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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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Pick of the Week

Inside Job

Documentary; rated PG-13 for some drug and sex-related material; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: A brilliantly assembled, high-energy crash course in the causes and effects of the recent global financial crisis.

The Lowdown: Enraging and fascinating, “Inside Job” won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature and is the latest in an unprecedented string of must-see docs over the last couple of years.

Directed by renaissance man Charles Ferguson – author, scholar, tech mogul and filmmaker – “Inside Job” is a smartly executed frontal assault on an insanely complex topic. Deploying all the tricks of the documentary film trade, Ferguson drills into the root causes of the Great Recession with admirable clarity.

His conclusion? The global financial crisis is a direct result of 30 years of gradual deregulation of the financial services industry, which spawned aggressive corruption on Wall Street and pretty much every other adjacent institution. Simply put, the crisis was precipitated by institutional and individual acts of criminal fraud. It was entirely avoidable, too, the film insists. Unfortunately, our government watchdogs were at best negligent, and at worst complicit.

Interviews with dozens of industry insiders and public officials are interspersed with textual and graphical elements that effectively parse all the complex jargon. Narrator Matt Damon keeps it all flowing, and reportedly was actively involved in shaping the film’s narrative structure.

Like all docs, of course, “Inside Job” has a deliberate point of view and a definite agenda. The film regularly indulges in righteous indignation, but that’s an indulgence we’re all entitled to, I think. As Ferguson pointed out in his Oscars acceptance speech, “Three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that’s wrong,”

The Extras: Commentary track by Ferguson and producer Audrey Marrs; a short making-of doc; some deleted scenes – Blu-ray adds another hour of outtakes

The Bottom Line: “Inside Job” won the documentary Oscar for a reason – this wasn’t the most artful doc of the year, but it was surely the most important.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Get ready for more great docs – Durham’s Full Frame documentary film festival is coming up April 14-17. Scheduling will be announced next week – check fullframefest.org for details.

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Raleigh News & Observer
March 26, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats
PICK OF THE WEEK

Comedy; rated R for language, some drug content and brief nudity; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Greenhorn reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) stumbles across a top secret government psi ops program in Iraq, learning “the way of the Jedi” from the likes of George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.

The Lowdown: This very funny and slyly satirical comedy from director Grant Heslov is a real pleasure, and drew all that top-shelf acting talent for a reason. Intriguingly, the film is based on actual events. As the fascinating DVD extras reveal, the “New Earth Army” – an experiment exploring possible military applications of New Age psychic phenomena – really did exist. “Goats” can be enjoyed on one level as a dextrous madcap comedy, and on another as a kind of gonzo satire of military culture and the madness of war.

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Eurotrash Swirl

March 22, 2010

‘Amelia,” starring Hilary Swank as famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart, is a perfectly serviceable, standard-issue Hollywood biopic that hits all the requisite notes and risks little. It’s an enjoyable movie experience and, at under two hours, admirably restrained in length. I only wish the movie, like its heroine, had a little more guts.

It’s a problem of form, really. “Amelia” is done about as well as this type of movie can be done – but that’s the problem. The celebrity biopic has become Hollywood’s most tired and predictable genre. If you recall, we were tipped to this problem in 2007 with the very funny mock-biopic “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” “Walk” tackled the subgenre of the musical biopic, but its cautionary lessons can very easily be extrapolated – and, evidently, ignored. Read the rest of this entry »

Raleigh News & Observer

Already a legend of low-budget horror, ” Paranormal Activity” is an object lesson in the power of viral marketing. Filmed for $15,000, its theatrical take after wide release on Halloween is $107 million, with an additional $10 million or so still coming in from the UK.

So why such astounding success? First, “Paranormal” is a scary ghost story with an effective gimmick: Like “The Blair Witch Project,” the film is presented as found footage, the record of a haunting caught on camera and left by the dearly departed victims. Read the rest of this entry »

NewsObserver.com

When there’s just no accounting for taxes

CHAPEL HILL–Springtime is also tax time, and this is just plain cruel. Flowers and budding life on the one hand; 1040s and abject terror on the other. 
But I’d like to share a cautionary tale that may help you feel better about your situation, whatever it is. Because there was a time in my life — one dark and terrible year — when I spent much of the tax season curled into a trembling fetal ball, breathing very quickly, and fending off stark madness.

All because of Linus the Lunatic Tax Guy. Read the rest of this entry »