January 2012 Archives

Three Outlaw Samurai Criterion Collection DVD Review: Three is the Magic Number

A serviceable samurai yarn spotlighted by a rewarding underdog story and above average fight scenes.
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When peasants stage an uprising against their greedy local magistrate, they find an unlikely ally in the form of a drifter samurai. He's not all that invested in their rebellion, but chooses to side with them primarily because he spent a night lodging under the same roof with them. In addition to the samurai, the peasants hold a very valuable trump card in the form of the magistrate's hostage daughter, guaranteeing that the magistrate hears and responds to their demands for lower taxes. Unfortunately, his response is a heavily armed incursion against the peasants, spelling almost certain doom for them

The Big Year Blu-ray Review: One of the Best Family-Friendly Comedies of 2011. Seriously!

Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson prove they still have something to give.
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As Adolfo Celi's Emile Largo once said to Sean Connery's James Bond in Thunderball, "Every man has his passion." Now, why did I just reference my all-time favorite 007 flick in a review for an unsuccessful comedy starring Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson? Actually -- and this is going to sound weird given the films some of the three headlining comedians of this feature have produced as of late -- I found The Big Year to be one of the best comedies 2011, and one that the entire family can safely enjoy. In fact, as I look at

The Magnetic Monster DVD Review: A Very Good Science-Fiction Film

An older scientist's experiments with magnetics get seriously out of hand.
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With the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world changed forever. Nuclear research and the splitting of the atom were projects that had been going on since the early part of the 20th century. But with the incredible power unleashed for all the world to see at the close of World War II, what had once been theoretical became all too real. In the post-war years, with the Cold War and McCarthyism in full swing, science-fiction films began to address some of these issues in various (thinly veiled) ways. One of the first of these was George

After Fall, Winter Movie Review: Love in the Time of Desperation

Schaeffer revisits his character from 15 years ago and develops another ill-fated romance.
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A lonely writer wanders around the streets of Paris before stumbling into an exciting new romantic relationship that reinvigorates his soul while the weight of his normal life concurrently drags him down. Sounds like Midnight in Paris? Well, I failed to mention that the writer and his new lover are both into S&M, pushing this well outside of Woody Allen territory. Don't let the deviant trappings give you the idea that this is just some exploitation skin flick, as its creator has crafted a moving love story and two well-developed lead characters that elevate the film well above its baser

The Pick of the Week is The Magnificent Ambersons

Orson Welles does it again.
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Years ago when I was just out of high school (or possibly just out of college - who can remember these things when they happened so long ago?) my mother and I were at the local video rental place looking for something to watch on a lazy Saturday. As those things go, we spent way too longer looking and debating with neither of us willing to make the final decision. Eventaully we went with Citizen Kane. Neither of us had seen it but the critics were always carrying on about it and the AFI had just declared it the greatest

Jane Eyre (2011) Movie Review: Director Cary Fukunaga Sets the Bar High for Future Adaptations

Rare is the film that excels in so many facets.
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Charlotte Bronte's classic 1847 Gothic novel Jane Eyre has been filmed many times for movies and television over the years, but director Cary Fukunaga has now set the bar so high with his marvelous adaptation, future filmmakers will likely pause before using the source material again because of the excellent achievements of the cast and crew. The story centers on Jane Elliot (Mia Wasikowska), an unusually strong-willed woman for the times, a trait that will define her. As the film opens, she is 10 years old (played by Amelia Clarkson) and living with her dead uncle's family because her parents

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Movie Review: A Well-Toned, Subtle Spy Thriller

It has a certain understated tension that makes it well worth a look.
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If there's anything that makes Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy work, it's its tone. The Tomas Alfredson picture is based on the novel of the same name by John le Carré and treats us to an espionage culture that is not at all like the worlds of James Bond or even Jason Bourne. While the aforementioned spy series' race with breakneck speeds and feature dazzling chases and hot babes, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is quiet, subtle and deliberate. Anyone who knows le Carré knows that he knows his stuff. He also knows betrayal, making Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy a personal work

Queen: Days of Our Lives DVD Review: They Made The Rockin' World Go Round

The full story of Queen, one of the greatest bands in rock history.
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As good a documentary as Queen: Days Of Our Lives is, it is also a bit of a strange beast. To tell the full story of the group, a documentary with an original copyright date of 1986 has been augmented with present-day interviews and additional concert footage. The DVD is presented in two 59-minute parts, which are roughly split between the seventies and the eighties. It is pretty clear that principle filming of the original doc ended in 1984. The group's legendary appearance at Live Aid is not even discussed (in the main body of the documentary), and the album

If.... Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Portrait of the Student as an Angry Young Man

Malcolm McDowell is captivating in his film debut.
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Director Lindsay Anderson's If.... is a film that catches the viewer off guard when its true intention is revealed and its ability to generate a strong reaction has been increased by the events of history, which isn't necessarily to the benefit of the film's message. When If.... opens, a new term is beginning at a British boarding school for boys in the 1960s, and the familiar character types are introduced: members of the administration are aloof, the new seniors (Whips) exert their power over the juniors and underclassmen, and there is a trio of rebellious upstarts, led by Mick Travis

So This Guy and a Girl Went to Sundance

Amanda and Max were lucky enough to make it out to the Sundance Film Festival and talk about what it is really like.
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Max Naylor: Hi everybody.  I’d like you to meet Amanda.  She's a programmer from an independent film festival in Southern California, and she was lucky enough to be able to attend the Sundance Film Festival this year. Amanda Salazar: Thanks Max, that is such a kind introduction. Max is also a festival programmer and he has one of those faces that everybody says 'I think I know him' when you bring up his name. So, Max, what are your basic thoughts on Sundance? MN: My main goal at Sundance is to see as many films as possible, and try to

Doors -- Mr. Mojo Risin': The Story of L.A. Woman DVD Review: A Look at One of Their Most Enduring Works

The story of the band's final album with Jim Morrison.
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By the end of 1970, The Doors were done as a live act. Jim Morrison still had the legal ramifications of the Miami incident hanging over him and the band played what was to be their last concert with him that December in New Orleans. They weren't done as band, however, retreating to the studio to cut their legendary L.A. Woman album. The story of that record and the tumultuous times it was created in are documented in Doors ­-- Mr. Mojo Risin': The Story of L.A. Woman. When the band got to the studio, they had no energy and

The Moment of Truth Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Heady Symphony of Sound and Image

Francesco Rosi's bullfighting film is an intimate and immediate experience.
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The Film Francesco Rosi doesn’t waste his time on extraneous details in The Moment of Truth, a lean symphony of sound and image — the roar of the crowd and the blood of a bull mingling in a heady, gripping mixture. Using mostly nonprofessional actors and mostly real bullfights, Rosi crafts an intimate, immediate portrait of a torero’s (real-life bullfighter Miguel Mateo) unlikely rags-to-riches rise. By reducing moments outside the ring to their barest essentials, Rosi focuses all our attention on the fights, with the ferocious bull bearing down and our gaze rigidly fixed on the present. Bullfighting is nasty

Julia (2008) Movie Review: You Aren't Required To Like Her At All

Erick Zonka directs a wonderfully complex Tilda Swinton as Julia in a twisty tale of a kidnapping gone horribly awry.
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Think of that plot of the well-planned, thought-through kidnapping drama where the criminal mastermind has a location chosen and a hand-picked team of co-conspirators and every move planned three steps in advance. Well, this is most certainly not that. Julia (Tilda Swinton) is a brash-talking, loudmouthed alcoholic who can't hold down a decent job and who is getting too old for the party-all-night lifestyle, which doesn't stop her in the least from taking a new man to bed, or, you know, out to the parking lot, every night. As we are introduced to the lady in question she is already

Mysterious Island (1961) Blu-ray Review: Herbert Lom as Captain Nemo? Sold!

Twilight Time joyfully fills that gap in your Ray Harryhausen Blu-ray collection.
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During the '50s and '60s, Hollywood was experimenting with one crazy newfangled idea after another: CinemaScope, surround sound, Jerry Lewis films, etc. Special effects, too, were breaking new grounds during this Atomic Age of filmmaking, and one young lad in particular -- a feller by the name of Ray Harryhausen -- quickly rose to become one of the most popular FX gurus in film history. Another lad -- one who had ceased to be amongst the living quite some time before -- was also a hot item: Jules Verne, the famous French science-fiction pioneer who had passed away in 1905.

Godzilla (1954) The Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Legendary Monster Makes its Debut

A worthy addition to any fan of the genre's movie collection.
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In 1954, Japan was still reeling from the effects of the World War II atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, more recently, from the H-bomb testing being done in the Pacific Ocean. Director Ishiro Honda played upon the Japanese people's fears and created a monster that represented the evils of nuclear weapons. That monster was Godzilla -- or Gojira, as it was originally named. Godzilla has spawned nearly 30 sequels and become one of the most well-known characters in cinematic history. Now the original Japanese film and the 1956 American version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, have been reissued
They called Frank Zappa "The King of the L.A. Freak Scene," and it was definitely a title he enjoyed. After running into difficulties almost immediately upon being signed to the Verve division of MGM Records, Zappa and his manager Herb Cohen decided to form their own label. With typical humor, Zappa decided to call the label Bizarre Records. Due to some distribution contracts (which were apparently ridiculously complex), a companion label (of sorts) was also created, which was called Straight Records. From Straight To Bizarre is a lengthy (160-minute) DVD chronicling the whole story. Beginning in 1966 with the release

The 84th Academy Award Nominations Have Been Announced

Before the envelope is opened, let us know your thoughts.
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Paige MacGregor, who makes her debut at Cinema Sentries, joins me in reflecting upon this year's Academy Award nominations, which are handed out Sunday February 26th on ABC. PM: Where is Ides of March for Best Picture, and why - why - are The Help and The Descendants on this list? The Help looks like the most painful movie released in 2011, and while The Descendants was entertaining, it was very poorly acted and not very well written, either. Not to mention... nine movies? GM: After paying attention over the past year to some of the self-appointed movie observers from

A Separation Movie Review: A Worthy Recipient of Academy Accolades

Hope that this Oscar nominee is coming soon to a theater near you.
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Here's some unsolicited advice for presidential candidates: take a break from the campaign trail and go to see A Separation, the Academy Award nominee for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. You'll have a great time, and you might even learn something. A Separation was an international film festival favorite and Golden Globe winner and is, by far, the most engaging movie I've seen in recent memory, in any language. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi has crafted a subtly ingenious, edge-of-your-seat mashup of documentary-style verisimilitude, allegorical morality play, and Hitchcockian procedural. Perhaps more importantly, the film has much to

Iron Monster and Sesame Heroes DVD Review: A Crossover Recommended for Kids and Their Parents

Sesame Street and superheroes meet to educate and entertain.
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Sesame Street has a longstanding tradition of poking fun at popular culture, including television programs, game shows and film. And with superhero films being all the rage these days, it was only a matter of time before the folks at Sesame Workshop got around to using these familiar archetypes to their advantage - and to the advantage of millions of children around the world. Iron Monster and Sesame Heroes, the latest DVD release from Sesame Workshop and Warner Home Video, features four tales of the spandex and cape variety and as usual, they find a way to educate while entertaining.

Contest: The Whistleblower on DVD

Two lucky readers have an opportunity to win.
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Cinema Sentries and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment have teamed up to give two lucky readers the opportunity to win The Whistleblower on DVD, which is available to own on Blu-ray and DVD on January 24, 2012. Inspired by actual events, writer-director Larysa Kondracki’s film tells the story of Nebraska cop Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz), who accepts a position as a U.N. peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia.  While on assignment she discovers a deadly sex trafficking ring that involves her fellow peacekeepers and military contractors.  Bolkovac riskes her life to save many others. Academy Award-winners Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardner) and Vanessa

U2: From the Sky Down is the Pick of the Week

Once again Bono saves us.
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You know it is a heck of a week for movie releases when the top seller on Amazon is a workout video. The second release is a futuristic tale about giant boxing robots. Some weeks it just doesn't pay to get out of bed in the morning. But just as the prophet Bono spoke once again an Irish band has arisen to save us from this boring, abysmal release week. U2: From the Sky Down finds the band returning to the studio in Berlin to discuss the making of their seminal album Actung Baby. That's probably my favorite album from

In Time DVD Review: An Enthralling Science-Fiction Thriller

I really enjoyed this film.
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I am not sure what it is but I am willing to see anything these days featuring Justin Timberlake. He is charming, talented, attractive, and personable. I am also a fan of Amanda Seyfried and Cillian Murphy, therefore, how could I resist In Time starring all three. Not only did the performances live up to my expectations, the film is exciting, thought-provoking, and entertaining. Set in the year 2161, genetic engineering has established set lifespans. Everyone stops aging at 25 and is given one year to live unless you are able to earn more time. Time has become the only

The Overcoat DVD Review: A Genre-Bending Satire from the Age of Neorealism

Alberto Lattuada's overlooked The Overcoat is a smart blend of bureaucratic satire, tragicomic character piece and surrealist fantasy.
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Made when the Italian Neorealist movement was still prominent, Alberto Lattuada's The Overcoat sounds like a prime example of the genre -- poor city clerk toils for years and years to save up enough money to purchase a coat, but only days later the coat is stolen and he's left exposed to the harsh elements. Cursorily, there are thematic similarities to Vittorio De Sica's quintessential Neorealist work Umberto D., released the same year in 1952, but Lattuada's film is an entirely different breed -- a curious blend of sharp bureaucratic satire, tragicomic character piece and surreal fantasy. With its instantly

Dirty Girl DVD Review: She Disappoints

Well, it wasn't the worst thing I've seen.
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I waited for what seemed like eons for my copy of Dirty Girl to arrive in the mail. When the Fed-Ex envelope finally came to my door, I was elated. After weeks of watching nothing but deep symbolic films, I could finally let my brain take a vacation. I would be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed. Dirty Girl is not a good movie. However, between bouts of ham-fisted messages about being yourself and mediocre dick jokes, there is a spark of a story. On the back cover you'll find the entire plot laid out for you.

Belle de Jour Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: How Severine Got Her Groove Back

A luminous young Catherine Deneuve crafts a memorable portrait of a bored, rich housewife exploring her dangerous proclivities.
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A young, wealthy housewife goes for a horse-drawn carriage ride in the idyllic French countryside with her dashing husband. So far so good, but when the carriage stops, the two drivers follow the direction of the husband to bind and whip her before having their way with her while he coolly looks on. What in the world? As the scene dissolves, we find the housewife safely at home and conversing with her polite and refined husband, slyly telling him she was just thinking of him. We quickly learn that Severine the housewife (a luminous young Catherine Deneuve) is bored, trapped,

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth Movie Review: An Absolutely Fascinating Documentary

How building a better tomorrow destroyed a community's 'today.'
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You don't normally go into a documentary as a blank slate, a sincerely pure vessel. It is the nature of the medium that draws you in. You're interested in the rule of Idi Amin, or you really have always wondered about the font Helvetica, and the opportunity to learn more about a subject, perhaps a subject you didn't even realize sparked your interest until the moment you read the title, peaks your interest. It is therefore a rare opportunity to watch a film with almost no preliminary opinion or knowledge of the subject matter, and really affords the audience a

10 Things I Hate About You: Season One, Volume Two DVD Review: Canceled Too Soon?

Look at it this way: it's completely free of Julia Stiles and her patented pouty face!
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Wait, they made a series out of that movie? Indeed they did! For those of us who don't bother paying outrageous monthly fees in order to keep up with the latest crap television networks dish out to otherwise intelligent audiences on an hourly basis, it may interest you to know that Disney turned their 1999 hit teen drama 10 Things I Hate About You into a TV show ten years after its source of inspiration came and went. In hindsight, their timing probably wasn't the best: the family dramedy was a short-lived one, lasting only a single season and twenty

Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star Blu-ray Review: A Cinematic Ipecac

So bad, it makes "It's Pat" look like a classic.
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Dear Adam Sandler; Go to Hell. Please. For reals. Sincerely,Me When I first saw the previews for Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star -- the latest travesty from Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions -- I thought to myself, "Whoa, that's gonna be a rough one." Soon, I heard what filmgoers and critics alike were saying about it. It wasn't good. It was nowhere near good. In fact, the publicity this flick was getting was so bad, that I simply had to see it for myself. Turns out that they were right: it's an awful flick. If Adam Sandler and

The Black Cobra / No Survivors Please DVD Review: Two Kooky Titles from West Germany

VCI wisely pairs up two forgotten curiosities -- and the results are pleasing.
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Sometimes, I get this urge. A longing to sit back and switch off the more cerebral functions of that which all my therapists have claimed was in desperate need of some good medication and just watch some crazy old imports from Europe. They don't have to be great, but they do have to be dubbed into English. And I prefer them to be in black and white, especially if they tend to be a bit on the noir side and were made in what we used to call West Germany (you know, the nice ones). Oh, hey, what's this? VCI's

Real Steel Blu-ray Review: A Good Movie, A Great High-Definition Experience

A familiar story told well.
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When I saw the first preview for Real Steel, my reaction was the same as many: Rock'em Sock'em Robots brought to the big screen. I had no interest whatsoever. What eventually won me over is Hugh Jackman's likability and my desire to see Evangeline Lilly in anything since Lost. The movie is very predictable and sappy but it does have some tender moments and impressive action. In the year 2020, robots have replaced humans in the boxing ring. Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is an ex-fighter who struggles to earn a living as he travels the country to enter his fighting

Belle de Jour is the Pick of the Week

A French classic gets me all excited.
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My wife is a Francophile, that is to say she is a great lover of all things French. She learned to speak the language when she was a teenager, has been taking classes in it ever since (she's a dissertation away from earning her PhD in French linguistics.) She's lived in French-speaking Quebec twice, in France for a year, and spent some time in the French-speaking part of Belgium a couple of times. She also collects anything she can find in the language or having to do with the culture. She has a bunch of little Eiffel Towers, replicas of

Traffic Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Thrilling and Uncompromising Look at the War on Drugs

Steven Soderbergh's seemingly opposite sensibilities mix marvelously in this four-time Oscar winner.
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The Film One of the predominant narratives used in describing Steven Soderbergh's career is that he's a director capable of helming both slick Hollywood product (Erin Brockovich, the Oceans films) and more idiosyncratic, decidedly uncommercial fare (Schizopolis, Full Frontal). Of course, this is terribly reductive and hardly accounts for the way both sensibilities tend to overlap throughout his filmography -- perhaps most apparent in 2000's Traffic, a nuanced and complex portrait of the war on drugs that's paced like a breakneck thriller without resorting to simpleminded sentiment or moralizing. In many ways a close cousin to Soderbergh's most recent film,

Contest: Real Steel on Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack

One lucky reader has the opportunity to win rock'em, sock'em set.
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Cinema Sentries and DreamWorks Studios have teamed up to give one lucky reader the opportunity to win a Real Steel Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack, which is available to own on Blu-ray, DVD, Digital and On-Demand on January 24, 2012. Directed by Shawn Levy, produced by Steven Spielberg, and based on Richard Matheson's 1956 short story "Steel," which was adapated into a Twilight Zone episode, Real Steel is set in the year 2020, a future where human boxers have been replaced by eight-foot-tall, two-ton robots. Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a former boxer who now works as a promoter, setting

Eat This New York DVD Review: Jumbled Restaurant Documentary Proves Unsatisfying

Displaying many of the same problems -- only magnified -- that plagued 2011's Page One: Inside the New York Times, this 2004 effort from the same filmmakers underwhelms.
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There are two movies duking it out in Andrew Rossi's and Kate Novack's Eat This New York, a 2004 documentary on the New York restaurant scene just being rereleased on DVD. Rossi and Novack made 2011's generally well-received Page One: Inside the New York Times, an enjoyable but largely unenlightening doc that revealed a lack of focus and deficient story editing, i.e. why did no one realize media columnist David Carr should have been the movie? Similar problems plague Eat This, a much rougher effort that oscillates between the underdog tale of aspiring restaurateurs Billy Phelps and John McCormick and

Columbus Circle Comes to Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand March 6, 2012

Selma Blair leads an all-star cast in a suspenseful murder mystery from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
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On March 6, 2012, Universal Studios Home Entertainment will unveil its latest thriller, Columbus Circle. Starring the talents of Selma Blair (Hellboy), Giovanni Ribisi (Contraband, Saving Private Ryan), Amy Smart (The Butterfly Effect, Varsity Blues), and Jason Lee (Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked, TV's My Name is Earl), Columbus Circle is a dark, suspenseful tale of an agoraphobic heiress in Manhattan (Blair), who is unwittingly forced to meet her high-rise neighbors when a murder is committed. In order to escape the hounding public and press, Abigail (Blair), the famous daughter of a wealthy industrialist, secluded herself in her Manhattan loft

Colombiana DVD Review: Uninspired, but with a Decent Soundtrack

Luc Besson amalgamates all of his previous films into one.
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They say you start to repeat yourself as you get older. This is evidently the case with Luc Besson, the pioneering French filmmaker who brought us such gems as La Femme Nikita, Subway, and Leon (aka The Professional) in the '80s and '90s. As I watched the low-key 2011 release of Colombiana -- wherein Monsieur Besson served as a co-writer and producer -- I couldn't help but get a certain feeling of déjà vu. The story here tells of a young Columbian woman (Zoë Saldana) whose parents were murdered before her eyes in the '80s, and has since grown into

West Side Story Blu-Ray Review: Celebrating 50 Years of Dancing in the Streets

It's "Cool" for the most part, but there are a few issues.
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West Side Story, the classic Broadway musical that went on to become a classic Hollywood film, epitomizes passion. Its creators (book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, and choreography by Jerome Robbins, who co-directed the film with Robert Wise) followed their passion to become artists. The story is about passion as Tony (Richard Beymer, with singing by Jimmy Bryant) and Maria (Natalie Wood, with singing by Marni Nixon), though from different ethic backgrounds, fall in love with each other to the consternation of their friends. The film has developed a passionate following that has endeared

The Fighter (2010) Movie Review: Family, Loyalty, and Boxing

Sometimes what happens outside the ring is just as interesting as the fights, and that's certainly true for The Fighter.
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The Fighter is a boxing movie. That means you will be seeing some blood and some violence and some rope jumping and sparring. The more unexpected parts of this is probably the fact that so much time is spent on the family dynamics between the lead character Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his seven sisters, his manager/mother Alice (Melissa Leo), and most importantly his drug-addled trainer/brother Dicky Eklund (Christian Bale). The relationship between Mickey and Dicky is fascinating, to say the least. Based on the true story of the welterweight fighter Micky Ward's life, this is a tale of overcoming

Solaris (1972) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Explorations in Outer and Inner Space

Andrei Tarkovsky psychological film spends too much time looking inward.
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Director Andrei Tarkovsky used Stanislaw Lem's 1961 science fiction novel Solaris as the basis for his story about a man coping with his disconnection from life. Though the majority of the film takes place aboard a space station in orbit around the ocean planet Solaris, it could be set anywhere as the main character focuses on an inner conflict. Unfortunately, the film becomes as self absorbed as the station crewmembers who are suffering psychological breakdowns. The meandering pace, augmented by the use of long takes, left me wanting to be the subject of a rescue mission before the 166-minute runtime

The Moon in the Gutter Blu-ray Review: Ponderous Movie; Worse Blu-ray

An utterly underwhelming high-def disc of Jean-Jacques Beineix's similarly lackluster sophomore feature.
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The Film After his art house crossover hit debut feature Diva, Jean-Jacques Beineix followed it up with The Moon in the Gutter, a noirish fantasy that was mostly eviscerated by critics following its 1983 Cannes debut. Although it has gone on to become something of a cult item, I think it's safe to say the doubters were right about this one. While Beineix succeeds in capturing some ravishing images when he allows the scope of his surreal moments to expand, the film is mired in ponderous plotting and never tips over into weird enough territory to sustain it. Apparently, Beineix

The Big Year DVD Review: Great Heart and a Sweet Story

Not a lot of big laughs, but it had big heart.
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When they cast Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson in a movie, I figured it would be full of big laughs. I think most movie-goers were hoping for that when they saw this film. However, this was not the case with The Big Year. Instead, it was a film with great heart and a sweet story. The film revolves around three bird watchers or "birders" who are each going on A Big Year. This is the true life competition that happens every year among bird watchers. The goal is to see who can spot the most species of birds

Boardwalk Empire: The Complete First Season is the Pick of the Week

It took me awhile to latch on my this new HBO series now has me hooked.
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I'm generally terribly behind on my TV watching. I am, what they call now, a cord cutter. I don't have cable or satellite or any other form of pay TV. Because I live in small-town Tennessee, my antennae can only pick up ABC, three PBS stations, and only just recently a generic form of CBS (which has zero local programming.) I do watch Hulu over the Internet and have the Netflix streaming service, but very rarely use it to watch new programming. Generally speaking I wait until a season (or sometimes two or three seasons or even the complete series)

Sid & Nancy Blu-ray Review: Grotesque and Sublime Doomed Love

Alex Cox's anarchic, funny and beautiful evocation of the punk era gets a solid Blu-ray upgrade.
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The Film I had to laugh when reading the back of the newly released Fox/MGM Sid & Nancy Blu-ray, which describes Alex Cox as an "award-winning writer/director," marked with an asterisk and a footnote that reads, "1986: Critics Award, Sao Paulo International Film Festival." You have to dig pretty far to find awards mentions for Cox, a director whose work has seldom resonated with the mainstream and who didn't last long in the major studio-produced film business. But while he still had a place at the Hollywood table, Cox didn't back down from the defiant energy that characterizes much of

The Moth Diaries Movie Review [Worst of 2011]

The thing that replaced 3-D as the biggest threat to Film in 2011.
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Recently, at the Toronto International Film Festival, while viewing some of the most high-profile, innovative, and challenging films of the year, I was somehow compelled to attend a screening of a little movie called The Moth Diaries, scheduled alongside some of the most anticipated and critically acclaimed releases of 2011. I won't beat around the bush. Instead, I will make a simple statement now to give rest of what is written here some context. I wouldn't want any reader to believe my statements are hyperbole or farcical parody. There is no irony or sarcasm here, no attempt at satire. You're

I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive DVD Review: Study of Post-Adoption Scars Falls Flat

Father-and-son team Claude and Nathan Miller hamstring their promising film with structural issues and a cop-out ending.
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There are some severely displaced feelings at the center of I'm Glad My Mother is Alive, a 2009 French film fresh off a limited U.S. release. Co-directed by veteran Claude Miller and his son Nathan, this fluid examination of troubling post-adoption scars is generally engaging but structurally suspect, and it cops out big time with a meant-to-be-shocking climax that diverts its lead character onto a much less interesting path than he was previously on. Anchoring the film is a steely-eyed performance by Vincent Rottiers as Thomas, given up for adoption as a toddler along with his infant brother by barely

Body Puzzle DVD Review: Gory Goofy Great

A wacky half-giallo/half-horror offering from Lamberto Bava.
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Listening to Modest Mussorgsky's powerful "Night on Bald Mountain" can prompt men to do very strange things. In the case of Walt Disney, it inspired him to whip hallucinating animators into making Fantasia. For one particular tortured young soul (François Montagut), however, listening to the strains of the aforementioned famous classical composition urges him to kill seemingly-random people with a nice big shiny kitchen knife. But he doesn't stop there. Oh, no. This assailant likes to take a souvenir from each of his victims -- hands, livers, stuff like that -- which he wraps up and "hand" delivers to an

Sabu! Criterion Collection DVD Review: Adventures With The Immensely Charming Child Star

The undeniable charisma of Sabu is on full display in this collection of three of his first four films.
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Plucked from obscurity as an elephant handler in southern India and vaulted to international stardom largely by the efforts of British producer extraordinaire Alexander Korda, Sabu was the very definition of a natural. Looking at the three early films included in Criterion's latest Eclipse set Sabu!, it's impossible not to be drawn in by the young actor's unflagging charisma. Never mind that he hadn't even seen a movie before beginning his career or initially performed his lines in memorized phonetic English -- Sabu had the intangible quality of an irresistible screen presence, and he elevates the sometimes thin material seen

Design For Living Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Pre Codiest of the Pre-Codes

Director Ernst Lubitsch's classic rom-com is a three-way delight.
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When I was a guest on the Turner Classic Movies podcast last fall, I engaged in a bit of premeditated hyperbole: The Motion Picture Production Code "ruined movies for thirty years," I spat, tossing a reproduction of Hollywood's infamous self-censorship guidelines (first enforced in 1934) on to the table in abject disgust. As any TCM viewer knows, films of the so-called Pre-Code era have become popular in recent years with modern audiences heretofore brainwashed to think of "old movies" as quaint and sex-less. And while it is true that the Code negatively impacted American filmmaking for more than a generation,

Glee: The Concert Blu-ray Review: Fun Performances, Lame Interludes

The kids put on an entertaining show but are hampered by fan interviews interspersed between songs
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The Glee concert film captures a moment in time of a pop-culture phenomenon that had already started its slow march to obscurity by the time of its production. As such, it's really more a love letter to the show's dwindling fans than a viable mass-market charmer, and its middling box office receipts reflected that unfortunate fact. Still, the performances are spirited and fun for the most part, making for a mostly entertaining concert experience. On the downside, the filmmakers chose to incorporate footage of fan segments in between the songs, so every time the show builds a bit of momentum

The Snowtown Murders Movie Review: The Killer is the Step-Dad Beside Me

And I thought River's Edge was frightening.
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The Snowtown Murders is the most sickening movie I have ever seen, which was undoubtedly director Justin Kurzel's intention. The film opens with young Jaime Vlassakis's (Luca Pittaway) soliloquy, which begins; "I keep having this dream..." and goes into a story that has nothing, and yet everything to do with the film. We are drawn into an immediate identification with the types of alienation, fear, and discomfort so common to adolescents. It even seems a little heavy-handed, because the fears of kids at that age are so common. Jaime and his brothers live with their single mother in an area

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds Blu-ray Review: Uwe Boll is Back, and Badder than Ever!

It's Dolph Lundgren vs. the Renaissance Faire rejects.
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While many moviegoers and critics alike curse the fact that he was ever born in the first place, I think the real shame is that Uwe Boll was born when he was. His infamous, rapidly manufactured brand of B-Grade movies are generally considered to be the bane of modern filmmaking by a majority of people; who, I should point out, are the same folks that willingly pay to see Tom Cruise films. Now, had the German filmmaker been brought into our world a few decades sooner, I fully believe he would have produced a number of mind-blowing exploitation movies during

Great White Death DVD Review: A Silly Sharksploitation Schlockumentary

CFS Releasing drops the ball by giving us an out-of-sync Glenn Ford.
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After the astonishing success of Steven Spielberg's Jaws in 1975, budget filmmakers around the world were determined to jump out into the money shower that ensued and grab a few falling coins. Some folks took the exact same premise of cinema's very first summer blockbuster and created their own version (whether it was in the water or on the land), some re-released already-made feature films that contained a man-eater in it (or at least the threat of one) and unleashed a re-titled bore upon unsuspecting moviegoers, while others copied the original film so blatantly that they were sued by Universal

Justified: The Complete Second Season is the Pick of the Week

Timothy Olyphant and Elmore Leonard create a fun, entertaining, if not exactly perfect series.
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This first week of January has already picked up some steam from the dismal choices we had in the last. There are a few fairly interesting releases to choose from, though I wouldn't quite call anything an absolute must-have. Timothy Olyphant's choice of movies to act in has never quite been my cup of tea and as such as an actor he's never really become someone that I seek out. In the realm of television though he was quite memorable as Seth Bullock in the outstanding Deadwood. Based on that information plus it being produced by Elmore Leonard I was

The Left Hand of God DVD Review: Another Fine Humphrey Bogart Flick

Wait, Bogie? As a priest? Well, not quite.
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Upon one's initial glance at the cover of Edward Dmytryk's The Left Hand of God, the common goad is to ask "Wait, this movie has Humphrey Bogart playing a priest?" Well, yes and no. The story starts out with a lone Man of the Cloth (Bogie) trotting along in a rainy, Chinese mountains -- with a gun. Shortly after he literally loses his ass, he finds his way to a remote village, wherein he introduces himself as Father O'Shea, the new spiritual leader of the local parish. But that's only half true: O'Shea is actually American World War II pilot

Most Anticipated Films of 2012 [Snob Seven]

I expect to see these in the theater.
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With a new year upon us, it's the perfect time to start marking the calender with release dates. What follows are the seven I am most eager to see. Just missing the cut, though I expect to see them the weekends of their release are Pixar's Brave, Marc Webb's reboot Amazing Spider-Man, Will Farrell's Spanish-language comedy Casa de Mi Padre, and Sam Mendes at the helm for Daniel Craig's latest Bond installment Skyfall. Prometheus (June 8) - While the Alien franchise hasn't delivered much worthwhile since James Cameron's Aliens, the return of Ridley Scott, the original film's director, to this

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