John Keith

Staff Writer

Writer. TV Addict. Bibliophile. Reviewer. Pop Culture Consumer. Vampire Enthusiast. LOST fanatic.

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Horror Cliches Be "Damned" Review

Another month, another horror film about possession.

This one takes us down to Columbia where a dysfunctional family finds themselves trapped in a secluded house that has a dark evil within. Best known for horror film sequels, Spanish director Victor Garcia was tapped to direct The Damned (formerly known as Gallows Hill) to bring a certain authenticity to the film. But not even he can breathe any life into this imitation horror film. American David Reynolds (Peter Facinelli) comes to Bogota with his British fiancé Lauren (Sophia Myles) to find his disapproving daughter Jill (Nathalia Ramos) who is hiding from life with her boyfriend Ramon (Sebastian Martinez), a cameraman, and her Columbian aunt Gina (Carolina Guerra), an eager journalist. But a terrible storm leaves this group stranded in the middle of nowhere, with only an isolated house as refuge. The owner of the house, Felipe (Gustavo Angarita), is wary of allowing them in; but their persistence is undeniable. Soon, though, they discover his young daughter Ana Maria (Julieta Salazar) sealed up in a box in the basement.

Feb
06
2015
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The Force Is With "Phineas and Ferb" Review

Popular animated Disney channel series Phineas and Ferb, has released another episode collection centered on a high-concept episode. In this case it is a parody of Star Wars: A New Hope, with Phineas and Ferb as background characters from Tattooine influenced by what happens in the main plotline of the original film. Perry the Platypus is a “Rebelpus” Jedi trying to thwart the villainous Darthenshmirtz (aka Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz), and their paths loosely cross with the leads. Elsewhere, Candace and friends are inferior Storm Troopers tasked with finding socks for Darth Vader. It’s a goofy concept for a goofy show, and they pull it off swimmingly.

Feb
04
2015
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"Women Of The Bible" Tells The Same Old Story Review

The best-selling book in the world, The Bible, is finally having its pop culture heyday. Blockbuster films and TV miniseries are popping up everywhere depicting iconic events. So it comes as no surprise that the History channel is trying to get in on the action. And for this 2-disc collection, the History channel focuses on the iconic women of the Bible, a group of ladies that are frequently overlooked.

Feb
04
2015
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"School Dance" Misses Some Steps Review

The title of rapper and comedian Nick Cannon’s directorial film debut (which he also wrote and produced) is a bit of a misnomer. Though it does climax with a song and dance competition, School Dance—which sounds like it is focused on typical prom drama—centers more around gang violence amidst a high school lock in. More surprising, however, is that Cannon draws much inspiration for this film from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (going even so far as to actually quote the play at one particularly odd moment). Once again the iconic play is set in a high school. But this time the Jets are The Ranger$, the popular African American boys who “run the school” with their incredible rapping and dance skills. They attract the attention of young Romeo, or Jason (Bobb’e J. Thompson), who wants to join them to win the attention of his fair Juliet, or Anastacia (Kristinia DeBarge). But Anastacia is related the Sharks, or the Eses, a gang of tatted Hispanic men who have a bone to pick with one of The Ranger$. Jason’s older cousin Day Day (Dashawn Blanks) has inherited his father’s debt to the most nefarious of Eses, Junior (Mariano Mendoza), and must repay it by midnight of the lock in.

Jan
28
2015
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It's Always Worth "Looking" Review

After the success of Girls—a show about twenty-something women dealing with life in New York City—HBO produced something similar (yet slightly different), Looking—a show about thirty-something gay men dealing with life in San Francisco. The series is also Andrew Haigh’s follow-up to his exquisite film Weekend, which also dealt with a realistic, intimate look at gay men’s relationships. Although criticized for being about nothing (unlike that one sitcom that was about nothing yet everyone loves it), a quick binge of the eight-episode season proves that there is a lot of subtle—and, at times, obvious—character development at play, thanks to creator and writer Michael Lannan.

Jan
26
2015
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"Teenage" Keeps A Youthful Verve Review

In Teenage, documentarian Matt Wolf examines the origins of a term and a people that we take for granted nowadays: the teenager. The idea of a teenager did not always exist, and in this film Wolf goes back to the creation of this stage of life—a stage of life that was just as riddled with angst as it is today. The film tells the history of teenagers from the 1870s-1940s using mostly archival footage and photos. Diary entries read by Ben Whishaw, Jena Malone, and others serve as the only narration for the film.

In the 1870s child reform during the industrial revolution forces children out of the workplace and into the schoolroom. Suddenly a group of people who normally go straight from child to adult at the rough age of 12 now find themselves with more free time and fewer responsibilities. And so the teenager is born. Teenage follows the rise of teenage culture through three different countries—the United States, England, Germany—through the two World Wars and their aftereffects. Each nation has an impact on youth that is wholly its own. In America we see the joy of swing music. In England we see the scandalous Bright Young Things. And in Germany we see the Hitler Youth. So much aimlessness results in recklessness, and it befuddles and frightens adults.

Jan
20
2015
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You'll Want To Watch "Edge Of Tomorrow" Again, And Again, And Again Review

Edge of Tomorrow (or Live.Die.Repeat. as the Blu-ray case has repackaged the film using its catchy tagline) looked like just another sci-fi blockbuster flick starring perennial movie star Tom Cruise (last seen in 2013’s sci-fi blockbuster Oblivion). But this film, based on a Japanese young adult novel titled All You Need Is Kill (a title that really stands out), surprised audiences and critics with its unique storytelling and compelling leads. So if you missed this film in theaters this summer, you finally have the chance to live it and repeat it as much as possible. An intelligent alien race has invaded earth, and we are losing. Despite nominal wins like the one at Verdun led by Rita Vritaski (Emily Blunt), the outlook on the war is grim. General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) is sending forces onto the beaches of France for a full-frontal attack on the aliens, dubbed Mimics. Brigham wants PR officer Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) to cover the battle firsthand (to inspire more people to join the United Defense Force); but the not-at-all battle ready Cage refuses, out of obvious fear. As punishment, the General arrests him, labels him a deserter, and forces him to join J-Squad, a rag-tag group of soldiers being sent to the frontlines the following morning.

Jan
06
2015
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Not Much Lies "Beneath" Review

On his last day of work, George Marsh (Jeff Fahey) brings his daughter Samantha (Kelly Noonan) to see his job. George’s job is as a career miner, finally retiring; and Samantha is an environmental lawyer who has never agreed with his job. But whatever kind of conflict you may hope to see between these two diverse family members never happens when the roof caves in on them in the depths of the mines and the horror begins. Other than having to survive the tragic collapse—a horrific enough thought on its own—they have to escape or combat a mysterious inhuman thing that is lurking in the mines as well. It’s a straight from the headlines premise mixed with that of 2005’s The Descent. But it does not handle the mysterious monster lurking in the mines nearly as well (read: horrifically, frighteningly) as The Descent did, and this aspect distracts from the “real events” on which it is supposedly based.

Dec
27
2014
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Believe It Or Not, There Is Still "Craft In America" Review

The PBS documentary Craft in America: Industry dives into the artistry of craftsmanship that is still alive and well in the United States. The business of making things with your hands is still economically viable, and this documentary highlights various types of handmade objects from throughout the nation.

From quilt-making to boat-making to jewelry-making, there are interest pieces for nearly anyone embedded in this film. “Professional quilter” Joe Cunningham takes us to Alabama and a historical group of quilters in Gee’s Bend. They’ve spent generations passing down their hand-stitched quilting techniques, and it’s been an economic boost as well.

Dec
26
2014
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Do You Really Need Convincing To Spend An Hour With "Snow Monkeys"? Review

The latest PBS Nature documentary follows a year in the life of the snow monkeys of Hell’s Valley in the Japanese Alps. These pink-faced monkeys with ashy coats of fur form a functional community in their valley, with life cycles as predictable as the seasons. For these monkeys, “family is survival” and they rely on their new, withdrawn leader Kuro-san to guide them through these seasons. The documentary follows Kuro-san’s rise to a confident leader and how one-year-old Hero helps him achieve that. Curious and rambunctious, Hero is the least likely companion for solemn Kuro-san; but through various tribulations the two forge an adorable bond.

Dec
26
2014
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Bend Your Ear To "Mobilize" Review

You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: cell phones cause cancer. The radiation from the cell phones is causing brain cancer (and infertility!), and we’ve been warned to limit our cell phone usage and so forth. But as we become even more heavily reliant on technology, is there even a way to limit radiation exposure? The World Hearth Organization stated, in 2011, “The electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans.” It’s the “possibly” in that statement that has everyone in a tizzy in this new, hot-button documentary Mobilize.

Dec
26
2014
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Try Unlocking This "Chinese Puzzle" Review

For Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris), life is complicated. He’s just moved to New York City to be close to his kids because his British ex-wife Wendy (Kelly Reilly) moved there to be with a very tall American man. This also brings him close to his best lesbian friend Isabelle (Cecile De France) who is having his baby with her girlfriend Ju (Sandrine Holt). Meanwhile, he’s adapting to life in the States while pretending to be married to Nancy (Li Jun Li) for a Green Card. And, all the while, he finds himself pining after ex-girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou). Such complex situations should be familiar to those who’ve followed Xavier’s life in 2002’s The Spanish Apartment and 2005’s Russian Dolls both of which were also written and directed by Cedric Klapisch.

Dec
26
2014
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"Jersey Boys" Hits A Flat Note Review

Fade in on a boy talking to the camera, and you can already tell that this is a tired film. Helmed by Clint Eastwood (working behind the screen only, this time), Jersey Boys is a film adapted from the hit Broadway jukebox musical. It tells the origin story of The Four Seasons, their rise to fame, and the self-destruction of their personal lives. It’s a tale as old as showbiz, and this film shows a desperate lack of originality. The boy talking to us, giving us unnecessary narrative set-up (and not even doing it particularly well) is Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). He introduces us to his brother Nicky (Johnny Cannizzaro), their friend Nick Massi (Michael Lomenda) who performs in a musical trio with them, and a wannabe singer named Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young). The boys, as boys in Jersey are wont to do, get caught up in gangster drama with Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken). Lots of trouble with the law—and too little singing—follows. Soon, the boys find themselves lacking Nicky and in need of a songwriter. In walks Bob Gaudio (Erich Bergen), talented songwriter and singer. The boys quickly get caught up in the world of showbiz thanks to hotshot producer Bob Crewe (Mike Doyle). They’re sidelined as backup singers, but soon they change their name from The Four Lovers to The Four Seasons and sing an infectious hit (“Sherry”) and their rise to stardom becomes an inevitability.

Nov
28
2014
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Keep "Collar" On A Leash Review

There’s a homeless serial killer (named “Massive” because he’s a massive guy) with a dark past. There’s a lesbian cop with a pregnant partner at home. There’s a pimp with a simple-minded buddy/bodyguard/whatever—a modern day George and Lennie. There are even some bros who like to film bums beat each other to death. And that’s just the first ten minutes of the no-holds-barred independent horror film Collar.

Nov
19
2014
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"Skinless" Isn't Brainless Review

As far as gross things are concerned, skinless-ness is pretty up there. And the film Skinless has some pretty gross skinless sequences (and even one scene that involves a character cutting their skin off their own face—a scene that I had to fast-forward through). But while this horror film lives up to its terrifying DVD cover, there is actually a pretty decent story buried somewhere within the movie.

Eccentric young and handsome Dr. Peter Peele (Brandon Salkil) has discovered the cure for cancer—at least of the melanoma variety. The cure lies within the enzymes produced by a very gross (and very fake) looking worm from some exotic location. Peter eagerly shares the news with the woman he loves but who does not love him back, Dr. Alice Cross (Erin R. Ryan). Unfortunately, the duo is fairly broke and needs some outstanding evidence of the cure’s abilities for funding. Fortuitously, Peter has just discovered he has melanoma and uses the serum on himself. Unfortunately, it is against Alice’s wishes.

Nov
19
2014
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Shatner, Of All People, Demands You "Get A Life!" Review

When you look at the DVD cover for William Shatner’s Get a Life! you imagine that it is a documentary about Shatner interacting with his Star Trek fanbase (or, perhaps, you think it is some comedy show by Shatner that contains a lot of Star Trek jokes a la that SNL sketch). But, Get a Life! (supposedly based on Shatner’s 1999 book of the same name) is a documentary about Star Trek fans at the 45th anniversary convention in 2011. So, needless to say, this is a timely DVD release (especially considering the Star Trek: The Compendium release).

Nov
04
2014
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"On My Way" To Nowhere Special Review

As the Cohen Media Group continues to roll out every French film (ever made) on Blu-ray, we are presented with the charming “road” film On My Way. Starring iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve, the film follows her late-life crisis road trip as she pursues a change. Still an incredible beauty, Deneuve is the perfect actress to bring aging Bettie to life.

A lot in Bettie’s life is not going quite right. Her restaurant is under threat from the bank. She is estranged from her daughter Muriel (Camille) and her grandson Charly (Nemo Schiffman). And her longtime affair with a married man has imploded when he finally files for divorce so he can be with his much younger lover. (In a highly amusing scene we learn that Bettie met her lover when he performed surgery on her own husband who had a heart attack while having an affair with the doctor’s wife—the man she tells the story to is not as amused as I was, however.) Facing all these difficulties, she hops in her car and drives away.

Oct
22
2014
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"Star Trek" Goes Stylishly Where Some Men Have Been Already Review

Star Trek: The Compendium is a snazzy little box set presenting the JJ Abrams Star Trek films on Blu-ray. This an extensive dive into the films with hours upon hours of special features and audio commentaries to give you the fullest possible picture of what went into the making of these films and how. With the third installment not due until 2016, this Compendium shall suffice to abate your hunger for more Star Trek.

JJ Abrams’ reboot of Star Trek in 2009 brought the franchise into 21st century in the biggest way possible. He re-establishes the beloved world of Starfleet while still paying due homage to the original series (going so far as to include the original Spock, or “Spock Prime,” Leonard Nimoy—whose incorporation into the film actually allows for the original series to exist in an alternate universe in true Abrams fashion). It’s an engaging, fast-paced, beautiful film that succinctly tells the origin stories of our two Trek heroes Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Never having seen anything Star Trek beforehand, the film is full of familiar names (Vulcan) and terms (The Kobayashi Maru) that everyone has been exposed to from their consumption of pop culture in general (specifically via sitcoms).

Oct
22
2014
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"Quiet Ones" Speaks Largely In Cliches Review

Horror films come in all shapes and sizes: popular scary ones, popular funny ones, indie ones that had no right being made, but worst of all are the boring ones. “Inspired by actual events,” The Quiet Ones is a historical horror film about a professor’s attempts to disprove the existence of the supernatural (sound familiar?). Of course, it is far harder to disprove the existence of something than you might think, and some bizarre things begin to happen during the experiments.

Oct
15
2014
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"Favorites Of The Moon" Shines Brightly Review

The stars of Favorites of the Moon are not any of the innumerable actors in this sprawling French film but a set of 18th century Limoges china and a 19th century nude painting of an aristocrat. From their creation in their respective centuries to present day France (present day being 1984, when this film was released) we see the unending cycle of ownership of the objects. Russian director Otar Iosseliani’s first foray into French cinema is an absurdist, Altman-esque comedy that attempts to critique class and history. It’s a dizzying feat for a film, which uses visuals cues to accentuate the happenstance moments of life in a way that eludes similar techniques in literature (although the film performs them far more inelegantly).

Oct
06
2014
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