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Mark Zhuravsky

Staff Writer

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

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Parasomnia Review

You’ve gotta give it up to director William Malone – the helmer of 1999's gory House on Haunted Hill remake and the universally reviled 2002's FeardotCom has conjured up something of an original idea for his new film Parasomnia. Parasomnia is the story of Laura Baxter (Cherilyn Wilson), who suffers from a rare form of parasomnia that leaves her asleep for the majority of her life. She is physically capable and generally healthy but tragically rendered comatose for days and months at a time.

Kept in a hospital bed and fed intravenously on a regular basis, Laura seems doomed to this existence until Danny Sloan (Dylan Purcell) stumbles across her room while visiting a friend in rehab. Danny is taken with Laura almost immediately and strives to find out more about her. Coincidentally, in the room next to Laura, serial killer and master hypnotist Byron Volpe (Patrick Kilpatrick  - best name ever?) hangs in the air, restrained by ropes and fitted with a bag on his head. We learn that Volpe can control people’s minds (convenient) and caused a great number of people to kill themselves. He is also soft-spoken and well read, joining the collection of post-Silence of the Lambs erudite slayers.

Jul
15
2010
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How To Make Love To A Woman Review

Sometimes movies surprise you. A cliché, I know, but bear with me a moment. Take a look at the DVD cover of How To Make Love To A Woman. Would you pick this up from a shelf filled to the brim with hundreds of other, possibly better films? I mean, the cover has the American Pie lettering and the cast striking and fronting with cheesy expressions that scream “we’re an ensemble cast for a raunchy comedy.” Actor Eugene Byrd in particular gets the worst of it, not only the lone black man on the cover but also saddled with a self-satisfied, too-cool pose.

The secret is that the film inside, written by Dennis Kao and directed by Scott Culver, doesn’t portend to be more than yet another comedy released in the aftermath of the Apatow crew's assault on Hollywood; a comedy that’s equal parts raunchy and romantic. It’s also genuinely funny. Not a gut-buster, but filled out with a cast of talented up-and-comers who are enjoyable to watch, not to mention a few worthy zingers. Overall, what looks like another derivative and superficial slacker-without-prospects-lands-woman-way-above-his-station story finds some heart and skates on by in a breezy 91 minutes.

Jul
13
2010
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Beautiful Review

Long before David Lynch’s brilliantly subversive Blue Velvet (the trend-setting and utterly unforgettable intro of which you can see here) once again turned the suburban thriller genre on its (severed) ear, the idea of suburban disdain and despair bubbling under an all-too-idyllic surface had been done to death, and beyond. Most film goers will unrelentingly cite 1999's (has it been that long?) American Beauty, which kicked off a trend of dark-side-of-suburbia dramedies every bit as persistent as the slacker-hitmen permanently etched into public consciousness by Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and the imitators that followed. Thumbsucker, The Chumscrubber, Little Children, the list goes on and on, with a few choice flicks bucking the trend and updating the already ambitious but admittedly dated template of Beauty.

So where does Dean O'Flaherty’s Beautiful fall on that scale of mostly tired indies? Unfortunately, the O'Flaherty-penned and directed film is a cluttered canvas splashed with beautiful images one after another, but failing to leave any memorable moments in mind long after an overblown, emotionally hollow and symbolically overwrought ending. That was a mouthful. In short, Beautiful is a film that consistently manages the trick of looking top notch, the visuals provided by cinematographer Kent Smith are elegant but rarely appropriately elegiac. O'Flaherty knows how to pen a scene filled with proper drama but is seemingly conflicted about the movie’s direction – for all that good looking on-screen sheen, the pacing is a major turn-off and a lack of a strong central performance deflates the film early on and never picks up for a lengthy 90-odd minutes.

Jul
05
2010
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Mary & Max Review

Many movies barter sentimentality to the audience with what strikes me as irresponsible abandon – the latest Nicholas Sparks novel adaptation is an easy target, but it is a fine line between appearing genuine and forcing manipulative drivel down (unfortunately) willing throats. The presence of authentic sincerity should be treasured and regarded as a rarity, and that’s what makes Adam Elliot’s Mary and Max such a surprising film just shy of masterpiece status.

Jun
28
2010
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Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy) Review

The cult of Python has long been a homegrown British mainstay, but it's peculiarities and often brilliant humor were also successfully embraced by world audiences. Now, the 40th anniversary of the comedy group sees member Eric Idle putting on a grand show in Royal Albert Hall of London - wait a minute, you say - has Python gone completely legit? Not quite, though this "baroque n' roll" oratorio may win over a few new fans.

Jun
18
2010
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Gunfight At La Mesa Review

Americans love Westerns – just three years ago James Mangold’s 3:10 To Yuma scored a respectful $70 million at the US box office, while bringing in a significantly smaller $16 mil worldwide. Something about the Western as a genre appeals to the American moviegoer – maybe it’s the concept of righteousness, of tough guys standing up for what they believe in. While the 90s and the 00s saw a rise in deconstructionist westerns like Unforgiven and the grievously underrated The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, pulling the myth apart is still not quite gravy with most moviegoers, as evidenced by Jesse James middling box office profits.

Jun
01
2010
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Raising The Bar: The Complete Second Season Review

As Stephen Bochco’s Raising the Bar heads into its third season, you may be wondering just what will be different this time around. Allow me to briefly quote from my review of the first season to answer your question: “Raising the Bar does manage to briefly distinguish itself on the strength of dialogue and production values, but it can’t avoid the sinking feeling that you’ve seen this all before.” Season two is no different, moving the plot forward and maintaining the same solid production values, but the show is beginning to feel more labored than some, even as it generally remains better written than many.

Judicial crusader Jerry Kellerman (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is back, with many familiar faces joining him in the second season. Having trotted out from under Roz Whitman’s (Gloria Reuben) wing, Kellerman is still struggling with an insatiability for justice within a system that is seemingly not geared for the innocent or financially deficient. He is directly in competition with Marcus McGrath (J. August Richards), and their genial relationship in season two takes a hit as tensions grow and the two men try to outsmart one another.

May
15
2010
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My Wife & Kids: Season Two Review

I’m a sucker for a comfy sitcom – the kind of comfort food familiarity that used to be WB’s bread and butter. I grew up on WB’s afternoon cartoon block, which was inevitably followed by Family Matters and the sitcom ilk. My Wife & Kids is content to meet similar expectations as a non-threatening, barely edgy comedy clocking in at twenty and change per episode. This is not meant as a criticism, but rather a genuine assessment of what to expect coming in. If you’re looking for an easy sitcom to settle into, My Wife & Kids succeeds with a couple of well-earned belly laughs and a cast that is easy to watch and watch some more.

Damon Wayans continues to lead the cast as househusband Michael Kyle, a smart-mouthed father and husband who never lets an opportunity to school his kids pass him by. George O. Gore II and Parker McKenna Posey return as son Junior and younger daughter Kady, respectively. Season two also introduces Jennifer Freeman, subbing in for Jazz Raycole. Freeman proves in short time she has no trouble keeping up with the rest of the cast, which also includes Tisha Campbell-Martin, returning as Michael’s wife Jay.

May
12
2010
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The Dukes Review

The Dukes are washed up. Once the biggest group of the 60s, the doo-wop vets are now relegated to a circuit dominated by infrequent bouts of nostalgia-driven TV commercials. Fellow crooners and long-time friends Danny (Robert Davi, who also directs, produces and is a co-writer) and George (a comfortable Chazz Palminteri) talk the talk on a daily basis, putting their heads together about how to make ends meet, not only for themselves but the rest of the group, including former-Duke-now-diabetic Armond (Frank D'Amico) and Murphy (Elya Baskin), a friend of the group who always seems to be on the verge of nervous breakdown. When Danny happens to overhear a vital bit of information while accompanying George to the dentist, the Dukes decided that the only way to meet their financial needs is to crack a safe – but they can’t do it alone…

May
06
2010
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The Awkward Comedy Show Review

The Awkward Comedy Show has lofty goal in mind – it hopes to change how you view not only black comedians but also black comedy as a whole. In a scant 80 minutes, it doesn’t quite reach these heights. It does act as a calling card for five stand-up comedians of varied cultural origins but equal skill on the mike. These are funny people, make no mistake about it, and the best decision director Victor Varnado (who appears as one of the comics) makes is to focus more on their sets than conversational pieces and a few animated sequences that seem to exist more to pad out the running time than to personify the five comics.

Marina Franklin, Victor Varnado, Hannibal Buress, Eric Andre and Baron Vaughn are what the back cover of this calls “alternative comedians.” That’s another way of saying you don’t of them very often. The biggest favor The Awkward Comedy Show does for these disparate comics is let them take the stage and do some solid, often gut-busting work. The performances are bookended by a round table conversation among the group, which adds little to the film and feels like an afterthought. Also included are brief and a bit recklessly animated sequences relating a personal story from each of the comedians.

May
04
2010
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Jade Warrior Review

Jade Warrior, or Jadesoturi, is not a full-fledged martial arts film. The cover of the DVD may lead you to believe otherwise but I assure you, there are three major fights in the film and a number of smaller scuffles, and none of them would qualify the film as a “cross-cultural martial arts epic.” On the other hand, Jade Warrior, a Chinese-Finnish production budgeted at $3.5 million, is a film that requires and rewards patience. A perplexing, sometimes downright confusing take on two distinct mythologies, the film works best as a Finnish reworking of Chinese Wuxia themes. This is a martial arts art film, far from the high-flying action of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and closest in spirit to the second reel of Jet Li starrer Fearless. As it is, the film is a pleasant surprise, a mature, professional production that rises well above many shoestring, brainless martial arts would-be epics.

Apr
24
2010
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Peacock Review

Peacock is a hard movie to like. But why? The film is appropriately lensed by prolific, Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot (who did a fine job at lighting a steampunk Victorian England in last year’s Sherlock Holmes), bringing a lived-in feel to the small-town Gothic aesthetic of the film. The lead performance, by the usually-reliable Cillian Murphy, is extremely devoted if sometimes puzzling, and the impressive supporting cast (Susan Sarandon, Ellen Page, Josh Lucas, and more) gives the film a pedigree of professionalism. Yet the final product feels immobile, with tepid pacing and perplexing plotting, Murphy’s performance both driving the film and weighing it down. More on that in a bit.

The feature debut of director Michael Lander, Peacock is based on a screenplay by Michael Lander and Ryan Roy. Before I delve into a brief plot summary, I’d like to share a quote from Josh Lucas promoting the film, which I also feel describes it best – “what would happen if Bates had basically stayed alive and married himself.” That’s Norman Bates he’s talking about and Peacock owes a great deal to Psycho specifically and Hitchcock generally.

Apr
22
2010
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Jim Henson’s Animal Show With Stinky & Jake: Lions, Tigers & Bears Review

While watching Animal Show, one question plagued me consistently: To what degree was Jim Henson ever involved in the creation of this children’s show? Henson, who passed away in 1990, was arguably one of the most influential minds in children’s programming and one of the most skilled puppeteers we’ve had the pleasure to see work. Animal Show, which premiered in 1994, is a topical animal talk show run by Stinky, a skunk and Jake, a polar bear. The appeal is that Stinky and Jake are puppets and so is everyone else on the show, short of the documentary footage frequently employed as an educational tool.

Apr
20
2010
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Neowolf Review

“I can’t believe we’re doing this. It’s just – I feel like such a slut.”

“I’m counting on it.”

There are bad movies, and then there are bad movies. What makes Neowolf so terrifically awful? The work of the extremely prolific director Alan Smithee, whose previous output includes Street Walkers 3 and Beach Cops, Neowolf is a cross-section of trashy editing, poorly lit everything, and generic rock numbers. Why would you subject yourself to this atrocious example of micro-budget horror filmmaking? You wouldn’t, that’s my job and for the next 500 words or so, I will bear the brunt of explaining why Neowolf is not worth your time.

Apr
19
2010
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Clash of the Titans (2010) Review

Sam Worthington is nothing if not earnest in Clash of the Titans, the muddled remake of the largely beloved 1981 film. As Perseus, the demigod son of Zeus, Worthington brings his factory line action star charisma to a role that saddles him with lines like “Everyone I loved was killed by the gods.” Worthington seems to be carving out his place as the biggest action star in the world by selectively playing unwilling saviors who tiptoe across conflicting sides until deciding on one and going into battle. Clash of the Titans does deliver on the battle part, if you can excuse the cheap CGI and the horrific 3D conversion.

Apr
10
2010
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The Jacksons: A Family Dynasty Review

It had to happen. In light of Michael Jackson’s untimely demise, we saw the unfolding of several largely well-meaning tributes, culminating in This Is It, the concert film chronicling the performances staged for his final tour. I first saw This Is It on a flight over to Tokyo and thought it was a very respectful and upbeat look at the work of a timeless showman. Michael moved with ease and sang with passion, maintaining the beacon of pop king.

Apr
04
2010
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We Live In Public Review

Josh Harris the visionary. Josh Harris the dot-com millionaire. Josh Harris the pseudo-fascist. Josh Harris the clown. Josh Harris sending a farewell video message to his mother, who is dying of cancer – he doesn’t want to see her in person. It’s that simple.

Director Ondi Timoner met Mr. Harris when he was just starting out – and this project is the result of more than 10 years of ongoing documentary filmmaking. The film is massive, jam packed with graphic presentations and montages that summarize key events in the world of Josh Harris and the two and a half decades that shaped the man who poured his money first into Pseudo.com, the first internet television network and then into the far more disturbing "Quiet: We Live in Public".

Mar
19
2010
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FlashForward: Season One, Part 1 Review

One thing FlashForward and Lost have in common is actor Dominic Monaghan. Yes, one of the four Hobbits does make a credited appearance in both shows. Maybe Monaghan is considering jumping on the bandwagon for a show that necessarily must fill the gap as Lost enters its sixth and final season. FlashForward does not necessarily strive for the mantle of what has been called the best show on television, but the pretense is there. As Lost winds down, creators Brannon Braga (veteran Star Trek TV writer) and David S. Goyer (best known for penning Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) hope you’ll jump right into FlashForward, embracing the mystery at the heart of the show.

Mar
02
2010
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The Universe: The Complete Season Four Review

Judging by season four of History Channel’s The Universe, the influence of popular culture and affection for the explosive antics of Michael Bay have clearly influenced the bombastic visual approach of the series. The fan consensus and major criticism leveled on this season has been the reliance on speculative science, the fantastical elements firmly rooted in science fiction – phasers, teleporters, terraforming and the like. While it’s pleasing to see how far we’ve come and how we are capable of taking baby steps toward achieving our wilder science fiction dreams, the fourth season of The Universe is neither particularly compelling nor exciting enough to reward long-time viewers.

Composed of four discs packaged in a box set, Season 4 offers a barebones menu and is seemingly devoid of special features, save for two brief segments. I’d like to take a moment now to gripe about the lack of subtitles – this is completely unacceptable, especially for a series that is not best suited for those unfamiliar with the more complex concepts like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (don’t hesitate to look it up, it’s worth scratching your head over). The experts talk on and on and the show moves at a meteoric (pun intended) rate, throwing out ideas and visualization while you sit dumbfounded, catching up in your head. Maybe it’s not so bad but the lack of subtitles definitely hurts the set.

Also souring is the 1.78.1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, which is clean and crisp when showing off new footage but as stocks change and old-school videos pop up, the transfer takes a hit. Also, while the show looks good in HD, it is disappointing to see the DVD does not make much of an effort to improve the visual quality.

Feb
28
2010
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The End of the Line Review

I know Rupert Murray’s The End of the Line means well – I could hardly accuse the film of pandering on a renowned topic – it doesn’t. The End of the Line focuses on the growing problem of over-fishing, the ecological damage wrought by the practice, and the far reaching effects of a natural resource once deemed permanently inexhaustible – the ocean. The End of the Line is based on the book of the same name by Charles Clover, and his investigation forms the crux of a series of interviews that stretches to global proportions. Director Murray and narrator Ted Danson (most recently a regular on FX’s Damages) probe into the harrowing consequences of this practice – one that shows no signs on stopping.

Feb
25
2010
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