Recently by Will McKinley

Thanks A Million DVD Review: Dick Powell Croons, I Swoon

A prescient political satire from 1935 makes its DVD debut
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Confession: I have a man crush on 1930s crooner Dick Powell. Although he was pushing 30 when he made his film debut for Warner Bros., Powell seemed perpetually boyish and unspoiled by the harsh realities of Depression Era adulthood. In a series of peppy movie musicals beginning with 42nd Street (1933), the Arkansas native was the face of New Deal optimism - the sunny side alternative to the Warner tough guys who roamed the Lot with a cynical sneer and a smoking gun (before the Motion Picture Production Code disarmed them in a manner apparently unimaginable to today’s politicians). I

The Meanest Man in the World DVD Review: Jack Benny and Rochester, Together Again

A rarely seen Jack Benny film makes its DVD debut.
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The title character in Sidney Lanfield’s comedy The Meanest Man in the World (1943) is not particularly mean, nor is he particularly funny. But he is portrayed by the otherwise hilarious Jack Benny, with support from radio sidekick Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and those are reasons enough to pick up this rarely seen misfire, making its long-awaited home video debut on Fox Cinema Archives manufacture-on-demand DVD. Jack Benny had a confounding career in the movies. After nearly two decades on the Vaudeville stage, the pride of Waukegan, Illinois made his film debut playing himself in MGM’s The Hollywood Revue of 1929.

Fraulein DVD Review: War is Hell, Particularly When It's Pan-and-Scan

Love among the ruins at the end of World War II, for those with 25-year-old TVs.
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Classic film fans are, as a rule, a nostalgic bunch. But here’s one retroism none of us pines for: “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen.” Thanks to the Fox Cinema Archives DVD release of Fraulein (1958), a soapy romance set in Germany at the end of WWII, we get to take a trip back to the bad old days of square, standard-definition TVs and the truncated transfers created for them. Because Fox has taken a film that was released theatrically in a aspect ratio of 2:35:1 - more than

Coney Island DVD Review: Musical Fun in the Technicolor Sun with Betty Grable

This 1943 musical, starring wartime's most popular pick-up, is definitely worth a ride.
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You’ve got to love a movie in which the opening titles are sung. But crooned credits are just one reason to go gaga for Coney Island (1943), a buoyant backstage musical starring iconic World War II pin-up girl Betty Grable, on DVD for the first time from Fox Cinema Archives. There are plenty of other delights to savor in this gorgeous “Gay Nineties” romp: bright and bold Technicolor cinematography by Ernest Palmer; Oscar-nominated musical direction from Alfred Newman (uncle to Randy, but no relation to Mad’s gap-toothed mascot); ingenious choreography by the legendary Hermes Pan (who also performs); catchy original

Born to be Bad from Warner Archive: A Cinematic Mystery Solved

Six decades later, Warner Archive restores the original ending to what could have been a great film.
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Part soapy potboiler, part society noir, Nicholas Ray’s Born to be Bad is, in the bowdlerized version released by RKO in 1950, a flawed film. But now, thanks to a new DVD release from the Warner Archive Collection with a previously lost alternate ending, we can see what might have been. Prim and proper Christabel Caine (Joan Fontaine) comes to San Francisco to live with her uncle’s secretary Donna (Joan Leslie), who is engaged to mustachioed millionaire Curtis Carey (Zachary Scott). Chris “mistakenly” arrives at Donna’s house a day earlier than expected, and meets Donna’s sharp-tongued friend Gabriel “Gobby” Broome

Celebrate Samuel Fuller's Centenary with Verboten! (1959) from the Warner Archive Collection

An odd war film from the director of Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss demands rediscovery.
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“A mad generation!” the movie poster exclaims. “Spawned in lust…consumed by hate…where everything decent is Verboten!” As with all good exploitation films, the hyperbole on the one-sheet for Samuel Fuller’s Verboten! (1959) has little to do with the actual content of the movie. But then again, how do you market a romance set in World War II that features both a sappy title ballad sung by Paul Anka and an eight-minute mini-documentary on the Nuremberg Trials? Thankfully, the folks at the Warner Archive Collection don’t have to worry about this with their manufacture-on-demand DVD of a film Fuller acknowledged was

Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer: A Trip You Don't Want to Make

The latest installment of the writer/director's Chronicles of Brooklyn series is a frustrating misfire.
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It’s summer in Brooklyn and tensions flare between the old guard and the new, until one man shatters the silence with a swift, shocking act. And all the while, Mookie delivers his pizzas. Because he’s got to get paid. That could be a plot synopsis for both Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) and his new drama Red Hook Summer, which opens on Friday in New York. The former was an incendiary provocation that remains an iconic snapshot of ethnically disharmonious 1980s New York. The latter revisits many of the same core issues of race, gentrification, and tattered relationships,

TCM's Summer Under the Stars: 31 Days of Discoveries

Turner Classic Movies' 10th annual August showcase features 27 films never before seen on the channel.
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For normal people, August is all about beaches, barbeques and basking in the sun. But for classic-film fans like me, in front of the TV is the place to be this month, as Turner Classic Movies presents Summer Under the Stars, a four-week block party of star-specific movie marathons. With 31 days dedicated to 31 different performers, SUTS is the perfect staycation for movie maniacs. Full days (each beginning at 6:00 AM EDT) are dedicated to old reliables like Marilyn Monroe (this Saturday, August 4), James Cagney (August 14), and Gary Cooper (August 26), as well as lesser-known personalities, like early 1930s Warner Bros. leading lady Kay

Rings on Her Fingers from Fox Cinema Archives: A Perfect Fit for Screwball Comedy Fans

Take another bite of The Lady Eve's apple with this entertaining knock-off of the Sturges classic.
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Classic Movie Trivia Quiz: In what 1940s screwball comedy does Henry Fonda play a vacationing millionaire seduced by a sexy swindler? If your answer is The Lady Eve, you’re only half right. In March of 1941, Paramount Pictures released Preston Sturges’ Eve with Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck to critical accolades and box office success. A year later, Twentieth Century Fox released Rouben Mamoulian’s Rings on Her Fingers with Fonda and Gene Tierney and a plot that largely (but not actionably) aped Eve. The former is one of the most beloved movies of all time and was recently added to the

Singin' in the Rain from TCM and Fathom Events: Still Making 'em Laugh in Theaters 60 Years Later

What a glorious feelin', as the beloved 1952 musical comedy returns to theaters for one day only.
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On Thursday, Turner Classic Movies and NCM Fathom Events presented Singin’ in the Rain (1952) at nearly 500 venues nationwide. And I thought long and hard about not going to see it — even though I love old movies in general, and this film in particular. Let me explain. I’ve attended the TCM Classic Film Festival annually since its inception in 2010, and have enjoyed countless pristinely presented classics at Hollywood landmarks like Grauman’s Chinese and the Egyptian Theatre. I also live in New York City, where respected institutions like the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Museum of Modern

Book Review: Cary Grant: A Life in Pictures, Edited by Yann-Brice Dherbier: Handsome Book, Handsome Man

Life was a bit harder than it looked for the real "Cary Grant."
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Whether you're a classic film fan or not, you've probably heard of Cary Grant. Like Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, or Humphrey Bogart, Grant is one of those actors whose status as an icon transcends the movies. His persona as the unflappable, impeccably dressed leading man is ingrained in our culture, thanks to films like Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief (1955) and North By Northwest (1959). And now, with the handsome new large-format hardcover Cary Grant: A Life in Pictures, you too can learn that a persona is often just that. The son of a hard-drinking suit presser, Archibald Alexander

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 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

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

2012 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts Review: Bring Tissues, Because You're Going to Cry

This year's nominees stuff a lot of emotion into small packages.
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Stanislavsky once said, "There are no small parts, only small actors." At least I think he was the one who said that. It may have been Jerry Maren. Regardless, the same sentiment can apply to short films, especially when they're as compelling as this year's nominees in the category of Documentary Short. Four of the five films recognized by the Academy are playing in theaters around the country leading up to the Oscar telecast on Sunday February 26, and while they may be less than feature length, they all pack more than their share of emotional oomph. But be warned:

God is the Bigger Elvis Movie Review: Classic Film Star Dolores Hart Returns After 50 Years, and Oscar Notices

The Hollywood starlet who became a nun is back in this unlikely Oscar nominee.
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In the trailer for Michael Curtiz's 1961 religious epic Francis of Assisi, actors Bradford Dillman and Dolores Hart are described as being "inspired" by their respective roles as Saint Francis and Saint Clare. In the case of Hart, that wasn't just Hollywood hyperbole. Two years after portraying a beautiful young woman who leaves a life of privilege to become a cloistered nun, Hart walked away from one of the hottest careers in Hollywood and became a cloistered nun. It was a shocking, life-imitates-art transmogrification for the star of Where the Boys Are, and it's the story at the core of

The Woman in Black (2012) Movie Review: Harry Who?

Daniel Radcliffe shuffles off the ghost of Harry Potter with the help of Hammer.
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Confession #1: I've never seen any of the Harry Potter movies. I'm aware they exist, of course, and vaguely familiar with the hocus-pocus plot, but I've never been exposed to more than a trailer's-worth of the character that made Daniel Radcliffe famous. So I went to see The Woman in Black, the 22-year-old actor's first post-Potter vehicle, with absolutely no preconceptions. Confession #2: I found Radcliffe to be a thoroughly charming screen presence, and his new film to be a stylishly engaging spooker with some creepy images that will linger in my psyche every time I visit a train station.

A Separation Movie Review: A Worthy Recipient of Academy Accolades

Hope that this Oscar nominee is coming soon to a theater near you.
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Here's some unsolicited advice for presidential candidates: take a break from the campaign trail and go to see A Separation, the Academy Award nominee for both Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. You'll have a great time, and you might even learn something. A Separation was an international film festival favorite and Golden Globe winner and is, by far, the most engaging movie I've seen in recent memory, in any language. Writer/director Asghar Farhadi has crafted a subtly ingenious, edge-of-your-seat mashup of documentary-style verisimilitude, allegorical morality play, and Hitchcockian procedural. Perhaps more importantly, the film has much to

Design For Living Criterion Collection DVD Review: The Pre Codiest of the Pre-Codes

Director Ernst Lubitsch's classic rom-com is a three-way delight.
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When I was a guest on the Turner Classic Movies podcast last fall, I engaged in a bit of premeditated hyperbole: The Motion Picture Production Code "ruined movies for thirty years," I spat, tossing a reproduction of Hollywood's infamous self-censorship guidelines (first enforced in 1934) on to the table in abject disgust. As any TCM viewer knows, films of the so-called Pre-Code era have become popular in recent years with modern audiences heretofore brainwashed to think of "old movies" as quaint and sex-less. And while it is true that the Code negatively impacted American filmmaking for more than a generation,

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp Lives Again, Thanks to Martin Scorsese and the Film Foundation

Scorsese kicks off a two-week run of the restored classic at New York City's Film Forum.
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Martin Scorsese's Hugo arrives in theaters on Wednesday in eye-popping 3-D. Before (and after) then, the Academy Award-winning director would like New Yorkers to see an equally groundbreaking film, made more than 60 years ago using state of the art visual techniques. "I always like to look at it a few times a year," Scorsese said of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1943 classic The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, before a sold out screening at Film Forum on Friday. "It grows more enduring and more moving (each time) I watch it." Now, thanks to an effort spearheaded by

William Castle is Back! And Deader Than Ever

Skeletons are not the only things to emerge from a Halloween weekend screening of House on Haunted Hill.
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Good news: William Castle, the master of cinematic suspense and inventor of the greatest audience-pleasing gimmicks in movie history, has come back from the dead. "I can confirm that," the director's grandson Kyle Castle Newall said Friday night at the Loew's Jersey Theater in Jersey City. "Indeed he has." Newall, an NYU student who was born after his grandfather died - or rather, after he died the first time - was in attendance for a screening of Castle's 1959 classic House on Haunted Hill, wherein a flying skeleton torments attendees at a party thrown by Vincent Price. And, in a

The Artist at the New York Film Festival: Evoking Memories of Buster Keaton

A brand new silent film pays tribute to the visual masters and cinematic language of the past
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Sunday afternoon, on the final day of the New York Film Festival, I saw Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist. Sunday night on Turner Classic Movies, I watched Buster Keaton in Free and Easy. Although these two very different films were made more than 80 years apart, they actually have a lot in common. As you may have heard, The Artist is a silent movie scheduled for release on November 23 by the Weinstein Company. There are many current films I wish were silent, like Transformers, the Sex & the City movies or anything with Adam Sandler, but The Artist may be

Martha Marcy May Marlene at the New York Film Festival: A Chilling Parable of Millennial Pessimism

Writer/Director Sean Durkin's indie thriller may be this generation's Rosemary's Baby.
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"Do you ever have that feeling where you can't tell if something is a memory or something you dreamed?" twentysomething Martha asks her clueless older sister Lucy midway through Martha Marcy May Marlene. It's just one of many good lines of dialogue in writer/director Sean Durkin's new thriller, but it's the creative crux of what makes his debut feature such an inventive treat. Arguably there was no hotter, more buzz-worthy ticket at the just-completed New York Film Festival, where Martha Marcy May Marlene played twice to enthusiastic, capacity crowds. When first we meet beautiful, sad-eyed Martha (Elizabeth Olsen), she is

Martin Scorsese's Hugo at the New York Film Festival: A Valentine to Cinema

Scorsese's new film is a pleasant surprise for the NYFF audience.
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"This is really a special evening for us," said New York Film Festival selection committee chairman Richard Pena, as he took the stage at Avery Fisher Hall on Monday night. "The only other time we've shown a work in progress was back in 1991." Two decades ago, the work in progress the NYFF audience saw was Disney's Beauty and the Beast, a charming family film that will be returning to theaters with a 3-D release on January 13, 2012. Tonight it was Martin Scorsese's Hugo, a charming family film that also happens to be in 3-D -- from the man

Shame at the New York Film Festival: Incest in the City

Controversy is coming in director Steve McQueen's sexy, disturbing new film.
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Early in Shame, the hypersexual new film from British director Steve McQueen, the protagonist wordlessly flirts with a pretty passenger on a crowded New York City subway train. It's the hottest sequence in the film -- ironic, considering that it's one of the only scenes of romantic pursuit that doesn't end in sweaty, graphic, MPAA-rating-be-damned sex. Brandon (Michael Fassbender) is a handsome, thirty-something, urban professional (do we still call them Yuppies?) with a taste for the ladies and an aversion to commitment. He spends most of his waking hours in the relentless pursuit of all the intimacy-free sex the Big

The Kid with a Bike at the New York Film Festival: A Harrowing Tale of Troubled Tweenhood

Don't kid yourself! The new film by the Dardenne brothers is a must-see.
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In the theatrical release poster for Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne's The Kid with a Bike, which had its New York Film Festival premiere on Thursday night, a young boy and a smiling woman ride their bicycles along a picturesque, European-looking riverfront. From the pastoral nature of the image, one might assume that this is a well-adjusted child and his doting mom, perhaps on their way to buy something delightful and cinematic, like a red balloon. In fact, the titular kid in The Kid with a Bike is an uncontrollably violent orphan - more feral beast than human child. And

Susan Orlean's "Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend" at the New York Film Festival

The greatest movie star of the 1920s was a dog. The new book about him is anything but.
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On Tuesday night the New York Film Festival brought together three of my favorite things: silent movies, books about film history, and the delightful writing of Susan Orlean. Orlean, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of The Orchid Thief, took the stage at the Walter Reade Theater for a reading of excerpts from her new book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, the story of (arguably) the second-most-famous canine in film history. "I'm often asked, 'Why didn't you write about Lassie?'" Orlean told the audience. "Lassie was a fictional character, played by real dogs. Rin Tin

Melancholia at the New York Film Festival: Cast Comments About Lars von Trier

The controversial Danish director is back with the feel-bad hit of the Fall.
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If, like me, you think of getting married as something akin to the fiery destruction of Earth, you'll love Melancholia, director Lars von Trier's meanderingly beautiful paean to depression, astronomy, and Kirsten Dunst's cleavage. As with every Lars von Trier movie, haters gonna hate. And there's plenty to dislike in Melancholia, most particularly the characters. Every one of them, in fact. Never before has film seen a more unpleasant collection of self-centered depressives (other than at the press screening for Transformers 3). But there's also plenty to love about Melancholia, particularly if you're smitten with von Trier's ragged, anti-establishment approach

Ben-Hur at the New York Film Festival: Flawless Restoration, Flawed Presentation

A beloved classic rises again, in fulfillment of the Scriptures.
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The audience sat in rapt attention as a Roman centurion in scarlet cloak and gold chest plate marched onto the stage. Behind him tiptoed a shy young princess in flowing robes, her honeyed tresses cascading upon her shoulders. Applause filled the arena, then died out. Then silence. The princess and the soldier stood before the assemblage, seemingly unsure of what to do next. Then, from the wings of Alice Tully Hall, a man waved his hand at the centurion. The soldier unsheathed a dagger from beneath his cape and brandished it once or twice in the general direction of the

A Fistful of Dollars / For A Few Dollars More Blu-ray Reviews: The Man With No Name Looks Better Than Ever

After nearly half a century, Eastwood can still rock a poncho.
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One of the great things about middle age is that you forget stuff. This is problematic when it relates to the location of your car keys, the combination to your gym locker or the date of your future ex-wife's birthday. But it's fantastic when it comes to watching movies. Now that I'm over 39, I find that I have completely forgotten the plot to movies I haven't seen in a few years. At first this depressed me; it was a sad reminder that yet another mile marker had been passed on the road toward my mortality. But I have come

Senna Movie Review: See It Now, Because Everyone Will Be Talking About It

Like the saying goes, he lived fast and died young.
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One thing I learned early in life: it's okay for boys to cry, as long as the tears are shed at sports movies. So I wasn't surprised to hear some macho sniffling during a recent screening of Senna, the Sundance-Award-winning documentary about Brazilian Formula One race car driver Ayrton Senna, who died in a tragic crash at the age of 34. If I lost you at "Formula One" or "race car," you're not alone. Had I known more about the topic of the film, I might have avoided it, as I've avoided anything relating to motor sports for my entire

Rise of the Planet of the Apes vs. Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes (2001): And the Winner is...

Get your hands off my childhood, you damn, dirty movie studios!
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Rise of the Planet of the Apes is beating up on the competition like a band of angry gorillas. Director Rupert Wyatt's reboot of the classic 1968-1973 series of films is estimated to earn $55 million this weekend, based on box office projections. Entertainment Weekly describes the movie's performance so far as "terrific" and the Hollywood Reporter suggests that the film, which cost $93 million to produce, will "shatter all [financial] expectations." Critics are raving, Rotten Tomatoes is gushing with an 81% certified fresh rating (highest of all major releases this week) and sequel buzz is louder than feeding time

Bellflower Movie Review: Flamethrowing Its Way Into Your Heart

This Sundance and SXSW fav more than lives up to the buzz.
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Love is a battlefield, as Pat Benatar reminded us back in the '80s. Nowhere is that fact more evident than in Bellflower, actor/director Evan Glodell's stylishly violent romantic tragedy, opening this weekend in New York and Los Angeles. Over the course of two hours, the five leads in this love pentagon are hit by cars, beaten with baseball bats, assaulted with knives, forcibly tattooed, attacked with weapons of mass destruction, shot in the head, and betrayed in their own beds. But it's the infidelity that provides the deepest and most long-lasting wound, as anyone who's been cheated on already knows.

Battle For the Planet of the Apes Movie Review: Time to Sell More Coloring Books!

Man and ape living together? It's a madhouse! A madhouse!
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It's human nature to overstay your welcome, especially when you're having a good time. Apparently it's simian nature too, as you'll discover if you watch Battle For the Planet of the Apes (1973). The final film in the original Apes series is not without merit, but it is without a point. It's creatively unnecessary, and riddled with storytelling inconsistencies that threaten to undermine the narrative integrity of the series as a whole. Of course, you could say the same about the latter chapters of every multi-installment work in film history, from the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan movies to the much-maligned Star

Escape from the Planet of the Apes Movie Review: A Cinematic Course Correction for the Franchise

"Where we come from, apes talk. Humans are dumb." - Cornelius
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"How do you carry on when you've blown up the world?" host Roddy McDowall asks in Behind the Planet of the Apes, a documentary produced for the AMC cable channel in 1998. That was the dilemma facing Apes producer Arthur P. Jacobs and writer Paul Dehn when Twentieth Century Fox requested a third film in the series, following the box office success of Beneath the Planet of the Apes in the summer of 1970. As you may recall, Beneath ends (SPOILER ALERT) with the destruction of Earth. As you may also recall (SPOILER ALERT) it's an awful movie. This left

Whistle Down the Wind Movie Review: The Best Film You've Never Seen

Unflinchingly satirical, though never disrespectful to people of faith.
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It's April of 1962 and your kid wants to see the new Hayley Mills movie. "Please!" she begs. "She was so groovy in The Parent Trap!" (What? '62 is too early for "groovy." Okay, how about "keen" or "boss" or whatever Annette used to say to Frankie at the beach?) "The Parent Trap?" you reply. "Isn't that the one where she played singing twins who conspire to get their parents back together while trying to hide their inexplicable British accents?" It is. So you take her to see Whistle Down the Wind, because the title sounds vaguely Disney-like, and you

Monte Hellman's Road to Nowhere (2010) Movie Review: A Cinematic Dream

"This dream is over now. Time to put your shoes on and hit the streets."
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Midway through Monte Hellman's noirish head-scratcher Road to Nowhere, an actress asks a director a seemingly simple question: "How many movies have you seen?" "You shouldn't really ask a filmmaker that," the director replies, gently scolding his leading lady. "We don't want people to know how much time we spend obsessing over other people's dreams." Road to Nowhere is Hellman's first full-length feature -- or cinematic dream, if you prefer -- in two decades, and I've been obsessing over it for more than a week now. I saw the film three times during its limited run in New York City,

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