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from the Raleigh News & Observer

The video game genre known as survival horror plays by a certain set of rules. These games generate thrills through atmosphere and tension rather than straight-up action, and limited resources give the player a sense of desperation. Running and hiding is often a better option than standing and fighting.

“Resident Evil 7: Biohazard” is a nice example of survival horror done right, and by “nice” I mean “utterly terrifying.” Horror fans who like to scare themselves silly – whether by game, movie or book – will appreciate the experience that “RE7” provides. When executed properly (heh), survival horror games are unlike any other storytelling mode.

Returning players will already be familiar with the “Resident Evil” vibe – creeping horror punctuated with sudden scares by nightmare beasties. As the title of the new game suggest, the series also plays with our deep biological fears of infection and contamination. “RE” specializes in squirm-inducing environments designed to punch you right in the brain stem.

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Film review: The Guard

November 25, 2011

originally published in the Raleigh News & Observer

It’s like the old Irish proverb says: Nothing can ruin a good cup of tea like running afoul of an international cocaine smuggling ring.

"The Guard"

In the often funny, often indecipherable Irish comedy “The Guard,” Brendan Gleeson plays Sergeant Gerry Boyle, the unorthodox but honest cop who patrols rural County Galway in Ireland. Boyle is no saint – he has a standing arrangement with the local escort service and enjoys sampling the occasional clubs drugs he pulls from the pockets of delinquent teens. When a local crime figure is found with a professionally placed bullet in his head, Boyle regards the death as a proper comeuppance, more a paperwork nuisance than a crime.

But as played by Gleeson in a rich comic performance, Boyle also has a shaggy nobility and a rigid code of honor. He protects the local kids, visits his ailing mum, and stubbornly defies his better-dressed, on-the-take superiors down at headquarters. Boyle’s routine is disrupted, however, with the discovery of a major cocaine smuggling operation in sleepy Galway. Read the rest of this entry »

originally published in the Raleigh News & Observer

It’s no secret that the newspaper business is in trouble. Dozens of papers across the U.S. have folded in the face of rising distribution costs, declining ad revenue and competition from digital sources.

“Page One: Inside the New York Times” is a fascinating documentary that roots into the challenges the industry faces, by focusing on America’s flagship newspaper, The New York Times.

You don’t have to be a policy wonk or media nerd to enjoy “Page One” – but it helps. From the first frame, director Andrew Rossi dives into the deep end of the pool, trusting that his audience is sophisticated enough to keep up.

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originally published in the Raleigh News & Observer

Well, it’s official. Ed Helms is a movie star. And he can thank his director for that.

The former “Daily Show” correspondent and veteran ensemble player (“The Hangover,” “The Office”) headlines “Cedar Rapids,” the year’s first genuine sleeper comedy hit. As it turns out, “Cedar Rapids” was directed by Miguel Arteta, author of last year’s sleeper comedy hit, the Michael Cera freakout “Youth in Revolt.”

This is particularly relevant, because the success of “Cedar Rapids” comes as much from Arteta’s sure-handed direction as it does with Helms’ leading performance.

It goes like this: Small town insurance agent Tim Lippe (Helms) is recruited to attend the industry’s regional conference in the (relatively) big city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Tim, who has never left his hometown and is dating his grade school teacher (Sigourney Weaver), is overjoyed but ill-prepared. If naivete were potato chips, Tim would be Frito-Lay.

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Pick of the Week

127 Hours

Thriller-drama; rated R for language and some disturbing violent content/bloody images; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Trapped by a falling boulder, rock climber Aron Ralston (James Franco) survives for five days – recording his ordeal on a handheld camera and eventually using a dull knife to amputate his own arm.

The Lowdown: The film for which the term “harrowing” was apparently invented, “127 Hours” is hard on the stomach, for obvious reasons. But director Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”) works some weird miracles here in terms of filmmaking creativity.

As Aron’s mental and physical condition deteriorates, Boyle departs from the straight narrative with sequences of Aron’s hallucinations and dreams of family and friends. The movie then enters a kind of timeless space, and Franco delivers a performance that seems to tap into some universal life force. “There is no force more powerful than the will to live,” the film’s tagline informs us. Franco – robbed of the Best Actor Oscar last week, IMHO – will make you believe.

The Extras: A must-listen commentary track with director Boyle; deleted scenes; Blu-ray adds two mini-docs on Franco and Boyle’s collaboration and the real-life details of Ralston’s ordeal

The Bottom Line: Most assuredly one of last year’s best films, “127 Hours” is a marvel of storytelling verve.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Careful with that amputation scene – several audience members feinted straight away during the film’s theatrical release.

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