Recently by Brandie Ashe

Jubal Criterion Collection DVD Review: An Underrated Western Gem

A true stand-out in the genre.
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Delmer Daves’ 1956 film Jubal is sometimes dismissed as simply a cowboy retelling of William Shakespeare’s Othello. But while the film shares some similarities with the Bard’s great tragedy, the film ultimately stands as its own gripping story. This underrated gem of a Western boasts a strong, talented cast that brings an intriguing and well-constructed plot to life. Glenn Ford plays the title character, Jubal Troop, a wandering cowpoke who spends his life moving from place to place. Shep Horgan (Ernest Borgnine) happens upon an exhausted Ford and takes him back to his sprawling ranch. Shep offers Jubal a job,

Orphan Black Season One DVD Review: Send in the Clones

I cannot recommend Orphan Black highly enough.
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I wish I had seen this show without knowing the premise--a premise that, with the title of this post, I admittedly have now ruined for anyone who does not yet know the treatise behind Orphan Black, the new BBC series starring Tatiana Maslany as a young woman drawn into a far-reaching mystery. Of course, the DVD release of season one already spoils the mystery in its tagline: "A clone is never alone." Still, it would have been interesting to watch this intriguing show from the start not knowing the twist that lay ahead--even if that twist is the crux of

Elmo the Musical DVD Review: Not Recommended for Adult Consumption

President Elmo. Our long national nightmare is over.
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The perennially popular little red monster from Sesame Street is at it again. Warner Bros. has brought Elmo, arguably Sesame's most iconic character (yes, even more so than the giant yellow bird), back to DVD on the recent release Elmo the Musical. And let me just warn parents of young children who may be tempted to purchase this video for their children: yes, they will probably learn something by watching, or at the very least be entertained for an hour--but it may very well be at the expense of your sanity. Calling this Elmo the Musical is a little misleading,

Shakespeare: The King's Man DVD Review: The Political Education of Willy Shakes

A fantastic resource as well as an enjoyable examination of the inimitable Bard of Avon.
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Arguably the single most influential figure in the history of English literature, William Shakespeare produced over three dozen plays in his lifetime. Many of these works hold permanent positions in the Western canon, inspiring untold creative minds in the centuries since the playwright’s death in 1616. The plays which Shakespeare produced during the Elizabethan age—roughly the first half of his storied career—range from light comedies (The Taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream) to visceral drama (Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar) to haunting tragedy (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet). But the most predominant dramatic form in which Shakespeare indulges in these
The early 1940s in Hollywood were the unofficial Age of Sturges. Writer/director/producer/general wunderkind Preston Sturges made eight films in the period between 1940 and 1943, and several of these pictures—chiefly among them Sullivan’s Travels, The Lady Eve (both 1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (filmed in 1942, released in 1944)—have become veritable comedy classics in the ensuing decades. Sturges’ best films are the essence of screwball comedy, boasting a mixture of sharp wit, ferociously funny dialogue, improbable physical hijinks, and sophisticated humor that makes each picture truly, uniquely hilarious. When Sturges parted ways with

Apartment for Peggy DVD Review: Good Film, Atrocious Presentation

A sweet comedy/drama from director George Seaton is marred by a flawed DVD print.
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In 1947, writer/director George Seaton teamed up with the delightful character actor Edmund Gwenn to shoot an indelible Christmas classic, Miracle on 34th Street. The film resulted in Academy Awards for both men, with Seaton taking home the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Gwenn securing the Best Supporting Actor trophy for his portrayal of the “real” Santa Claus. In the wake of that film’s massive critical and commercial success, Seaton and Gwenn worked together again a year later on Apartment for Peggy, a charming, heartfelt comedy/drama costarring William Holden and a luminous Jeanne Crain. College philosophy professor Henry Barnes

Wife, Husband and Friend DVD Review: Hitting All the Flat Notes

A middling attempt at screwball comedy falls flat despite a typically winning performance from star Loretta Young.
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The year 1939 is generally recognized as a golden one in Hollywood; indeed, some critics have gone so far as to label 1939 the “best” year in the history of film. Some of the most notable motion pictures released during that storied year include such cinematic gems as Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, Ninotchka, The Women, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips, among many, many others. But while these undoubtedly important films remain influential staples in the cinematic diet of most movie lovers, it is worth noting that of the more than five

Ministry of Fear Criterion Collection DVD Review: (Don't) Let Them Eat Cake

A compelling, if somewhat convoluted, noir thriller from director Fritz Lang receives the Criterion treatment in this recent DVD release.
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Stephen Neale, a handsome young Brit, stares at a clock on the wall, counting down the final minute before he is to be released from an asylum. After a warning from a physician to avoid future involvement with the police, the man heads to the train station and buys a ticket for London. While waiting for the train, he wanders into a nearby fair, where he is coerced by an older woman to visit the palm reader’s booth. His initial amusement turns to discomfort when the fortuneteller remarks upon his past love life. Telling her to “forget the past—just tell

Tom and Jerry: Pint-Sized Pals DVD Review: With a Little Help from Their Little Friends

A mixed-bag of classic Tom and Jerry shorts and less interesting recent creations, this collection serves as a solid, child-friendly introduction to the famous cat-and-mouse duo.
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By virtue of their respective species, Tom Cat and Jerry Mouse are sworn enemies. Tom chases Jerry, and Jerry outwits Tom; sometimes, it's the other way around, as Jerry ends up on the receiving end of Tom's revenge. They give each other hell and, on the rare occasion, team up to thwart a common foe. It's a simple conceit, and one that has the potential to run very dry, very quickly. Yet over the course of eighteen years and more than one hundred cartoons, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were able to do the seemingly impossible: keep the Tom and

Africa (2013) DVD Review: Insert Preferred Toto Reference Here

You'll bless the rains (and the deserts, and the oceans, and the jungles) down in Africa while watching this gorgeous nature documentary.
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Since the 2006 release of the popular documentary series Planet Earth, the BBC has produced a number of similarly-themed documentaries focusing in greater detail on various regions of the planet. Marked by extraordinary camerawork and unprecedented access to the most far-reaching corners of the world, these documentaries are justly lauded for exposing viewers to the intriguing inner workings of the natural world. The latest release in the series, simply titled Africa, is the result of nearly four years of filming in some of the remotest areas of what host David Attenborough calls "the world's greatest wilderness," and reveals new insight

She-Wolves: England's Early Queens DVD Review: Goddesses and Monsters

An interesting reexamination of the earliest English queens and their vilified roles as the "she-wolves" of history.
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In the history of the modern world, challenging male authority has always been something of a hit-or-miss venture for women. Those who tried rarely succeeded; those who succeeded were labeled traitors to societal expectation. With few exceptions, the development of the western world was guided largely by men, who sought and maintained power through demonstrations of their might and male authority. For those few women who did manage to find themselves within the reach of power, casting aside "womanly virtue" to don the mantle of a king generally came at a price. In the recent BBC documentary series She-Wolves: England's

Agatha Christie's Poirot and Marple Fan Favorites Collection DVD Review: Super Tales of Super Sleuths

It serves as an excellent introduction to the author's two most popular creations: Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple.
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In her 85 years on this earth, celebrated novelist Agatha Christie published just about as many books, and even today, more than three decades after her death, she remains the best-selling novelist of all time. Over the years, Christie presented readers with two of the most indelible crime-solving characters in all of literature: the brilliant and painfully exact Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and the intelligent and observant British spinster Miss Jane Marple. The various adventures of Poirot and Marple have been brought to the screen several times in the past, most notably in the four Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford

Doctor Zhivago (2002) DVD Review: Decidedly Less than Epic

This television miniseries adaptation ultimately suffers in comparison to both the original novel and David Lean’s 1965 film version.
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Upon its controversial publication in 1957, Dr. Zhivago—an epic tale of love and betrayal set amidst the turbulent Russian conflicts of the early twentieth century—virtually begged for a film adaptation. British director David Lean complied in 1965 with a lush, ambitious version that won five Academy Awards, including one for its iconic musical score (indeed, the film’s main leitmotif, “Lara’s Theme,” remains an immensely popular tune that rivals “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for its prevalent use in music boxes). The Oscar-winning screenplay by Robert Bolt plays quite loosely with the novel, borrowing and discarding some characters and plotlines almost at

Hanna-Barbera and Rankin-Bass Christmas Specials DVD Review: A Belated Animated Christmas

Not as well-known as their more ubiquitous counterparts, they are (with two exceptions) entertaining additions to your yearly holiday viewing.
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Yeah, yeah—Christmas is over, the holidays have passed once again, and it’s too late (or too early, depending upon how you look at it) to start thinking about them once again. But, hey—there’s never a bad time of year for a great Christmas cartoon, right? Right …? Christmas specials are an indelible part of the holiday entertainment for many families. Over the years, gathering around the television to watch Charlie Brown learn about the true meaning of Christmas, or to witness the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes with love, or to sympathize with Rudolph as all of the other reindeer

The Flying House Project DVD Review: A Travesty of Animated Proportions

Animator Bill Plympton's ill-conceived "revitalization" of a Winsor McCay classic is a slap in the face to McCay's legacy.
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Early 20th-century artist and cartoonist Winsor McCay is not exactly a household name, at least in comparison to other stalwarts of early animation like Walt Disney (though this fall’s Google Doodle honoring McCay's pioneering comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland went a long way towards familiarizing him with modern audiences). But there is no denying his groundbreaking influence in the development of the animated genre. In fact, McCay, whose work predated Disney's by more than a decade, practically invented the concept of animated film, spending thousands of hours producing, directing, and drawing every frame of his cartoons by hand, usually

The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show Complete Animated Series Review: Put On a Smile and Stay for a While

These animated recreations of Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip range from hilarious to predictable.
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In my review of Happiness is…Peanuts: Go Snoopy Go! in October, I mentioned that the disc included an episode of the 1980s series The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show, containing short segments revolving around the abridged adventures of various characters. Though this episode was admittedly somewhat bland, it was nonetheless the highlight of that particular DVD (as the featured presentation, It’s Spring Training, Charlie Brown, was relatively underwhelming in comparison). Although several other episodes of The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show have also been released previously on DVD as special features on the various Happiness is…Peanuts compilations, Warner Archive has

Bugs Bunny Superstar DVD Review: More Cartoon Than Documentary

An entertaining (if less than exhaustive) look back at the pioneering figures of Golden Age Warner Bros. animation.
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By the mid-1970s, the Warner Bros. animation studio was long past its golden days, having peaked in the 1950s under the auspices of such Warner animation stalwarts as Chuck Jones and Bob McKimson. The animation department was shuttered in 1969, when the studio ceased producing short subjects as a cost-saving measure. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their pals found their way to new generations of children through frequent television airings, but many of the original cartoons were edited or censored due to violent or insensitive content, and the production of new material was infrequent, at best. Enter Larry Jackson, a

Red Dust DVD Review: A Hot Time in Old Indochina

The newly-remastered, long-anticipated release of this Clark Gable-Jean Harlow Pre-Code classic was worth the wait.
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Dennis Carson (Clark Gable) has plenty of trouble: the rubber trees on his plantation in Indochina (modern Vietnam) are not producing, he is dissatisfied with the lackluster performance of his workers, and monsoons threaten to shutter the entire operation. And if that's not enough, a wayward prostitute, Vantine (Jean Harlow), has taken refuge from the law on his grounds. The gruff and demanding Carson is nonetheless charmed by Vantine and gradually gives in to a romantic relationship with her; but while Vantine falls in love with Carson, he looks at their time together as nothing more than a “business transaction.”

Sesame Street: Old School Volume 3 DVD Review: Reliving the Sunny Days of Childhood

The newest batch of episodes, taken from 1979-1984, offers adult fans a selection of memorable episodes that are equally fun and bittersweet.
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Since 1969, the inarguable standard-bearer for educational entertainment for children has been Sesame Street. Winner of 143 Emmy Awards over the course of its four-decade-plus run, the show and its iconic characters have become invaluable denizens of the pop culture landscape, not just in the United States, but around the world. The show’s combination of humor and educational curriculum has long made it a valuable means of introducing young children to basic concepts like the alphabet and counting, while also teaching real-life lessons about the importance of sharing, compassion for others, and tolerance. In 2006, Sesame Workshop released some of

Happiness is...Peanuts: Go Snoopy Go! DVD Review: It's Mildly Entertaining, Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown and the gang are ready to play ball, but this collection of Peanuts shorts is not all fun and games.
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Charlie Brown, tirelessly optimistic manager of a baseball team that has never won a single game, is determined to finally have a successful season. But there are a few obstacles standing in his way: outfielder Lucy can’t catch a ball to save her life (not that the rest of the team is any better); “calisthenics expert” Snoopy would rather sleep on the bench; little Leland, who wants to move up to the “big leagues” from the t-ball circuit, keeps getting smacked in the head; and Charlie Brown himself is not exactly the best pitcher. On top of that, their team

Brave New World with Stephen Hawking DVD Review: The Hunt for Humanity's Next Great Leap Forward

Hawking and a cadre of brilliant scientific minds examine the modern technological breakthroughs that promise a "brave new world" for humankind.
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Making science both fun and educational can be a difficult task. If the “techie talk” falls into that dry wasteland of too much monotonous detail, you risk losing a portion of the audience to boredom or confusion. Conversely, gloss over some of that detail, and the nuances of the discussion are lost, resulting in an incomplete understanding of the subject matter that shortchanges the viewer. To be successful, the presentation must be balanced—sometimes delicately—between informative and entertaining, without coming across as overly didactic. Thankfully, Brave New World, 2011’s successful BBC documentary series hosted by legendary physicist Stephen Hawking, maintains that

Joseph Campbell: Mythos The Complete Series DVD Review: "The One Great Story of Mankind"

His lecture series is a fascinating examination of the evolution of mythology and the archetypes that define us.
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If you’ve ever taken a literature course, it stands to reason that the name "Joseph Campbell" may have popped up in discussions of the books and poems you likely studied. A longtime professor at Sarah Lawrence College and world-renowned expert on comparative mythology and religion, Campbell’s remarkable body of work traces the evolution of myths throughout the course of civilization and elucidates the patterns and symbology associated with them—basic elements, or archetypes, that transcend the limits of culture, recurring in all forms of human expression from literature to art to various modes of storytelling, since the dawn of man. His

Battle Circus DVD Review: Bogart Plays M*A*S*H Doctor

A gritty, realistic portrait of the Korean War that is ultimately weakened by the inclusion of an ineffective romantic subplot.
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The description for 1953’s Battle Circus, now available on made-to-order DVD through the Warner Archive, labels the film as a sort of spiritual predecessor of the popular 1970s/80s television show M*A*S*H (as well as the 1970 theatrical film that inspired it). In many ways, this is an apt comparison—both take place in medical units (Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals) during the Korean War, both inject a healthy dose of levity to offset the darkness of the setting, and neither the film nor the TV show relent from occasionally depicting the horrors associated with battlefield medicine. And it does not end there;

The Foxes of Harrow DVD Review: Drags to the Point of Tedium

A potentially compelling story is lost to the whims of the Production Code and the weight of its failed attempts at grandeur.
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When it comes to antebellum costume pictures, the inarguable standard-bearers are Jezebel (1938) and Gone With the Wind (1939), both of which center around strong, independent women bucking the norms of an oppressive Southern society. These films are marked by gorgeous set pieces, brilliant staging, strong performances, and crisp, well-fashioned dialogue, all combined into singularly magnificent film experiences. The 1947 film The Foxes of Harrow (recently released via MOD DVD through Fox Cinema Archives) attempts to emulate this successful formula, albeit with a reversal in gender: this time around, the main character, Stephen Fox (Rex Harrison) is the illegitimate adopted

Diamonds Are Forever Movie Review: All Flash and Little Substance

Sean Connery's return to the role of James Bond is less than thrilling.
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"So James Bond just walked up to a woman, whipped off her bikini top, wrapped it around her neck, and choked her with it while interrogating her." No less than two minutes into watching Diamonds Are Forever (1971) for the first time, I had to pause the movie to send this text to a friend of mine. And in a way, the disbelief that prompted this message sums up my reaction to the entire film. Admittedly, my experience with the James Bond canon is limited to a handful of Sean Connery starrers, a single Roger Moore title, the Pierce

Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell DVD Review: The Character's Cinematic Swan Song

A delightful (albeit admittedly minor) comedy.
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“He seemed like such a nice man—real pleasant! Then it turns out he’s a writer.” The character of Lynn Belvedere is perhaps best known to modern audiences as the know-it-all English butler (played by Christopher Hewitt) who becomes a confidant and counselor for an uncouth Pittsburgh family in the 1980s sitcom Mr. Belvedere. But before he ever appeared on the Owens family doorstep, Mr. Belvedere debuted on the big screen in the 1948 film Sitting Pretty, in which the character, a super-intelligent man-of-the-world, takes a job as a babysitter for suburban couple Robert Young and Maureen O’Hara, so as to

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