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"Pay 2 Play" Looks Behind The Curtain

29 January 2015 5:45 AM, PST

It’s easy to be disenchanted with the United States’ political system. Even when voters do manage to get behind hope and change in the form of idealistic candidates like Barack Obama, something always manages to disappoint us. If there is one thing I have learned from House of Cards (not to mention real life), it is that politics is all about bargaining and back-and-forth, and those in political power usually end up having to sacrifice some of their previously stated beliefs in order to stay there (or, they just murder someone). The rich and powerful few throw their substantial weight behind candidates who are willing to cow to their every demand and keep them rich and powerful, without giving anyone else a chance to speak up for the regular folks. Pay 2 Play: Democracy’s High Stakes is a documentary that focuses on that one percent of people who have »

- Lee Jutton

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It's Not Worth Going "Beneath"

29 January 2015 3:26 AM, PST

There's not much that's outright bad  about Beneath, but as is so often the case with young film-makers, the absence of anything laugh-out-loud horrible doesn't always translate into something compellingly watchable. The "bottle" film is a nearly irresistible lure for the independent film-maker, what with the exceedingly low budget and promise of great returns (look no further than Buried), but the limited environment also presents challenges that are hard to equip for in film school (management of space, gradual acceleration of space). Though director Ben Ketai appears to make a valiant effort, he proves unequal to these challenges, and turns Beneath into something of a slog as a result.

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- Anders Nelson

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"Hellion" Raises All Too Little Hell

29 January 2015 2:24 AM, PST

Independent films seems to have relegated itself into 5 or 6 subdivisions, and somewhere between "man-child gets record store girlfriend" and "single location horror" is the rural family drama. It's as worthy a subject as any of its compatriots, but probably a lot trickier, as so many actors look at it as an opportunity to try on funny accents. There's no reason to think that Hellion was produced with anything but the best of intentions, but it fails to bring this world into focus, opting for the showy Oscar clip moment whenever things threaten to get too real.

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- Anders Nelson

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"Hell Hath" Some Issues

28 January 2015 7:54 PM, PST

I just wish God would send me my man.

What do you think of when you think of Tyler Perry? By boldly placing his name at the top of his projects, he has allowed or even forced you to pigeon-hole him from the posters alone. The Madea franchise with Perry playing the dragged up old caricature would be and was enough to make him a household name even with folks who hadn't seen a minute of its screentime. Perry cut his teeth in the Atlanta in the 1990's, writing and producing his Christian-themed plays for community theater to black audiences. That target group has stayed with him and expanded so that, with their strong devotion, every film project he has will double its budget at the very least. According to Forbes magazine, Lionsgate put up half the budget for Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005) with a little help from »

- Jason Ratigan

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Just Another "Wolf" In The Pack

28 January 2015 7:43 PM, PST

Hollywood has always been drawn to a good immigrant story, one that chronicles the struggle of an outsider arriving on our shores and trying to achieve the American dream despite a host of obstacles. This narrative has long been a mainstay of the arts, one that continues to evolve as more diverse types of people provide their unique take on the immigrant experience, and seems to be increasingly expanding to other parts of the world. As Simon Kuper says in an excellent Financial Times article comparing the autobiography of Swedish soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Portnoy’s Complaint, “Just as a generation of novelists told the story of Jewish America, and music the story of black America, the arts are now creating a narrative for the European immigrant experience.” Ibrahimovic’s book describes how he grew up the son of Eastern European immigrants in an ethnic ghetto, wanting to prove »

- Lee Jutton

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"School Dance" Misses Some Steps

28 January 2015 6:58 PM, PST

The title of rapper and comedian Nick Cannon’s directorial film debut (which he also wrote and produced) is a bit of a misnomer. Though it does climax with a song and dance competition, School Dance—which sounds like it is focused on typical prom drama—centers more around gang violence amidst a high school lock in. More surprising, however, is that Cannon draws much inspiration for this film from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet (going even so far as to actually quote the play at one particularly odd moment). Once again the iconic play is set in a high school. But this time the Jets are The Ranger$, the popular African American boys who “run the school” with their incredible rapping and dance skills. They attract the attention of young Romeo, or Jason (Bobb’e J. Thompson), who wants to join them to win the attention of his fair Juliet, »

- John Keith

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"The Exes" Still Have A Little Chemistry

27 January 2015 6:16 PM, PST

Newly divorced Stuart (David Alan Basche) is moving in across the hall from his divorce lawyer and now landlord Holly (Kristen Johnston). His new roommates Phil (Donald Faison) and Haskell (Wayne Knight) are also divorcees and Holly’s clients, but that is where their similarities end. Phil is a sports agent with a string of one-night stands. Haskell is a schemer with a million plans to get rich quick. Stuart is a neat freak with a love for cooking and sensible khakis. It is the perfect set-up for an old-fashioned sitcom.

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- Rachel Kolb

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"Teen Wolf" Can Still Howl

27 January 2015 5:21 PM, PST

Teen Wolf has been a runaway hit for MTV, but it is a phenomenon that I missed out on almost entirely. When I got the second half of Teen Wolf’s third season to review, I decided to conduct an experiment. I would watch the second half of the third season cold, without reading any background on the characters or synopses of previous seasons. This experiment lasted exactly one episode before I threw in the towel and consulted a Teen Wolf expert. There might be a lot of issues with Teen Wolf, but the writers have created their own mythology and a large cast of characters with complicated relationships. It is not friendly to newcomers wanting to jump in late to the game. The show expects more from its fans and does not waste time catching its audience up.

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- Rachel Kolb

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"Bible Quiz" Scores

27 January 2015 3:33 PM, PST

Bible Quiz is a documentary film following Mikayla, a Christian teenager who competes in Bible Quiz competitions. Bible Quiz rewards competitors for memorizing facts and obscure details from the Bible and then remembering them under intense pressure. The coaches and organizers claim that Bible Quiz encourages a better understanding of the Bible and its teachings, though the participants often rattle off these facts and figures in a dispassionate manner and seem more interested in strategy and winning than theology.

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- Rachel Kolb

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It's Always Worth "Looking"

26 January 2015 10:24 AM, PST

After the success of Girls—a show about twenty-something women dealing with life in New York City—HBO produced something similar (yet slightly different), Looking—a show about thirty-something gay men dealing with life in San Francisco. The series is also Andrew Haigh’s follow-up to his exquisite film Weekend, which also dealt with a realistic, intimate look at gay men’s relationships. Although criticized for being about nothing (unlike that one sitcom that was about nothing yet everyone loves it), a quick binge of the eight-episode season proves that there is a lot of subtle—and, at times, obvious—character development at play, thanks to creator and writer Michael Lannan.

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- John Keith

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