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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Satire > Mental Illness > Corporations > Advertising > Biblical Epic > TV Mini-Series > Drama > C > And Now A Word From Our Sponsor (2013/Virgil Films DVD)/Barabbas (2012 TV Mini-Series/Gaiam Vivendi Blu-ray)/Breakout (2013/Sony DVD)/Gimme The Loot (2012/MPI/Sundance DVD)/Online (2013/RLJ DVD)/The W

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor (2013/Virgil Films DVD)/Barabbas (2012 TV Mini-Series/Gaiam Vivendi Blu-ray)/Breakout (2013/Sony DVD)/Gimme The Loot (2012/MPI/Sundance DVD)/Online (2013/RLJ DVD)/The We And The I (2013/Virgil Films DVD)

Picture: C+/B-/C/C-/C/C+ Sound: C+/B/C+/C/C/B- Extras: D/D/D/C/D/D Main Programs: C/C/C-/C/C-/C

Now for some recent independent releases...

Zack Bernbaum's And Now A Word From Our Sponsor (2013) has a gimmick that could go either way. Bruce Greenwood is the CEO of an advertising agency who has been so sickened by catchphrases that they are the only thing he can say or repeat after a nervous breakdown that has led to his hospitalization. With a young, greedy, slick, goof in the wings to take his place, he obliviously (or does he?) continues this tact and is about to be sent out of the hospital when a woman (Parker Posey) who works there decides to take him home to treat him there.

Besides conflict with her daughter and how unlikely this would be in real life, the film gambles that it can be funny with this premise for 87 minutes, but despite good, likable actors, the script has no ironic distance from the high concept or take advantage of other possibilities here. The result is a film that never takes off.

Greenwood is amazing here in that he never hits a false note saying a few hundred ad taglines, but that is more of a list that a film or script. Posey comes up with a different take in her performance, but it never adds up. Though it is not as horrid as the Dudley Moore/Darryl Hannah disaster Crazy People, the ending (stolen from a great original Twilight Zone episode for no good reason) makes no sense either. Oh, well.

There are no extras.

Roger Young's Barabbas (2012) is a new TV mini-series version of the religious tale of the title man and how he helped by and crossed paths with Christ by being the thief who is sparred during the Crucifixion. Best know from the 1961 Richard Fleischer film with Anthony Quinn in the role, this version has one of the only actors around worthy of succeeding him, the underrated Billy Zane. Shot on location in Tunisia, it looks decent and as good as anything on the list, but at 188 minutes, it is a long program and the shorter 1961 film was only so good.

I did not know the rest of the cast, but this was not as pretentious or condescending as many similar productions of late (including that Fox Bible mini-series), so I give it points for ambition, but true Bible scholars might enjoy it and Zane carries it about as much as he can. A nice, independently-made alternative, fans of the tale and of the faith will at least want to give this one a look.

There are no extras.

Damian Lee's Breakout (2013) began as a potentially interesting thriller where Brendan Frazier is a father who becomes an environmental activist, who then becomes a protester against loggers and in a physical altercation, accidentally kills a worker who attacks him. He goes to jail, but as they negotiate to get him released in a crazy deal with the logging company (the family of the dead man never shows up!?!), a crazy man (Dominic Purcell as a Southern Right Wing killer caricature) travels with his mentally ill brother (Ethan Suplee) trying to show him a good time.

Unfortunately, the supposedly sand brother is a psychopath and when he kills someone in the woods, the son and daughter of Frazier's father hear it and son sees it, so the southern brothers show up to meet them and their guardian on the trip. The result is another killing and two children in jeopardy. Based on the title, guess what Frazier-in-prison does next?

To make it worse, it is like Deliverance for goofs, becomes quickly cynical, exploitative, obnoxious, has an idiot plot, mocks mental illness as well and represents the worst of what we used to get as exploitation thrillers in the 1970s, but without any of the fun, guts or point. This is hideous and one of the worst things I have seen in a while, despite its start. It never becomes torture porn, but it is bad in every other way you can imagine and is the nadir of all involved. Frazier needs a better project quick!

There are no extras.

Adam Leon's Gimme The Loot (2012) is the first of two urban films set in New York City we are looking at. Jonathan Demme has decides to back this one and it the slightly better of the two films as a couple of graffiti artists Sofia and Malcolm (Zoe Lescaze and Meeko) live in the Bronx and when their latest work has been desecrated by rival taggers, they want revenge, but also thing tagging the Big Apple prop at a New York Mets game would send a message of their intents as artists and leaving their mark on the spray paint art world.

In between, Malcolm gets involved with a woman who has money, or so he thinks and Sofia starts to doubt herself and wonder about her future. We get some good dialogue (I wonder if some of this was improvisation) and good casting that is mostly convincing, but the end is open in the wrong way, there are too many moments where the smart characters get dumb and I was only so impressed. Yet it is remarkable this turned out as well as it did, so you can see for yourself if you are interested.

Extras include a short film called Killer, a feature length audio commentary track with the cast and crew, Original Theatrical Trailer, Deleted Scenes and an episode of the series All City Hour promoting the film.

Michael Gondry's The We And The I (2013) is more predictable and less convincing as a bus full of teens (also from the Bronx, this took three years to develop according to the package) finished with school and ready for summer break. However, conflicts, fighting, grudges and immature behavior get all off to a bad start (as well as the film itself) and bad things start to happen, though the film wants to be joking about it more than it should and let us wallow in the irresponsibility.

So when the conclusion comes up, we are supposed to be surprised but are not in the least at all. The problem (typical of Gondry's feature films versus his short works) is that he keeps too much distance from the actors and characters so the work becomes more mechanical than it should (even in Be Kind Rewind, but not in his Block Party concert film with Dave Chappelle which proves my point) and the young people here are understood and also made to be less smart than they or we are. This will be a curio too, but both this and Loot prove the New York School of filmmaking and and style is not as easy as just doing an urban film, even with a potentially good cast. This is why Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee continue to be the kings of this realm.

There are no extras.

Last and almost least is Kevan Otto's Online (2013) is a silly, faith-based drama about a married man whose casual encounter with an old flame on an online website leads to him having a hot sexual affair with her and all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately, so does a predictable, infantile script that tells us “social websites bad, marriage and faith good” and if it were any worse, it would be smug. Instead, it is just lame, tired and narrow throughout its long, long 94 minutes. Then the solutions to the situation are more unrealistic than the situation which is ineffectively portrayed in the first place despite the fact that this sadly odes happen all the time. More criticism of the web and less preaching would have helped, but the faith formula is long played out (like social networking and reality TV) and the acting is like watching talking mannequins.

At least it was not as outright offensive as Breakout, but that does not say much.

There are no extras.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Barabbas may have some styling and digital visual effects that hold the fidelity back a bit, but it was shot in the Super 16mm film format and it makes it stand out versus most of its cheaply done, slap dash contemporaries just shooting generically in HD.

That leaves the rest DVD releases and all five DVDs are anamorphically enhanced and at 1.78 X 1 save Sponsor at 2.35 X 1 and We at 1.85 X 1 which both happen to have the best image performance including color, limited motion blur and softness. Loot has some interesting people and locales to shoot, but it is extremely disappointing here being very soft and hard to watch, though I wonder if it is a technical transfer issue to some extent, because the shots are thought out. In between are Breakout which is much softer than anything with Brendan Frazier should be and Online, which is simply a very bad HD shoot.

As for sound, all five DVDs are presented in lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, but only We really has a palpable soundfield throughout, showing Gondry's sense of music and sound throughout. Sponsor and Breakout tie for second place, with lacking soundfields and weaker presentations too much in the front channels. Loot (due to location audio issues and its small budget) and Online (by being a flat, boring recording) are the sonic disappointments here and the less said the better.

That leaves Barabbas with the best sound sporting a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mix that is stunningly strong, solid, has a consistent soundfield and embarrasses many a feature film release, not to mention other faith-based dramas and other TV Mini-Series. Yes, it is one of the best faith-based releases technically in years and the fact that it is independent tells us something.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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