"Houdini" Pulls Off A Not Terribly Ambitious Trick Review

Fear is how I know I'm alive.

The History Channel miniseries Houdini (2014) begins with a F for Fake (1973)-like challenge. Some of this is true, some of this is false and "I defy you" to tell the difference. While this is artistically appealing, it would be nice if a biopic about a very famous person I know very little about was entirely factual where possible. That said, for a History Channel miniseries--an institution that is slowly fading from WWII/Civil War-only self-parody to Anything-But-History-Channel self-parody--this is about as strong as you could hope. It stars Adrien Brody, an actual actor, is visually well-produced, and boasts a mostly unoffensive script while the musical choices are disappointing. The result is something like Chaplin (1992) as directed by Tony Scott.

Nov
24
2014
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Cartoon Network Brings You A Pretty Weird, Off-Kilter Christmas Review

Dude, what are we watching?

Cartoon Network has strung together another Ignorant Grandma offering, relying on this poor minority for any semblance of profitability. Who else would spend $9--when this review was written, at least--for 45 minutes of three Christmas (or Christmas-adjacent) episodes from three different oddball cartoons? Perhaps the promise of two utterly random additions in the form of "Bonus Episodes" will bring the value. The best that can be said for the Cartoon Network Holiday Collection--should I call it "Vol. I"?--is that it provides a taster for some of the more popular CN programs.

Nov
24
2014
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"Throwdown" Takes Your Patience To The Mat Review

One could say don’t bother, but you probably weren’t going to anyway. From director Timothy Woodward, Jr, who has five films in post-production, which should tell you something about the care he’s putting into each project he helms, comes the graveyard where subpar actors go to die. Or, get small paychecks to phone it in. Same difference. Someone’s got family money, because Woodward leads the cast, with affordable has-beens Vinnie Jones and Mischa Barton flanking him, which should also tell you a good deal. Supporting duties also fall to prolific schlock star Danny Trejo and Death Race 2 and 3’s superstar, Luke Goss. If your expectations are where they should be by now, then you may be able to stomach Throwdown.

Nov
24
2014
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Is There "Life After Beth"? Review

Did you miss me?

Ending a relationship can be very difficult. One way is to say "let's just be friends", never contact them again, and avoid places you know or fear they'll be. A better way is for one party to die in a strange hiking accident when you are elsewhere in the presence of trustworthy characters. The only downside to this plan is that they might come back to life and those problems you used to have keep reappearing while new ones bubble up to the surface like her new-found penchant for eating human flesh. Sure she's cute and you have all that history, but you need to know what's best for you and the rest of humanity. Sometimes things aren't better left undead.

Nov
23
2014
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"Happy Christmas" Would Be A Lot Happier With A Decent Budget Review

Can you say trouble?

Happy Christmas (2014), from Joe Swanberg, reminds me that reality television is ill-named. The contestants, freaks, or whatever we choose to name the poorly paid subjects of public ridicule that grace our formerly-decent cable channels fail utterly in delivering their "reality". They know they are being watched and so put up their guard, or what they think is their guard, and portray only a part of their (often broken) personality. One cannot relate to this character because the very nature of the defensive lunatic is to deny affinity with the persecution complex on display. One can only empathize for an actor who feels safe enough--probably using their own denial mechanism to think the play is fictional--to let loose the damaged crazy inside who is hideous and unlikable possibly with an eye towards awards. In Happy Christmas, Anna Kendrick plays a character that we all know in whole or in part. Selfish, aimless, detached, awkward, insecure and yet demanding (and receiving) our forgiveness, affection, and attention. That's reality.

Nov
23
2014
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"Low Winter Sun" Didn't Shine Bright Enough Review

It’s funny to call Low Winter Sun an “AMC original series,” when it was adapted from the British miniseries that ran seven years earlier. Semantics aside, go-to villain Mark Strong returns to his gritty antihero, Detective Frank Agnew. The action now unfolds in the impoverished underbelly of Detroit, ruthlessly depicting a city on its knees and the corruption that has infiltrated every facet of the urban landscape. Tragically, even with a solid cast of known faces, the show never quite found its audience and was canned after the first season. The disappointed fan will have to make due with the scant 10-episode bundle that constitutes “The Complete Series.”

Nov
23
2014
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"Whitewash" Leaves Logic In The Cold Review

Come on, what's with all these f***ing branches!

Canada looks cold. Like really cold. Since it's already pretty cold in the apartment, watching Whitewash (2014) made it feel even colder. Bruce (Thomas Haden Church) drives a snowplow in the Great White North and it's a blizzard. For some reason, a man (Vincent Hoss-Desmarais) is in this blizzard without his coat on, walking down the ill-lit streets. The plow comes down the street, but the man doesn't get out of the way and is killed instantly. Bruce picks up the body, puts him on the plow, and buries him under the snow miles from the scene. In fear, Bruce drives the little plow through the woods, drinking himself senseless and wakes up with a disabled plow and a serious hangover. Why didn't he call the police? Who was that guy? Why is Bruce so stupid with his resources? We get answers to some of those questions.

Nov
23
2014
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Get "Mad" All Over Again Review

It’s both fitting and convenient that the first major history of the golden age of television was titled Difficult Men. The dominant narrative of this era has been one of masculine antiheroes getting their just comeuppance (but not before five or so seasons of vicariously thrilling alpha male posturing), and, if this latest set of episodes is any indication, Mad Men will not be breaking this trend. Don Draper's chosen profession may not be illegal in nature, but it's no less treacherous than Tony Soprano's mafia or Walter White's drug trade, and perhaps no more beneficial to society as a whole. But Mad Men has never been only about Don, and even if his professional life ends, it's not the end of the world that the show has created. Showrunner Matthew Weiner is smart enough to know this, and luckily, it seems as though Don does too. The forward march of history may be a difficult, alienating process, but as Mad Men winds up for its finish, it has the potential to be a healing one as well.

Nov
20
2014
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"The Vanishing" Makes An Appearance On Blu-ray Review

Even in 1988, there wasn't anything terribly original about The Vanishing. Its central image, of a victimized woman who had disappeared without rational explanation, goes back at least as far as The Lady Vanishes, while its central character, a man whose pursuit of truth has boiled over into obsession, was already a subject of parody. Even its famous shocker of an ending shouldn't have surprised anyone familiar with the noir genre that it draws from so heavily at times. But clichés, whether grounded in truth or not, become clichés for a reason, and The Vanishing serves as both a potent evocation and charged refutation of that principle. Moviegoers may like their men doomed and their women dead, but rare is the film that makes explicit a hero's (an ambiguous term in this film) need to control women even in their death. The Vanishing might not be telling us anything we don't already know, but it's something that a culture fed by (and by equal measure feeds) Law & Order: SVU would just as soon forget. To be sure, there are some spoilers ahead.

Nov
20
2014
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Imagine The World Without "America" Review

Sometimes, it's hard to know exactly what conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza actually believes. He frames his latest film, America: Imagine The World Without Her (his follow up to 2016: Obama's America), as an introspective personal journey to determine whether or not the arguments of the 'shame America' crowd carry any weight, but manages to frame our nation's ongoing spirit of debate as nothing less than a war between those who love this country and those believe that it should be destroyed, and potentially an existential threat in and of itself. To do this, he selectively investigates, infers, and outright falsifies his way through history, presenting two sides to an argument that bears little connection to political reality. As an exercise in cynicism, it's spectacularly misjudged; as an intellectual argument, the less said the better. One never doubts D'Souza's love for the country that has made him famous, but after America, it's hard to believe that he has much respect for Americans.

Nov
20
2014
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