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Tribeca Film Festival 2015: Dirty Weekend: What Happens in Albuquerque Stays in Albuquerque

Matthew Broderick timidly takes a walk on the wild side in Neil LaBute's funny but ultimately flaccid satirical fable.
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Since his 1997 filmmaking debut with In the Company of Men, the rap on writer/director Neil LaBute is that he’s misogynistic - or to be less judgmental, that he’s rather too comfortable portraying misogyny and other forms of “bad” behavior in his various films and plays. These have come to include the frequently nasty but often compelling Your Friends & Neighbors, Nurse Betty, The Shape of Things, the remake of The Wicker Man, and most recently Dirty Weekend, which LaBute both wrote and directed. Certainly LaBute’s view of human nature is far from rosy, but judging by Dirty Weekend I’d

All at Sea [aka Barnacle Bill] DVD Review: Alec Guinness in Full (Multiple) Form

The Warner Archive Collection brings us the last genuine Ealing Comedy, which also features a young (and already bald) Donald Pleasance.
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Television shows notwithstanding, the bulk of British filmmaking - that is to say, actual feature length films made especially for the cinema - have been unfairly lumped into two categories by American audiences: long, drawn-out, boring dramas, and comedies that only made viewers long for a Benny Hill rerun. And the bulk of the unfairness lies within the world of British comedy, as most of us have only ever been subjected to latter-day Carry On entries and, well, Benny Hill reruns. In fact, there have been many excellent British comedies manufactured since World War II that, thankfully, didn't feature Rowan

One Foot in Heaven DVD Review: Ass-Kickers, Shit-Kickers, and Methodists

Fredric March stars as Minister William Spence in this forgotten (but enjoyable) biopic.
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Sometimes, the whole "forgive and forget" thing just doesn't cut it. One of the more novel aspects of the seven-kajillion European westerns made during the '60s and '70s involved men of the cloth - those who had devoted their lives to preaching the word of God - flat out seeking revenge vengeance after having been wronged by their fellow man. It's plausible - even possible - given the right set of circumstances. Likewise, in the classic 1974 Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles - the film that admirably spoofed the classic style of western film that would eventually (unknowingly) give birth

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: Grandma: Lily Tomlin's Tour de Force

Tomlin inhabits a tailor-made role in this funny, touching gem; strong cast saves the film from sentimentality and plot's too-convenient construction.
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It’s easy to forget just how great a film actress/screen presence Lily Tomlin can be. In part, she’s a victim of her own versatility and staying power as a multi-platform performer. She’s been making us both laugh and think on TV, stage and screen since the 1960s; she first impinged on my baby boomer consciousness on Laugh-In, iconic as Ernestine the telephone operator and six-year-old Edith Ann, blowing raspberries at the audience from her oversize rocking chair. She’s in almost every frame of Paul Weitz’s film Grandma in the tailor-made role of Elle, a minor poet still mourning the loss

Long Weekend (1978) Blu-ray Review: Nature Can Be a Real Mother

The '70s Australian eco-horror classic finally gets the treatment it deserves from Synapse Films.
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During the the last half of the '90s, I devoted the bulk of my meager existence to the video store I worked at. One day, the owner's wife brought in a lovely terrarium to sit on the large spacious corner of the checkout counter. It sat there for a long time, being admired by the occasional customer, such as an instance when a gentleman commented on its beauty and simplicity. "Yeah," I said, "now throw in a bunch of little humans and watch it go to shit." He nodded in agreement, and for good reason: we're bastards like that. No,

Solomon and Sheba (1959) Blu-ray Review: A Show with Everything (Including Yul Brynner)

A tale as old as recorded time. The script isn't that fresh, either.
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The year 1959. It was a time of luscious, extravagant widescreen productions - fueled by luscious, extravagant budgets beget by big men who were in-turn fueled by luscious, extravagant proportions of booze. As television lured audiences away from the cinemas in large droves, studios made sure to promise them the moon in exchange for their hard-earned money. And, as anyone who has ever been to the moon knows, the best way to deliver it is to not deliver it, and instead remind mankind that God really doesn't want him toying around out there in the vacuum of space like that.

Lenny (1974) Blu-ray Review: They Call Dustin Hoffman Bruce?

Yep, it's a happy kind of picture, kids. But at least you'll be able to see sultry Valerie Perrine in the buff!
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In this day and age, it seems highly laughable that the very sort of individuals we pay to openly laugh at would run afoul with the law for doing what the do best. I refer to stand-up comedians, of course, and not politicians - although, to a less intentional degree, we wind up doing the same with the latter. In fact, it was the very latter who made both the life and career of a comic in the 1960s become particularly troublesome, thus whipping up a tendentious media circus that finally wrapped up a good forty years later with a

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: The Overnight: Quasi-Porn Without the Money Shot

Innocents Taylor Schilling and Adam Scott are seduced, sort of, in this weird, funny but ultimately skin-deep comedy/drama.
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It’s been two days since I saw The Overnight and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. I can’t deny that it has its funny moments, mocking L.A.’s current state of hipster-speak and also effectively pressing the squirm-inducing buttons of sexual/social embarrassment comedy. Yet the film also seems to be trying for something a little deeper - but only trying. It has a titillating, almost soft-core porn vibe that distracts from, and in some cases negates, the relationship-testing drama that seems to be lurking at its core. The plot is simple enough. Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation)

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: A Courtship: Christian Mingle to the Max

Disappointed by dating? Documentary shows what happens when a young woman decides to let God play matchmaker.
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Is there an optimal, sure-fire way to find one’s absolutely perfect mate? The owners of dating websites imply that their combination of sophisticated algorithms and multiple choices provide a path to happily-ever-after. Tinder, Grindr, and their ilk aim lower (literally), promising not Mr. (or Ms.) Right but Mr. Right Now. If Star Trek’s “Amok Time” is to be believed, the Vulcans have pon farr, but even that’s not guaranteed to get Mr. Spock laid. For those who want to go really old school, there’s Christian courtship, as explored in Amy Kohn’s documentary A Courtship. She follows Kelly Boggus, an attractive

Tribeca Film Festival 2015: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: Slice of Sacred Cow, Anyone?

1970s comedy nexus National Lampoon fondly remembered in a documentary with humor and humanity.
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For the purposes of this review, let’s accept two axioms. 1.) Nostalgia is both seductive and inevitable, and 2.) Explaining what was once funny is a sad, sad chore. So by all rights Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon should be a bummer of the first order (as should this review, but hopefully you’ll keep reading anyway). Yet this talking-heads-plus-dirty-cartoons documentary, about the glory days and subsequent disintegration of the anarchic humor magazine, is better than it has any right to be. It often transcends its “Behind the Music” limitations to reveal the sources and inspirations

Batman vs. Robin Blu-ray Review: Another Dark and Dangerous Day in Gotham

DC's latest animated film is a dark but engaging adaptation of Batman's Court of Owls storyline.
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The title of DC’s latest animated film is catchy, but it’s also a bait and switch. Sure, Robin briefly toys with the idea of aligning himself against Batman, but he’s not the enemy here. That honor instead goes to Talon, the head assassin of the Court of Owls. The film also serves as a superior sequel to previous entry Son of Batman. If you haven’t kept up on recent Bat history, the Court of Owls was revealed in 2011 in an instant classic comic book run by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. The Court is a secret criminal

The Fog of War Movie Review: Hindsight is 20/20

"An unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates
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Robert S. McNamara served from 1961 to 1968 as the Secretary of Defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Errol Morris' documentary has been put together through interview sessions with McNamara, White House audiotapes, and archival footage. A large portion of this film examines his involvement in regards to both the Cuban Missile Crisis and The Vietnam War, two momentous foreign policy episodes that occurred during his tenure. McNamara’s earliest memory is of Armistice Day 1918 as the end of World War I was celebrated. It was called “the war to end all wars,” yet humans have

He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not DVD Review: A Movie So Nice You'll Watch It Twice

A fun take on both the romantic comedy and femme fatale genres and so cleverly constructed that I never minded its flaws.
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Halfway through He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not the film literally rewinds itself and starts at the beginning. Only this time we see things through the eyes of another character and the events take on a wildly different feel. I would warn you of spoilers here but that little plot device is literally on the back of the DVD cover. It's on the Amazon description too. And IMDB. Unless you come to this movie completely blind - catch it while flipping through the channels or something - you are going to know the trick. It's a clever trick at

The Big Shot / Swing Your Lady DVD Reviews: A Binary Blast of Bogey

The Warner Archive Collection delivers two entirely different sides of Humphrey Bogart, including the film he perhaps hated making the most.
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Just when you thought you had seen just about everything Humphrey Bogart ever made, along comes the Warner Archive Collection to set you straight, by pointing out that "just about everything" may only just scratch the surface. Once more, the MOD division of the studio that made Bogey a star back when the whole world was black-and-white has unburied a few rarities. Making their home video debuts here are two vastly different contributions to cinema starring Hollywood's Golden Age alpha bad boy himself, beginning with a serious crime/prison drama - something Bogart was quite good at. Then we have an

Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. Movie Review

A simple man asking simple questions with complex answers that he cannot understand.
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What happens when a simple man asks simple questions that require complex answers that he cannot understand? This is what Errol Morris explores in his 1999 documentary Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. During his childhood, Leuchter’s father worked in the Massachusetts correctional system as a transportation supervisor. Leuchter, Jr. would often go to work with his father and grew up seeing the humanity of the prisoners his father worked with and not just their criminality. He learned illegal skills from them like lock-picking and safe-cracking as well as other things he said helped him

Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn DVD Review: Lost in Translation

Tweens and fans of the Disney Channel will like seeing Jake T. Austin as Huckleberry Finn. But parents will have to hold out hope for a definitive take on the classic character.
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Kids will like the latest filmed version of the adventures of Mark Twain's classic characters, Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, but adults may be left wishing for more. The film features some of the most memorable moments from Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Tom having to paint a white picket fence, he and Huck attending their own funeral, his romance with Becky Thatcher, and their getting lost in the cave. While it is fun to see these scenes depicted, there is something missing, some sense of urgency or mischief that leaves everything feeling a bit flat. The lead actors

The Immigrant DVD Review: Finding Grace In the Worst of Times

If this is the American dream, why would anyone come here?
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Fleeing war torn Poland sisters Ewa (Marion Cotillard) and Magda (Angela Sarafyan) endure hardships and humiliations during the long boat ride to (hopefully) newfound freedom in America. It is not until later that we will get details of those horrors, but we catch a glimpse on Ellis Island when Magda is diagnosed with tuberculosis and Ewa is put into holding due to her “low morals.” Magda is put into the sick ward and Ewa is threatened with deportation until Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix) dashes in to claim and (hopefully) save her.Though Bruno is exceedingly kind at first and offers Ewa a

The Alphabet Murders (1965) DVD Review: Oh, My Aching Little Grey Cells!

Tony Randall makes for one of cinema's least memorable Hercule Poirots in this dire British spoof of the Agatha Christie novel.
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Along with the various adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the most celebrated - as well as imitated - fictional sleuth of the male gender in nearly every possible form of media is that of Agatha Christie's Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Brought to life time and time again by the famous face (and sometimes figure) of celebrated actors such as Peter Ustinov, Ian Holm, Orson Welles, Albert Finney, Alfred Molina, and - perhaps most famously - David Suchet, the unforgettable caricature of Poirot has been copied and infused into other fictional detectives, as well. Tony Shalhoub's obsessive-compulsive detective Monk was an excellent

Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) Blu-ray Review: A Magnificent Festering!

If you avoid certain NFL-oriented video games, does that mean you're Far from the Madden Crowd?
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Having never been a very literary-minded lad, I must confess that I did not devote quite as much of my time as a youth to that which was printed. Well, there were those issues of Psychotronic, European Trash Cinema, Filmfax, and, of course, my father's old Playboy and Penthouse magazines. I even buried my nose in the occasional movie reference item, such as several of the late great Phil Hardy's encyclopedias. Needless to say, Phil Hardy was about as close as I ever got to Thomas Hardy when it came to published materials. On film, I had seen the works

Odd Man Out Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Deft and Thrilling Storytelling

An extremely overlooked masterpiece of personal and spiritual redemption.
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There have been many films about personal and conflicted crisis of conscience, such as American Beauty (1999), The Apostle (1997), and Magnolia (1999). However, as wonderful as these films are, I think that director Carol Reed's unjustly overlooked masterpiece Odd Man Out, easily outdoes them all, especially because of its subtle and sensitive depiction of ordinary people caught up in a web of troubles. This was one of Reed's breakthrough films, not just for its deft and thrilling storytelling, but it was also one of the first to address the circumstances of terrorism in human terms. It was adapted for

Hans Crippleton: Talk To the Hans Movie Review: It's So Good, I Almost Hated It

It does to reality television what Napoleon Dynamite did to Idaho.
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Hans Crippleton: Talk to the Hans opens with an introduction by Barnaby Hunt (Andy Hankins) to Horror Hunts, Hunt's macabre-flavored show devoted to getting to know popular figures and personalities in the horror community. Think of it as VH1's Behind the Music, but for freak-show exhibits and haunted-house employees. Titular Hans Crippleton (Kevon Ward) and his inbred hillbilly family are the subjects of this installment, delving into the zombie curse has plagued the Crippletons, how "One Legged Sis" (Katie Bevard) earned her name/handicap, cousin Bumpkin's (Heath C. Heine) skill at making varieties of moonshine, and their Doctor's (Ryan Manley-Rohrer) ethically

Fast, Cheap & Out of Control Movie Review: Skewed Look at Human Behavior

Errol Morris's meditation on human behavior as seen from four men with very strange jobs.
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The title might throw a viewer off - 'Out of Control'. A documentary about things being out of control sounds like a warning, or a plea for sanity. Early on when the subjects of the doc were talking, I was waiting for the filmmaker's negative point of view to show itself, for the unspoken question of "what's wrong with them?" But it does not occur, because the goal in this film is not to hector, but to observe. Fast, Cheap & Out of Control profiles (without narration, just interviews and footage) four men in disparate, seemingly unrelated lines of work,

A Most Violent Year Blu-ray Review: A Most Underrated Film

One of 2014's best films hopes to discover new eyes on Blu.
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It still stings a bit knowing J.C. Chandor's A Most Violent Year was all but ignored by the Academy last year. After Chandor's win for his screenplay on the equally exemplary Margin Call, it seemed all but expected that the film would nab an award or two. Unfortunately, outside of securing the National Board of Review's distinction as Best Film of the Year, it sailed under the radar. Thankfully, its reputation, blistering performances, and multilayered narrative can be rectified with the fantastic Blu-ray out now. 1981, New York, the "most violent year" in the city's history. Enmeshed within it all

A Brief History of Time Criterion Collection Review: A Quirky, Idiosyncratic Tribute

A deep examination of a very complex, but legendary visionary
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Everyone knows the story of Stephen Hawking, the iconic physicist, cosmologist, author, and director of research. They also know that he struggles with a rare form of ALS that has afflicted him over many decades, but the coolest thing is that he doesn't let that unfortunate disease keep him doing his life's work. A Brief History of Time is director Errol Morris' quirky, idiosyncratic tribute to Hawking and his controversial ideas. In terms of Morris' other documentaries, including The Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven, and The Fog of War, Brief History ranks up there with those great works, while

To Sir, with Love (1967) Blu-ray Review: Twilight Time Goes to School

Sidney Poitier's students have a bad reputation. What they need is a little adult education.
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By today's standards, the classic movie motif of a determined teacher reaching a group of tough, underprivileged kids in an urban school is hardly anything new. Granted, it isn't commonly seen in cinematic outings as much as it used to be, as evidenced by viral Facebook videos of inner-city youths finding out firsthand the perils of applying a fully functional taser to an article of golden jewelry (or "bling", as I believe they call it). Indeed, were Sidney Poitier's Mark Thackeray - or even Mr. Wizard, for that matter - around in this day and age to teach kids a

Stormy Weather (1943) Blu-ray Review: What an Eye for Beauty This Storm Has!

Twilight Time brings an early precursor to the blaxploitation subgenre (seriously, it is!) to Blu-ray.
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Having essentially gone through the growing up part of my wasted youth engaging in the fine art of bad film, I have encountered many different exploitation genres. Some movies were made solely to sell the element of sex. Others devised to gather a crowd of a different kind of deviants altogether, who flocked in like sheep to see just how gruesome and gory things could get at the drive-in. But of all the notable subgenres that have hailed from the annals of exploitation filmmaking, there is perhaps no greater pleasure - or perhaps guiltier pleasure - to be had than

Wild (2014) Blu-ray Review: Embrace the Beauty

It is an inspiring, thought-provoking film, with every moment to be savored.
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The death of her mom Bobbi (Laura Dern), a divorce from her husband (Thomas Sadoski), and years of self-destructive choices cause Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) to rashly decide on a trek from the Mexican border to Canada. The audience sees flashbacks illustrating the painful memories that brought Cheryl to this drastic measure as she encounters people along the way that help her heal. Through the hike, which Strayed wrote about in her best-selling book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl is able to rediscover who she is, shed the past, and learn how to move

Gone with the Pope Blu-ray Review: Duke Mitchell's Unsung Swan Song Finds a Voice

The film that takes the expression "Years in the Making" to a whole new level finally gets a chance to be seen by all.
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If Massacre Mafia Style was Duke Mitchell's antithesis to Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather, the late Southern California Italian/American crooning personality's final (known) work, Gone with the Pope could very well be his own flip side to the entire world of filmmaking in general. Massacre Mafia Style was a delirious - and highly enjoyable - assault on the senses, made in the wake of the famous gangster picture, with plenty of oomph and random bits of lunacy thrown in for good measure. Gone with the Pope, on the other hand, is pretty much a feature-length film full of random bits

The Thin Blue Line Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Paradigm Shift

Errol Morris changes the documentary game in 102 minutes.
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Rarely do you watch a film and actually pinpoint where a genre actually changes. You watch Clerks or Pulp Fiction and see where the genre is being moved forward. You can see in Batman and then again in Iron Man where a genre is being reinvigorated. But in 1988, Errol Morris made The Thin Blue Line and the field of documentaries would radically change. I was surprised that it had taken this long for the Criterion Collection to release this important film on Blu-ray. Documentary. The definition for years was simply to "document reality". The popular documentaries were often nature

Gates of Heaven / Vernon, Florida Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Loving the Absurd

The characters Errol Morris speaks to in his first two films are living embodiments of the old maxim that truth is stranger than fiction.
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“I love the absurd,” says Errol Morris in one of the extras on the new Criterion Collection Blu-ray edition of Gates of Heaven (1978) / Vernon, Florida (1981). These are the first two films from the director of such notable documentaries as The Thin Blue Line (1988), A Brief History of Time (1991), and the Academy Award-winning The Fog of War: Eleven Lesson from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003), among others. To call the people he interviews in both of these pictures “absurd” is probably an understatement, but it will do. The characters Morris speaks to are true

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