April 2012 Archives

Whenever a singer ventures over into the world of motion pictures, the results are usually dire. Let’s take Madonna’s career in film, for example. More importantly, let us examine how many truly awful movies she appeared in. From Shanghai Surprise to Swept Away, it seems that a majority of Madonna’s performances in front of the camera have wound up either receiving Razzie nominations, extreme backlash from critics and the public alike, or has gone down in history as one of the worst films of the year. Even her cameo in Die Another Day — arguably one of the dumbest James

George Harrison: Living in a Material World is the Pick of the Week

The quiet Beatles gets the Scorcese treatment.
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One of my dark, secret musical confessions is that I don't particularly like George Harrison's album All Things Must Pass. There are some great songs on it no doubt, but as a whole I find it overlong, tedious, and just a bit boring. I know that it is a critical darling of an album. I know that it is Harrison's triumph over the Beatles who kept his songwriting talents down to one or two songs an album, but I really wish he'd had some of their editing talents there. That being confessed George was a Beatle and for that I

Sergeant Deadhead DVD Review: All Involved Should Be Sent to Leavenworth

The quality of porn without the nudity and sex.
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Look, no one is going to confuse Frankie Avalon with an Academy Award-winning thespian, but he appeared in some fine films including The Alamo, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and of course Grease. The many beach-themed films may have been nothing more than brain candy, but Frankie and Annette made for an enjoyable Saturday night at the local drive-in. So how is it possible that our dear friend Mr. Avalon could have been surrounded by a supporting cast of comedic all-stars the likes of Eve Arden, Gale Gordon, Harvey Lembeck and the legendary Buster Keaton, and still ended

Book Review: Music on Film: Purple Rain by John Kenneth Muir

A behind-the-scenes look at one of the greatest music films ever made.
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Purple Rain was the first R-rated film I watched as a kid. It was also the first movie I ever got in trouble for watching. My parents didn't really know why I should be in trouble; they had not seen the film. It may have had to to with the fact that I was only six at the time and I was not ready for the purifying waters of Lake Minnetonka. But regardless of age, I knew Purple Rain was a great film, I just didn't know how great it was as the time. Author John Kenneth Muir's new book,

Immortals Blu-ray Review: Both a Must-See and Not Worth the Price of a Rental

Remember when the Blonde Ambition tour made a pitstop in Bosch's depiction of Hell?
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When I saw previews for Immortals last year, I was on the fence. Visually, it looked quite appealing but it felt like an obvious attempt to ride the coattails of the Clash of the Titans remake. I certainly didn’t expect a quality film, but figured I’d get some awesome special effects and cool scenery. Here we are, nearly six months later - I’ve finally had the chance to view the film and it completely lived up to my expectations. It also managed to put to rest an old saying I’ve been using for years. You see, Immortals has proven beyond

Tiny Furniture Criterion Collection DVD Review: Lena Dunham's Semi-Autobiographical Micro-Budget Mumblecore

Believe the hype: The acclaimed 2010 feature from the writer/director/star of HBO's "Girls" brings early Woody Allen to mind.
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Nearly every character in Tiny Furniture is annoying, irritating, exasperating - and that’s exactly what makes the film so funny and engaging. Lena Dunham’s movie is the epitome of Semi-Autobiographical Micro-Budget Mumblecore: made for the astonishing sum of $45,000, shot largely in her mother’s apartment, with her mother and sister playing her mother and sister, and Dunham most certainly playing a version of herself. But it’s mumblecore with a difference: it’s not only beautifully shot in widescreen HD (by Jody Lee Lipes), with each scene exquisitely composed and lighted; it is written and performed in a distinctive comic voice. And

Conan Volume 11: Road of Kings Trade Paperback Review: By Crom! Roy Thomas Delivers

A solidly crafted and accessible entry point for those unfamiliar with Robert E. Howard's most famous creation.
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The 11th volume in Dark Horse’s Conan series finds Robert E. Howard’s most famous creation commanding a crew of sailors as he pillages the Vilayet Sea. But when the pirate’s life proves unmanageable, Conan and his travelling companion Olivia set out on the fabled Road of Kings. Spurred onward by nocturnal visions of her father, Olivia wishes to return home. The journey is marked by treachery, thieves, monsters, slavery, and even a bit of royal intrigue. Pretty much your standard Conan story, right? Conan: Road of Kings collects the first six issues of Dark Horse’s series of the same name.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) Blu-ray Review: The Spy Who Went Out in the Cold

Alec Guinness fully inhabits the famed role of retired spy George Smiley in this 1979 BBC miniseries
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Decades before last year’s theatrical adaptation, John le Carre’s classic espionage novel was the basis for this BBC TV miniseries. While a common complaint about the movie version was the rushed and confusing pace caused by compressing a complex novel into a couple of hours, the miniseries format allows the story to unfold over a leisurely six-hour timeframe. The miniseries also boasts the inspired casting of Alec Guinness in his BAFTA-winning lead role as George Smiley, a great match for the material. There’s something inherently more convincing about a Cold War story filmed in the waning days of the actual

Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance Movie Review: The Politics of Dance from the Ground Up

This documentary chronicles the Joffrey Ballet’s risk-taking journey through the often unstable world of American dance.
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Joffrey: Mavericks of American Dance does what ballet so often fails to do: it draws laymen into a world perceived to be reserved solely for upper-crust patrons with a penchant for tutus and tiaras. That the Joffrey Ballet is the company to compel is fitting. In true startup fashion, it began as the underdog of American dance and remains the underdog of American dance, with no shortage of pioneering, persevering, and upsetting the status quo in between. It’s a company that champions diversity while taking great pride in homegrown talent. And since the middle of the last century, it has

Sesame Street: Singing with the Stars DVD Review: Sure to Capture the Hearts of Both Parents and Children

A star-studded songfest. And if you're not careful, you might just learn something.
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If there’s two things I love, it’s a good parody song and a celebrity guest appearance. And if there are three things I love, the last one would have to be Muppets. On May 1, 2012, Warner Home Video and Sesame Workshop bring these loves together like chocolate and peanut butter and… well, I guess honey or something equally sweet like that. No, it isn’t a lost recording of Weird Al Yankovic on Fantasy Island; it’s Singing with the Stars, a celebrity-filled songfest featuring musical numbers from the past decade or so of Sesame Street. R.E.M., Feist, Alicia Keys, Jason

Doctor Who: Carnival Of Monsters Special Edition DVD Review: Oh, The Places They'll Go

Trapped in an intergalactic peepshow with his companion, Jo, can the Doctor fight his way out before the monsters get them?
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In my past few reviews of the Doctor Who DVD releases, I've lamented the randomness of dropping into a story without benefit of some of the surrounding plot points. Most of the stories through the Sixties and Seventies were told in four-six episode arcs. The episode groupings tell full stories but there isn't usually any perspective or backstory of what happened previously. When given even a bit of an introduction, the stories have a much greater impact. The latest release from BBC is set up perfectly by last month's release of the story just preceding it. The April release, Doctor

The Organizer Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Relevant in Today's Political Climate

A worthwhile addition to any film lover’s collection.
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The Organizer, a 1963 film from Italian director Mario Monicelli and one of this month’s new releases from the Criterion Collection, takes place in Turin, Italy at the turn of the 20th century. It tells the tale of a group of factory workers, in the days before the proliferation of Italian labor unions, who attempt to organize themselves so that they can negotiate better working conditions for themselves. Life in the factory is miserable; the workers put in 14-hour days, punctuated only by 30 minutes at midday for lunch. One factory worker insists that his wife bring their baby by

Saving Grace (1986) DVD Review: An Unsentimental Look at True Religion

Robert M. Young's gently comedic drama about a reluctant pope avoids the pitfalls of many "inspirational" films.
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A gently comedic drama about finding religious fulfillment in action rather than ceremony, the little-seen 1986 film Saving Grace is testament to the intelligence of director Robert M. Young. There are a number of elements here that could easily push the film into territory too melodramatic or too artificial — there’s a glowering villain who holds sway over an entire village, a budding romance between a celibate man of the cloth and his beautiful landlady, the death of a child in a pivotal moment of action — but Young knows when to pull back, introducing these story threads without feeling

Hamlet (1996) Blu-ray Review: The Medium's The Thing That Makes This Version So Special

Well worth adding to the either the movie or book shelf.
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No film is more deserving of being encased within a book than Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, the first silver-screen adaptation to present Shakespeare's entire play, including portions from the Second Quarto and the First Folio. Branagh made every effort to create a spectacular production worthy of what is arguably the world's greatest play. He selected an international cast and shot it on 70mm, currently the last film to have done so in its entirety, to augment its grandeur. The story tells the tale of Hamlet (Branagh), Prince of Denmark, who not only has to deal with the recent death of his

The Organizer is the Pick of the Week

When in doubt, go with Criterion.
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A couple of weeks ago I talked about how, in choosing each week's pick, I pretend someone gives me a bunch of money and I have fun spending it. Most weeks that's an easy task. Some weeks, though, I think I'd save my money. There is absolutely nothing that really jumps out at me this week. Nothing that's been on my list of things I simply must buy, nor anything that looks so terribly intriguing that I'm ready to dish out my own hard-earned cash. I suppose if i was really given money each week I could find some things

The Merchant of Venice (2004) Movie Review: Pacino Wants a Pound of Flesh

Minor plot quibbles aside, an enjoyable adaptation.
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For those of you who didn’t read the Cliffs Notes in school, here’s a synopsis: Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) needs to raise some money in his efforts to woo Portia (Lynn Collins) of Belmont. His good friend, Antonio (Jeremy Irons), is short of cash because of investments in merchant ships; however, Antonio knows a Jewish moneylender, Shylock (Al Pacino), who should be able to help. Shylock is willing to lend three thousand ducats for three months with the stipulation that if Antonio defaults on the loan, Shylock gets to cut off a pound of flesh. Antonio agrees since the merchant ships

Richard III (1995) DVD Review: A Great Introduction to the Bard's Works

The dramatic change of setting to an alternative 1930s serves the story well.
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Based on Richard Eyre’s stage production, this retelling of Shakespeare’s Richard III is transported about 500 years forward into an alternative Britain of the 1930s. This dramatic change in setting works well and the fascist tendencies of the main character allows the production design to borrow infamous style ideas from the period. The film opens with the final battle in a civil war as the York family retakes the throne from Henry VI and reinstates King Edward IV (John Wood). However, Edward’s youngest brother, Richard (Ian McKellen), the Duke of Gloucester, is jealous and plots a takeover. He works his

Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites DVD Review: Vampires, Witches, and Werewolves, Oh My!

In nine more episodes from the classic series, the late Jonathan Frid proves that there's only one Barnabas Collins.
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The DVD for Dark Shadows: The Greatest Episodes Collection - Fan Favorites opens with original series star Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans/Josette DuPres) on camera, attempting to explain the unique charms of the classic (1966-1971) ABC-TV daytime serial about all things supernatural. Towards the end of her first wrap-around segment, the sound of a slamming door can clearly be heard off-camera. But does she stop? Of course she doesn’t. This is Dark Shadows, where tombstones shake, stagehands wander through crypts, actors forget their lines, and special effects are often anything but special. But these technical imperfections are part of why

The Convoy Collection DVD Review: Highway to Haul

Buckle up and prepare for three, forgotten grey market '70s movies, kids.
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A good exploitation filmmaker is quick to cash in on a craze. Unfortunately, most of the bad ones are, too. In the ‘70s, the industry of trucking had transformed into a phenomenon of epic proportions. Truck drivers were seen by the public as modern-day cowboys and outlaws (a far cry from the image we have stuck in our heads today every time we see another moronic Walmart driver overturn his rig) -- and there were numerous filmmakers across the nation (especially the lower states) anxious to make a buck off of America’s enthusiasm over the subject. Recently, the folks at

Favorite Soundtracks [Snob Seven]

"I got music. Who could ask for anything more?" - George Gershwin
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Music is one of the most amazing things our species has ever encountered and it is with us throughout our lives to varying degrees. Some devote their lives to playing it; for others, listening is a hobby that can reach obsessive extremes. People are united by anthems and divided by tastes. Music has been used as a force for good and seen as a force of evil. It brings lovers closer together and soothes a broken heart. Because music can evoke so many moods, it's no surprise it's an integral part of many movies. Before technology made movies as accessible

Reporting on The 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day 3 and 4

The festival concludes as does my coverage.
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My longest day of the festival appropriately started with The Longest Day (1962), a star-studded World War II action film featuring John Wayne, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Henry Fonda, and Robert Mitchum to name only a few. This is a film made for the big screen; it covers the D-Day Invasion from the U.S., British, French, and German perspectives. One of the more unique aspects is that the French and German characters speak in their native languages. It is slow at times, but powerful as well. Robert Osborne spoke with Robert Wagner after the screening and with the next film

The Best of Barnabas DVD Review: A Perfect Primer for "Dark Shadows" Vampire Virgins

The late, lamented Jonathan Frid lives forever in this delightful new collection of nine classic episodes
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Dark Shadows is the show that will not die. Like its lead character, vampire Barnabas Collins, the so called “supernatural soap opera” keeps rising from the grave in various incarnations, from the original 1966-1971 daytime drama to a syndicated revival of the classic episodes in the 1980s, to an NBC primetime reboot in the early '90s, to VHS and then DVD releases of every one of the 1,225 TV episodes over the last two decades, and finally, to a feature film from director Tim Burton, coming to U.S. theaters May 11. Sadly, original series star Jonathan Frid left us for

Logan's Run The Complete Series DVD Review: Its Life Was Also Cut Short

Little more than a memory and footnote in television history.
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In 1967 the novel Logan’s Run was written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson. In 1976 it was turned into a film starring Michael York and Jenny Agutter in the two main roles. In 1977 the television series was born and ran for an entire season of 14 episodes. The year is 2319 and the world has been ravaged by nuclear war. The land is poisoned; civilization has been destroyed. Life no longer exists on the planet, except for a small refuge of humans living in the great domed city. The people in the city live a life

Pal Joey Blu-ray Review: Joey's Definitely a Pal of Mine

Rita, Frankie, and Kim shine — as does Twilight Time's presentation.
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"Some guys have a system with horses, and I got a system with dames. It's a snap. You treat a dame like a lady, and you treat a lady like a dame." —Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra) on the subject of romance. You know you’re a popular fellow when you’re being thrown onto a train by the police and told to never come back. And that’s just what happens to Joey Evans (Frank Sinatra) at the opening of the 1957 romantic musical drama, Pal Joey, after he has been caught cavorting with a young lady from the respectable side of the

Pokemon the Movie: Black & White DVD Review: One of the Better Entries in the Franchise

Needs more Team Rocket instead of two versions of the same thing.
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Ash Ketchum is still on his long journey to become the world’s greatest Pokémon trainer. During his many travels he has experienced many great adventures, made a lot of friends, and found all kinds of wondrous Pokémon. And this time is no different. Ash and his two friends, Simon and Iris, have reached the city of Eindoak. The city is accentuated by a giant castle in the shape of a giant sword. Legend has it that a mighty king moved the Sword of the Vale to stop the feud between his two sons. One had the power of Zekrom, the

Late Spring Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Moving Look at a Family's Season of Change

Director Yasujiro Ozu paints a heartbreaking portrait of a modern woman trapped by tradition
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Writer/director Yasujiro Ozu is widely regarded as one of the most important Japanese directors of all time, generally second only to Akira Kurosawa, and yet widely different in style. While Kurosawa’s most popular films have exciting, memorable plots, Ozu is a master of the quiet moments of family dynamics. That approach is on full display in this winning character study of a family in transition, both due to the aftereffects of World War II and the time for the adult daughter to leave the nest. While firmly rooted in the clash between traditional Japanese culture and the modern era of

In Their Own Words DVD Review: Entertaining and Informative

Archival footage from the Beeb is just one of the many highlights.
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The Athena Company’s series of DVDs provide some of the most entertaining and educational programs I have seen. Their recent two-DVD set In Their Own Words is no exception. Each one-hour installment of this six-episode series focuses on some of the most fascinating minds of the 20th century. The title is quite literal, as many of the featured participants are represented by archival footage from the BBC. This is the first time any of these shows have been available in the United States, and each one offers a unique take on the human condition. A definite highlight is the only

Bob's Burgers The Complete 1st Season DVD Review: An Acquired Taste

Bob's Burgers has grown on me, much like the green mold on Bob's restaurant's walls.
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Imagine you've just entered a new restaurant, sat down and ordered your food, and then you start to notice the general griminess of the place, the mold on the walls, the shouting coming from the kitchen, and you start to wonder if you really made the best decision coming in here. That's how I initially felt about Bob's Burgers. This is, in fact, the second review I'm writing for the first season of this animated sitcom. The first you won't get to read, because I changed my mind. I started writing that initial, now-aborted review after watching several episodes of

Shazzan: The Complete Series DVD Review: Rather Repetitive

If Mystery Science Theater ever featured cartoons, Shazzan would be a perfect pick.
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I never really got into Shazzan as a kid. This is probably due in large part to the fact that the show aired from 1967-69, nearly a decade before I was even born. And maybe it had to do with the fact that unlike many other classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons, reruns weren’t continuously on the air for decades after the show was first broadcast. But they can’t all be The Flintstones, can they? Anyway, the real reason I never gave Shazzan a fair shake, despite the fact that the show always seemed to have at least a somewhat loyal fan base,

Thirst (2009) Movie Review: Korean Gothic Horror And Blood Disease

Korean Gothic horror underpinned by psychological drama and literary Naturalism
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Thirst (2009) directed by Chan-wook Park is something as oddly inspired as a Korean vampire movie loosely based on Zola's Thérèse Raquin. Kang-ho Song plays the priest Sang-hyeon. In a misguided attempt to help cure a wasting disease called the Emmanuel Virus, the priest offers himself up to a medical experiment that involves letting himself get infected and then treated. It turns out that one of the procedures actually does cure him, but it leaves him with a strange and disturbing side effect - a thirst for blood. As long as he keeps drinking the ruby-red he's fine. The second

Pharaoh's Curse (1957) DVD Review: Silly, Dumb, and Very Enjoyable

MGM dives into their own tombs to excavate an '50s horror obscurity.
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It’s too bad that Joe Flaherty’s epic SCTV character Count Floyd never hosted an actual bona fide version of “Monster Chiller Horror Theater” on late-night weekend television. Were he to have done so, you could bet your bottom dollar that the 1957 mummy flick Pharaoh’s Curse would have shown up on his roster of campy forgotten movies. And, just like he did on SCTV, he probably would have been found administering a much-needed facepalm to his mug during the cutaway sequences — only to snap out of it and quickly try to reassure the bored kids at home that something

Reporting on The 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival: Day 1 and 2

Taking in the classics.
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The 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival returned to Hollywood from April 12th through April 15th for their third edition. I attended last year and after my wonderful limited two-day experience, I was determined to attend everyday this year and get to as many films as possible. I managed to see 15 films in slightly over 72 hours and had a blast in the process. My festival got off to a great start at a pre-party tweet-up at The Roosevelt Hotel. Strong drinks were flowing and great appetizers were offered. Aside from being able to indulge in these treats, it was

Frozen Planet Blu-ray Review: BBC Hits the Poles

The singular focus on polar nature wears thin, but the HD photography is spellbinding.
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Following the huge worldwide success of their previous epic nature projects Planet Earth and Life, the BBC cameramen don their parkas this time around for animal adventures in the Northern and Southern polar regions. Like their predecessors, Frozen Planet features top-notch HD photography, sweeping orchestral soundtracks, and the soothing narration of BBC stalwart Sir David Attenborough, combining to provide the best possible home-video experience of our natural wonders. If you’ve seen the other shows, you’ll know exactly what to expect here and won’t be disappointed, although the limiting choice of subject matter and leisurely seven-episode length does eventually create some

Young, Violent, Dangerous DVD Review: A Healthy Dose of Italian Cheese

Shootings galore, nudity en masse, and common sense in short supply.
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There’s nothing worse than a tale of good boys gone bad. Well, actually, there are: in the case of the 1976 Italian crime thriller Young, Violent, Dangerous, the movie itself is far worse than the message of uncertainty it was meant to deliver to begin with. No, I take that back — it’s clear from the get-go that Romolo Guerrieri’s exploitative tale of three fellers on a killing spree was most certainly not supposed to carry any sort of significance whatsoever. I’m fairly certain of that, at least. Nevertheless, the movie succeeds in what it sets out to do: live

The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride DVD Review: Simba Can't Be Proud of This

It simply does not live up to the original on many levels.
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Released straight to video in 1998, the new Blu-Ray combo pack hit store shelves on Mar. 6th 2012. Expectations should never run high for a film not deemed worthy of theatrical release, and though this did play in European theatres, there is not enough here to warrant a trip to the local movie house. Simba and Nala have a daughter, Kiara (Neve Campbell) who, like her father wants to explore. She does and runs into Kovu (Jason Marsden) who is growing up within the pride still loyal to Scar and living in the badlands. That’s all you really need to

Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo 2012: Something for Everyone

Sorry Wizard World, your reign is over.
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April 13-15, 2012 marked the third annual Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo.  Held at McCormick Place in Chicago, this year’s C2E2 featured props and costumes from the Captain America movie; a variety of publishers including Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse; local celebrity John Cusack, Star Wars’ own Anthony Daniels; and The Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan and Steven Yeun.  And honestly, folks, that’s barely scratching the surface of the event.  Let’s just cut to the chase: Sorry Wizard World, your reign is over.  With attendance skyrocketing and a variety of well-respected creators in attendance, it’s safe to say that C2E2

Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous DVD Review: Joss Whedon Earns His Marvel Stripes

Whedon proves to be a master in Marvel's mutant universe, but the motion effects are subpar in the early stages.
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Before helming this summer’s Marvel team-up blockbuster film The Avengers, Joss Whedon earned his Marvel Comics bona fides in the pages of Astonishing X-Men. Abetted by John Cassaday’s stunning artwork, Whedon crafted 25 issues of mostly legendary tales that are slowly being converted into motion comic DVDs. This new DVD comprises Whedon’s second six-issue story arc, subtitled Dangerous, with each issue acting as the basis for a roughly 10-minute episode. When last we left the Astonishing crew, they were dealing with the unexpected rebirth of longtime teammate Colossus, along with the emergence of a supposed “mutant cure” that offered the

Swamp Water Blu-ray Review: Jean Renoir Comes to America

A larger-than-life, captivating feature starring Walter Brennan and Dana Andrews.
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The legendary Okefenokee Swamp of Georgia has always presented its share of challenges. For some, it’s a difficulty in pronouncing it correctly. For others, the test of time has been the spelling of it. It is for those who live around it, however, that the Okefenokee Swamp presents its greatest dare: survival — something the local yokels of Jean Renoir’s Swamp Water (aka The Man Who Came Back) can easily attest to. Countless men have wandered into the foreboding, murky bog only to never be seen again. And, as Renoir’s tale (his first in America) of life, love, death and

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol is the Pick of the Week

I can't say no to Tom Cruise.
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Say what you will about Tom Cruise's personal life, his weird religion, or his lack of real acting chops, but the man has made some terrific adventure movies. His Mission: Impossible reboots have consistently gotten better with each sequel, and though I haven't yet seen it Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, the fourth in the series has gotten some darn good buzz, including from Sentry Max Naylor. Add in director Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Iron Giant, Ratatouille) and you've got the makings of a pick of the week. This go-round finds Cruise's Ethan Hunt and his band of IMF agents

Book Review: Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives Volume 5

Not the best Flash Gordon collection, but worthy of its place on a collector's bookshelf.
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Dark Horse continues to re-release pretty much every Flash Gordon comic ever published with Flash Gordon Comic Book Archives Volume 5. Released in December of 2011, this hardcover collection includes Whitman Comics’ Flash Gordon #28-#37 (originally published 1980-1982) and features the three-part adaptation of the 1980 cult classic film with stunning artwork by legendary Flash Gordon artist Al Williamson. Beginning with the Filmation animated series and the previously mentioned 1980 film, I’ve been a fan of Flash Gordon for nearly my entire life. I’ve enjoyed the original Alex Raymond strips as well as later works by brilliant artists such as

Picnic (1955) Blu-ray Review: William Inge's Play Comes to Life

Okay, so maybe it's no picnic, but it is damn good.
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Sometimes, all it takes is for one stranger to come-a-roamin’ into town for everything and everyone to change. In the case of 1955’s Picnic — the first and by far the best adaptation of William Inge’s famous stage play — that stranger is a man by the name of Hal Carter (portrayed by the one and only William Holden). Once upon a time, Hal was the quintessential embodiment of the all-American boy: a college football hero who had a way with the ladies, and the potential to become a moving picture star to boot. Alas, those days are behind him

Book Review: Music on Film - Purple Rain by John Kenneth Muir

Go inside the filming of one of the best rock movies ever made.
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To this day, Prince remains an enigma. He grants few interviews, once changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, and strangely declared that the Internet was “over.” Imagine being director Albert Magnoli, who in 1984 was hired to showcase this then-budding star on the silver screen. How could he stay true to Prince's Minneapolis roots and androgynous yet explicitly sexual image, but at the same time have the movie “play in Peoria”? The new book Music on Film: Purple Rain details the making of the classic flick, widely considered one of the best rock films ever made. Author John Kenneth

Torchwood: Miracle Day Blu-ray Review: A Welcome Return with an Unsatisfying Ending

Familiar faces caught up in a messy storyline.
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The last time we saw Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) was at the end of the Torchwood: Children of Earth saga. He and the rest of Torchwood had just saved the planet against alien invaders who planned on taking the Earth’s children for their own nefarious needs. But there was a price to be paid to save the world, and that price would come at the expense of our hero who was forced to sacrifice his own grandson in order to save all of the others. This price not only horrified the remaining members of Torchwood, but it took a

The Darkest Hour (2011) Blu-ray Review: Attack of the Imperceptible Intruders

Dumb? Yes. But it has an enjoyable 1950s drive-in movie feel to it.
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“I’m trying to keep my freak-out on the inside!” —Sean (Emile Hirsch), as he and his pals are attacked by invisible aliens (!). Anyone who has read even a sample of my reviews on contemporary cinema knows that modern movies usually make me roll my eyes towards the heavens and shout “Why, oh, why?” But then, every once in a while, somebody makes a stupid B-movie that appeals to that side of me that truly adores low-budget films. And, while The Darkest Hour certainly isn’t a great achievement by any means — in fact, calling it an “achievement” is really

Domain (2009) DVD Review: A Magnetic Lead Performance Saves a Muddled Script

Béatrice Dalle's unraveling performance is the centerpiece of Patric Chiha's 2009 film.
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Béatrice Dalle’s extraordinary ability to sensually descend into madness will be forever enshrined in Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue, a film that wouldn’t have one-tenth the magnetic pull without her. Dalle’s performance is similarly the centerpiece of Patric Chiha’s Domain, a moody, uneven relationship study — and the similarities don’t end there. The film revolves around the relationship of Dalle’s Nadia, a brilliant but unstable mathematician, and her 17-year-old nephew Pierre (a nicely natural Isaïe Sultan). Pierre is just beginning to embrace his homosexuality, and his increasingly devoted relationship to Nadia never dips into overtly inappropriate territory. But the incestuous intimations

Contest: War Horse Blu-ray Combo Pack

Will Joey come into your life?
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Cinema Sentries and the Walt Disney Company have teamed up to give one lucky reader a Blu-ray Combo Pack of Steven Spielberg's War Horse, which is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD, and as a Digital Download. The title character is a horse named Joey who drives the narrative as he passes through the lives of a number of characters during the early 20th century. According to Sentry Senora Bicho, " Seeing how the horse impacts each character is one of the best parts of the film. The best and worst are brought out in each of them, along with their humanity

Contest: Shame (2011) Blu-ray Combo Pack

No reason to be embarrassed about entering.
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Cinema Sentries and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment have teamed up to give one lucky reader a Blu-ray Combo Pack of Steve McQueen's Shame. Available on April 17, Shame stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a 30-something New Yorker whose life as a sexual addict grows more complicated when his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) shows up unannounced. According to Sentry Will McKinley, "Shame is the work of a remarkably assured filmmaker. Throughout the film McQueen relies on long takes and single set-ups that might engender cowardly second-guessing in a less-confident director. He shoots a few crucial scenes entirely from behind, denying

Wizards 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review: Artwork Trumps Story

Recommend for animation fans.
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Wizards found writer/director Ralph Bakshi expanding his scope as an artist. His previous films were social satires set on the urban streets of 1970s New York. With Wizards, he blended science fiction and fantasy for a story set over two million years into the future after a nuclear holocaust devastated life on Earth. The film is quite interesting as it challenges expectations for an animated film. During the prologue, the narrator (an uncredited Susan Tyrrell) reveals that over those many millennia most of humanity's ancestors became mutants while a small number evolved into creatures such as fairies, elves, and dwarves.

Pray for Death DVD Review: Recalls the Heyday of the Ninja

Sho Kosugi redefines revenge in this martial arts classic!
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Pray for Death stars Shô Kosugi as Akira Saito, a humble businessman living in Tokyo and moving up the ranks in his field. His family life is a happy one, with loving sons and a beautiful and dedicated wife. When the family has an opportunity to relocate to America to start a new life and a new, family-owned business, Saito is hesitant: he’s heard how violent American cities can be. But his wife, whose father was American, urges Akira to take a chance on a new life as it presents a chance for their sons to learn about the other

A Night to Remember (1958) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Stunning Presentation for a Genuine Classic

I've never paid to see James Cameron's film, but I'd gladly pay ten-times over to see this one again and again.
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“I don’t think the Board of Trade regulations visualized this situation.” —Capt. Edward John Smith (Laurence Naismith), upon learning his ship is going to sink. Well, since I know there is absolutely no chance whatsoever (during anyone’s lifetime) that James Cameron will apologize to the entire population of the whole planet for making a certain overrated and pretentious moving picture nightmare about the Titanic (I see no need to mention the name of the film outright), I suppose someone else will have to do it for him And, while I assume no responsibility for his actions — I don’t even

Book Review: Frank Sinatra: A Life in Pictures, Edited by Yann-Brice Dherbier

Old Blue Eyes' story is retold through photographs ranging from childhood to his elder years.
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Say the name “Frank Sinatra,” and one conjures images of more than simply a superb singer and occasional actor. Over time he has become an icon, a larger-than-life image of machismo, elegance, and just plain coolness. Often sporting his fedora and a trench coat draped casually over one shoulder, Sinatra's voice and style live on, even 14 years after his death. While numerous tomes have attempted to capture his life on the page, few have concentrated on photographs rather than simply text. Frank Sinatra: A Life in Pictures, edited by Yann-Brice Dherbier, opts to take this different approach by telling

Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass DVD Review: Occasionally Impressive but Ultimately Uneven and Boring

There always seemed to either be something missing or an abundance of effects and tricks intended to cover up a sparse plot.
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Hellacious Acres: The Case of John Glass tells the story of John Glass, a man who awakens from a cryogenic slumber an unspecified number of years after not only World War III, but also an electromagnetic storm which wiped out all historical records, and an alien invasion or two. Actually, I don’t think they specify how many Alien Wars there were, but since they made reference to “Alien War I”, we’re assuming there were at least two. Earth has been ravaged by these wars and John Glass is given the task of kickstarting a new life for humanity by establishing

Surviving Progress Movie Review: A Wake-Up Call About the Progress Trap

Could be aptly re-titled Surviving Greed.
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“We tend to delude ourselves that these changes always result in improvements from the human point of view” - Ronald Wright. Surviving Progress is an examination of the impact of the constant advances made by humans since we first started rubbing sticks together to create fire. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese and Mark Achbar, this documentary is based on the bestseller A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright. It is co-directed and co-written by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks. The bulk of the film is narrated by Wright. His words are pitted against images of crowded cities, robotically-aided surgery,

Nightmares (1980) DVD Review: Australia's Contribution to the Slasher/Giallo Genres

"Mama, mama, I keep having Nightmares. Mama, mama, mama, am I ill?"
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They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And, while they may be correct in their assumption, they obviously never saw Australia’s 1980 contribution to the slasher/giallo genre, Nightmares. Originally released in the U.S. under the title Stage Fright, this Ozploitation thriller begins with an adolescent lass named Cathy, who causes the demise of her mother (and her mum’s lover) after causing an automobile accident — and (inadvertently) finishing the job by rubbing her matriarch’s throat upon the shattered windshield. In the hospital, Cathy again embraces her dark side — slashing her own father’s face with broken glass.

The Iron Lady is the Pick of the Week

She's so tough she beat out a classic French film for the pick.
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I've been doing these Pick of the Week posts for awhile now and so I've developed a sort-of rule system to go with my decision making. I like to pretend that at first someone gives me just enough money to purchase one DVD a week. That purchase then becomes my pick, and then I imagine that person relents and gives me more money to buy anything that sounds interesting. With that first purchase I think about what would I like to have in my collection. Sometimes it's an upgrade to something I might already own - a high-definition transfer, or

The Lion King 1 1/2 Special Edition Combo Pack Review: One Movie, Less Than 1/2 a Story

Overly contrived scenes with little payoff from a humor perspective.
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The Lion King 1 1/2 Special Edition Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack hit store shelves on March 6th and was advertised as a retelling of Simba's quest to follow his father’s legacy by Timon and Pumba. What was actually delivered to the stores is more of a 75-minute long shiny toy to hold up in front of children in hopes of distracting them for a while. The film contains fun songs, colorful scenes, and plenty of cute animals, but there is nothing that remotely resembles a story. The production certainly benefits from incredible vocal talent including Nathan Lane, Ernie Sabella, Julie Kavner,

We Bought a Zoo Blu-ray Review: A Whole Hell of a Lot Better Than Buying the Farm

A feel-good family flick that tries to make you feel a lot more than you need to. In fact, it gets downright pushy at times.
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As soon as you see the words “From the Director of Jerry Maguire” on the cover of We Bought a Zoo, you have to wonder if you’re about to step into a great big heaping pile of animal muck. Thankfully, though, such is not the case here. Well, not entirely, that is. The story here — based on a memoir of the same name by former British columnist Benjamin Mee — brings us the account of a widowed American father of two (Matt Damon), who packs up his children and belongings one day and moves into a charming, spacious new

Smiley's People DVD Review: The Spy Who Came in from Retirement

Just when he thought he was out, they pulled him back in.
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Alec Guinness returned to the role of George Smiley in 1982's BBC miniseries Smiley's People. Based on the book of the same name, it concluded le Carré's Karla trilogy that began with Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Though there was no TV adaptation of the middle book, The Honourable Schoolboy, the BBC created a radio version in 1983. As they did with the previous series, Acorn Media has released Smiley's People in a three-disc DVD set. Madame Ostovoka (Eileen Atkins) is an exiled Soviet woman living in France due to her past indiscretions. She is approached by a Soviet agent with

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Blu-ray Review: Both Extremely and Incredibly Shameless

Stephen Daldry's maudlin sensibility meets Jonathan Safran Foer's irrepressible preciousness.
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The Film I’m not sure if it’s the nauseating amount of precious quirk or the hammering lack of subtlety that’s to blame for the agony that is Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, 2011’s black sheep of the Best Picture contest. Taken on their own, either one would probably be enough to torpedo the most well-intentioned of movies; combined together here, they’re an unstoppable force of shamelessness. With a script by Eric Roth based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel of the same name (not terribly well-received, but it’s hard to imagine it’s worse than the film), Extremely Loud & Incredibly

The Passion of the Christ Movie Review: Too Much Good Friday Not Enough Easter Sunday

The film presented more questions than answers.
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Mel Gibson's The Passion of The Christ is about the last 12 hours in the life of Jesus Christ (Jim Caviezel). The film begins as Judas Iscariot (Luca Lionello), one of the Twelve Apostles betrays Jesus. Accused of heresy and crimes, Jesus is beaten and then taken to Pontius Pilate (Hristo Shopov). Pilate is presented no evidence of any crimes committed and says any decision has to be made by King Herod (Luca De Dominicis). When Herod sees no reason for punishment either, Jesus is taken back to Pilate. The crowds grow angry and restless, so Pilate orders Jesus to

The War Room Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Men Behind The Man From Hope

This two-disc DVD of the 1992 campaign documentary is a delightful trip down memory lane.
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It takes a lot to out-charisma Bill Clinton, but legendary political strategist James Carville does it in The War Room, the gripping documentary about the 1992 presidential campaign, now on DVD from Criterion. Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s seminal documentary tells the story of the “brilliant, aggressive, unconventional” (in the candidate’s words) political geniuses that took a pathologically foot-shooting good ole boy from the Arkansas governor’s mansion and put him in the White House. If you enjoy Sunday morning TV, you’ll recognize most of the major players here: campaign director Carville, a CNN contributor; communications director George Stephanopolous, current host
Having recently dipped my toe into the world of Doctor Who with The Face of Evil and The Robots of Death , I determined that it was time to delve into the exploits of earlier Doctors. As such, my next choice was Story No. 59, The Dæmons, featuring Jon Pertwee, the Doctor from 1970-1974. It certainly didn't hurt that this also happened to be the only Doctor Who DVD assigned to me, prohibiting any actual choice in the matter. Nevertheless, my lot had been cast and the hands of fate had determined that I would follow The Doctor, his companion

Hornets' Nest DVD Review: Not Really Recommended, But Good for a Gander

Rock Hudson leads a group of orphaned Italian kids into war against the Nazis.
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As anyone that can even vaguely recollect their years in school can attest to, kids can be cruel. And Rock Hudson finds out the hard way in Hornets’ Nest, an all-but-forgotten Euro war flick originally released in 1970. Sporting his infamous ‘70s moustache for (presumably) the first time, the Rock stars here as the sole survivor of a doomed American unit dropped behind Nazi lines in Italy during World War II. Nearly killed along with all of his comrades after parachuting in (during footage that was excised from the final cut, and only survives in the trailer), Hudson is saved

To Kill a Mockingbird 50th Anniversary Blu-ray Review: Do the Right Thing

"What kinda man are you?" - Bob Ewell
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Based on Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name, To Kill a Mockingbird is a highly acclaimed film that puts the spotlight on a small Southern town where a few men stand up for what is right and just. Jean Louise "Scout" Finch is the narrator who looks back to when she was a six-year-old child (Mary Badham) during the summer of 1932 when her widowed father, lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck in an Oscar-winning performance) was assigned and defended Tom Robertson, (Brock Peter) an African American man charged with raping Mayella Ewell (Collin Wilcox). Scout, her brother

David Lean Directs Noel Coward Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Four Distinctly British Films From a Fruitful Partnership

David Lean's first four films are presented here in glorious Blu-ray editions sourced from the 2008 BFI restorations.
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Before his name became synonymous with the widescreen epic, David Lean began his directorial career working closely with playwright Noël Coward to create a series of distinctly British films about ordinary people surrounded by or recovering from war. Collected in a fantastic box set by the Criterion Collection, these four films feature stunning transfers created by using the BFI’s 2008 restorations and showcase Lean’s deft ability to pair striking images with Coward’s sparkling wit. The films included are: In Which We Serve (1942)Before becoming a director, Lean worked primarily in the film business as an editor, and just before helming

Contest: Dressing Marilyn

You can spend more than a week with Marilyn if you win.
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Cinema Sentries and Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group have teamed up to award one lucky reader Andrew Hansford’s Dressing Marilyn: How a Hollywood Icon Was Styled by William Travilla. Available for sale on April 3, Dressing Marilyn looks at the relationship between the iconic star and award-winning costume designer William Travilla, which was both professional and personal. Sentry Michelle Prather's review reveals that "in addition to the Travilla Archive’s collection of dresses, patterns, sketches, personal diaries, and tapes, Hansford relies on newspaper articles and television interviews to round out this colorful account of how one rather guarded, limelight-weary but

Contest: Purple Rain from the Music on Film Series

Go crazy and enter.
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Cinema Sentries and Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group have teamed up to give three lucky readers Limelight Editions' Purple Rain: Music on Film by John Kenneth Muir.  Available for sale on April 10, Purple Rain: Music on Film looks at Prince's film debut in the 1984 cult classic that finds him playing a musician known as The Kid who gets romatically involved with Apollonia. The film contains extended concert sequences and its soundtrack album was a critcally accliamed best-seller. Author Muir wrote, "Just past the quarter-century mark, director Albert Magnoli’s Purple Rain (1984) continues to fascinate and intrigue global audiences.  An

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) Blu-ray Review: A Scintillating Espionage Thriller

Paranoia, insecurity and Cold War espionage, all wrapped up in a beautifully drab 1970's package.
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Based on John le Carré’s 1974 spy novel of the same name, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was released in 2011 to much acclaim, eventually earning three Academy Award nominations. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, the film weaves a tangled web of intrigue, deceit, dirty-dealing, treachery, smoke and mirrors, and a variety of other similar words and phrases we looked up in our thesaurus. In the end, it all adds up to a scintillating espionage thriller featuring an incredible cast of characters and performances. During the height of the Cold War, a British Intelligence agent is sent to Hungary on a mission

Book Review: Film Noir: The Directors by Alain Silver and James Ursini

Essays on 30 of the most influential film noir directors of all time.
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Film critics Alain Silver and James Ursini are responsible for the brilliant four-volume Film Noir Reader series. Their latest outing is titled Film Noir: The Directors, and is a compilation of essays from over two dozen of their peers, focusing on 30 key directors from the classic period of film noir. The book includes short biographies, lists of their major noir films, and analysis of the films themselves. The classic noir period is generally considered to be between the years 1941 and 1958. The date is somewhat fungible however, as the movement basically grew organically out of various sources. For

Dazed and Confused Blu-ray Review: An Authentic, Evocative Slice of Life

"You just gotta keep on livin', man. L-I-V-I-N." - Wooderson
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Set on the last day of school on May 28, 1976 in Austin, Texas, writer/director Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused is an authentic, evocative slice of life. It will be recognizable to many who grew up during that era and familiar to those who didn't. Similar to George Lucas' American Graffiti, which focused on a group of young people one summer night in Modesto, CA circa 1962, Dazed and Confused is a coming-of-age story for a number of kids dealing with the expectations life has thrust upon them after completing another year of school. Once the final bell rings, everyone

War Horse Combo Pack Review: Worth Watching Though Poorly Paced

At times, I was more interested in watching Spielberg talk about "War Horse" rather than watching it.
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While the title indicates that this is a war movie, it is much deeper than that. It is a film about courage, friendship, and loyalty among other concepts. Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is a young British man helping his parents with their farm. One day while in the fields he witnesses the birth of a thoroughbred horse and becomes enamored as he watches it grow. Later on Albert's father, Ted (Peter Mullan), gets caught up in a competition with his landlord at an auction and winds up buying the horse. Rose (Emily Watson), Albert's mother, is extremely upset since Ted was

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: The End

The 50th festival in retrospect.
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Another festival has come and gone. Over 200 films were screened (I personally attended 67). Over $20,000 in prizes were awarded. The festival isn't about the numbers, though, or the money. It's about the experience, the atmosphere, the audience. I've seen hundreds of movies on my couch and in the theater, but the ones I remember most vividly are the ones I had fun watching (midnight screenings of The Room come to mind), and I had a blast watching everything at the 50th Ann Arbor Film Festival. Nothing can compare to sitting in a small screening room late at night,

Sinners and Saints (2010) Movie Review: What Was I Thinking?

You're supposed to be laughing with the sinners instead of crying with the saints, not just laughing at the plot line.
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You know how sometimes you look at the specs for a movie and it has some decent actors in it and it’s set in a pretty good locale and seems to have a somewhat trite, if still viable plot and you think to yourself ”well, this could be an okay way to spend an hour and a half” only to find that once you start watching you begin to question what the heck you were thinking? Yeah, this is one of those. The thing that drew me to this particular movie was actually New Orleans. Well, that and the fact

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is the Pick of the Week

The too-cute fuzzy red guy gets his own movie.
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Since nearly the moment she was born my daughter has loved Sesame Street. She's entranced by it. For the longest time I could turn on any other show or movie and she wouldn't pay any attention to it at all. She'd keep playing with her toys or study the ceiling or do whatever else babies do which often meant get fussy and cry. Especially if I got out of eyesight. Which meant I had to stay close. All the time. Except when Sesame Street came on. For about an hour a day (and sometimes more as it streams on Netflix)

Ann Arbor Film Festival 2012: Palaces of Pity and THX 1138

Films that don't quite fit anywhere else.
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Palaces of Pity Consisting of beautifully disjointed scenes, and echoing The Fountain, Palaces of Pity exists cinematically in a very odd place - somewhere between imagination, dream, and memory. The whole film feels odd, too. Every shot is beautiful, the story is magnificent, the sound design and pacing are exceptional, but it feels incomplete. Two teenage cousins, Margerida and Ana, live with their dying grandmother as she decides which one to leave her estate to. The film begins to explore the relationships between the cousins, their grandmother, and their circle of friends. Palaces of Pity has the air of memory

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