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Mark Zhuravsky

Staff Writer

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

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Undocumented Review

Undocumented has aspirations to be that warning shot across the bow that unveils American monsters, gorged on anti-illegal immigration propaganda and looking to bring their brand of justice to make sure them Mexicans stay the hell out. It's certainly critical of these self-deluded men who equate torture with law and take twisted pleasure in toying with their Mexican captives. This time though, an American documentary crew is thrown in the mix, led by Travis (Eurotrip’s Scott Mechlowicz), whose idealistic tracking of illegal immigrants crossing the border is crudely interrupted. Taken in along with the Mexicans, the crew quickly discerns that these men do not operate under government authority and are prepared to go to great lengths to make their point.

Feb
27
2012
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Margin Call Review

Margin Call follows in the mostly proud but scarcely seen tradition of films featuring people tackling complex subjects on the viewer's terms. How many people would sit through a movie with shop talk straight from the front lines of the 2008 financial crisis? Director J.C. Chandor, making an extremely assured debut here, figured correctly that most outside of the field would balk at a film that portrayed the meltdown faithfully to a word. Instead, Margin Call boils down complexities without insulting your intelligence - if you are riveted by people trading barbed words and shaking in their boots at certain unspoken certainties, then this movie is for you.

Feb
08
2012
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The Future Review

I can’t tell you just what The Future is about, but I can tell you how it made me feel - curious at first and fatigued soon after. Miranda July’s second cinematic brainchild is very much a too-personal project that’s as likely to satisfy as it is to aggravate. If there is a challenging film under wraps here, the surface is so lovingly polished with twee (including the already much-lamented talking cat narration, which I personally found barely distracting), that the resulting film is difficult to parse through for something to connect with. I had the opportunity to interview Ms. July after my first viewing of the film, and while she was helpful in illuminating the mysteries of her project, the second viewing left me disengaged.

Feb
06
2012
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The Girls Next Door: The Complete Collection Review

That The Girls Next Door managed to squeeze thirty five hours  of Hugh Hefner's bunny squad chatter and scuffle is an achievement - but what viewer valuing their time would buy this set and why? If you are a fan of the show, perhaps this sizable paperweight will do you go, but otherwise, who would revisit six seasons and 91 episodes when the high points feature soft-core nudity that is exhibited freely on the web? Questions to ponder as I dive into this, a review of the complete series.

What started out as a focus on Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt and Kendra Wilkinson (and naturally Hugh Hefner), soon shifted to Crystal Harris and twins Kristina and Karissa Shannon. Despite the girls taking center stage, this is very much Hefner's show and his persona is infinitely more interesting, with a crew for every conceivable beck and call. I wish I could say the ladies summoned up something other than a prurient interest, but outside of terrifically stupid behavior that pops its head up every few episodes, this is E-grade drama, with rivalries and arguments that come off as fake even for reality TV.

Jan
05
2012
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The Littlest Angel Review

We’ve been spoiled. Yes, it may hurt to admit it, but superior animation has made features like The Littlest Angel irrelevant at best and an annoyance at worst. Based on the fifteenth best-selling children's book of all time, the story must have been considerably expanded considering the 80-minute running time. The story of a young boy who, aided by his pup Halo, returns to earth to find a gift for…the Baby Jesus, son of God, voiced here by Ron Perlman. In case anyone ever asks you to name three films Ron Perlman is featured in, please, say “Enemy At The Gates, Drive, and The Littlest Angel.”

Dec
17
2011
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Babar and Father Christmas Review

I guess this makes me a grouch, or just a childless 20-something, but this release of “the classic series” Babar didn’t get me into the holiday spirit. It’s a cheap ploy to claim the DVD (clocking in a little over an hour) features “two bonus episodes” when Babar & Father Christmas is a 24 minute special that bares unintentional comparisons to House of Saddam. Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff’s children books are, I assume, faithfully depicted here as head elephant and king of Elephantland Babar and his family learn valuable life lessons about the joy of Christmas, gift-giving and more. Unfortunately, the episodes haven’t aged entirely well – nevermind the less-than-true claim of a “digitally restored and remastered” series – and between a sluggish pace and intermittent laughs, it’s a slouch through the trio presented here - "Babar & Father Christmas," "A Child in the Snow," and "The Gift."  

Dec
15
2011
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Magic Trip Review

Alex Gibney has directed some of the most acclaimed documentaries of the last decade - among them Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and Taxi to the Dark Side, which won him an Academy Award. An incredibly prolific documentarian, Gibney now turns his attention to Magic Trip, a collaboration with Alison Ellwood, his editor on Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. Here Ellwood handles editing, producing and co-writing duties while Stanley Tucci provides his professional cadence as the narrator/interviewer. Magic Trip covers a 1964 roadtrip undertaken by Ken Kesey, best known as the author of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Joining Kesey are an group of recreational drug users (and much more) who would soon be called the Merry Pranksters. Neal Cassady, Kerouac's inspiration for Dean Moriarty, drove their mode of transportation, a 1939 school bus, destined to make it across the USA to the New York-based 1964 World's Fair.

Nov
30
2011
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Fire of Conscience Review

Would you balk at another review lamenting the lack of attention paid to foreign productions once they land stateside? Probably, so I'll try not to go there. Looking at the fancy-pants DVD cover of Dante Lam's Fire of Conscience, I expected yet another hardboiled cops-and-robbers actioner of little substance and less imagination. Lam has action-packed cop dramas as something of a calling card and Fire of Conscience does little to break tradition - which actually turns out to be a blessing in disguise. The film is overloaded with B-plots but they never get in the way of the main attraction - Lam's decidedly gifted approach to shooting clean, well-paced and intense action sequences.

Nov
28
2011
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Red vs. Blue Season 9 Review

Students of brand-building would do well to look to Rooster Teeth Productions, who dutifully continue their most famous creation, Red vs. Blue. Originally an absurd machinima production that poked fun at two color-coded teams questioning their motives for fighting one another, Red vs. Blue moved into parodying the head-scratching contradictions of warfare in later seasons but stayed true to its characters and what little storyline there was. For the uninitiated, Season 9 is a good place to start - a DVD stacked with extras, solid presentation and a halfway decent storyline.

Nov
22
2011
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Gabriel Iglesias Presents: Stand-Up Revolution Review

The long-lusted-after brainchild of comedian Gabriel Iglesias (affectionately known as Fluffy), Stand Up Revolution is an unashamed parade of the comic's friends, each no doubt vying for an audience that Iglesias warms with a mixture of genuine enthusiasm  and occasionally cheap shots. So why does it not only avoid registering as unwelcome and navel gazing but succeeds as a largely solid comedy special, with a few clunkers and some outstanding material? Part of the secret is Iglesias himself, a good natured man who exploits his portliness for a laugh at every opportunity. Fluffy' happy-go-lucky shtick is either brilliantly fabricated or he is absolutely genuine, coming of ass an intensely warm showrunner who embraces and the audience and basks in their appreciative glow. With no shortage of "angry" comics who lash out (often to great effect) at the people who came to see them, it's refreshing to see a craftsman comedian who has empathy and respect for the crowd.

Nov
20
2011
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Pearl Jam Twenty Review

Cameron Crowe is a big fan of Pearl Jam, the Seattle-borne band now entering its second decade. You might have heard of it – and you might've heard of Crowe, the writer/director of Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous, and Vanilla Sky among others. Following the release of Crowe's The Union (the film opened this year's Tribeca Film Festival), Pearl Jam Twenty is a different breed of music doc – where The Union logged studio time with Elton John and Leon Russell, PJ Twenty covers years of Pearl Jam history, the trials and tribulations of the band – and Eddie Vedder. Vedder is undoubtedly the face, voice and image most people associate with the band and Crowe, while unabashedly admiring the musicians, doesn't deny Vedder's looming over the band as a whole and the resulting conflicts.

Nov
15
2011
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The Righteous and the Wicked Review

As I've been tasked with reviewing shoe-string-budgeted Westerns, each film has been better than the last. The Righteous and the Wicked, director Craig A. Butler second feature film, is a period Western that makes up for what it lacks in effects, set design, and acting with a lovingly crafted patchwork of Western mythos, a solid B-grade script and a score that shamelessly (and admiringly) rips off Morricone. 

Nov
14
2011
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Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1: Season One Review

How Aqua Teen Hunger Force managed to hit the big 1-0-0 remains a complete mystery to me. One of Adult Swim's oldest mainstays comes in bite-sized 12-15 minute chunks, concerns the exploits of a lovable ball of ground up horse (as the new theme song seems to suggest) meat, Meatwad (Dave Willis), a self-centered milkshake named Master Shake (Dana Snyder) and an overly intelligent box of french fries Frylock (Carey Means). Shake makes trouble, often roping the impressionable Meatwad into the mess and Frylock attempts to keep the peace, frequently in vain. That's really the gist of it - whether ATHF works depends entirely on the viewer. When I first saw it, at 15, it was a show that there was no getting into, an oddity that seemed to exist so a select few animators and voice actors got to fulfill their absurd childish fantasies.

Nov
01
2011
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His Way Review

There's a fine line between a gilded self-congratulatory look back and a warts-and-all down-to-earth confessional. Neither is entirely satisfactory on its own, a fact that director Douglas McGrath (Infamous, much more than just the other Truman Capote biopic) understands intimately. His documentary on producer and natural-born showman Jerry Weintraub offers us both – we get our peek into Weintraub’s posh pad and a cavalcade of celebrities delivering approving (yet slightly sarcastic) recollections. What makes His Way a solid documentary is, not surprisingly, Weintraub himself. Tanned and with a mouth of piercingly white teeth, Weintraub (seventy two and looking good at the time of filming) reclines and delivers a tale of a Bronx boy made good.

Oct
31
2011
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Workaholics: Season One Review

Workaholics won me over slowly – a chuckle here, a rare belly laugh there. Like its eternal slackers leads, this show doesn't aim high. In fact, borderless fascination with bodily functions rules the day, governed by the almighty penis, the sight of which is capable of reducing a grown man to stupor. The boys – laid back Blake (Blake Anderson), hyperactive Adam (Adam Devine) and straight-laced wannabe Anders (Anders Holm) compliment each other and play well together. The trio’s combination of familiarity and macho posturing comes off like old friends bickering – no surprises given the three are members of the same troupe, Mail Order Comedy.  

Oct
27
2011
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It's No Timecop! Podcast - Episode 5: "Paranormal Activity 3" feat. Deathrow Tull's Dramatic Dyalekt

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This week on It's No Timecop!, Cody Robison and Mark Zhuravsky sit down with special guest Dyalekt of Deathrow Tull to tackle Paranormal Activity 3, directed by Catfish duo Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman and starring Katie Featherston, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Christopher Nicholas Smith and Lauren Bittner.

Oct
27
2011
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The Caller Review

The Caller died a quick theatrical death in late August, the traditional dumping ground for unsatisfactory genre pics. Well, I've reviewed a few of those films in my time, and The Caller is a cut above. This is partly due to a professional look (courtesy of DP Alexander Melman, his first feature since 2004's Depp vehicle The Libertine) and a cast that brings together two actors, made famous respectively by a novelty vampire TV show and a book-to-film franchise. That would be Stephen Moyer of True Blood fame and the lovely Rachelle Lefevre, Twilight's Victoria (thanks IMDB!) - two actors who can and do emote in this promising thriller. You want The Caller to succeed, to overcome the immediate cross it has to bear when the indistinguishable cover features quote announcing portentously "It may stop you from answering the phone ever again." For the first one-and-a-half acts, The Caller sets up a strong main plot and genuine takes - then it shuffles them aside for a third act that even a hardened horror/thriller fan, used to suspending a wealth of disbelief, will groan at.

Oct
25
2011
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The Trip Review

The Trip is a spiritual successor to director Michael Winterbottom’s 2006's A Cock and Bull Story, an adaptation of the famed Laurence Sterne novel “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.” Winterbottom approached the “unfilmable” novel by giving equal time to co-stars Steve Coogan and Rod Brydon, portraying fictional versions of themselves – Coogan the egotistical womanizer and Brydon scrambling to spar for top dog. Their on-set exploits, a clash of egos between two men uniquely ill-suited to be around one another, must have heralded a recipe for success because four years later, The Trip premiered on BBC 2 as a six episode (thirty minutes each) series. What we got in the States is an edited-down feature film, and who’s to say we’re worse off for it? The Trip is a pleasurable distraction that features emotional beats that feel a bit unearned in the face of so much humorous intellectual sparring.

Oct
25
2011
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Lee & Grant Review

The prevalence of money shots may be the greatest advantage and biggest hobbling documentaries have taken in the past decade or so. The general accessibility of CGI and the desire to utilize it frequently, as well as incorporation of decidedly cinematic techniques have changed the face of the modern documentary. Talking heads? Forget about it, we can get experts in the foreground while expansive vistas unfold in the background. No more dry tales of bloody battles - not if we can speed-ramp some cannon fire and intercut it with bodies falling amidst clouds of gunsmoke. You know what, though? It works - and it works well. Lee & Grant, following the two Civil War generals and extraordinary human beings, wisely shortcuts all the talk with tidbits that are helpfully assisted via iconic film imagery. Lee's childhood? Children running across a bountiful field in slow motion. That's a start.

Oct
17
2011
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Farmageddon Review

Look past the bombastic title, and you'll find a home-grown documentary worth your 90 minutes. Farmageddon, from director Kristin Canty, explores the plight of family farms, frequently family-owned business, small units operated by individuals, unearthing evidence of governmental abuse under the pretense of flimsy jurisdiction. She goes the talking head route, collecting evidence of abuse from community farmers willing to speak out - it would seem that the same laws leveled against industrial food chains are exercised against tiny farms. In a country largely dominated by industry-borne, strictly-regulated, chemically-treated meat and diary, these farmers face bias and government inquiries into the health of their animals (a segment involving an investigation into non-existent mad cow disease prevalence among sheep that ends in the animals being confiscated and slaughtered is just short of infuriating) or the quality of their non-pasteurized milk.

Oct
15
2011
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