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January 2015

Film Review - Song One


Credit must be paid to writer/director Kate Barker-Froyland for even attempting to make something as still as “Song One.” It’s a film filled with musical performances, but the picture is largely made up of quiet reflection, with character interactions limited to knowing looks and painful understandings. It doesn’t entirely work, especially to those who might find the live performance angle of the feature rough on the ears, but “Song One” is encouragingly earnest, providing hope that with a more refined approach, Barker-Froyland will one day be able to tap into intimate emotions while securing a stronger narrative. Read the rest at

Film Review - Cake


Here’s a film that deals with immense pain, both physical and mental. It has a rare opportunity to address the struggle of those who cannot work past their agony, one step away from giving up on life altogether. It opens a door to a fascinating study of depression, yet “Cake” would rather be a basic cable movie than a gritty cinematic dissection of behavior. While the lead performance from Jennifer Aniston is credible and the one element of the production that works in full, the rest of “Cake” feels like a series of pulled punches, with director Daniel Barnz trying desperately to keep his feature approachable despite a devastating subject matter. Read the rest at

Film Review - We'll Always Have Paris


Simon Helberg is best known as a cast member on the hit television show “The Big Bang Theory,” allowing his personal touch with comedy to connect with millions of viewers in the comfort of their own homes. On the big screen, Helberg hasn’t enjoyed much luck. Attempting to alter his cinematic fortunes, Helberg and wife Jocelyn Towne have teamed up to issue “We’ll Never Have Paris,” which puts the actor front and center in a tale of bent relationships and obsessive behavior. Helberg is venturing into Woody Allen territory with the picture, and he’s a lot like Allen, minus the sense of humor, comedic timing, likability, masculinity, and directorial skill. Looking to secure his position as a viable leading man for multiplexes everywhere, “We’ll Never Have Paris” is a great reason to root for “The Big Bang Theory” to stick around for ten more seasons. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Thieves Like Us


After his work on 1973's "The Long Goodbye," which took period material and glued it to a modern era, co-writer/director Robert Altman elected to remain in the past with 1974's "Thieves Like Us." An adaptation of Edward Anderson's 1937 novel, the feature is a wholly convincing examination of fledgling bank robbers in the Deep South and the lives they struggle to maintain as law enforcement officials and the media step up their efforts to capture the men. Starring Keith Carradine, John Shuck, and Bert Remsen as the outlaws (Shelly Duvall, Louise Fletcher, and Ann Latham co-star), "Thieves Like Us" retains all the hallmarks of an Altman endeavor, including his commitment to authenticity, slowing the pace of the picture to a crawl as he inspects fragments of humanity found within these notorious monsters. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - The Falcon and the Snowman

FALCON AND THE SNOWMAN Sean Penn Timothy Hutton

1985's "The Falcon and the Snowman" is a tale of spying, but approached on an intensely personal level. The subjects are two young men who, for various reasons, decided to carry out a plan to sell American secrets to the Soviet Union during the mid-1970s, entering a dangerous game of espionage without fully understanding the true price of such a crime. Directed by John Schlesinger and scripted by Steven Zaillian, the effort struggles to wrap its arms around the enormity of the situation, preferring to cherry pick offenses as it details character breakdowns in the face of increasing danger and paranoia. It's strongly acted work, spotlighting the quicksand sensation of poor decisions, but it's often difficult to follow the bigger picture, as the feature often abandons supporting characters and urgent motivations to hold close to recognizable elements of the spy game. It's not a failure, but "The Falcon and the Snowman" feels unfinished, with liberal editing or dramatic indifference working to shave down a story that demands a wider scope of consideration, allowing a full understanding of choice. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Foxes

Foxes Jodie Foster Scott Baio

1980's "Foxes" is a film trapped in the middle of two colliding eras. It's a disco movie facing the sobering reality of a new decade, trying to capture the voice of a generation while it's still in transition. The directorial debut for Adrian Lyne (who, amazingly, hasn't made a picture since 2002's "Unfaithful"), "Foxes" is more appreciable as a time capsule viewing event, depicting days of wayward youth in Los Angeles as they battle vampiric parents and personal demons on the road to adulthood. As a drama, it's not a cohesive effort, with Lyne showing more interest in the perfection of cinematographic haze than characterization, gradually depending on melodrama and crude violence to make sure the audience walks away woozy. Great with surface details but light with significance, the feature doesn't open the senses as Lyne imagines, but there's periodic emotional value on display that makes it worth a look. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Avenging Force

Avenging Force Michael Dudikoff

After joining the ranks of the Unlikely Action Heroes of the 1980s with 1985's "American Ninja," actor Michael Dudikoff attempted to fill his filmography with even more violent offerings, keeping on the Cannon Films trail with 1986's "Avenging Force." Teaming up with Sam Firstenberg, the director of "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo," Dudikoff finds another role that fits his limitations, reaching a creative highlight with this ruthless revenge saga that blends elements from "The Most Dangerous Game" with Chuck Norris-style brawn. Although the effort is weirdly severe with its body count, "Avenging Force" does work as bullet-happy escapism, finding Dudikoff in fine form as the nation's last hope, whipping up some Eastwoodian squints to accompany the force-of-one requirements of the screenplay. Read the rest at

Film Review - Vice


“Vice” has been marketed as an update of “Westworld,” and one with sexier qualities, giving the premise a fresh spin for a modern audience. However, there’s very little of “Westworld” in the picture, which plays more like a rip-off of “RoboCop.” Marking the return of schlockmeister filmmaker Brian A. Miller (helmer of such Redbox filler as “The Prince” and “The Outsider”), “Vice” is yet another muddle of clichés from the director, who seems determined to turn everything he touches into a blue-tinted firestorm of shoot-outs, chases, and unenthused performances. While the effort holds initial promise, hope doesn’t last for very long, with budget-minded mayhem making the movie feel noisy and hollow. Read the rest at

Film Review - Paddington


Paddington Bear has been a beloved fixture of children’s literature since his debut in 1959. His legacy has endured through numerous books (written by Michael Bond), a few animated television series, and now his first feature film, which gives the character a CG-animated makeover to help him compete in the marketplace. Directed and co-scripted by Paul King, “Paddington” is a largely successful translation of Bond’s world to the big screen, though prone to formulaic plotting and routine kid-pleasing mischief. Launched with a British sensibility, “Paddington” is engaging and gentle, and while it won’t win any awards for originality, it manages a few laughs and a surprising amount of warmth. Read the rest at

Film Review - The Wedding Ringer


The pairing of Josh Gad and Kevin Hart probably looked great on paper. They’re a pair of opposites coming off an interesting year career-wise, with Gad emerging as the fourth most beloved element of “Frozen,” while Hart scored one major hit out of three major releases. It’s not the most inspired union of wheezy comedic forces, but “The Wedding Ringer” is determined to make it fit, quickly establishing itself as a raucous farce that doesn’t even need the two leads to sell itself as a crude, mean-spirited effort. Hart and Gad only seem to make matters worse, tempting director Jeremy Garelick to sink lower with dreadful improvisations and angry humor, while painfully formulaic screenwriting keeps a firm boot on the picture’s throat. Read the rest at

Film Review - American Sniper


After his disastrous handling of “Jersey Boys” last summer, with its frustrating cinematic stasis and celebration of unpleasant people, it’s encouraging to see director Clint Eastwood back on his feet again with “American Sniper,” a screen adaptation of United States Navy SEAL Chris Kyle’s 2012 autobiography. While certainly flush with flaws and an inconsistent sense of thematic exploration, “American Sniper” often brings out the best in Eastwood’s helming attitude, presenting a silent hero stewing in the poisons of his life, struggling to define his commitment to military duty and domestic service, often powerless to prevent a storm of clouded emotions as he repeatedly returns to war. Read the rest at

Film Review - Blackhat


Michael Mann has been deified by his fanbase, and for good reason, with features such as “Thief,” “Heat,” and “Manhunter” creating a specialized aura around the helmer, who often favors stylish, insular filmmaking and stories about untouchable men facing the battle of their lives. However, recent efforts have failed to fulfill, with “Public Enemies” his last and least effective picture. After six years in hibernation, Mann returns with “Blackhat” a well-timed cyber thriller that threatens to expose the hidden world of computer manipulation as it takes on doomsday plans. Sadly, any hope for a pants-wetting night at the movies with real-world horror is brushed away in the first act, where Mann solidifies his intent to make a standard-issue actioner filled with logic whoppers, dim performances, and banal dialogue. Read the rest at

Film Review - A Most Violent Year


J.C. Chandor has displayed a great deal of directorial prowess in a short amount of time. With “Margin Call” and “All is Lost,” the helmer showcased good taste with dramatics and smart casting, while launching unique tales of discomfort covering the world of financial ruin and the extremes of physical endurance. “A Most Violent Year” isn’t an extreme change of pace for Chandor, but it does provide a certain temptation he surprisingly refuses. It’s a period piece, with New York City in 1981 its setting, which normally triggers the sound of disco, the hoovering of cocaine, and the bustle of urban life. “A Most Violent Year” remains intimate, detailing psychological unraveling and encroaching paranoia, keeping in step with Chandor’s developing filmmaking interests. Read the rest at

Film Review - Son of a Gun


A tale of criminal enterprises, paranoia, and burgeoning love, “Son of a Gun” appears to understand that originality is not one of its strong suits. Writer/director Julius Avery (making his helming debut) does a laudable job steering the feature away from outright cliché, pumping the picture full of action and heated confrontations, while the details of hood life are arranged interestingly, allowing the audience to dig into wicked behavior while fully aware they’ve seen it all before. Fumbled ending aside, “Son of a Gun” is an energetic and periodically penetrating thriller, competently isolating a pulse-pounding feeling of survival as underworld indignities pile up for the lead character. Read the rest at

Film Review - Loitering with Intent


Dramatically, “Loitering with Intent” doesn’t break any new ground, once again investigating neuroses attached to such traumatic events as love and aging. It’s familiar work, recalling the slacker comedies of the mid-1990s, including “My Life’s in Turnaround,” though co-stars/co-writers Ivan Martin and Michael Godere have the advantage, actually turning in a shapeless but amusing look at panicky life choices and hasty ambition, generating a pleasing sense of mischief to go along with all the worry. Periodically funny but always amiable, “Loitering with Intent” finds a groove and sticks with the delayed maturation routine, electing to extract the most personality out of its engaged cast. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler


In a world that's seemingly gone mad, it's comforting to know that a few corners of the globe are strictly devoted to the restoration of the spirit. The documentary program "Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler" sets out to find these specialized pilgrimages, traveling far on a quest to share how certain cultures and countries carry out extensive tests of self, highlighting organizational efforts, physical endurance, and religious inspiration. The host is Feiler, journalist and author, and a man consumed with the concept of rejuvenation, leading the charge for six episodes of investigation into mysteries of the mind and soul, filling up his passport in a major way. Read the rest at

Blu-ray Review - River's Edge

River's Edge Dennis Hopper

The kids of America get real dark in 1987's "River's Edge," an exaggerated mash-up of juvenile delinquent movies from the 1950s and teen malaise of the 1980s. Those accustomed to a traditional read of adolescent panic in the face of behavioral extremity are bound to be baffled by director Tim Hunter's strange effort. Favoring quirk and blunt edges to performances, the feature takes some time to get used to, never quite gelling as a statement of moral erosion or a dissection of volatile peer politics. However, it's an interesting film, filled with meditative moments and fragments of psychological insight that help to deepen the core conflict. "River's Edge" certainly isn't something that's watched casually, confronting viewers with a sharp display of developing insanity that demands a unique level of concentration, tasked to get past the picture's era-specific flavorings and isolate its primal scream intent. Read the rest at