Rachel Kolb

Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.

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"180 Days" Asks Who's Really Got The "Dangerous Minds" Review

When politicians talk about education reform, they say it is about protecting the future of this country and holding teachers accountable. In practice, education reform is very seldom about improving education for the youth of America, a point driven home by the PBS documentary mini-series 180 Days: A Year Inside An American High School.

The mini-series follows a year at Washington Metropolitan High School, better known as DC Met. Unlike PBS's other recent film Dropout Nation, the focus is on keeping kids in school and getting the school as a whole through their standardized tests. What politicians and outsiders don't understand is that most of these teenagers are reading at an elementary-school level, and their teachers are drilling them in physics and advanced reading comprehension. Despite their best efforts, these students and teachers are set up to fail from the start, and it is painful as an audience to watch their optimism slowly slip away.

Jul
10
2013
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"Laverne & Shirley": The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same Review

When a sitcom has long run its course, the producers will try to give it a new life by either changing up the cast or moving the main characters to a new city. In the sixth season of Laverne and Shirley, the girls get laid off from their jobs at Shotz Brewery, and they move from Milwaukee out to Burbank, California. They try out a number of jobs including standing in as extras on a Hollywood movie, but eventually they end up as gift wrappers at a department store.

Jul
10
2013
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"Doctors Of The Dark Side" Doesn't Shed Much Light Review

Doctors of the Dark Side is an expose of the doctors working in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and CIA black sites. The doctors, who arguably betray their vow of “do no harm,” are present during the interrogations of prisoners and are complicit to this treatment. There is no actual film footage inside any of these prisons, and none of the doctors were actually interviewed for the film. Instead, director Martha Davis took documents detailing interrogation procedures and recreated them using actors.

Jul
05
2013
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"Dorfman in Love" Takes the Easy Way Out Review

Deb Dorfman (Sara Rue) is a sweet, lovable young woman with a tendency to let everyone in her life take advantage of her. She works as an accountant for her spoiled brother Daniel (Jonathan Chase), but these days, she spends most of her work day cleaning up her brother's messes and covering his infidelities from Daniel's wife Leeann (Keri Lynn Pratt). Deb's father Burt (Elliott Gould) is still mourning the death of Deb's mother and can't eat a proper meal much less care for himself, so Deb has to regularly check in on him. As if all of these problems weren't enough, Deb's longtime crush Jay (Johann Urb), a foreign correspondent, has to leave town on a work assignment right after moving into a new apartment. Hoping to seal the deal with Jay, Deb volunteers to stay at his apartment while he is gone, unpack his boxes, and look after his cat. Her life is completely changed, though, when Deb meets Jay's neighbor Cookie (Haaz Sleiman), a free-spirited artist that opens Deb's mind to new possibilities.

Cue “I'm Every Woman.”

Jun
20
2013
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A Graham Greene Biopic that Walks the "Dangerous Edge" Between His Failures and Successes Review

Dangerous Edge: A Life of Graham Greene is a comprehensive look at the life and work of British author Graham Greene. While he is best known for his novels The Third Man, The Quiet American, and The End of the Affair, he also worked in British counter-intelligence for a time and spoke out against the United States government's misguided attempts at nation-building. As a writer and a public figure, he has a complicated but important legacy as a man who fought for the underdog and fought to survive his severe depression as thoughts of suicide plagued him his entire life. PBS has produced an excellent documentary that covers all these aspects of his life while still staying focused and informative.

Jun
20
2013
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What Do You Remember of Civil Rights Activist Whitney Young? Review

The fight for racial equality is not ancient history in the United States, but already the younger generation has a rather simplified view of the civil rights movement. According to popular culture, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, Martin Luther King gave some speeches, and then everyone agreed that racism was bad. In reality, activists had to make a political and intellectual argument for racial equality. One of those activists was Whitney Young, and unfortunately, his work for civil rights as well as social and economic justice in this country has been largely forgotten until now.

Jun
06
2013
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"Identity Thief" Steals 111 Minutes From Your Life and You'll Never Get Them Back Review

True story: The day I watched Identity Thief, my credit card was stolen. I was about 25 minutes into the movie when I received a call from my credit card company. There had been a suspicious charge made at a drug store half a state away for nearly $500 with a duplicate card someone had made from a card skimmer. Fortunately, the credit card company had declined and flagged the charge, and less than 15 minutes after my would-be thief tried to make the charge, I was contacted. 5 minutes after that, they had canceled my card, refunded the fraudulent charges, and mailed me a new card via overnight shipping. This is the reality of stolen identities and fraudulent credit card use in 2013. Identity Thief doesn't just deny that reality for comedic purposes, it defies all common sense and reason. From its idiotic set-up to the often mean-spirited and sexist humor, this movie is a complete misfire and a disappointment for fans of Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy.

Jun
06
2013
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Streisand's Claim to Fame is Obvious in "Funny Girl Review

Back in 1998, a subversive new comedy show South Park lampooned star of stage and screen Barbra Streisand in the episode “Mecha-Streisand.” In the episode, a monstrous Streisand terrorizes Stan, Kyle, Kenny, and Cartman with her warbling singing voice and inflated sense of self. None of the boys know who she is or why she thinks she is a superstar, but she keeps singing her greatest hits, expecting them to know who she is. The episode satirized Barbra Streisand's public persona, and it played on the fact that most young people are unfamiliar with her as a performer and know less about her career. If I hadn't grown up with Streisand's films, I wouldn't have believed that this Hollywood ego-maniac was ever a great leading lady. For that reason, Funny Girl should be required viewing for anyone who loves movie musicals. Correction, it should be required viewing for anyone who loves movies. Funny Girl is an excellent film, and it is the reason why Streisand a star.

May
23
2013
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Take A "Magic Journey" Beyond Cultural Sensitivity Review

Magic Journey to Africa is the most bonkers banana-pants, down-right baffling movies I have ever seen, and the fact that this was produced for children only makes it more confusing. This 49-minute movie, which was originally presented in “Giant Screen Theaters,” takes a young white girl Jana (Eva Gerretsen) from her home and parents, and she is transported to Africa with her magical flying unicorn. She is searching for a mysterious African boy who she saw trying to pickpocket patrons at a restaurant. She believes he has gone back to Africa, and she keeps having visions of him riding his bike across the African savanna. Where did she go in Africa? It is never indicated, perhaps because the writer thought Africa was all one big country with one culture and lots of poor people. From that point, the story becomes an incoherent string of events involving spirit gods, evil crows, and children reading storybooks to elephants, all of which make no sense and have even less meaning to me.

May
14
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Mr. Jones

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Scott (Jon Foster) is an aspiring filmmaker with ambitions of making the most beautiful nature documentary the world has ever seen. He has sold his apartment and convinced his girlfriend Penny (Sarah Jones) to move with him to a dream house in the middle of nowhere. With no TV and hardly any cell phone coverage, there should be nothing to distract Scott from his work. Unfortunately, there is also nothing to distract Penny from the cracks forming in their relationship, and Scott's procrastination and increasingly poor decisions like going off his medication are pushing her to the edge. Everything changes, though, after Scott has a chance encounter with a stranger in the woods. Scott discovers the stranger is the enigmatic Mr. Jones, a legendary modern artist who mailed out his frightening scarecrow-like art pieces to complete strangers around the world back in the 1970s. Like Banksy, Mr. Jones isn't really his name, and no one knows his true identity or his motives behind sending his work to complete strangers, but as Scott and Penny dig deeper, they find that dark forces are at work in his art.

Apr
29
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Bending Steel

bending_steel_pubAt the core of humanity, there is a fundamental need to be accepted and find a place to belong. Some people find it in their family, friends, or romantic partners while others find it in their career or their religious faith. Bending Steel is the story of a man finally finding his place in the world in the most unexpected place, the world of olde time strongmen.

Apr
29
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys

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Comedian Patton Oswalt once said the reason why he loved the Coen Brothers' films is because they drop you in a place and a time, and they don't explain much. Rather than acting as tour guide through their world, they expect the audience to be smart and guide themselves through the experience. Jessica Oreck takes a similar approach to the animal documentary with Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys. There is no Morgan Freeman narration to lead the audience through the happy shiny world of reindeer herding, but as someone who has seen plenty of those Morgan Freeman nature documentaries, this was a needed change of pace.

Apr
24
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Reaching for the Moon

large_reaching_for_the_moon_1_pubsReaching for the Moon is based on the real-life romance between poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Gloria Pires) in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s. At the start of the film, Elizabeth travels to Rio de Janeiro to visit her best friend from college Mary (Tracy Middendorf) who lives in Brazil's lush paradise with her lover Lota. She only plans on staying for a few days, but circumstances change when Lota and Elizabeth unexpectedly fall for each other.

Apr
23
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Interview with “Dark Touch” Writer/Director Marina de Van

MarinadeVaninSitcomThe day after her film Dark Touch premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, I got the chance to sit down with the film's writer and director Marina de Van and ask her a few questions about the film and her philosophy toward filmmaking. Why does she tackle such dark subject matter? What was her favorite scene to film, and which one was just painful? Why does pop culture love telekinetic girls like Carrie, Matilda, and Neve? All these questions answered and more.

Apr
23
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

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Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is a sweet and often silly ensemble comedy in the vein of Love Actually following two couples as they stand at the crossroads in their relationship. Weichung (Richie Jen) and Feng (Mavis Fan) are seemingly happily married. Weichung has just been promoted to manager of a local eyeglass store, and Feng does well enough in her job to remain employed, though her constant tardiness is a problem. Together, they have a son, and though he might lack a few social skills, he is a well-behaved kid. Feng's parents, however, are pushing Feng and Weichung to have another child so that their son will have a sibling and by their logic won't be such an odd introvert. What Feng's parents don't know is that Weichung is gay and deeply in denial about his true feelings. 

Apr
21
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Oxyana

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I am a huge fan of the FX series Justified, a show about drug trafficking and Southern “mountain justice.” Before I saw the documentary Oxyana, I had a hard time believing that characters like Boyd Crowder actually existed in real life. Now, I suspect that if the town of Oceana, West Virginia was adapted into a TV show, people wouldn't believe the insanity happening in this real town.

Apr
21
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

1196751612001_2255539658001_vs-51521627e4b064b78be6269a-1592194044001At the pre-festival screenings for the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, I happened to see two documentaries about two very different filmmakers in one night. First up was Michael H – Profession: Director, a profile of Michael Haneke's work and approach to filmmaking, and the second film was Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton, a look at the life and work of filmmaker/poet James Broughton.

Apr
21
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Dark Touch

DarkTouchFeatWarning: This review contains spoilers.

If Stephen King had written Matilda instead of Roald Dahl, it might look something like Dark Touch. This bizarre little movie is the creation of writer/director Marina de Van who became infamous after 2002's In My Skin, a film in which the protagonist eats her own flesh. Dark Touch is similarly not for the faint of heart, but for people with similar horror sensibilities, they will get more than they expected from this grade-school Carrie.

Apr
20
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Lil Bub and Friendz

Lil_Bub_660_Grab_What makes internet cat celebrities so darn lovable? Lil Bub and Friendz asks this question but isn't really all that interested in the answer. The film is not really quite a documentary and more of a greatest hits reel of the best internet cat videos and memes. Its examination of cat celebrities, internet meme celebrity agents, and their devoted fans is fine, but the film works best when it is true to its fans and gives them what they want, which is more cats please.

Apr
20
2013
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Tribeca Film Festival 2013: The Genius of Marian

max_600_600_the-genius-of-marianThe Genius of Marian is a moving personal account of the effects of early-onset Alzheimer's disease on a loving, vivacious wife and mother. Filmed by her son Banker White, the filmmaker behind Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, the audience follows Pam White shortly after her diagnosis in 2009 and over the next three years. At first, The Genius of Marian was meant to be a tribute to Pam's mother Marian Williams Steele who had passed away in 2001 from Alzheimer's disease. As the project progressed, though, it became a tribute from Banker White to his mother Pam.

Apr
19
2013
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