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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: ARNOLD IS BACK (THE LAST STAND)

By Brian Lafferty

January 18, 2013 (San Diego) -- It seems like it's been forever but Arnold Schwarzenegger, to borrow a familiar line, is back.  The Last Stand is his first starring role since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ten years ago.  It’s apparent the transition from governor back to actor isn’t easy for him.  His timing isn't as sharp as it was in True Lies and at 65 he’s not as physically overpowering as he was twenty years ago.  I liken it to someone relearning how to drive a car after having not driven for many years.

Of course I knew going in all of that was to be expected.  Sure enough, these are minor quibbles.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE DRAMATIC SEARCH FOR OSAMA BIN LADEN (ZERO DARK THIRTY)

By Brian Lafferty

January 4, 2013 (San Diego) -- A day or so after the Zero Dark Thirty screening, a colleague wanted to know why I said it would rank very high in my Top Ten list.  I struggled to come up with an answer.  At the time, I just knew in my heart and somewhere in my head that it was not only one of the best films of the year, but the best Hollywood film of 2012.  I had this same feeling as I watched Samsara, Compliance, and In Darkness.  In each case, it wasn't until I wrote the reviews that I figured out why these films would earn spots in my upcoming Best of 2012 column. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: BLOTTO PILOT (FLIGHT)

Doing some catch-up on films I’ve missed.

By Brian Lafferty

December 15, 2012 (San Diego) – Every now and then someone writes to Dear Abby, saying his friend or relative is addicted to alcohol and drugs.  The friend thinks nothing is wrong with him, but doesn’t realize the damage his addiction is causing to his relationship with his friends, family, and significant other.  Invariably, all Abby can advise the writer is that – as much as he’d like to believe otherwise – he can't change or rescue his friend or loved one from their problem.  Only the friend can change and, unless he admits he has a problem, there’s nothing that anyone can do.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: STAND TALL AND DELIVER (LINCOLN)

By Brian Lafferty

November 16, 2012 (San Diego) – Earlier this year I interviewed for a volunteer position.  The interviewer looked at my resume and asked, "What's your least favorite part of being a film critic?"  I was stumped.  My work at East County Magazine unites two of my biggest passions - movies and writing - and I love doing it so much that it never occurred to me there was something that I least enjoyed about it.

After months of reflection, I now have an answer.  Far too often I get bombarded with questions from family, friends, and colleagues like, "What did you think of so-and-so movie?"  Anyone who is familiar with me on a personal and professional level know that I am an infinitely better writer than a speaker.  If you read my writing and later met me in person, I guarantee you'd be amazed at the difference between my spoken words and my written words.  When I do oblige, usually all I can muster up is, "It was good," or, "I didn't like it.”

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: LICENSE TO THRILL (SKYFALL)

By Brian Lafferty

November 9, 2012 (San Diego) – Practically every commercial I saw for Skyfall emphasized the action sequences.  Not surprising, since studios throw all the best parts in the trailers and ads.  Here's some irony for you: MGM and Columbia only thought they included the best parts.  Audiences who watch the official trailer and the TV spots think they're getting a dark action movie.  Wrong.  Unlike such recent spy films as Salt - which are ninety-percent action and ten-percent espionage - Skyfall is ninety-percent spy film and ten-percent action…as a James Bond movie should be.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: DAYS OF OUR PAST LIVES (CLOUD ATLAS)

By Brian Lafferty

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

October 26, 2012 (San Diego) – As my friend and I drove home after the Cloud Atlas screening, we at first didn’t know what to make of it.  It’s a very cerebral film, one that elicits comparisons to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte for its unconventional storytelling technique that leaves it up to the viewer’s interpretation, as well as its heavy reliance on cinematography.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: WELCOME TO THE NUTHOUSE (GRAVE ENCOUNTERS 2)

By Brian Lafferty

Photo courtesy of Tribeca Film

October 12, 2012 (San Diego) – Roughly half the people interviewed at the beginning of Grave Encounters 2 describe the first one as scary, while the other half says they weren’t frightened.  I aligned myself with the latter group.  Grave Encounters was an average found footage horror film with little originality, cheap special effects, and zero scares. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: AFFLECK IN DANGERLAND (ARGO)

By Brian Lafferty

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

October 12, 2012 (San Diego) -- In the summer of 1993 my family and I went on a road trip through the Midwest.  Among our stops was St. Louis.  As the afternoon began to wind down, we headed for the parking garage.  It started to get overcast.  Shortly after, it started to rain a little bit.  Within seconds it poured like the dickens.  My parents, sisters, and I had to run all the way to the parking garage, but not before we were totally drenched.  We were so sopping wet, we had to change in the parking garage. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: TURKISH WRATH (TAKEN 2)

By Brian Lafferty

 

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

October 5, 2012 (San Diego) -- Another week, another Liam Nelson film.  Taken 2 is his fourth this year alone.  First came The Grey, a gritty action survival film set in Alaska that packed a psychological punch.  The second was the wretched Wrath of the Titans, which right now is my pick for the worst film of the year.  Following that was Battleship, a stupid and turgid alien invasion flick that cribbed the worst elements of Michael Bay’s films.  Taken 2 does nothing to better Neeson's batting average this year, but at least it's somewhat more tolerable than Wrath and Battleship.  But that isn't saying much.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: PRESS PLAY...IF YOU DARE (V/H/S)

By Brian Lafferty

 

Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

October 5, 2012 (San Diego) – V/H/S is a twisted ode to the videotape, a once-venerable technology that is becoming an increasingly forgotten relic in the high definition digital age.  Taking the best elements of the found footage genre and integrating it with the anthology film format, it made me scared, anxious, and queasy.  Each story, helmed by a different director, uses the found footage genre to its fullest potential, with scary, disturbing and unsettling results. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: BLACK MAGIC KINGDOM (SOLOMON KANE)

By Brian Lafferty

September 28, 2012 (San Diego) – There are times when the life of a film critic resembles that of a miner.  Uncovering gems like Solomon Kane – which would have gone unnoticed and unreleased here were it not for RADiUS-TWC, The Weinstein Company’s newest distribution label – is one of dozens of reasons why being a film critic is life-fulfilling. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: START YOUR OWN RELIGION (THE MASTER)

By Brian Lafferty

 

September 24, 2012 (San Diego) – On one of my many college days spent in the South Wing of Cal State, Fullerton's Pollak library, I came across Timothy Leary's book The Politics of Ecstasy.  It was a fascinating read unlike any nonfiction I previously encountered before then.  It was a collection of the disgraced Harvard professor’s essays and lectures on the psychedelic drug LSD.  In the chunk that I read, he defends the drug, and cites research and studies that he claims demonstrate its benefits on its people’s minds, lifestyle, and ways of thinking.  He argues that as long as you know what you’re doing, or better yet, if you have a “guided trip” with someone experienced in LSD use, it’s not only safe, but beneficial.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: NOTES FROM THE GRANDSTANDS (TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE)

By Brian Lafferty

September 24, 2012 (San Diego) – Last year’s Moneyball was a smart baseball movie, a behind-the-scenes look at the world of front office politics.  While slightly laid back and relaxed, everybody meant business.  Not too serious, but plenty of drama.  What happens when you fuse all that with Clint Eastwood-style wit and bit?  You get something like Trouble with the Curve

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: WORLD OF WONDER (SAMSARA)

 

By Brian Lafferty

September 7, 2012 (San Diego) – There are two people who have had the biggest influence on me as a critic.  The first is Duncan Shepherd, who authored film criticism for the San Diego Reader from its inception in 1972 until he retired in November 2010.  I didn't really know Duncan that well as a person.  I saw him at pretty much every screening, but I was too shy to approach him.  He was the type of critic who preferred to keep to himself, who expressed himself best in writing rather than with the spoken word.  I didn't read his criticism until I started writing for East County Magazine, but I immediately noted his frequent, adept commentary on cinematography.  If you wonder why in every review I write these days I talk about image, this is part of the reason.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: FAST FOOD DAMNATION (COMPLIANCE)

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 31, 2012 (San Diego) – Compliance made me feel uncomfortable and unclean, but that’s exactly how it wanted me to feel. My chest kept pounding and it wouldn’t relent. A part of me wanted to look away, but I couldn’t avert my eyes. It was a grueling experience emotionally, and when the film wrapped up, it took a few days for me to shake it off. Chills coarse through my body as I write this, and my stomach feels weird.

 

Those are just several reasons why Compliance is one of the best films of the year.

 

HOME VIDEO HERALD: TONIGHT YOU'RE MINE (DVD)

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 29, 2012 (San Diego) – The first half of 2012 saw the release of not one but two films by British director David Mackenzie, although the second one never played in San Diego. The first was Perfect Sense, released in February. Although small in scope, it was quite a cinematic trip, a melancholia-saturated tale of two people who fall in love, a love tested when the whole world loses their five senses one by one. Perfect Sense was in some ways pretentious, it was heavily restrained in every respect (mood, acting, writing, etc.), and it was dead serious in tone. It's the type of movie that you either mock or you buy into and relish; I did the latter.

 

HOME VIDEO HERALD: IN DARKNESS (BLU-RAY)

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 29, 2012 (San Diego) – A harrowing sequence of events transpire during the first thirty minutes of In Darkness, atrocities that I could describe but I won’t. That’s because as shocking as they are, there is only one shot, seen later, that remains entrenched in my mind.

HOME VIDEO HERALD: THE RAID: REDEMPTION (BLU-RAY)

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 29, 2012 (San Diego) -- Watching The Raid: Redemption is like watching someone assemble a house of cards: one mishap and the structure crumbles. I'll start with the tone, a major balancing act for first-time director Gareth Evans. He militantly adheres to a serious tone. A few times the film comes dangerously close to slipping into the Realm of the Not So Serious, but through sheer will, Evans maintains the desired disposition. The same extends to the action scenes, the backbone of The Raid, and among the best executed I've seen since I became a film critic: not a single shred, inch, or drop of laziness. Otherwise, it would be close to worthless, no better than the offensively manufactured video game drivel that Hollywood is so content to pump out to American audiences.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: DON'T RUN OVER THE MESSENGER (PREMIUM RUSH)

By Brian Lafferty

August 24, 2012 (San Diego) – This week I’ve seen three signs that summer is almost over in San Diego: the weather is getting cooler, kids are back in school, and Hollywood - having exhausted all their major moneymaking, audience-pleasing blockbusters and comic book movies – are now releasing simpleminded films like Premium Rush apparently because there's nothing left until awards season.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: VICIOUS CIRCLE (360)

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 24, 2012 (San Diego) -- "A wise man once said, 'If you see a fork in the road, take it,'" says young Anna (Gabriela Marcinkova) as 360 opens with her sister (Lucia Siposova) being photographed for a prostitution website. It set me in the mood for a clever and intriguing film. I was in for disappointment. You know your film is in trouble when quoting Yogi Berra is its only meaningful element.

HOME VIDEO HERALD: THE BLACKBIRD (DVD)

By Brian Lafferty

 

August 16, 2012 (San Diego) – Tod Browning is a director whose career I lament as much as I admire. He began as a comedic actor who appeared in dozens of shorts (almost all of them directed by Edward Dillon) for Mutual Film Company. Then he turned his eye to directing, where he slowly established himself as a reliable helmsman of mostly crime and mystery films. He’s best known, however, for his work in the horror genre. In 1931 he directed the now-immortalized Dracula starring Bela Lugosi. After many years pounding the pavement, he seemed destined for even more greatness.

 

Then he directed Freaks.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: GOOD SCOT!

By Brian Lafferty

 

Catching up on a few I missed.

 

August 16, 2012 (San Diego) – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs introduced the first Disney Princess. Later Disney Princesses included, among others, Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), and Rapunzel (Tangled). It took seventeen years after Toy Story in 1995, but Pixar finally decided to get in the game with Brave, their newest film and first to feature a female leading character.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "MOONRISE" DAYDREAM

By Brian Lafferty

 

July 13, 2012 (San Diego) – Moonrise Kingdom looks like it’s set in an alternate universe, more specifically Wes Anderson’s universe. In this world, there are no Boy Scouts, but Khaki Scouts, which are run like the military. The government has, of all things, a United States Department of Inclement Weather. The adults behave oddly while the kids are the only sane people.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: HIGH NOON

By Brian Lafferty

 

July 9, 2012 (San Diego) – Leave it to Oliver Stone to take sleazy, salacious, and lurid material and transform it into art. Very few filmmakers can make graphic violence so lyrical without pretension the way Stone does in Savages. On the surface the film is trashy, but if you look deeper, this trash has class.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE BAD NEWS TEDDY BEAR

By Brian Lafferty

 

June 29, 2012 (San Diego) – The average person would likely perceive teddy bears as cute, innocent, and sentimental toys. What about someone with a devilishly twisted sense of humor like Seth MacFarlane?

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON

By Brian Lafferty

 

June 11, 2012 (San Diego) – I attend every screening with a pen and small notebook in hand. I have a strong visual memory, but it never hurts to jot down certain things I may later overlook. For Prometheus, I wrote only three brief sentences before I put the notebook down. This film had the tractor beam effect on my eyes. I sat fully entranced, unable to look away.

 

HOME VIDEO HERALD: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (BLU-RAY)

By Brian Lafferty

 

June 5, 2012 (San Diego) – The Adventures of Tintin is Steven Spielberg at his purest…and fluffiest. It’s a throwback to the early half of his career, when his forte was adventure tales filmed with the verve of a young boy with quite an imagination, particularly the first three Indiana Jones films. This also extends to films like The Goonies that Spielberg didn’t direct, but his involvement was so pronounced they might has well have.

 

HOME VIDEO HERALD: RAGE IN HEAVEN (DVD)

By Brian Lafferty

 

June 5, 2012 (San Diego) – There is a scene in Rage in Heaven in which Philip (Robert Montgomery) lures Ward (George Sanders) up to a scaffold at a steel mill where a worker fell and instantly perished in a pile of molten steel. According to the workers, the scaffold’s oblique positioning is such that it’s impossible for anyone to see anything. As Philip convinces Ward to lean over and look down, he’s ready to push the man to his death.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE BUCCANEER STOPS HERE

By Brian Lafferty

 

May 4, 2012 (San Diego) – The Pirates! Band of Misfits opens with a feel-good opening sequence. The Pirate Captain (voiced by Hugh Grant) and his misfit crew pillages island after island in the Caribbean under the strains of Tenpole Tudor’s “Swords of a Thousand Men.” It’s a fitting song. The way the rah-rah and go-getting lyrics and music matched the action on-screen made me smile.

 

If only the film matched that energy and excitement for the film’s remaining 85 minutes.

 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: HUNTING HIGH AND LOW

By Brian Lafferty

 

May 4, 2012 (San Diego) – Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is not your typical thief. In fact, he’s your typical man. You would never guess that this meek, average businessman is a master art thief so skilled at his craft that he leaves not a single trace of evidence behind. Hennie, at first, does too good a job; his character is undistinguished to the point where he is dangerously close to being too hard to buy.

 

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