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October 2014

Blu-ray Review - White Noise


Unable to do much with star Michael Keaton's fading marquee value, Universal Pictures took a different direction when it came to the promotion of their 2005 release, "White Noise." While a traditional ghost story about loss and the mystery of the afterlife, the screenplay was rooted in the world of EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena), giving the effort a uniqueness to help separate it from the competition. The theatrical trailer downplayed the actual feature, favoring a push to sell EVP as an authentic exploration into the lingering demands of death. The approach worked, duping moviegoers into the multiplex, with many hoping to learn more about EVP and its genuineness. Instead of science, "White Noise" delivered cheap thrills and a sluggish pace. While Keaton survives on his natural charisma, the rest of the endeavor is a lazy, muddled snooze that happily tenders pure fantasy to those with an endless curiosity about the hereafter and the potential for the deceased to remain in contact with the living. Read the rest at

Film Review - Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films


Suffering for decades with a reputation as a house of schlock, there’s been a resurgence of interest in Cannon Films lately, mixing nostalgia and ironic appreciation. Founded by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, Cannon Films was a magic store of low expectations, striving to sustain a run of B-pictures throughout the 1980s, with plans to transform into an A-list moviemaking force that Hollywood couldn’t deny. Along the way, they made crap. A lot of crap. But also the occasional gem, and a slew of beguiling efforts that reveled in their tackiness and rickety sense of spectacle. “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films” isn’t satisfying journalism, yet the opportunity to sit down for 105 minutes and hear war stories from the Golan-Globus trenches is irresistible. Read the rest at

Film Review - Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Dr. Moreau


Some consider 1996’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau” to be one of the worst movies of all time. I wouldn’t go that far, but clearly something was amiss during principal photography, with stars Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer off making their own film, while director John Frankenheimer bursts a few blood vessels trying to hold it all together, failing to make much sense out of the narrative puzzle. It seems there was a reason for such a fragmented feature, with the documentary “Lost Soul” working to transform hushed rumor into fact, tracking the development of the project under its original creator, Richard Stanley. Read the rest at

Film Review - Stretch


Joe Carnahan loves to make movies that push levels of intensity into the red zone. He’s built a filmography on surges of adrenaline, with “Smokin’ Aces, “The Grey,” and “The A-Team” all delivering big thrills with light dusting of sarcasm. “Stretch” brings Carnahan into a low-budget playground, forced to come up with fresh ways to build up momentum now that large piles of money aren’t available. While frugality keeps the helmer on a leash, “Stretch” remains incredible amounts of fun, with a ferocious sense of humor and attention to pace and character connection that maintains a smooth, silly viewing experience with the occasional acid splash to identify it as a Carnahan picture. Read the rest at

Film Review - Felony


Jai Courtney has been a difficult actor to pin down. Hollywood scooped him up a few years back, pushing him into bad action movies where he delivered bad performances, sleepwalking through dreck like “A Good Day to Die Hard” and “I, Frankenstein.” He’s never been able to show off any chops, making a small but searing effort like “Felony” all the more valuable. Courtney isn’t the star of the film, but he makes a positive impression for a change, adding subtle support to a wrenching drama directed by Matthew Saville. At the very least, “Felony” provides hope that Courtney will take greater care of his career and select better material such as this. Read the rest at

Film Review - Fury


“Fury” is an attempt to mount a throwback war film like they used to make in the 1940s and ‘50s. The kind where themes of innocence lost were deafening, while hero shots of Americans in battle were submitted to extend post-war national pride. “Fury” has its modern touches, but it’s also teeming with chewy characters and loaded with tank attack sequences. Unlike the bygone era, writer/director David Ayer asks the audience to sit through a lot of this effort, which run 135 minutes, and every second of it is felt. There are astonishing images of combat and terrifying passages of death, but this is repetitive work, periodically lost in its own chaos to satisfy those craving visceral thrills. Read the rest at

Film Review - St. Vincent


Feel-good filmmaking and Bill Murray rarely occupy the same space. It’s a rare event when the comedy icon can embrace sincerity while retaining his droll persona, and if there’s anyone who’s absolutely mastered the challenge, it’s Wes Anderson, Murray’s frequent collaborator. Although “St. Vincent” tries to sample Anderson’s style here and there, writer/director Theodore Melfi doesn’t have the vision to merge broad antics and emotional wreckage, with the feature gasping for air between a few genuinely successful scenes. Scattershot and artificial, “St. Vincent” is kept alive by Murray, who’s game to go where the script leads, adding his own spin to characterization when necessary, backed by an agreeable supporting cast. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Best of Me


A Nicholas Sparks film adaptation has become a yearly event, with “The Best of Me” out to trigger swoon and tears as it works through the author’s habitual storytelling interests. It’s a movie that’s almost likable, with a then-and-now plot device that’s adequately managed by director Michael Hoffman for the first half of the feature. That it takes an hour before “The Best of Me” becomes insufferably ridiculous is something of a record for a Sparks production, but unfortunately, the picture eventually grinds down to pure stupidity. Highlights remains, but this is not a competent effort, with clear signs leading to dramatic disaster that are intentionally ignored to remain tight with the writer’s loopy sense of threat. Read the rest at

Film Review - Men, Women & Children


It’s been an interesting year for writer/director Jason Reitman. In January, the helmer issued “Labor Day,” his take on romantic fixation and coming-of-age perspective. While the feature didn’t receive much attention at the box office, it was a welcome boost in maturity for Reitman, continuing compelling work that began with 2011’s “Young Adult.” “Men, Women & Children” is another effort that’s unexpected, but ultimately fails under the weight of its own ambition. There are ideas on our wi-fi culture contained within that deserve exploration, yet “Men, Women & Children” is an overwrought movie that refuses to express itself in a measured, reflective manner. After an hour of provocative ideas, the material slips out of Reitman’s control, unable to secure its parting messages. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Book of Life


“The Book of Life” is a little different from your average CG-animated picture. Sure, it’s a comedy with flashes of adventure and an ambition to deliver grand spectacle on a tighter budget than the typical Pixar or Dreamworks production. However, Guillermo Del Toro is the movie’s godfather, shepherding his own “Nightmare Before Christmas” by steeping the effort in ghoulish imagery, messing around with tonality as it examines an unusual holiday in the Day of the Dead. “The Book of Life” is superbly designed and animated, but it’s also a cluttered endeavor, spending too much time explaining what’s going on instead of experiencing the rich multiverse co-writer/director Jorge R. Gutierrez is laboring to create. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Run Silent, Run Deep


It's the storytelling economy of 1958's "Run Silent, Run Deep" that's most impressive. Taking the audience into the depths of the ocean with a WWII submarine crew experiencing a crisis of leadership between haunted Commander Richardson (Clark Gable) and Lieutenant Jim Bledsoe (Burt Lancaster), the feature explores the price of obsession and the choreographed procedures of war. It's exceptionally tight work from director Robert Wise and screenwriter John Gay, who pays attention to fiery dramatics, but remains true to naval encounters and tense relationships, allowing the audience to feel the pressure of the mission and comprehend the claustrophobia of the setting. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Raw Force


There are pictures that claim to offer a blistering level of screen insanity to entice fans of schlock cinema into the theater, and there are films that carry on, business as usual, but happen to be pure madness without even thinking about it. 1982's "Raw Force" is the type of movie that doesn't appear to realize how bizarre it genuinely is, embarking on a screwy mission of martial arts entertainment that's all about dangerous encounters , mysterious happenings, and mild comedy. And yet, few features match the sheer oddity of "Raw Force," which casually submits cannibalism, kung fu, bare breasts, and broken bones, whipping up a cinematic adventure that's plagued with creative problems but remains undeniably amusing for those who appreciate bottom-shelf extravaganzas. It's big, dumb, and loud, but remarkably enchanting during its pursuit of escapism, winning over viewers one sluggish crescent kick and blouse removal at a time. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Bloody Mama

BLOODY MAMA Shelley Winters

1970's "Bloody Mama" is a difficult picture. While the plot concerns the life and times of outlaw Kate "Ma" Barker (Shelley Winters) and her gang of troublemaking sons (including Robert De Niro) as they murder, rape, and kill, director Roger Corman seems to think he's making comedic romp at times, with the first half of the movie cleared to celebrate the destructive antics of these angry characters. It's a bizarre choice, and one that confuses the tone of the feature, which submits itself as "fun," only to detail horrific, lurid acts of dehumanization, sold with customary Corman frugality. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Almighty Johnsons: Season 1


"The Almighty Johnsons" is a low-wattage take on Norse mythology from New Zealand, which does away with extraordinary powers and godly might to focus on the daily bouts of melodrama facing a band of four brothers and their grandfather as they learn to cope with their secret lives. The program is an acquired taste, with the first season (the show was recently canceled after its third year) devoted to convincing the viewer that names such as Odin, Thor, and Loki could embrace a different interpretation in the Marvel Comics world we live in. Instead of power and brawn, "The Almighty Johnsons" takes on the foibles of relationships as it pays vague attention to the magical forces that run the universe, submitting weak jokes and feeble conflicts as it works to define its creative mission in ten episodes. Read the rest at

Film Review - Addicted


Although its marketing suggests a continuation of Tyler Perry’s “Temptation,” “Addicted” has more in common with an Adrian Lyne effort. The film marks a breakthrough for author Zane, an “urban eroticist” who’s built an empire on sex, evolving from books to pay cable programs, placing emphasis on soft-core antics involving inquisitive characters. “Addicted” is based on her 1998 novel and takes a slightly more severe look at the needs of the heart and the urgencies of the mind, wrapped up in a ridiculous melodrama that’s confused and shameless. If one squints hard enough, all the nudity and grinding might retain appeal, but for those who can’t switch their brain off, the picture is maddeningly inconsistent and comically performed. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead


It’s hard to believe that “Dead Snow” debuted over five years ago, but director Tommy Wirkola had more pressing career matters to tend to instead of mounting a sequel right away. Testing the Hollywood experience with “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters,” Wirkola secured an unlikely hit movie, but also found his creativity zip-tied by industry power plays. To help reclaim some of his old mojo, the helmer has returned to his old Nazi-zombies stomping grounding with “Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead,” a ruthless and hilarious follow-up that feels more like a purging of filmmaking frustration than a straight-up continuation, with its blitzkrieg approach to gore and slapstick easily topping the original effort, while showing off exactly what type of mischief Wirkola can muster. Read the rest at

Film Review - Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


For family audiences, the multiplex is often filled with animated efforts to entertain all ages, dazzling the crowd with colorful, cartoony imagery. It’s been some time since a live action production has been able to please with PG rating, making “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” all the more special. Although loosely based on the 1972 children’s book by Judith Viorst, this update finds its own comic timing and misery to mine, resulting in a frequently hilarious movie that’s wonderfully charming, free of clutter, and enthusiastically performed. It’s a lousy day for the titular character, but a celebratory one for paying customers in need of a group outing, with “Very Bad Day” sly and broad enough to please all ages. Read the rest at

Film Review - Dracula Untold


There’s isn’t much left unwritten when it comes to the cinematic exploits of Dracula. The famous monster has been covered from every angle, leaving the producers of “Dracula Untold” with a specific interpretational challenge to help revive the fanged character for a new franchise. Instead of intimate horror, director Gary Shore takes the blockbuster route, transforming the saga of Dracula into a CGI-heavy war film with a light dusting of tragedy. It’s numbing but not without its charms, though critical miscasting in the lead roles does more to damage “Dracula Untold” than sunlight and silver combined. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Judge

JUDGE Robert Downey Jr

Robert Downey Jr. has made a fortune with his participation in the Marvel Comic universe and his dalliance with Sherlock Holmes. Yet, every now and then, the actor likes to remind audiences of his dramatic potential, moving beyond superhero work with material that induces tears not chills. The primary function of “The Judge” is to demonstrate how good Downey Jr. is away from metal suits and Victorian costumes, yet time avoiding disaster and saving the world brings out the best in the star, not this sentimental, painfully overlong effort that never quite decides if it wants to be a domestic drama or a courtroom picture. As usual, Downey Jr. manages the challenge with ease, but director David Dobkin doesn’t aim any higher than a group hug, burying the movie in clichés. Read the rest at