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Vampire Academy (2014) – Review

1/2 Star

There was once a mystique about vampires, before they were used as central characters in young adult novels. Gone is any danger, sexiness, or interest in these halflings. Instead, we have smart-mouthed, martial-arts practicing, teen vamps who are merely inconvenienced by their un-natural state. Vampire Academy want so badly to be the hip, irreverent, genre mash-up that made Buffy so popular. But the film’s attempt at coercing laughs or affinity with its heroines is hopeless. The plotting is confused, the never-ending expository sequences are fumbled and the tone veers wildly into odd territory.
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I, Frankenstein (2014) – Review

1 Star

I, Frankenstein has aspirations of reaching the franchise potential of Underworld or the Blade series, but it more closely resembles a bad television pilot. Maybe it would have worked better on that format, on the big-screen it seems small-scale and oddly vacant. There is a lot of visual activity as the hero slays demons to their fiery demise, but nothing strikes a cord and the entire movie plays out without generating neither interest nor affection from the audience.
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Sabotage (2014) – Review

3 Stars

Sabotage may start with a violent opening sequence, but it is a slow burn type of action-thriller, the kind that Walter Hill once specialized in. Director/co-Writer David Ayer, who has made a living on law enforcement corruption pictures, again delivers another story about officers who straddle the line between protector and aggressor. Arnold Schwarzenegger appears to relish the opportunity to darken his screen idol image and even dons a cowboy hat by film’s end, a fitting wardrobe accessory that strengths the ‘western’ vibe of this stylized action-thriller.
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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – Review

3 Stars

Marvel studio’s latest product is the anticipated sequel to Captain America. This second installment is darker and more topical than its predecessor. The obvious cinematic reference points are 1970s political thrillers like The Parallax View and 3 Days of the Condor. These are fine films and worthy of inspiration but in molding itself to that form, the gee-whiz innocence and matinee-idol quality has been lost in translation. That’s not a knock on the quality of the movie, but a letdown for this viewer, who embraced the art-deco post WWII production design and the goofy wholesomeness of that first film.
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Need for Speed (2014) – Review

2 1/2 Stars

The automobiles are exotic, but the characters are factory stock in this live action adaptation of EA’s long running video game series. Taking a molecule of an idea and stretching it into 130 minutes of tough guy posturing, racing, and mis-timed humor, proves just how graceful the never-ending Fast & Furious films are handled. Television actor Aaran Paul makes the leap from the small screen to studio franchise pictures, but the newbie remains better suited for the former. Paul resembles fellow (and better) actor Ben Foster, though his tendency to deliver his lines through a clenched jaw and looking up from a tilted head position are reminiscent of Clooney’s early onscreen bad habits.
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3 Days to Kill (2014) – Review

3 Stars

3 Days to Kill has been marketed as an action film a la the Taken films that have resurrected Liam Neeson’s career. I guess, that is a fair description. It is also an exciting melodrama mixed in with foreign intrigue, assassination plots, kidnappings, and murders. This is a story about an estranged father with limited time to live, desperately trying to reconnect with his family before his imminent death. That it happens this particular family man is a C.I.A. field agent, grown long in the tooth but promised an experimental drug if he agrees to one last job, is of no coincidence.
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Rage (2014) – Review

2 Stars

Nicholas Cage has played nearly every type of role onscreen. From cop to convict, addict to dealer, this performer has tackled them all. Now, in the simply titled, Rage, Cage is Paul Maguire, a retired gangster with a renewed blood lust. For a movie with such an aggressive name and a star with a predilection for over-the-top theatrics, the flick is not nearly as violent or action-packed as suggested. Instead we have a revenge-thriller with familiar plot elements, and an on-the-noise denouncement that violence begets violence. The saving grace of the picture is the patently off-kilter line readings from Cage and a late in the game surprise ending that is earned.
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The November Man (2014) – Review

1 Star

The November Man is the first in a planned series of big-screen adaptations based on author Bill Granger’s long-running novels, featuring the main character Peter Devereaux. Aspirations of a franchise similar to the Bond or Bourne series are quickly dashed, the movie is bizarrely incoherent and distracted, it is both overly plotted and under-cooked. This is surely one of the year’s worst offerings, made more disappointing due to the presence of director Roger Donaldson behind the camera and former James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, in the lead role.
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Dead in Tombstone (2013) – Review

3 Stars

If you are a fan of Tarantino and Rodriguez, than I’m sure you’ll enjoy the work of director Roel Reiné. The Danish helmer has been responsible for upper-echelon genre flicks, don’t be fooled if these movies are on Netflix or Redbox and not in the cinemas, Reiné’s movies are by and large better than the studio releases cluttering up theaters currently. If the loquacious-ness of Tarantino’s characters is too long-winded for you, or the frenzied self-aware camera work of Rodriguez is too much, then Reiné presents a happy medium between the two.
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The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Review

3 1/2 Stars

The Purge: Anarchy is a spooky follow-up to the surprise hit of summer 2013. This time out the story is broader, darker, and deeper. The film is an intense nightmarish vision of surviving one-night in a society gone mad. Beautifully shot and crisply edited, this sequel bests the original in terms of story, production values and acting. Through plot development, sound design, costumes, and dialogue a remarkable amount of dread is summoned and sustained throughout the brief running time.
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Army of One (1993) – Review

3 Stars

Army of One aka Joshua Tree has been directed by acclaimed stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong. After nearly two decades this veteran second unit director steps up and delivers a ‘car’ movie, heavy on stunts, chases, and shoot-outs. The most famous ‘car’ flick is probably Smokey and the Bandit, though Bullet, Fast & Furious, and Gone in 60 Seconds are notable genre entries. Army of One successfully uses elements from each picture in crafting its own style, resulting in an undeniable guilty pleasure.
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Babylon A.D. (2008) – Review

1 1/2 Stars

Babylon A.D. is ideal fodder for the cinematic dumping ground of late August, or more specifically labor day weekend. Traditionally know for it’s less than par offerings, this misbegotten low-key sci-fi tale is oddly void of impact, interest and plot structure. Starting off in a narrative blur and never leveling out, the movie is a wasted effort at almost every turn. Vin Diesel is up for the task but is saddled with a thankless role and a dour facial expression throughout.
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X-Men (2000) – Review

3 Stars

Marvel’s current cinema domination can be traced back to X-Men, the Bryan Singer directed film that started off the longest running franchise in superhero history. This serious-minded film is ripe with good actors delivering intelligent dialogue, surrounded by captivating production design all while slyly referencing racial,sexual and other forms of discrimination. This inaugural entry into the X-Men cannon is flawed and feels overly expository, but remains entertaining and full of compelling characters to warrant a positive recommendation.
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King Solomon’s Mines (1985) – Review

2 Stars

Cannon film’s attempt to cash in on the Indiana Jones craze results in raiding the literary work of H.R. Haggard for ‘inspiration’. In reality nothing in this corny and cheap looking flick is inspired. Owing more to Spielberg than anything on the pages of Haggard’s once famous stories, King Solomon’s Mines is a winking, adventure film with non-stop peril and enough offensive caricatures to enrage just about everyone equally. Directed by J. Lee Thompson and paced frantically, there is so much going on with no realistic threat that the whole thing becomes monotonous, as we watch the hero and damsel encounter one danger only to escape and find themselves in hot water elsewhere, in one case a literal cauldron of boiling water as part of an intended stew for a tribe of cannibals.
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Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987) – Review

1/2 Star

The second film in the wistfully intended series from Cannon film’s featuring H. Rider Haggard’s literary hero Allan Quartermain is a dreary and virtually unwatchable affair. None of the zany energy, humor, stunts, or overall filmmaking work in this cinematic wasteland. Shot concurrently with King Solomon’s Mines, this follow-up is among the worst titles in the not particularly distinguished Cannon filmography. Sharing the same ineptitude as the similarly goofy, boring and weak Firewalker, City of Gold does nothing but guarantee a quick ending to the series.
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