regret critical to the overall effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Possession of Michael King


“The Possession of Michael King” is a feeble excuse for a horror flick. Following trends, writer/director David Jung has combined the demonic possession movie with found footage cinema, questing to manufacture a fright film that will keep viewers afraid of the unexpected, while tapping into quasi-religious questions of Heaven and Hell. Unfortunately, more emphasis has been placed on the visual tricks of the feature, leaving screenwriting achievements nonexistent. In fact, the titular character may be the most irresponsible boob of the 2014 film year, with his insistent foolishness keeping “The Possession of Michael King” more frustrating than terrifying, leaving one to openly wonder if Jung actually read his script before production commenced. Read the rest at

Film Review - Le Chef

LE CHEF Jean Reno

The release of the 2012 French feature, “Le Chef,” in America is interesting. Coming into the marketplace at the same time as Jon Favreau’s “Chef” is exiting theaters, something tells me the distributor hoped to ride on the coattails of the indie film success, trusting audiences for specialized entertainment might be in the mood for another round of food fantasy. Where “Chef” was anxious and exploratory, “Le Chef” is more of a traditional comedy, with a few broad antics and a nice grip on characterization. It’s funny, well acted, and sharply paced, but most importantly, it trusts in the power of food. It doesn’t quite reach for the lusciousness of the recipes in “Chef,” but it aims to tease the molecular cuisine trend, which is long overdue for a pantsing. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sorceress

SORCERESS Leigh Lynette Harris

The late 1970s and early 1980s were a fruitful period for sword and sorcery films. With the popularity of "Dungeons & Dragons" and the success of "Conan the Barbarian," producers raced to put out product that featured men covered in baby oil swinging broadswords, backed by gnarly creatures and magical events. 1982's "Sorceress" was born from such monetary frenzy, with producer Roger Corman hoping to add his own spin on the fantasy subgenre, only his take wouldn't feature a bodybuilder, but female twins. Playmates to be exact, with Leigh and Lynette Harris taking on the starring roles in this limited but highly amusing romp, bringing thespian determination and a lack of clothing to the party while director Jack Hill (working under the pseudonym "Brian Stuart") struggles to maintain his sense of humor as Corman imposes his famous frugality and desire for exploitable screen elements on the unconventional helmer. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Breakheart Pass


In the 1970s, few wore their onscreen toughness as well as Charles Bronson. Working steadily in all manner of productions that required a steely-eyed authority figure, Bronson achieved his greatest success with 1974's "Death Wish," a vigilante saga that perfectly captured his skills as an intimidating leading man. In the shadow of such a hit, Bronson returned to duty, with 1975's "Breakheart Pass" one of the many journeyman productions the actor was fond of. A mystery with western ornamentation, the picture benefits immensely from Bronson's frosty demeanor, put to good use by director Tom Gries, who keeps his star at a low rumble of suspicion while employing a colorful supporting cast to create a compelling atmosphere of the unknown, making Bronson's string of forceful reactions all the more inviting. While it's not an exhaustive whodunit with a myriad of elaborate red herrings, "Breakheart Pass" is an engaging adventure with a few surges of action, an unexpected commitment to brutality, and an irresistible collection of disasters to hold attention. It's the type of meaty film that doesn't use a model to stage a train accident, it brings in a real train to destroy. How wonderful. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - We Won't Grow Old Together


There's a beautiful sophistication and emotional starkness to 1972's "We Won't Grow Old Together" to help support the screenplay's insistence that the viewer spend 106 minutes with emotionally stunted characters. An autobiographical story from writer/director Maurice Pialat, the film is rich with life and frustration, working to capture the experience of a volatile relationship without trying to cure its ills. It's intelligent, measured work from the helmer (who adapts his own novel for the screen), easing entrance into a particularly toxic pairing. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Expendables 3

EXPENDABLES 3 Stallone Schwarzenegger

Aging plays a major part in “The Expendables 3,” which was once envisioned as throwback franchise for older action stars to flex their muscles once again, showing the kids how it’s done. In the four years since the original effort, creator/star Sylvester Stallone has started to consider his years, with mortality and retirement major themes of the movie. He also introduces a younger squad of mercenaries to join the fight, not only to add some fresh energy to the series, but to secure its box office future beyond the battle-weary bros who’ve already survived two installments. That’s not to say “The Expendables 3” isn’t rock-em, sock-em entertainment with explosions, stunts, and quips galore, but it’s a surprisingly reflective feature that still traffics in big dumb fun, daring to address the mileage on a few of its leathery stars. Read the rest at

Film Review - Life After Beth


After last year’s “Warm Bodies,” there seems to be a trend forming, centered on the idea of romantic escapades featuring humans and zombies. “Life After Beth” continues to develop the subgenre, offering a darkly comic take on eternal love, even after body tissue begins to decay. Funny, but more interesting when it screws around with tonality, the picture marks the directorial debut for “I Heart Huckabees” co-writer Jeff Baena, who delivers confident, wicked work with “Life After Beth,” mostly successful in his quest to blend traditional relationship woes with apocalyptic chaos, finding an amusing middle ground that keeps the movie approachable as it indulges some horrific turns of plot. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Giver

GIVER Jeff Bridges

The latest player in the young adult adaptation sweepstakes in “The Giver,” which is based on a 1993 novel by Lois Lowry, but has the unfortunate timing of coming out the same year as “Divergent,” with both films sharing uncomfortably similar plot elements. “The Giver” also shares clunky filmmaking lowlights with “Divergent,” emerging as the latest production to bungle basic cinematic cohesiveness in a mad dash to preserve all details great and small. The screenplay is stiff and literal, while direction from Philip Noyce is confused, unable to conquer genuinely poor acting and make sense out of this funereal futureworld adventure. Striving to unearth the next big thing in teen cinema, the production doesn’t take the time to step back and exhaustively assess just how impenetrable the material is. Read the rest at

Film Review - Septic Man


Perhaps the purchase of popcorn and soda can’t wait until after a viewing of “Septic Man,” as it’s not a feature that encourages a hearty appetite. Opening with the image of a woman writhing in pain while sitting on a toilet, in the midst of the most painful defecation of her life, the movie doesn’t play around with teases, presenting pained, barf-slicked reactions and a zoom into a full bowl before the main titles commence. It’s gross, but that’s the point of “Septic Man,” which is best summarized as a one-man stage show produced by Troma Films, only missing their ballistic sense of humor. Read the rest at

Film Review - What If


Michael Dowse directed the 2011 hockey comedy “Goon,” a deliriously violent and hilarious picture. Perhaps trying to disturb expectations, Dowse heads in an entirely different direction with his latest, “What If,” a frightfully affected romantic comedy that makes one wish the helmer remained on the ice. Although not without its charms, including a refreshingly bristly turn from lead Daniel Radcliffe, “What If” remains stuck in the syrup of unearned sentiment and ill-conceived slapstick, laboring to preserve the cute and cuddly when the material is best realized with honesty. It’s a film that difficult to dismiss, but easy to ignore. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alive Inside


The power of music has always been a very real, authentic force unique to the human experience. But what if that art form could do more than just entertain? The documentary “Alive Inside” takes a look at a special movement developing at nursing homes across America that connects those with mental health issues with iPods, gifting them a personalized playlist that has the influence to burst through paralyzing issues with memory and psychological balance. Investigating not only the program’s struggles to make music therapy the norm, but the soulful lift of the aural event, “Alive Inside” delivers significant emotion with a uneasy topic, finding a rich sense of hope in the seemingly hopeless inevitability of aging. Read the rest at

Film Review - Ragnarok


In a perfect world, the Norwegian adventure import “Ragnarok” would’ve come out in 1985 and been a massive international smash. A cross between “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Jurassic Park,” the picture has a defined Spielbergian approach that’s immensely entertaining, preserving the wonder of curiosity and the horror of discovery with a distinct Hollywood touch. Director Mikkel Braenne Sandemose keeps his tributes up front, but also preserves his own genre architecture, creating an engaging romp that covers the mysteries of Norse mythology, the trials of single parenthood, and the wrath of a snake-like creature stalking a forbidden island. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dinosaur 13


If “The Cove” and “Blackfish” taught us anything, it’s that documentaries don’t necessarily require facts and figures to support a subject matter. Excessive emotionality will do just fine. “Dinosaur 13” absolutely convinces with its parade of injustice, exploring the wild story of Sue, the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever discovered. It’s not a simple tale of ambitious paleontology and specimen recovery, but one of legal entanglements, betrayals, and media manipulation, spread out over the course of eight long, painful years. Cold details surrounding the fight over Sue aren’t enough for writer/director Todd Douglas Miller, who brings in syrupy indignation to fuel “Dinosaur 13,” diluting the picture’s power as a chilling reminder of powermad government types and the persistent corruption that infests the U.S. legal system. Read the rest at

Film Review - Rich Hill


“Rich Hill” is certainly not something to be viewed while in a gloomy mood. Covering the basics in dysfunction, poverty, disobedience, and self-destruction, the documentary fights to find poetry in the darkest of details. Marginally successful in its quest to understand the blues of wayward teenagers, “Rich Hill” runs into extended patches of inertia, with this simulation of adolescent boredom often bringing the movie to a full stop. There are some fascinating moments of household conflict, and the circularity of irresponsibility registers strongly throughout the picture. However, directors Tracy Droz Tragos and Andrew Droz Palermo get too caught up in atmosphere, losing track of these lives as they fixate on the artful mournfulness of the effort. Read the rest at

Film Review - Abuse of Weakness


Writer/director Catherine Breillat is a master of detachment. She’s a cold filmmaker, specializing in uneasy sexual interactions and acts of violation, using interpretational qualities to keep her audience guessing. “Abuse of Weakness” is her most personal feature to date, a study of her own medical issues and experience with fraud, holding out hope that perhaps just this once Breillat might approach her material with an emotional availability, permitting comprehension of motivation, mood, and awareness. “Abuse of Weakness” offers no such comfort, but it does present Isabelle Huppert in a stunning turn of physical limitation and humiliation, carrying the picture’s bruised soul as the helmer tends to the plain details of the story. Read the rest at

Film Review - Let's Be Cops


Perhaps the golden era of the buddy comedy is long gone now. “Let’s Be Cops” is a halfhearted take on an age-old genre, trying to launch stars Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr. as a big screen team capable of being plugged into any sort of adventure, coasting on their alleged chemistry and individual charms. “Let’s Be Cops” doesn’t feature an entirely unappealing premise, but co-writer/director Luke Greenfield doesn’t do anything to revive the DOA production, which is devoid of laughs, timing, and thespian invention. It’s just. awful. for most of its run time, content to squirm and squeal instead of explode with absurdities, eventually taking the whole thing seriously in a third act showdown that’s as misguided as the rest of this winded film. Read the rest at