MOVIE REVIEW: Ain’t In It For My Health

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You all know the song, and you’re gonna start singing it as soon as you read these lyrics: “Take a load off, Annie / take a load for free / take a load off, Annie / aaaaaaaaaand you put the load right on me.” I’ve heard this easily-recognizable and earnestly-sung chorus from “The Weight” everywhere in the world, from clubs to concerts to cruise ships to its cover by a Scottish band called Travis. If you didn’t know, this song was originally written and performed by a band called… The Band. Getting their name due to being a backing band for the likes of Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, they started writing and recording their own songs, and “The Weight” is their most famous one. Sung by drummer Levon Helm, “The Weight” seems to capture the soul of a bygone era, where a man can stroll in and out of any town on a whim. This song also serves to introduce a new documentary about Helm, titled Ain’t In It For My Health, which follows Helm around for what turns out to be the last year of his life, as he succumbed to cancer in 2012.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Frances Ha

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Man, I really wish I hadn’t read the Frances Ha poster in the theater lobby before I saw the movie. “A deft, uproarious comedy” is the big quote that’s emblazoned at the top of the poster… and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Advertising does color one’s expectations, so I went into the movie looking for a lot of laughs and silliness. Definitely got the latter, but very few of the former. Instead, what Frances Ha turns out to be is a movie concerning a girl who is trying like hell to hold on to her youth and fighting growing up. Sure, there are some laughs, but they’ll mostly arise from the kind of awkward comedy that’s not based on how funny a line is, but how funny it’s not. I generally hate these kinds of movies, but reflecting further upon the film and distancing myself from basing my opinion on another reviewer’s quote, I’m finding that the movie is simply about post-college life in New York City and trying to find your place in the world.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Furious 6

(If you read nothing else of this review, know this: do not leave the theater until the credits start rolling up the screen.)

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It’s pretty hard to up the ante and the game from one sequel to the next. However, Furious 6 (also known as Fast & Furious 6 – the print I saw only bore the shortened title) director Justin Lin manages to do exactly that for his final film of the series, and he makes his exit from the franchise with an epic bang. With both Fast Five and Furious 6, Lin knows precisely what the target audience wants to see, and he makes damn sure that they get what they’re expecting: exciting car chases, big action set pieces, brutal fight choreography, and, of course, the family that makes the Fast & Furious franchise worth revisiting every time.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Stories We Tell

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Writer/director Sarah Polley’s new documentary, Stories We Tell, is a very personal and engrossing movie, but it sure as hell isn’t easy to digest. Pointing the cameras straight at her family members, she asks them to tell the story of her late mother, leading them to the point where they all have to discuss the fact that Polley is not her father’s biological daughter. It was a secret that even her mother kept well beyond the grave, and it was only through correspondence with her biological father that this was uncovered. Stories We Tell is a fascinating look at Polley’s family and the strength of the love that ties them together. Had this happened to someone else, I’m pretty sure we’d be seeing it play out on a show hosted by Jenny Jones or Jerry Springer. But Polley, in her hardnosed, truth-digging style, seeks to disclose this information as she sees fit, and with the full participation of everyone involved.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Star Trek Into Darkness

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Director J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise into a new alternate universe was met with resounding success – it was a critical darling, a fan favorite, and a box office smash. Why? We got to know the origins of characters that had, to that point, been around for 43 years. It was fun spending time with the younger versions of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Commander/Science Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), Chief Medical Officer Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg), Communications Officer Nyota Uhura (Zoë Saldana), Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), and Ensign Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin). We saw the depth of their personae and became involved with them as they found their way through their relative adolescence in Starfleet. Four years later, they’re ready for action, and Star Trek Into Darkness doesn’t hesitate to drop you right into the middle of it.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Venus and Serena

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As a tennis fan from childhood, I spent a lot of time with my father watching the Grand Slam tournaments on television and attending exhibition matches locally here in DC at Rock Creek Park. Every few years or so, a new powerhouse player would come into the scene; the era which I remember was famous for players like Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Michael Chang, Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, Jennifer Capriati, and other greats. However, in the late 90s, a new force was rising in the tennis world which is still present today: the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena. Everyone knows the story of their life, but very few have been shown what you’re about to see in Venus and Serena, a new documentary by Maiken Baird and Michelle Major. Following the sisters for a year in 2011, Venus and Serena takes us behind the courts and the press tables to examine what makes the Williams sisters tick.
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MOVIE REVIEW: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

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My initial reaction to director Mira Nair’s adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalist was one of spite and, truth be told, a little bit of anger. It’s very easy for an American to view this movie and be upset by it, as 99% of the Americans portrayed in this movie are painted as ugly, stupid, and ignorant; there are exactly zero sympathetic white Americans to be found in this movie. But there’s one quick, almost throwaway sequence early in this movie that attempts to disarm the viewer and explain its motif, and that has to do with our perceptions. With this scene in mind, one can almost understand the director’s intentions with this movie, and the perspective can be appreciated, but it doesn’t keep The Reluctant Fundamentalist from being a bit of a mess.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Aroused

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It goes one of two ways when looking at performers in the adult entertainment industry in America. On one hand, you’ve got the people who watch pornography or look the other way, allowing it to be just another facet of life; on the other, you have the people who revile the industry and all who work inside it. Regardless of your viewpoint, when you consider it carefully, these people are only doing a job. When you’re getting paid to do something, be it working at a desk, shoving a puck around on a sheet of ice with a hockey stick, handing drive-through bags of food out of a restaurant window, or legally having sex on camera, it’s just work. And nobody knows it like the women in Aroused, a new documentary which aims to shed a little candid light on women in today’s adult film industry.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Hava Nagila (The Movie)

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Let me guess: as soon as you saw this review heading, the switch flipped in your head and you started recalling the melody of “Hava Nagila,” right? Of course, you did! It’s one of those involuntary reflex actions our brain makes our body execute from time to time, like when the doctor taps your knee with the rubber hammer, or when your mouth waters when you smell bacon. You start remembering the many times you’ve heard it; maybe the first time was at your friend Nate Heller’s bar mitzvah (which I think I did, but I can’t remember well), or maybe it was Anthrax’s use of it in their comedic song “I’m The Man.” Regardless, you know the song, and you know you’re singing or humming it right now. But does anyone really know the song? Its roots, its composition history, its impact on the world at large? Hava Nagila (The Movie) serves up the story of this song that has reached across cultures, races, religions, and musical styles, and it comes off as being one of the most informative, enlightening, and flat-out joyous documentaries I’ve ever seen.
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MOVIE REVIEW: From Up On Poppy Hill

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Imagine, if you will, riding down the highway in your convertible on a gorgeous, traffic- and cloud-free Sunday. You’re enjoying yourself and taking note of the scenery and how beautiful it is when, suddenly, a foul smell permeates the air. The driving and the scenery is still great, but you’ve got to deal with this sudden discomfort, and you’re wondering when it will go away, if at all. This sums up Studio Ghibli’s From Up On Poppy Hill; the scenery’s great, the journey’s fine, but there’s a quick turn of events that makes the movie shudder to a near halt. However, in true Studio Ghibli fashion, you’re always guaranteed a worthy story, and From Up On Poppy Hill definitely has one worth the trouble.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Oblivion

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Science-fiction is a very broad genre these days. My wife once told me that traditional science-fiction can be boiled down to two specific premises: technology gone awry and social commentary. A lot of what passes for “sci-fi” films are really action movies, like Alien vs. Predator or the recent Star Trek reboot. But real science-fiction is a wonderful thing, and films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the original six Star Trek films really hammer home how important the genre can be. Not every science-fiction film has to do with space or invaders from another galaxy; it’s more effective when it’s kept closer to home, and Oblivion manages to be just that. Eye-popping and gorgeous, Oblivion throws actual science-fiction into the waiting audience’s laps with style and substance to spare.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Silver Circle

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When you view a movie that is unlike anything you’ve seen before, how should it be critiqued? Do you focus more on the film’s message, the script, the acting, or the techniques used? This is my dilemma with Silver Circle, a computer-animated film by Pasha Roberts. And when I say “computer-animated,” I don’t mean the cutesy, semi-realistic kind of computer animation that has made Pixar and DreamWorks Animation films so memorable; I mean the kind of animation you see in modern video games like Grand Theft Auto or Red Dead Redemption. I’m talking about the herky-jerky, dead-eyed, yet overly-smooth animation that attempts to make things look realistic, yet only highlight the technique’s shortcomings. And having a film full of it doesn’t make it any better.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Tabu

This review is dedicated to Roger Ebert, who passed away on April 4, 2013.

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Miguel Gomes’ Tabu is an odd bird of a movie, and I will be forming my opinion on it as I write, as I really don’t have one at this time. What you are about to read is more of a journal entry than anything else, where I examine what I liked and didn’t like about it; you could probably equate this to the notes you see critics scribbling in their pads during movies, but in more of a monologue format. Tabu is a 2012 Portuguese film that’s just making its DC-area bow today at the Angelika in Merrifield, but is it worth a look? I’m inclined to say yes, and here’s why… storytelling.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Evil Dead

If you read nothing else of this review, know this: if you go see Evil Dead, you must stay all the way past the credits. There’s, shall we say… a little treat.
Now, onto the fun.

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Gorehounds, rejoice! For those of you who like your entrails, severed limbs, and blood effects hard and heavy, in copious amounts akin to what Peter Jackson did in Dead Alive, but you don’t want to sit through a “torture porn” flick, you have a new movie to champion: Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead, an update/remake of Sam Raimi’s cult classic, The Evil Dead. And for those of you who want a thoroughly uncomfortable, extremely disgusting, yet surprisingly fun movie to watch in theaters this weekend, you can’t go wrong with this movie. Make no mistake – this new incarnation of Evil Dead is a particularly nasty bit of business that the Catholic News Service will probably classify as “O – morally offensive,” and how the filmmakers were able to release this with an MPAA-sanctioned R-rating is even beyond me. But it’s getting released today in theaters nationwide, and there are some technical achievements that definitely need to be discussed, as well as the similarities and differences between the original and remake. Let’s get to it, shall we?
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MOVIE REVIEW: Admission

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What do you do when you’re watching a movie that doesn’t really challenge you, offend you, or do anything to provoke any kind of visceral response, yet manages to be sweet? This is the debate I’m having as I recount my thoughts about Admission. While stars Tina Fey and Paul Rudd have been in obviously edgier fare, this vanilla slice of I-don’t-know-what has me wondering about the eternal debate between enjoyable and non-recommendable. Or maybe it’s that one has to accept the film on its own terms and not for what one wishes it would be.
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MOVIE REVIEW: The Croods

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Of late, I noticed that our video collection is skewing more to the DreamWorks side of animated movies instead of Disney/Pixar. That’s not a slight against any other animation houses – it’s just that my 2-year-old seems to like Puss in Boots and How to Train Your Dragon more than others. To be fair, we’ve run Wreck-It Ralph and Cars by her, but she seems to like the other two better. So it’s no surprise that I took her to a screening of DreamWorks’ The Croods on an early Saturday morning, and what did she have to say about it? “I liked it.” And you know what? I liked it an awful lot, too.
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MOVIE REVIEW: War Witch

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Canada’s entry into the 2012 Oscar race, War Witch, is a stunning and frightening film. It’s frightening to me because in my world, when I see children in movies, they’re usually going on a treasure hunt, trying to rescue a Babe Ruth-signed ball from a gargantuan dog, or triumphantly overcoming abuse or something mildly scary. They don’t tote guns around and kill their parents, which is something we see in the first five minutes of War Witch. The world that protagonist Komona (Rachel Mwanza) comes from is a decidedly different world than mine, where children are plucked from their families and turned into soldiers and cannon fodder for anti-government rebels.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Harvest of Empire

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I have just finished watching Harvest of Empire; the final credits are rolling up the screen and I’m sitting here in stunned silence.
The American news really makes a big deal about our immigration problems here, yet a lot of our pundits and talking heads don’t know the full story, or don’t want to tell us the other side of things. The American people are fed a lot of generalization these days, relying only on what our 24-hour news cycle tells us – our borders are being invaded by Latinos who are only focused on making life here difficult for us and taking handouts and equal rights afforded to legal citizens of this country. However, how many of those people really know exactly why this is happening? How many of us know of our government’s meddling in the affairs of these South American countries that have made this situation the hot button topic that it has become? Harvest of Empire seeks to educate and perhaps tell the side of the story you may not have heard, or the side of the story the media at large doesn’t want you to know.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Stoker

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Director Park Chan-Wook has never been one to shy away from the darker side of the human psyche, as his cinematic output in his native Korea so readily shows. The most-known of his films to Western audiences, Oldboy, was based on a Japanese manga comic describing the life of a man’s cannily-laid plan of revenge, the final twist of which was rather shocking. With each movie, Park explores the places we’re too scared to go for fear of what we might find, and his first American release, Stoker, goes straight into this uncomfortable territory.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey

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In 1996, heavy metal band Judas Priest hired Tim “Ripper” Owens to be their lead singer, after former singer Rob Halford quit. This was dramatized in 2001’s Rock Star, directed by Stephen Herek, with the tagline stating it was “A story about a wannabe who got to be.” It’s a terrific notion: a lead singer of a popular band quits and leaves a nigh-unfillable void, only for someone to take up the mantle and do it his or her own way, resulting in resounding success. And we’ve all dreamt of being that person that fills that void. Another real-life example of this is documented in the new film Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey, where pop-rock band Journey finds a wonderful new frontman through that bastion of modern media exposure, YouTube.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Oz the Great and Powerful

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Few have dared to touch the legend set up by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1939 smash hit, The Wizard of Oz. With groundbreaking special effects and music recognizable the world over, it’s hard to even approach without somehow looking stupid for having done so. Walter Murch attempted a sequel in 1985 called Return to Oz, which made less than half its budget back in ticket sales; it has since gone on to become a cult classic. And now, 84 years after first seeing Judy Garland as Dorothy start off down the Yellow Brick Road, cult director favorite Sam Raimi has attempted his own addition to L. Frank Baum’s Oz mythos, Oz the Great and Powerful. Most viewers will see a plausible backstory for the Wizard; Raimi fans may see it as a mostly-harmless family entertainment remake of his 1992 film Army of Darkness.
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MOVIE REVIEW: 21 and Over

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Going into a movie like 21 and Over, which has been hyped as being from the writers of The Hangover, it’s obvious that you’re not going in to see a substance abuse movie like Leaving Las Vegas or Permanent Midnight. You’re there to see people acting like idiots and getting up to all kinds of shenanigans you probably could never imagine yourself getting into. 21 and Over delivers on that promise, and actually winds up being more of a serious movie than people think it’s going to be – it’s a more of a movie about societal, familial, and educational pressure.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Sound City

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There’s a lot to like about Dave Grohl. Drummer and musician extraordinaire, he seems to embody music to me; he knows just what to play and when to play it, be it on the drums or as a guitarist or otherwise. You know that when he’s involved with a project, excellence will always be heard. He also has a kind of “Holy crap, I get to do this for a living, so I’m going to make the best of it and enjoy every last minute of it” outlook on life, which makes him endearing and funny. It’s this brio, accompanied by his love of music and how it gets made, that shines through in his first directorial effort, the documentary Sound City. Focusing on the studio where his band Nirvana made the album that changed music forever, he takes us on a 31-year journey through Sound City’s history, meeting up with some of its notable alumni along the way.
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MOVIE REVIEW: A Good Day to Die Hard

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In 1979, author Roderick Thorp released a novel titled Nothing Lasts Forever, a story about ex-NYPD detective Joe Leland visiting his daughter in her high-rise office building during her Christmas party. The party is interrupted by terrorists with a heavy political agenda, and Leland uses his military and police training to eliminate the terrorist threat and save his daughter. Nine years later, this book was made into a fairly faithful film adaptation called Die Hard, renaming Leland as John McClane (Bruce Willis in his career-defining role), and changing the daughter of the novel into his wife. The claustrophobic pressures of the building and the tight, limited spaces keeping both McClane and the terrorists together kept Die Hard from being a rote action movie; instead, it was a wonderful, masterful suspense film – not quite Hitchcockian, but close enough for ‘80s movies. There was actual danger and a sense of dread, with the audience hanging on for dear life as McClane navigated his way through what must have been the most horrific night of his life. We felt for him when he had to walk across broken glass to escape a firefight, when he got shot, or when he had to confess that he hasn’t been the best person in the world to his wife. He was an underdog hero in the unlikeliest of situations, and audiences ate it up, with Die Hard becoming a beloved staple of American cinema.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Stand Up Guys (the straightforward version)

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The harsh realities of getting old are something that everyone has to deal with. What you don’t hear about a lot in movies is the notion of aging gangsters. I believe the oldest cinematic gangster the world saw was probably brought to you by Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in 1972’s The Godfather, or it may have been his son Michael in The Godfather Part III. Due to the lifestyle, it seems to be rare that gangsters reach old age. Stand Up Guys finally exposes a possibility that few have dared to tackle: what if gangsters were lucky enough to turn 70 or older?
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MOVIE REVIEW / LIVEBLOG: Stand Up Guys

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Let’s try something different, shall we? Welcome to the first liveblog movie recap/review on Reel Film News. As RFN has been granted screening access by the studio for Stand Up Guys on our home computers, this will be written as the movie plays. I’ll be sure to leave out all the twists, but for the most part, my reactions to the film will be going up as I watch it. I probably will never do this again; I just want to say that I tried it at least once.
A quick review for those of you who don’t want to read this: this movie is fun. It’s got wonderful performances by Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, and Addison Timlin. The soundtrack is funky, too, alternating between soul, funk, and blues rock, with some new acoustic-tinged numbers by Jon Bon Jovi. Stand Up Guys won’t change your world, but it was fun to watch. I wouldn’t mind seeing this one again.

HEAVY SPOILERS LIE AHEAD AFTER THE JUMP. PROCEED AT YOUR OWN RISK. ONCE AGAIN, THIS IS A LIVEBLOG OF THE FILM STAND UP GUYS, RELEASING NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2013. A FULL REVIEW WILL BE UP SEPARATE OF THIS LIVEBLOG LATER TODAY.
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MOVIE REVIEW: Bullet to the Head

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My initial reaction to Bullet to the Head was something along the lines of “it’s not meant to be Lawrence of Arabia, but it’s entertaining. It was fun.” However, after ruminating on it a few days, the film’s racist humor (and the audience reaction to it) started to get to me, and it left me rather cold; I thought I needed to examine why I’m about to give this movie the grade that follows. Bullet to the Head seems to be another in a long line of big-budget, should’ve-been-released-on-cable movies with large name actors at the helm. Sure, it’s a fun, retro, 80s-style action movie with updated gore effects (it certainly earns its title well), and it’s only 91 minutes long.
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Movie Review – Movie 43

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Peter Farrelly has truly outdone himself. Following up 2012’s Crater Lake of a box office bomb, The Three Stooges, Farrelly is one of the producers of the estimated $6m fuster-cluck Movie 43. An ambitious project, Movie 43 tries to do the impossible. It tried and succeeded in  making a feature length film with seemingly no script, direction, plot or, cognitive thought. With 11 directors, over 16 writers and featuring a cast of dozens; Movie 43 fails at every level of existance. Continue reading “Movie Review – Movie 43”

MOVIE REVIEW: Beware of Mr. Baker

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Sometime in the early 1990s, when I was just starting to play the drums, a close friend of my father’s gave me a tape by a band called Cream with a track called “Toad” on it. His instructions were to listen to that track very closely; I had no idea what the song was or who was in this band, but I gave it a shot. As it turns out, “Toad” was a five-minute drum solo by Cream’s drummer, Ginger Baker. This went far above any rock drumming I’ve ever heard, as I’d never really thought that jazz solos could be incorporated into solos by a rock drummer. “Toad” is one of Ginger Baker’s most famous compositions, and to hear it kick off the new documentary Beware of Mr. Baker brought a smile to my face. I’d never known who Ginger Baker was, much less what he looked like, much less what he looked like while playing the drums; this engaging documentary fills in those blanks… and then some.
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MOVIE REVIEW: The Last Stand

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Here’s my thing about The Last Stand: it wants to be AWESOME without first being good. All the materials necessary to making an unforgettable movie are there – Arnold Schwarzenegger’s return to the big screen in a lead role, prankster Johnny Knoxville’s own brand of mischief, pretty girls, and some ridiculous gun battles and explosions. Yet, none of it is used to any great extent, except for what feel like token insertions into the film. What winds up onscreen is a very decent made-for-cable movie with a larger-than-cable budget, without any of the gore or swearing censored. Maybe it’s because of the marketing that I was led to believe that this would be a kind of buddy-cop movie with Schwarzenegger playing straight man to Knoxville’s typical idiot; at least, that’s kind of the movie I was hoping for. Instead, The Last Stand comes off a little like a smaller-budgeted version of 2003’s S.W.A.T., almost down to the last betrayal and villain’s hairstyle.
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