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Wednesday, Jan 21, 2015
Because of its unjustified snubbing, Selma and the artists involve now face an uphill battle in the movie industry they never should have to face.

Over the last few days, ever since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its nominations for the 2014/15 Oscars, there’s been a groundswell of criticism over what many in the press are calling “the whitest” pool of candidates since the mid ‘90s. The lack of diversity, especially in the main categories (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress, Director, and Screenwriting) has the La-Z-Boy pundits up in arms, with the lack of respect for Paramount’s Civil Rights epic, Selma, front and center.

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Tuesday, Jan 20, 2015
Over the next 12 months, we will be bombarded with all manner of proposed cinematic spectacle. Here are the 20 films we are most looking forward to.

While the stars are brushing off their formal wear and brushing up on their acceptance speeches, we bid a fond farewell to 2014… and almost immediately focus on the films that will have us giddy with anticipation between now, the dog days of cinema, and December, when we’ll play “What’s the Best?” all over again. There are literally hundreds of offerings up for grabs, from unknown works of independent art to big, brawny, wannabe blockbusters. Each one hopes to tap into that tricky well of public appreciation. Some will succeed in billion dollar designs; others will open and never be heard from again.

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Monday, Jan 19, 2015
by Steve Leftridge and Steve Pick
Starting today at PopMatters, "Double Take" does for film what "Counterbalance" does for music. Film geeks Steve Leftridge and Steve Pick regularly examine the "500 Greatest Films Ever Made".

The pain in hell has two sides: The kind you can touch with your hand; the kind you can feel in your heart. For Double Take No. 1, we go into Scorsese’s urban Inferno. Right where you breathe.

Leftridge: So, Mr. Pick, you and I have agreed to watch and discuss the 500 Greatest Films Ever Made. And we’re kicking off the whole shebang, thanks to our big randomizer, with a consideration of Martin Scorsese’s 1973 film Mean Streets, the director’s second feature and one that helped establish several stylistic and thematic elements that would go on to define the Scorsese brand for many years to come: a gritty urban setting, violence, Catholic guilt, noirish realism, racial tension, rock and roll, Robert De Niro, etc. Finding its place in the overall film canon, Mean Streets is a film that enjoys nearly universal admiration among the critical community, or at least it did when it first appeared, but it has, I’ve found, become fairly polarizing among those who watch it for the first time today. I’ll put it to you: As someone revisiting the film after a few years, how do you think it holds up?

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Thursday, Jan 15, 2015
This subpar spaghetti western struggles to keep the magic of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel alive.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, the 1883 swashbuckling coming-of-age adventure novel, is embedded into the Western public consciousness. The story of the young Jim Hawkins coming into possession of a treasure map after his mother’s inn is descended upon by a gang of pirates is known to countless people, and the adventures that take place after Jim and his guardians hire a crew of sailors, including the one-legged Long John Silver, to sail out in search of the treasure has shaped our idea of the gold-obsessed, hard-drinking, renegade pirate.

While the novel itself is still stocked in every bookstore and still considered a childhood favorite, much of its notoriety comes from the countless number of times it has been adapted to and/or retold on film through the centuries. Of the many retellings, Between God, the Devil and a Winchester (1968), the spaghetti western take on the story, is surely one of its oddest. (Those English speakers interested in researching the film more should search by its American title, God Was in the West, Too, at One Time.) Director Marino Girolami replaces seas with deserts and pirates with bandits. While it may smell like an attempt to make onion soup using garlic, this film isn’t as unsavory as one might assume. 

The thought of having a little boy as a lead protagonist in a spaghetti western gave me the fear going into it, and the phony-laughing Tommy (Humberto Sempere) certainly doesn’t meld well with the genre’s conventions. Fortunately, Gilbert Roland’s performance as Juan Chasquido in the Long John Silver role makes up for the boy’s presence. Because his character embodies the complexity of the legendary pirate captain from the novel—with equal measures of menace and charisma, compassion and greed—Roland holds our hand in enough scenes to give us the courage needed to get through the bad parts of the film. 

Plus, there really aren’t that many bad parts: yes, Sempere, the child actor playing Tommy, is annoying; the action is underwhelming at best; and Richard Harrison as Father Pat is a bore. Above all else is the fact that the sense of adventure that makes Stevenson’s Treasure Island so timeless is missing. Nevertheless, there is nothing in Between God, the Devil and a Winchester that makes you regret watching it. There are no scenes or dialogue that will torment your memory. In fact, you probably won’t have a memory of the film; it doesn’t offend and it doesn’t inspire. It could be a lot worse, but it could also be a lot better.

The best parts of the film are those that come closest to capturing Stevenson’s novel. As already suggested, Roland’s ability to conjure the contradicting and captivating characteristics of Long John Silver is what carries you through the story, but there are a few other elements from Treasure Island that director Girolami manages to reproduce. The suspenseful mood in the introductory inn sequence is spot on with its noirish lighting and the arrival of the unexpected guest in the paranoid Bob Ford (Folco Lulli). Then, when the grisly-faced bandits led by Butch (Raf Baldassarre) ambush Ford and burn the inn to the ground in search of the treasure map, we are introduced to villains that are just as bloodthirsty and greedy as Stevenson’s pirates. 

Stevenson’s Treasure Island is sometimes considered a children’s book. While I don’t agree with such a label, I do understand why children are attracted to the story. Not only does it have a child as a lead protagonist, but it also has classic adventure, archetypical villains and heroes, and some basic moral lessons. While these aspects work magically in text, they don’t work very well in a spaghetti western, and Between God, the Devil and a Winchester therefore is a subpar entry in the genre.

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Wednesday, Jan 14, 2015
This entry in the '50s noir cycle is an exercise in paranoia from a woman's point of view.

Witness to Murder (1954) opens with a pre-credits sequence in which Cheryl Draper (noir icon Barbara Stanwyck) wakes up in the middle of the night and, looking across the street, witnesses neighbor Albert Richter (George Sanders) strangling a woman in his apartment. She calls the police, who say she must have dreamed it because they can find no evidence of a crime. However, the killer knows very well that she’s a witness, and he embarks on a diabolical plan to persecute and eliminate her. It proves remarkably easy to convince the police that she’s unstable and needs to be locked away in the women’s ward of a mental hospital.

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