Mark Zhuravsky

Staff Writer

I'm a prolific blogger, writer and editor who loves film.

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Young Stars on the Rise Elevate "The Spectacular Now" Review

If nothing else, James Ponsoldt's adaptation of Tim Tharp's novel will be remembered for the fine, measured performances of its young cast and a standout from a consistently reliable supporting actor. The Spectacular Now, having cooled its heels from a rapturous Sundance debut, now feels less remarkable and more observational, effective but average, notable largely for its intelligence when contrasted against the lowest-common-denominator approach of the romantic dramedy genre.

Sep
03
2014
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Kids With Guns Open Fire in Honest, Imperfect “I Declare War” Review

For those who would bristle at the sight of preteens toting submachine guns (a tragic reality in some parts of the world), Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson’s I Declare War should be momentarily thought provoking, if not particularly challenging. The film captures a game of War, forts and flags and wooden pistols a-plenty, and then proceeds to meld fantasy with reality as the guns become real and war-movie-cliches come to the fore. It’s all in the minds of the participants of course, and the film stresses rivalries and hurt feelings that are far more potent weapons than sticks and the occasional barrage of stones. Once you move past the initial incongruity of children playacting as soldiers with the proper weaponry at hand, I Declare War delivers genuine tension as it toes the fine line between imaginary fun and actual danger delivered by emotionally unstable kids with grudges that threaten to devour them.

Sep
01
2013
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"The Purge" is a Deeply Flawed Vision of an American Nightmare Review

The Purge flaunts the kind of smashing concept that would make Roger Corman salivate. In 2020 (not too far off now!), America has been revived after a post-quadruple-depression and a market crash. The New Founding Fathers have instituted a single day out of 365 devoted to releasing the rabid hate that grows inside each and every one of us. Citizens kill, maim, cower, run, or hunker down and wait out the night. Many purge. It is their right, their privilege, and despite some outcry that The Purge overwhelmingly targets the lower economic classes, unemployment is at 1% and America flourishes as a nation under...what, exactly? James DeMonaco’s (the writer/director also penned the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) film desperately wants to say something, but behind the hollow intellectual facade is a film that violates your suspension of disbelief and fizzles out early on.

Jun
07
2013
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Even If You're Good To "Mama", She Might Not Return The Favor Review

Like the evil that festers inside the walls of an attractive domicile in Andrés Muschietti's debut Mama, the sheen of this technically well-made horror film can't hide the tin-ear dialogue and cliched characters. Muschietti doubles down instead on jump scares and some genuinely impressive camerawork, including a recreation of the short that spooked Guillermo del Toro enough for the talented director to put his name behind the feature. There are definitely elements in both storytelling and visuals that call back to del Toro's proud tradition of mixing the ordinary and the frequently multi-tentacled, fish-eyed, rotting extraordinary. Then again, those visuals are often revealed via telegraphed and essentially exhausting jump scares, a tactic that elicited first nervous and then mischievous laughter from the audience I saw the film with.

Jan
18
2013
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"Django Unchained" Is Tarantino's Southern, For Better or Worse Review

Continuing to offer brutal yet riotous amends to history, Quentin Tarantino rides into town with his head held high bearing Django Unchained, a “Southern” that is all Tarantino, ambition, gusto and flaws all bearing fruit in his longest picture yet. A revisionist Western that moves the action to the Old South and pits a freed slave against a satanic plantation owner, Django is violent, funny and moving, often within the same scene. That’s the gift and genius of Tarantino and although the film is also scattered and overlong, with each act playing disparately and making for an uneven whole, the result is one of the year’s most compelling.

Dec
27
2012
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"The Iran Job" Cuts Through Heavy-Handed Politics With Human Stories Review

The primary message of Till Schauder's The Iran Job is so gobsmackingly obvious, it's a wonder the film needs to exist in the first place - that the people cast as our enemies on the global stage are not machines programmed to hate, but fully matured human begins who love their lives, freedoms, and rail against injustice with much the same fervor as we do. Alas, we do not live in a perfect world, and so The Iran Job serves as a smoothly-directed reminder that life in Iran goes on, a life riddled with contradictions and upsets that we may find inexcusable, but a life all the same. Our lead into this foreign terrain is one Kevin Sheppard, a "journeyman" basketball player, perhaps not polished enough for the US but a treasure for A.S. Shiraz, the Iranian team that touts Sheppard and his seven-foot Serbian roommate as the foreign muscle that'll power the newly-formed team through to the Iranian Super League finals, an unheard of feat.

Oct
15
2012
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Exclusive Interview: Danny Pudi Talks Speed Stick's "Handle It" Contest, Dan Harmon's Departure from Community, and More!

Danny Pudi, Community funny man? Sure. Danny Pudi, Speed Stick contest host? Uh, sure why not!

As the face behind Speed Stick's "Handle It" campaign, Pudi sat down with JPP to talk about the winning video, Dan Harmon's departure from the show that made Pudi, if not an outright, then a dearly beloved cult icon, and upcoming roles in films like The Guilt Trip and his first international production My Friend Vijay. We also got some updates on an already-in-the-can film that this writer's been anticipating...but to find out more, check out the interview below!

Oct
05
2012
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"e2: Intervention Architecture" More Exciting Than It Sounds Review

Leave it to PBS to come up with the most un-enticing DVD cover this writer has seen in a long time. Looking every a bit a screensaver, the documentary "e2: Intervention Architecture," narrated by career narrator and occasional actor Brad Pitt, is surprisingly compelling and even thought-provoking. In examining the winners of the Aga Khan Award, the doc examines what makes them worthy of such praise and how their engineering is uniquely thought-out to meet the demands of the particular society and culture.

We see the restoration of something called a hypercentre (an admittedly brief Google search failed to deduce whether the term refers to city center exclusively), a school located on a bridge joining two villages, a textile factory, a museum, and a wetlands project. The standard parade of experts lets us know the where-and-whys while time is devoted to showing off the projects, hardly your average apartment complex.

Sep
14
2012
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"Marley" Is A Muscular But Hardly Challenging Biography Review

Kevin MacDonald's Marley has all the earmarks of a definitive look at one of the world's most iconic artists of the last century, whose face had adorned many a college dorm room - Bob Marley, musician, husband, father, womanizer, peacemaker, soccer fanatic, and so much else. Marley's life, musical career and untimely death at the age of 36 are all explored in a muscular 240 minutes, which include interviews with a rotating chorus of friends, bandmates, music executives, wives, girlfriends, children, and fellow musicians (Jimmy Cliff speaks briefly). The resulting film is a clear-eyed look at an imperfect man, made all the better by its use of (restored?) footage of Marley’s performances at home and around the world, as well as his formative days in Jamaica.

Sep
11
2012
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"Lovely Molly" Lingers With Strong Lead Performance and Encompassing Sense of Dread Review

Director Eduardo Sanchez’s Lovely Molly deserved a less lukewarm reception, but alas, with the film now dropping on DVD and Blu-ray, we are left to wonder how the better fare slips through movie-goer fingers while repetitive, trashy horror features are shepherded in even as they hit all the familiar notes, poorly at that. Sanchez, most famous for masterminding The Blair Witch Project, presents a film that marries an effective, compelling psychological thriller/drama to an equally effective haunted house feature and attempts to sprinkle some unnecessary found footage asides.

Sep
02
2012
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Exclusive Interview: Leonard Maltin on the Internet Age, the Upcoming Oscar Season and More

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Who is Leonard Maltin? Most film geeks worth their salt would readily recall his face from Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, as he's arguably the most recognizable film critic behind Roger Ebert. We had a chance to sit down with the critic, historian, and proprietor of Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy blog, the discussion touching on such diverse subjects as obtaining a foothold as a critic in the digital age, the pros and cons of connecting with an audience worldwide and the upcoming Oscar race.

Aug
28
2012
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A Compelling Human Story Unfolds as "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" Review

Jiro Ono may dream of sushi, but in his lifetime, the 85-year-old proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, arguably the most acclaimed sushi restaurant in the world, has achieved dreamlike perfection. Jiro radiates steely resolve if not outright confidence and as his work ethic is profiled in director David Gelb’s lyrical documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it’s not inappropriate to share the filmmaker’s enthusiasm while salivating at the sushi Jiro serves up in adoring high-speed slow-motion close-ups. The lone negative Rotten Tomatoes review (from the Times, no less) derides the film as insubstantial hagiography, something this writer finds disagreeable given the soft shoe but still considerable narrative Gelb builds while exploring Jiro’s giant shadow cast across the lives of his two sons, the first-born Yoshikazu and the younger Takashi.



Aug
27
2012
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"Zombie A-Hole" Offers Amateur-Hour Thrills but A Fertile Imagination Review

Having never met Dustin Mills, I still think I’m supposed to like him. The writer, director, actor, editor, special effects man and composer of Zombie A-Hole is no doubt a fan of Mr. Kevin Smith, a self-promotion wizard. For example, witness Mr. Mills responding to individual fans on Zombie A-Hole’s Facebook page. With one feature already under his belt (The Puppet Monster Massacre), Mills likely subscribes to the shoe-string sets’ way of churning out feature after feature hoping for the one that hits big, or sparks a fanbase that sticks around. Zombie A-Hole is a valiant effort, full of indiscriminate, copious nudity, gratuitous slow motion, gore, gunfire, and featuring an auto-tuned Southern-tinged rock intro. What more do you want? How about a running time that’s not an unconscionable 108 minutes?

Aug
19
2012
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Oscar-Nominated Israeli Film Much More than a "Footnote" Review

There is a matter of respect to be paid to Israeli cinema for choosing to make films that frequently veer away from established Jewish stereotypes while assembling complex portraits of people and society. Joseph Cedar’s Footnote is the director’s first film since 2007’s Beaufort, which was the first Israeli film to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar in twenty four eyes. Cedar comes across as an intensely compelling filmmaker, an observant man who chooses not to be labeled as Orthodox, and one capable of telling stories that are hardly myopic but instead psychological and social canvases open to interpretation. With Footnote, Cedar presents an accomplished portrait of a father-son relationship mired in past offenses. He also makes a film ostensibly about two philologists (philology is the study of language in written historical sources, thank you Wikipedia) striving for the highest recognition both tragic and funny.


Aug
18
2012
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Metal Shifters Review

Originally titled Iron Invader, which may have been a self-conscious throwback to now gleefully cheesy monster flicks of the 1950's, Metal Shifters offers little in the way of mass monsterdom, instead focusing on one hunk of metal infected by outer space bacteria. That's the least of the film's problems really, as this SyFy channel production belongs on a long list of films that are long on ambition and woefully short on just about everything else. Wasting little time in setting up the story of a very, very small town and two brothers, Jake (Kavan Smith) and Ethan (Colby Johannson) scoring a quick buck while dumping some satellite scrap metal with Earl (Donnelly Rhodes), the town nutcase. Earl is working on a metal "golem" to commemorate the town's centennial, but when space bacteria grabs hold and enlivens the metal beast, the creature hungers for some iron-rich blood (yes) and goes on the hunt.

Apr
16
2012
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Limelight Review

Peter Gatien, a striking man made slightly more intimidating by an eye patch he sports after losing an eye playing hockey in his youth, is the subject of Billy Corben's (Square Grouper) warts-and-all documentary Limelight, produced in part by Gatien's daughter Jen. Gatien masterminded several famous nightclubs, though the doc takes a look at Limelight, built on the site of a former Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion. Sold off to a drug rehab program and then to Gatien, Limelight blossomed into one of the hottest spots in town. The founder overlooked the introduction of new musical styles into the mainstream and the rise of the club kids, one whom happened to be Michael Alig. Alig's murder of Andre Melendez cast media attention on the club and certainly aided its final shuttering, one of several attempts to close down the spot in the 1990s.

Mar
20
2012
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Bombay Beach Review

Do a quick search for photos of Bombay Beach and you will be stunned by a post-apocalyptic landscape in a land where the end of the world never happened. Looking eerily like a set from Fallout: The Movie, the land does not look like it could support much wildlife, never mind people. Yet, as explored by Israeli filmmaker Alma Har'el, the human beings of all ages that populate the shores of the misnamed Salton Sea offer a complex portrait that mesh perfectly with the Har'el visual approach but makes for a terrific viewing experience nonetheless.

Mar
20
2012
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The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 Review

Whatever your opinion on the politics expressed in Goran Hugo Olsson's The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, it is absolutely vital to take a brief moment and appreciate the fact that the footage featured in the film was preserved, uncovered and capably curated into a undeniably compelling narrative. Utilizing Swedish coverage of a volatile time in America and an especially challenging set of years for the African American community amidst an ongoing battle for civil rights, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is impressive in its clarity, offered via the original footage and commentary, courtesy of surviving vital figures (Angela Davis and Kathleen Cleaver) and more current cultural explorers, including musicians Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu.

Mar
19
2012
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Spiderhole Review

Saddled with a head-scratcher of a title and a limp front cover endorsement, Spiderhole is predestined to be a bottom-shelf item. Yet Daniel Simpson's film displays talent behind the camera almost from the on-set, smartly investing in unnerving set design that improves on a well-worn plot serving mostly to get our young adult victims into a single setting. Loosely identified artists Zoe (Amy Noble), Molly (Emma Griffiths Malin), Toby (George Maguire) and Luke (Reuben-Henry Biggs) cruise around London for a place to squat. Familiar with their rights once settled down and looking to score a nice new home, the girls and boys luck out on a sizeable and seemingly abandoned mansion. They settle in, have the requisite hook-up and find a batch of bloody clothes.

Mar
17
2012
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Project Nim Review

James Marsh has a veritable documentary goldmine, and it’s to his absolute credit that he treads softly in Project Nim. Marsh’s follow-up to the justly celebrated 2008’s Man On Wire, Nim is an engaging and moving tale of human folly and presumed superiority, as well as the kindness some of us are capable of. The film follows Project Nim, an audacious experiment positing that if a chimpanzee was raised in human company essentially from birth and taught American Sign Language, the beast might become considerably communicative in human company. The project would amass an astounding amount of insightful archival footage that Marsh relies on when one of his terrific scene recreations isn’t necessary.

Feb
29
2012
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