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Mark Zhuravsky

Staff Writer

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

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Jorge, el Monito Ciclista Review

A three DVD collection, part of Scholastic' "Storybook Treasures" series, which includes "I'm Dirty! & I Stink!", "Jorge El Curioso" is a great learning tool for parents, tykes looking to learn English or Spanish. It's also a great tool for me, a childless DVD reviewer, since it proved mildly entertaining and taught me a couple of new words. The design here can't be faulted, and you are offered all possible options - you can listen to the story in English while subtitles highlight in time, word by word, and you can do the same thing in Spanish. The menu design features both languages, so that parents whose English may be a little shaky would be still be able to put this on for their kids.

Oct
12
2011
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The Butcher, the Chef, and the Swordsman Review

There’s a real satisfaction that comes with sweet surprises – for a critic, it disarms them momentarily, as they breathe a sign of relief with the realization that the film they’re committing the time to watch and write on isn’t a waste of time. Seventeen minutes into The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman, I was ready to throw in the towel, watching the grotesquely comical Chopper (Liu Xiaoye), a local butcher in love with a high-class prostitute named Madam Mei (Kitty Zhang), beaten to the punch by giant homeless man and sword expert Big Beard (Senggerenqin). Director Wuershan, making his debut here, falls into a trap early on of supersizing everything – we know he’s making a farce with a mix of slapstick and martial arts, but he wants us to know this fact intimately. Enter hyperactive editing, an eclectic sound mix and a variety of camera tricks that rarely feel inspired.

Oct
09
2011
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Go for It! Review

One of the most effective truisms to show up in an underdog triumph film comes at the tail end of Curtis Hanson’s 8 Mile. B-Rabbit (Eminem) having won a crucial rap battle, celebrates briefly and then grabs his clothes and goes to work – he understands that his hardscrabble existence won’t be uplifted entirely by his talent. It’s a smart ending that is seemingly avoided by many films in the genre – especially dance films, the population of which exploded after You Got Served landed impressive box office ($48 mil worldwide) given its absolute critical pounding. Now that we’ve seen (or hopefully avoided) the likes of Dance Movie, it’s clear that the tropes are familiar to one and all – including the makers of Go For It!, who manage to spin something watchable out of boilerplate material.

Oct
06
2011
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It's No Timecop! Podcast - Episode 4: Red State

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This week on It's No Timecop!, Gabriel Mara, Cody Robison and Mark Zhuravsky debate Kevin Smith's controversial "horror" film Red State and Cody delivers an impassioned monologue picking apart a monologue in the film. Red State stars Michael Angarano, Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman, and Stephen Root.

Sep
30
2011

It's No Timecop! Podcast - Episode 3: "Drive"

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This week on It's No Timecop!, Gabriel Mara and Mark Zhuravsky gush over Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive and convince an already eager Cody Robinson to see it. The film stars Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, Oscar Issac, Christina Hendricks, and Albert Brooks, with a screenplay by Hossein Amini based on the James Sallis novel and music by Cliff Martinez.

Now on Itunes!

Sep
26
2011

It's No Timecop! Podcast - Episode 2: "Contagion"

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Episode two of It's No Timecop! finds Gabriel Mara, Cody Robison, and Mark Zhuravsky sitting down to talk Contagion, Steven Soderbergh's newest film, starring Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, written by Scott Z. Burns with a score by Cliff Martinez.

Find us on Itunes!

Sep
24
2011

It's No Timecop! Podcast - Episode 1: "The Debt"

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Welcome to the first episode of "It's No Timecop!". This is a (soon to be) weekly film podcast hosted by a lovable trio (Gabriel Mara, Cody Robison, and Mark Zhuravsky), who lead you through recent movies, let you know what they've been watching and  then critique the film in a both spoiler-free and spoiler-filled split review.  So download this latest episode and come back each week to hear what these pop culture eccentrics think is worth your time and more importantly, worth your money.

On the premiere episode Gabe, Cody, and Mark make their introductions and discuss the virtues of John Madden's The Debt, starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Wilkinson and Marton Csokas.

Sep
23
2011

Puncture Review

Puncture is a unique animal, a well-meaning film that can't mesh all of its elements together cohesively. Is it the biography of an extraordinary individual, a traditional legal drama, or something completely different? The Kassen brothers direct this film with sufficient visual flair and an observant camera that focuses in on Mike Weiss (Chris Evans), an attorney possessed of a massive intellect barely affected by Weiss's consistent drug use. He's a functioning addict, something that this author has not seen explored on film often (if at all), but while glimpses of his lifetime feel naturalistic and unbound, Puncture is intent on sprinting head-on into a detail-heavy case and then shuffling its feet when a slow-moving third act ends on a sour and unearned emotional note.

Sep
22
2011
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The Weird World of Blowfly Review

At sixty nine, Blowfly can still make you blush. Given the sexual connotation of the number, the notoriously foul-mouthed almost-septuagenarian should be right at home. That prolific DP Jonathan Furmanski was moved to make this documentary on the man is no surprise, given just how magnetic the cantankerous old man is. Born Clarence Reid, Blowfly saw a “safe” career as a song writer, most notably collaborating with KC & the Sunshine Band – while in the meantime developing the sexually explicating shock act that still manages to turn heads. Blowfly’s bread and butter were and continue to be his twisted covers, lacing beloved hits with newly dirty lyrics. For the benefit of the reader, I’ll avoid posting any especially explicit titles – I’m sure you can figure out Blowfly’s alternate title for "Dancing with Myself" by Billy Idol.

Sep
22
2011
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Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown Review

Some actors possess a certain charisma that makes an ardent fan out of you, willing to see them in films of significantly varying quality. Michael Jai White is one such actor - relegated throughout two decades to low-grade action pictures and lackluster sequels, the imposing martial artist has recently seen a resurgence as a burly vigilante known only as Black Dynamite. Prior to that lauded appearance, White displayed his skills in several direct-to-DVD sequels, and it's a canny move on his part to seize the director's chair on one of these flicks. The direct-to-DVD market has breathed life into has-been careers and allowed some actors who'd otherwise be anonymously sidelined to clamber up the slopes to a cult fanbase.

Sep
15
2011
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No Ordinary Family: The Complete First Season Review

I’m going to withhold the quip about No Ordinary Family perfectly adhering to an exhausting list of clichés – or am I? The most unique aspect of this now-canceled show is just how well it works – in fact, I am just about to lament its cancellation. The premise here is a simple sell: a perfectly insignificant upper-middle class family with a father who works as a police sketch artist and a mother who’s a top-tier researcher. The dad, played by Michael Chiklis, who far more people know as Fantastic Four’s The Thing than Detective Vic Mackey of The Shield, wants the family to unwind and hopes that a trip to Brazil will mend the once-close clan. In no time flat, the plane has crashed and the family surfaces in the middle of an Amazonian forest. How they make it out is left up to the imagination and next thing we know they’re back at home and swallowed up in the daily grind once again – until each of them discovers a unique superpower.

Sep
11
2011
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The Debt Review

East Berlin. 1966. A trio of young Mossad agents is dispatched into Soviet territory to capture and extract Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen, best known to international audience as Mr. White from the Daniel Craig Bond films). Vogel is an infamous Nazi surgeon who performed horrific experiments on the inmates of Birkenau. The agents, idealistic David (Sam Worthington) and ambitious Stefan (Marton Csokas), are both immediately taken with Rachel (Jessica Chastain), newly arriving in Berlin to infiltrate Vogel’s gynecology office.

Cut to Israel, 1997, the three are celebrated heroes for Vogel’s capture when David (now played by Ciarán Hinds), returns to the country after 30 years of traveling the world with new information that may upset their status. Stefan (Tom Wilkinson), now confined to a wheelchair and Rachel (Helen Mirren) must now take decisive action to prevent news from spreading – but what if the cost of keeping the lie alive is too much to handle for the aging former agents?

Sep
06
2011
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Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy: Volume 1 Review

Larry The Cable Guy is no joke; besides voicing Mater, the down-home tow truck whose antics gave Pixar two major hits and their first critical pounding (Cars 2), Daniel Lawrence Whitney has built a very profitable career around his character, equal parts good-hearted buffoon and flannel-toting, cut-off-wearing Southern slob. This writer was still left scratching his head over Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy, a History Channel reality show starring Mr. Whitney in character as he explores the various hobbies, careers and illegal activities that undoubtedly define and promote American stereotypes. What I wasn’t expecting is that the show, while overlong and sometimes dull, moves at a fast pace and that Larry makes for a decent host.

Sep
04
2011
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If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front Review

Midway through If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, I pondered how much research The Simpsons writer Matt Selman had done before penning the 12th season episode “Lisa The Tree Hugger”. If you don’t know it by name, I’m sure I can jog your memory – a very old tree is to be cut down, and the good looks of one Jesse Grass (Joshua Jackson) encourage Lisa into joining a group of radical environmentalists. Seeing footage of the movement that the radicalized ELF eventually grew out of, I couldn’t help but notice how the clothes, haircuts, and speech patterns matched up to the broad caricatures of the Simpsons episode. Perhaps it’s a lack of breadth on behalf of co-directors Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman that prevents the majority of environmentalists interviewed from delivering much more than sound bytes – the only person who really gets the time to flesh himself out is Daniel McGowan, now serving the remaining three of his seven years for conducting several acts of property destruction under the ELF banner.

Aug
30
2011
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Super Hybrid Review

The tagline for Super Hybrid reads “Most cars run on fuel. This one runs on blood.” If any advertising execs are reading this, this writer would like to offer up some alternatives:

Driven…to kill!

This ain’t Cars. Or Cars 2.

They thought it was just a car. That was stupid of them.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s talk Super Hybrid. Directed by Eric Valette (unfortunately best known for a frankly awful adaptation of Takashi Miike’s (!) One Missed Call), the mode of transportation featured prominently in the title is outfitted with predatory instincts, can shape shift at will, and has an outstanding hunger for man flesh (pardon the term, a killer car doesn’t swerve toward a gender – if only humanity was this enlightened). After gobbling up two teenagers (one of whom has recently gotten the number of what was probably a transsexual – a story thread left hanging, unfortunately), our homicidal hybrid is involved in a competently staged crash and ends up in a garage owned by Ray (the reliable Oded Fehr - there are Resident Evil sequels waiting to be made!), who comes to verbal blows with Tilda (Shannon Beckner), the requisite female heroine whose tough exterior will be tested and her gentle interior revealed as the car wreaks untold havoc in the conveniently cellphone-unfriendly garage.

Aug
23
2011
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Clash (Bay Rong) Review

Like it or not, we, the American people, have set a precedent for what makes a successful action movie – among them a ruthless but righteous protagonist, a villain with a taste for the theatrical, and of course chubby comic relief that gets plugged early on in the picture. Clash (Bay Rong) adheres to those principles as dogmatically as possible, and you know what? Despite a cautionary budget for making a full-fledged action picture, it works, at its best no worse than a low-rent Statham flick. The choreography is serviceable and occasionally impressive, and there’s plenty of plot to go around – only the third acts sags, and coming up on the heels of an exciting hour and twenty minutes, that’s a bargain.

The beautiful (and therefore deadly) Phoenix (Ngo Thanh Van), trained to kill by her boss and retainer Hac Long (Hoang Phuc Nguyen), completes mission after mission in hopes of retrieving her daughter from Long’s clutches. For this particular one, she assembles a group of men including Tiger (Johnny Tri Nguyen). The mission goes belly-up, with one of the team making off with the loot, a laptop, and now Phoenix and Tiger must go on the hunt while evading the police and exploring their feelings for each other. With the first half of the film devoted to a fisticuffs-heavy heist and the rest to the eventual showdown between all surviving parties, Clash moves quickly and with plenty of tried-and-true style – everyone dons sunglasses and the fight scenes are showy rather than brutal.

Aug
10
2011
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The Music Never Stopped Review

Jim Kohlberg’s film The Music Never Stopped is based on “The Last Hippie”, an essay by Oliver Sacks, who also wrote the titular book that the film Awakenings was based on. It’s easy to lump Kohlberg’s film into that weepy sub-genre of comatose patients sometimes gradually, other times suddenly rediscovering the endless days that passed them by. The wrenching struggles of Gabriel Sawyer (the perpetually young Lou Taylor Pucci), whose memories were following the removal of a massive benign tumor, are no different, and Kohlberg offers no stylistic flourishes to individualize his film. What the director does well, though, is keep the camera trained on his performers, in particular Gabriel’s estranged father, Henry, played by J.K. Simmons in a rare leading role. Surrounded by a strong cast including Julia Ormond and Cara Seymour, Simmons and Pucci easily overcome the genre’s more maudlin hurdles and turn in memorable performances in an otherwise ordinary film.

Aug
07
2011
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Quarantine 2: Terminal Review

In what seemed like a major downgrade from the $12 million budgeted John Erick Dowdle-directed Quarantine, John Pogue (screenwriter of U.S. Marshals, The Skulls, and Ghost Ship, among others) was handed the reins to a $4 million sequel. Quarantine 2: Terminal was quietly dropped into a couple of theaters in June of this summer and then rushed straight to DVD.

It’s a shame too, since the film is an effective cheapie that effectively blows out of the water variety of lesser B-movies that get an unwarranted theatrical release. Despite chickening out of a starker premise early on, Quarantine 2 is a competently made, decently acted and mostly smartly written film.

Aug
05
2011
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Park Benches Review

Your capacity to enjoy Bruno Podalydés’ Park Benches will depend mostly on whether you enjoy people watching in real life. If no one’s done it yet, let this writer be the first to coin a term for this frustratingly and satisfyingly French film – “observational whimsy”. If the myopic cast of Paul Haggis’ Crash was too much for your palette, here is a lightweight dessert with just a hint of bitterness. Park Benches is an acquired taste though, testing your patience with a determined lack of focus and a cast so large that any fond hope of character development will shrivel up and die within the first half hour.

If there is a main character at the head of the purported cast of 90, it would be Lucie (Florence Muller), an office worker with a fish tank that she locks in a closet and a tendency to slack off. Along with her chatty co-workers, they roll up their blinds one day to discover a bleak banner hanging outside of an anonymous window across the street - "Homme Seul", or “Lonely Man”. Their boss pops in and the film switches gears awkwardly into a territory dominated by farcical misappropriation of the French language – words are misspoken at key moments by skilled thespians, and I suppose that might be funnier if I understood the intricacies of the language slightly better. As it is, Benches remains unfamiliar but not insincere.

Jul
30
2011
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Scream of the Banshee Review

Scream of the Banshee was granted its Syfy channel premiere as a notable 200th original feature – a co-production between SyFy and After Dark Originals, it certainly feels like the offspring of a late night romp between the two parents. Dismissing it as yet another cheap scare cash-grab wouldn’t be out of line, but there is one feature on this DVD that singlehandedly rescues the cash-strapped production – the commentary, with director Steven C. Miller and composer Ryan Dodson. While I can’t vouch for its authenticity, Miller’s tale of woe, having a hellish twelve day production schedule and a miniscule budget, is very compelling.

Jul
27
2011
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