Review

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.

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.

 

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: 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.

 

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