Mum & Dad

Mum & Dad
Steven Sheil's new feature, Mum & Dad, wears its many influences proudly and mostly gets away with it; largely because the social milieu in which Sheil sets his torture porn-inflected debut draws on some peculiarly British cultural reference points. After the briefest of set-ups we're planted straight onto the set of the Saw movies, by way of Hostel and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with a brief detour into Seven territory. Only, Mum & Dad is populated by a soap cast. Living in a Coronation Street house. Next to Heathrow airport.

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Wrong Side of Town

Wrong Side of Town
I miss good-old-fashioned knuckle busters -- the sort of low-budget action fare that launched the careers of several B-movie action stars, not to mention stars like Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and many others.

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Beyond Sherwood Forest

Beyond Sherwood Forest
After covering the final season of Robin Hood on DVD, it’ s kind of fitting that we’d get a copy of Beyond Sherwood Forest, thanks to the crew out at Anchor Bay.

And at first glance, Beyond Sherwood Forest looks like it might be the worst sort of nonsense. It was a SyFy channel movie, after all…those very seldom go well. And this one even more outlandish than most. Who pitched “it’s Robin Hood, with dragons!” and actually got away with it?

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Taking Chance

Taking Chance
Viewers with ties to the military, or an obsession with the burial practices of the Marine Corps may find something interesting in Taking Chance, but for anyone else it’s a tedious 85 minutes of Kevin Bacon saluting.

Bacon plays Lt. Colonel Michael Strobl, a Marine working a desk job as an analyst and carrying around a lot of unnecessary guilt. While his buddies fight it out in Iraq, he rides a cubicle crunching numbers for military commanders who won’t listen to him. At night he sits in bed combing through casualty records, until he stumbles on the name of a dead soldier from his home town of Clifton, Colorado. Though he doesn’t know the deceased, Strobl volunteers for escort duty. It’s now his job to accompany the boy’s body home, delivering his coffin and his personal effects to bereaved parents.

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The Dark Lurking

The Dark Lurking
That statement may well be true, but The Dark Lurking takes place underground. Beats me what they were thinking, but that's just one of many confusing aspects of this slapdash sci-fi/horror entry. It is a conglomeration of imagery co-opted from better films and one of the most poorly written scripts I've seen in a long while.

Outpost 320, located deep under the surface of an unnamed planet, is a scientific bunker that performs mysterious experiments on human subjects. Something has gone drastically wrong, and bizarre monsters have emerged to massacre most of the people inside. The government has locked the place down and the survivors, along with a rescue team sent down to investigate, must maneuver through level after level of mayhem to have a chance at escape.

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Paradise Now

Paradise Now
It's a risky proposition for any artist (director, author, etc.) to humanize a terrorist. In an era when many things have been reduced to black-and-white, the word "terrorist" has become synonymous with "evil." And evil can only be demonized. Because director Hany Abu-Assad chooses to peel away the stereotypes and look at the people who commit heinous actions, he guarantees two things: (1) his movie will offend a host of people, and (2) its prospects of commercial success are non-existent. Some viewers will see Paradise Now as an apologia for terrorism. Those who do, however, aren't paying attention. Abu-Assad's goal is not to condone terrorist actions (in fact, he goes to great pains to condemn them), but to explain why two seemingly "ordinary" men would be willing to sacrifice their lives in an act of mass carnage. The film offers food for thought, and reminds us that, in any war, one who understands the mindset of his opponent gains an important tactical advantage.

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Good Luck Chuck

Good Luck Chuck
A film like Good Luck Chuck makes one appreciate what Judd Apatow has accomplished with his films The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. All three pictures belong to the "raunchy romantic comedy" genre, but Apatow has achieved something impressive: deliver hilarious, profane comedy and develop tender relationships between likable characters. Good Luck Chuck could use a little of the "Apatow touch." The movie is coarse and features a romance, but the laughs are sporadic at best and there's no spark between the male and female leads. To make matters worse, the premise is rich with possibilities, but the script takes the safe route at every fork in the road, leaving all the most interesting (and potentially side-splitting) roads untraveled.

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Host
The Host is a strange little movie: part creature feature, part social commentary, and part slapstick comedy. The problem with the film is that the sum isn't greater than the parts and the pieces don't fuse in a way that's consistently pleasing or cinematically satisfying. While the monster movie aspects of the film represent great fun, The Host's political subplot is overlong, uninteresting, and obvious. The comedy, which surfaces in seemingly random, broad bursts, is more often bizarre than funny (people taking pratfalls are the most common), and the ending is a downer.

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Lost World, The: Jurassic Park 2

Lost World, The: Jurassic Park 2
When Jurassic Park was released in 1993, it set a new standard for state-of-the-art visual and audio effects. It was suddenly possible to see humans and dinosaurs interacting in a way that had never before been possible, and to feel the entire theater shake with the approach of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Four years later, not a whole lot has changed. Effects houses like Industrial Lights and Magic have tackled bigger, more imposing objects such as tornadoes and volcanoes, but it's still basically the same technology that Jurassic Park ushered in. And, because The Lost World doesn't offer anything especially innovative, it seems rather familiar and almost (but not quite) disappointing.

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Magnolia

Magnolia
With Magnolia, director Paul Thomas Anderson has segued into the realm of the three hour movie. It's an ambitious step to take - making lengthy, ensemble movies with tangentially related and occasionally interconnected storylines can be a risky endeavor, both creatively and financially. When it works and everything snaps into focus, the rewards can be great, but when it fails, the finished product often looks worse than the mangled wreckage of a head-on car crash. Fortunately, Anderson has a deft hand when it comes to filmmaking, and this project does not tax his talent beyond the breaking point. Magnolia is a fascinating and worthwhile motion picture that manages to keep viewers interested in the plights of ten different characters for nearly its full length - right up to and through the improbable climax.

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Grumpy Old Men

Grumpy Old Men
Sometimes the films I enjoy the most aren't the ones that get four stars. For example, while Farewell My Concubine is an example of superior, powerful film making, it isn't the sort of movie you embrace for the pure magic of the entertainment it offers. Grumpy Old Men, on the other hand, is such a film, and while it won't come close to my top 10 best list for 1993, it will be right up there among the pictures that I had the most fun watching.

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99 River Street

99 River Street
Ernie Driscoll (John Payne) is an ex-fighter who came within seconds of winning the world championship. He's now forced to eke out a living driving a cab. A basically decent guy, he has lots of people who care about him, including Linda James (Evelyn Keyes), a slightly ditsy actress friend -- but Ernie also has a short fuse, especially where his wife Pauline (Peggie Castle) is concerned.

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Grand Champion

Grand Champion
Grand Champion weaves the tale of a spunky young boy named Buddy and his prize-winning calf, Hokey, as they climb from the underdog position and up through the ranks of several Texas stock shows to ultimately win the coveted title of Grand Champion. People from all walks of life help Buddy and Hokey make their way across Texas by cheering them on to a toe-tapping surprise ending.

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Frat House Massacre

Frat House Massacre
Set in the late 70s, this gritty and twisted film taps the physical and mental underpinnings of the meaning of the word brother in a way reminiscent of the best of late 70s grindhouse and early 80s slashers.

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Last Dance

Last Dance
Upon taking a new job, young lawyer Rick Hayes is assigned to the clemency case of Cindy Liggett, a woman convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. As Hayes investigates the background for her case, the two begin to form a deep friendship, while all the while the date for her execution draws nearer.

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