February 2013 Archives

The 2012 film Safety Not Guaranteed is both a mix of many flavors of film and a showcase for three rising actors. The movie stars Aubrey Plaza (Darius), perhaps best known as April on Parks and Recreation, and it features New Girl's Jake Johnson (Jeff) and Mark Duplass (Kenneth Calloway) of many things, including movies made with his brother Jay, in the major supporting roles. It's a science fiction movie that is a mixture of comedy and drama and romance. It involves time travel, but also lets that literal notion run parallel to characters reflecting on their pasts and their

The Master (2012) is the Pick of Last Week

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Though I had only seen but one of the nominated films, I sat with my wife and watched the entirety of the 2013 Oscars. I do that every year though I'm not entirely sure why. The awards are meaningless and the ceremony itself is usually tiresome (this year's was brutally unfunny and mean spirited). And who wants to watch rich, beautiful, and famous people give each other gold statues anyways? I do, I guess. Mostly I think I enjoy seeing clips of movies that I haven't seen or often even heard of that are supposed to be the very best
I have very recently decided to become a full-blown Francophile. My wife is one. and while I've stuck my toes in the culture and language of France, I've always balked at diving right in. Until recently. A few days back my wife had a meeting at the house for students who are interested in world travel and learning about cultures outside of their own. The speaker at this meeting was a man who has spent the last twenty years traveling the world visiting many different French-speaking countries and being involved in various works there. Something about the way he talked

I'm Now: The Story of Mudhoney DVD Review: The History of the Godfathers of Grunge

They somehow survived with their integrity intact.
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In 1988, the song "Touch Me, I'm Sick" by Mudhoney was the first blast of what would come to be called "grunge." It remains an incredible tune, definitive really, and if it all ended there, it would have been a good run. At least that seems to be the feeling of the guys in the band, as expressed in the new documentary I'm Now. The story begins in the early '80s with a very different group, Mr. Epp and the Calculations. As native Seattleite, I remember Mr. Epp, and believe me, nobody ever expected anything to come of them. The
It wasn't surprising that screenwriter Mark Boal's script for Zero Dark Thirty didn't nab the coveted statuette at this year's Academy Awards; sad, but not surprising. Thankfully, you can read that riveting script and see what the Academy didn't honor in HarperCollins print of the Zero Dark Thirty screenplay. If you're a fan of movie scripts, like myself, or want to see what everyone was freaking out over when the movie first came to theaters, I can't stress enough that you should pick up a copy. Additional items in the book keep this from being just a slim, bound script,
Based on the movie title, one would expect Sansho to be the main character. One would be wrong. In fact, Sansho is little more than a peripheral character who has a huge impact on the actual leads but doesn't even appear until a quarter of the way through the film, and then only briefly. Director Kenji Mizoguchi's adaptation of a classic Japanese story is actually about a family torn asunder by a political feud, and their decade-long quest to reconnect. When a highly-principled governor defies a local feudal lord, he's forced into exile while his wife and two children flee

The Ballad of Narayama Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Kinoshita's Kabuki Theatre Envisions Ubasute

This meditation on aging benefits from its theatrical style.
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The concept of ubasute is at the centre of The Battle of Narayama, the 1958 film by Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita. Ubasute is the alleged practice of abandoning an infirmed or elderly relative on a mountain or some other remote locale. The practice apparently took place in times of famine or drought, with the idea being that the elderly person's death would lessen the burden on younger villagers. The practice may not have been a common custom and its appearances may generally be confined to legends and koans, but the conception of sending away of old people is hardly mythological.

Photographic Memory DVD Review: An Intriguing Essay on Images and Memory

Ross McElwee's fractured, introspective documentary is often appealingly beguiling.
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Documentary filmmaker Ross McElwee has built a well-regarded career on introspection, and it's no different with his latest, Photographic Memory, a diary film that features McElwee's attempts to understand his sullen twentysomething son, Adrian. Like in previous McElwee films, the thesis of Photographic Memory is fractured, sending the film's concerns in seemingly opposing directions. In hopes of better understanding Adrian, McElwee travels to the small French village of St. Quay-Portrieux, where he spent some of his similarly formative years, but there, his attention is refocused on several key figures in his past. Photographic Memory could be an immensely frustrating film

Night of the Devils (1972) Blu-ray Review: Sexually-Charged Psychosomatic Italian Horror at its Finest

All this and full frontal nudity, too, guys and gals. Definitely a keeper in my book.
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Were I given the opportunity now to do a high school report on Italy, I would list the boot-shaped country's top major exports as "Pasta, Shoes, and Horror Movies." Made during the time of that curious cusp between Italian filmmakers' transition from the giallo style of thrillers to the flat-out, full-on "We're gonna try to make you puke" gore-laden chillers we all know so well today, Giorgio Ferroni's (The) Night of the Devils (La Notte dei Diavoli) manages to deliver the goods from both genres -- and incorporates a hypnotic (and sometimes bewildering) music score by Giorgio Gaslini (yes, you

Atlas Shrugged Part II Blu-ray Review: Critic Shrugged

Continuing adaptation of Ayn Rand's epic novel recasts lead roles but doesn't improve lackluster quality.
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After middling returns for the first movie, it's surprising that this second installment even exists. For that fact alone, the makers deserve some measure of praise for sticking to their guns and continuing what most would view as a fool's quest. The film seems to exist as a real-world demonstration of author Ayn Rand's theory of objectivism, with the creators steadfastly believing in and fulfilling their vision with no regard for financial gain or public perception. If only they had the skills to accompany that vision. With TV veteran John Putch in the director's chair, the end results are inevitably

The Insider Blu-ray Review: An Engrossing, Troubling Thriller

Michael Mann is firing on all cylinders in his indictment of corporatization.
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The Film An exceptionally engrossing thriller and a chest-beating indictment of corporatization, Michael Mann's The Insider features the filmmaker firing on all cylinders. Mann's a maximalist; he scarcely lets a scene pass without underscoring its deep, weighty importance whether through imperious music cues, dramatic compositions or slick, polished lighting. But it ends up being a perfect fit for the material; Mann mythologizes the real-life story of corporate intrigue and journalistic frustration without crushing its delicate nuances. That he does so with such a seemingly effortless touch is no small feat. Based on Jeffrey Wigand's whistleblowing on tobacco company Brown &

The Sessions Blu-ray Review: A Beautiful Story About the Desires That Make Us All Human

John Hawkes plays Mark O'Brien so well that you forget you are not actually watching a disabled actor on the screen.
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The Sessions is based on the true-life experiences of poet and journalist Mark O'Brien, who has spent most of his life in an iron lung due to the crippling effects of contracting polio at age six. Although his body failed him in several ways, his mind and spirit remained intact. At the age of 38, while writing some articles about the disabled and sexuality, O'Brien (John Hawkes) embarks on a quest to lose his virginity. With the support of his priest Father Brendan (William H. Macy), he finds Cheryl Cohen Greene (Helen Hunt) a sex surrogate who agrees to embark

Special Forces (2011) DVD Review: Worth a Look if You Listen in French

Not the best of the recent crop of Desert Storm-related flicks, but not the worst either.
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Set in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Special Forces is the story of Elsa (Diane Kruger, Inglorious Basterds, National Treasure), a French journalist who stirs the ire of warlord Ahmed Zaief. She's writing a story about his abuses against women and because she pushes too far, she and her guide Amin are kidnapped by Zaief's men and brought to their camp in Pakistan. The French government gives the green light to send a unit of naval commandos who specialize in difficult extraction tasks, to save Amin and Elsa. Led by Kovax (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond, Gladiator) this team of specialists parachutes into enemy

Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season is the Pick of the Week

Season Two ventures a bit away from the source material but remains an excellent bit of fantasy television.
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I came to George RR Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice through the TV show Game of Thrones. I knew noting about the show except that it was on HBO (which almost always does excellent TV) and that it was getting some pretty big nerdy Internet hype. I watched the first few episodes and quickly realized I was missing a great deal of what was going on. It didn't help that at the time my daughter was but a few weeks old and needed constant attention, but the show is grand in scale with a myriad

On The Road Movie Review: Whither Goest Thou, America, in Thy Shiny Car in the Night?

Sex and drugs and...jazz in On The Road. And despite all that it's still a little tame.
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On the Road (2012) directed by Walter Salles is based on the Jack Kerouac novel of the same name first published in 1957, one of the main works of the Beat Generation. It's not all that surprising that this fierce search for meaning and contexts still manages to fascinate a modern-day audience, especially since it lauds the cult of individuality and exploration. The main protagonist Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) starts his more or less Odyssean journey of self-discovery shortly after the death of his father in a period of acute writer's block. He is introduced to Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund)

The Descendants Movie Review: All The Award Acclaim Seems Odd

A pretty good movie, but it doesn't really rise above that.
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When you think of Nat Faxon, former star of Ben and Kate, and Jim Rash, known for dressing like a woman on Community, you don't necessarily imagine them winning Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, and you certainly don't expect it to be for a somewhat somber film about a man dealing with his comatose wife slowly dying. Perhaps that's where Alexander Payne's impact comes in when it comes to The Descendants, a movie he also directed. The film stars noted actor George Clooney as Matt King, a lawyer living in Hawaii with two children and the aforementioned comatose wife. Now,

Maigret (1992) Complete Collection DVD Review: Does What You Expect and with Great Satisfaction

The French detective is played by an Englishman and filmed in Budapest.
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I quite literally discovered Maigret by stumbling over him. Let me explain: for a couple of semesters my wife and I led two separate groups of university students though a study-abroad program in Europe. Our base of operations was in a small town in Belgium. For our first full day on the continent we'd day-trip to the city of Liege where they held festivities for the holiday of Assumption. A very Catholic town, they went all out for the holiday including food that filled the streets, beer that flowed like gushing rivers, music on every street corner, and a huge

Argo Blu-ray Review: Sealed with a Presidential Kiss

Home video release features exclusive interviews with President Carter and the actual subjects of the film.
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A funny thing happened on Lincoln's way to Oscar domination: Argo came back from the dead. With a stunning slew of major wins throughout awards season, most notably multiple director wins for the Oscar-slighted Ben Affleck, Argo has now emerged as the likely frontrunner for the Best Picture Academy Award. If you missed it in theaters, Warner Brothers has shrewdly timed its home release for the week leading up to the Oscars, ensuring that the retail channel is primed for the increased interest generated by the awards. They've also packed the Blu-ray with exceptional supplemental material including extensive interviews with

My Worst Nightmare (2011) Movie Review: American Rom-Com Goes French

Anne Fontaine gleefully dives into genre clichés and comes out winning.
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A French romantic comedy that wholeheartedly and gleefully embraces almost every cliché of its American genre counterparts, My Worst Nightmare is an entertaining diversion. Directed by Anne Fontaine, who brought us Coco Before Chanel, this 2011 picture deals in the sorts of familiar relationship complications audiences are used to and traffics in class struggle. For Fontaine, the plan was to craft a film about a mismatched couple that centred on two specifically-chosen performers in the key roles. That meant bringing in the frenetic Benoît Poelvoorde and the ceaselessly classy Isabelle Huppert. "I wanted these two actors and no one else,"

Girl Model DVD Review: New Faces Faced with Unglamorous Realities

Filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin reveal how swiftly the international modeling industry can chew up and spit out unsuspecting beauties.
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Every now and again the fashion world allows the mainstream to glimpse its process, get to know its people, and help the layman understand how a fashion icon comes into being (because it's complex, you see). Isaac Mizrahi filled viewers in on his neuroses, vision, and everything in between in 1995's Unzipped. Since then, every designer, fashion editor, and photographer whose persona rivals their talent has added their personal tale to the canon of fashion history. In the case of models, top-tier agency Elite Model Management has televised a couple of its Look of the Year competitions since the heyday

Slugterra: Return of the Shane Gang DVD Review: Pre-Teenage Dream

Animated series has a tired monster-battling premise but a winning art style.
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Deep beneath Earth's surface, tribes of various humanoid characters live and do battle with adorable little slugs. Why slugs? Because those harmless little critters transform into gigantic, ferocious battle beasts with varying abilities when they reach the speed of 100 mph. Joining a long list of monster-collecting toons such as Pokemon and Kaijudo, Slugterra has a fairly stale premise but executes it with eye-popping visual style and frenetic pace, broadly hitting the mark of its intended pre-teen male audience. Eli Shane is a normal teen boy living a typical suburban life on the surface, but he has a family secret:

Skyfall Blu-ray Review: Nobody's Done It Better

Director Sam Mendes and his team create one of the best installments of the Bond franchise.
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Director Sam Mendes and his team deliver such a satisfying film in so many areas, Skyfall may well be my favorite in James Bond franchise. It opens with James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Istanbul where an elaborate action sequence takes place on motorcycles, rooftops, and a train as he attempts to recover a stolen hard drive containing information about undercover agents in the field. The loss of that data would have such dire effects M orders another agent, Eve (Naomie Harris), to fire on the thief while Bond is fighting in close proximity. She's not a great shot, resulting

Skyfall is the Pick of the Week

I might not be able to stream it, but I'm definitely watching Skyfall soon.
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The conclusion of the whole internet debacle is that I now have satellite internet. The commercials all hype the high speeds and they are pretty fast, but they keep the (very) limited bandwidth to the small print. I currently have the lowest option (10 gigs of upload/download bits a month) and I'm quickly running through them. My first two days online saw me hit the 1 gig mark and I didn't do any of the normal large file downloading/uploading I normally do. In a word, I'm screwed. Like mobile-phone deals I get free bandwidth hours late at night (midnight to
A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman, which is based on the 1980 memoir A Liar's Autobiography: Volume VI, co-written by Chapman and a few others, offers enough information to give some sense in understanding the man's life regardless of how accurate it is. The directing trio of Bill Jones (son of Python member Terry Jones), Jeff Simpson, and Ben Timlett present the story of Graham Chapman's life as told mostly by Chapman himself, who died in 1989. Chapman serves as the narrator through his reading of the novel recorded before his death. Any recordings made

The Avengers (2012) Movie Review: A Good Action Movie

Who would have thought that bringing together a bunch of popular characters in one movie and handing the reins to a cult hero would yield such positive results?
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In this modern era of blockbuster cinema, where movies based on comic book superheroes, The Avengers still manages to reign supreme above the rest, at least in terms of box office. This is perhaps based upon the shrewd way Marvel built up to this movie. It served as the culimination of a process beginning with the first Iron Man and building from there. Many of these characters were already established, bits of information was dealt out in post-credit sequences, and in the end a group of dispirate superheroes were assembled. The Avengers wastes no time getting down to business, even

Argo: Declassified: A Real Hit About a Fake Movie

A look at the making of the award-winning film.
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Ben Affleck's Argo tells the story of how CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck), with the assitance of a make-up artist (John Goodman) and a movie producer (Alan Arkin), was able to rescue and remove six U.S. diplomats from Iran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. With Argo soon to be available as a Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital Download on February 19, the folks at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have made available a 28-minute video called ARGO: Declassified, which can be seen below. It presents a look at the real events that inspired the Academy Award nominated-film as well

Doctor Who: The Reign of Terror DVD Review: Re-Animating the Doctor

The First Doctor lands the TARDIS in the middle of the French Revolution.
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When it comes to resurrecting lost Doctor Who episodes, the people at BBC Home Video have come up with some ingenious solutions. The DVD release of The Reign of Terror is a case in point. The six-part serial was the eighth Doctor Who story, first broadcast from August 8 to September 12, 1964. As fans of the series know, many of the early episodes no longer exist. In regards to The Reign of Terror, only four of the six installments remain intact. For the missing programs, the producers have come up with a unique work-around. Episodes four and five have

Picks of the Last Three Weeks

Due to a series of unfortunate events I was unable to write about new releases for a few weeks, so I'm catching up.
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Cinema Sentries has been without a Pick of the Week, where we comment on the new DVD/Blu-ray releases, for the last three weeks. It is entirely my fault. Or perhaps AT&Ts. I moved, you see, to the country. Even more to the country than I was, which was a teenie tiny town in rural Tennessee. Before we moved, one of the questions I asked the previous occupants was whether or not we could get internet out there. They said they had DSL with AT&T so I assumed I could get it too. How wrong a person can be. A few

Undersea Edens DVD Review: A Marvelous Viewing Experience

For those who enjoy nature programs about nature, Undersea Edens is a great choice.
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The Smithsonian Channel are known for their documentary programs, and Undersea Edens is an example of what they do best. As the title indicates (most of) Undersea Edens takes place underwater. The newly released Undersea Edens DVD contains six half-hour episodes, contained on a single disc. The underwater photography is magnificent, and with the soothing tones of narrator Kristen Krohn, this could be the ultimate chillout-room video wallpaper. I'm kidding of course, although stoners probably would enjoy it. Actually, everyone would enjoy this, as each episode presents an incredible world that few of us will likely ever see firsthand. Despite

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 Blu-ray Review: Supes vs. Bats, We All Win

Faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's classic comic book delivers epic clash of the superhero titans
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Warner Bros Animation's concluding adaptation of Frank Miller's classic comic book series (Part 1 review) contains the fight every superhero fan has imagined at some point: Batman vs. Superman. Sure, there's plenty more going on, especially the events leading to that bone-crushing confrontation, but as a defining moment it's pretty hard to top. The project is a faithful adaptation that is definitely not for kids, with violence and murder aplenty and wild Miller touches such as a swastika-pasties wearing bad girl fully intact. It's also a thoroughly entertaining film that maintains a brisk pace all the way to its thrilling

Bully (2011) Blu-ray Review: A Disappointing Approach to a Complex Issue

Simplistic and showy, this documentary leaves a lot to be desired.
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At the end of Lee Hirsch's Bully, we're told that "Everything starts with one." This is a reference to the idea that the prevention of bullying, a complex social problem, can sprout from the actions of one individual. The 2011 documentary's recurrent insistence to "Take a stand" furthers this notion, while a visit to The Bully Project's website suggests that part of taking said stand is seeing the movie. What we have with Hirsch's film is a well-made, glossy documentary that is heavy on emotional aesthetics and unfortunately lean on pragmatism and examination. While Bully grants unprecedented and often seemingly

House of Cards (UK) Trilogy Blu-ray Review: Long Live the King

Masterful political drama anchored by a mesmerizing lead performance by Ian Richardson.
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Have you finished your binge marathon viewing session of the new Netflix series starring Kevin Spacey? If so, you're ready to dive into this original UK adaptation of the Michael Dobbs novel. Don't have Netflix? That's fine, this is likely the superior product, if for no other reason that the completely mesmerizing lead performance by Ian Richardson. While Richardson never gained much fame here, if you're of a certain age you know him from one classic commercial line: "Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?" Now imagine that stuffy Brit as a conniving politician intent on getting his way

Pina Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Striking Elegy for an Artistic Giant

Wim Wenders' tribute to modern dance legend Pina Bausch is gorgeous and moving.
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The Film Wim Wenders' gorgeous and touching tribute to modern dance pioneer Pina Bausch is a film birthed out of tragedy. Shortly before Wenders was set to begin production on a documentary about Bausch and her company, Tanztheater Wuppertal, she died unexpectedly. Proceeding with the film, Wenders made something that is far more visceral than the average documentary -- it testifies to Bausch's immense talent by featuring her dancers and friends performing her works, which are alternately gut-wrenching, whimsical and joyous. It's a perfect elegy, encapsulating all the confusing and conflicting emotions that accompany the death of a loved one

2013 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Shorts Review: From Mediocrity to Absolute Perfection

Need some help for your Oscar pool?
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I have seen a lot of short films. Many of them were mediocre at best, steeped in their creator's overflowing pretension. Others were genuine and heartfelt, and touched on the very core of human experience. This year's class of Academy Award nominees had a little of everything. Asad Asad is the story of a young Somalian named Asad with conflicting interests. On one side are his friends - the older boys in the village - who have joined up with pirates and spend their days raiding yachts (you remember all the news reports). On the other side is the old

Following Criterion Collection DVD Review: Glimpse a Genius Just Finding His Voice

Young Christopher Nolan shows off his storytelling prowess.
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In 1999, a 28-year-old Christopher Nolan couldn't possibly have seen himself directing such big budget films like Inception and The Dark Knight Rises. The young Nolan was piecing together his first feature film as writer, director, editor, cinematographer and lead financier. The result was the clever Following, which wore his influences on its sleeve. The well-received film disappeared from the film shelves as he released more accomplished films like Memento, Insomnia, and Batman Begins. But in December 2012, the film got a new opportunity to be appreciated when it became part of the Criterion Collection. It's initially important to place

The Artist Movie Review: A Good Film, but Best Picture Worthy?

The way they decided to make the film can't help but make it feel somewhat hollow.
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It is an unusual factoid that the only two silent films to win Best Picture at the Oscars are Wings, which won the first one ever, and The Artist, which came out in 2011. The fact that a film in the modern era was made as a silent film, although truth be told it is not completely silent, is odd enough as is, but it also feels sort of gimmicky, like something somebody would make for their senior thesis project in college. However, despite that fact, the movie won a bunch of awards, including Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius, and

Compliance DVD Review: It'd Be Awful If It Weren't True

This prank call goes horribly wrong.
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Compliance chronicles a day in the life of Becky (Dreama Walker), who went to work at her fast-food job like any other day. As business ramps up in the afternoon, a phone call comes into the restaurant from an Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) to Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager of the eatery. Daniels claims to be conducting a police investigation of a theft that happened in the restaurant earlier that day, the supposed witness accusing Becky of the theft. From there, Daniels requests Sandra to isolate and detain Becky, which leads to further requests, escalated behaviors, and ultimately the rape

After Kony: Staging Hope DVD Review: The Play's The Thing

A documentary that shows how theater can help heal the pains of war.
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The war in Northern Uganda has been getting a lot of attention in the media as of late. It probably should have gotten a lot more attention sooner than it did. It is one of the greatest emergencies the world has ever faced, yet until recently, very little had been done to bring Joseph Kony to justice. Through orgaizations like "Invisible Children" and films like Machine Gun Preacher, this crisis has been brought to the attention of more and more people here is the United States. The documentary, After Kony: Staging Hope, follows Melissa Fitzgerald and members of her theater

Join Us for the 40th Annual Annie Awards

Streaming here on 2/2/13 at 7PM PST.
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Award Season is still in progress and tonight The International Animated Film Society is hosting the 40th Annual Annie Awards at UCLA's Royce Hall. For those curious who aren't attending, the event will be streamed below. According to their website, the "Annie Awards will be presented in 30 categories including best animated feature, television production(s), television commercial, short subject, video game and student film, as well as the achievement and honorary awards." The nominees and honorees are listed after the USTREAM window, and links are available to works reviewed here at Cinema Sentries. [Update: Winners have been designated in Bold]

Meskada Movie Review: Small Town Crime Drama with Less Punch Than It Could Have Had

Detective Noah Cordin goes to investigate the murder of a young boy and winds up returning to his home town - not that he's all that welcome.
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Meskada (2010) written and directed by Josh Sternfeld is a small town crime drama that aims to blend personal tragedy with a bigger discussion of deepening socio-economic divisions. It starts out with a burglary gone bad. Under the guise of going out of town to work construction, Eddie (Kellan Lutz) and Shane (Jonathan Tucker) go on a robbery road trip. They break into a house they believe to be empty and wind up accidentally killing a young boy who had been left alone at home by his mother Alison Connor (Laura Benati). Detective Noah Cordin (Nick Stahl) gets called in

Peter Pan (1953) Diamond Edition Blu-ray Review: The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up Turns 60

An entertaining film, packed with action, memorable characters, and quality artwork.
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Peter Pan is the 14th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics series, notable for being the last to feature the entire group of animators nicknamed Disney's Nine Old Men, and notorious for its insensitive portrayal of Indians. The film makes its debut on Blu-ray coinciding with its 60th anniversary. J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up had been one of Walt's favorite stories from his youth, and he was determined to create his version, working on it with his team for over a decade before it was completed. It's not a surprise the story

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