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February 2015

January 2015

Film Review - Wild Card


“Wild Card” is based on the 1985 William Goldman novel, which was turned into a 1986 film starring Burt Reynolds. It was a notoriously troubled production, and it seems the curse has lasting power, returning in 2015 to inspire another deflated pass at Goldman’s idiosyncrasies. Transforming themes of self-destruction and delusion into a martial arts actioner starring Jason Statham, “Wild Card” is one confused picture, endeavoring to find pockets of dramatic depth as it organizes a big screen bloodbath, populated with appearances from actors not traditionally associated with movies where the lead character flings credit cards like ninja throwing stars. Read the rest at

Film Review - Project Almanac


The found footage subgenre finally finds its way to the needs of the lovesick teen. “Project Almanac” spends an enormous amount of screen time trying to sell itself as a scientific take on time travel, buzzing through terminology and scenes of furious basement construction, but this MTV-produced picture really wants to figure out a way to inject adolescent romance into a sci-fi adventure. The resulting concoction of year-leaping agitation and sweaty-palm encounters with crushes doesn’t work, but instead of being offensively bad, “Project Almanac” is merely dull. For a wily, quaking camera take on the needs of the heart, dramatic inertia, not time itself, is perhaps the feature’s greatest enemy. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Loft


“The Loft” is actually the second remake of 2008 Belgian picture, only now the action has been transferred to North America, while retaining the services of original director Erik Van Looy. It’s a mystery with a pronounced sexual component, following immoral, unpleasant characters as they fight to clear their names when faced with accusations of murder. Normally, this type of argumentative conflict results in a passable nail-biter, but “The Loft” isn’t up to the challenge of manufacturing surprises. Dim, sleazy, and poorly made, the feature (which was shot in 2011) comes across laughable at times, doing an alarmingly thorough job making decent actors look bad and heterosexuality look worse. Read the rest at

Film Review - Black Sea


Submarine movies do not come around very often. The subgenre isn’t usually full of surprises, tending to the same routine of underwater pressure and crew hostilities, out to create a perfectly combustible atmosphere within the tightest spaces. “Black Sea” isn’t one to ignore formula, but it has a few twists worth paying attention to, along with blunt but compelling characterizations to hold attention. Director Kevin Macdonald and screenwriter Dennis Kelly essentially update “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” but do so with style and a periodically nail-biting sense of widescreen suspense. “Black Sea” is flawed, but when it clicks together, it does so superbly, giving classic cinema conventions a successful modern spin.
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Film Review - Black or White


Mike Binder hasn’t enjoyed the most consistent career, but he’s managed to keep plugging away despite a filmography littered with disappointments. The writer/director of “Reign Over Me” and “Man About Town,” (and let’s not forget 1994’s “Blankman”), Binder tries to cut to the heart of race relations with “Black or White,” a melodrama that uses skin color to complicate a tale of custody and familial relationships. There are laudable elements here worth their screen time, with Binder showing good taste with troubling conflicts. Yet, “Black or White,” despite its best intentions, is often too simplified for mass acceptance, losing big screen appeal once the audience realizes that everything about the picture would be better suited for the small screen. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Humbling


Fully entrenched in an experimental phase, director Barry Levinson has been issuing uneven work in recent years, hitting a rare high note with the 2012 found-footage shocker, “The Bay.” “The Humbling” sustains his erratic interests, this time exploring the slow, painful grind of artistic command losing its potency, bringing in acting legend Al Pacino to run his fingers along the jagged edges of his character’s despondency. “The Humbling” contains a few intriguing beats of psychological clouding, but it mostly comes across as indulgent, finding Levinson unwilling to give the picture focus when he finds a haze of behaviors and broad performances much more appealing. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mommy


“Mommy” is the latest work from writer/director Xavier Dolan, helmer of “Tom at the Farm” and “Laurence Anyways.” If you’ve seen his previous efforts, you’ve seen “Mommy,” which once again attempts to marry a wandering sense of emotion with bitter behavior, finding visual poetry often taking priority over humanity. The picture can be a frustrating sit as it reaches an indulgent run time, but it’s also Dolan’s best feature to date, showcasing exceptional performances from the cast, who always capture moments of implosion and vulnerability with more accuracy than the creator, getting the film to a place of helplessness that’s absolutely riveting. Read the rest at

Film Review - Suburban Gothic


With “Suburban Gothic,” co-writer/director Richard Bates, Jr. (“Excision”) is going after a specific balance of sarcastic humor and supernatural terror. It’s a tonal high-wire act in need of a precise vision to pull off, developing characters charismatic enough to follow while establishing a darkness to the material that’s capable of delivering requires chills. “Suburban Gothic” is much too sloppy to connect in full, but the helmer delivers a few atmospheric touches and some amusing antics as he strives to keep the feature together. Low-budget but ambitious, the movie has the right idea, just no defined direction, hampered by the production’s creative indecision. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Astral City: A Spiritual Journey


The afterlife is serious business to co-writer/director Wagner de Assis. Adapting the 1944 book by Francisco Candido Xavier, the helmer isn't interested in keeping "Astral City: A Spiritual Journey" merely comforting. He wants the effort to have profound meaning, giving viewers a soulful journey while still paying attention to bright visual effects and matters of the heart. And the Brazilian production works to a certain extent, with the filmmaker whipping up enough dead zone oddity and melodrama to hold attention, though it comes up a little short in its quest to move the world into moral responsibility. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Hickey & Boggs

Hickey and Boggs Bill Cosby

In a post-"Dirty Harry" world, moviegoers were hungry for screen heroes with limited patience for evildoing, fulfilling a shoot-first-ask-questions-later attitude for the 1970s. 1972's "Hickey & Boggs" attempts to butch up with charismatic stars, sending old "I Spy" pals Robert Culp (who also directs) and Bill Cosby into the heart of Los Angeles as two private detectives on a missing persons case who end up in too deep with criminals and a pile of cash. Downplaying frisky banter for a harder edge of investigation, "Hickey & Boggs" surprises with its severity, taking a grim view of crooks and cops, while keeping the interplay between Cosby and Culp regulated to wry exchanges and knowing looks. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Downton Abbey: Season 5

Downton Abbey Season 5

"Downton Abbey: Season 4" was met with enormous hostility by fans and critics. Spending three seasons tracking the emotionally chilled antics of the Crawley Family, emphasizing decorum, hushed rumor, and the occasional dramatic flare-up, the show suddenly downshifted into more manipulative scripting from creator Julian Fellowes, with a subplot featuring sexual assault identified as particularly irksome to those already deep into the English fantasy. "Season 5" sets out to rebuild what was lost, largely eschewing dire events and horrifying violence to restore a bit of the old energy that's been lost to practice and time. In fact, "Season 5" is determined to poke sunshine through the clouds, even opening the first episode with a joke. Gasp! While I wasn't offended by Fellowes's visit to the dark side, it's clear many were, making this new round of tea, gossip, and internalized torment easy to recommend to those feeling burned out after last year. The production doesn't abandon every bad habit, but there's a distinct atmosphere of course-correction helping to make the brand name comfy again. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears


As eye-rubbing, brain-bleeding moviemaking of the outrageous goes, "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears" doesn't really care if the audience is involved in this surreal journey into the internal spaces of murder and madness. It's a defiant, beret-tilting art house offering that's meant to be admired by cineastes, not enjoyed by the average joe, with directors Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani creating the picture strictly for their own enjoyment, building a hallucinatory cityscape of insanity one fluttering edit and suggestive image at a time. "The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears" is only appreciable as pure cinematic craftsmanship, and it's a gorgeous movie, teeming with inventive compositions and feral lighting. However, as a mystery concerning dead bodies and suspicious men, there's no tractor beam pull to the enigmatic happenings, leaving the effort all about form. Read the rest at

Film Review - Mortdecai


Johnny Depp’s career has been erratic lately, but he keeps plugging away with pictures, working to entertain himself between “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequels. “Mortdecai” is his most indulgent effort since his unexpected surge in global box office popularity, gifting himself an opportunity to make a Peter Sellers movie, or perhaps a long lost “Austin Powers” sequel. Based on the novels by Kyril Bonfiglioli, “Mortdecai” is thoroughly silly business, requiring Depp transform himself once again into a wobbly British boob. Shades of Jack Sparrow are difficult to brush away, but the film stands as its own creation, finding director David Koepp busying himself with slapstick set-pieces that mostly work, if one can find the proper mood for the feature’s limited but unexpectedly available charms. Read the rest at

Film Review - Strange Magic


Before George Lucas reached out and collected billions by selling his own studio to the Walt Disney Corporation in 2012, there was one last movie in production. “Strange Magic” is a CG-animated endeavor conceived by Lucas and directed by Gary Rydstrom (famed sound man who worked on the “Star Wars” films), and it plays up many of the themes and visuals Lucasfilm has used to help build an empire over the last 45 years of smash hits and interesting failures. Unfortunately, “Strange Magic” falls somewhere between the two extremes, emerging as an ambitious but overstuffed take on Shakespeare by way of a jukebox musical. Living up to its title, the feature is wildly bizarre, but it’s also more fatiguing than it should be, asking audiences to be patient with a picture that hangs around log after its initial charms wear off. Read the rest at

Film Review - Madea's Tough Love


After screaming, punching, and wisecracking her way through multiple live-action endeavors, it’s about time that Madea is finally turned into a cartoon. Tyler Perry’s cash machine returns to life in “Madea’s Tough Love,” which transforms an already animated character into actual animation, electing the cheapy Korean-produced route to visualize a brand-new adventure for everyone’s favorite felon, allowing Perry to put in the least amount of effort as he ages out of the role. It’s a fitting transition for Madea, who’s completely at home as a rubberized cartoon personality, making an appropriate ruckus with this broad but easily digestible family film. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Boy Next Door


The curious career of director Rob Cohen takes another predictably disastrous turn with “The Boy Next Door.” An attempt to fashion his own “Fatal Attraction,” Cohen once again arrives with his shoelaces tied together, unable to pull a single moment of suspense or even basic drama out of an exhaustively moronic screenplay by Barbara Curry, who’s equally to blame for this insufferable motion picture. Laughably inept, appallingly performed, and riddled with enough gaps in logic to qualify it as a sci-fi endeavor, “The Boy Next Door” isn’t even approachable as junk food, failing to turn flatlining material into deliciously sinful escapism. And here I thought Cohen couldn’t get any worse than 2012’s “Alex Cross.” I stand corrected. Read the rest at

Film Review - Song of the Sea


A few years ago, writer/director Tomm Moore made a dent in the notoriously competitive animation marketplace with “The Secret of Kells,” a charming adventure that eventually worked its way to an Academy Award nomination. Not too shabby for a modestly budget effort from Ireland. Eschewing a bold follow-up to play into industry trends, Moore returns with “Song of a Sea,” another delightfully modest picture that trusts in the power of imagery and amplifies a spectacularly successful sense of emotion. A gorgeously crafted take on Celtic myths and sibling bonds, “Song of the Sea” is a soulful smash, with Moore absolutely nailing the needs the heart to go along with his now expected finesse with traditional animation. Read the rest at

Film Review - Still Alice


“Still Alice” is likely to be the most daunting filmgoing experience of the year, asking viewers to view the mental deterioration of brilliant woman. An adaptation of a 2007 book by Lisa Genova, “Still Alice” takes on the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease, with writer/directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer working to make a palatable picture out of a harrowing subject. The effort is largely successful, with the feature compassionate, honest, and superbly articulated by the cast, with special emphasis on Julianne Moore’s striking lead performance, which provides a direct identification of decay and the fight to preserve the memories that remain. Read the rest at

Film Review - Leviathan


Putin’s Russia gets a thorough workout in “Leviathan,” a potent look at the state of political and personal corruption in rural areas. Its substantial run time (140 minutes) is eased along by its exceptional tech credits and bruising performances, funneled into an intimate story that keeps vital emotions within reach as cultural concepts take some time to work through. It’s strong work that’s not always satisfying, but its silent power registers as intended, creating a hypnotic atmosphere of unrest that fuels several sensational scenes and a decidedly unsettling conclusion. Read the rest at