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Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies: Alpine Valley, WI - 07/19/89 Review

Live from Wisconsin, it's the Grateful Dead!
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Hosted by Fathom Events and Rhino Entertainment at theaters across the country, the fifth annual Grateful Dead Meet-Up at the Movies presented the band's performance at Alpine Valley, Wisconsin on July 19, 1989, the third concert of a three-night stand. The line-up featured guitarist Jerry Garcia, drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann, bassist Phil Lesh, keyboardist Brent Mydland, and guitarist Bob Weir. They sounded in very fine form as one can tell from the bootleg available below. With the band celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, I would have thought interest in the band would be at a high point,

Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces DVD Review: Bugs and the Gang's Tunes are Looney Fun

A fun-filled musical romp through classic cartoons.
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Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces, a recent release from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, is a fun-filled musical romp through classic cartoons. In fact, while watching the eighteen shorts on the DVD, viewers may come to realize that their knowledge of classical and American popular music may have originated with Bugs Bunny and his looney friends. Many of these cartoons have been previously released on the Looney Tunes Golden Collections, so this compilation is of interest to the more casual collector, or folks who just want to focus on the music. Fan-favorite characters like Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Sylvester, and Porky Pig

Spellbound (2002) Movie Review: C-A-P-T-I-V-A-T-I-N-G

A wonderful change of pace to see the glorification of being smart in a society where so many are trying to dumb things down.
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The filmmakers of this Academy Award-nominated documentary present us with the stories of eight contestants participating in the 1999 Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. They are Harry, Angela, Ted, April, Neil, Nupur, Emily and Ashley. The aggregation we’re presented is a good sampling of the participants. They come from all parts of the nation, Southern California, the Midwest, and even Washington D.C. where the contest is held. Most are eighth-graders, the final year of eligibility, which affixes extra pressure since there can be no “better luck next year.” They are returning contestants yet to be the last speller standing and

Escape from East Berlin DVD Review: Don Murray Flees Communist Oppression!

The Warner Archive Collection digs up the fictionalized account of a famous digging out co-starring Colonel Klink himself.
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It's little more than a footnote to today's generation, who has an entire world of information at their fingertips, but uses their power to post shaming videos and offensive memes. But once upon a time, the Berlin Wall was the tangible equivalent of Net Neutrality, with the government on the side of East Germany taking the place of Internet censorship. Only much, much worse. From 1961 to 1989, even trying to get across to the West side of the wall without going through proper checkpoints and channels would get you a one-way ticket to the great gig in the sky

The Velvet Touch (1948) DVD Review: Shades of Columbo in the Shadow of Birdman

The Warner Archive Collection dusts off the charming, well-made film noir howcatchem starring Rosalind Russell and Sydney Greenstreet.
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Primarily, there are two types of murder mysteries. The first and foremost variety is that of the whodunit, wherein audiences are just as in the dark as to who committed whatever heinous crime is afoot, and attempt to match wits with the story's writers. Then there is that less-traveled road, that of the howcatchem drama, wherein we know who did it - because we always see them do it in the beginning of the tale - and then watch as a (usually) seasoned detective puts the pieces together. And, despite its seeming as simplistic as can be, this type of

Book Review: Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, A Life by William V. Madison

The unique comedic chameleon gets a bio that contextualizes her career but comes up short on the person behind the performer.
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There are a handful of uniquely talented performers for whom, once or twice or maybe three times in a career, the stars align into a magical combination of the absolutely right role in the absolutely right play, film or TV show. Everyone will have their own favorites: mine include Carroll O’Connor as Archie Bunker; Zero Mostel in The Producers; Angela Lansbury’s Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd; and maybe a dozen or so more. Madeline Kahn had the fortunate misfortune to hit this kind of bulls-eye an amazing four times within a span of just three years in the early 1970s,

Zombeavers DVD Review: Three Ladies Tending to Their Rotting Beavers

An admirable entry into the horror comedy genre.
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The Horror Comedy is a rather well explored genre at this point. From more goofy efforts like Young Frankenstein and Scary Movie to those that have fun with the blood and guts like Club Dread and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil to the hilariously terrible Sharknado, it's been done well enough times that it can be tricky throwing a new entry into the ring. Zombeavers goes for the absurd lampooning of horror tropes while still having plenty of yuck to splatter to and fro. Like so many movies of its ilk before it, we begin with three college girls going

The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965 Blu-ray Review

"I try my best/ to be just like I am/ but everybody wants you/ to be just like them." - "Maggie's Farm"
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Murray Lerner filmed the performances at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, ’64, and ’65, and from those concerts created the Academy Award-nominated documentary Festival! One of the musicians who appeared at all three events was Bob Dylan, who went from an up-and-coming folk singer to a “there he went and good riddance” singer according to the reaction of some audience members. Back in 2007, Lerner released a film that focused just on Dylan titled The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival. It serves as a great document of Dylan’s performances, though rather than

Murder in the First: The Complete First Season DVD Review: Boring in the Second

Steven Bochco seems to have forgotten what decade it is and made a TV show from the late '80s.
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Even as a kid I knew the name Steven Bochco. I was too young to watch most of his shows (though Doogie Howser, M.D. was a personal favorite), and I certainly didn’t care about TV producers at the time but I still knew his name. Dude was the superstar of television dramas in the '80s. With Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue he nearly single-handedly created the template for modern adult dramas on broadcast TV. In 1995, well ahead of its time, he created Murder One, which was one of the very first crime shows to solve one

Book Review: Bravest Warriors: Things to Doodle and Do!

Expand your mind and let your creativity run wild with games, puzzles, and inter-dimensional activities.
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I wasn’t really familiar with Emmy Award-winning creator Pendleton Ward’s Bravest Warriors when I requested a copy of Bravest Warriors: Things to Doodle and Do! (published by Viz Media’s Perfect Square imprint) for review. Sure, I knew Ward was the guy behind Adventure Time and I had a vague notion that Bravest Warriors was something sci-fi related; but neither I nor my children knew anything about the premise or the characters. What we did know, however, is that doodle books are awesome and Adventure Time is awesome so by extension, this doodle book was likely pretty awesome. And indeed, what

CPO Sharkey: The Complete Season 1 DVD Review: Should Fit Right in on Today's TV Landscape

A contradiction that may actually work in this day and age.
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Seven years had passed since Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) and his overbearing drill instructor Sergeant Carter (Frank Sutton) were marching across the television screens, and since then we had had five years of Archie Bunker drilling us full of his perspective. With NBC scrambling for a hit in 1976, they called upon comedy legend Don Rickles and CPO Sharkey was born. Not nearly as intimidating as Carter nor as ignorant as Bunker, Sharkey trained, counseled, and occasionally mothered, the diverse group of men in his charge. The men each represented a stereotype familiar to the audience of 1976 and perfectly

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night Movie Review: Vampires of Iran

Evocative and intriguing, and worth checking out.
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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night billed itself as the “first Iranian vampire Western.” It oversells itself as a Western, and, frankly, as Iranian. While the movie’s setting is, indeed, in Iran, and the film is in Persian, the film was shot in Southern California, made by the descendants of native Iranians. While this doesn’t have anything to do with the final quality of the film, it does puncture the mystique surrounding the film. However, if you set that aside, you can ask yourself other questions about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. Questions such as, “Did we

Cops: Wildest Chases DVD Review: A Good Representation of the Series

See what the bad boys (and girls) do when they come for them.
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Cops, the long-running documentary series, debuted March 11, 1989 on FOX where it ran for 25 seasons. It was an innovative reality TV program that brought viewers to the front lines of law enforcement, showing the daily activities of police offers in departments all across the country. There were even a few episodes that took place internationally. After being cancelled, the series was picked up by the cable channel Spike TV. Wildest Chases collects seven episodes from Seasons 26 and 27. There are three segments in a Cops episode, and for most of the them, the chases are limited to

Mad Max: Fury Road Movie Review: Everyone Who Enters Will Lose

The Max we have come to know and love is nowhere to be found.
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In this latest incarnation of Mad Max, director and co-writer (along with Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris) George Miller manages to take all the elements that made the first three films starring Mel Gibson as Max successful, and completely ignore them. This is unacceptable and someone needs to let George know. Dear George, We were certainly happy to hear that you were bringing back Max. We love him. We love how smart and resourceful he is. We appreciate his humor and humanity. We enjoy rooting for him. So you can imagine how disappointed we were to take a trip down

Society (1989) Blu-ray Review: Nice Buildup to the Impressively Grotesque

Smart and slightly cheesy, but you cannot unsee that finale.
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Having never seen it, I read the synopsis for 1989's Society and thought, "Yeah, that could be interesting." Then I saw the trailer and started to second guess it. Fortunately, the combination of '80s cheese, atmospheric tension, and a completely insane third act delivered on the promise of the premise. See, Bill Whitney (Billy Warlock) has never quite felt at home with his family or their social circle. He gets weird vibes from his sister Jenny (Patrice Jennings), conformist advice from his psychiatrist, and is always treated as lacking something by his parents. He sometimes catches glimpses of distortions or

Hot Pursuit (2015) Movie Review: In the Race for Worst Film of the Year

It will eventually be on DVD and television, but Hot Pursuit is going to be awful in any format.
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In this 87-minute outing, that seems much longer and ends as if the production company ran out of money, Reese Witherspoon plays the overzealous, by-the-book, underutilized and undersized police officer who is trying to protect the wife (Sofia Vergara) of a drug boss who was set to testify against the cartel until something went wrong, and now the two are on the lamb. With this much talent and your standard Odd Couple premise; this film should have been a Midnight Run in more ways than one. It’s not. The comedic gags are horribly contrived and the performances are one dimensional.

Book Review: Usagi Yojimbo: Senso by Stan Sakai

It contains the expected exquisiteness one associates with Sakai's work.
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After a two-year break from his long-running Usagi Yojimbo, time spent working on the Eisner-nominated limited series Ronin 47, Stan Sakai returned to it with the six-issue miniseries Usagi Yojimbo: Senso. Originally published from August 2014 through January 2015, Dark Horse has now collected them in one book. Sakai introduces the collection with a comic strip where he explains to his main character, the rabbit ronin Usagi, and the reader that Senso's premise deals with the questions "what if the Martians had sent scout ships 200 years before the events chronicled by [H.G.] Wells, and what if they had landed

Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts Blu-ray Combo Pack Review: A Forgettable Adventure

Might be best for younger kids who are mainly interested in watching lots of different heroes and villains fighting it out.
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Batman (voiced by Roger Craig Smith) isn’t the only hero in Gotham City. The Flash, Green Arrow, and NIghtwing join forces to back up the Caped Crusader when he finds himself up against the Animilitia, a group of super villains featuring Killer Croc, Cheetah, Man-Bat, and Silverback. But our heroes are up against more than just this group of animal-themed ne’er-do-wells. There’s also a group of mechanical animals, a wolf, a tiger, and a bat that always seem to thwart their efforts to vanquish the criminals. After several run-ins with the Animilitia only to have them escape from their grasp,

The Midnight Special Three-DVD Set Review: Relive Friday Night at Any Time

A great snapshot of a bygone era of entertainment.
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StarVista and Time Life have released another collection of clips of The Midnight Special, a late-night variety show that aired on NBC from 1972 to 1981, on three DVDs. To make things nice and confusing, there's no subtitle to help identify this set from other Midnight Special sets. As S. Edward Sousa described previously in his review of a six-disc release, which also had no subtitle, "The Midnight Special...was the Friday night follow-up to The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, packing a 90-minute time slot with the era's biggest names in rock, pop. and disco. Unlike its predecessors or competitors,

B.B. King: Live at Montreux 1993 Blu-ray Review: Let the Good Times Roll

B.B. reveals himself to be the consummate professional throughout the night.
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B.B. and his band had been frequent performers during the Montreux music festival’s long history. Over the course of 100 minutes, the viewer will see a master showman at work on a Blu-ray disc that is a worthy addition to any music library. Led by saxophonist Walter King, B.B.’s nephew, the band sounds good as they open the set with a few numbers on their own. Dressed in a turquoise dinner jacket with some type of Asian design on it, B.B. makes his entrance. He picks up his guitar Lucille and immediately makes her sing in the recognizable sweet, sweet

Broadchurch: The Complete Second Season DVD Review: Weak Story, Emotionally Wrecking

Season Two is more confined by its genres, but delivers the goods with its characters.
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When I heard they were making a second season of Broadchurch, I was both excited and a bit trepidatious. The first season was such a perfect little drama that I was afraid adding to it would ruin the entire thing. One of the central themes to season one was how this terrible crime deeply and tragically effected the small community of Broadchurch. My fear was that a second season would necessitate another murder occurring that would undermine the entire thing. This sort of thing happens all the time. A murder story is set in some unusual location so that we
Paul Shaffer is best known for being the bandleader on David Letterman’s late-night talk show, both at NBC and CBS, from February 1, 1982 to May 20, 2015. He demonstrates his great sense of humor through his bantering with Letterman and the songs chosen to play on guests. He also exudes a love of show business, past and present, and appearances by celebrities he has met are sprinkled all throughout the book. With the assistance of David Ritz, both Shaffer’s traits are on display and make for a very entertaining read. As Shaffer reveals his life to readers, his anecdotes

One Cut, One Life Movie Review: A Metaphor Only Goes So Far

A documentary that does not leave a lasting legacy for Ed Pincus.
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From an early age most people are taught not to speak ill of the dead, but is it okay to speak ill of the work of the dead? One Cut, One Life is the final collaboration between filmmakers Ed Pincus and Lucia Small before Ed’s death in November 2013. Known for his documentary films Diaries, Black Natchez, and Life and Other Anxieties, he was also the co-author of The Filmmaker’s Handbook which almost every film student I know has read and used in both the classroom and the field. Pincus had left filmmaking behind and taken up wholesale flower farming

The Stranger Collection DVD Review: The Man with No Shame Trilogy

The Warner Archive Collection dusts off a trio of strange spaghetti westerns starring the even stranger Tony Anthony.
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With the exception of those sick individuals who mimic the patterns of serial killers, most copycats can be incredibly amusing. If you've ever walked through a crowded urban marketplace to discover a suspiciously underpriced and slightly odd-looking designer handbag or watch - and you weren't dumb enough to buy whatever it was under the belief it was the real deal - you know what I mean. And how 'bout those epically awful Turkish Star Wars action figures? Or perhaps you recall that one glorious instance in recent history wherein China earnestly attempted to convince Americans of their superior Air Force

Retaliation Blu-ray review: Japanese Gangster Exploitation Mayhem

Another fine Arrow release of a late-'60s era Japanese exploitation picture.
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One of the joys of watching old exploitation movies like Retaliation is that the inexpensive filmmaking meant that a documentary approach had to be used to keep things cheap. Much of the movie is not on standing sets, but in real locations, with very shaky hand-held shots. The action can't be over-choreographed (no time, no money) so the action is stylistically obscured, moving too swiftly and brutally for any of it to be seen clearly. Having things move in and out of frame and be obscured in camera is significantly more arresting, to my mind, than the shaky cam fake-handheld

Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World Movie Review: Engaging, Affecting, Poignant

"He feels at home in places we would flee from and lives his life among the very things we fear."
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The late Hans Rudolf "Ruedi" Giger. Creator of the eponymous alien from Alien. Master of biomechanical macabre artwork. He seemed an odd fellow, and I've been a fan of his work for decades, so when I had a chance to preview the documentary Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World, I jumped at it. What I found within was astounding, inspiring, disturbing, and heartbreaking. The man had a collection of human skulls starting when he was a child. He would tie a string around one and drag it down the street behind him like a toy. Probably not the most typical behavior,

Bad Men of Tombstone DVD Review: The First of the Last of the Badmen

Barry Sullivan and Broderick Crawford team up for a fabulous, forgotten B western of high grade ore.
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Throughout both the cinematic and literary realms of the western, a common thread/title tends to appear: "the Last of the Badmen." In fact, there have been about a half a dozen movies and novels released during the last century or so to have used those very same words as their title, most of which were re-titlings of other projects, given a new name to help sell the goods. Interestingly, the first film to actually be based on a book called Last of the Badmen (as penned by Jay Monaghan) wound up receiving a new title for its theatrical release. And

The D Train Movie Review: Star-Struck Straight Guy Goes Off the Rails

Confusing, cringe-inducing Jack Black comedy offers moments of poignance and insight along with a few laughs.
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As sociologists, psychologists, and watchers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer well know, high school is a time of acute status anxiety. Your clique or cliques (jock, nerd, stoner, music/drama geek, brain, goth, emo, etc.) can almost totally define your standing within an invisible but powerful hierarchy. It can be horrible to be bullied and picked on, but it can be an even worse fate to simply be ignored. There are no flashbacks to high school days in the new Jack Black comedy The D Train, but its plot is powered by an impending 20th reunion, and for some people high

Cake Blu-ray Review: Learning to Live Again

A film about how grief stalls our lives and how we can learn to get unstuck
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Cake is the story of Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston), a woman living with chronic pain after a tragic accident. She is in the midst of a divorce from her husband Jason (Chris Messina), addicted to pain pills, and often suicidal. After Nina (Anna Kendrick), a member of her pain support group commits suicide, Claire begins to see her as a drug- and pain-induced hallucination. Although Claire and Nina were not close or involved with one another’s lives, Claire begins to learn what she can about Nina’s life and death. With the help of her housekeeper turned caretaker Silvana (Adriana Barraza),

Tabloid Movie Review: The Legend May Be as Insane as the Truth

Errol Morris looks at obsession, sex, and media in Tabloid.
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Director Errol Morris has interviewed serious subjects like Robert S. MacNamara and delved deep into harsh topics like the justice system and the history of time itself. So it can only look like he's run out of ideas with the frothy, utterly ridiculous documentary, Tabloid. And you'd be wrong in that summation because Tabloid takes a crazy story, told by someone who seems to define the world, and opens it up into an examination of gender, the media culture, and the power of religion. At time's hilarious and ridiculous, Tabloid sounds like a fun documentary, but indicates that we haven't

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