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ON THE SILVER SCREEN: WHAT A TRIP! (JOHN DIES AT THE END)

By Brian Lafferty

February 15, 2013 (San Diego) – Sometimes moviegoing is a leap of faith.  One question I always dread answering is, “Do you recommend such-and-such film?”  I'm not in the business of recommendations.  Maybe I was in 2010, but my philosophy on film criticism has evolved and will continue to evolve.  My critical approach is to evaluate and write about the elements of the film, my personal reaction to it, and whether the film succeeds or doesn't.  I prefer to stimulate interest and discussion rather than tell you whether you will or won’t like a movie.  (Personally, I would find it presumptuous for someone who doesn’t know my tastes to tell me I’d like a film, so why would I do the same to you?)  I leave it up to you to decide if you should spend your money, but at least you'll be well informed and have an idea of what to expect. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT (BEAUTIFUL CREATURES)

By Brian Lafferty

February 15, 2013 (San Diego) – The Twilight movies are easy targets for online hostility and teasing.  But at least those movies, as lifeless as they are to me (I gave up after the second one), respect their audience, especially their target young adult audience.  They don't insult anyone’s intelligence.  Beautiful Creatures, inspired by (or, rather, ripped off from) the Twilight series is offensive, rife with exaggerated phony accents, Southern stereotypes, hammy acting, and dialogue so awkward and bad that it confounds the actors who have to say these lines.  I’m surprised my neck didn’t get stiff from all the double takes.  Beautiful Creatures is downright insulting towards not just the general audience, but also particularly its target young adult audience and their intelligence, and the flagrancy of it is appalling.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: MCCLANE TAKES ON MOSCOW (A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD)

By Brian Lafferty

February 15, 2013 (San Diego) – In preparation for this film, I spent over six hours of my Saturday binging on the Die Hard sequels (I saw the first a couple of years ago).  The experience was like riding a train careening at speeds upwards of 200 miles an hour.  Following the massive adrenaline rush was an equally intense feeling of euphoria.  It took a few days to recover.

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: THE UNBEARABLE SADNESS OF BEING (SIDE EFFECTS)

By Brian Lafferty

February 8, 2013 (San Diego) – The press screening announcement for Side Effects read "Please note that due to the non-linear nature of this film, we will not let anyone into screenings of Side Effects if they arrive LATE.”  The impression I got was that Soderbergh's last theatrical release - his final project is a Liberace biopic that will air on HBO later this year - would be a mind-bender like Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky or Christopher Nolan's Memento.  I was wrong, but the publicity people were right to deny entry to latecomers.  (Even if they didn't, I can't grasp how any critic could feel comfortable reviewing any movie they're late for.  In many cases and for many reasons too irrelevant and lengthy to list, the first few minutes are a film’s most important.)

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: SHORT, BUT SWEET (THE OSCAR NOMINATED LIVE ACTION SHORT FILMS OF 2013)

By Brian Lafferty

February 1, 2013 (San Diego) -- The annual presentation of the year's Oscar-nominated short films is back at the Ken Cinema (my review of the animated shorts can be found here).  What follows is a review of the five diverse and very personal live-action shorts vying for the coveted statuette. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: ANIMATION APPRECIATION (THE OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORT FILMS OF 2013)

By Brian Lafferty

February 1, 2013 (San Diego) -- Every year around this time, the Landmark Ken Cinema - the venerable go-to theater for niche movies - treats San Diego to its annual showing of the year's Oscar nominated short films.  This year boasts a mostly impressive slate of animated shorts (my review of the live action shorts can be read here). 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: BLOOD BAYOU (BULLET TO THE HEAD)

By Brian Lafferty

February 1, 2013 (San Diego) -- Bullet to the Head is the second film in three weeks - Arnold Schwarzenegger's The Last Stand being the other - to star one of my favorite action heroes from yesteryear.  The addition of long-absent action director Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs.) ups the nostalgia factor.  Bullet to the Head recalls those 80s and 90s action crime films that Hill and Stallone are known for while keeping up with the 2010s. 

ON THE SILVER SCREEN: JOURNEY TO MIDDLE AGE (56 UP)

By Brian Lafferty

January 25, 2013 (San Diego) – Michael Apted is not a director that quickly comes to mind.  He's done some great films, like Coal Miner's Daughter (1980).  Other notable films he's helmed include Gorky Park (1983), Gorillas in the Mist (1988), and Amazing Grace (2006).  He's even directed a James Bond movie. (The World Is Not Enough, 1999.)  

NETFLIX STREAMING PICK OF THE WEEK: DOCUMENTATION OF LIFE (THE UP DOCUMENTARIES)

56 Up, the newest Up Documentary, opens today at the Landmark Ken.

By Brian Lafferty

January 25, 2013 (San Diego) – In 1964, Michael Apted filmed 7 Up for British television.  He and his team sought fourteen children - all aged 7 - from all walks of life.  He found ten boys and four girls who he then interviewed about various political and social issues as well as their dreams and hopes for the future.

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.

 

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.

 

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