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Bargain Bin: $5 a Day by D. B. Bates – September 24, 2010
What a setup: in a single day, Flynn (Alessandro Nivola, perhaps most recognizable from his turn in 2005’s Junebug) loses his job, loses his girlfriend (Amanda Peet), and learns his con-artist father, Nat (Christopher Walken), may be dying of brain cancer. Left with no one to turn to, Flynn reluctantly reenters Nat’s life, and what follows is a combination of a father-son bonding movie and a road movie. Unfortunately, neither movie is particularly good despite Walken’s always-welcome presence.

In Theatres: ‘Tamara Drewe’ by Matt Wedge – November 12, 2010
Stephen Frears has proved to be a consistent and versatile director in his long career. Moving comfortably from crime dramas to romantic comedies to westerns to period pieces, he has had some great career highs with films like Dangerous Liaisons, The Grifters, High Fidelity, and Dirty Pretty Things and very few outright misfires (Mary Reilly). Unfortunately, ‘Tamara Drewe’ comes very close to falling in the misfire category.

Cannon Corner: 10 to Midnight by Matt Wedge – February 14, 2011
Obviously, I have an affection for Cannon films. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t bother taking part in this column. But their attempts to cash in on popular genres and knockoffs of bigger budgeted fare led to far more misses than hits. You can understand why I expected a film that plugged Charles Bronson into a Dirty Harry-esque scenario would be nothing more than Paul Kersey from the Death Wish films with a badge. But 10 to Midnight defies expectations, delivering a solid procedural with surprising twists and grounded, believable characters.

In Theatres: 127 Hours by Mark Dujsik – November 5, 2010
He tests the rock with his foot — solid — and begins to climb down. The stone gives, and he falls, desperately grasping at the sides to slow himself down. He hits the bottom. The rock crushes his right hand and half of his forearm and pins them to the side. The camera pulls back to a medium shot — the wall, the rock, and his face — and the title finally arrives in silence. Here we are with Aron, drastically pulled out of the highs of his trip and into shock.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: 127 Hours by Mark Dujsik – October 13, 2010
He tests the rock with his foot — solid — and begins to climb down. The stone gives, and he falls, desperately grasping at the sides to slow himself down. He hits the bottom. The rock crushes his right hand and half of his forearm and pins them to the side. The camera pulls back to a medium shot — the wall, the rock, and his face — and the title finally arrives in silence. Here we are with Aron, drastically pulled out of the highs of his trip and into shock.

Sequelitis: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days by D. B. Bates – February 2, 2011
To its credit, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days starts with another brilliant premise to exploit — the polar (pun intended) opposite of the first film. Instead of setting the film in a land of eternal darkness, the filmmakers move the location to sunny Los Angeles. What a great idea — putting the vampires on the defensive instead of the offensive, forcing them into hiding in much the same way humans were forced into hiding in the first film. Considering it follows a ragtag group of vampire hunters, this could have been a great opportunity to explore a moral gray area — have the hunters leveled the playing field by forcing all the vampires to clump together in easily destroyed nests, or have they turned into the same sort of monsters? Do the filmmakers make clever use of this incongruous setting? Nope! The vast majority of this film takes place entirely at night, and with the exception of an unintentionally comical scene in which vampires (looking like pale extras from The Matrix) are flushed out using high-intensity UV lamps, there’s not a single reference to the sun.

On Cable: 40 Days and 40 Nights by Mark Dujsik – February 4, 2011
Matt’s (Josh Hartnett) idea is to take sex off the table in observation of Lent (but mainly to get over an ex-girlfriend) and — surprise — ends up spending the entire forty days discussing why he isn’t having sex, what else he can do besides having sex, and, generally, sex (in the same way he says he’s over the girl but keeps bringing up how he’s so over her). Screenwriter Rob Perez tries to excuse it as the elephant in the room a person can’t stop thinking about because they’re purposefully trying to avoid it, but 40 Days and 40 Nights is all the more tedious for its one-track mind.

On Cable: 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag by Mark Dujsik – January 21, 2011
The middle and late 1990s saw a decent number of dark comedies — or, at least, an increase in critics using the terms “dark comedy” or “black comedy” whenever a movie tackled a serious subject with any bit of bite. Then there’s something like 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, which revolves around — you guessed it — a duffel bag full of eight decapitated heads and figures that alone is enough.

On Cable: National Lampoon Presents Dorm Daze by Hanna Soltys – January 14, 2011
Dorm Daze is equivalent to taking some of your favorite 1990s stars and making them fifth-year seniors who live in a dorm that looks like a frat house. It’s completely unrealistic in every sense, from the stereotyping of characters to the dorm rooms to the laundry room to the kitchen.

In Theatres: A-Team, The by Kyle Kogan – June 30, 2010
Joe Carnahan, director of The A-Team, apparently has much affection for Michael Bay. He has an affinity for snappy comedic dialogue, hyper-kinetic editing, loose insubstantial plots, and prefers a fiery explosion to a moment of true emotion. The A-Team features all these aforementioned characteristics, but they in no way detract from its appeal. This is a summer blockbuster through and through. Most moviegoers expect visceral action over emotion when it comes to summertime popcorn fare, and this film is no exception.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Abacus and Sword [Bushi no Kakeibo] by D. B. Bates – October 20, 2010
Finally, a movie for Tea Partiers to enjoy! Abacus and Sword weaves a tale of fiscal responsibility and the importance of good accounting practices in an increasingly modern world. To my surprise, it also stars Masato Sakai, who starred as Aoyagi in Golden Slumber. Seeing these two performances from the same actor, within a few weeks of each other, has convinced me Sakai is an incredible actor worthy of international acclaim. The film itself does not quite live up to Sakai’s performance, but it does overcome some third act lagging to deliver one of the most poignant endings I’ve seen in a very long time.

On Cable: About Last Night… by Matt Wedge – January 21, 2011
After forty-five minutes, watching the film begins to feel like channel surfing between a challenging indie drama and a bad ’80s sitcom. The incongruity is painfully obvious and jarring.

On Cable: Accidental Tourist, The by Hanna Soltys – September 24, 2010
It’s no accident how entertaining, awkward, confusing, and funny The Accidental Tourist is. With quirky characters and bizarre relationships, it’s hard to walk away from despite the weak script.

On Cable: Adventures of Ford Fairlane, The by D. B. Bates – February 4, 2011
Silver made a valiant effort, hiring director Renny Harlin (who helmed Silver’s incomparably silly Die Hard 2 the same year) and trenchant satirist Daniel Waters (Heathers, Hudson Hawk) to salvage a script about a “rock ‘n’ roll detective.” They attempted to turn it into a sublimely silly action-comedy, and at some points they succeed, but they’re consistently held back by Andrew “Dice” Clay.

On Cable: Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother, The by Andrew Good – October 8, 2010
Gene Wilder seems destined to be defined by Willy Wonka. That’s no great sin, but it’s a shame people forget just how ripe the ’70s were for him, when he appeared in a succession of smart comedies that played off his type, freakish as it was (and is) among Hollywood leading men. Nervy, cartoonish, yet doe-eyed and vulnerable, he cut a figure that really hasn’t been replicated since.

In Theatres: Agora by Mark Dujsik – July 23, 2010
There is no denying the modern parallels of Agora, partially the story of the teacher, philosopher, and astronomer Hypatia (Rachel Weisz), who lived and taught in Alexandria during the upswing of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Her life and work is a bit of a historical mystery, and so is her death — although the basics are pretty much agreed upon by contemporary and later accounts. What is known is that she studied the stars and was killed by a group of Christians because of her perceived influence over a state official. One side finds the blame on them, the other on her.

On Cable: Air America by Matt Wedge – September 24, 2010
What that good movie will not be is what Air America became: a film that wants to be a Looney Tunes cartoon featuring rebellious pilot hijinks that also scolds the U.S. government in a self-righteous manner for its ethical shortcomings in a questionable war. With one foot in each style of filmmaking, director Roger Spottiswoode never commits to either tone and the film fails to make an impact as either one.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: All Good Children by Hanna Soltys – November 2, 2010
In her debut feature film, director and writer Alicia Duffy gives a whole new meaning to obsession and, in turn, puppy love.

In Theatres: All Good Things by D. B. Bates – December 25, 2010
Like too many works of speculative “true crime” fiction, All Good Things focuses far too much on the questions of what and how, and virtually none on the why. Aside from its abuse of obvious pop-psychology tropes and truly bizarre leaps in logic by way of explanation, the film spends very little time or effort trying to demonstrate what really makes David tick. Rob Simonsen’s pounding, Herrmann-esque score tries to turn his misdeeds into acts of horrific suspense, but director Andrew Jarecki undermines the attempted suspense with deliberately fuzzy storytelling.

On Cable: All the Right Moves by D. B. Bates – August 6, 2010
All the Right Moves has all the earmarks of a sports movie, but it isn’t one. It’s telling that the epic football game usually saved for the climactic sequence occurs in the middle of the film. The ragtag, diverse students populating the team have already learned to work together and support each other. Although it falls into some of the trappings of the teen-angst genre, All the Right Moves defies clichés at almost every turn.

The Academy of the Overrated: American Beauty by D. B. Bates – December 24, 2010
Upon its initial release, three things about American Beauty stood out: Kevin Spacey’s fantastic performance, Conrad Hall’s breathtaking yet eerie cinematography, and Sam Mendes’s lyrical direction. I liked the film when I initially saw it, and it stuck with me enough to make it one of my first DVD purchases in 2000 (though it helped that the price was steeply discounted). Oddly, it’s a film I liked enough to own at the time but never contemplated rewatching in the intervening 10 years, until about six months ago. I thought, I haven’t seen this in some time. I’ll check it out and see how it holds up. The short answer: It doesn’t.

On Cable: American Me by Mark Dujsik – July 9, 2010
This is a curt film about the appeal of the criminal life — the familial, if delicate, bond amongst the gang and the lure of power and respect — and the unending cycle of violence to which it inherently contributes. American Me loses its sureness when it leaves jail, but it is, nonetheless, effective overall.

On Cable: American Rhapsody, An by Hanna Soltys – September 3, 2010
Growing up is hard. Then, throw in the Cold War, new parents, a foreign land (and language), and teen years. An American Rhapsody documents the life of a baby, Suzanne (Scarlett Johansson), after her parents flee Hungary upon the arrival of the Cold War. Suzanne’s sister Maria (played at various stages by Mae Whitman, Emmy Rossum, and Larisa Oleynik) escapes with their parents, as well, but since Suzanne is a newborn, her parents arrange for a different route to get her to America.

In Theatres: American, The by Mark Dujsik – September 1, 2010
Rowan Joffe’s screenplay (based on the more appropriately titled novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth) is basically little more than a career criminal on one last job. The important part is that he is unaware of that fact, while we can sense it almost from the start.

In Theatres: And Soon the Darkness by D. B. Bates – December 22, 2010
It comes close to greatness but misses the mark as a result of some clumsy foreshadowing and director/co-writer Marcos Efron emphasizing the film’s familiar plot rather than its unique, fairly compelling characters. Still, it’s a slick film with gorgeous locations, a capable cast, and at least one interesting twist.

On Cable: Angel Heart by Kyle Kogan – November 19, 2010
Angel Heart kept me up late last night. Not many films have this effect on me, but this is a stark exception. The film is both mysterious and horrific, pairing a winding detective tale with underlying themes of religion, dark magic, and the power of evil.

In Theatres: Animal Kingdom by Matt Wedge – September 17, 2010
Animal Kingdom is an Australian film that operates as a highly effective look at a dysfunctional family slowly destroying itself. The fact that the family is comprised of armed robbers, drug dealers, and psychopathic murderers is almost beside the point. This family, even if they strictly obeyed the law, never stood a chance of surviving in the dark world presented.

On Cable: Antibody by Mark Dujsik – October 29, 2010
In terms of the slew of low-budget, direct-to-video or basic cable science-fiction rip-offs (a.k.a., homages), the script for Antibody isn’t too mind-numbingly dumb. The special effects aren’t that shoddy. And its star Lance Henriksen isn’t showing an abundance of disdain for the material by making a face in every scene that says,”I’m only here for the paycheck.”

On Cable: Armed and Dangerous by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Armed and Dangerous opens with two very funny sequences that it never quite lives up to. In the first, beat cop Frank Dooley (John Candy) catches some LAPD detectives robbing an electronics store. When he refuses to cooperate with the theft, they arrest him as the fall guy for their crimes. In the second, inept public defender Norman Kane (Eugene Levy) tries to get out of defending a Manson-like psychopath with the world’s worst plea bargain (“In exchange for a guilty plea, we will accept a life sentence with no opportunity for parole”).

On Cable: Article 99 by Kyle Kogan – February 18, 2011
Article 99 is a really bad movie, but it can be enjoyed under the pretense that inherent within is a truly ludicrous story with outlandish situations, zero note characters, shoddy sets, and bleeding-heart moralism sappy enough to send you into a shudder.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Asleep in the Sun [Dormir al Sol] by D. B. Bates – October 9, 2010
Surrealism is a tricky thing. There’s an incredibly fine line that an artist must walk in order to achieve an end product that combines dream-like logic with heady, symbolic imagery. Play things too “weird for weird’s sake,” and you risk alienating the audience. Play things too real, and you risk a film that’s filled with an assortment of inexplicable character changes and plot twists that are explained away with the shrug of dream-like strangeness. Asleep in the Sun, for all its ambition and beautiful imagery, walks the line but stumbles a little too much to fully achieve its goals.

DVD Insanity: Assault of the Sasquatch by Matt Wedge – November 29, 2010
I couldn’t get past the fact that the missing link costume in a movie almost forty years old, that was made to look intentionally cheesy, could look more realistic than the Sasquatch suit in a modern film. Yes, I realize that the filmmakers had next to no money to shoot their Sasquatch magnum opus, but when featuring the creature so prominently, they could have spent at least a little money on a suit that didn’t look like a gorilla suit at a cut-rate costume shop.

On Cable: Audrey Rose by Kyle Kogan – September 24, 2010
While this story lacks the oomph that The Exorcist had, it only becomes worse when the proceedings devolve into a court case about the preeminence of philosophy and reincarnation in law.

On Cable: Author! Author! by Andrew Good – August 20, 2010
The Brady Bunch this is not. Still, Author! Author! is surprisingly sentimental. It’s a story that acknowledges the orphans of divorce, kids abandoned by adults acting like kids. That’s not to say that its lead, played by Al Pacino, is a paragon of maturity. On the contrary, he’s a misfit like them, determined to shield them further from the disaster areas of the grown-up world, while fighting to keep his own head above water.

On Cable: Babette’s Feast by Kyle Kogan – October 15, 2010
The human spirit, while unbreakable, is endlessly pliable. Though often we may remain obstinate on the surface and stay true to our mind’s narrow focus, our hearts often paint in much broader strokes. The film Babette’s Feast examines this concept, shedding light on the enigma that is pious asceticism and how this way of life can alter when faced with the reality that life is very different outside one’s own manifested shells.

On Cable: Bachelor Party by Kyle Kogan – July 16, 2010
Bachelor Party is the epitome of schlock-cinema. It is chock full of continuity errors, shoddy match frames, club-inspired beats, and truly god-awful wardrobe. This film was released in 1984 and it exudes all the qualities that make cheesy ’80s films so enjoyable to watch (including these previously mentioned shortcomings).

DVD Insanity: Bad Biology by Matt Wedge – November 10, 2010
It’s incredibly hard to write about a film like Bad Biology in a tasteful manner without sounding like I’m talking around certain subjects. Since I don’t want to play coy about some of the more explicit subject matter, I will just urge anyone who is easily offended by overtly sexual discussions to stop reading. After all, if you’re bothered by my fairly dry descriptions of what happens in a movie that is soaked in sexual imagery, you’re not going to be interested in watching the film.

On Cable: Bad Medicine by D. B. Bates – November 19, 2010
Aside from having deceptively strong, believable characters played by a cast of ringers, Bad Medicine finds another major strength in its portrayal of medical school. Obviously, things at M.U.M. are patently absurd, but Miller gets the finer details right: A small group of students spending the majority of their time together, developing trust and deeper relationships than is typically portrayed in raucous “college” movies.

Bargain Bin: Badge, The by Matt Wedge – January 7, 2011
I’ve always felt that the true test of an actor is how well they hold up in a bad film. In a good film, with a solid script and capable direction, an actor can coast and let the material carry them. I’m not saying that actors do that; I just feel an accomplished director and a skilled editor can mask a lot of the faults of a weak performance and make an actor look better than he or she actually is. When an actor can single-handedly save a film from a bad script and an incompetent director and make it, if not good, at least watchable, that speaks volumes to me about their ability. Such is the case with Billy Bob Thornton and The Badge.

Cannon Corner: Barfly by D. B. Bates – January 31, 2011
It’s a small story focused on only a handful of characters, but Schroeder was absolutely the right choice to direct. Working with Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller (probably best known for shooting most of Jim Jarmusch’s films), Schroeder — like Bukowski’s writing — finds the beauty and poetry in the dive bars where much of the film’s action takes place. Every moment set in or around a bar looks like an Edward Hopper painting, giving otherwise dingy locales such glamor that would drive even the world’s biggest teetotaler to start drinking, just to be a part of it.

In Theatres: Barney’s Version by Mark Dujsik – January 21, 2011
The movie is so intent on wallowing along in Barney’s misery that it bypasses the only chapter of his life in which he might have been content, if not happy, with a photographic montage — watching as his kids grow up and ending with a smiling family portrait. Ultimately, even those kids can’t muster any positive feeling for the old man — one hates him, the other can only pity his lonely state. It is a story full of drunken encounters and long drags on countless cigars, told by a bitter man, signifying despair.

On Cable: Beautiful Girls by Hanna Soltys – February 11, 2011
Beautiful Girls is more than just girls to gawk at on the screen. It’s a look inside the lives of friends, and the way girls shape their lives, from helping the boys figure out their life’s worth and purpose to keeping them warm during the winter months. It’s touching, and most importantly, it’s real.

On Cable: Before and After by Matt Wedge – February 4, 2011
How well do you know your child? If they did something awful, how far would you go to protect them, not only from outside forces, but from themselves? These are the intriguing questions that the gripping first act of Before and After sets up. Unfortunately, with a muddled second act, the film loses sight of these questions and quickly sinks into overwrought territory that’s marred by maudlin speeches and silly handwringing.

On Cable: Beguiled, The by Matt Wedge – December 10, 2010
From 1968-1980, legendary director Don Siegel averaged one film per year. When you look at even the busiest of current studio directors, that’s a pace that no one seems up to matching. That so many of those films were quite good speaks volumes about Siegel’s no-frills style of filmmaking. In 1971, he made two very different films with Clint Eastwood: Dirty Harry and The Beguiled. For both director and star, Dirty Harry was a film in their comfort zone. But The Beguiled may go down as the oddest vehicle either of them took on.

On Cable: Believer, The by Hanna Soltys – December 10, 2010
It’s hard not to like Ryan Gosling. Even as a drugged-up teacher in Half Nelson, you still felt a pull toward him. The Believer is no exception. Had another actor assumed the role of neo-Nazi Danny Balint, you might not enjoy the movie. The fact that Gosling captivates you from the beginning makes you intrigued throughout the film, which at times is a bit hard to watch.

On Cable: Benny & Joon by Hanna Soltys – August 13, 2010
When a movie leaves you feeling content, full and warm, you know you just saw a fantastic film. Benny & Joon does all of the above — plus, it leaves you with songs stuck in your head and a laugh-out-loud Johnny Depp performance.

Best-Of Lists: Best Films of 2010, The by Matt Wedge – January 28, 2011
Winter’s BoneNot just the best thriller/crime story/ character study of the year — Winter’s Bone is the best movie of the year. Jennifer Lawrence gives a star-making performance that is heartbreaking and inspiring in even measure. But it’s John Hawkes who does…

Best-Of Lists: Best Films of 2010, The by Hanna Soltys – January 28, 2011
Toy Story 3It’s hard to believe the we first met Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the toys fifteen years ago. This third and final installment of the widely popular series is, of course, an emotional one. We see Andy…

Best-Of Lists: Best Films of 2010, The by Josh Medcalf – January 28, 2011
The Social NetworkWhether you see it as a glorification of internet entrepreneurship, or a scathing criticism of social media and its greater implications on our rapidly changing society, you can’t deny that at its most basic level, The Social Network…

Best-Of Lists: Best Films of 2010, The by D. B. Bates – January 28, 2011
LebanonTry as I might, I did not see a better film this year than Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon. A cinematic gut-punch depicting the atrocities of war through the perspective of four terrified young soldiers, the film says more about the nature…

Best-Of Lists: Best Films of 2010, The by Kyle Kogan – January 28, 2011
127 HoursThis was a very controversial film, and understandably so. It features a sequence that transcends explanation. It’s ground-breaking in it’s graphic depictions, but it’s part of what makes the film so perfect. This story of a man pinned between…

On Cable: Big Girls Don’t Cry… They Get Even by Hanna Soltys – December 3, 2010
If Ferris Bueller had been a girl and four years younger, he would have starred in Big Girls Don’t Cry…They Get Even. Along with other stylistic quirks, the characters talking to the camera is oddly reminiscent of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Unlike that teen classic, this film is a bit hokey, suffering from stereotypical characters and a script with little depth, but it’s still surprisingly enjoyable.

On Cable: Big Kahuna, The by Mark Dujsik – August 20, 2010
The Big Kahuna is little more than a filmed stage play, with a few flashes of the characters’ imaginations, some dialogue-free cuts away to what the characters are talking about, and a lot of extras for a party scene, but there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

On Cable: Bird on a Wire by Matt Wedge – July 2, 2010
Roughly seventy minutes into Bird on a Wire, a helicopter crashes into a mess of shrieking metal but doesn’t explode. For one second, I was congratulating the film on avoiding at least one cliché. Then the helicopter exploded. A better capsule of what went wrong with the film would be hard to find. Given every opportunity to do something different with a familiar genre, the filmmakers tease the audience with the promise of something fresh and then settle for the routine.

On Cable: Black Christmas by Kyle Kogan – December 24, 2010
Director Bob Clark really ratchets up the tension by disallowing the viewer any insight into the killer’s motives or physical characteristics. He just exists, killing off girls, one by one.

On Cable: Black Christmas by Josh Medcalf – December 24, 2010
In Black Christmas, dimwitted victims impale themselves on sharpened candy canes, ornaments, and icicles, thankfully purging themselves from the human gene pool, all to a traditional holiday playlist. I have a sneaking suspicion that the movie was designed with the idea that its viewers would take bets on which characters bit it, and in which order.

On Cable: Black Irish by Matt Wedge – July 30, 2010
I have long suspected that the only reason independent American films about unhappy, working-class families are set in places like Long Island, South Boston, and the Southside of Chicago is so they can attract actors who really want to do an accent, but can’t pull off playing a Brit. Black Irish is just more evidence to confirm my suspicions.

In Theatres: Black Swan by Kyle Kogan – December 10, 2010
Ballet, an art of grace and subtlety, is the subject of Darren Aronofsky’s seminal film Black Swan.  While it most certainly is a gorgeous film, it by no means is graceful or subtle.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Blame by Hanna Soltys – October 27, 2010
As the tagline says, when committing murder, you can’t make any mistakes. Alas, our young hoodlums have made a slip-up one could only make in the 21st century. And it is only when the twenty-somethings return to Bernard’s home that things really start to heat up and take shape. You learn, as all young people do during most intense situations, nothing is as it seems and secret after secret starts surfacing.

On Cable: Blind Fury by Matt Wedge – February 4, 2011
It’s only through the benefit of distance that we’re allowed to see what a nutty time the late ’80s were when it comes to movies. How else to explain the collision of incompatible elements that make up the curiosity piece known as Blind Fury?

Cannon Corner: Bloodsport by D. B. Bates – February 4, 2011
Bloodsport ostensibly exists to dramatize the real-life exploits of martial artist Frank Dux (played in the film by Jean-Claude Van Damme), but it actually exists to show us 70 minutes of martial-arts fighting with 15 minutes of filler like plot and characters. As a stunt sequence delivery system, it succeeds admirably. As a film, it doesn’t quite hang together the way it should.

On Cable: Bloody Mama by Kyle Kogan – September 3, 2010
What could have been a grotesquely fascinating foray into the depths of insanity instead turns out to be a toneless, motionless series of anti-climactic vignettes. Fortunately, the off-the-wall performances stand out as the film’s saving grace.

On Cable: Blue Steel by Hanna Soltys – July 9, 2010
Thanks to The Hurt Locker cleaning up at the 2010 Academy Awards, director Kathryn Bigelow has become a household name. Naturally, one would be excited to see one of Bigelow’s earliest films. Unfortunately, Blue Steel didn’t live up to my expectations. The script drags and stalls, and Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a heroine I had trouble feeling sorry for.

In Theatres: Blue Valentine by Matt Wedge – January 21, 2011
It’s among the cruelest tricks that Cianfrance pulls that the worse things get for Dean and Cindy in the present, the happier they get in the flashbacks. As frustration and contempt spill forth from the couple over behaviors the other exhibits, we are shown how those same traits attracted them to each other in the first place.

On Cable: Body Snatchers by Kyle Kogan – October 29, 2010
These scenes are very strong and have a very Lynchian-vibe to them. There seems to be some psychosexual motif inherent in these scenes, and it has to be seen to be believed. It shows a side of Ferrera that is mostly absent from his other features. Scary, eclectic, and awesome in equal measures.

Script to Screen: Book of Eli, The by D. B. Bates – July 16, 2010
The script takes its time establishing the world and the characters before descending into an orgy of well-written, deeply satisfying violence. While on the run from Carnegie, Eli and Solara develop a sweet, father-daughter relationship. The writers wisely keep this far, far away from anything romantic, a refreshing change of pace.

On Cable: Boston Strangler, The by Kyle Kogan – January 28, 2011
The film was made in 1968 but it shows no signs of aging. The story is often told in split screen, or better yet, multi-screen. Often, we as an audience get to witness a scene or a sequence of scenes from two to six points of view, so I truly mean it when I say if you look away you might miss something.

Script to Screen: Box, The by D. B. Bates – October 8, 2010
Name-checking philosophers and/or philosophical works is too easy, and that’s exactly why The Box annoyed me when I read it last year. Those of you who have seen the movie — and hopefully that’s all of you, since this article will be loaded with spoilers — will know exactly what I’m talking about: No Exit, Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential play that’s either about a ménage à trois gone horribly awry, or purgatory. In the finished film, Norma (Cameron Diaz) is shown teaching this to a class and having some sort of indistinct involvement in a school production of a play. It’s shifted much more to the background in the film than in the screenplay, which introduces it in the most random possible way and then turns it into the lynchpin of the entire story.

Movie Defender: Box, The by Matt Wedge – October 1, 2010
When people ask me about writer-director Richard Kelly’s films, my advice is unfailingly consistent: Donnie Darko is a masterpiece, Southland Tales is to be avoided at all costs, and The Box takes an insanely unfair amount of scorn for a film that creates such a brilliantly realized tone of inevitable doom.

Cannon Corner: Braddock: Missing in Action III by D. B. Bates – December 31, 2010
The similarities between the three Missing in Action films made me feel like I’d witnessed the evolution of art (if one can call a Chuck Norris trilogy art). Remember that the production sequence went two, one, three. In that order, each film gets successively better as it moves away from wanton, meaningless violence and closer to something like a resonant emotional core. In Missing in Action (the “second” film made), Braddock’s guilt fuels his vengeance. In Braddock…, screenwriter Norris and longtime collaborator James Bruner give him a wife and child — something worth fighting for.

On Cable: Breaker! Breaker! by Kyle Kogan – November 12, 2010
Breaker! Breaker! is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It’s one of those films that’s so bad that it transcends reality, breaching a level of terrible rarely achieved by accident. I think the crew tried to make this film stupid, because something this phenomenally awful had to take serious thought.

Cannon Corner: Breakin’ by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Ultimately, nothing matters but the dancing. If you like break-dancing (I don’t), you’ll love this movie. The choreography is great, the dance sequences are well-shot (especially compared to the amateurish blocking during normal scenes), and the soundtrack is annoyingly toe-tapping.

Cannon Corner: Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Sequels are all about raising the stakes, and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo does exactly that. In fact, it’s virtually identical to the first Breakin’, only with a sillier plot and crazier dance sequences. It also retains its predecessor’s sense of pure glee, preventing the movie from feeling like the crass cash-in it actually is.

On Cable: Broadcast News by Josh Medcalf – January 14, 2011
At its most basic level, it’s an in-depth exploration into how a fast-paced network newsroom operates. Writer, director, and producer James L. Brooks perfectly captures the rush of developing and delivering a great news story.

Movie Defender: Broken Lizard’s Club Dread by Matt Wedge – February 25, 2011
The result was a film that was funny without going for the obvious jokes that the Scary Movie franchise had already poached numerous times over. But critics bashed its straight-faced approach to comedy and audiences stayed away in droves, turned off by bad word-of-mouth that the film was just as much a horror film as it was a comedy.

On Cable: Brubaker by Andrew Good – August 6, 2010
Brubaker aims to bring the story to wider audiences while also serving as an “issues” movie. It’s a sickening depiction of what happens when foxes mind a henhouse, but is often too preoccupied with delivering its prison reform message to offer characters that are more than archetypes.

In Theatres: Buried by Mark Dujsik – September 24, 2010
Buried never cheats. It seems a simple thing to point out but is vitally important to the film’s success. Here is the story of a man, buried alive in a barebones wooden coffin, that does not once leave him. Somehow, director Rodrigo Cortés works a notch below minimalism.

In Theatres: Burlesque by Mark Dujsik – November 24, 2010
Burlesque is completely, totally, madly in love with itself, and that’s fine because only a few will admit to mildly liking certain parts of it. I am not one of them, even though I could kind of, sort of tolerate a couple of the dance numbers, if only because it stopped what passes for a plot from moving and the characters from talking for a few minutes.

On Cable: CQ by Mark Dujsik – January 28, 2011
It’s almost impossible to discuss writer/director Roman Coppola’s first and — at this point — only feature without bringing up at least three other films. CQ wears its influences and homage on its sleeve.

On Cable: Candyman by Kyle Kogan – October 29, 2010
This makes for a very interesting concept: Like the gods and demons that many people believe in, these urban legends are entities that are made real by collectively concentrated thought. Is Candyman a true phantom that scours the greater Chicago area, killing with his hook, or is he merely a mix of blind faith and tall tale? No one can know for sure, as those who have “seen” him lay dead on the floor in pieces of bone and gore.

On Cable: Capricorn One by Mark Dujsik – July 2, 2010
Just after the “Mars landing,” the camera pulls back from a close-up of the glare of the astronaut’s helmet, so we can see the lander, casting an odd shadow against the Martian sky, and then the stage lights and a crew member of the set. It would have been a great reveal shot, except Capricorn One has already informed us that the event belongs in quotation marks. Perhaps the most influential bearer of bringing the moon landing hoax conspiracies into the relative mainstream, the movie tells the tale of a faked expedition to Mars by NASA, which has been watching its ratings drop after the moon started to bore people who wrote to complain that I Love Lucy reruns were canceled.

In Theatres: Carlos by D. B. Bates – October 23, 2010
I’ve said it before: docudramas and biopics are tough. Too frequently, they either skim the surface of real-life events or, in their quest to give an inherently uncinematic story a three-act structure, fictionalize it to the point that it shouldn’t actually qualify as fact-based. To that end, Carlos has two advantages over the typical biopic/docudrama: it doesn’t try to perpetuate myths about its subjects, and it has the luxury of a five-and-a-half hour runtime. Ironically, though, it’s a bit too long.

In Theatres: Casino Jack by D. B. Bates – December 17, 2010
Such is the overall problem with Casino Jack, which tries very hard to make a light, quirky comedy out of information that should enrage and disgust its audience. It’s too much like a movie to feel like anything we’re watching is true, but it’s too much like a docudrama to have the depth and nuance found in high-quality drama. A shallow portrait of a man the film alleges is shallow (though it reveals the occasional detail, which it subsequently tries to undermine, that shows him as much more complex than anyone involved in this film gives him credit for) may seem thematically appropriate, but it’s not very compelling.

On Cable: Casualties of War by D. B. Bates – December 10, 2010
What could possibly make the police action in Vietnam more unpalatable? How about the kidnap, repeated rape, and eventual murder of an innocent Vietnamese girl? Inspired by “the incident on hill 192,” Brian De Palma’s great film Casualties of War dramatizes one such stomach-churning story.

In Theatres: Catfish by Hanna Soltys – September 17, 2010
You can’t just give away too much on this documentary as the twists and turns make this film what it is: eye-opening and amazing. I sat in the theatre with my mouth open in disbelief for at least half of it, and I want you to have the same reactions.

In Theatres: Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore by Mark Dujsik – July 30, 2010
The negatives of Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore are a bit too obvious, so perhaps it’s best to begin in a lenient mood of defense. This is a sequel that well surpasses the original, although if one takes into consideration the predecessor, that should set the bar for trumping pretty low.

Sequelitis: Cell 2, The by Matt Wedge – December 31, 2010
This is just one of the many lapses in logic presented by the film’s four (!) writers and director Tim Iacofano. While The Cell also had severe plot gaps, director Tarsem Singh was able to use the script as a jumping off point to indulge in some truly breathtaking visuals that coupled with his skill at buiding suspense to create a film that was more than the sum of its parts. The filmmakers behind The Cell 2 have no such bold plans, settling for a dreadfully dull serial killer thriller with a perfunctory supernatural twist.

Movie Defender: Cell, The by Matt Wedge – December 13, 2010
The Cell is the type of movie I should hate. The regular criticism against it is that it relies on its astounding visuals to cover up a deficient story that was cobbled together from bits and pieces of other films. This is mostly true. But the visuals on display are so intricate they — and the surprisingly good performances by the cast — elevate the film beyond its derivative story to something resembling an art film by way of a serial killer thriller.

On Cable: Cemetery Man by Matt Wedge – October 1, 2010
Cemetery Man is a mess of a movie; a sprawling, overreaching, glorious mess of a movie. A black-comic meditation on love, mortality, loneliness, and desperation masquerading as a zombie film, it’s by turns poetic, laugh-out-loud funny, insightful, and flat-out pretentious.

In Theatres: Centurion by D. B. Bates – August 29, 2010
Centurion makes a fatal misstep in its very concept. It focuses on a ragtag group of one-dimensional Romans fighting for their lives against the Pictish tribes of Caledonia, when the Picts are the ones depicted as sympathetic and just in their fight. A movie about the tricky gray areas and moral ambivalence inherent in war could have pulled off a story focusing on the Romans, but this is not that movie. For the majority of its runtime, this is a movie about black-and-white heroes and villains, and because the story focuses on the Romans, they become the heroes whether we like it or not.

In Theatres: Charlie St. Cloud by Mark Dujsik – July 30, 2010
Charlie St. Cloud continues the line of movies about death, where ghosts hang around the living, concerned only with earthly matters, stuck in a sort of developmental suspended animation and holding those involved down with them.

On Cable: Chase, The by Josh Medcalf – February 11, 2011
It’s “light-bulb” entertainment, flies buzzing around one, that is — the kind of movie that comes on as you’re flipping channels and you can’t help but watch, until it cuts to commercial and you move on to something else. The kind of movie that holds your attention only while it’s right in front of you.

On Cable: Cherish by Hanna Soltys – July 16, 2010
Every one of us imagines a better life: with a certain significant other, a job or other material possession (cars, apartments, clothes, etc.). In Cherish, we follow Zoe (Robin Tunney) who consistently daydreams about such things. Often these, daydreams mesh with her reality, leaving the viewer a bit confused about if what’s happening is in Zoe’s head or the real world. This will leave you daydreaming about the ending of this movie and hoping it will be quick and swift.

On Cable: Cheyenne Autumn by Matt Wedge – November 26, 2010
In 1962, Ford delivered The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, arguably the first revisionist western. On the surface, it was a classic western with John Wayne as the hardened gunslinger and James Stewart as the naïve lawyer seeking to bring law and order to the wild west. In reality, it was a startling subversion of the gunslinger myths and clichés that Ford had used in countless films. Like many of his other westerns, it also stands as a classic of the genre. Just two years later, Ford tried to do the same thing to the Cavalry/Indian film with Cheyenne Autumn. It turned out to be his last western. Sadly, what should have been the culmination of a great career ended up a muddled, cumbersome mess.

On Cable: Christmas Story [Joulutarina] by D. B. Bates – December 17, 2010
Europe has no such problems traumatizing its children with memorably upsetting kids’ fare. The unimaginatively titled Christmas Story contains a depressing sequence matched only by Up: During a harsh winter storm, Nikolas (played as a child by Jonas Rinne) is left to care for his baby sister, Aada, while his parents venture out in search of medicine for ill Aada. They die in the storm, and Aada succumbs to her illness.

On Cable: Christmas Tale [Un Conte de Noël], A by Kyle Kogan – December 17, 2010
Alas, a film that has almost nothing to do with its title. Relevant still, though, as an ironic nod to the audience which I assume will either love of loathe this film. I found it to be, in equal measures, both astoundingly brilliant and frustrating. It’s shot with such a lax style but tells a tale so profoundly layered and immersive, the contradiction becomes somewhat startling. It’s like being thrust into the dead of winter with nothing but your drawers on: Harsh and cold, but absolutely unforgettable.

On Cable: Christmas in Connecticut by Josh Medcalf – December 17, 2010
Christmas in Connecticut, starring the lovely Barbara Stanwyck, is a charming, enjoyable little comedy that’s not quite Frank Capra and not quite Billy Wilder, but ventures into either territory on more than one occasion and is welcomed with open arms.

On Cable: Class Action by Andrew Good – August 6, 2010
Class Action is a case where one great actor can make a movie look bad. It plays like a made-for-TV script, with a mediocre A-story about the shark-like legal world and a class-action lawsuit brought against an unscrupulous car manufacturer. But it’s the B-story, about a father and daughter who are equally cutthroat counselors that you find yourself looking forward to, and you realize it’s largely because Gene Hackman is featured more prominently in those scenes.

On Cable: Clean and Sober by Mark Dujsik – September 3, 2010
Stopping short just as it’s about to delve beneath the obvious surface of addiction, Clean and Sober holsters its characters’ messy lives for a tidy, step-by-step process of recovery.

On Cable: Clockers by Mark Dujsik – December 10, 2010
Until a perhaps too hopeful and pat finale, Clockers does not soften its view of young men trapped in a world of dealing out drugs and violence, prompted by a need for financial success and family.

Cannon Corner: Cobra by Matt Wedge – January 21, 2011
Judging from the view of early 2011, it may be hard to believe, but in the late ’70s through the early ’80s, it was still possible for critics to take Sylvester Stallone seriously. Films like Rocky and First Blood were commercial and critical successes that found him taking on scripting duties, tailoring characters to fit his limited acting range. Yes, he had his share of misfires (F.I.S.T., Nighthawks), but at least they were ambitious misfires. But by the time 1986’s Cobra rolled around, Stallone had squandered any good will that the critical community had for him. The increasingly awful Rocky and Rambo sequels had made him box office gold and a critical punching bag. In other words, he was a perfect fit for the Cannon Group.

On Cable: Coffy by Kyle Kogan – September 17, 2010
It’s simple, mindless stuff, but blaxploitation is all about audience awareness, and director Jack Hill never looses sight of this main goal. All the while, he tells a compelling story with some subtle messages.

On Cable: Combat Shock by Matt Wedge – January 21, 2011
Combat Shock is the type of film that makes the viewer feel the need to take a shower. The fact that that reaction is probably what writer/editor/producer/director Buddy Giovinazzo intended makes it a successful film. But just because the film succeeds at what the filmmaker is attempting doesn’t mean that I can necessarily recommend it.

In Theatres: Company Men, The by D. B. Bates – January 21, 2011
The Company Men shares a number of common problems with another uneven, heavy-handed film about our country’s economic collapse: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. It forces us to spend most of our time with a lead character, Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), with whom it’s nearly impossible to empathize. It fills out its story with a large, spectacular ensemble of actors with thankless roles representing archetypes — not fully formed characters — to address each facet of What’s Wrong With Corporate America. Then, it limps through a handful of resonant moments (and more than a handful of mediocre moments) toward an unearned happy ending without ever digging deeply enough into What Went Wrong in the first place.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Conviction by Hanna Soltys – October 9, 2010
Eight in ten Americans have a sibling. What people would do for their siblings is often a grand list, from helping raise children to helping make ends meet. A sibling love is a bond that is deep, rich and tightly bound.

On Cable: Corrina, Corrina by Mark Dujsik – September 24, 2010
Writer/director Jessie Nelson tries entirely too hard to infuse her main characters with difficult hurdles to jump. It’s not enough that the potentially but certain-to-be romantic leads of Corrina, Corrina are employer and employee. There’s also the fact that Manny (Ray Liotta) is still grieving over the loss of his wife. That’s why he hires Corrina (Whoopi Goldberg) as his maid and nanny to his daughter, Molly (Tina Majorino), who has taken to not speaking since her mother’s death.

If the obstacles ended there, their relationship might have seemed more plausible, but they don’t.

On Cable: CrissCross by Kyle Kogan – August 20, 2010
Without delving too deeply into pretentious digression, I hoped that the Goldie Hawn film CrissCross at least alluded to the excitement and mystery of my minds eye. Instead, I got a film so terribly stale and lacking in substance that it came as no surprise that this film marked the beginning of the end of her career.

In Theatres: Cropsey by Matt Wedge – July 30, 2010
It’s hard to think of a recent documentary that wastes more potential than Cropsey. The directing team of Barbara Brancaccio and Joshua Zeman start out promisingly, with an engrossing opening twenty minutes before settling into a familiar pattern of bland archival footage and talking heads.

On Cable: Croupier by Mark Dujsik – December 3, 2010
It’s tempting to put too much weight on the way screenwriter Paul Mayersberg lays out the intricate rules, shows off the particular lingo, and creates a feeling of being a fly on the wall of a casino in London. With Jack Manfred (Clive Owen) — sometimes “Jake” when he imagines himself as the protagonist of the novel he’s writing, but always the pragmatist — as our guide, Croupier is always digging deeper into the shady world of professional gambling, even as its story flounders with double-crosses and backstabs and stretches to tie it to a lofty theme of chance.

On Cable: Cruising by D. B. Bates – December 3, 2010
Although Cruising isn’t quite as bad as its reputation, it’s still awfully difficult to sit through. Friedkin relies on tawdry shock moments (including a bizarre, never-explained police interrogation in which detectives bring in a burly African-American man in nothing but a G-string and a Stetson to beat on the suspects) and the comically stereotypical behavior of the gay characters. It’s not as insensitive as the activists probably thought it would be, but come on — the prime suspect is a musical theatre major, for crying out loud.

On Cable: Culpepper Cattle Company, The by D. B. Bates – October 1, 2010
The Culpepper Cattle Company is a cinematic curiosity that I’m not sure has occurred before or since: a coming-of-age revisionist western. It seems like an odd combination of genres, but it’s not so surprising, especially considering the time of its making.

Cannon Corner: Cyborg by D. B. Bates – February 11, 2011
Not much happens during what screenwriters call “the second act,” which is kind of a problem, especially for a film this short. It’s relentlessly, almost nauseatingly violent (allegedly, Pyun had to cut nearly fifteen minutes to avoid an X rating, and what remains is still pretty nasty), more than any other Van Damme movie. Part of that comes from the queasy, post-apocalyptic environs; perhaps because it was rendered so cheaply, the world Pyun creates actually looks like many parts of this country right now, making it all too believable that poverty and despair can crush us. The bulk of the nastiness, however, comes from unnecessary flourishes like Gibson’s razor-tipped shoes, which allow him to slit throats while high-kicking. I suppose it’s effective, but not in an enjoyable way.

On Cable: Dallas 362 by Mark Dujsik – August 27, 2010
Even if one spreads one’s suspension of disbelief thin to buy into Caan’s loaded setup, the movie remains dramatically inert, with the characters’ destinies numbered from the beginning. Caan’s script merely fills in the appropriate colors.

On Cable: Dark Half, The by Matt Wedge – July 16, 2010
The Dark Half could almost be seen as George A. Romero’s forgotten film. It’s not a part of his well-known Dead series, nor is it one of his engrossing, cheaply made indies like Martin, Knightriders, or The Crazies. Like Creepshow, another of his collaborations with Stephen King, it’s a slick effort to court mainstream success. While that plan didn’t pan out for Romero, he still wound up with a very solid genre picture buoyed by some strong performances.

On Cable: Darkness Falls by D. B. Bates – October 29, 2010
It’s obvious something went horribly wrong with Darkness Falls based on its opening sequence. Most horror movies try to build a bit of a mystery about what’s really going on, but Darkness Falls doesn’t want you to ask any questions.

On Cable: Dead & Breakfast by Matt Wedge – December 10, 2010
That’s why I see horror-comedies as such a tricky proposition. The best (Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead 2) of the sub-genre send up the conventions and clichés of the horror film while also respecting it, working as both horror films and comedies. The worst horror-comedies are the ones that spoof those same conventions and clichés with a tone that comes across as smug superiority to an inferior genre. These films show a lack of respect for the genre that is galling and turns them into hollow, snobby affairs. For this reason — and many more that I will dissect — Dead & Breakfast is one of the worst horror-comedies I have ever seen.

On Cable: Dead Heat by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
Playing like a slapdash combination of Lethal Weapon and Re-Animator, Dead Heat is an incredibly derivative film that turns on one good gimmick: zombie cop. But this isn’t the evil kind of zombie cop seen in such trash classics as Maniac Cop and, er, Maniac Cop 2. This zombie cop retains his living personality while violently seeking justice for his own murder. This could have been an interesting, if ridiculous, film. At the very least, it should have achieved trash classic status as being so bad that it cries out to be seen. Instead, it settles for occupying a purgatory between total mediocrity and silly camp.

On Cable: Dead Ringers by Matt Wedge – September 17, 2010
No filmmaker currently working manages to maintain such a meticulously cold, clinical feel to their films as David Cronenberg. The fact that he creates an icy tone that keeps the audience at arm’s length, while managing to draw out such strong emotions of horror, disgust, and anger, makes him not only a divisive figure among audiences and critics, but also one of the most controversial directors of the past 35 years. While I understand if someone hates his work, I personally find his films to be consistently compelling. If you disagree with that opinion, you will probably disagree violently when I say that Dead Ringers is one of the finest films ever made.

On Cable: Death Hunt by D. B. Bates – August 20, 2010
The early parts of the film revel in the characters and environment. I went into the experience knowing nothing about the plot or its real-life basis, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way it established characters, setting, and tone without tipping its hand about the plot’s direction. When the plot finally gets going, though, it’s a disappointment.

Cannon Corner: Death Wish 2 by D. B. Bates – November 5, 2010
The only possible way to enjoy the Death Wish films is to imagine they take place in an alternate universe where the paranoid fever dreams of the elderly have all come true. They’re the relentlessly cynical antidote to Cannon’s Breakin’ films, which paint Los Angeles slums with the sunniest possible brush. However, even the elderly’s paranoia can go too far, which is why Death Wish 2 feels like an exercise in depravity rather than a satisfying revenge thriller.

Cannon Corner: Death Wish 3 by D. B. Bates – November 10, 2010
Death Wish 3 might be the most insane, spectacular action film ever made. The film trims the “fat” of the first two (such as Paul Kersey’s attempts to balance a normal life with frequent vigilante killings) and amps up the film’s universe to a degree so over-the-top, not even John Waters would be bold enough to go there. The result is a gloriously violent, laughably absurd, but undeniably entertaining masterpiece of action filmmaking. Yes, it’s stupid and silly and cheesy and inconceivable, but for its chosen genre, it’s one of the high water marks.

Cannon Corner: Death Wish 4: The Crackdown by D. B. Bates – November 17, 2010
Left with no way to top the inspired lunacy of Death Wish 3, the Cannon Group decided to shake up the formula with the fourth entry. Gone is the pattern of Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) getting exposed to some sort of personal tragedy that leads to him surveying the creep-infested streets of an urban blight zone and then killing everyone in his sight. Instead, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown unspools more like a Grand Theft Auto game than a traditional Death Wish film, driven by imaginative action set-piece vignettes that build to a moderately compelling overall story.

Cannon Corner: Death Wish 5: The Face of Death by D. B. Bates – November 24, 2010
Death Wish 5 keeps the stakes frustratingly low and, with the exception of “Flakes,” entirely free of the imagination that made the other films so entertaining. Paul finds himself up against a handful of ineffectual, nonthreatening goons, all of whom he dispatches with dismaying apathy. In all of the previous films, Bronson (sometimes single-handedly) made the films work by never forgetting Paul is as wounded and vulnerable as he is angry and intelligent. Here, Bronson’s apparent disinterest in the film (allegedly, he demanded a higher salary than usual in the hopes that they wouldn’t make the film; his gamble paid off financially but not creatively) carries over to Paul, which is a huge detriment.

Movie Defender: Death to Smoochy by Matt Wedge – July 15, 2011
This is a hell of a lot of plot for a first act and that’s without even getting into the Irish Mafia outfit that takes a special interest in Sheldon’s continued success and well-being. Admittedly, the film teeters on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall into the abyss of satirical overkill before something unexpected happens: Sheldon grows from a one-note hippie joke into a character worth rooting for. In the midst of the aggressive cynicism and heavy-handed satirical jokes, Sheldon becomes a likable, somewhat too earnest protagonist whose quest to improve the world goes from being mocked to encouraged, a surprising turn for a movie directed by the ever-subversive Danny DeVito.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Defiled, The by Matt Wedge – October 12, 2010
What would the world look like to a zombie? That is the question at the heart of writer/director Julian Grant’s ultra low-budget The Defiled, a semi-experimental film that starts out strong before overstaying its welcome and losing focus on its efforts to subvert the zombie genre.

Cannon Corner: Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection by D. B. Bates – December 6, 2010
Yes, the Cannon Group is back in all its silly glory. After last week’s viewing of the surprisingly good The Delta Force, which may be as close as Menahem Golan ever got to a real passion project, it’s time for the absurd cash-in of a sequel: Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection, alternately known as Delta Force 2: Operation Stranglehold, even though neither title makes sense in the context of the film (it takes place in San Carlos, a fictional South American country; neither “Colombia” nor “Operation Stranglehold” are ever mentioned in the film).

Cannon Corner: Delta Force, The by D. B. Bates – December 1, 2010
The Delta Force opens with a poorly staged, poorly edited sequence inspired by the real Delta Force’s failed 1980 mission to rescue the American hostages in Iran. I figured I’d be in for a silly, entertaining ride on par with Death Wish 3. A funny thing happened, though: The movie started to get good. Like, legitimately good, not just fun or mindlessly entertaining. In fact, if not for all that distracting crap with Chuck Norris, this could have been a very suspenseful successor to the Airport franchise.

On Cable: Demolition Man by Josh Medcalf – January 21, 2011
I’m not going to delve too deep into Demolition Man. You know all about this movie already, and even if you haven’t seen it, you know exactly what it is.

In Theatres: Despicable Me by Matt Wedge – July 9, 2010
I wish I could say that I liked Despicable Me more than I did. It’s not a bad family film, but it adds nothing new to the genre that we haven’t seen a thousand times before.

On Cable: Detective, The by D. B. Bates – August 27, 2010
The Detective drops an ethical, tough-as-nails film noir antihero into a mystery story designed to tackle every conceivable issue plaguing late-’60s New York City: police/political corruption, corporate greed, racism, sexism, homophobia, divorce, psychiatry, hippies, casual sex, and even-more-casual drug use. It’s a good but not great film that earns some bonus points for not biting off more than it can chew, despite its expansive social agenda.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Devil’s Town [Đavolja Varoš] by D. B. Bates – October 20, 2010
Devil’s Town, a sort of depraved take on ensemble slice-of-life films, follows a disparate group of characters over the course of a single eventful day in Belgrade. I’ll be the first to suggest that my cultural ignorance may result in my inability to understand its reason for being, but that was my gut reaction. Tons of characters, situations, wanton violence, rampant sex and nudity, and a cultural obsession with tennis pro Jelena Jankovic all add up to a film that’s never dull but also never quite meaningful.

In Theatres: Dilemma, The by Mark Dujsik – January 14, 2011
To tell or not to tell is the question for about five minutes of The Dilemma, and the rest of the time is spent with a character waiting for the opportune time to tell his best friend that the guy’s wife has been cheating (that he finds the least opportune and appropriate time to do is not mandatory for comedy or drama but certainly a cheap way to try to force both). That situation in a feature-length comedy, of course, means that there must be transparently contrived obstacles on top of transparently contrived obstacles.

In Theatres: Dinner for Schmucks by Mark Dujsik – July 30, 2010
There is nothing mean about Dinner for Schmucks, which contains a cast of idiots so absurdly stupid that they register only as the conduit for jokes. Quite the opposite: The movie is just too darn nice.

Movie Defender: Domino by Matt Wedge – September 3, 2010
Over the years, critics have complained that Tony Scott makes the same movie over and over. This is essentially true. He always values style over story. His films often end with a violent shootout between several characters. His editing and shooting style seems to be inspired by the ADD-riddled mind of a twelve-year-old boy. Still, I find it difficult to fault a filmmaker for having a consistency of vision. Scott’s vision may be excessively silly and mainstream, but you always know when he has directed a film. This is something you cannot say about other mainstream, studio filmmakers (with the possible exception of Michael Bay). It’s for this reason that I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Scott’s films. No matter the subject matter, they are always an experience and usually entertaining. Such is the case with Domino.

Movie Defender: Doomsday by Matt Wedge – November 26, 2010
Film critics are often accused of being snobs. When we collectively bash a mainstream studio picture that seemingly everyone else just loves, we are seen as being stuffy and out of touch with people who just want to be entertained. More often than not, this is untrue. When a film gets a collective beatdown by the critical community, it’s usually for a very good reason. Let’s face it, if mass popularity was the yardstick by which quality was measured, the Scary Movie films would be considered classic works of art. It’s for this reason that we have critics. We often act as the vocal minority explaining why the latest Twilight movie isn’t the greatest use of film since Orson Welles uttered, “Rosebud.” But very occasionally — I stress the words “very occasionally” — film critics are snobs.

On Cable: Down Periscope by Andrew Good – October 8, 2010
How funny is a man with a tattooed dick? It’s kind of a barometer question for enjoying Down Periscope, because it’s the film’s most persistent gag.

On Cable: Dream Team, The by Matt Wedge – August 20, 2010
I understand that audiences don’t want to see a realistic depiction of the pain and suffering that comes with a person’s mind turning against them. I understand that there’s no financial incentive in making that movie, but do they have to trot out the subject as fodder for mediocre comedies? Apparently, the answer is yes.

In Theatres: Due Date by Matt Wedge – November 6, 2010
It’s a credit to Robert Downey, Jr., and Zach Galifianakis that Due Date works as well as it does. They share a chemistry and loose style that makes many of their scenes together feel like they’re improvising their dialogue and actions. It’s lends a high-wire feel to the proceedings that increases the entertainment value. Watching them spin funny bits out of shopworn gags lifted wholesale from films like Planes, Trains & Automobiles and The Big Lebowski is worth the price of admission, even if the script that they are working overtime to breathe life into is nothing more than your average road trip comedy.

On Cable: Dust Factory, The by Hanna Soltys – September 17, 2010
Taking a children’s movie into a fantasy world has returned staples such as Peter Pan; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Where the Wild Things Are; The NeverEnding Story; and Alice in Wonderland. One that will never make the list: The Dust Factory.

In Theatres: Eagle, The by Matt Wedge – February 12, 2011
In a better movie, the prickly relationship between Marcus and Esca would have been the focus of the story. The ever-present threat of betrayal by Esca and the shaky moral ground on which Marcus stands would have given the material the potential for great drama. Unfortunately, the movie that director Kevin Macdonald and screenwriter Jeremy Brock give us is more concerned with battle scenes (bloodless to insure a PG-13 rating) and clichéd ideas of honor above all else. Never mind the bodies that pile up as Marcus wages his war for the honor of a man long dead.

On Cable: Easy by Hanna Soltys – August 10, 2010
You know a movie’s concept is spot-on when the film feels like a documentary. While Easy tends to take these concepts to an extreme (the suicide scene comes to mind), overall the film is relatable, enhancing the movie watching experience. We’ve all fallen for the wrong people (or at the wrong time), dealt with liars, had life throw disappointments at us while we try to overcome everyday obstacles.

In Theatres: Easy A by Mark Dujsik – September 17, 2010
Bert V. Royal’s screenplay is a lot less clever than it imagines it is, and based on the onslaught of pop culture references, pithy witticisms, self-aware reflections, and sarcastically superior characters, Royal imagines it to be quite the crafty charmer.

On Cable: Easy Money by Andrew Good – October 15, 2010
You wouldn’t have a Rodney Dangerfield movie without one-liners. Considering he shares a screenwriting credit on Easy Money, it’s no surprise he spends the running time firing off one after another when he’s not chain-smoking joints.

In Theatres: Eat, Pray, Love by D. B. Bates – August 14, 2010
Eat, Pray, Love desperately seeks to tell a unique story of female empowerment. Unfortunately, it manages to get things wrong at pretty much every turn. For starters, the “unique” story is just a rehash of 2003’s Under the Tuscan Sun (plus two extra countries for more culture-clash wackiness!): a newly divorced woman impulsively decides to travel abroad to find herself. True, Eat, Pray, Love contains more food porn and eye-rolling attempts at deep spirituality, but the core of the story remains virtually identical.

Bargain Bin: Edison Force [a.k.a. Edison] by D. B. Bates – February 18, 2011
As a critic, watching Edison Force is the equivalent to having an out-of-body experience. The critic in me hovers at a distance, knowing I shouldn’t recommend a film with such a silly plot and such over-the-top violence. By most reasonable metrics, it’s a bad film: characters crippled by clichés, a story that simultaneously indicts fascist police states and fetishizes the violence such states breed, a pat (yet exceptionally violent) conclusion, and Kevin Spacey in a laughable hairpiece. Something about it just works, though, so even as the critic part of me rolled its eyes, the rest of me sat on the edge of my seat, hoping everything would work out for the characters. This despite the fact that I knew where the plot was headed after the second scene, and I knew the film wouldn’t have the balls to go for a tragic ending.

On Cable: Entity, The by Kyle Kogan – August 27, 2010
The film sticks with you, for better or worse, but it’s a striking testament to the power of raw horror. This is a film you do not want to watch alone.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Erratum by Hanna Soltys – October 27, 2010
Sometimes the only way to outrun our past is to run away from our home. Michał (Tomasz Kot) does just that after attending University and never returning to his hometown. When he’s forced to run an errand for a boss, he finds himself smack dab in the middle of town, where he sees his father (Ryszard Kotys) and former bandmate, Zbyszek (Tomasz Radawiec).

On Cable: Executive Decision by Kyle Kogan – February 25, 2011
Specifics don’t matter because the surprises and suspense are what make the film so enthralling. Sure, you can see the end coming from a mile away and there is nothing here that you haven’t seen before, but it’s handled with such deft care that it left me breathless. I knew the good guys were going to win in the end, but I nonetheless couldn’t wait to see it happen.

In Theatres: Expendables, The by Mark Dujsik – August 13, 2010
It’s not so much that the characterizations exist on a single plane. It’s not so much that the dialogue amounts to restating the plot, blatant motivation baiting, shouted taunts, and “one-liners.” It’s not even so much that The Expendables stingily doles out its action scenes.

No, the biggest offense of Sylvester Stallone’s casting-ploy-cum-movie is that, when the movie finally tosses in a shootout or car chase or fistfight or all-out war, it gives the distinct impression of cinematic vomit.

On Cable: Explorers by Mark Dujsik – November 12, 2010
A trio of young outcasts learns the (literal) universality of their condition in Explorers. It begins with the science-fiction fantasies of kids and slowly but surely goes off the rails into realm of social satire. “We don’t kill people,” dreamer-turned-intergalactic explorer Ben Crandall (Ethan Hawke) implores a slimy, green friendly alien. “Well, we do, but not aliens, ‘cause we haven’t met any.”

In Theatres: Extra Man, The by Mark Dujsik – August 13, 2010
There is no shortage of quirky individuals in this group of friends and enemies, living a life of splendorous squalor in Manhattan — escorting wealthy old ladies (who apparently do know better this time around but still enjoy the attention), begging for opera tickets and return-entry stubs at intermission, and painting “socks” on one’s feet for lack of real ones. They revolve around the same dream, not of being rich or famous, but of having some class, more often than not making asses of themselves in the process.

On Cable: Eyewitness by Andrew Good – July 23, 2010
When a script is fleshed out enough, you feel as if you could follow even minor characters into the next room, away from the camera’s eye, and watch them live out their quirky little lives sequestered away from the main plot.

On Cable: Fabulous Baker Boys, The by Kyle Kogan – November 19, 2010
These first simple, delicate minutes play out beautifully, simply observing from a distance the bottom of an act that grew stale long ago. When juxtaposed to the glimmering lights of the city, their saddened faces look only more sincere.

In Theatres: Fair Game by Matt Wedge – November 26, 2010
There are films where a good director can make a so-so script better. Other times, there are films where a good script bails out a director who is in over his or her head. It’s rare that both instances occur in the same film, but with Fair Game, that’s exactly what happens. Of course, it also helps that the film is expertly cast, keeping it grounded as a personal story of betrayal and eventual triumph.

On Cable: Fantasticks, The by Hanna Soltys – November 12, 2010
Two teenagers, Matt Hucklebee (Joey McIntyre) and Luisa Bellamy (Jean Louisa Kelly), live on neighboring farms, the children of fathers who bicker constantly at one another. As expected, the two fall in love with each other, but must keep their relationship under wraps so as not to offend their fathers.

On Cable: Farewell to the King by Kyle Kogan – November 5, 2010
While the action is well shot, it is too often visited with slow motion embellishments and melodramatic deaths. What was once organic and raw becomes glossy with a fresh coat of Hollywood paint, and I must say the color doesn’t suit me.

In Theatres: Faster by Mark Dujsik – November 24, 2010
Faster is a film that relies on the strength of its types. Its trio of central characters doesn’t have names (or if they do, they are noted briefly and offhandedly), yet they are a recognizable bunch.

In Theatres: Fighter, The by Matt Wedge – December 18, 2010
An underdeveloped script can only hide for so long behind good direction and performances. In the case of The Fighter, the amount of time that director David O. Russell and his talented cast are able to distract the audience from underwritten characters and the clichés that they act out is approximately ninety minutes. It’s too bad that the film goes on for another twenty minutes.

On Cable: Final Analysis by Hanna Soltys – January 28, 2011
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but what about judging a movie by the movie poster? One glance at Final Analysis would clue you in on what happens in the movie’s 2+ hours length: a steamy sex scene and nothing else much.

In Theatres: Flipped by Mark Dujsik – August 27, 2010
Rob Reiner’s film goes back and forth between the viewpoint of the boy and girl, each commenting on his or her feelings about an event, its buildup, or its aftermath. It’s a simple device but one that has a tangible effect on the narrative. In presenting both sides, Reiner and Andrew Scheinman’s script (based on a young adult novel by Wendelin Van Draanen) furthers our insight into these kids, and from that insight flows the sympathy.

On Cable: Flirting with Disaster by Mark Dujsik – February 18, 2011
David O. Russell’s Flirting with Disaster finds the farcical in the emotionally fragile events surrounding a man’s search for his biological parents. At a crossroads in his life — new son (for whom he can’t decide upon a name), a fading sex life with his wife, and the culmination of a lifelong identity crisis arising from his adoption as a baby — Mel Coplin (Ben Stiller) or his need to feel a part of something he’s felt he has been missing is never the butt of any of the film’s jokes.

Cannon Corner: Fool for Love by Hanna Soltys – August 27, 2010
Love is a theme everything and everyone can touch. In Fool for Love, we see various forms of love from sibling, to parental, to lover, to oneself. And through each form, viewers see how love makes fools out of all of us.

In Theatres: For Colored Girls by Mark Dujsik – November 5, 2010
Tyler Perry’s strange amalgamation of panicky social melodrama and the pained poems of Ntozake Shange’s 1975 stage play reaches a climax of extended monological lunacy. This seemingly endless sequence of lyrical soliloquies played — quite, quite erroneously — as dialogue (the answers to calls or the calls to answers instead of cries hanging unanswered in a darkened theater) surpasses even the manipulative level of the double murder that ends the second act.

In Theatres: Four Lions by Mark Dujsik – November 12, 2010
Nothing should be sacred in comedy, especially that which people hold sacred. When that belief is as wrong-headed as the concept of a suicide bomber killing oneself and as many others as possible and believing the end result of mass murder will be a direct route to Heaven, it’s almost a moral imperative to counteract such lunacy by pointing out how insane it actually is.

On Cable: Freaked by Josh Medcalf – February 25, 2011
When you reflect back on what you’ve seen, it’s like stringing together the random, bizarre segments of a half-remembered dream from the night before. Nothing makes sense; what seemed to work in dreamland is now utterly absurd in hindsight.

On Cable: Freejack by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Like the best sci-fi, Freejack uses genre tropes to tackle weightier themes of mortality, greed, corruption, and social decay. Like the worst sci-fi, it relies far too much on trippy, 2001-esque visual effects and melodramatic monologues.

On Cable: Friday by D. B. Bates – December 10, 2010
Much of the comedy comes from the interaction between straight-man Craig and clownish sidekick Smokey, whose obsession with getting high and passing along neighborhood lore effectively distracts Craig from his disastrous life.

On Cable: Fright Night by Matt Wedge – October 29, 2010
In a major way, Fright Night is a film that was ahead of its time. Released more than ten years before Scream kicked off the self-aware horror craze, writer/director Tom Holland delivered a horror-comedy that found its characters turning to horror films of old to learn how to survive their current horror movie dangers. That it doesn’t fully exploit that idea doesn’t really detract from the fun, but it does keep it from being a true genre classic.

On Cable: Frighteners, The by D. B. Bates – October 29, 2010
When The Frighteners debuted in 1996, American moviegoers responded with thunderous indifference. Admittedly, it’s a tough sell: a big studio film with a tone that toes the uneasy line between goofy and suspenseful, a baffling R rating, and Michael J. Fox, the king of likability, cast as a grieving, emotionally distant psychic.

On Cable: Full Grown Men by D. B. Bates – October 22, 2010
Another weekend, another indie road movie about emotionally stunted characters going on a quirky adventure populated by a cavalcade of weirdos who teach life lessons. Full Grown Men gets bonus points for being funnier and less uneven than other examples of its ilk, but it still suffers from many of the frustrating clichés that have plagued the independent film scene for years.

On Cable: Funny Farm by Matt Wedge – February 18, 2011
Funny Farm boasts a surprisingly impressive pedigree for a light Chevy Chase comedy. It was directed by George Roy Hill, a man who delivered two certifiable masterpieces in The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid among other very good films (Slap Shot, Slaughterhouse-Five). It boasts a screenplay by Jeffrey Boam, ace screenwriter of such films as The Dead Zone, Innerspace, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Lethal Weapon 2. With this collection of unusually talented people behind the scenes, it’s not terribly surprising that the film turned out as well as it did. That praise isn’t to confuse it as a great film, but it’s an enjoyable comedy with a few big laughs.

On Cable: Gardens of Stone by Matt Wedge – July 2, 2010
In the ’80s and the ’90s, Francis Ford Coppola made several movies that he freely admitted were strictly for the money. That so many of those films (Peggy Sue Got Married, Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) turned out to be solid pieces of entertainment, is to his credit as a skilled director. Gardens of Stone is not one of those films.

On Cable: Gattaca by Mark Dujsik – February 11, 2011
Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca seems a bit quainter than it did upon the film’s release fourteen years ago. What was a revolutionary premise about chiseling away the façade of a false utopia based upon the structured discrimination of people deemed genetically inferior (the passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 appears almost a direct, if belated, response to the film’s scenario) is now simply the basis for an intelligent display of plotting an intricate con.

In Theatres: Get Low by Matt Wedge – September 3, 2010
Get Low opens with a haunting, horrifying image. It’s the dead of night and a farmhouse is consumed by fire. A lone figure, aflame, leaps from the second floor window and disappears into the night, leaving the house to be destroyed by the fire. It’s a stunning shot to begin a film with, so it’s not surprising that the rest of the movie fails to live up to such a dramatic image. Still, it delivers as a low-key character study with some very good acting.

On Cable: Ghoulies II by D. B. Bates – October 29, 2010
Obviously, Ghoulies II is a crass, awful cash-in that should have been a lot more fun than it is. After all, it’s a movie where the dorky hero is dating a burlesque dancer (Kerry Remsen), and a diminutive stage actor (Phil Fondacaro) laments that he’s not performing King Lear while going in and out of a British accent, depending on the scene. This is the sort of material that’s too bizarre not to entertain, yet the movie lays there like a ghoulie in a toilet.

Bargain Bin: Giallo by Matt Wedge – October 29, 2010
Perhaps more damning to the film’s credibility is that its legendary co-writer/director Dario Argento has disowned it. Claiming the producers recut the film behind his back, he has expressed disappointment with the version of the film that played at festivals and has now found its way to DVD. But after viewing the cut that he’s disappointed in, I feel it safe to say that no matter how this footage was pieced together, the result was going to be a massive turkey.

On Cable: Gift, The by Hanna Soltys – July 9, 2010
After seeing the The Gift’s cast list, one would expect this film to be great. It’s not. It’s superb — nay, exquisite. The Gift captures the independent film spirit perfectly, from the cinematography to the musical score to the acting, all while maintaining true thriller traits.

In Theatres: Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, The by Matt Wedge – October 29, 2010
It’s easy to spot what went wrong with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the third film in the Millennium trilogy. To put it quite simply, it’s not a complete film. It is merely a continuation of the second film in the series and, as such, it feels disjointed and perfunctory — as though everyone involved has the attitude that they need to serve up an ending, so let’s just get this over with. By the end of the film, I felt the same way.

In Theatres: Girl Who Played with Fire, The by Matt Wedge – July 14, 2010
A film trilogy is tricky business. Too often, in an attempt to tell an epic story, the filmmakers resort to making films that fail to stand on their own, feeling more like episodes of a television series. With the first film in the “Millennium trilogy,” The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the filmmakers managed to successfully craft an engrossing, stand-alone mystery that laid the groundwork for the next two films. Unfortunately, part two of the trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire, falls into the common trap that the first film avoided. Filled with dangling plot threads, a cast of characters that seems to increase exponentially with every scene, and a convoluted mystery at the heart of the script, the film fails to work as a satisfying, stand-alone piece of storytelling.

In Theatres: Gnomeo & Juliet by Mark Dujsik – February 11, 2011
It’s not really Romeo and Juliet when the characters can come back to life with a lot of time and a little glue, and by the tone, this loosely adapted version starring lawn ornaments really, really understands that basic fact. If only Gnomeo & Juliet were as imaginative in poking the ribs of its central storyline as it is about developing the silly cuteness of its background characters, the movie might have been on to something.

In Theatres: Going the Distance by D. B. Bates – September 4, 2010
The film isn’t great by any stretch of the imagination. Hollywood product is so starved of decent romantic comedies that Going the Distance feels like the It Happened One Night of the 2010s. It’s not an instant classic, it doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it approaches a believable romantic pairing with appropriate sincerity and respect.

On Cable: Golden Child, The by Hanna Soltys – July 23, 2010
It seems like in every 1980s movie starring Eddie Murphy (Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop), he plays the same character over and over again. The Golden Child is no exception.

On Cable: Golden Gate by D. B. Bates – November 19, 2010
I’d like to believe a movie can only get as bad as Golden Gate on purpose. Sometimes, a bad film is simply a result of amateurish ineptitude or wild miscalculations. This is a different case.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Golden Slumber [Goruden suranba] by D. B. Bates – October 9, 2010
The propulsive opening scenes of Golden Slumber introduce a film that’s unwilling to pigeonhole itself in any genre. Part conspiracy thriller, part action, part comedy, and part romantic drama, writer/director Yoshihiro Nakamura does a great job balancing tonal shifts that would have seemed jarring or unearned in less skilled hands.

On Cable: Good Son, The by Kyle Kogan – October 8, 2010
The Good Son is as misleading a title as any, as none of the children in the film are particularly good. The film works in one sense because it does instill the viewer with some edging creepiness, but unfortunately this comes not at the skill of the semi-gifted cast but instead the director’s awry motives.

Cannon Corner: Grace Quigley by D. B. Bates – January 19, 2011
I’d love to know how the pitch for Grace Quigley went. It has one of the craziest plots I’ve ever seen in a film, and I sure love seeking out crazy movies. To hear a description of its story is to wonder how the hell such a movie got made. I wish I had an answer, but the film drifted into obscurity (despite being Katharine Hepburn’s last starring role) and thus, not much information is available. Maybe the mere presence of Hepburn and Nick Nolte made it a go picture.

On Cable: Great Waldo Pepper, The by Mark Dujsik – November 19, 2010
The film is the story of a series of missed opportunities and tragic mistakes but told with the improbable gusto of a showman. The crowd, bored by the now-commonplace sights of loops and a 3,000-foot “death spiral,” wants more. Luckily for them, the pilots need the money — but, more importantly, the attention.

In Theatres: Green Hornet, The by Mark Dujsik – January 14, 2011
The Green Hornet doesn’t do much to improve the hero’s stature, turning him into a spoiled, buffoonish publishing tycoon who knows as little about journalism as he does about crime-fighting and feigning to be criminal, and demotes the sidekick’s far more effective tactics, making them secondary to slow-motion, effects-laden brawls with a video game aesthetic.

Bargain Bin: Grilled by D. B. Bates – November 12, 2010
Imagine Quentin Tarantino had written Glengarry Glen Ross, and you’ll have some idea of what Grilled is about. You’ll also probably understand why it quietly went straight to DVD, considering it came on the heels of stars Ray Romano and Kevin James giving up highly successful, crowd-pleasing sitcoms in which they played generally likable people. Few would look at either comedian and say, “I want to see them in a cynical dramedy where they play sociopaths.” Yet, the movie itself is actually pretty good.

In Theatres: Grown Ups by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
If familiarity breeds contempt, Adam Sandler must be really familiar with his audience. Grown Ups is a stunningly lazy assemblage of lame gags and creaky one-liners assembled into something roughly resembling a movie. That Sandler, as star, co-writer, and producer would choose to foist this under-cooked mess on the fans that loyally support his every movie, is insulting.

In Theatres: Gulliver’s Travels by D. B. Bates – December 26, 2010
It’s insane to think an innocuous Jack Black comedy aimed at the same kids who fell for him in the infinitely better School of Rock would retain the satirical edge of Jonathan Swift’s novel. The Jack Black of Tenacious D and High Fidelity might have made that movie, updating the satirical targets in the same way this film updates the character of Lemuel Gulliver into a sad-sack loser of a writer. But this is a big-budget studio film designed to appeal to a broader base via fart- and urine-based humor.

In Theatres: Hall Pass by Matt Wedge – February 25, 2011
That setup supplies a wealth of opportunities for the film to explore any number of possibilities that could be both very funny and insightful. Are Rick and Fred so driven by their hormones that they would cheat on their wives, even if it’s not technically cheating? Are Maggie and Grace unhappier in their marriages than they realized? Do they want their husbands to have affairs so they would have an excuse to end their marriages? Could having this valve to blow off steam actually improve their marriages? These are all interesting questions, rife with potential for conflict. Unfortunately, the Farrelly’s blow their intriguing setup on an assorted bag of their greatest hits (not one, but two feces jokes, an embarrassing masturbation scene, multiple men obsessed with a beautiful blonde, and grown men acting like twelve-year-old morons).

On Cable: Hamburger Hill by Andrew Good – October 1, 2010
Needless to say, Hamburger Hill is a bleak film, one that attempts to recreate the sheer horror of the war along with the desperate, quiet moments in between fighting.

On Cable: Hard Cash by Matt Wedge – September 10, 2010
We’ve all been there. You can’t sleep, so you turn on the TV to see what kind of garbage is being shown at three in the morning. You happen on a movie you’ve never heard of with some big names. You decide it might be watchable; after all, it stars Christian Slater, Val Kilmer, and Daryl Hannah. You can remember a time when they were movie stars and you have fond memories of Heathers, Real Genius, and Splash. Congratulations, you just fell into the trap that the producers of a piece of straight-to-DVD crap have set for you. After thirty minutes of lazy dialogue, over-the-top performances, and incoherent plot twists, you realize your mistake. But it’s too late; a plot that promises thrills, action, and sexy women already sucks you in. When the films ends, you realize that none of those promises were filled and you’re left with ninety minutes subtracted from your lifespan. You cannot find a more apt example of this type of film than Hard Cash.

In Theatres: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 by D. B. Bates – November 20, 2010
As you might recall from …Half-Blood Prince, the wizard world has basically split in two: the “death eaters,” and whatever they call the good guys. Now that Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes buried under snake-like makeup) has returned, the death eaters have effectively become magical terrorists. They know the only one who can stop them is 16-year-old Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), so killing him is their top priority.

On Cable: Harry and Tonto by Kyle Kogan – February 18, 2011
Not for one moment did I feel I was watching a film, but rather a manifestation of a real man’s memoir onto celluloid. It’s a rare treat that I get to witness such a fun, tender, and rapturous film.

On Cable: Heartbreak Ridge by Kyle Kogan – August 6, 2010
Heartbreak Ridge, the 1986 war film by Clint Eastwood, boasts a plot so familiar that it’s not difficult to understand why this film’s been overlooked in the vast canon that is his directing career. The film wastes no time indulging in a moralistic foray about the cost of war and violence (as war films to tend to exhibit) but instead glamorizes it, turning what could be a serious piece of work into more light accessible entertainment. The film never tries to be more than what you’ll find on the surface and it is on this exercise that the film mostly succeeds.

Movie Defender: Heaven’s Gate by D. B. Bates – August 6, 2010
Has a more notorious film than Heaven’s Gate ever been made? Michael Cimino’s follow-up to a masterpiece, 1978’s The Deer Hunter, was plagued by budget problems and negative press from day one. A disastrous early screening at an unwieldy 330 minutes was so reviled by those who screened it, Cimino himself begged for more time to edit it to a manageable length. The 150-minute cut released into theatres several weeks later received some of the worst reviews any movie has ever received in the history of the medium.

In Theatres: Helena from the Wedding by D. B. Bates – December 26, 2010
If Woody Allen had let John Cassavetes take over September, it might have turned out a lot like Helena from the Wedding. (I admit, though, that throwing out those two names might give the impression that this film is better than it is — it’s good, but nothing revelatory.) At once raw yet theatrical, insightful yet mundane, and cynical yet romantic, the film’s jumbled yet effective stylistic choices sort of match the characters’ mixed feelings about life, the universe, and everything.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Hereafter by Mark Dujsik – October 14, 2010
Peter Morgan’s screenplay for Hereafter begins at the end, ends at the beginning, and hopes all the loaded inference of such structural choices will make up for the rambling, thin, and shallow scenes of idle characters in between. The end, after all, is just the beginning, no one literally says, but every passive action that befalls these characters makes sure to drive that point home and then take it out for another spin, just so the movie can do it all again.

On Cable: High Plains Drifter by Josh Medcalf – February 25, 2011
This is an early example of the “Weird West” subgenre, a fusing of the Western with, in this case, the occult or supernatural. Eastwood plays the Stranger, a rugged gunfighter appearing out of the haze of the desert and stumbling into the town of Lago, where he may or may not have unfinished business — left over from another lifetime. If that premise doesn’t do it for you, I don’t know what will.

On Cable: High Spirits by D. B. Bates – January 14, 2011
High Spirits is an odd, uneven misfire that, like a handful of movies (most recently, Morning Glory), suffers from a serious identity crisis. At times, it’s a wacky special effects comedy, but it’s not very funny and never seems like it much wants to be, and the special effects are fairly awful for the time. Sometimes, it’s a haunted-house mystery, only it’s not all that mysterious. At other times, it wants to be a raucous sex comedy, but its PG-13 rating prevents it from getting any sexier than silhouettes and innuendo. Some films can handle the balancing act of genre-bending craziness, but this isn’t one of them.

On Cable: Higher Learning by Matt Wedge – December 3, 2010
Higher Learning is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen. This would be high praise if writer/director John Singleton hadn’t intended it to be a heavy drama. Overwrought, overstuffed, and just plain over-the-top, it’s a melodramatic message movie with more plot threads going on than the average daytime soap opera. If only one of those threads had been remotely interesting.

On Cable: Hoffa by Josh Medcalf – January 21, 2011
Hoffa is less the story of a man, and more the story of an entire American working class that became swept up in his influence, enchanted by his power.

On Cable: Hombre by Kyle Kogan – December 3, 2010
This film is as relevant today as it was in the late 60’s because it portrays society’s inherent xenophobia, a deficiency that plagues each and every one of us in some shape or form. It elucidates the divide cast between different cultures and offers loose suggestions that if this divide were shattered, those weapons that seemingly trump all might not be as necessary.

On Cable: Home Alone by Mark Dujsik – December 17, 2010
Parts of Home Alone are so ingrained in my memory that I noticed my brain filling in lines of dialogue before they were spoken on screen. Take into consideration that I didn’t watch this movie repeatedly as a child, either, and honestly, I don’t recall the last time I saw it. It’s simply that the script by John Hughes is either memorable or predictable, and I’d rather not make such a sweeping judgment one way or the other.

On Cable: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York by Kyle Kogan – December 24, 2010
It’s a silly, cute, and comical experience from start to finish, with only a few hiccups along the way. Some of these hiccups are greater than others, but I must note that these setbacks only became noticeable upon a critical viewing.

On Cable: Hot Dog… The Movie by Mark Dujsik – July 23, 2010
When it’s not too busy with a skiing montage (and it’s almost never too busy for that), Hot Dog… The Movie has its fun degrading women and giving the audience a bit more exposition every so often. Twenty minutes in, and we have received about three minutes of necessary plot. Ten minutes after that, there’s maybe another few seconds. Five minutes after that, we get a full minute or so of expository dialogue, finally establishing the nuances of a young kid entering a ski competition in which the Europeans are favored.

Script to Screen: Hot Tub Time Machine by D. B. Bates – August 13, 2010
Before I get ahead of myself, let me say this: I liked the movie. It’s a testament to the script itself, the cast, and director Steve Pink that the movie works despite the occasional super-cheap gag. In many ways, I think I actually prefer it to the script.

On Cable: House of Games by Andrew Good – July 2, 2010
Swindlers are nothing new in David Mamet’s world. They’re seducers by nature, and everyone — from the characters on screen to the audience watching them — hungers for seduction. We may tell ourselves we know better, that we would remain stoically grim in the face of a hypnotist or could spot the hidden ace in the sleeve of a magician. But in the end, every mark has a spider web of fears and lusts to exploit, and it’s a con man’s job to take them for a ride.

On Cable: House on Carroll Street, The by Josh Medcalf – December 10, 2010
If the Hitchcock thriller is the golden child of the family, this movie is the attention-starved, amateur younger brother trying to follow in its footsteps, but who just hasn’t yet discovered his true calling in life.

On Cable: House on Skull Mountain, The by D. B. Bates – January 21, 2011
Its very ’70s-ness is perhaps its most dominant feature, and it threatens to overwhelm and destroy an otherwise solid (if slightly goofy) horror film. Look past the surface, and you might find something resembling actual suspense, and occasional shock moments that actually shock.

In Theatres: How Do You Know by Mark Dujsik – December 17, 2010
Lack of proper punctuation in the title aside, How Do You Know (a phrase that cannot possibly be anything other than a question, right?) features a love triangle of downright equilateral monotony. Even the characters are unable to work up any kind of enthusiasm over their trying romantic lives. After all the false starts and lapses in judgment that keep them apart, the ultimate victors at love catch each other’s eyes, smile, and show the full extent of their passion: They shrug at each other.

In Theatres: Howl by Hanna Soltys – September 24, 2010
If you’re someone who can hear a poem and understand its meaning, props to you. I am not that person, nor will I pretend to be. But I am someone who appreciates superb acting, a passionate script, and a unique cinematic experience.

Movie Defender: Hudson Hawk by Matt Wedge – July 9, 2010
Right up front, let me get this out of the way: Hudson Hawk is not a good movie. In fact, it’s a spectacularly stupid movie featuring a mess of a story riddled with plot holes and silly one-liners. Like many of the films we will feature on The Movie Defender, it’s easy to understand why critics would beat up on the film. But Hudson Hawk is not an attempt to create high art. It’s a Joel Silver production starring Bruce Willis. The only thing that matters when we are talking about a film of that pedigree is the answer to the question: Is it entertaining? And it is with this quality that the film redeems itself, clocking in a surprisingly high number of laughs per minute.

In Theatres: I Am Number Four by Matt Wedge – February 18, 2011
Needless to say, this is a ton of plot to shove into a movie that runs less than two hours. I would take the film to task for not cutting some of the more extraneous plot details, but director D.J. Caruso has his hands tied by the fact that the film is supposed to be the first in a series. When taking that into account, it’s actually surprising how well I Am Number Four turned out. This could have been a dispiriting failure along the lines of The Vampire’s Assistant — a film that felt like one long first act setting up all the fun for films down the road. But Caruso is able to make John just an interesting enough protagonist and capitalize on a great performance by Olyphant, that I was willing to sit through the explanations and plot setups until the overblown, but rousing third act finally rewarded my patience.

Movie Defender: I Know Who Killed Me by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
It’s incredibly easy to see the flaws in a movie like I Know Who Killed Me. The script by Jeff Hammond is ludicrous, riddled with plot holes, bad dialogue and leaden attempts at psychological trickery. The lead performance by Lindsay Lohan in a dual role is shaky at best, leading to some bad line readings that only highlight the worst of the inept dialogue. But what is interesting to me about reviews of the film is that not only did critics spend most of their time wagging their fingers in misplaced fits of moral outrage at Lohan’s off-screen behavior, they turned a blind eye to the fact that, in the middle of a summer blockbuster season, a studio film made an honest attempt to stand out from the crowd. While it’s easy to consider it an overall failure, the over-the-top, anything-goes tone the film achieves puts it in the good company of so trashy they’re entertaining films like Wild Things and Basic Instinct. Don’t get me wrong — the film is not a misunderstood classic, but there’s plenty about it to recommend if you can look past the obvious flaws.

In Theatres: I Love You Phillip Morris by Matt Wedge – December 3, 2010
Nothing is more frustrating than watching a director make a mess out of a good script. It’s even worse when the director also wrote the script. In the case of I Love You Phillip Morris, the writers/directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, had the good sense as screenwriters to let the true story of Steven Russell (Jim Carrey) and Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor) play out in all its demented glory. As directors, they fail to trust the audience to understand the inherent comedy of the situations and characters and force a string of juvenile sight gags, an obnoxiously “funny” score, and a pervasive tone of unneeded wackiness onto the film.

On Cable: I Love You to Death by Matt Wedge – July 9, 2010
I Love You to Death opens with the bold proclamation that it’s based on a true story. Long ago, I learned to take those kind of claims with a huge grain of salt. In this case, while the filmmakers did take quite a few liberties when it came to the supporting characters and the actual outcome, the most unbelievable elements of the story turn out to be the most based-in-fact. If only one wayward performance and a flat ending had been avoided, this could have been a very funny movie. Instead, it settles for being just a little better than mediocre.

On Cable: I’ll Be There by Hanna Soltys – November 24, 2010
The only thing I’ll Be There had going for it was Charlotte Church’s voice; otherwise, the film falls flat.

In Theatres: I’m Still Here by Matt Wedge – September 24, 2010
While it seemed obvious to me that the whole thing was a hoax, the confession by director Casey Affleck that the whole thing was just an act caused a surprising amount of controversy over the last week. This seemed ridiculous to me, but having seen the film, I can now understand at least some of the surprise.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle [Eu când vreau să fluier, fluier] by Hanna Soltys – October 9, 2010
Ana and Silviu’s relationship is unlike any other you may have come across. It’s raw, fearful and extremely emotional. Piştereanu shines as this confused, mysterious and insanely smart inmate Silviu and will leave you wanting more.

In Theatres: Illusionist [L’illusionniste], The by Matt Wedge – February 9, 2011
The Illusionist is the type of movie that sneaks up on you. I spent most of my time watching the film in a sort of pleasant trance. I marveled at the beautiful, hand-drawn animation. I smiled and chuckled quietly at a running gag about the titular character and his surly rabbit that hates being stuffed into a hat. I drank in the attention to character design that made it possible to tell the story with incredibly sparse dialogue. And then the film hammered me with such a bittersweet — and ultimately sad — third act that I was stunned when I realized how emotionally invested I had become in the slight story and eccentric characters.

On Cable: Impromptu by Hanna Soltys – July 14, 2010
Impromptu feels like Pride & Prejudice with a little bit of sass and crass thrown in… The film boasts an incredible cast, but it lacks a script worthy of their talents. Most of the time, I sat in confusion, wondering how much time could have passed when literally nothing happened.

Special Contributors: Inception by Matt Wedge – August 27, 2010
I get that it was supposed to be a little confusing, but I couldn’t even get up to use the bathroom. I did about thirty minutes into it and when I came back, Jenny couldn’t even explain to me what had happened because she was so confused and then this jerk in front of us turned around and shushed us! Rude! I was just trying to understand this crappy movie that everyone was going on about.

In Theatres: Inception by Matt Wedge – July 16, 2010
Just ten years ago with Memento, Christopher Nolan hit us over the head with what should have been an obvious question: What is reality? It sounds like a simple query, but it’s actually quite tricky. Does knowing something as a fact make it real? If you know something is false, yet it feels real, doesn’t it become a truth? Obviously, these are questions and ideas that have been bounced around by artists, philosophers, and stoners for…well, seemingly forever. But few people have managed to wrap them up in such purely entertaining packages as Nolan.

On Cable: Into the Night by Josh Medcalf – December 3, 2010
Fairly often while watching a movie, I’m wanting it to be something I just know it’s going to end up falling short of. This one was no exception. Like most ’80s everyman thrust into cloak-and-dagger-type movies, John Landis’s Into the Night starts out strong, but never rises out of mediocrity.

Cannon Corner: Invasion U.S.A. by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
This one is strictly for hardcore Norris fans. Anyone looking for a cheesy good time will be disappointed by the dour tone and lack of creative mayhem on display.

In Theatres: Iron Man 2 by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
Iron Man 2 largely eschews the popular practice of action sequels offering nothing but bigger and louder explosions. While it does throw a bone or two to the action crowd with at least two scenes of destruction and mayhem, it largely plays down the action angle in favor of several nice character moments that play into the comedic talents of its large cast. If only it had avoided stacking its script with too many characters and plot twists, it might have surpassed the fun of the first movie.

On Cable: It’s Alive by D. B. Bates – October 29, 2010
That reaction is what makes It’s Alive more than a campy horror flick. Cohen roots the story firmly in the most primitive instincts of any parent, unconditional love of a child and the desire to do anything possible to protect it. That foundation allows for his metaphoric exploration of persecution and protection, and the moral gray area of a parent protecting a beast they know is a killer.

In Theatres: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Matt Wedge – October 16, 2010
It’s Kind of a Funny Story is a frustrating film. For everything that co-writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck get right, they get something just as wrong. For every cliché they avoid, they use another like a crutch. This push and pull between alternately subverting and embracing expectations leaves the film strangely inert — a story with good intentions that fails to completely satisfy as an exploration of mental illness or teenage angst.

On Cable: Jack by D. B. Bates – February 18, 2011
Director Francis Ford Coppola realizes Jack leads a life of deep sadness and loneliness, despite having loving parents. Because of his freakish qualities, they keep him indoors most of the time. He stares longingly out the window at the normal ten-year-olds, wishing he could live that life without having the intellectual or emotional capacity to understand why he can’t. Coppola’s not afraid to express that darkness, but he’s also not afraid to throw it all away for the sake of kids farting in a coffee can.

On Cable: Jingle All the Way by D. B. Bates – December 24, 2010
The fact that Jingle All the Way plays like a live-action cartoon aimed at children should have surprised nobody upon its release in 1996. However, it’s a film of such crass cynicism, I wish it had gone to even darker extremes with its ideas, some of which are actually pretty interesting.

In Theatres: Jonah Hex by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
What went wrong here? A compelling comic book character, great actors, a goofy but potentially funny revisionist-western storyline, excellent production values. This could have been one of the great, bleak, Dark Knight-esque comic-with-a-conscience summer movies. Instead, it limps through a barely-feature-length runtime, telling an incoherent-to-the-point-of-avant-garde story that’s stupid when it should have been sublimely ridiculous.

On Cable: Jumpin’ Jack Flash by Hanna Soltys – August 20, 2010
Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a typical ’80s movie: loud clothing, hi-tops, someone with an accent, terrible haircuts and off-colored language. But poor Jumpin’ Jack Flash put this lass to sleep on three occasions during the double viewing. One sits there wondering, Okay, when is this going to turn into a plot? Now…nope. Yet…negative. It’s tiring to spend a movie trying to figure out what’s already happened, let alone contemplate what’s about to go down.

In Theatres: Just Go with It by Mark Dujsik – February 11, 2011
There’s a difference between a movie that features dumb characters and a dumb movie, and you can see that distinction firsthand in Just Go With It, which begins the former and, about halfway through, becomes the latter. Both halves are maddening in different ways: the first in how unlikely and illogical character decisions are, and the second in how monotonous the lack of jokes and predictable romantic comedy formula are.

On Cable: Just One of the Guys by Andrew Good – August 13, 2010
Needless to say, the film’s premise is a little dubious. If Terry’s such a freethinking girl, why does she need to become a guy in order to get ahead? Ostensibly it’s to understand the male mindset, but she never plumbs gender politics that deeply. It’d be a more interesting film if it did, but put those ideas out of mind, popcorn in your mouth, and chew, chew, chew.

In Theatres: Karate Kid, The by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
As a general rule, I think remakes are a bad idea. There are so many great original scripts floating around that it is a sign of cowardice on the part of the studios that they constantly turn to the past instead of embracing new ideas. That being said, I took an oath to judge films solely on their own merits. As far as I’m concerned, the 2010 version of The Karate Kid is a solidly entertaining film that exists in a vacuum where Ralph Macchio’s career never showed a spark of promise.

Cannon Corner: Kickboxer by D. B. Bates – February 16, 2011
And then there’s Kickboxer, a film that defies Van Damme’s budding persona and pretty much everything anyone thought they knew about action heroes. It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it proved two things that made me respect Van Damme more than I ever thought I would: He takes risks, and he’s a better actor than his often confused franglais lets on. As Kurt Sloane, he allows himself to start the film as a petrified coward who slowly transforms into a master martial artist. He exhibits a much wider emotional rainbow than Bloodsport and Cyborg suggested he could, up to and including an incredibly silly dance sequence in which his goofy grin and disco splits win him the hearts of local women.

In Theatres: Kids Are All Right, The by Matt Wedge – July 25, 2010
The Kids Are All Right is a good but frustrating movie. On the one hand, it features an honestly original story with some very good acting. On the other hand, co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko finds it difficult to just get out of the way and let the story play out. It’s not that she’s using unnecessarily flashy camerawork or editing; she just doesn’t seem to trust that the audience is smart enough to understand what she is trying to accomplish. This results in three cringe-inducing monologues that bring the film screeching to a halt.

On Cable: Killer Elite, The by Andrew Good – October 15, 2010
You’d think a Sam Peckinpah film about amoral government agents battling ninja couldn’t go wrong. There’s so much potential in The Killer Elite: Gun fights and car chases in San Francisco! James Caan and Robert Duvall together post-Godfather! Mid-’70s Peckinpah!

In Theatres: Killer Inside Me, The by Matt Wedge – July 26, 2010
Based on the novel by acclaimed hard-boiled author Jim Thompson, it would be easy to believe this tale of murder, revenge, and lust set in 1950s West Texas to be a dark film noir. That seems to be what director Michael Winterbottom would be going for, with scenes that alternate between shadowy interiors, dimly-lit back-country roads, and sunny Texas summer days. But despite the source material and Winterbottom’s attempts to ape the look of classic film noir, the final results are closer to a Rob Zombie-style horror film that seeks to shove the audience’s face in scenes of abhorrent violence.

Cannon Corner: King Lear by D. B. Bates – January 12, 2011
I’ve seen many, many, many bad movies over the years, but this is the first one I’ve seen that seemed intentional. Usually, bad movies happen on accident — even the notoriously reviled Manos, the Hands of Fate started its production with the hope of making a good movie. Here, Godard simply does whatever the hell he wants, whatever pops into his head at any given time, and trust me when I say the things popping into his head during its production couldn’t fill up a haiku, much less a feature film.

In Theatres: King’s Speech, The by Matt Wedge – January 7, 2011
The downfall of many films about royalty, particularly the British monarchy, is that they portray the individuals involved as either being stuffy and completely out of touch with the common man, or touchingly human and (surprise!) just like the rest of us. Rarely are they allowed to be fully formed characters with shades of gray that find them both out of touch and human. If for no other reason than the fact that it remedies such a stereotypical approach, The King’s Speech would warrant polite applause. That it also functions as an engrossing drama about the demands of leadership in the face of crippling self-doubt makes it more than the highbrow Oscar-grab that it initially appears to be.

Cannon Corner: Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects by D. B. Bates – February 23, 2011
Some might laugh at the depiction of Japanese culture here, but it’s no less silly or over-the-top than the portrayal of American culture. The movie works for two main reasons. First, as is often the case with Bronson’s late-period work, Nebenzal and director J. Lee Thompson create a crazy world that’s consistent within its own set of strange rules. In my review of Death Wish 2, I described it as “a paranoid fever dream where all the fears of the elderly have come true.” That about sums it up.

In Theatres: Knight and Day by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Even though I still have no idea what the title means, I enjoyed Knight and Day a lot. It blends cheerful, good-natured comedic moments with some very impressive action sequences much more successfully than the similar Killers. More to the point, it’s exactly what a summer popcorn movie should be: fun.

On Cable: L.A. Streetfighters by Matt Wedge – November 5, 2010
When it comes to a low-budget martial arts film, I’m willing to overlook just about any problem with the script, acting, and overall lack of filmmaking craft as long as the fight scenes are exciting and well-choreographed. Unfortunately, L.A. Streetfighters has worse than usual problems when it comes to the factors I’m usually willing to turn a blind eye to. On top of that, the fight scenes range from awkward to competent to only occasionally exciting.

In Theatres: La Mission by Mark Dujsik – July 9, 2010
Full of tediously consistent or arbitrarily inconsistent characters, La Mission is unsuccessful as a personal drama and almost irresponsible as a social one.

In Theatres: Last Airbender, The by D. B. Bates – July 9, 2010
For most of its runtime, The Last Airbender suffers from the problem that has plagued the last few Harry Potter movies: familiarity with its source material is required to understand the movie itself.

In Theatres: Last Exorcism, The by Matt Wedge – August 27, 2010
There is a point, roughly 80 minutes into The Last Exorcism, that would have been a great conclusion for the film. Hardcore horror fans would have cried foul, claiming it to be a bait-and-switch, but as far as the film goes, it would have been a sublime, emotionally satisfying conclusion. Unfortunately, the film continues for a supremely ridiculous climax that delivers laughs instead of the terror it was supposed to evoke.

Script to Screen: Law Abiding Citizen by D. B. Bates – December 10, 2010
I can’t sugarcoat it: I’ve never read a stupider screenplay than Law Abiding Citizen. (The script for the upcoming Kane & Lynch movie, ironically also to be directed by F. Gary Gray and costarring Jamie Foxx, is a close second.) I’ve read worse scripts — scripts that don’t even work on a conceptual level — but here’s a script with noble intentions, a solid premise, and some of the dumbest writing ever featured in a major motion picture (this includes the Star Wars prequels). It’s the sort of script where a scene starts with Benson Clyde (changed to Clyde Shelton in the film, played by Gerard Butler) saying, “You don’t have any evidence, so you have to let me go,” and ends with him saying, “Even though you still don’t have any evidence, I’ll confess.” Stupider than that: None of the high-powered prosecutors listening to him consider that logic-impaired 180-degree turn suspicious.

Bargain Bin: Leaves of Grass by Matt Wedge – November 24, 2010
I like to imagine that if Richard Kelly had directed Pineapple Express, it might have resembled Leaves of Grass. Combining a traditional genre film with unexpected plot twists and a healthy dollop of philosophical musings, the film resembles a comedic version of what Kelly tried to pull off with The Box.

In Theatres: Lebanon by D. B. Bates – August 29, 2010
Like the best war movies, Lebanon makes a statement about the nature of war without seeming like it’s making any statement at all. It doesn’t get swept up in examining the political machinations that led to the First Lebanon War and picking sides. It simply depicts four inexperienced men inside the turret of an Israeli tank as it rolls through Lebanon at the start of the war in 1982. It’s at once a microcosmic view of the hell of war and a harrowing thriller. Not to sound too hyperbolic, but it’s a tremendous film that makes The Hurt Locker look like The Delta Force.

On Cable: Legend of Hell House, The by Josh Medcalf – January 28, 2011
My problem with the film isn’t that it has a crappy premise. My problem is that it has a decent premise that just isn’t handled well enough — wasted by a combination of missing exposition, spotty characterization, and a lack of dramatic material.

In Theatres: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole by Matt Wedge – September 24, 2010
It would be easy to get lost in the handsome animation that brings to life the characters of Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole. The details are so sharply designed and beautifully executed, the film could have coasted through its largely derivative story without adding any wrinkles or subtlety and I probably would have written a decent review that focused on the impressive technical accomplishments of the film. Fortunately, even with a story that was derivative when George Lucas used it to create Star Wars almost 35 years ago, the film’s creaky plot and familiar characters slowly come to life during the second act in time for a surprisingly rousing climax.

On Cable: Less Than Zero by Josh Medcalf – February 11, 2011
Director Marek Kanievska seems to take the scared-straight approach, and of course a lot of that has to do with the studio’s efforts to clean up much of the X-rated, meandering existentialism of Ellis’s novel, in an attempt to put together a marketable package with three-act structure, an identifiable protagonist and a clear moral doggie bag to leave the theater with.

In Theatres: Let Me In by Mark Dujsik – October 1, 2010
Yes, it is a remake of a film released only two years ago. Yes, the original film is absolutely fine on its own merits. And yes, in Let Me In, writer/director Matt Reeves improves on certain elements of Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In.

On Cable: Leviathan by Kyle Kogan – November 26, 2010
Leviathan is good at what it does, no doubt, which is simply a creature feature sporting some impressive technical achievements and assured cinematography. When compared to the likes of Alien, The Fly, and The Abyss (which was released the same year), its candle is all but extinguished. As a result, Leviathan just feels stale and hollow, but I feel its reputation as a shameless knockoff is unwarranted.

On Cable: Liberty Heights by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Barry Levinson never gets better than his slice-of-life Baltimore films. Don’t get me wrong — he’s made some amazing studio films (Sleepers, The Natural) and some ambitious misfires that suggest a born filmmaker (Toys, Jimmy Hollywood), but nobody does wry, observational slice-of-life like he does. Liberty Heights stands out from his other work (Diner, Tin Men, and Avalon) because it brings the race component into it. It finally shows the darkness brimming under the typically idealized façade of Levinson’s other Baltimore films.

On Cable: Life Less Ordinary, A by Andrew Good – July 9, 2010
It’s really too bad that the movie doesn’t congeal, because on paper, Danny Boyle’s follow-up feature to Trainspotting, his 1996 breakthrough, could be heavenly fun, despite its inherent preciousness. But the script is a mess, presumably because the filmmakers were chasing a manic, screwball tone that leaves the audience confused.

In Theatres: Life as We Know It by D. B. Bates – October 9, 2010
When a romantic comedy’s biggest liability is its central romance, it’s time to rethink the genre. Life as We Know It spends its first hour in a shallow exploration of some pretty interesting ideas about the way priorities shift when a child enters the picture. Then, it abandons those ideas for routine rom-com pablum (pardon the pun) that’s almost saved by the two lead actors. Almost.

Cannon Corner: Lifeforce by Matt Wedge – December 17, 2010
Lifeforce is one of the first films that the Cannon Group rolled the dice on with a big budget. As with most of their grasping attempts to hit it big, their roll came up snake eyes. With a budget reported in excess of twenty-five million dollars, Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of Colin Wilson’s novel The Space Vampires is a sprawling, messy epic with moments of startling horror interspersed with silly plot twists, and characters acting in bizarre ways that somehow make sense when filtered through Hooper’s oddball view of the world.

Cannon Corner: Link by Matt Wedge – August 20, 2010
It shouldn’t work. That is the thought that kept going through my head while watching Link. Super-intelligent, evil primates are the stuff of cheesy Michael Crichton-inspired adventures like Congo. They have no purpose being featured in an oddly engrossing, tongue-in-cheek indie thriller. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

In Theatres: Little Fockers by Matt Wedge – December 22, 2010
I don’t think I’ve seen a movie with so many actors looking embarrassed to be taking part in it. Stiller, De Niro, Hoffman, and Laura Dern (cameoing as the head of a private kindergarten) are all fine actors, but they’re not good enough to hide the shame behind their eyes as they spout groan-worthy puns, offer up exaggerated reaction shots to ridiculous moments, and recycle old bits from the previous movies that have long since lost any effectiveness they may have once held.

On Cable: Loose Cannons by D. B. Bates – October 8, 2010
What the hell happened? I’ve never seen a movie so full of fresh comedic ideas so poorly rendered.

In Theatres: Lottery Ticket by D. B. Bates – August 21, 2010
Lottery Ticket has done a wonderful thing. It has successfully merged a ridiculous, high-concept studio idea with a nuanced, character-driven slice-of-life comedy. The result is one of the best comedies of the year — granted, a lackluster year for comedies thus far, but that shouldn’t diminish this film’s accomplishments.

In Theatres: Love & Other Drugs by Mark Dujsik – November 24, 2010
Jamie apparently is not enough of a jerk for screenwriters Charles Randolph, Edward Zwick (who also directs), and Marshall Herskovitz (working from a nonfiction account of the industry by Jamie Reidy) who decide to keep piling on the self-indulgent drive he considers ambition, the calculated smile he thinks of as charm, and the need to make other people do as he thinks necessary he calls selfishness.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Love Life of a Gentle Coward [Ljubavni život domobrana] by D. B. Bates – October 15, 2010
Love Life of a Gentle Coward finds the source of its comedy through a deft exploration of gender roles in the modern world. It benefits from a strong screenplay by Pavo Marinković (who also directed) that, in some ways, feels like the sort of comedy Woody Allen would make if he were still in his prime. Aside from its neurotic examination of romance, the film works as a fairly deep rumination on the way social expectations have muddied the relationship waters.

In Theatres: Love Ranch by Mark Dujsik – June 30, 2010
Love Ranch is a shambles of trashy story arcs, made partially digestible by the dichotomy of its lead performances but unable to fully cope with its sleazy pedigree.

Cannon Corner: Love Streams by D. B. Bates – January 7, 2011
John Cassavetes did not make easy films to watch, and Love Streams is no exception. Like most of Cassavetes’s work, the film has very little in the way of plot and more than enough in the way of brutal, intense character study. Despite a slightly higher budget than he normally worked with (thought not by much — Cannon Films was not known for busting the budget on anything, especially not a challenging art film), it retains the rawness of his earlier, self-financed work. It’s the sort of movie that will make virtually anyone watching it disappointed in humanity, but that’s only because it’s so easy to believe characters like this exist in reality.

On Cable: Lucas by Kyle Kogan – August 20, 2010
David Seltzer’s feature debut Lucas is remarkable in its portrayal of a lonely boy who finds his first love. It chooses to depict the gracelessness of the protagonist in a revealing and true-to-life way, turning what could have been another run-of-the-mill sex romp into an uplifting, funny, and tender character study.

Special Contributors: MacGruber by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Remember when action movies were tough? Back before the Clinton liberals convinced everyone that a sensitive, ponytail-wearing, environment-loving “action hero” like Steven Seagal or a Frenchy like Jean-Claude Van Damme were worth watching, we had real heroes like Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In Theatres: Machete by Matt Wedge – September 3, 2010
While the plot is fairly paint by numbers action movie material, the sense of fun is palpable. Trejo grounds the film with a constant scowl and his usual surly charisma. This allows the mayhem and the other actors to go as far over-the-top as they want.

On Cable: Man From Snowy River, The by Kyle Kogan – July 9, 2010
The men from The Man From Snowy River sit in wicker chairs warming wallaby stew over an open fire. They reminisce about their day breaking wild horses, gazing longingly into an auburn sunset. In this part of the Australian outback, these men handle most of their qualms with words and only exchange blows under strikingly rare circumstances. One of these men states, “This is a hard country, and it makes for hard men”.

On Cable: Man With One Red Shoe, The by Andrew Good – August 27, 2010
Before “Oscar-winner” was a modifier synonymous with his name, Tom Hanks was just a really funny comedic actor. The ’80s were a golden age for him, where he crafted a screen image that balanced down-to-earthiness with being a slightly off-kilter goofball, an awkward adult that can’t help but stand out in a crowd.

On Cable: Man of the Century by Mark Dujsik – January 14, 2011
The joke — and it’s the movie’s only joke — is that Johnny Twennies (Gibson Frazier) is stuck in the movie vision of the 1920s (see, even his name is part of that gag), while the rest of the world has progressed into (or remained, if you’re a realist) a loud, hurtful, dangerous, foul-mouthed place where people don’t give a good gosh-darn about the opening of some public library, guys get fresh with a lady riding her bike to work, and dolls are looking for more than a kiss on the cheek after 27 days of courting. He doesn’t realize any of his modes of thought, dress, and speech are outdated, and that makes it an effective joke — to a point.

On Cable: Manhattan Project, The by Josh Medcalf – December 10, 2010
The key ingredient for a film to be considered “cult,” in my humble opinion, is soul. And The Manhattan Project has it in droves. It starts off innocently enough, with some cheesy one-liners, painfully awkward expositional beats, and noticeable ’80s stamps, before rapidly evolving into something much more significant.

In Theatres: Mao’s Last Dancer by Matt Wedge – September 10, 2010
If good intentions always produced good movies, I would never have to write a negative review. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Mao’s Last Dancer shows how a unique, powerful story can be nearly ruined when buried under a heaping mound of schmaltz and heavy-handed political messages. What should have been an inspiring film about hard-won personal triumph is turned into a simplistic message movie about the absolute evils of communist China and the glorious freedoms of the United States.

On Cable: Marked for Death by D. B. Bates – November 26, 2010
In many ways, Marked for Death is Seagal’s strangest studio film. It touches on the usual Seagal themes but takes them into new, unexpected directions. The mystical seriousness with which it takes Jamaican voodoo magic, for instance, lends a bizarre, verging-on-surreal quality to the proceedings. It also boasts, thanks to the terrific direction by Dwight H. Little, some of his most varied, wildly imaginative action sequences.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Matchmaker [Paam Hayiti], The by Hanna Soltys – October 27, 2010
A matchmaker, and even The Matchmaker, specializes in finding true love for even the most undesirable people. You never question a matchmaker’s advice and recommendation, especially when The Matchmaker is Yankele Bride (Adir Miller), a beast of a man who just survived life in “there.” But what makes Yankele Bride different from most matchmakers is the fact his reach goes far beyond eternal love and romance.

On Cable: Max Dugan Returns by Kyle Kogan – October 8, 2010
It is all insubstantial and excruciatingly shallow, especially when you consider that Max is a deadbeat who spent years in prison yet still carries with him stolen casino money. Fortunately, scribe Neil Simon never delves too deeply into it, instead allowing Max’s shortcomings to act as impetus for his reasons to return in the first place.

On Cable: Me Without You by Hanna Soltys – July 14, 2010
Every best friend relationship crosses the same tribulations: jealousy, back-stabbing, secrets, causing deliberate hurt and pain, curtness, sadness and most importantly, confusion. Every person out there will be able to identify with either Marina (Anna Friel) or Holly (Michelle Williams), or maybe both of them from time to time.

In Theatres: Mechanic, The by Mark Dujsik – January 28, 2011
It’s not that the rest of this loose remake of Michael Winner’s 1972 movie of the same title is forgettable, but it is fair to say many of the movie’s action sequences are primarily ordinary affairs heightened by a macabre sense of glee at the bloody finesse of its anti-heroes.

Movie Defender: Meet Dave by D. B. Bates – December 3, 2010
Meet Dave is a pleasant surprise: a frequently funny, family-oriented sci-fi comedy boasting two of Murphy’s best performances (as captain and “ship”) since his dual role in 1999’s Bowfinger. First, he plays the stone-faced captain of a Nilian ship. Nilians are tiny creatures who look conveniently like humans but, like Vulcans, aren’t quite tapped into their emotions. They bury everything in a patriotic fervor and dedication to duty above all else. Their starship, as it happens, is shaped exactly like The Captain, in order to blend in with the strange human beings. Ostensibly, the plot revolves around the crew’s search for a mysterious orb that will allow them to drain Earth’s oceans and collect the salt, which on Nil is a highly valuable energy source. That’s merely an excuse for some of the oddest fish-out-of-water comedy ever committed to film.

In Theatres: Megamind by Mark Dujsik – November 5, 2010
The dilemma is unexpectedly and maturely clever: What happens when a person who bases his life on fighting the establishment becomes the establishment?

On Cable: Memoirs of an Invisible Man by Hanna Soltys – November 27, 2010
Like most Chevy Chase movies from the ’90s, Memoirs of an Invisible Man is insanely entertaining, solely thanks to Mr. Chase. While we may not always see Chase, we always hear his voice and can imagine those infamous facial expressions we’ve all come to know and love over the years.

Bargain Bin: Messages Deleted by D. B. Bates – January 21, 2011
With more ambition, Messages Deleted could have been a great thriller variation on the Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman collaboration Adaptation. The title and DVD box art give the impression that this will be a thriller in the vein of two other Larry Cohen scripts: Phone Booth and Cellular. It’s actually a thriller about a failed screenwriter embroiled in a murder mystery whose victims are right out of his only sold (but unproduced) screenplay, and it spends a lot of time talking about the conventions of movies without really twisting or defying them. Merely acknowledging clichés doesn’t automatically overcome them.

On Cable: Metropolis by Matt Wedge – August 6, 2010
I have decided that it’s just me. I have watched nearly every anime considered essential viewing for American audiences by fans of the art form. I have watched Akira, Ninja Scroll, and most of the films of Hayao Miyazaki. And when each of these films has come to an end, I have the same reaction every time: very pretty to look at, but ultimately, they’re nothing but a boring exercise in style. Metropolis fits right in that category.

On Cable: Miami Blues by Kyle Kogan – December 10, 2010
I always love these carefree, suave criminal types. They are an overused archetype, but Alec Baldwin really invigorates the character with his bare approach to it. He is the type of bad guy we can root for because, despite the swaths of damage he cuts across the city, he’s just much cooler than everyone else.

In Theatres: Middle Men by Mark Dujsik – August 6, 2010
With its hyperactive narrative, featuring a nearly constant and roaming narrator, Middle Men feels more like a pitch session than a fully formed story.

Cannon Corner: Missing in Action by D. B. Bates – December 15, 2010
Despite the film’s simplicity, I find myself on the cusp of recommending it. It lacks the campy appeal of more mindlessly entertaining Cannon fodder, though it contains the typical displays of raw, testosterone-fueled machismo often mischaracterized as homoeroticism (and with good reason — in particular, Braddock’s attempts to wrench a knife from the hands of a potential assassin could easily be mistaken for a completely different act that would have warranted an X rating). Really, it’s a sterling example of how much goodwill an effective opening can have on a film.

Cannon Corner: Missing in Action 2: The Beginning by D. B. Bates – December 20, 2010
But this film’s problems run deeper than a lack of strong characters. Plenty of action movies — especially those made by the Cannon Group — work with stereotypes more than actual characters, and they can still be fun and entertaining. Like the wave of torture porn currently infesting multiplexes, the film lingers on tawdry shock moments (up to and including a slow-motion closeup of a character getting shot in the head) that don’t add up to anything more meaningful. The film tries to use these moments to show Yin as a vile monster and illustrate the risk involved in Braddock escaping, but there are simply too many of them and they’re all too grim and exploitative to have any real artistic merit.

On Cable: Missouri Breaks, The by Andrew Good – July 23, 2010
The Missouri Breaks is no Heaven’s Gate, but it is still an uneven film. Like Gate, remembered largely as the biggest boondoggle of its decade, it’s an ambitious western about authority, greed and how both fuel and corrupt the American spirit.

On Cable: Mobsters by Josh Medcalf – February 4, 2011
It’s also many different movies, all rolled into one — a collage of mob clichés, as if the filmmakers slid a tray down a cafeteria lunch line and picked scenes out, a la carte, from other films.

On Cable: Modern Problems by D. B. Bates – August 13, 2010
This is a great setup for a sly (if slightly cartoonish) comedy about, well…modern problems. Unfortunately, Max develops telekinesis, which ruins everything.

On Cable: Money Pit, The by Matt Wedge – January 28, 2011
There is a reason the sketch comedy format exists. Certain concepts are strictly a one-joke premise and don’t need to be stretched past the five-minute mark. Hence, the need for sketch comedy — get in, set up the joke, hit the punch line, get the laugh, get out. The very talented people in front of and behind the camera of The Money Pit are apparently unfamiliar with this idea, because the movie is a labored attempt to stretch its one-joke premise to an impossible ninety minutes.

On Cable: Money Train by Matt Wedge – November 19, 2010
As a vehicle to capitalize on the chemistry that Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson displayed in White Men Can’t Jump, Money Train works. The duo display an uncanny ability to play off the other’s performance that is energizing with perfect comic timing. As an action-comedy, it’s a mess. By the time the chaotic, noisy third act rolls around, not even Snipes and Harrelson are able to rescue the film from its scattered story, lazy dialogue, and boring action scenes.

On Cable: Monster Dog by D. B. Bates – September 3, 2010
Camp stems naturally from a combination the filmmakers’ utter seriousness and incredible incompetence. I say this to justify giving Monster Dog a three-star review: it’s a poorly made, remarkably stupid movie that manages to entertain through laughable attempts at scares and gore.

In Theatres: Monsters by D. B. Bates – October 29, 2010
What little marketing exists for Monsters gives the impression that it’s a split between District 9 and Paranormal Activity: A high-concept underground horror flick about aliens who have invaded. In reality, the film plays out more like a standard road movie, with a sci-fi backdrop to make it more interesting than those annoying indie road movies Matt and I just complained about. Luckily, compelling leads and a decent script prevent it from looking like a hackneyed riff on a stale genre.

In Theatres: Morning Glory by D. B. Bates – November 10, 2010
Morning Glory is a comedy suffering from a frustrating identity crisis. The film has all the focus of a cocaine-addicted squirrel, so it never decides which story it wants to tell. As a result, nothing in the film is particularly satisfying, despite sparks of potential all over the place.

On Cable: Motel Hell by D. B. Bates – November 12, 2010
Coming in the middle of the cannibal craze of the ’70s and ’80s, Motel Hell has less interest in graphic exploitation than in a grim portrait of crazy people. Yes, it’s billed as a horror-comedy, and it does contain a few legitimate laughs, but this is a real horror film. It’s more disturbing than traditionally scary, but frankly, that’s the way I like ‘em.

On Cable: Mr. Majestyk by Kyle Kogan – January 14, 2011
Charles Bronson, a name that carries considerable weight, is an actor who has starred in countless action classics. I consider myself a movie fanatic, so I presume I’ve committed some form of blasphemy by admitting that this is my very first Charles Bronson film. I know; it’s pretty ludicrous that I haven’t seen these timeless classics. If Richard Fleischer’s Mr. Majestyk is any indication of Bronson’s existing canon, I can safely say that I am altogether hooked. Bronson truly deserves his iconic status as an action hero.

On Cable: Much Ado About Nothing by Kyle Kogan – July 30, 2010
When I popped Kenneth Branagh’s seminal Much Ado About Nothing adaptation into my DVD player, I predicted my next two hours panning out as an exercise in patience. Mind you, I happen to love Shakespeare but the scribe has a way with words so profound that it’s often hard to follow when performed. I was worried, therefore, that inclusion of “Olde English” could potentially act as a distraction, withdrawing its viewers from the film. I was pleased to discover quite the contrary.

Cannon Corner: Murphy’s Law by D. B. Bates – September 26, 2011
Bronson plays Jack Murphy, an alcoholic robbery-homicide detective whose wife has just left him. In a bizarre twist, Jan (Angel Tompkins) has left Murphy in order to live out her dream of stripping (she calls it “dancing”). Murphy has a habit of sitting in the back of her club, getting hammered, taunting Jan, and then following her back to her apartment to peep while she makes love with other men. Seriously.

In Theatres: Music Never Stopped, The by Hanna Soltys – January 29, 2011
The Music Never Stops, based on a true story and Oliver Sacks’s case study, elicits those same emotions and feelings. After having a brain tumor removed, Gabriel Sawyer (Lou Tyler Pucci) returns to his parents, Henry (J.K. Simmons) and Helen (Cara Seymour), nearly twenty years after leaving them. Gabriel’s prognosis doesn’t look good as his surgery was very invasive, causing him to be in a vegetative-like state. After listening to The Beatles on a nurse’s Walkman (the film takes place in the ’80s), Gabriel seems to awake, but only when the music plays.

The Academy of the Overrated: Mystic River by Matt Wedge – February 18, 2011
That’s why I was so shocked when I first saw Mystic River. It struck me as a stunning misfire from a usually reliable director with a good cast overacting like they were in a high school production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Even worse, Eastwood showcased bizarre flourishes and an over-the-top score, which he helped compose, that only further pushed the film into overbearing territory.

On Cable: Nadine by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
Equal parts gentle character comedy and ramshackle film noir, Nadine is an easy film to like for its relaxed tone and frequent touches of oddball humor. If that were enough to recommend a film, this would be a four star review, unfortunately, writer/director Robert Benton lets that relaxed tone become a little too laid back and the film eventually sputters to a conclusion that is only partially satisfying.

On Cable: Naked Lunch by Kyle Kogan – January 14, 2011
The novel seems so convoluted and abstract that I’m equal parts surprised and impressed that Cronenberg even managed to put a film together. What he did put together I appreciate solely on a visceral, enigmatic front. It’s so altogether complex that I found it impossible to resist. It’s not a film I will be running back to see anytime soon, but if you’re looking for a mind-bending trip into the mind of William S. Burroughs, look no further.

On Cable: Navy SEALS by Josh Medcalf – February 18, 2011
The premise is simple. We see both “sides” of the lives of the men on a rough-and-tumble Navy SEALs team: one side when they’re on mission, the other when they’re off, with a few highlighted dramatic subplots interspersed between. The various attempts at endearing us to the characters are painfully obvious, first-date awkward. It really is Top Gun all over again, without the planes, and with Charlie Sheen standing in for Tom Cruise.

In Theatres: Never Let Me Go by Mark Dujsik – September 24, 2010
Science-fiction set in the future lets us off easy. Certainly, the present and past inform a writer’s vision of the future, but there is always the caveat that goes along with stating, “This is where we could be heading.” There’s a distance in the inherent comfort of recognizing that the chance to reform is present. Surely, we think, we will not let it get that bad.

Hence the subtle brilliance of the conceit of Never Let Me Go, the film based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, which is not set in the future but in the past. This is not where we are heading; it is where we have been and where we are.

Cannon Corner: New Year’s Evil by Matt Wedge – October 15, 2010
The results are as inept and artless as can be expected. Disappointingly, they are not inept in an entertaining manner. New Year’s Evil ends up being one of the most lifeless, dull films that the Cannon Group ever stamped their name on.

On Cable: Newsfront by Mark Dujsik – August 13, 2010
Set in post-World War II Australia, Newsfront chronicles the zenith of the newsreel industry and its subsequent fade away into cultural memory. It also, more tellingly, recalls a time when journalists felt the human story was always more worthwhile than angling for sensationalism.

In Theatres: Next Three Days, The by Hanna Soltys – November 19, 2010
The Next Three Days has all kinds of promise in its cast (mainly Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, and Liam Neeson) and its director (Paul Haggis of Crash fame). The film, adapted from the 2008 French film Anything for Her [Pour Elle], which starred Diane Kruger and Vincent Lindon, lacks character development, any type of realistic situations and has a very misleading trailer.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Next Three Days, The by Hanna Soltys – October 27, 2010
The Next Three Days has all kinds of promise in its cast (mainly Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, and Liam Neeson) and its director (Paul Haggis of Crash fame). The film, adapted from the 2008 French film Anything for Her [Pour Elle], which starred Diane Kruger and Vincent Lindon, lacks character development, any type of realistic situations and has a very misleading trailer.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Nice Guy Johnny by Hanna Soltys – October 27, 2010
Nice Guy Johnny is a coming-of-age story for Johnny Rizzo (Matt Bush) and his quest to either live his dream of becoming a sports broadcaster or settle into a life with his longtime girlfriend, and now fiancée, Claire (Anna Wood).

On Cable: Nicholas Nickleby by Mark Dujsik – October 22, 2010
I have not seen Nicholas Nickleby since it was first released, and so it’s a pleasure to report the film still has the ability to wash over you with its expansive cast of characters, its broad themes, and a charming storybook visual and editorial sensibility (longer takes, picture-frame compositions, and theatrical blocking). In taking Charles Dickens’s original 952-page novel and condensing it to a mere 132 minutes, writer/director Douglas McGrath has maintained that incomparable spirit of Dickens’s worldview — one of a heightened Victorian England and the makeup of its populace.

In Theatres: No Strings Attached by Matt Wedge – January 22, 2011
Maybe that’s why the script by Elizabeth Meriwether feels so underdeveloped — she’s trying to keep too many balls in the air. It also doesn’t help that Reitman’s direction is so flat. He does a commendable job of trying to keep a silly premise grounded in a semblance of reality by not letting the film become a series of one-liners. But the trade off is that when there is a laugh line, it feels forced and awkward, as though the characters are constantly half a beat behind the audience.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Norman by D. B. Bates – October 16, 2010
Norman is a sharp-toothed teen comedy that doesn’t shy away from making a mess or going to extremely dark, emotional places. It’s clearly sympathetic to Norman’s misguided actions (and every single action Norman makes during the film is misguided), but Talton Wingate’s screenplay doesn’t let him off the hook. At its core, though, it’s an extremely well-made coming-of-age story for cynical teens. The narrative structure is familiar, but the emotional complexity and bleak satire of high school politics make it something more.

On Cable: Nothing Like the Holidays by Josh Medcalf – December 17, 2010
Taken at face value, it’s a gripping, voyeuristic portrait of a dysfunctional American family during what may be their last Christmas together under one roof. As that, it’s a near-perfect success for director Alfredo De Villa, who has rendered some of the most realistic sibling rivalry since Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko.

On Cable: Nothing to Lose by Josh Medcalf – December 3, 2010
There’s nothing particularly original about the movie itself, but the plot throws just enough surprises at you to keep you invested throughout, even after it loses steam late in the second act. It goes down some unexpected avenues, some random, some a little awkward. Other than that, it’s perfectly formulaic. Which isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, I found most of this unlikely pair’s antics riotously funny.

In Theatres: Nowhere Boy by Matt Wedge – October 22, 2010
Because the man left behind an impressive body of musical work and was cut down by a psychopath at a young age, he was transformed into something far bigger than himself. That Nowhere Boy seeks to humanize and demythologize Lennon is commendable. That it struggles to maintain a consistently interesting through-line is disappointing.

On Cable: Nurse Betty by Hanna Soltys – July 30, 2010
Nurse Betty feels like a script the Farrelly brothers could have penned. It’s absurd, intriguing, uncomfortable, awkward, yet satisfying. Meet Betty Sizemore (Renée Zellweger), a waitress in a small Kansas town married to a two-timing husband, Del (Aaron Eckhart). Betty’s pleasant, kind, warm, and obsessed with the soap opera A Reason to Love.

On Cable: Once Bitten by Matt Wedge – August 27, 2010
After the extinction of the human race, when aliens are sifting through the remains of our civilizations, I hope they come across a DVD of Once Bitten. It’s the perfect example of cheesy ’80s comedy for an alien race to view and gain understanding of how often the decade was culturally bankrupt.

On Cable: Only the Lonely by D. B. Bates – November 26, 2010
For people of my generation, John Hughes’s oeuvre — as writer, director, and/or producer — is widely regarded as classic fare. Superior films like The Breakfast Club and Planes, Trains and Automobiles stand side by side with charming but iffy fare like Uncle Buck and Dutch as comforting, thoughtful entertainment that has withstood the test of time (despite heaping dollops of ’80s cheese permeating each film). How did the great romantic comedy Only the Lonely fall through the cracks and drift into obscurity?

On Cable: Opportunity Knocks by Matt Wedge – February 11, 2011
For an innocuous vehicle to capitalize on Dana Carvey’s popularity during his Saturday Night Live heyday, there’s something slightly distasteful about Opportunity Knocks. This lack of taste has nothing to do with Carvey, but with using his talents for mimicry and improvisation to tell a story about a con man seeking to rip off a wealthy Chicago businessman by getting his daughter to fall in love with him. Comedies about con artists work best when the person being conned is someone who deserves to be ripped off (The Sting). Here, I just found the premise so off-putting, it was hard to appreciate the minimal amount of actual comedic entertainment on display.

In Theatres: Other Guys, The by Mark Dujsik – August 6, 2010
While it suffers from inevitable lag during third-act plot reveals and generic action sequences, The Other Guys is a tight comedy that skillfully maneuvers from the extremes of specific parody to general absurdity and many points in between.

On Cable: Out for Justice by Andrew Good – August 20, 2010
That’s what most Seagal movies are about: watching the jerks of the world get their comeuppance, usually in a brutally over-the-top fashion. The movie’s called Out For Justice, after all, and it offers a pretty satisfying serving of vengeance. The only thing standing in its way is the story.

On Cable: PCU by Hanna Soltys – July 2, 2010
Maybe it is completely un-PC to sit here and tell the truth about PCU. For his directorial debut, Hart Bochner unleashed PCU, the annoying little brother of Animal House who grew up in the ’90s.

On Cable: Package, The by D. B. Bates – July 2, 2010
Davis’s directorial restraint is the film’s biggest strength. From a story standpoint, The Package could have easily starred Seagal and featured long gunfights, big explosions, and trademark aikido beatings. Everything about the story screams, “Big, ballsy action movie.” Instead, Davis eschews the big spectacle in favor of quiet character moments.

On Cable: Paper Chase, The by Kyle Kogan – September 24, 2010
The Paper Chase tells a story that will resonate with anyone who has endured the hardships of graduate school and to those who have considered it. While the advancement of intellect is important for a prosperous future in the field of law, at what cost does it come?

On Cable: Paradise Road by Kyle Kogan – November 12, 2010
Director Bruce Beresford directs with a strict outline, spoon feeding us each and every turn. The film lacks any surprise as a result, diminishing in emotional investments. Subsequently, the characters lose their credibility as the film chugs along. It’s unfortunate that Bruce Beresford didn’t support his fine cast with a stronger script and a leaner production. Underneath the heavy-handed polish lies a grittier, more organic version of this film.

On Cable: Perfect World, A by Matt Wedge – November 19, 2010
There is a pivotal scene in A Perfect World that finds escaped convict Butch Haynes (Kevin Costner) responding to a woman’s assertion that he is a good man: “No, I ain’t a good man. I ain’t the worst, neither.” As a piece of dialogue, it may be a little too on-the-nose, but as a summation of the tricky drama at the heart of John Lee Hancock’s very good script, it works beautifully.

On Cable: Pick-Up Artist, The by Kyle Kogan – September 3, 2010
Why did ’80s films always have to be about a player getting played? It’s about the most overused rom-com staple on the market, and though it generally works, here it seems so rushed.

In Theatres: Piranha 3D by Matt Wedge – August 20, 2010
This remake — the second after a 1995 TV-movie version — has no concerns with offering up a thoughtful subtext or interesting characters for the audience; all it wants to be is dumb, bloody fun. Director Alexandre Aja delivers on the dumb and bloody, but forgets all about the fun.

Cannon Corner: Pirates by D. B. Bates – September 17, 2010
The possibility for laughs exist in these bizarre bits of business, but laughter never comes. This long opening scene exists solely to introduce Red as a comically unpleasant, gold-obsessed monster. I give Polanski some credit for never trying to redeem this character’s faults, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed spending time with Red or any other character in this film.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Polish Bar by D. B. Bates – October 20, 2010
Polish Bar explores the seamy side of the city, focused on two people whose lives erode as a result of poor decision-making skills. The film boasts terrific acting, skillful handling of difficult characters, and gritty, neo-realistic style. All of those qualities make it eminently watchable despite the occasional creative misstep (such as the unnecessary, heavy-handed presence of an Orthodox Jew). It certainly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like harrowing depictions of pathological fuck-ups, Polish Bar is the film for you.

On Cable: Pope of Greenwich Village, The by Mark Dujsik – August 6, 2010
All the important characters (and one who only appears in two scenes but is vital to the plot) of The Pope of Greenwich Village have dreams. They are simple ones — nothing fancy.

On Cable: Posse by Andrew Good – July 16, 2010
But Posse fails on all counts. Not only is it a fairly generic and boring action flick, it wastes a genuinely interesting concept by soaking every scene in camp. It often pays lip service to the notion of social commentary, but its messages are so throwaway that they might as well have focused on making a better western.

Movie Defender: Postal by D. B. Bates – January 7, 2011
When Matt challenged himself to endure the Uwe Boll film Rampage, his revelation that Boll had made yet another awful film didn’t surprise me in the least. However, I felt compelled to defend his one and only decent film — 2007’s Postal, a cheerfully offensive, simple-minded but incredibly funny satire of the culture of stupidity and apathy that has slowly overtaken the American populous. Like a lot of gag-a-second comedies, not every joke works, but there’s always one that hits right after a miss. It also demonstrates that Boll’s problems as a filmmaker stem more from his chosen genre (schlocky, horror-action video game adaptations) than a true lack of talent.

Movie Defender: Postman, The by D. B. Bates – November 5, 2010
Ah, The Postman: The butt of so many late-’90s topical jokes, it makes Ishtar look like Citizen Kane. Ironically, Kenneth Turan’s dyspeptic description of the film as “Mad Max directed by Frank Capra” is dead-on — but I consider that a positive. The Postman boasts a winning combination of ambition, sentiment, idealism, and insanity. Some three-hour films are a chore to sit through, but The Postman breezes through its runtime, brimming with a unique cinematic voice and offbeat charm usually lacking in big-budget studio fare.

On Cable: Powder by Matt Wedge – February 25, 2011
Let’s just get this out of the way, right up front: Powder is a mess of a film. But it wouldn’t be such a mess if there weren’t some interesting ideas and promising plot developments buried beneath a ton of pretentious metaphysical conceits and obvious manipulations on the part of writer/director Victor Salva.

On Cable: Prancer by D. B. Bates – December 24, 2010
If you spend the holidays weary and depressed, wishing you could take a sucker-punch to the gut that might make you feel a little bit better about your own life, do I have the movie for you! Prancer is a staggeringly great film on its own merits, but it’s impossible to imagine happy families gathering together to watch it. It’s not really a film that exists to be enjoyed so much as endured, like a marathon of domestic abuse and mind-bending sadness.

On Cable: Predator 2 by D. B. Bates – February 11, 2011
Unfortunately, every time the film threatens to veer toward a big-budget variation of a Cannon or Dino De Laurentiis film, the detectives hold it back. The ensemble is topnotch, with Glover leading Rubén Blades, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Bill Paxton on the hunt for a Predator. It’s just that the detective-procedural aspects of the film lack the fun and craziness of its many action sequences.

In Theatres: Predators by Mark Dujsik – July 9, 2010
There’s little new about Predators from the first movie, except that the band of prey has a more diverse collection of careers, there are three of the creatures hunting them, and it takes place on some planet or moon that’s not Earth. It still features a group mainly made up of military personnel running and hiding for their lives from an alien force in a jungle.

Special Contributors: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
Last night, Vicki was complaining that we never see any movies that she wants to see. So, trying to keep the peace (and keep getting a piece), I offered to go see anything she wanted at the second-run theater (I may be pussy whipped, but I’m not made of money). You can imagine how much I thought the night was going to suck when she wanted to see that Disney movie with the guy from the gay cowboy movie. But, I have to say, I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong, and brother, was I ever wrong. This movie freakin’ rocked!

On Cable: Prizzi’s Honor by Matt Wedge – August 13, 2010
Prizzi’s Honor is a movie about a conflicted hitman. But unlike so many movies with similar descriptions, the protagonist in this case is not concerned with the morality of his job, but his duties to his crime family and to his wife. When those duties conflict with each other, should he choose love or honor? Like so many other things in this subversive film, the answer to that question is stickier than it seems.

On Cable: Professionals, The by D. B. Bates – July 23, 2010
The Professionals has all the elements of a classic western: an all-star cast, excellent production values, interesting characters, sweat-inducing location shooting in Death Valley, and a plot with a few genuine surprises. All these elements, while solid individually, just don’t hang together as well as they should.

Special Contributors: Proposal, The by D. B. Bates – July 30, 2010
I sometimes wonder if my life would have turned out differently if I’d been a professional. Now, I had and still have a career as a homemaker. But aside from working two summers at Lebo’s Shoe store in high school, I never had a professional job. I was never a book editor like Margaret Tate (Sandra Bullock), so it’s not easy to relate to a character like that. I’d call her unrealistic — I certainly don’t know any women like her — but I can’t imagine a strong woman like Sandra Bullock not just starring in this movie but executive producing if she thought the main character didn’t accurately represent a certain kind of woman.

Script to Screen: Public Enemies by D. B. Bates – February 9, 2011
The thing that makes Public Enemies’ creative failure such a travesty is that the Midwest gangsters of the 1930s have been on Mann’s mind for at least twenty years. On January 16, 1990, he submitted a revised draft of a screenplay called Public Enemy. This script draws from history, combining real historical figures with a fictitious composite for a protagonist. Among other things, this allows Mann to play even looser with historical reality, since he doesn’t have to commit to any by-the-numbers recreations of famous moments anyone with a passing interest in crime history already knows.

On Cable: Quick and the Dead, The by Kyle Kogan – February 4, 2011
There really isn’t a plot, as the movie mostly just moves from one shootout to the next, but all of the confrontations are rendered intriguing because of the breathless pacing and the idiosyncratic characters.

On Cable: Quigley Down Under by D. B. Bates – July 16, 2010
Director Simon Wincer does a great job showing off his native Australia. Despite the story’s somewhat unsavory, anti-Aussie bent, he makes every shot look like an inviting, panoramic postcard. Although he does a fine job with the banter-laden romantic scenes between Quigley and Cora, Wincer struggles — as I imagine any director would — to make the action sequences truly exciting.

On Cable: Quintet by Kyle Kogan – September 10, 2010
In 1979, Robert Altman set out to create his passion project. This passion project was entitled Quintet, A sci-fi flick set in a post-apocalyptic world coated in ice and blustery snow. It starred Paul Newman as Essex, a seal hunter who is thrust into the violent world of quintet, a game about life and death. Altman creates a world so convincingly cold, bleak, and harsh I must commend him on his efforts. He surely saw this film through to its end, but by golly, it should have been the end of him too. This film is so bad it makes Battlefield Earth a masterpiece by comparison. At the very least, Battlefield contained a few laughs. Quintet contains as much life as its barren tundra setting.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: RED by Mark Dujsik – October 13, 2010
The group of former intelligence spooks that populates RED (a title formed from the acronym stamped on the personnel files of people like those that make up the reassembled team: “Retired, Extremely Dangerous”) is some sort of casting coup. Everyone who shows up not only makes perfect sense but also adds an edge of the slightly unexpected, as though their respective characters are just on the brink of breaking out of mold of their assigned characterizations. That they never quite do is either impressive self-control or a lower level of involvement.

In Theatres: Rabbit Hole by D. B. Bates – December 25, 2010
I know this subject matter sounds particularly dour, but it’s not. Playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, who adapted his play for the screen, has a flair for screwball banter. Ultimately, it’s a drama, and Lindsay-Abaire is not afraid of digging into the sorrow felt by both Becca and Howie, but he does so with a light touch and a sense of the absurd.

On Cable: Racing with the Moon by Mark Dujsik – September 17, 2010
Racing with the Moon is about the inevitable and the unforeseeable, set against the promise of young love, the picturesque California coast, and an era ripe for nostalgia seen without the rose-tinted glasses.

DVD Insanity: Rage, The by Matt Wedge – January 24, 2011
In this tale of a mad scientist who seeks to unleash a devastating virus that turns people into insane, flesh-eating monsters, special effects artist turned director Robert Kurtzman completely frees himself and the film from the constraints of logic or good taste. The result is a silly, graphically gory, tongue-in-cheek horror flick that offers up the truly original idea of zombie vultures. In my book, that earns a film more leeway than one that only offers up another tired variation on the infected zombie genre. It still doesn’t make it a good film, but it does make it a fun one.

DVD Insanity: Rampage by Matt Wedge – December 24, 2010
Rampage boasts solid, if unspectacular, credentials. On IMDb, it currently sits at a 6.4 out of ten rating. On Netflix, it has a surprisingly high 3.3 out of five rating. The cast is peppered with recognizable grade-B actors (Matt Frewer, Michael Paré) and some personal favorite Canadian character actors (Brendan Fletcher, Katharine Isabelle). Armed with this information, I crossed my fingers and made my first dive into the infamous world of Uwe Boll. I wish I hadn’t.

On Cable: Regarding Henry by Mark Dujsik – February 25, 2011
Regarding Henry’s sincerity is at once the movie’s crutch and its downfall. It is the story of a man of loose moral sensibilities who awakens to the recognition of treating his fellow human beings with decency, and all that has to happen to him to come to this realization is that he’s shot in the head.

In Theatres: Resident Evil: Afterlife by Matt Wedge – September 11, 2010
By the fourth film in a franchise, diminished returns are to be expected. When those returns are diminished from a series as creatively bankrupt as the Resident Evil films, the results can be damn near unwatchable. With the bar of expectations lowered that far, it shouldn’t have been difficult to clear it and put out a watchable, if derivative film. But writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson isn’t even able to do that. He takes a good running start, leaps and crashes headfirst into that bar of lowered expectations, meeting it, but failing to clear it.

On Cable: Rising Sun by Kyle Kogan – October 22, 2010
Ultimately, the crime gets solved but not without a few hiccups along the way. As interesting as the proceedings may be, the film is a little too ponderous and pretentious for its own good. It tries too hard to add depth, and at times, redemption to characters who we care little about.

In Theatres: Rite, The by Matt Wedge – January 29, 2011
If you’ve ever wondered just how I determine what star rating to give to a movie, I don’t really have an answer. I wish I could say I had a scientific system that allows me to judge a film on a sliding scale, beginning at four stars and deducting from that point for every egregious sin committed by the filmmaker. Unfortunately, that would never work. There are too many intangibles at play when dealing with films. I hate to sound like the Supreme Court talking about what constitutes pornography, but I know a two star movie when I see one, and The Rite is the epitome of a two star movie.

Sequelitis: Road House 2: Last Call by D. B. Bates – November 26, 2010
Making a good sequel — particularly one that contains none of the actors, characters, or locations from the original film — requires one thing above all else: getting the tone right. Anybody sitting down to watch Road House 2: Last Call will expect a campy, fun action movie that takes place in the same outsized world of legendary coolers, over-tanned villains, and internal strife revolving around torn-out throats. What they get is a standard dull DTV action film whose only ties to the original film are repeated quotes of its memorable dialogue.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Robber [Der Räuber], The by Matt Wedge – October 12, 2010
Heisenberg certainly isn’t interested in explaining his protagonist’s motives. Nor is he interested in making the audience like him. He keeps a cold distance between the viewer and the characters on screen that mirrors the barriers the characters keep between each other.

DVD Insanity: RoboGeisha by Matt Wedge – February 11, 2011
Whether I would have ended up watching the film on my own is debatable. Knowing my love for a good exploitation film, I probably wouldn’t have been able to avoid that title for very long. But if this film is an accurate example of what the genre offers, I may be able to avoid the other slickly titled options that I keep seeing on Netflix.

On Cable: Rocketeer, The by D. B. Bates – December 10, 2010
The film is a glorious paean to not just the ’30s, but the ’30s of cinema and comic-books — the gee-whiz sense that anything can happen. The film constructs a plot that entwines history and legend into one crazy, fantastical hodgepodge.

On Cable: Rolling Thunder by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
For the first twenty minutes of its running time, the audience could be forgiven for thinking that Rolling Thunder was another painful, dreadfully high-minded movie about shell-shocked Vietnam veterans struggling to return to civilian life. But with a shocking act of violence to end its first act, the film reveals itself to be a brutal revenge tale that will leave as many psychological scars as physical ones.

On Cable: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Kyle Kogan – November 5, 2010
The true matter is that they are pawns in a much greater scheme, one that involves the death of Lord Hamlet himself.  As simple this plot seems, it isn’t that easy to follow.  This is partly due to writer/director Tom Stoppard’s use of the Bard’s language. It doesn’t contain the same eloquence and beauty of Shakespeare, and at times becomes so ambiguous it’s difficult to interpret.

Cannon Corner: Runaway Train by Matt Wedge – July 23, 2010
Runaway Train is typical of Cannon fare in that it was obviously done on the cheap — just check out the unconvincing matte painting used for an establishing shot of the penitentiary. Also, like most of their action films, it seems to glory in its own brand of ultra-violence. But there’s something else going on here that really surprised me. Namely, despite the graphic violence and near-constant profanity, it felt a lot like the old Warner Brothers crime melodramas of the ’30s and early ’40s. The story of an angry criminal on the run from the law, it honestly wouldn’t take much tweaking of the characters to see James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart in the lead roles, as opposed to the less impressive duo of Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.

On Cable: Running Scared by Andrew Good – August 13, 2010
Throughout all this, Crystal and Hines seem to be having a genuine blast. Their rapid-fire comebacks aren’t always that funny, but they play off one another like friends who have known each other so long, they’ve started to share vocal tics. For at least the first half of the film, the energy is infectious.

On Cable: Rush by Matt Wedge – December 3, 2010
Nearly twenty years since its release, if Rush is remembered for anything, it’s as the film that first featured Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” That’s a shame. Not because the Clapton song isn’t a touching ballad, but because the film itself features some very good acting and a story that delves into addiction and the ethics of the “war on drugs” with an unflinching attitude.

On Cable: S.F.W. by Matt Wedge – July 23, 2010
Is there anything worse than a satire made by people who don’t know how to make a satire? This is, of course, a rhetorical question. War, famine, disease, and the Fox News Channel all continue to be terrible evils that are far more destructive than a bad attempt at satire. But for the sake of my argument, let’s pretend that bad satire was the worst of all possible evils. In this world of evil, poorly conceived and executed satires, not to give in to too much hyperbole, S.F.W. would be Hitler.

In Theatres: Salt by Mark Dujsik – July 23, 2010
Mainly, it’s Salt’s indecisively sly nature, which is hesitant to be either a Kafkaesque wrong woman story or to challenge the notion of its heroine’s loyalties, and weak narrative that undo the movie’s promising grounding.

In Theatres: Sanctum by Matt Wedge – February 4, 2011
I’m all for trying to create three dimensional characters, but once the survival aspect of the story began, it was time for Grierson to abandon the clunky attempts at building conflicts between the characters. Quite frankly, I learned more about Frank, Carl, and Josh by watching their physical abilities under stressful situations than I did through any of the leaden dialogue.

On Cable: Sandlot, The by Andrew Good – October 1, 2010
Plenty of people who grew up in the ’90s have fond memories of The Sandlot. Truthfully, if they want to keep those memories, they ought to avoid re-watching it. The appreciation seems mostly fueled by nostalgia, which is ironic, seeing as the film itself is a condensed shot of gauzy reminiscence, like The Wonder Years without the very important lessons and sense of humor.

Sequelitis: Save the Last Dance 2 by D. B. Bates – December 31, 2010
The first Save the Last Dance may not have been a masterpiece, but it did two things exceptionally well. It took the tropes of a stale, cliché-ridden genre and turned it into a thoughtful, character-driven drama. It also allowed the characters to learn from each other, rather than having one character serve as the driving force for change. When Derek abandons his gangsta thug friends to arrive at Sara’s Juilliard audition at just the right moment, audiences could breathe a sigh of relief. It seemed like these two crazy kids were going to make it, and what’s more — we wanted them to make it.

In Theatres: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World by Matt Wedge – August 13, 2010
Taking visual cues from video games, Chuck Jones cartoons, and the ’60s Batman TV series, Wright creates a kinetic comedy of absurdity that never forgets to honor the emotions of the characters.

On Cable: Scout, The by Andrew Good – July 30, 2010
The Scout is proof that Albert Brooks needs to come back to the big screen. Despite his voice being featured in Little Nemo and a recent stint on Weeds, Brooks has been largely absent in recent years. This is a shame because he is a true pleasure in the film industry, a comic genius who can make light, pop entertainment that’s also quirky and clever.

On Cable: Scrooged by D. B. Bates – December 3, 2010
At the height of his star power, Bill Murray used his well-cultivated smartass persona to great effect in a string of cynical, brutal, punishing, hilarious comedies. Scrooged was the first in this series of minor masterpieces (which continued with Quick Change, What About Bob?, Groundhog Day, and Mad Dog and Glory), brilliantly exploiting Murray’s position as the world’s most likable asshole.

The Academy of the Overrated: Se7en by Matt Wedge – November 19, 2010
At best, Se7en is a solidly constructed serial killer thriller. It’s just as ridiculous as the pulpy serial killer thrillers that came before it — it just sports more impressive technical achievements. It’s always watchable, but never does it transcend its clichéd script or make the characters come to life. Its critical and commercial success confounds me to this day.

In Theatres: Secretariat by Mark Dujsik – October 8, 2010
For all the nostalgic gloss of Dean Semler’s cinematography on the inspired-by-an-inspiring-true-story-meant-to-inspire-you Secretariat, it is a few of the horseracing sequences that stand out. Semler switches to digital camerawork, getting in down and dirty along the trampling hooves of the horses and high above the ground from the point-of-view of the bouncing, grasping jockey. It’s a strange aesthetic choice, considering how the rest of the movie looks, and perhaps the only one to properly portray the exertion and ferocity of an equine in full gallop.

The moments are prominent among the rest of the movie because they are authentic. In the middle of inspiring speeches to people, animals, and inanimate objects and the ham-handed assertions of how the odds are stacked against just about every major character in the story, here, in some small way at least, is something honest in a true story.

On Cable: Serendipity by Hanna Soltys – December 17, 2010
It’s sappy. It’s predictable. It’s completely unrealistic, yet you can’t seem to change the channel. Much like The Notebook and Titanic, Serendipity has become a movie that turning off seems like the greatest sin one could commit. There’s not much character development, yet you still sit there naming friends who embody the twisted soul of Jonathan Trager (John Cusack), the optimistic and live-by-the-seat-of-her-pants Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale) and the self-indulgent hippie Lars Hammond (John Corbett).

On Cable: Shadows and Fog by D. B. Bates – September 10, 2010
I don’t want to spoil the developments, so I’ll just say this: imagine Love and Death, You Only Live Once, and Kafka’s The Trial had a freaky three-way. Shadows and Fog would be their lovechild.

On Cable: Shootist, The by Kyle Kogan – September 10, 2010
It’s this vulnerability that makes the film so human. The longer the story plays out, the more emotional the man becomes. He never overtly shows it, but his growing connections with Gillom and Bond speak for themselves. These scenes are poignant in their patience, played out masterfully by the trio.

On Cable: Shortcut to Happiness by D. B. Bates – July 9, 2010
Buried within the mediocre end result is a fairly compelling comedy about the meaning of success — should one sell out for money and fame or commit to a more spiritually rewarding but less lucrative path?

On Cable: Shout at the Devil by Matt Wedge – October 8, 2010
There is a point where a filmmaker can become too ambitious when telling a story. The inclusion of too much plot, too many characters, and a tone that veers wildly from scene to scene can be seen as healthy ambition — an attempt to tell an epic story that feels no need to adhere to mainstream conventions. But often, the disparate elements at play fail to form a coherent whole and the film reaches a tipping point that pushes it into confused absurdity. Such is the case with Shout at the Devil.

Movie Defender: Silent Hill by Matt Wedge – January 26, 2011
Silent Hill actually did decent business when factoring in the worldwide numbers, so it technically doesn’t meet all of the requirements of a traditional Movie Defender write up, but it did take a whipping from the critics, currently sitting at a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At the same time, its IMDB user rating is a respectable 6.5. Obviously, this wouldn’t be the first time that a film is embraced by the public while being trashed by the critical community. And, as I’ve often pointed out, in most of those cases, the critics are right (yes, I realize this makes me sound like a snob, but I can live with it). But Silent Hill is one of those rare cases where the general moviegoing public is right and critics missed the boat.

On Cable: Silent Movie by Kyle Kogan – October 1, 2010
The idea behind the film is flagrantly Mel Brooks: Riding on the success of his two smash hits, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein, he decides to make a literal silent movie about making a silent movie.

Script to Screen: Single Man, A by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
When I first read the script for A Single Man in 2008, I hated it. I generally react to scripts I dislike with a mixture of disappointment and indifference. It’s very rare that something’s so bland and devoid of apparent meaning that I actively hate it. A Single Man managed to accomplish that difficult feat.

Sequelitis: Single White Female 2: The Psycho by D. B. Bates – February 7, 2011
I admit recommending Single White Female 2: The Psycho is a tough sell. A direct-to-video sequel whose biggest name (Brooke Burns) went from Baywatch to reality game-show host doesn’t seem like the sort of movie any rational person would want to watch. It has the aesthetic, soundtrack, and acting caliber of softcore porn, although without the rampant nudity. It’s less a sequel than a knockoff that may have become a sequel either to avoid litigation or to capitalize on its very derivativeness. In short, it’s not really a good movie. However, the film’s story suffers from the same sort of schizophrenia as its chief villain, which makes it one of the most purely entertaining direct-to-video sequels I’ve ever seen. (Again, don’t misconstrue narrative craziness as high quality — you should know what you’re getting into and whether or not you’ll want to endure it.)

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Skeletons by Matt Wedge – October 12, 2010
Skeletons is a film out of the United Kingdom that manages to avoid many of the quirky clichés that have sprung up around the absurdity-fests inspired by Charlie Kaufman scripts. That fact alone would make it a film worth seeing, but it also succeeds in offering a perceptive look at the psychologically damaging effects of abandonment and loneliness on three very different people.

On Cable: Sleeping with the Enemy by Kyle Kogan – January 28, 2011
Sleeping with the Enemy is by no means a good movie, but that doesn’t mean it’s unwatchable. It begins promisingly enough, but then it rapidly heads for the hills that call themselves mundane. Simply put, I was kind of bored during this film, but I never found myself looking at the time. I was too busy rolling my eyes.

On Cable: Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Kyle Kogan – December 3, 2010
Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, as Sense of Snow does host a fantastic atmosphere hindered only by its increasingly absurd plotting. So absurd, in fact, that the film comes to an obliterating crash in the final act.

On Cable: SnakeEater by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
SnakeEater is a schlocky action movie gone bad. Great examples of the genre (Die Hard, Speed) manage to combine genuine, visceral thrills permeated by an overall sense of fun, despite the terrorist acts, murder, and rampant disregard for police protocol. Even middling examples of the genre usually retain the sense of fun, creating forgettable but eminently watchable movies. So what happens when the whimsy is creepily misguided, the action sequences are inept, and the acting is comically awful? SnakeEater.

On Cable: Sneakers by Hanna Soltys – July 16, 2010
All-star male cast, token trophy girl, thieves, driving vans and a geek who knows way too much about computers and hacking systems… No, it’s not an Ocean’s movie with George, Brad, and Matt. Sneakers is a film that came more than 30 years after Frank, Dean, and Sammy pulled their heist on Las Vegas (later reenacted by George, Brad, and Matt). Instead of Las Vegas or some other glamorous city, Martin Bishop & Associates do their work on cases in their backyards. Because of this, Sneakers seems more realistic, and the superb acting from the cast sells that realism.

In Theatres: Social Network, The by Mark Dujsik – October 1, 2010
Mark Zuckerberg has changed the world. Facebook, the website of his design, has altered how we communicate, play, work (or avoid it), flirt, date, share our lives, see others, discover new interests, advertise, and the list goes on and on. It is as impersonal as it is easy, and the view of Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network explores, in a sympathetic but unflinching way, a possible reason why a phenomenon that revolves around a circle of one’s friends has expressed itself in a medium that intrinsically maintains distance between people.

In Theatres: Somewhere by D. B. Bates – December 22, 2010
With some judicious editing, Somewhere would make a solid first act to an infinitely better film. It has pair of interesting characters in Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) and his eleven-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). It sets up a fairly interesting conflict in the form of their relative estrangement (he’s a sometime Dad, full-time movie star who doesn’t know enough about her to know she’s been figure skating for the past three years) and an interesting premise in the form of bringing together these two characters — one who coasts through a life run entirely by other people, another who is completely self-sufficient. Unfortunately, the film is pretty much killed by writer/director Sofia Coppola’s frustrating unwillingness to allow audiences to derive any pleasure from her work.

On Cable: Somewhere in Time by Hanna Soltys – January 21, 2011
Imagine taking The Time Traveler’s Wife and Kate & Leopold, adding some turn-of-the-century ambiance and Superman himself, and you’ll be watching Somewhere in Time. You’ll also most likely fall asleep a few times throughout the whole thing, wondering where your time has gone.

On Cable: Sommersby by Matt Wedge – October 22, 2010
Sommersby wants to be a sweeping romantic epic set during the immediate months following the American Civil War. Watching it, I imagined I could hear the producers selling it to the studio as the next Gone with the Wind. The cast, crew, and approach to the material practically screams: Romance! Adventure! Intrigue! All done in a perfectly tasteful manner, of course. The film goes overboard on the tasteful part of the equation and the results are as bland as cold oatmeal.

In Theatres: Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The by Matt Wedge – July 14, 2010
Despite the story that moves in fits and starts of cumbersome expositional dialogue and action sequences that range from adequate to downright boring, the film nearly succeeds because of the casting and the occasional clever idea.

Script to Screen: Sorority Row by D. B. Bates – September 10, 2010
But a funny thing happened on the way to the multiplex. The rating changed from PG-13 (the draft I read contains numerous specific references for keeping the sorority sisters’ bras on and violent acts just out of frame) to R, and the filmmakers used this change as license for silly exploitation, instead of something ironically commenting on the silly exploitation of classic slasher films.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Southern District [Zona Sur] by Hanna Soltys – November 2, 2010
Sometimes a film comes along that shows you despite a weak and bleak script, a movie can still be stunning. Southern District earns this distinction. The film takes place in a family home. The family literally never leaves the compound. And ironically, the sex-crazed son, Patricio (Juan Pablo Koria), rarely leaves his bedroom.

On Cable: Specialist, The by Kyle Kogan – July 23, 2010
This is your standard Sylvester Stallone vehicle, fraught with gratuitous violence and objectified women. It will certainly leave a sour taste in your mouth.

On Cable: Steel and Lace by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Steel and Lace is a curiosity from a glorious time when every action/horror movie had a cyborg in it. About half the movie seems like campy exploitation, particularly those scenes that focus on rapist/mobster Danny Emerson (Michael Cerveris) and his mullet-adorned pals. From the sleazy wink he gives Gaily (Clare Wren) after a jury acquits him of raping her to the blood-red “clawed fist clutching the earth” logo of his company, Danny is portrayed as so cartoonishly evil, it’s impossible to take him seriously.

On Cable: Stigmata by Hanna Soltys – September 10, 2010
In Stigmata, Frankie (the stigmatic) receives the wounds after coming in contact with a dead priest’s rosary. And apparently her wounds make her Exorcist-like, as she talks in various voices and becomes quite possessed and satanic. To recap, stigmata doesn’t occur because you come in possession of an item; it comes from within you. It also doesn’t make you the spawn of Satan.

Script to Screen: Stone by D. B. Bates – October 22, 2010
Alfred Hitchcock allegedly said, “No one ever made a good film from a bad script.” Though I can’t say that’s true 100% of the time, it is true that good scripts are turned into bad films with much more frequency than the opposite. Stone ranks high among the worst scripts I’ve ever read (and I’ve read I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and the direct-to-DVD sequel to 30 Days of Night), but it piqued my curiosity. The draft I read has Edward Norton’s name on it, and he’s usually something of a quality magnet. Even when he’s in a bad film, it’s usually an ambitious misfire rather than an out-and-out bomb. So why would he not only attach himself to a script this bad but actively take part in rewriting it?

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Stone by Mark Dujsik – October 7, 2010
Between the lines of aural montages of religious and political talk radio conversations, and the characters’ own insistence on examining their lives in spiritual terms, is the uncomplicated truth of the story. The tale of manipulators manipulating and being manipulated is the movie’s cold, candid core, but Stone’s imagined grander, more philosophical aims diminish the narrative the characters in the midst of their sad, adrift lives are telling.

On Cable: Straight Out of Brooklyn by Kyle Kogan – August 13, 2010
Although the film was released in the same year as New Jack City and Boyz in the Hood, Straight out of Brooklyn distinguished itself because it was made on a bare-bones budget by a relatively inexperienced cast and crew (Matty Rich also wrote, produced, and starred in the film).

On Cable: Strange Brew by Mark Dujsik – November 5, 2010
The very few funny bits are far between (Claude stating to a police inspector (Tom Harvey) that he has a photographic memory and proving he doesn’t immediately after the fact), random (another bit with Claude on the witness stand saying that his ignorance doesn’t equal a lie), and typically have little to do with Bob and Doug (one instance that does has Bob and Doug displaying the odd driving habits of people in movies).

On Cable: Strange Invaders by D. B. Bates – October 15, 2010
Strange Invaders tries to serve up something resembling an homage to the cheesy, low-budget sci-fi films playing at 1950s drive-ins. On that level, it’s hard to judge if it was a conscious choice on director Michael Laughlin’s part to make nearly every scene much longer than it needs to be and give it the lugubrious pace of a Bert I. Gordon film.

On Cable: Summer Rental by Kyle Kogan – January 21, 2011
Summer Rental is a John Candy film. Do I really need to write more? It’s as if this man was created for the hypothetical “Visual Dictionary” and next to the words “Affable, Gargantuan, Lovable, Clumsy, Innocuous, and Clueless” was a picture of Candy, clad in distasteful clothing, smiling with a pair of thumbs to frame his face.

On Cable: Surviving Christmas by Josh Medcalf – December 24, 2010
Surviving Christmas belongs in the same category of Yuletide traditions as standing in line with screaming kids to see Santa, cooking for three dozen people, donning an ugly sweater, and pretending to laugh at your lousy relatives’ same puns over and over again. It’s a truly headache-inducing experience that does a thorough job of sucking the Christmas spirit right out of you.

On Cable: Suspiria by Matt Wedge – October 29, 2010
The only reason the plot exists is to act as a hook on which Argento can hang an intense mood of paranoia and doom. He backs this atmosphere up with stunningly violent and terrifying set-pieces that takes the audience past the point of no return, sadistically focusing his camera on even the smallest moments in the deaths of the characters.

In Theatres: Switch, The by Mark Dujsik – August 20, 2010
The Switch ends where it started, reaching for meaning in narrated trite phrases, and it’s a massive disappointment. Here is a movie that pulls itself up from a rambling, uninteresting start only to fall right back in the same hole.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Sword of Desperation [Hisshiken torisashi] by D. B. Bates – October 9, 2010
If you love Yasujirô Ozu, Sword of Desperation may impress you. The film pays such attentive homage to Ozu’s style that it could easily be mistaken for one of his films. On that level, it’s an impressive work. However, it’s a work that’s all borrowed style and no substance.

In Theatres: Takers by Mark Dujsik – August 27, 2010
Takers goes just far enough in looking into the lives of some of its characters that they all feel short-changed. It goes just far enough in eliciting a primary sense of visceral potential in the action sequences that the ultimate reliance on quirky sound mixing and slow motion is disappointing. It goes just far enough in aggrandizing the good life that comes from stealing money that there’s a temptation to watch it from a perspective of exploitation. It goes just far enough to moralize the results of criminal activity that we can only wonder about the rationale for taking the previous two steps.

The movie goes just far enough to start down any of these paths and ends up coming up short on all of them.

On Cable: Talk Radio by D. B. Bates – July 2, 2010
Why does Talk Radio feel so bland and lifeless? Eric Bogosian anchors the film with a great performance as Barry Champlain, a Tom Leykis/Howard Stern-style shock jock. Oliver Stone, an energetic filmmaker who never shies away from going a few hundred degrees over the top, directed. Yet the film itself is oddly hollow.

In Theatres: Tangled by Mark Dujsik – November 24, 2010
The Walt Disney Animated Studios logo announces Tangled as the fiftieth animated feature from its official canon, certainly an equally noteworthy and irrelevant accomplishment. What makes the milestone worth mentioning at all is the fact that it is a true return to a formula that works — a musical based on a classic fairy tale — in a newer medium — computer animation.

On Cable: Teachers by Josh Medcalf – January 14, 2011
It may be marketed as a comedy, but there’s also a lot of truth here. It’s not a “sensitive but noble teacher has to shape up an unruly but talented class” movie (although that stock character is featured, with a twist) — it’s more political commentary. It’s not even really about any one teacher; it’s about the system.

In Theatres: Tempest, The by Mark Dujsik – December 17, 2010
The Tempest, though late in his life and career, is not one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, but writer/director Julie Taymor does much to turn it into one. Indeed, at the end of her visually and thematically rambling (the former being far more worth the trouble than the latter) adaptation, we are left simply wondering as to the point.

On Cable: Thirteen Days by D. B. Bates – July 16, 2010
The story wisely presents itself as a talky political thriller. It avoids melodramatic pitfalls by emphasizing the work, not the personal lives of the people doing the job. It defines the characters by how they react to the discovery of incomplete Soviet missiles on Cuban soil, rather than showing their family lives.

On Cable: This Christmas by Matt Wedge – December 24, 2010
I was very surprised by This Christmas, a fairly under-the-radar Christmas movie, despite being a solid sleeper hit of the holiday season just three years ago. It’s not a perfect film, and it definitely doesn’t come close to ranking on my list of all-time favorite holiday movies, but it’s consistently entertaining with a warm tone that makes some of the more melodramatic moments go down smoother than they should.

On Cable: Three O’Clock High by D. B. Bates – July 9, 2010
Three O’Clock High seeks to answer a question that has plagued moviegoers for generations: what would happen if John Hughes made a movie out of Franz Kafka’s The Trial? The answer is alternately funny, surreal, surprising, and suspenseful.

On Cable: Thunderheart by Andrew Good – July 9, 2010
Ask yourself seriously: Would you believe Val Kilmer if he told you he was a quarter Sioux? It’s possible. It was probably more plausible in 1992, when he starred in the crime thriller Thunderheart, and his face was less bound to the blockbuster roles he’s known for.

In Theatres: Tillman Story, The by Mark Dujsik – September 3, 2010
This is the portrait of Pat Tillman that director Amir Bar-Lev shows. A man of simple ways, who rode a bike to football practice (parking it next to all the expensive cars in the lot), was always bluntly honest in interviews (even going so far as to breaking the unspoken rule and telling fans they shouldn’t come to games until the team proves they’re worth watching), and looks embarrassed on camera whenever someone pays him a compliment, but not — as too many were more than happy to presume — simple.

On Cable: Timecop by Mark Dujsik – October 1, 2010
Of all the unlikely means of time travel the movies have given us, the way developed in Timecop is easily one of the stupidest. Please grant me some leeway in describing it before getting to the movie itself (trust me, you’re not missing anything).

On Cable: Touch by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
“It’s all a matter of tone,” says ex-revivalist/low-grade con artist Bill Hill (Christopher Walken) midway through Touch. If only writer-director Paul Schrader had taken this statement to heart. The screenplay, adapted from Elmore Leonard’s 1987 novel, has the witty dialogue and inconceivable plot twists of a screwball comedy. In his direction, however, Schrader plays everything at a lugubrious tempo, eschewing the frenetic pace of a typical screwball comedy for something solemn and dignified. “Solemn and dignified,” in this case, are polite euphemisms for “dull.”

In Theatres: Tourist, The by Mark Dujsik – December 10, 2010
Venice, that lovely, lovely and improbable city on the water, serves as the main and, more importantly, mainly as a backdrop for The Tourist, a detail that might seem trivial but gets to the point of where the movie is lacking. Apart from a barefoot, pajamaed man running across roofs, a boat chase, and that we see the characters travelling using the canals, director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck doesn’t take advantage of his location in a way that makes it come alive.

In Theatres: Town, The by Mark Dujsik – September 17, 2010
The Town has the general framework of a cops and robbers yarn that could take place anywhere, yet it is a very individualized story about a particular place and set of people that could not occur anywhere else. The place is the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. The people are those who live and breathe that community, which has a distinction of infamy in producing an exorbitant number of bank robbers.

On Cable: Toy Soldiers by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
What happens when film executives decide to combine a teen-angst dramedy with over-the-top action? If we’re lucky, it’ll turn out like Red Dawn, a grim, paranoia-inducing thriller that allows goony teens to embody the American spirit. If we’re unlucky… Well, you’ll just have to wait for us to tackle Demolition High to know the true horrors of the teen action flick. Toy Soldiers doesn’t quite reach Red Dawn’s heights, but it’s a solid thriller.

In Theatres: Toy Story 3 by Matt Wedge – June 25, 2010
For fifteen years, Pixar has put forth characters and stories based in the ultimate artificial environment: computer animation. With every single film, they have not only breathed life into these artificial characters and worlds, they have hit an emotional truth. They have masterfully manipulated audiences into laughter, tears, and, no matter how far flung the premise, recognition of themselves in the characters on screen. With Toy Story 3, they have honed this skill to a fine point, crafting a film that stands with the best they have produced.

On Cable: Trapped in Paradise by Kyle Kogan – November 28, 2010
Trapped in Paradise aims for the lowest common denominator and clears it. Christmas films are supposed to be about altruism, cheer, and the unfaltering power of the human spirit. Instead, we find a film that pokes fun at people with down syndrome, three-legged dogs, violent car crashes, and speech impediments. I cannot possibly fathom a person finding this schtick funny.

Bargain Bin: Triage by D. B. Bates – November 19, 2010
I guess I can see why Triage went direct-to-DVD. It’s a very good film, but it’s relentlessly dour and unpleasant. As has been typical of Colin Farrell’s choices over the past few years, he’s challenging himself by playing a difficult character in a difficult film that I found difficult to watch. Still, it’s a lot less oppressive and self-conscious than something like 21 Grams, so shuffling it off to DVD seems like kind of a cruel punishment for a film that’s significantly more passionate than that exercise in ACTING.

In Theatres: True Grit by Matt Wedge – December 22, 2010
Surprisingly, considering their background of subverting genre expectations, the Coen brothers play the rest of the western elements straight. There are gunfights, hangings, stabbings, horseback chases, a character getting dragged behind a horse, people falling into open mines, and other traditional western tropes that are too numerous to list.

Chicago International Film Festival 2010: Trust by Hanna Soltys – November 2, 2010
This year, we have seen movies take a shift into a new topic: The online realm. From Catfish to The Social Network, movies are talking about what everyone else on the planet is talking with: Facebook, Gchat, Twitter, iChat, et cetera.

Trust touches on this theme once the high school freshman Annie Cameron (Liana Liberato) meets Charlie, a high school volleyball player from California, in a chat room. Charlie and Annie begin sharing photos, texts, tips on how Annie can make the team, et cetera. Annie, like so many young girls, begins quite an infatuation with Charlie. She then learns he lied about his age. He’s really a 20-year-old. Then he lies again. He’s really a 25-year-old. And guess what? He lied again.

On Cable: Turning Point, The by D. B. Bates – September 17, 2010
Although The Turning Point is largely remembered for its ballet sequences, the heart of this incredibly depressing story has little to do with dance.

In Theatres: Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The by Mark Dujsik – June 30, 2010
A giant step up from its redundant predecessor, the third installment in the eternal love affair between the mopey, teenage human Bella (Kristen Stewart) and the (abusive) vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) succeeds in soap opera frivolity — taking everything a lot less seriously — although it still fails to make these characters and their drawn-out struggles anything more than such.

Cannon Corner: Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley, The by D. B. Bates – July 11, 2011
The film’s writer, executive producer, and longtime champion, A. Martin Zweiback, took me up on that. As you may have seen, he sent me a videotape of the “writer’s cut,” which filled me simultaneously with fear and hope. Hope, because I believed a good film could come from the botched version I saw; fear, because, based on what I had seen, I didn’t know what could be done with the existing footage to substantially improve it.

To my great pleasure, The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley — Zweiback’s cut — is, indeed, the great film I wished Grace Quigley could have been.

On Cable: Undercover Blues by Kyle Kogan – July 23, 2010
The throwaway plot is about as deep as a kiddie pool with no water in it. The film works solely because of its on-screen talent, which it has in spades.

In Theatres: Unknown by Matt Wedge – February 19, 2011
Sometimes I feel as though we don’t appreciate Liam Neeson enough. Moving easily between leading-man roles and character work, he’s able to chew the scenery when a script calls for it and just as easily dial his performance down to a subtle level approaching minimalism. Ever since his breakthrough turn in Darkman, it seems that every time I look up at the screen, there’s Neeson, doing good work in films that often aren’t worthy of his talents. Such is the case with Unknown, an otherwise soggy conspiracy thriller that Neeson practically horsewhips into watchability.

In Theatres: Unstoppable by Mark Dujsik – November 12, 2010
A lot of things get in the way of the train in Unstoppable, and that is the way it should be. To complain about the presence of scenes of helpless entities in peril in a disaster movie is like complaining about the presence of songs in a musical.

Script to Screen: Vampire’s Assistant, The by D. B. Bates – January 14, 2011
If you’ve never heard of Darren Shan’s series of Cirque du Freak books, you’re probably not alone. When I got the script, it simply had a title and Brian Helgeland’s name. I didn’t know it was an adaptation and a potential franchise-starter until long after I read it. I only knew that the script was the longest first act I’d ever read — all setup, no payoff.

In Theatres: Vanishing on 7th Street by D. B. Bates – February 18, 2011
Vanishing on 7th Street has so much going for it, I vacillate between feeling bad that I can’t quite recommend it and feeling enraged that it’s not as good as it should be. For most of its runtime, it’s a film of great style, great performances, and thoughtful explorations of well-worn character types. It punctuates intense dialogue scenes with thrilling moments of action and horror. It has one of the best opening sequences I’ve ever seen (even if it borrows a bit from the first Left Behind book — though, thankfully, it doesn’t slide into hokey fundamentalist propaganda). It’s the type of movie I’d enthusiastically recommend if not for two things: its shadow people, and its ending.

On Cable: Vanishing, The by Hanna Soltys – October 1, 2010
Remakes are always a crapshoot. You’re bound to upset some people while gaining some new fans (hopefully). But remakes within five years and with the same director and writers? And for a film that has been critically acclaimed and continues to garner attention today? It leaves you wondering why this remake even happened.

On Cable: Verdict, The by Kyle Kogan – February 4, 2011
The Verdict, only weak by title, is a spectacular film. It is an amalgamation of many forms, in one respect an action feature and in another a thriller. Throw in a little bit of romance and maybe even a dash of noir and you have yet to scratch the surface. Above all, though, it conveys a deeply embedded belief that with trial and perseverance, redemption is a powerful deterrent to desperation and sadness.

On Cable: Vital Signs by Kyle Kogan – August 27, 2010
Soap operas are a popular television staple because they are accessible, mindless, and are forgotten by the time tomorrow’s episode airs. Vital Signs, Marisa Silver’s sappy medical drama, mimics many of the qualities one could find in a generic soap opera.

On Cable: Von Ryan’s Express by Kyle Kogan – October 1, 2010
Express is a prime example of this type of war film, as its boiler pot approach to the story adds the right amount of tension before bursting into an all out, teeth-clenching bullet-fest.

In Theatres: Waiting for “Superman” by Matt Wedge – November 5, 2010
For most of Waiting for “Superman”, director Davis Guggenheim provides the audience with faces and names that humanize this tragedy. It’s during these scenes that the film scores major points underlining the urgency of fixing the public school system.

In Theatres: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps by D. B. Bates – September 25, 2010
“How do you make money on a loss?” asks longtime Wall Street broker (and part-time Larry King impersonator) Louis Zabel, played with impressive gravitas by Frank Langella. This question drives much of the stock-market intrigue in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, an entertaining but unexceptional sequel to the iconic 1987 original.

On Cable: War of the Roses, The by D. B. Bates – February 25, 2011
The second hour of the film wouldn’t work at all without those reaction shots — moments that show us both Oliver and Barbara are still recognizably human. Their faces express the guilt and embarrassment anyone would feel with those early, accidental dust-ups. Once things have escalated, they vacillate between genuine anger at one another and the sort of wondering look of a person questioning whether or not he or she has gone too far.

Sequelitis: WarGames: The Dead Code by D. B. Bates – February 21, 2011
From that point, it’s pretty much a dumbed-down remake of the first film. Director Stuart Gillard tosses in numerous references to the original film (including the presence of WOPR, who must “fight” RIPLEY at a certain point) that come across more like cheap nostalgia than worthwhile homage. Maybe that’s because it literally steals the best moments of the first film, unabashedly and without commentary.

On Cable: Washington Square by Hanna Soltys – July 30, 2010
It’s hard not to feel sorry for Catherine Sloper (Jennifer Jason Leigh). After all, her mother died giving birth to her, leaving her with her father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Albert Finney), who only seems to have interest in the girl when chastising or pointing out her character flaws. She rarely leaves her house, making her seem like a Rapunzel waiting for her Prince Charming to come and rescue her.

On Cable: Wedding, A by Kyle Kogan – January 21, 2011
The Robert Altman-directed A Wedding is tricky. I enjoyed the film while it lasted, but I have no intention of ever watching it again.

In Theatres: Welcome to the Rileys by Mark Dujsik – November 26, 2010
Whether seeing him as a business partner or a father figure, it’s clear that, by the end of Welcome to the Rileys, Mallory (Kristen Stewart), the teenage stripper/prostitute, will call Doug Riley (James Gandolfini), the small business owner on a conference trip, “daddy” — or at least just “dad.” The setup is too pat for any other option, really.

On Cable: What’s the Worst That Could Happen? by Andrew Good – July 16, 2010
This is a pretty stock vehicle for Martin Lawrence to star in, but it’s surprising to see the long list of veteran character actors in the cast, including co-star Danny DeVito, Larry Miller, Glenn Headley, and William Fichtner. They’re the ones who keep this flick afloat, but when humor this broad is employed, there’s not much you can do to save the script.

On Cable: Where God Left His Shoes by Kyle Kogan – December 17, 2010
This is one of those films that intends to showcase great actors and utilize them to send an important message: Don’t take anything for granted. Director Salvatore Stabile entirely succeeds at this, using John Leguizamo to his almost limitless potential and simultaneously hits the right moral notes. It’s unfortunate that his screenplay, while certainly raw and real, is just too heartbreaking to be fully enjoyed.

On Cable: While She Was Out by Matt Wedge – December 17, 2010
Roughly seventy minutes into While She Was Out, I was prepared to shrug my shoulders, give it a two-star rating and move on with my life. Then, writer/director Susan Montford makes such a monumentally bad choice during the climax that I had to sit and ponder whether the error was so egregious that it deserved to knock the film all the way down to zero stars or just one star. Since it’s the holiday season, a time of peace and forgiveness, I decided to go with one star.

Script to Screen: Whip It by D. B. Bates – November 22, 2010
Adapting her own novel (which is based in large part on her own teenage misadventures in a roller derby), Shauna Cross doesn’t make the usual adaptation mistakes of overstuffing too much material into too little space or, worse, chopping so much of the novel out that the truncated screenplay barely makes sense (I’m looking at you, Dreamcatcher). The script has a lot of characters and subplots to balance, but Cross does an expert job of keeping all the plates in the air while driving the narrative to a satisfying conclusion.

On Cable: White Sands by Mark Dujsik – July 16, 2010
There’s a dead body in the desert. In one of the corpse’s hands is a briefcase filled with half a million dollars in cash. In the other is a pistol.

Noir like White Sands works best when the material is at its simplest — body, money, gun. For awhile, director Roger Donaldson and screenwriter Daniel Pyne follow that age-old rule and keep it simple.

In Theatres: Winnebago Man by Matt Wedge – August 6, 2010
In 1989, Jack Rebney was a corporate filmmaker, producing and hosting industrial films about Winnebago RVs. During one particularly long and frustrating two-week shoot in a miserably hot summer, Rebney had a prolonged meltdown that resulted in some of the most excessive and creative uses of profanity ever caught on camera. A member of Rebney’s crew edited together these tirades as a collection of outtakes that quickly became an underground video sensation. When the Internet and YouTube came along, the footage quickly found its way online and Rebney became an Internet sensation, one of the first viral video superstars of the new medium. In the entertaining documentary Winnebago Man, director Ben Steinbauer puzzles over just who this “Angriest Man in the World” really is and what has become of him.

Bargain Bin: Winning Season, The by D. B. Bates – December 17, 2010
Try as I might, I can’t see the logic in The Winning Season heading to DVD after a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it “theatrical run” for awards consideration. A funny, dark-edged sports comedy featuring Sam Rockwell as a cantankerous alcoholic coach and a plethora of rising stars (Emma Roberts, Emily Rios, Rooney Mara, Shareeka Epps) and comedy ringers (Rob Corddry, Margo Martindale). In a world where trailers frequently mislead audiences into thinking they’re seeing one thing (a good movie) when they’re seeing another (a shitty movie), how could they not cut a trailer making this look like an innocuous teen comedy along the lines of the execrable Easy A? There’s nothing wrong with tricking people into seeing a better movie than the one they think they’re seeing. That’s what Whip It did. Although nobody saw it — but that’s different. People actually like basketball.

In Theatres: Winter’s Bone by Matt Wedge – July 9, 2010
Forget the fact that the settings and characters of Winter’s Bone fail to meet the iconic visual standards of classic Hollywood film noir, the haunting story and lead performances by Jennifer Lawrence and John Hawkes cut straight to the corrupted heart at the center of all great noirs.

On Cable: With a Friend Like Harry by Mark Dujsik – September 10, 2010
This is the classic setup of a thriller, one where new characters appear and we can sense that at a certain point some terrible fate will befall them. Co-writer/director Dominik Moll seems to know that we know, so the script (written with Gilles Marchand) holds off on that promise as long as it can, showing us that we might be wrong about Harry. After all, he is, as the original French title assures us, “a friend who wishes you well.”

On Cable: Without a Trace by Kyle Kogan – August 13, 2010
The most horrific and unimaginable thing a mother or father could face is the disappearance of their child. Whether it is an untimely death, kidnapping, or an act of desertion, the impact it has on the immediate family is absolutely devastating. Without a Trace is director Stanley R. Jaffe’s interpretation of such an event, and although it tells a familiar story, it incorporates some unique elements and powerfully keen acting that help raise this tale above the generic.

On Cable: Wolf by Matt Wedge – September 3, 2010
I had hopes that Wolf would be better than I remembered and make up for the dearth in worthwhile werewolf cinema. But it turns out that my reaction to the film today is exactly the same as it was 16 years ago: good first hour, increasingly inane second hour.

On Cable: Woman in Red, The by Josh Medcalf – February 18, 2011
I would say it runs out of steam at that point — but for a movie to run out of steam, it has to at least have some in the first place. The way the narrative is set up only distanced me from the comedy. Characters are hard to read and events that are critical to the central plotline are sometimes totally ambiguous.

Bargain Bin: Woods, The by Matt Wedge – December 8, 2010
Admittedly, The Woods barely holds the minimum requirements for a Bargain Bin column. Individually, there is no member of the cast who I would say it’s a shock to see in a direct-to-DVD feature. But combining them all in one feature without even the briefest of a theatrical release is somewhat surprising. Given how long the film sat on the shelf before being quietly slipped to the home video market with a barebones DVD, you would think it was a true stinker, an embarrassment that the better known members of the cast would quietly drop from their résumés. The truth is the exact opposite.

On Cable: Worth Winning by Hanna Soltys – July 23, 2010
The perfect romantic comedy mixes a leading man with one hell of a leading lady, then gets peppered with a few laughs, a fantastic make-out song and/or session, and tops it off with a happy ending. A terrible romantic comedy casts a leading man viewers despise, a plot line full of unrealistic happenings, and ugly clothes. Guess which Worth Winning falls into…

Sequelitis: Wrong Turn 2: Dead End by Matt Wedge – November 15, 2010
I watch too many horror movies. It’s a personal weakness, and one that often leads me into films of questionable taste. This, of course, is a nice way of saying I watch a lot of films that are utter crap. Despite the low odds of catching a winner, I stick with the genre and its many subcategories. Among the more grotesque and infamous subcategories are the cannibal films. Often they exist merely to shock and disgust the viewer. A good story, decent acting, competent directing, or even scares are less important than numerous scenes of people being gutted and dismembered in preparation for the frying pan. Overall, it’s one of my least favorite subcategories of the horror genre, often leaving me cold and thankful that I’m a vegetarian. In many ways, Wrong Turn 2: Dead End is the prototypical lazy, disgusting cannibal film.

On Cable: Zardoz by Kyle Kogan – October 22, 2010
There is much to say about a film like Zardoz. It is less a plot driven narrative and more an homage to likes of Sergei Eisenstein and his seminal method of dialectical montages, the pairing of two seemingly disparate images into one. In the case of this film, it’s Sean Connery standing in red latex underwear and suspenders pointing a gun at the camera, followed by perplexing imagery of a stone head proclaiming violence and vomiting guns. Yes, I am dead serious.

On Cable: Zero Effect by D. B. Bates – July 30, 2010
In Zero Effect, writer/producer/director Jake Kasdan accomplishes the fairly monumental task of bringing Holmes into the modern era through the character of Daryl Zero.

Script to Screen: [Five] Killers by D. B. Bates – June 25, 2010
Everything that went wrong with Killers can be traced to the title change: from the fairly specific (or, at least, enigmatically intriguing) Five Killers to the generic, not-at-all-compelling Killers. On the page, Five Killers spins an entertaining, occasionally thrilling tale that blends Mission: Impossible-esque espionage with good-natured romantic comedy. On the screen, it seems the filmmakers decided to scale way back on the espionage in favor of the romantic comedy angle. The result is uneven, to put it mildly.