‘University’ enriches, ‘Arias’ titillates and ‘Z’ bores this weekend

Among the new movies released Friday, June 21 are an animated adventure about monsters seeking college degrees, a drama about a woman looking for love and an actioner about humanity searching for an antidote to a zombie apocalypse.

Berberian Sound Studio

Toby Jones plays a technician who works on the sound effects for a gruesome horror film. His nightmarish task slowly takes over his psyche, driving him to confront his own past. Playing exclusively at the FilmBar. (NR – 94 minutes)

Theories surrounding how horror movies affect the people who watch them have often been bandied about. Therefore, the theme of how horror movies affect the people who make them is certainly fascinating fodder that is worth materializing in a motion picture. However, one would expect such an effort to effect a bit more substance than is exhibited in “Berberian Sound Studio.” The new thriller offers up nothing but a bunch of unsettling sounds and intrusive images that alone do not add up to much. Devoid of a coherent narrative, this flick takes viewers down a tedious rabbit-hole toward ultimate nonsense. (Thumbs Down!)


Filmmaker Alex Winter explores the downloading revolution – the kids that created it, the bands and businesses that were affected by it and its impact on the world at large. Screening 10 p.m. Saturday, June 22 exclusively at the FilmBar. (NR – 106 minutes)

Anyone who grew up during the dawn of filesharing will find “Downloaded” to be a fantastically fascinating feature film. The new documentary coherently communicates the story of Napster’s unforeseen rise and inevitable fall in a way that is both educational and entertaining. Having said that, it spends too much time detailing the nuts and bolts of the ordeal and stops short of discussing the situation’s broader implications. Acknowledging that the recording industry’s ignorance in attaching itself to an antiquated business model is only a precursor to the bigger theme that you can shut down a site but you cannot shut down an idea. (Thumbs Up!)

Evocateur: The Morton Downey, Jr. Movie

Filmmakers dissect the mind and motivation of television’s most notorious agitator Morton Downey, Jr. – a man who tore apart the traditional talk format by turning debate of current issues into a gladiator pit. Playing exclusively at the FilmBar. (R – 90 minutes)

Near the end of “Evocateur: The Morton Downey, Jr. Movie,” someone sums up talk show host Morton Downey, Jr.’s legacy as “Passion plays on television – even if it is an act.” Folks flocked to Downey’s short run in show business because we, as a society, are drawn to drama like moths to a flame. Granted, much like said moths, we are essentially burning ourselves alive by doing so, but one cannot deny the entertainment value of sheer lunacy. The same can be said for Downey’s documentary. Oh, and – of course – there is also some enrichment to seeing how reality television’s spin got its start. (Thumbs Up!)

The Haunting of Helena

Harriet MacMasters-Green plays a single mother who moves into a new house with her daughter. Soon after the young girl has her first baby tooth fall off, a chilling obsession begins and an apparition haunts her sleep. Playing exclusively at Harkins Valley Art. (NR – 84 minutes)

For some strange reason, filmmakers are intent upon turning the Tooth Fairy into a horror movie villain. You would think that they would have learned their lesson after “Darkness Falls” was castigated as the worst motion picture of 2003. However, a mere 10 years later we have “The Haunting of Helena” – a flick that fares a bit better but still fails to justify its own existence with anything that could actually be classified as frightening. Aside from a few creatively creepy sequences and a clever twist near the end, the film is overwrought with boredom and bad acting. (Thumbs Down!)

Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret

Tania Raymonde plays the aspiring photographer who was recently found guilty of killing her former lover after he was found nude in his home shower with a slit throat, 27 additional stab wounds and a bullet to the head. Airing 5 p.m. Saturday, June 22 on Lifetime. (NR – 88 minutes)

Say what you will about convicted killer Jodi Arias but her antics, which range from the atrocious to the absurd, sure have entertainment value. The new made-for-television Lifetime movie “Jodi Arias: Dirty Little Secret” exploits said entertainment value to extraordinary effect. Anyone who has followed what has essentially evolved into a never-ending three-ring circus of a court case will be completely captivated. Granted, it spends too much time on the events leading up to the fateful moment and rushes through the fallout but the incomparable curiosity factor alone fuels one’s fascination with this titillating feature film that proves beyond a reasonable doubt that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. (Thumbs Up!)

Monsters University

Billy Crystal and John Goodman once again voice Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan, two mismatched monsters who are now inseparable. But that was not always the case as shown in this story about their experience in college where they overcame their differences and became the best of friends. (G – 110 minutes)

Everyone grows up thinking that if you work at something hard enough, you can accomplish anything. The harsh reality of the situation, though, is that some talents simply cannot be taught. Leave it to Pixar to – not only produce a prequel that is better than its predecessor – but also break that aforementioned agonizing news to children with “Monsters University.” However, the invaluable life lesson is less scary with a lot of humor, a little heart and the concessions culminated in “Monsters, Inc.” that there are multiple paths to every dream and our shortcomings lead us to find our strengths that then help us change the world. (Thumbs Up!)

World War Z

Brad Pitt plays a United Nations employee who traverses the world in a race against time to stop a zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself. (PG-13 – 116 minutes)

“World War Z” has absolutely no right to call itself an action flick. It is far too boring to be that. It also has no right to call itself a zombie film because the genre implies that there will be blood. But in the new motion picture from director Marc Forster – who has more experience making meaningful movies than big-budget blockbusters – there is about as much red stuff as you would find under your average Band-Aid. And to top it all off, the living seem strangely unaffected by their slaughterous surroundings and therefore look more lifeless than their undead counterparts. (Thumbs Down!)

Joseph J. Airdo

Joseph J. Airdo is a film critic, producer and on-air personality for Breakthrough Entertainment, a talk radio show airing 10-11 a.m. Saturdays on KPHX 1480 AM and BreakRadioShow.com that shines a spotlight on the practical perspectives of the topics and themes explored in movies. He has a pet duck named Frozen who is as opinionated about movies as he is. E-mail him at joseph.airdo@gmail.com.

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