March 2012 Archives

Strange Fruit: The Beatles' Apple Records DVD Review: Gets to the Core of the Company

Learn about the fascinating rise and fall of The Beatles' failed label Apple Records.
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On May 11, 1968, John Lennon and Paul McCartney arrived in New York to announce a new business venture. Three days later, they addressed the media at New York's Americana Hotel to explain the concept behind The Beatles' new company, Apple. While Apple would combine films, electronics, and fashion, its chief purpose lay in its music label. “We want to set up a system whereby people who just want to make a film about anything don't have to go on their knees in somebody's office. Probably yours," Lennon explained. McCartney added, “if you come and see me and say 'I've

Phil Collins Live at Montreux 2004 Blu-ray Review: Nice Overview of His Long Solo Career

A fine document of the singer's "First Farewell Tour."
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As Phil Collins embarked on his “First Final Farewell Tour” in 2004 and 2005, it occurred to him that he should pay his old friend, Claude Nobs, a visit and perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Collins had played there before, including a stint in 1996 with the Phil Collins Big Band and both of these performances are included on Phil Collins - Live at Montreux 2004. The 2004 show opens with “Drums, Drums And More Drums,” which is, you guessed it, a drum solo. Actually it’s more of a trio, as Collins is joined onstage by longtime drummer (and

The B-52's With The Wild Crowd!: Live in Athens, GA Blu-ray Review: The Emphasis is on Fun

The legendary party band is still going strong.
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For more than 30 years, the B-52’s have delivered their own quirky brand of retro-influenced new wave. From the bee-hive hairdos and surf guitar to the synthesizers and unique vocal interplay between Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, and Cindy Wilson, they have carved out a sound uniquely their own. In February 2011, they returned to their hometown of Athens, GA, for an enthusiastic performance covering their entire career, the results of which are captured on The B-52’s - With The Wild Crowd: Live in Athens, GA. The show opens with the driving “Pump,” a track from their 2008 release, Funplex. While

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Films in Competition, and Films by Phil Solomon

A night of unexpected endings.
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Films in Competition Honestly, I wasn't terribly thrilled about attending this selection of competition films, namely because of Soft Palate. If you'll recall, I reviewed a piece from opening night titled Shadow Cuts, and I was less than impressed with it. Soft Palate is by the same filmmaker, and from the same “Deconstructing Disney” series of shorts. I expected it to be repetitious and pointless, but I was wrong. Soft Palate is a far superior piece: it is more restrained, it builds tension to a climax, and lets the audience back down softly. I was very excited to see Im

Book Review: Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla by Andrew Hansford with Karen Homer

Successfully fills a niche in an otherwise oversaturated market.
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Andrew Hansford’s Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla comes to sartorial aficionados, film fans, and pop-culture diehards amid a veritable Marilyn renaissance. Hot off the heels of last year’s Academy Award-nominated My Week with Marilyn and just before the Hollywood Museum’s extensive Marilyn Monroe memorabilia exhibit at its Hollywood, California, location in May, Dressing Marilyn successfully fills a niche in an otherwise oversaturated market. After revealing how he fell into his current role as curator of award-winning costume designer William Travilla’s estate and archive, Hansford offers a Briton’s take on visiting Hollywood for the first

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Poetic Injustice and The Strawberry Tree

The historic 50th festival continues with a strong collection of shorts and a moving pictorial.
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Poetic Injustice - Short Films from the Arab World The “Poetic Injustice” program of short films from the Arab world didn't have the energy of the Student Film Showcase, or the charm of Out Night, but the films were just as good. Individually, most were a little weak, but together they created a very strong pastiche of a war-shaken culture. Particularly moving were Mona Hatoum's Measures of Distance and Bouchra Kalili's Mapping Journey #7 (the festival program lists this as Mapping Journey #5, but #7 was screened). Measures of Distance is a collection of narrated letters to Hatoum from her

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Student Film Showcase and Out Night

Day 2 features filmmakers of the past and the present.
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Student Film Showcase There's something special about the raw creative talent of student filmmakers. Experimental festivals tend to draw artists making art for the sake of art. Students, on the other hand, just make what they think is cool. Their films, while not always technically superior or groundbreaking, are always true to their visions. The entire student film showcase was wonderful. With entries from The University of Michigan, the College for Creative Studies, Eastern Michigan University, even Washtenaw and Oakland Community Colleges. Genres ranged from animation to documentary, drama, comedy, and everything in between. Every film was stellar, but one

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Opening Night

The 50th AAFF opens with a short film program focused on technical experimentation
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Tuesday night marked the beginning of a historic week. An aged George Manupelli stood on stage at the Michigan Theater and joked with a tightly packed audience as he opened the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival. Manupelli, a professor at The University of Michigan at the time, founded the AAFF in 1962. Since then, it has become the nation's longest-running independent and experimental film festival. The festival runs through Sunday April 1st, and I'll be there all week to bring you my reactions to the cutting edge of avant-garde filmmaking. Once everyone got over their opening-night jitters, the festival began

Doctor Who: The Three Doctors Special Edition DVD Review: Are Three Doctors Better Than One?

The first three Doctors come together for the show's 10th Anniversary.
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My last Who review left us with the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, just after the The Tomb Of The Cybermen (Story 037) from 1967 during Season Five. The Second Doctor would go on to have more adventures, mainly through Space and less through Time into and through the end of Season Six in the Summer of 1969. But the times and TV was changing as the decade came to an end. There was a definite youth movement in the UK and color was becoming a necessity. So, the program would become colorized and younger at the same time. The color

A Night To Remember Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Best Film about the Titanic Disaster

"The end of an era of arrogance." - Producer William MacQuitty
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The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic will be April 14, 2012, and it is being recognized with a number of commemorative events. The Criterion Collection's new digital restoration of the classic film A Night To Remember (1958) is one. For decades, this was considered the definitive and most accurate account of the disaster, and it has come to be recognized as one of the greatest British films of the 20th century. Like so many projects before and after though, it was a miracle that A Night To Remember was made at all. When producer William MacQuitty first

David Lean Directs Noel Coward Criterion Collection DVD Boxset Review: Box of Delights

A fascinating look at a winning creative partnership predating Lean's later widescreen epics
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Although best remembered for his widescreen epics such as Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, and The Bridge on the River Kwai, director David Lean launched his feature film career helming a series of fullscreen films written by Noel Coward. Those films have now been compiled in a spectacular new box set from Criterion, providing an engrossing survey of the results of their labors. While clearly not epic in scope, each of the films contain unique delights and are all well worth seeking out. In Which We Serve (1942) leads off the set and their feature film partnership, and also represents

SXSW 2012 Review: Paul Williams Still Alive

Director Stephen Kessler explores celebrity and addiction in the life of pop-culture icon, Paul Williams
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“We usually save this surprise for after the movie”, explained director Stephen Kessler. Kessler, who was on stage at the Paramount Theatre as part of Austin’s South By Southwest (SXSW) festival “But airplane schedules and the crowds mean we have to do this now. Ladies and gentlemen, Paul Williams.” Williams joined Kessler to discuss his film Paul Williams Still Alive. In the seventies, Paul Williams wrote hits like “We’ve Only Just Begun,” "Evergreen," and “Rainbow Connection." He starred in Battle for the Planet of the Apes and on Johnny Carson’s couch and then, he vanished from the pop-culture spotlight. Williams

David Lean Directs Noel Coward Criterion Box Set is the Pick of the Week

Four films by the legendary writer and director get the royal treatment.
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This week Criterion is releasing a boxed set of four films written by playright Noel Coward and directed by David Lean. Of the four films (In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter) I've seen exactly none. In fact I've only seen two Lean directed films at all (Oliver Twist and The Bridge on the River Kwai) but that won't keep the set from being my Pick of the Week. Lean's reputation simply preceeds him. Not to mention those two films of his I have seen are two of my favorite films of all time. The four

The Sitter Blu-ray Review: A Formless Mass of Unfunny

David Gordon Green's career takes another tumble with this aggressively half-assed Jonah Hill vehicle.
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The Film With every new David Gordon Green film, there’s generally a round of bewildered bemoaning about the transformation of the Malick-like auteur behind films like George Washington into a purveyor of broad, boneheaded comedy. Frankly, I think it’s time to give up the ghost on the career path we anticipated a decade ago — Green seems satisfied making mainstream comedies and who are we to hold it against him? But even with the diminished expectations that generally accompany the work of latter-day Green, The Sitter is pretty fucking terrible. A shapeless mass of tossed-off crudeness and unearned sentiment, the

Letter Never Sent Blu-ray Review: A Survival Flick from Russia?

A grandiose piece of Russian cinema that depicts the triumph of the human spirit.
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A survival flick from Russia? Well, I suppose if there was one civilization that has learned to adapt, it was the one that belonged to our cousins of the former Soviet Union — who had to endure many hardships from the formation of their state in 1922 until the dissolution of it in 1991. Midway through the Socialist regime, filmmaking — which had previously been controlled by the government — was beginning to flourish, and there were many pioneers finding their way behind the camera to film some of the most atmospheric and masterful productions most Americans have never seen.

The Descendants Blu-ray Review: A Dynamic Drama from Alexander Payne

A film that rightfully deserved the Oscar it won.
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Based on the debut novel of Hawaiian born writer Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants stars the always-great George Clooney as Matt King, a lawyer in Honolulu whose everyday, ordinary existence comes to a crashing halt when his wife falls into a coma following a motorboat accident. A self-described “back-up” parent, Matt now finds himself having to take care of his rebellious ten-year-old daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller) — an act he is completely unprepared for, as he is in the midst of a land deal with a major developer. The land in question — 25,000 acres of virgin Hawaiian land —

The Beat Hotel Movie Review: Expat Writers in Paradise

Reliving the glorious days of the Beats in Paris.
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The lives and works of the Beats are a continuing source of fascination for many. Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl,” were a few of the first works in a counter-cultural literary revolution. What separates the Beats from the Boomer hippies of a decade later was their keen intellect, as well as their pioneering spirit in questioning authority. It is this ongoing interest in the accomplishments of the Beats that fuels director Alan Govenar’s new film The Beat Hotel. Fed up with censorship and blind conformity in Eisenhower’s America, a number of

Iconic Movie Scenes from the '80s [Snob Seven]

Any of these come to your mind?
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You never know where inspiration is going to come from. Earlier in the month before he began contributing to the site, Michael Nazarewycz, who tweets under the handle @ScribeHard, asked, "Is there a single movie scene more recognizable from the '80s than Cusack holding that boom box over his head?" El Bicho responded with "How about Elliot and E.T. flying in front of the moon?" which elicted "Oooh! GOOD pick. That is definitely in the conversation." When asked what was "the movie scene most recognizable from the '80s," this is what a few Sentries came up with. Jack with an

Immortals DVD Review: An Epic Myth-take

Tarsem Singh gives the world another reason to be disappointed in the Greeks.
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I love Tarsem Singh's directing. The striking visuals he's become known for made even The Cell watchable, as if the images he's able to orchestrate somehow make up for casting Jennifer Lopez in any role, ever. In a way, that might be the greatest vote of confidence I can give him. Watching The Fall, his first venture as a writer/director, I was blown away. There are few films I can point to that are as visually expressive, if only because of his truly unique style of directing, and I was sincerely looking forward to following his career and seeing how

Secret Pleasures DVD Box Set Review: Asian Grab Bag

A sampler of unrelated and unspectacular but offbeat Asian films.
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This box set of fairly recent films takes a grab-bag approach, carrying no real unifying theme other than a focus on Asian actors and a production date sometime in the past 15 years. Oh, and current distribution through the same U.S. company of course. As such, there’s no discernible reason to pick up the set aside from a lower combined price point for films shoppers probably never would have combined. Still, for adventurous viewers looking for a collection of niche films well outside the mainstream of even these foreign film markets, the individual works clearly offer something offbeat, if not
The final album The Doors recorded with Jim Morrison was L.A. Woman in 1970. It may well be their finest work of all; if not, it is certainly right up there. After the sessions were over, Morrison left for Paris, where he died shortly thereafter. The recent Doors: Mr. Mojo Risin’: The Story of L.A. Woman is a documentary chronicling the making of the album, and of the attendant hoopla surrounding the band in that turbulent time. The producers did this one right for a change, and managed to interview a number of key players in the saga. These include

Savage Sisters (1974) DVD Review: Filipino Exploitation Madness

Another weird and wacky oddity from Eddie Romero.
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How does one even begin to describe Savage Sisters? Well, first off, it’s a film from the one and only Eddie Romero — the infamous Filipino schlock auteur responsible for the Blood Island movies — so that might give some of you reading this a clue as to what the movie will be like right then and there. Like several of Romero’s English-language exploitation productions, Savage Sisters features the late, great John Ashley in a prominent role. Here, Ashley (who also co-produced) co-stars as W.P. Billingsley, a shady Southern boy in a Banana Republic who introduces the story (as well

The Sitter Totally Irresponsible Edition DVD Review: Adventures in Bad Ideas

Eighty-one minutes of my life I wish I could get back.
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Hollywood is a tough town, and Seth Rogen is the latest to get thrown under the bus, by a friend no less. His big moment came five years ago with Superbad (2007). But for all intents and purposes, he has been dethroned as the film-world’s favorite chubby, good-natured stoner by Jonah Hill. Excuse me, the Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill. In The Sitter, Hill revels in his role as the current, most unlikely teen-flick champ in the business. The Sitter’s opening scene should get a prize for the crassest in history. The first image we are presented with is that of a

Anatomy of a Murder Criterion Collection DVD Review: Anatomy of a Classic

A film that brings justice to the genre of courtroom dramas.
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Surprisingly, during all those years that I spent sitting in front of my television as a kid, watching one classic film after another, Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder never found its way into my videocassette player. Even as I matured (if you want to call where I’m at in life “mature”), the 1959 courtroom drama still eluded my field of vision — finally finding its way to my world years later after it was inducted into the prestigious Criterion Collection. And now, some 25 years after I first saw it on the shelves and passed it up for some

Conversation Piece DVD Review: A Probing Penultimate Film from an Italian Master

Luchino Visconti re-teams with Burt Lancaster for an excellent character-driven chamber piece.
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Luchino Visconti’s second-to-last film, Conversation Piece (Gruppo di famiglia in un interno) is a sure-handed, character-driven chamber drama that may not reach the sumptuous, melodramatic heights of Visconti’s best-known work, but certainly comes from the hand of the same probing filmmaker. At the film’s center is Burt Lancaster, playing a wealthy, retired, unnamed professor cloistered in his massive Roman palace, surrounded by art and books. A decade after playing the aristocrat in Visconti’s The Leopard, Lancaster here is a man whose life has nearly been mummified — we never see him leave the palace, his memories of his late wife

In the Garden of Sounds DVD Review: Who Says Blindness is a Disability?

A fascinating portrait of a caring man who refuses to be limited by his disability.
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Wolfgang Fasser went blind in his early 20s, the victim of a rare genetic disease. "Victim" may be the wrong term though, as he treated the malady as nothing more than an inconvenience and refused to be limited by his reduced capacities. Rather than retreating into a life of solitude, he eventually opened a practice dedicated to helping developmentally challenged children connect with the world through music. His unconventional aural therapy may sound hokey, but is revealed to be extremely effective through this transcendent documentary. The film has no narration, descriptive text, or emotive soundtrack, instead allowing Fasser and his

Public Image Limited: Live at Rockpalast DVD Review: A Must for PiL Fans

John Lydon at the top of his game.
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When John Lydon formed Public Image Ltd. in 1978, nobody knew what to make of it at first. With the implosion of the Sex Pistols and the death of Sid Vicious, it first appeared that he was taking a step back from the abyss. And since the first PiL album has never been issued in the States (to this day), fans had little to go on but word of mouth. That all changed with the release of Metal Box/Second Edition though. The music Lydon, Jah Wobble, Keith Levene, and Jim Walker were making was some of the most amazing stuff

The Muppets is the Pick of the Week

Jim Henson's marvelous creation is back and as boisterous as ever.
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Like millions of other kids I grew up watching many of Jim Henson's creations including Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, the monsters of Labyrinth, and, of course, the Muppets. I have many fond memories of watching Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear, and all the rest having zany adventures and always making me laugh. When I heard they were coming out with a new movie, I was excited. When I heard it was going to star the always delightful Amy Adams, I was thrilled. When it started getting enthusiastic reviews that noted it didn't mess with the old
Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov and cinematographer Sergey Urusevsky only worked together on three films, but each has left an indelible impression in the film world. The Cranes Are Flying (1957) and I Am Cuba (1964) are the more well-known, but Letter Never Sent (1959), also known as The Unsent Letter, is well worth a look, too. Those who are familiar with Urusevsky’s work know that his cinematographer is astounding from a technical standpoint. He broke new ground in the Soviet film world, innovating with handheld cameras, zoom techniques, and various unorthodox angles. These tricks of the trade, now largely commonplace,

The Town Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review: Double Dipping? You Bet Your Affleck It Is!

The new ending of the lengthier cut of the already-long two-hour-plus feature is an appropriate one -- but is it worth it?
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After making his feature-length directorial debut in 2007 with his crime drama Gone Baby Gone, many people started to believe that actor Ben Affleck was finally on his way to redeeming himself for movies like Pearl Harbor, Paycheck, and several other abominations that should have been titled Paycheck since that's all they really were. And then, in 2010, Ben ventured once more into the territory of onscreen thievery with The Town — a film based on Chuck Hogan's novel Prince of Thieves, and one that was well-praised by moviegoers and critics alike. Personally, I thought The Town was an okay

Doctor Who: The Tomb Of The Cybermen Special Edition DVD Review: A Great Time Piece with a Fun Story

The Cybermen arise from the dead - just another fun trip with the Second Doctor
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The Doctor of my youth was Tom Baker. When the reruns aired on PBS just before the Primetime shows would start, I was fascinated and confused by the stories. This was a show seemingly filmed on a low budget, with a hero with a long scarf and yet there were usually really cool monsters and aliens. But I always seemed to encounter it within a larger story and didn't watch it consistently enough to make heads or tails of what was happening. Fast forward to 2005 and I was able to start a new series with Christopher Eccleston and I

Doctor Who: The Robots of Death Special Edition DVD Review: Highly Recommended

It's like Clue. In space. With Twiki.
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Imagine, if you will, a world in which face-painted men with "Flock of Seagulls"-style haircuts comingle with folks resembling Frank Zappa in Ming the Merciless attire and women dressed in the finest glittery robes dug out of the trash bin behind Studio 54 whilst relaxing on silky-cushioned, oval-shaped beds. Now imagine all of these folks are part of a mining expedition on a desolate world, utilizing an enormous vehicle reminiscent of the sandcrawler the Jawas travelled in. Oh, and there's robots: creepy, creepy robots with molded hair that looks like Louis XIV, and a murder mystery that makes everyone a

The Last Temptation of Christ Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Still Controversial

The loopy ending still detracts from the rest of the fairly conventional film.
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Nearly a quarter of a century ago, famed director Martin Scorsese sparked a firestorm of controversy via the release of this film. Religious zealots were outraged, theaters boycotted the film, and its notoriety far outweighed critical attempts to weigh in on its actual worth as a cinematic achievement. Thanks to the passage of time and Criterion’s sparkling new digital restoration, it’s now more possible to view the film based on its merits rather than its baggage. The film tracks the path of Jesus (Willem Dafoe) from his skeptical early adulthood to his self-assured death, with the story roughly following the

Hell Boats DVD Review: An Island-Based, Low-Budget Dirty Dozen

Suds, bullets, and boats during World War II.
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James Franciscus first came to prominence as Detective Halloran in the great 1958-1959 TV series The Naked City. By the close of the sixties he had made the jump to the big screen, and Hell Boats (1970) is one of his early efforts. The movie is a World War II action flick set on the island of Malta, with Franciscus playing Lieutenant Commander Jeffords, an American leading a crew of British sailors in a daring raid on the Nazis. The time is 1942, and Rommel is on the march. Vice Admiral Ashurst (Moultrie Kelsall) calls Jeffords into his office to

Earl Scruggs, Anchorman 2, and Tenacious D [Friday Night Videos]

We still play music around here.
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Welcome to Friday Night Videos. It's been a interesting week with the passing of a legend and announcements dealing with the return of a few who think they are legends. On Wednesday the 28th, the world lost banjo-player extraordinaire Earl Scruggs. As a member of Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys and then forming the Foggy Mountain Boys with guitarist Lester Flatt, later referred to by their surnames, Scruggs helped popularized the bluegrass sound. While not the first to use the three-finger banjo-picking style, many considered him the best, like banjo-player Bela Fleck. In a piece about Scruggs for the New

Sinful Davey DVD Review: Pleasant But Hardly Memorable Adventure Comedy

John Huston's 1969 obscurity features John Hurt in his first leading role.
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By no means the worst John Huston picture you’ll ever see, but certainly nowhere near his top tier of work, 1969’s Sinful Davey is an intermittently amusing adventure comedy that never coalesces into anything truly memorable. Reportedly altered without Huston’s input after poor testing, the film doesn’t seem to possess the raw materials for a much better work anyway. Its greatest asset is a game John Hurt, starring here in his first leading role as Davey Haggart, a Scotsman desperate to live up to legacy of his highwayman father — or at least, the man he assumes is his father;

Todd & the Book of Pure Evil: The Complete First Season DVD Review: Join the Cult

Slackers team up to save the world from an evil book of spells.
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Just in time for tonight’s Second Season premiere on FEARnet, the complete First Season DVD box set is now available. Never heard of the show or FEARnet? Me either! However, thanks to a lingering fascination about how long-time Kevin Smith cohort Jason Mewes somehow manages to maintain a career in showbiz, I took the plunge into this high school horror comedy series. Todd is a slacker with dreams of heavy metal stardom, but no real talent to achieve them. When he crosses paths with a magical book at his high school, he intones a spell from its pages and becomes

Archer: The Complete Season Two Blu-ray Review: License to Laugh

Another frequently hysterical season of outrageous and offensive espionage adventures.
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In Season Two of FX's Archer, creator/executive producer Adam Reed and his team deliver another frequently hysterical season of outrageous and offensive espionage adventures for ISIS secret agent Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) and his cohorts, expanded to 13 episodes from the previous 10. Archer, his fellow agents, and his co-workers travel the world on different assignments. They go to the Louisiana bayous to capture an eco-terrorist, to Monaco during the Grand Prix so they can obtain a "special" tape on behalf of his promiscuous mother/ISIS head Malory (Jessica Walter), and he goes it alone to Russia in an attempt

Tom and Jerry In the Dog House DVD Review: Out with the New and In with the Old

Just the right blend of sadism and violence that every child should be brought up on.
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Tom and Jerry, the ever-battling animated cat and mouse duo, have been at odds with each other since 1940 and don’t show any signs of stopping. Odds are, both you and your parents grew up watching their antics, whether on the big or small screen. And thanks to Warner Brothers’ constant repackaging of the series, your children and likely your children’s children will continue to enjoy that grey cat and brown mouse beat the living hell out of each other for years to come. The latest effort that will eventually end up in the $5 bin at your local Target

The Adventures of Tintin (2011) is the Pick of the Week

Steven Spielberg's take on the classic comic looks brilliant.
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My wife is a nerdy Francophile - she adores everything French especially its arts. I didn't know it before we got married but both France and Belgium have a long and storied history of creating comics and graphic novels. Over there they actually come in these really lovely hardback books that are both more durable and larger than their American counterparts. But that's neither here nor there, what is there and now here is Tintin, perhaps the French-speaking world's greatest gift to the comic-book world. Created by Belgian artist Hergé in 1929, the series is one of the most popular

Beauty and the Beast (1946) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Jean Cocteau Creates Magic

Allow yourself to fall under its spell.
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Jean Cocteau, a renaissance man of the arts, appears to be the first filmmaker to bring Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's 18th Century fairy tale, La Belle et la Bête, to the silver screen. It's apropos that magic is at the root of the story, from the curse the Beast is under to the spell that comes over people falling in love, because Cocteau and his team work movie magic bringing this wonderous fantasy to life. After Cocteau requests a "childlike sympathy" through a note to the audience, he takes us into Belle's (Josette Day) world. She lives with her

The Visitor (1963) DVD Review: A Nuanced Look at Romance

Raro Video releases another from the overlooked Antonio Pietrangeli, although the transfer leaves something to be desired.
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An increasingly nuanced and complex portrayal of the things we do for security and love, Antonio Pietrangeli’s The Visitor (La Visita) is a small masterwork. Following up their superb release of Pietrangeli’s Adua and Her Friends, Raro Video presents another solid DVD from this criminally little known Italian filmmaker. Unfortunately, a non-anamorphic transfer makes it a little harder to recommend this disc. The film opens with government employee Pina (Sandra Milo) meeting bookstore clerk Adolfo (François Périer) at the train station in her small provincial town. The film sketches out a few bare details — this is their first meeting;

Pianomania DVD Review: Surprisingly Compelling Study of a Master Piano Technician

I will never watch or listen to a great pianist quite the same way again.
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When listening to master pianists such as Vladimer Horowitz or Keith Jarrett, I wonder if many people consider the actual instrument itself. I know I take it for granted that the piano will sound beautiful, and my attention is generally directed on the performance itself. The new documentary Pianomania shows us a different side of the process. In it, we are offered an interesting look at the construction and meticulous tuning a Steinway Grand Concert Piano undergoes to produce the “perfect” sound. Of course, the perfect sound is in the ear of the beholder, and this is where things get

Doctor Who: The Face of Evil DVD Review: Immensely Satisfying

Excellent writing and terrible special effects pay a house call.
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Tom Baker is the Doctor. At least, or my money he is. And while it might sound blasphemous to die-hards, I don't say that as a dyed-in-the-wool lifelong fan of the series or any type of expert on Time Lords or the TARDIS. As a matter of fact, reviewing this DVD is my first real exposure to the series and the character. Sure, I saw it as a kid, but most of the time I couldn't bring myself to watch it - it appeared as though it was filmed in my parent's backyard using cast-off equipment from a Soviet research

It Takes A Thief (1968) The Complete Series Review: Fans Will Find This Set "Terrific"

They don't want you to steal; they want you to buy it.
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Created by Ronald Kibbee, It Takes a Thief, which ran for three seasons on ABC from 1968-70, is an action-adventure series that blends Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief with the exploits of Ian Fleming's James Bond. Robert Wagner stars as Alexander Mundy, considered one of the greatest thieves in the world. However, when he is introduced in the series premiere, "A Thief is a Thief is a Thief," he is in prison, but won't be behind bars for long. Not because he has a escape plan, which he does, but because he is offered a release in exchange for

Vanya on 42nd Street Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Timeless Theatrical Experiment

Louis Malle’s final film captures a performance that was never intended to be public
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Seemingly random individuals are filmed roaming the streets of New York’s Broadway area before separately converging on a dilapidated theater. Inside, they converse casually with each other before launching into a performance for a handful of invited guests. At first, it’s not even clear that a play has started, as there’s no curtain, stage lighting, or even discernible shift from the casual conversation into scripted play. Thus begins director Louis Malle’s film of theater director Andre Gregory’s informal staging of David Mamet’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play, Uncle Vanya. Got all that? Gregory’s novel approach to the project was to

Classic Films Made After 1991 [Snob Seven]

Seven examples that classic films need no waiting period.
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Senty Greg Barbrick reviewed the book Reel Culture where author Mimi O'Connor chose "50 films you should know about." Her selections ranged from 1938-1991, because as she puts it, "Later movies are not 'classics' - yet." But what makes film "a classic"? Mule asks, "Is it when a movie has tricked into the collective subconscious? 'Cause I figure that's bound to take a while. Is it when it's richly referenced in other cultural contexts? When the images are quickly and readily recognizable when they pop up paraphrased and parodied ads and comics and popping up in The Simpsons?" A few

Tooth Fairy 2 Blu-ray Review: Dumbfounding in its Dumbness

Larry the Cable Guy in a pink leotard farting fairy dust — yes, that's EXACTLY what I wanted to see.
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Someday, when we reach that climactic moment in history wherein we hold “comedian” like Larry the Cable Guy responsible for their crimes against humanity (i.e. the amputation of an entire nation’s collective moral and intelligence quotient), they can sit before a jury of open-minded individuals who aren’t amused by homophobic and racial slurs and try to justify making stupid, unwanted, direct-to-videos movies like Tooth Fairy 2. Yes, folks, Larry the Cable Guy — a guy whose racist redneck humor has been tarnishing the overall American image for far too long — has been cast in yet another kiddie film: an

No Room for Rockstars Movie Review: A Rollercoaster Ride of Emotion

Chronicles the often grueling experience of a handful of Warped Tour performers.
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Written by Paige MacGregor There’s no room for rock stars on the Vans Warped Tour, the longest running annual touring music festival in North America and the subject of director Parris Patton’s recently released documentary, No Room for Rockstars: The Vans Warped Tour. Compiled from more than 300 hours of film shot during the tour’s two-month run in the summer of 2010, No Room for Rockstars chronicles the often grueling experience of a handful of Warped performers that occupy various positions on the spectrum between heartrending obscurity and explosive mainstream music success. Rife with depictions of both desperation and exuberance

I Melt with You Blu-ray Review: Unforeseeable and Unforgettable

A haunting masterpiece starring Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, and Christian McKay.
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Anyone who has ever experienced failure knows what it feels like. Sure, it’s relatively easy to get over a slight case of minor disappointment (like going to see an Adam Sandler movie and expecting something good), but what about those more disparaging events — you know, the ones that really get under your skin? I Melt with You focuses on that breakdown of life many individuals undergo at some point in life — though the way the movie’s protagonists handle their respective situations is not at all recommended by the Surgeon General, the Pope, or anyone with even an inkling

Robert B. Sherman, Songwriter for Disney and Others, Dies at 86

Final curtain call for composers of memorable film music.
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Robert Bernard Sherman (December 19, 1925 – March 5, 2012), half of one of the world’s most successful music-writing teams passed away in his home in London at the age of 86. While the exact details of his passing are not known, his son Jeffrey posted on his Facebook page that his father “went peacefully after months of truly valiantly fending off death.” Most people may not recognize him by name and realize what great musical contributions he and his brother Richard made, but there are very few people in the world who have not heard at least one composition

Wyatt Earp's Revenge DVD Review: Just Another Lousy Modern Western

A low-budget affair that really isn't worth your time.
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Can somebody please explain to me where the western genre went wrong? Even when I look at a really bad singing-cowboy movie from the early part of the 20th century, I still see them as being infinitely more dignified than their modern-day counterparts. Today’s major Hollywood projects — as decent as they occasionally are — are somewhat akin to old, worn-out gunfighters: bloated and sluggish, and whose efforts in life generally go by relatively unnoticed. And then there are those rampaging Made-for-TV and Direct-to-Video movies who roam the land like desperados evading the authorities near and far — movies like

The Muppets Promotes In-Home Release with The Hunger Games Spoof

Those silly Muppets are at it again.
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After a twelve-year absence from the silver screen, the Muppets made a triumphant return last year in Disney's The Muppets. Written by Jason Segel & Nick Stoller and directed by James Bobin, the film tells the story of Kermit and the gang reuniting in order to save the old theater they used to perform from a greedy oil tycoon. At the time of this writing, The Muppets has grossed over $150 million worldwide, resulted in Brit McKenzie's "Man or Muppet" winning the Academy Award for Best Song, and a sequel has been greenlit with Stoller and Bobin set to write

Columbus Circle Blu-ray Review: A Turkey of a Thriller from Kevin Pollak

I'm afraid Columbus just doesn't succeed in coming to a full circle.
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Over twenty years ago, I saw the great Kevin Pollak for the first time on cable TV doing a killer parody of Star Trek. While I'm not the most ardent admirer of anyone (outside of Arch Hall, Jr. or Grady Sutton, that is), I do tend to watch a movie the actor/comedian is in -- if I know he's in it, that is. In the case of Columbus Circle, Pollak has returned to one of his lesser-known trades: the penning of a serious story. Unfortunately, as much as I like Mr. Pollak's work, I'm afraid Columbus just doesn't succeed in

The Roots of Heaven Blu-ray Review: John Huston Has an Off-Day

A forgotten flick from the 20th Century Fox vaults finally finds a home.
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"They have to capture, kill, destroy everything -- all that's beautiful has to go, all that's free. Soon we'll be alone on this Earth with nothing else left to destroy but ourselves." Those words, uttered by Trevor Howard towards the beginning of The Roots of Heaven are just as true today than they were in 1958 -- as is the message of John Huston's adaptation of Romain Gary's novel, Les Racines du Ciel. Filmed on location in Chad (the very heart of Africa), the big-budgeted Twentieth Century Fox film from producer Darryl F. Zanuck focuses on an preservationist named Morel

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

HBO creates another winning series.
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I got about half-way through Game of Thrones when it first came out before tuning out. This was not long after my daughter was born so I was a bit distracted and so there were large chunks of the series that I wasn't quite grasping. Also my wife was on maternity leave and the gratuitous nudity, violence, and general HBO adultness was a bit much for her. I did like the show and vowed to return to it sometime later. In fact I went and bought the book, promptly devouring it. I'm normally the sort of person who prefers to
As it turned out, Vanya On 42nd Street (1994) was the final film completed by legendary director Louis Malle. Although the subject matter is different, the comparisons to his previous My Dinner With Andre (1981) are unavoidable. Both films seem to be almost documentary in nature. My Dinner With Andre presented a fascinating dinner conversation between actor Wallace Shawn and director Andre Gregory. The discussion is so wide-ranging it appears to be completely improvised. Vanya on 42nd Street is presented as an off-the-cuff recording of a rehearsal of the play, at the decaying New Amsterdam Theatre in Times Square. What

The Three Musketeers (2011) Blu-ray Review: Definitely Worth Watching

A Swashbuckling Surprise or The Very Best "Meh" that Cinema Has to Offer.
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Have you ever watched a film that was obviously intended to be seen in 3D on your regular old 2D television? Maybe it's just a scene or two that stands out, but sooner or later you're bound to notice a shot in which the actor appears to be painted into the scenery or perhaps stands poised to jump out of your screen but ultimately does nothing of the sort. Something just seems to be... missing. It doesn't look terrible, but it's quite clear that something is out of place. It isn't horribly fake looking, but you are well aware that

Jurassic Park Animatronic T-Rex Rehearsal [Friday Night Videos]

A wonderful bit of movie magic.
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Thanks for joining us for the debut of our new feature, "Friday Night Videos," where we plan to showcase interesting videos for your viewing pleasure, just as the late-night music video series did that ran on NBC from 1983 to 2002 whose name we are using. First up is this clip from the Stan Winston Studio Archives. The late Stan Winston is a Hollywood legend. He was a visual effects supervisor and makeup artist with an impressive list of movie titles on his resume. He was also the receipient of multiple Academy Award wins in the Visual Effects category leading

Justice League: Doom Blu-ray Review: Action Triumphs over Plot

Plenty of action, but not much in the way of story or character development.
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DC's latest animated movie pits its greatest superheroes against some of their most dangerous foes, meaning it's light on plot and character development but heavy on the Boom! Pow! Smash! It's based on a JLA comic book arc from 2000 called "Tower of Babel", a story which hinged on Batman's self-imposed role as a failsafe against the rest of his team should they ever turn evil. Unfortunately, his detailed plans on how to incapacitate the heroes fall into the hands of a criminal mastermind, in the film's case Vandal Savage, who in turn utilizes those plans to recruit a new

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