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Mark Zhuravsky

Staff Writer

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

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Made In Dagenham Review

Can an inaccuracy derail a good story? Does a film based on a historical event need to be (somewhat) accurate? Nigel Cole’s Made In Dagenham attempts to work out a win-win solution – it compresses and summarizes the little known (outside of Britain, I suppose) 1968 Ford sewing machinists strike. The strike was distinctive for two primary reasons: the strikers were all women and the conclusion let to the embattled Equal Pay Act 1970 being put into effect in 1975. TV-bred screenwriter William Ivory must be no stranger to this kind of easy-going footnoting with little regard for real history, so Made In Dagenham plays like a lark, its few genuinely rewarding scenes resting on the laurels of the talented and easily relatable Ms. Hawkins.

Mar
30
2011
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James Clavell's Shogun - 30th Anniversary Edition Review

I remember it vividly – the searing flesh of a man lowered in a pot of boiling…something. The screams and the expression of his mate’s face as he watches the crewman suffer immense pain. Yes, I had seen Shogun before, even if I didn’t know. This scene appears about 30 minutes into this mammoth 9-hour miniseries, a robust historical drama shot entirely on location in Japan. Shogun is a must-see judging by scale alone, with seemingly no expense spared in bringing early 17th century Japan to vista-encompassing life. When you factor in Jerry London’s capable direction and the above-average work by a game cast of native Japanese and international actors, the miniseries is simply not to be missed.

Mar
25
2011
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Step Off Review

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Step Off. Well, almost nothing. There’s a pretty balsy statement on the DVD case, “Blends the mood, vigor and themes of 8 Mile and the perseverance and edge of Hustle and Flow with the old-school vibe of Juice”. The bolded titles are not my doing – and this film is not fit to stand on the shoulders of giants. The hip-hop film genre is diluted and polluted and these three films (among a few others) happen to represent when genuine artistry pops its head up ever so briefly. Step Off is just more of the same – so familiar in fact that it is an endurance slog, an astounding 102 minutes of every hip-hop film cliché culminating in a final battle that still manages to drag.

Mar
14
2011
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Leaving Review

When a certain plot is so familiar it has been trot out and mercilessly parodied, a film that employs similar tropes goes down hard. In the case of Leaving, it barely manages to appeal, desperately hanging onto an effective performance from the always-strong Kristin Scott Thomas. As Suzanne, a jaded housewife who is attempting a return to work as a physiotherapist after years of stay-at-home life, Thomas quickly falls for Ivan (Sergi López) a Spanish builder whose disarming charm and athletic build win her over. Her husband Samuel (Yvan Attal) naturally doesn’t take the news well, but Suzanne is in love – and if that entails lying to her husband, leaving him and the kids on a whim to jump into bed with Ivan or the absurdly overwrought conclusion of this film, so be it.

I don’t mean to be crass – there’s a wonder in seeing a genuinely moving romantic drama nowadays, but Leaving is not that film. Leaving is a misfire, the work of writer/director Catherine Corsini that brings on the inexcusably exhausting retread of the “bored housewife falls for (often lower class) foreigner”. Everything else is fodder, and no matter how seamlessly paced or acted, clichés sweep whatever legs Thomas’ performance gives the film right out from under it.

Mar
14
2011
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Birdemic: Shock and Terror Review

My experience with Birdemic is wholly exclusive – in fact, you’ll see me if you focus very intently on a two-second scene in the teaser trailer for Moviehead: The James Nguyen Story, included on this disk. Mr. Nguyen, the self-titled “master of the romantic thriller”, made an appearance at his film’s New York premiere and my friends and I were first on line. I bought a ticket almost immediately after seeing this astounding trailer. The next couple of weeks saw an actively cajoling of close friends in an effort to warm them up to this film. Without having seen it, I secretly hoped it would approach the grandeur of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room – that improbable genius that results from a film so ineptly orchestrated that it redefines your idea of how bad movies get.

Sadly, it doesn’t – but that’s not to say Birdemic doesn’t carve out a personal mantle of awfulness, supported by the laurels of the cast, the direction, the cinematography and especially the eye-popping, umm, CGI? The draw has to be the animation of the avian menace – I can’t vouch for it, but those like GIFs to me, circa 1998.

Mar
13
2011
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Murphy's Law: Series Three Review

Murphy’s Law makes no qualms about being quality television, a grim and proper police procedural that doesn’t sympathize or moralize either the cop or the crook. I had not seen the prior two series’ but that didn’t prove to be an issue – Series 3 is insular, covering a single investigation led by one Thomas Murphy (a scruffy though not disheveled James Nesbitt). Murphy is a career cop whose specialty is undercover work, a task he executes capably, with frequent improvisation aided by a razor-sharp intelligence. The quality of the show seemingly feeds of Murphy’s skill in the field, with six hour-long episodes carefully balancing character development with the suspense inherent in undercover investigations.

The series begins with a routine gun sale, Murphy posing as an experienced dealer in order to score a meeting with Caz Miller (Michael Fassbender). When Murphy learns that the gun is to be used for a hit, he bails and leads Caz on until the soldier gives up his boss, cop killer kingpin Dave Callard (Mark Womack). Callard doesn’t make it easy for Murphy, but when Caz arranges a meet, the undercover cop lands a kill contract on Richard Holloway (Ramon Tikaram). No doubt since we have six hours devoted to a single investigation, things are not what they seem – but that’s for you to find out.

Mar
07
2011
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Eddie Griffin: You Can Tell 'Em I Said It Review

I'm on the fence about Eddie Griffin's latest stand-up special, You Can Tell 'Em I Said It. On one hand, the man is genuinely funny, a firebrand vulgarian whose trained, exaggerated body language only adds to the shock-value comedy that is his calling. There's no denying that Mr. Griffin's comedy occasionally leans on the now-ancient trope of "white people ____ like this, black people ____ like that", but I can hardly blame a comedian for playing the race card. There's an honesty to Griffin's delivery, a genuine intellectual appeal mixed with a overtly potty mouth that dispenses an extensive vocabulary of adult-only words.

Feb
27
2011
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Mama Flora's Family Review

Adapting Alex Haley's novel as a mini-series, Mama Flora's Family benefits hugely from a cast of solid character actors, including Cicely Tyson, Queen Latifah and Mario Van Peebles. Clearly not a major blip on the TV radar, the DVD of this 1998 mini-series took its time before being released earlier this year.

Feb
03
2011
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Nowhere Boy Review

By the time John Lennon met a tragic and untimely end outside the Dakota, he had already cultivated a complex, oft-stand-offish image as a socially aware artist in a constant state of flux. If the previous statement is something you balk at, add yourself to the seemingly limitless cadre of Lennon fans – the cult around the man is prone to dizzying highs and fascinating lows. Lennon remains such a draw as an individual because there seems to be multiple forces that had always pulled at the heart of the artist and his music reflects this – granted the man was a hugely talented songwriter.

Though not nearly as much of a chameleon as one Robert Zimmerman [Editor's note: Bob Dylan, in case you didn't know], Lennon can’t be summed up simply – and director Sam Taylor-Wood smartly avoids making a film about the John Lennon, instead focusing on a John Lennon (Aaron Johnson of Kick-Ass), seen in Nowhere Boy as a rebellious, lewd and occasionally painfully shy young schoolboy. Consistently wavering between confidently boasting and helplessly reaching out to anyone who can quell the pain inside, the young John is propelled between two equally influential forces – his prim and proper aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas, solid) and his absentee mother Julia (Anne-Marie Duff, excellent).

Jan
27
2011
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The San Francisco Giants World Series 2010 Collector's Edition Review

For ardent fans eager to relieve the winningly underdog victory corralled by the San Francisco Giants, MLB Video and A&E are here to help, delivering an eight-disk set faithfully preserving the six games as well as the two NLCS wins over Philadelphia that helped propel the Giants to the World Series. Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the set holds up well on the non-HD small screen. The impressive sound package includes the original broadcast audio, a Spanish track, and individual tracks from both the Giants and Rangers. Extras are slim, essentially culminating in about an hour's worth of Giants highlight reel for the past year. Pre and post-game coverage is also included, rounding out a complete series.

Jan
22
2011
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Lebanon Review

Samuel Maoz’s Lebanon is a unique breed of film - one you won’t want to watch twice. There are no plot intricacies to wade through, no Easter eggs adorning the background. This is not an exercise in storytelling but a stalwart recreation of Maoz’s brief time as a trigger man on an Israeli tank crew during the 1982 Lebanon War. As one of several Israeli films in the last few years to deal with the emotional fallout affected the men who served in the 1982 war (Ari Folman’s lauded Waltz With Bashir leading the pack), Lebanon is a strong entry but effectively goes beyond cultural limitations. I would argue that it is an allegory dressed up as a funereal war film, but maybe that’s so key. The importance of Lebanon lies in experiencing and responding to the film, and in that regard it comes highly recommended.

Jan
20
2011
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Mrs. Miracle Review

Every Christmas, a malevolent force seeks out an unruly family - it then burrows into their hearts and souls, echoing their most disquieting fears, lurking underneath the skin, corrupting the victims from within. They call it Mrs. Miracle (Doris Roberts)...because it is truly miraculous for anyone to come away unscathed. Will Seth Webster (James Van Der Beek), recently widowed dad of two, be able to withstand the temptations of this unstoppable evil? Or will he succumb to Mrs. Miracle and her agent of lust, Reba Maxwell (Erin Karpluk)?

Nov
20
2010
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Three and Out Review

Certainly not the first film to wring comedy out of suicide, Three and Out starts promisingly - perpetual sadsack London tube driver and occasional writer Paul Callow (Mackenzie Crook, best known to US audiences as Ragetti from the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) has racked up a dual accident count on the tracks in under a month. The distraught Paul is then enlightened by his co-workers to the “three and out” rule - that is, hitting three people in a month opens doors to a payload that would finally let Paul leave his cramped, book-ridden London flat. Paul sets off on a brief montage scored to Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” to find a willing soul to lay his life down on the tracks - and so it goes, in this obvious comedy that unsuspectingly drops in out-of-place moments of pensive drama and ends with a late third act twist that rings stomach-churningly false.

Nov
11
2010
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Private Practice: Complete Third Season Review

Ah, Private Practice…now into its fourth season, this inevitable Grey’s Anatomy spin-off continues to reel viewers in weekly. Looking at the third season, its almost laughably easy to see why – the show is comfort food bathed in sunny California tones and fitted with a cast of beautiful people who have problems (just like the rest of us!). The show gambles on its audience, assuming that people will tune in every week for easy watching, a liberally-minded drama with just enough tantalizing TV sex appeal to make it work. When it pays off, you are provided with satisfying and involving B+ grade television. When it doesn’t…

I must take a moment to mention an absolutely brilliant feature that will immediately cement me in the mind of PP fans as an unreliable source. Under “Episode Selection”, the DVD features a "Private Practice “starter kit””, a summary of the last two seasons and the premise of the show in less than five minutes. Truly prescient – either the makers of the show want to comfort people jumping in mid-show…or…the show is so repetitive and simplistic that a summary tracing who’s jumping out of whose bed is adequate enough to familiarize you with the show.

Sep
27
2010
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Wall Street (Insider Trading Edition) Review

Tempestuous as he may be, Oliver Stone has been and will remain a key American director, rooted in our country’s troubles and triumphs, cutting his swath with an occasionally dull but typically pointed edge. Many have bashed Stone when he geared up to direct Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – perhaps unfairly. His 1987 film Wall Street, preserved in yet another re-release, is a landmark, an aggressive, influential look at 1980s marketplace cynicism writ large. And much like this DVD, the film’s subject matter, while feeling very close to home, is in need of an update, a more current look at today’s grim economic times. The Insider Trading Edition claims to offer new extras but as you’ll find in the course of this review, the special features are truly baffling, fluff replacing the actually insightful extras of the 20th Anniversary edition. This DVD is a cash-in, pure and simple, featuring a transfer very much in need of a massive overhaul, preserving Robert Richardson’s stellar (as always) photography.

Sep
17
2010
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Keeping Up with the Kardashians: The Complete Third Season Review

For those Americans who have not been inundated with the frivolous happenings plaguing the Kardashian clan, consider yourself lucky. The voluptuous Kim is perhaps the best known of the bunch, a fashion maven whose time in the spotlight was without a doubt assured by a combination of two things: the tireless commitment to appearing in the media’s eyes and…a sex tape that ‘leaked’ all too conveniently. Along with her sisters Kourtney and Khloe, their mother Kris and stepfather Bruce Jenner, who appears to be largely famous for being an Olympic decathlon gold medal winner in ’76. What can I say about “Keeping Up With The Kardashians”, now well into a fifth season?

Aug
29
2010
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Lock Up Review

Say what you will about the admittedly wavering quality of Sylvester Stallone’s acting: the man has a way of winning the audience over. His protagonists are typically underdogs, men for whom a certain set of skills has substituted social interactions. In films like Demolition Man and Judge Dredd (hardly crown jewels from the man who created Rocky Balboa), the comedy is derived from watching tough-guy Stallone settle into an unpredictable and often hostile environment. His typically gruff demeanor bodes equally well for action-heavy flicks, with Stallone throwing his weight around figuratively and literally. We invest in the man and the character – The Expendables is another test of the Stallone archetype, but we’ve yet to see if it pays off.

Aug
11
2010
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Charlie's Angels Review

Rewatching Charlie’s Angels, I returned to a question that has plagued me for some time – are some directors unfairly maligned? I reviewed the body of Brett Ratner’s commercial work some time ago and while no name in fan communities receives so much acidic retort as Ratner’s, even Joseph McGinty Nichol’s (McG) pseudonym can keep forum harpies awake and spilling so much ire late into the night. His name seems to hint at what his oeuvre delineates – hip, stylish entertainment without much strain on the brain cell.

A former record producer and music video helmer who has returned to the format a couple of times after becoming a full-fledged director, McG was handed something precious with Charlie’s Angels – the keys to a franchise, both a blessing and a curse. Given the films that McG would follow this one with, Charlie’s Angels is the definitive crown jewel of the director’s career thus far. Many would be tempted to say that honor goes to We Are Marshall. Despite the director’s maturation overtime, I think films should not be appreciated for subverting poor expectations (lets be fair, no one expected elegantly handled drama out of McG after Full Throttle). The less said about Terminator Salvation the better, and so we jump into the director’s first and overall best film.

Aug
10
2010
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Artois the Goat Review

Self-indulgence is fine in moderation. After all, it’s a fine line, especially in film, between personal endeavor and audience satisfaction. Zack Snyder’s slavish commitment to recreating Alan Moore’s landmark Watchmen on the silver screen robbed the film of any personality and delivered a production held together by terrific set design. Nowhere near the bore that Watchmen was, Artois the Goat nevertheless dips into the pool of over-indulgence a few times throughout its much-too-long runtime of 2 hours. The Bogart brothers, who wrote and directed this pronouncedly quick-witted film, arm it with a curious premise: Virgil (Mark Scheibmeir, looking every bit like a younger Peter Serafinowicz), a lab technician whose flavor additive testing job is a mind-numbing daily grind, turns his life upside down in order to make the perfect cheese. There’s also the matter of a new job in Detroit, a suffering long-distance relationship with his beloved Angie (Sydney Andrews), and of course, the titular goat, Artois.

The brothers must have been familiar with the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, Amelie), since Artois plays out much like a Jeunet film with a considerably lower budget. Cartoonish posturing and sensationalist acting trade places with domestic disputes and a story that, at heart, is about letting go of what you need to do in order to do something you want. The cinematography, by David Blue Garcia, is one of the strongest points of the film – capable of translating the colorful, often highly surrealistic vision the brothers hope to get across.

Aug
10
2010
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Entre Nos Review

Have you ever heard of David Riker’s 1998 film The City? This half-film, half-social experiment mixed actual immigrants (their legal status is anyone’s guess) with professional actors to put forward a semi-authentic experience cloaked by a conventional storyline. Watching Entre Nos, written and directed by Gloria Le Morte and Paola Mendoza, who also stars as the lead Mariana, I could not shake the feeling that I’ve seen it all before, better executed and more resonant. Entre Nos is an intimate character study that never rises above simply showcasing the day-in-day-out struggle of a newly immigrated mother and her two children.

Aug
03
2010
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