xjavporn

Mark Zhuravsky

Staff Writer

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

Follow on TwitterFacebook



Goblin Review

If you’ve seen one small town under supernatural siege, you’ve seen them all – or maybe not. As you watch, Raul Inglis’ Goblin screenplay tips the hat to every conceivable cliché. Inglis, who once wrote for 1994 TV-series ReBoot (props in this writer’s book), has made a career out of writing low budget scare flicks and thrillers, as well as directing several films and television episodes, including the upcoming Salesmen, which lists a “rumored” cast of Jeff Goldblum, Ben Kinglsey, Zack Braff, and William H. Macy, among others. There’s no such notable cast teaming with director Jeffery Scott Lando to deliver this film, a by-the-numbers schlocky horror affair that sees everyone phoning it in.

Jul
25
2011
Read more

The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer Review

Prior to writing this review, I considered quoting several clunkers from the dreadful narration featured in this film. Carl Crew, who plays Dahmer despite looking not even a little like the infamous serial killer, wrote the screenplay, which piggybacks on facts while detailing the murders with little tact and a grisly fascination. Not helped by a minuscule budget, tone-deaf performances and music that sounds like it’s on rent from a skin flick, The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer is just plain bad.

The DVD transfer…ahem, I’m sorry, the scratched up film print or beat-up VHS tape that was ported unceremoniously to DVD looks almost intentionally beat, with print scratches, dull colors, all rendered in disappointing full-screen and a stereo soundtrack. More than the technical problems plaguing this film, artistically speaking the narration hurts the film more than I can express. Crew must have willfully ignored the golden rule of “show, don’t tell”, since Dahmer’s narrative is obsessed with spelling out the feelings, doubts, fears and murderous instincts that drove Dahmer to kill 17 men. It's tiresome and occasionally laughable dialogue, and director David R. Bowen clumsily inserts flashbacks to Dahmer’s childhood that underscore the point.

Jul
24
2011
Read more

Zonad Review

John Carney’s Once worked wonders for me when I saw it on a dreary day a few winters ago. It was touching but not precious, and stars Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová possessed a kind of authenticity that made their music all the more affecting. Zonad, Carney’s follow-up to the acclaimed shoestring budget musical, is a different sort of animal – a tribute to slapstick comedies that paved the way (Carney owes more than a tip of the hat to Mel Brooks and the immortal comedy trio of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers) and a parody of 50s “aliens invade small town” shlock thrillers.

The concept is sound – tiny town Ballymoran (whose denizens may be developmentally disabled) is visited by Zonad (Simon Delaney), an alien visitor who claims to have fallen “through the fabric of time”. He shacks up with the Cassidy family, who are more than willing to provide this largely immobile extraterrestrial whose daily regimen consists of eating, sleeping and occasionally patching up his skin tight red latex suit. Carney fills out the already brief 75 minute run time with endless montages set to swinging 40/50s B-sides, as Zonad becomes a small-time superstar, despite the objections of a Germanic scientist and Guy Frederickson (Rory Keenan), the former flame of Jenny Cassidy (Janice Byrne), the Cassidy daughter who Zonad has his eye on.

Jul
20
2011
Read more

"I'm Dirty!" & "I Stink!" Review

Bearing the titles of a series of children’s books by husband-and-wife team Kate and Jim Mcmullan, this double DVD pack features 12 stories by a variety of authors: “I’m Dirty!”, “Burt Dow: Deep-Water Man”, “The Paperboy”, “Stars! Stars! Stars!”, “Fletcher and the Falling Leaves”, “Johnny Appleseed”, “I Stink!”, “Trashy Town”, “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel”, “The Remarkable Riderless Runaway Tricycle”, “The Beast of Monsieur Racine”, and “Arnie the Doughnut” (a personal favorite). The pack consists of two DVDs with a read-along feature, which functions something like a karaoke track, allowing children to follow the narration by reading the subtitles that light up in time with it.

Jul
15
2011
Read more

The Ward Review

I walked out of The Ward with a heavy heart. Here was John Carpenter’s comeback, a film that looked like a modest return to his roots after the failure of 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. A recent NY Times piece on Carpenter saw the man admit that Ghosts was the cinematic straw that broke the camel's back. Now, the writer/director of some of the most influential horror films in the last 50 years (Halloween and The Thing number among them) is back. That makes it especially unfortunate that The Ward is another misfire, a dull thriller with a groan-inducing ending twist.

The second film this year to involve young ladies trying to make a break for it inside of a mental asylum (Sucker Punch, lest we forget), The Ward opens with a murder inside the asylum, immediately followed by the curious sight of Kristen (Amber Heard) setting fire to an idyllic farmhouse and collapsing before it as it burns down. She’s promptly delivered to the asylum and handed over to Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), who heads up what we are told is a new therapeutic program, but the film never goes deeper into it. Kristen is set up in a wing of a hospital that she shares with Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Emily (Mamie Gummer), and Zoey (Laura Leigh).

Jul
08
2011
Read more

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.

Jul
08
2011
Read more

Transformers Japanese Collection: Headmasters Review

As a tenderfoot reviewer for JPP, an old-school cartoon collection fell into my hands. That collection was Gigantor: Volume 1, and you can see that review here. Shameless pug aside, looking over that piece of writing will probably give you insight into how I’m going to approach this DVD review. Transformers: Headmasters comes to us from Japan, where it serves as a follow-up to the beloved original. Whereas American kids in the 80s were treated to a fourth season titled “Rebirth” that took the series in a whole new direction, Japanese fans got the first Japan-exclusive production of Transformers (the series originally was conceived in America and animated in Japan).

Jul
06
2011
Read more

Prey Review

Your capacity for Antoine Blossier’s Prey will depend largely on whether you’re a fan of creature features. Going forward, please be aware that I will spoil the creature that inevitably turns the hunters into the hunted, so spoilers abound. Luckily, this modestly-budgeted horror film benefits from an approach that’s more restrained than some. It is a French production and you may be feeling a mite eager to lump into the French horror new wave. For some, that invokes gag-inducing scenes of brutality and occasional misogyny. In regards to Prey, gore-hounds get their fill, but for first 40-odd minutes, the film shares a kinship with Jaws rather than Inside.

Jul
01
2011
Read more

The Wild Hunt Review

With all the hullabaloo around HBO’s lauded “Game of Thrones” miniseries, is there room for an introspective rumination on the men (and few women) who put on costumes and play-act the glory and squalor that populate Middle Age legends? 2009’s The Wild Hunt, which took two years to come to DVD, arrives as a flawed but ambitious film, a combustion of genres that alternates unsteadily between camp and drama but ends on a heavy philosophical note that elevates the work as a whole. With elements of family drama and tragic romance set against a most unusual environment, The Wild Hunt succeeds despite its multiple missteps.

Jun
29
2011
Read more

The Destructors Review

At first glance, The Destructors looks like a bargain offering of little redeeming value. It’s a genuine pleasure to discover that the film (originally bearing the superior title The Marseille Contract) is a competent Euro-thriller with two contrasting but equally laudable performances by Anthony Quinn and Michael Caine. Director Robert Parrish works from a script by Judd Bernard, delivering an occasionally clumsy film that benefits hugely from a charismatic lead in Caine and being shot on location in Paris, Marseille and beyond.

The locations, in particular a seemingly abandoned train station, have an old-fashioned charm that makes the rote chase sequence stand out. Also notable are two excellent car chases that demonstrate that CGI may have incapacitated the genuine thrill of an experience stunt driver showing off. Quinn plays Steve Ventura, an American cop who’s stuck in a very personal prison behind a desk at a Parisian embassy. He passes the time by carrying on a puppy-dog affair with a colleague’s wife, who does not return even a fraction of his often pathetic affections. When the colleague in question is murdered, Ventura fumes and complains but can do nothing to pursue the man he believes is responsible, Frenchman Jacques Brizard (James Mason).

Jun
25
2011
Read more

Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son Review

There are two types of people in the world: those who own Big Mommas on DVD/Blu-ray and those reading this review. Actually, let’s back up – the second sequel to the 2000 surprise hit, Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son finds detective Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence) slipping on the fat suit yet again. Turner’s son Trent (Brandon T. Jackson, promising in Tropic Thunder) snuck his way into Dad’s crime scene and is now a key witness that a paper-thin Russian mobster stereotype wants to be rid of. The murdered witness expires with a clue on his lips that leads Turner to an all-girl school. Trent needs to disappear for a while, so why not pass down a disturbing habit that Turner indulges in all too frequently?

Jun
21
2011
Read more

Hijos Del Carnaval : Seasons One and Two Review

This is hard to say - you’ve brought so much joy and pain over the years. Now, I think I’m finally ready to forgive. Here we go – Latin America, I forgive you for the telenovelas that has unjustly plagued me for most of my life. I forgive the frivolous plots, the impossibly dramatic soundtrack, and the second-rate acting you could spot without knowing a word of Spanish. With Hijos Del Carnaval, the hemisphere and Brazil in particular, have taken definite steps toward redeeming themselves and raising the bar for good television there and abroad.

The Rio-set series, translated literally as “Sons of Carnaval”, is stamped with the HBO Latin America Originals seal and carries itself with the grace befitting a television event. The opener sets key events in motion – aging Anésio Gebara (Jece Valadão, who passed in 2006) has a vision on as final preparations for his 75th birthday are completed. In charge of the celebration, and minding his father’s illegal lottery business and Samba School (think a squad of Carnaval dancers and musicians), is Anesinho (Felipe Camargo). Anesinho is temperamental hulk of a man, every bit the antithesis of his physically unimposing but well-respected father.

Jun
21
2011
Read more

Summer '11: Top Ten Films Not Coming To A Theater Near You

jaws_banner

“Summertime, child, your living's easy,” sang Janis Joplin and the big blockbusters this summer certainly appear to be slumming in some respects (I’m looking at you, Transformers). Like every serving of cinema sound and fury since Jaws opened the floodgates, the big movies aren’t going to tax your brain much - these ten selections (plus a bonus) could be what you need to keep your mind sharp while enjoying some classy “indie” cinema, if that term has any meaning anymore. Moving on, here we go!

Jun
09
2011
Read more

Tyler Perry's House of Payne: Volume Seven Review

Collecting episodes 125 through 148 of Tyler Perry’s five-year-old sitcom, Tyler Perry's House of Payne, Volume 7 serves as a potent reminder that Perry is building a creative empire, with works aimed largely at African Americans. A recent South Park episode not so subtly (would you have it any other way?) posed the question of why black audiences continue to flock to Perry’s subpar works – House of Payne does well to answer that question, at least insofar as I can make out.

Growing up watching Family Matters and The Wayans Bros. as part of a syndicated after school sitcom block, it was easy for me to see how House of Payne rests on pretty much the same laurels that made those shows such a pleasure to watch. Give a warm welcome to shoehorned moralizing (with a wink to let you know not to take the sermon too seriously), over-the-top drama and frenzied stereotypes that managed not to offend (Urkel was too much of a caricature to ever touch on any genuine nerd/jock paradigm). That’s hardly limited to these shows, as pretty much any sitcom has a cross to bear in attracting a mass audience.

May
11
2011
Read more

Lucky Review

Every one of us has at some point dreamt of “winning the lottery”. Maybe not the actual numbers game but a set of circumstances where we, the ordinary every-day person, are selected out of millions to be the recipient of an express escalator to whatever our hearts desire. As much as it may dismay the more pure-hearted among us, for all intents and purposes, money is a gateway to both altruistic and hedonistic lifestyles. In Jeffrey Blitz’s (Spellbound and the warmly received feature Rocket Science) Lucky, we get to know several people, coming from a variety of lifestyles, who’ve been blessed by sizable jackpots. “Just how much of a blessing are their winnings?” Blitz’s solid but detached documentary inquires, and we are left with several compelling portraits but little besides.

May
08
2011
Read more

Who's the Caboose? Review

Outfitted with a formidable comic cast and boasting a grimy handheld mockumentary aesthetic that feels very ingrained in our current celebrity-obsessed culture, Who’s The Caboose was simply a decade too early. Released in 1997, the film lingered on shelves as nothing more than an ephemeral curio, starring a cast of up-and-comers no one has heard of. Now the film can be dug out of obscurity and repackaged with Sarah Silverman front and center and a list of comedians, some niche, others more mainstream adorning the front cover. While the film itself feels like a two-hour improvisational exercise loosely anchored by a plot, the cast mines some gold from their low-budget surroundings. The only issue is the presentation, as seemingly nothing was done to clean up the image and audio, which is below passing to say the least.

May
04
2011
Read more

Stan Lee's Superhumans: Season One Review

Stan Lee’s Superhumans features only a meager dose of the comic medium’s foremost impresario and all-around geezer. The show is held together by the flimsy premise of Stan Lee letting loose Daniel Browning Smith - “the world's most flexible man” – to scour the globe for “superhumans”. Their powers (and our interest) fluctuate between "Ultra Marathon Man," whose body subverts fatigue and keeps him on the go permanently, and "Future Man," a purported future-seer whose segment is frustratingly inconclusive.

These are two of the thirty-two individuals (all male – it’s true, there’s no female superhumans in the world, I checked) we meet across eight episodes in Season 1 of this History Channel-produced show. Stan Lee shows up to bridge gaps and introduce where Smith will be heading to next, and to close out the segment. That’s all well and good, but beside these essential cameos, what does the man whose name is plastered on the DVD cover have to offer to the show? Color commentary is where the buck stops and Smith has to carry the narration the rest of the way.

Apr
30
2011
Read more

KJB: The Book That Changed the World Review

Some historical documentaries treat the past as a relic, some decrepit husk of time long gone to be trudged through so that future generations will be aware of the forces that shaped their coming. There’s no sense in blaming academics for sometimes doing their job without a hint of excitement, but while history can read dry and still be informative on the page, on the screen it withers within minutes. Luckily, KJB: The Book That Changed the World is a vibrant, exciting look at an act that 400 years ago gave the world one of the defining works of theology and literature – the King James Bible.

Apr
18
2011
Read more

Hanna Review

Once upon a time there was a young girl named Hanna (Saoirse Ronan), whose father Erik (Eric Bana) trained her to kill. Her target was CIA section head Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett), who had a falling out with Erik many years ago. Erik taught Hanna several languages, fatal hand-to-hand maneuvers and all the other perks that come from being a former CIA agent. Now, Hanna says she’s “ready”, flips a control node on and watches an assault team take her in while her father dons a suit and begins a trap-laden trip to Germany, where he will meet his daughter after “the witch is dead”. Wiegler doesn’t know that she is a target, but when Hanna breaks out of the holding facility with a pile of bodies in her wake, Marissa gives chase, aided by a team of off-the-books skinhead hooligans.

Apr
08
2011
Read more

The Capture Of The Green River Killer Review

"Lifetime... television for idiots." - Family Guy

Not quite. While my experiences with the Lifetime channel have been limited, what few products did cross my way were definitely low-grade dramas that failed to impress time and time again. Yes, Lifetime does cater unabashedly to a specific [read: female] audience but with The Capture Of The Green River Killer “original miniseries”, the network takes slow, limp but occasionally confident steps in the right direction. Unfortunately for director Norma Bailey and screenwriter John Pielmeier, whatever tension is injected occasionally into the framework is deflated by the gargantuan and wholly unnecessary running time. At 180 minutes, Green River Killer begs the question of “why?”

Apr
02
2011
Read more


Page 4 of 8

Popular

New Reviews