The Truth Probably Lies Somewhere Between "Selma" and "JFK & LBJ" Review

Selma, director Ava DuVernay’s dramatic depiction of the events surrounding to the famous civil rights march from Selma, Alabama to the state capital of Montgomery to protest restrictions preventing black people from exercising their right to vote, was released last winter to much critical acclaim. And rightfully so: the film is a beautiful, moving depiction of the struggle to obtain basic rights that never should have been denied in the first place. Yet there were some who took issue with Selma's depiction of President Lyndon B. Johnson (portrayed by Tom Wilkinson) and his role in the events leading up to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. DuVernay’s film showed Johnson as a reluctant participant in the movement, someone who understood why Dr. King was so passionate about these issues, but would have preferred to focus on the War on Poverty. LBJ Library Director Mark Updegrove argued that LBJ was much more supportive of the movement than the film showed, adding, "When racial tension is so high, it does no good to suggest that the president of the U.S. himself stood in the way of progress a half-century ago. It flies in the face of history.”

JFK & LBJ: A Time for Greatness is a documentary from PBS that seems specifically designed to support Updegrove’s point of view.

Oct
12
2015
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Production Woes Afflict the Promising "A Plague So Pleasant" Review

When we stopped shooting the zombies, they stopped eating us.

One of the great joys of being a movie junkie is when you pop in something you feel virtually certain you will despise and the movie takes a turn you didn't expect and your world opens up. That kind of happened in the absolute minimum way with A Plague So Pleasant (2013), a zombie movie with a twist. Clay (David Chandler) is a survivor of the inaptly named zombie apocalypse. It lasted about a day, but within a few hours, they realized that if you don't attack the zombies, they won't really attack you. Thus, when the carnage ends, it becomes a felony to 'kill' a zombie. His sister Mia (Eva Boehnke) seems to be adjusting well except that she still considers her undead boyfriend a boyfriend rather than an animated corpse. Pretentious roomie Todd (Maxwell Moody) wants to date Mia and, with Clay, decide that the undead boyfriend needs to be made dead-dead. That turns out to be a bad idea.

Oct
12
2015
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Rob Thomas Puts an Undead Spin on "Veronica Mars" with "iZombie" Review

In the world of television writing, there’s a collection of names which, besides being known as creators of various series, are renowned for having pretty awful luck when it comes to how their shows get treated by the networks they end up on. For some, like Aaron Sorkin it’s somewhat self-imposed (he walked away after three seasons of West Wing, got shut down on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and gave up on The Newsroom), while for others like Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, Hannibal,Mockingbird Lane), Joss Whedon (Firefly, Dollhouse), and Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars, Party Down, iZombie), it’s more of a case of studios not knowing quite how to handle the shows as they tend to fall between easily definable genres. If iZombie is any indication, however, for at least Rob Thomas the curse of studio mismanagement might finally be over.

Oct
12
2015
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"Entourage: The Movie" Continues the Series' Habit of Repeating Itself Review

Typically, HBO knows when to push for another season and when to let a show die, but every now and then we get exceptions to that rule. With Deadwood, HBO cut bait on a fan-favorite series a bit too soon, and with Entourage, HBO let a concept with little to no substance run for about four seasons too long. What makes HBO’s investment in Entourage all the more obnoxious is that along with those unnecessary final four seasons (in which the characters didn’t really grow or accomplish anything different from the first four), they’ve now seen fit to give Entourage a movie to top it all off. Does the movie cover new ground? No, it doesn’t. Instead, it’s essentially a mash-up of Entourage’s first four seasons with Vincent Chase’s (Adrian Grenier) directorial debut Hyde being thrust into production hell after it goes over budget and leaves newly crowned studio head Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) and its financiers (Billy Bob Thornton, Haley Joel Osment) nervous about whether they have another Aquaman or Medellin on their hands.

Oct
12
2015
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"The Flash" Quickly Upstages Its "Arrow" Origins Review

If you look at the shows airing right now, not only are we in the oft-lauded “Golden Age” of television, but we’re also witnessing the “Golden Age” of the spin-off. Right now, we have Fear the Walking Dead (born of The Walking Dead), Better Call Saul (born of Breaking Bad), Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., among others, but the king of them all might just be DC’s The Flash, which got a back-door pilot courtesy of Arrow’s stellar second season. The Flash might not have the same superb writing as Better Call Saul, and it may indeed be a little bit cheesy, but only because that’s exactly what it needs to be. It manages to balance a classic comic book era ‘gee whiz’ mentality, pulpy teenage drama, and fairly faithful recreations of the hero’s classic villains, and it does so while maintaining surprisingly high production values and a top-notch cast (especially Grant Gustin and Tom Cavanagh).

Oct
12
2015
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"The Chambermaid" Sees Everything Review

An adaptation of a novel by Markus Orths, writer-director Ingo Haeb’s The Chambermaid is the most delicate and introspective movie about S&M that you will probably ever see. The German-language drama follows the titular chambermaid, Lynn (Vicky Krieps), as she goes about her very meticulously scheduled life. Lynn voluntarily spent time in an asylum; she says that she checked herself in, but won’t give up the details as to why. Now back out in the world, much of her life is spent obsessively cleaning rooms at the Hotel Eden--even the ones without guests--making her by far the hardest working maid in the business. Every once and awhile, she has bored, businesslike sex with her manager, seemingly only in order to make some feeble attempt at human interaction; other than that, she rarely makes eye contact or speaks a word with anyone other than her psychiatrist or her mother.

Oct
09
2015
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There Are Worse Things Than Getting Stuck In "Downer's Grove" Review

In the run-down, dead-end town of Downers Grove, Illinois, there are murmurs of a curse that violently takes the life of one high school senior each year just before graduation. Chrissie Swanson (Bella Heathcote) is far too level-headed to believe in such nonsense, despite gruesome evidence to the contrary; she herself saw the previous year’s victim fall to his death from a water tower. However, Chrissie chalks it all up to drunk kids making bad life choices. One night at a party, Chrissie is very nearly raped by Chuck, the star quarterback of the local college football Team (Kevin Zegers); she only escapes by jabbing him in the eye. Now partially blinded and unable to play football, Chuck’s only ticket out of Downers Grove has seemingly been burnt to ashes--and he is determined to get revenge on the girl who he blames for his lack of future. Soon, freaky threats and disturbing events start to pile up around Chrissie, to the point that even she begins to wonder if the curse is real--and if she is the next victim.

Oct
09
2015
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Things In A Small Town Are, Once Again, Not What They Seem In "A Casual Vacancy" Review

Filmmakers and audiences alike have long been fascinated with peeling back the beautiful, sundrenched layers of idyllic communities to reveal ugliness hidden underneath. David Lynch has made this obsession a centerpiece of his career; in the opening sequence of his 1986 classic Blue Velvet, he presents the audience with bright blue skies and pristine green fields, before panning the camera down to reveal an severed ear rotting away in the lushness of the grass--one of the most iconic images summarizing this concept. But why are we so unwilling to accept that a pretty suburban neighborhood or a tiny country village might actually be perfect? Must there always be some kind of skeleton in the closet, some horrible sacrifice that was made or secret that was kept in order to achieve this nearly utopian facade? Apparently, yes. Clearly, everyone else out there is almost as cynical as I am.

Oct
07
2015
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To Be So Lucky To Be Free From "5 To 7" Review

Imagine if Jean-Luc Godard made a film starring Woody Allen circa Annie Hall...only the nostalgic and neurotic result was far more grating than any of the iconic romances created by either of those auteurs. Such is 5 to 7, a romantic comedy-drama starring Anton Yelchin as Brian Bloom, an ambitious young writer who falls for Arielle, played by Skyfall Bond Girl Berenice Marlohe, after they meet cute while smoking outside the hotel where Arielle is having lunch.

Oct
07
2015
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Brian Wilson Received Neither "Love" Nor "Mercy" Review

There's a lot to lose out there.

Brian Wilson had a pretty rough go of it. Physically and emotionally abused by his father (Bill Camp), in the band he gets little support from his brothers (Brett Davern and Kenny Wormald) and considerable hostility from his cousin Mike (Jake Abel), and later in life is mentally tortured by control freak Dr. Gene Levy (Paul Giamatti). All the while, Brian (Paul Dano/John Cusack) suffers from a significant mental illness--whether schizophrenia or something else is ambiguous--and writes the music that makes the Beach Boys a household name to this day. Love & Mercy (2015) fully and even ruthlessly expresses the torturous aspects of Wilson's life while still servicing the musical genius and fan expectations. To its credit, the film is far more devoted to the former than the latter.

Oct
07
2015
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