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Monday, Jun 16, 2014
This modest B picture from MGM offers unique pleasures and allows us to explore the mystery of writer-director Norman Foster.

Now available on demand from Warner Archive, this modest B picture from MGM offers unique pleasures and allows us to explore the mystery of writer-director Norman Foster.


This is the almost-nothing-happens, not-quite-romance between a tall, gangling, aw-shucks, naive young cowpoke (Carleton Carpenter) and a tight-sweatered blonde (Jan Sterling) who always seems about two minutes away from taking his cash and leaving him flat. The story is so light and anecdotal, it’s a wonder it stretches to 70 minutes, but those 70 engage the viewer enough to see it through as our cowboy chalks up a learning experience.


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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
The color of going too far

RaroVideo’s DVD of Alberto Cavallone’s difficult-to-describe Blue Movie is an important release that I hope presages more from this obscure cult figure. I say this with due consideration. Many people, attracted by the title’s promise of sleaze (on which the film delivers both less and more than most would wish), will find the movie a confusing, unwatchable eyesore, which it is. This is partly for reasons beyond the late Cavallone’s control, and partly due to his deliberate vision.


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Friday, Jun 13, 2014
The play's the thing

The Reckoning begins with lovely, stylized, cold images of nature while Nicholas (Paul Bettany) shaves his head in a forest, drinks from a stream, and flashes back to his downfall from priesthood for sins of the flesh. After a terrifying encounter, he learns (again) that appearances are deceiving and takes up with a troupe of traveling players who perform “Mysteries” (Biblical plays) across the rural England of 1380.


They arrive at one village, dominated by the castle of the local lord (Vincent Cassel), just in time to witness a mute woman’s conviction for strangling a boy. She’s sentenced to hang. The troupe’s leader (Willem Dafoe) wants to put on a new kind of play, one that dramatizes the local event. After arguing the morality of this, their investigation and production stirs up new evidence and lots of trouble, as we realize we’re in yet another plot about a serial killer of children. This is apparently what we need to take our entertainment seriously nowadays.


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Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013
There is no denying the spell cast by The Muppet Movie. You just unconsciously smile while watching it.

At the time, they were riding high, the success of their UK based series showcasing their “beyond Sesame Street” viability and both mainstream entertainment and critical cult hit. For more than two decades Jim Henson had slowly developed a dedicated following, his puppeteering skills and unique characters creating a niche in both children’s programming and irreverent counter-culture comedy as well. In fact, it wasn’t unusual to see his celebrated “Muppets” as part of late night talk shows, weekly variety hours, and perhaps, most importantly, the first season of Saturday Night Live. Henson had that rare talent to target a specific audience, whether it was teaching young children the necessary educational lessons they would require, or getting a drug-addled young adult to giggle at his or her TV screen as monster’s mashed each other.


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Friday, Jun 15, 2012
It's an acid head trip without the brain damage, a detour into a part of the '60s which believed that sight and sound could cure the world.

The Beatles didn’t want to make another movie. Help! had not been a good experience, and the introduction of drugs and studio experimentation to their career had seen them shun the main media limelight for more ‘esoteric’ pursuits. Still, they were contractually bound to the studio for one more film and there were rumblings about an animated take on the Revolver tune “Yellow Submarine.” Guaranteeing they’d be required to deliver nothing more than a cameo, the lads signed up, filmed their live action sequences, and then headed off to India…and infamy. Back in the UK, actors were hired to mimic the Fab Four’s famous voices while a crew of screenwriters attempted to turn the simply song into a solid story.


Thus, the pinnacle of motion picture pop art was born. Viewed today, it’s a silly, satisfying psychedelic piffle which thrives because of its sly subtext. At the time, it was a provocative piece of self-promotion, a cartoon classic on par with Fantasia (and, later, Italy’s Allegro Non Troppo). Trying to balance a reaction will depend solely on where you stand, Greatest Rock Combo of the 20th Century-wise. If you still adore John, Paul, George, and Ringo, assigning everything they’ve ever done to the column of “genius,” you’ll probably be a bit disappointed. The boys are present, if not wholly accounted for. Instead, if you can distance yourself from the band’s output and see the movie for what it is, you’ll come away impressed.


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