Cinemadope: That Time the MoMA Refused to Return Nazi-Stolen Art
Jul24

Cinemadope: That Time the MoMA Refused to Return Nazi-Stolen Art

My first exposure to Egon Schiele came via Deane G. Keller, an artist and professor whose figure drawing classes remain one of my most lasting memories of art school. We had been working on some hand studies when he suggested I might enjoy the Austrian artist’s work, and when class let out I cut through the trees to the school library to look up the man with the strange name. The collection of work I found amazed me: drawings,...

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Cinemadope: ‘Wanna-Bes Need Not Apply,’ Documentary on Madonna’s Back-up Voguers
Jul17

Cinemadope: ‘Wanna-Bes Need Not Apply,’ Documentary on Madonna’s Back-up Voguers

“Wimps and Wanna-Be’s need not apply!” That was the tagline of a print ad announcing an open audition for “FIERCE Male Dancers” who wanted to earn a spot on Madonna’s controversial, ground-breaking Blond Ambition Tour in 1990. It would have been a dream job for any dancer, but nobody — certainly not the seven young men, most barely 20 at the time, who ended up touring the globe with the pop star — could have predicted the impact the...

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Cinemadope: A ‘Damned Dirty’ Future Classic
Jul10

Cinemadope: A ‘Damned Dirty’ Future Classic

At the risk of sounding impossibly out-of-touch, let me tell you something: I sure do miss Dialing for Dollars. That syndicated TV program — in which an afternoon movie was chopped into a few hundred pieces, allowing host George Allen to pick a number out of the area phone book and call cash-hungry viewers during the many breaks — did more for my early interest in movies than it had any right doing. Maybe it was because it was on in...

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Cinemadope: I Like Mike, Michael Keaton doesn’t get enough credit
Jul03

Cinemadope: I Like Mike, Michael Keaton doesn’t get enough credit

In film, there have always been levels of stardom. There are those stars whose wattage is measured in tooth whiteness, and whose films are expected to earn many millions based more or less on their mere presence — your Pitts, your Cruises, your Lawrences. Then there are those whose star power is moodier, imbued with more actorly gravitas — the Day Lewises, for short. It’s okay if their films don’t always make millions, because they...

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Cinemadope: Better Than Finding A 45-Year-Old Porno
Jun26

Cinemadope: Better Than Finding A 45-Year-Old Porno

Many years ago, I found myself deep in the basement of the old Pleasant Street Theater (now the location of McLadden’s pub in Northampton), cleaning out some old storage lockers. From one of them, I pulled out a dented, dusty, film can, a flat circle of metal about 15 inches across and an inch or so deep. On its side was a peeling piece of yellowed masking tape with a single, suggestive word scrawled across it in marker: “Throat.”...

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Cinemadope: Musical Evolution
Jun19

Cinemadope: Musical Evolution

There have been many eulogies given over the years for the American Movie Musical. And while the popularity of the form is certainly not what it was during its heyday — superhero movies, with their own kinds of acrobatics and wish-fulfillment scenarios, seem to have grabbed today’s everyday American — it has never gone away, either. What, then, changed? The subjects, certainly, grew heavier over the years: the mistaken identity romps...

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Cinemadope: Pedaling Up a Mountain While Playing the Keyboard
Jun12

Cinemadope: Pedaling Up a Mountain While Playing the Keyboard

This week, bicyclists (okay, you power walkers can come, too) get a film festival devoted to that sense of freedom when the Ciclismo Classico Bike Travel Film Festival comes to the Academy of Music in Northampton for a Thursday evening screening. Now in its eighth year, the Ciclismo is the only festival in the U.S. that trains its lens specifically on bike travel, but the stories it highlights are not just for bikers — they are for...

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Cinemadope: City Mouse, Rat Film exposes who the rodents really are in Baltimore
Jun05

Cinemadope: City Mouse, Rat Film exposes who the rodents really are in Baltimore

Fans of filmmaker John Waters might be familiar with the director’s odd fascination with rats. They crop up with some regularity in his life and work — from the original poster for 1977’s Desperate Living, which featured a cooked rat on a restaurant dinner plate, to the opening scenes of his film Pecker some two decades later, which zoomed in on a pair of the rodents in flagrante delicto, the humble rat has become Waters’ spirit...

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Cinemadope: Mad Max ‘Black & Chrome’ Escapes Hollywood’s Color Crutch
May30

Cinemadope: Mad Max ‘Black & Chrome’ Escapes Hollywood’s Color Crutch

There has been a trend in Hollywood filmmaking that, for the last decade or so, has steadily changed the look of our blockbusters. It’s a pervasive change, but one that has happened gradually enough that many people aren’t even aware that it has been happening, quite literally in front of their eyes. So then, a warning: If you haven’t noticed, and don’t want the way you look at movies to be changed forever, skip the next paragraph....

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Cinemadope: Northampton Movie Night
May22

Cinemadope: Northampton Movie Night

An evening in Northampton has never been boring. Meet your date for a cocktail or a glass of wine, move on to dinner at any number of downtown bites, catch a concert, go to an art opening. Stroll the streets, duck into the renovated Pulaski Park, circle Paradise Pond on the Smith campus. They weren’t kidding when they settled on “walk into something wonderful” as the slogan for downtown. But get the itch to see a movie, and your...

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Cinemadope: It’s Going to Be a Damn Fine Reboot, and FREE Streaming Movies )w/vid)
May15

Cinemadope: It’s Going to Be a Damn Fine Reboot, and FREE Streaming Movies )w/vid)

Amherst Cinema is gearing up for the return of Special Agent Dale Cooper. Kyle MacLachlan returns to TV this week in his early role as Cooper, the FBI man who got tied up in the death of Laura Palmer and the mysteries of Twin Peaks when the show of the same name first aired in the early 1990s on ABC. I was in high school then, and watching the original was a life-changer: it was dark and weird and funny and sweet in a way nothing had...

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Cinemadope: Would You Take a Bullet for Art? Documentary on full-throttle artist Chris Burden (w/vid)
May08

Cinemadope: Would You Take a Bullet for Art? Documentary on full-throttle artist Chris Burden (w/vid)

For such a rich subject, films about art and the people that make it all too often feel either forced and flat or ridiculously over the top. Better, usually, to take the documentary route, and let the art speak for itself. That’s the course taken by directors Timothy Marrinan and Richard Dewey, whose film Burden — screening this week at the Little Cinema in the Berkshire Museum — takes a good long look at the life and times of...

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Rabbit Season: ‘Donnie Darko,’ cult classic about a boy and an apocalyptic bunny, returns to the screen
May01

Rabbit Season: ‘Donnie Darko,’ cult classic about a boy and an apocalyptic bunny, returns to the screen

In the world of film, it is sometimes depressingly simple to point out why a given film is popular: perfectly groomed stars with gleaming teeth, things going boom, good over evil. I get it — we are, by and large, easy to please, and that’s okay. It’s just not that interesting. What is far more difficult to pin down, and so much more engaging to wonder about, are the unexpected hits and cult favorites. What these works do is strike...

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Cinemadope: This Is Spinal Tap deadpans for gold
Apr24

Cinemadope: This Is Spinal Tap deadpans for gold

While the idea of a “mockumentary” now seems almost old-hat, in 1984 director Rob Reiner gave birth to the zany medium. His ridiculously entertaining satire about life on the road with aging, British metal band Spinal Tap during their American comeback tour was mostly improvpotised, with stars Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, and Harry Shearer leading the charge. At the time, it was almost puzzling in the strength of its deadpan....

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Cinemadope: TED talks live on the Cinemark screen
Apr18

Cinemadope: TED talks live on the Cinemark screen

TED talks — the bite-sized presentations given at the organization’s annual Technology, Education, and Design conference — have become an oddly popular cultural phenomenon. At once elitist and public-spirited (a standard conference membership will run you 10 grand, yet thousands of the famous talks are available for free on TED.com), it has become a sort of intellectual snack food, shared on social media with attention-grabbing titles...

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Cinemadope: Hopptornet, a documentary that pushes people to jump
Apr10

Cinemadope: Hopptornet, a documentary that pushes people to jump

Maine Course Like so many of my middle-aged compatriots, I seem to have adopted food as a new hobby. Not cooking, necessarily — quite a bit of this particular enterprise is taken up simply by watching other people cook, it turns out — but eating, at least. And what I’ve come to realize about myself is that I’m addicted to those smallest of plates, the hors d’oeuvre. My dear mother-in-law may work for half a day assembling a...

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Cinemadope: Banned in the U.S., Documentary about Massachusetts prison for criminally insane turns 50
Apr03

Cinemadope: Banned in the U.S., Documentary about Massachusetts prison for criminally insane turns 50

One of my favorite discoveries from the last year was Documentary Now!, a wonderfully endearing mix of parody and love letter to the modern documentary genre. Originally created for the IFC channel — I first ran across it on Netflix, where you can still check out the first season — the series, created by Saturday Night Live alums Bill Hader, Fred Armisen, and Seth Meyers tackles a different well-known documentary each episode,...

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Cinemadope: Your Nearest Screening of 1984
Mar27

Cinemadope: Your Nearest Screening of 1984

Hurt Feelings A few weeks back I found myself with a rare night off — the kids asleep early, the house somehow clean, the bills already paid. I was scrolling through my various Netflix queues when a familiar title popped up: V for Vendetta, the Wachowskis’ 2005 adaptation of Alan Moore’s (Watchmen) famous graphic novel. Something in our current climate had me in the mood to revisit this tale of a neo-fascist regime, holding on to...

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Cinemadope: In a Pickle
Mar20

Cinemadope: In a Pickle

The annual Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival returns Now in its twelfth year, the Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival (PVJFF) has long been a wonderful part of the Valley’s plentiful film offerings. Carefully curated, the festival screens films big and small, providing local filmgoers with a thought-provoking slate of work that is engaging, entertaining, and often unexpected. Beyond giving viewers a nice show, the festival...

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Cinemadope: Perfect 10
Mar13

Cinemadope: Perfect 10

Talk about the American Dream, and one of the first things that will likely come up is the idea of owning your own home. To be sure, having a house of one’s own brings with it a host of benefits — if you have kids, for instance, cleaning all those rooms every day means you can skip a gym membership — but sometimes there is something lost in the rush to find our own walled castles. Before I came to the Valley, I lived in a series of...

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Cinemadope: In Plain Sight
Mar06

Cinemadope: In Plain Sight

Over the last few months, it has become impossible to ignore the rising tides of xenophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry and hatred that have suddenly made America a much scarier place for so many of those who call it home. Of course, these prejudices aren’t new — for a nation founded by people fleeing persecution, we sure have done a damn lot of persecuting ourselves — but they are certainly out in the daylight in a way they...

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Cinemadope: Wolverine’s Back — For the Last Time
Feb27

Cinemadope: Wolverine’s Back — For the Last Time

We Americans are a nostalgic bunch. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just that we are still such a young nation — there are Italian cafes that are older than our whole country — that we like to fool ourselves into thinking we have more history than we do. Or maybe, when things are particularly desperate, we just need the comfort of pretending that things haven’t always been so bad. And so we have our Facebook memories, our Timehops, our...

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Cinemadope: The Short List
Feb20

Cinemadope: The Short List

It’s easy, when Oscars season rolls around, to feel jaded about the cult of celebrity that Hollywood engenders. It can seem that the same kinds of films, and the same kinds of stars, come away with the golden statue every year. But if we’re still waiting for the Academy to wake up to the wider world of film when it comes to the biggest awards, some categories — and not just the foreign film selections — have long seemed more open to...

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Cinemadope: The Eagle Huntress
Feb13

Cinemadope: The Eagle Huntress

All Ages Show For years now, the Academy of Music in Northampton has played host to the annual KidsBestFest film festival. It’s a free week-long event (donations are welcome) that mixes great kid-centric movies from around the world with a local event known as YouthFilm, which gives youthful local filmmakers the chance to have their work shown on the Academy’s big screen. The festival is scheduled to coincide with the school vacation...

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Cinemadope: The Venice Ghetto – 500 Years of Life
Feb06

Cinemadope: The Venice Ghetto – 500 Years of Life

Every year at Oscar time we get a speech about the power of visual effects and their ability to “capture the magic in our mind” or some such thing, followed by a green-screen montage of dragons, space aliens, and transforming cars that are also space aliens. Don’t get me wrong: great effects can make a movie magical. But without a story that we care about, even the best effects are just lightning trying to reanimate the dead. The true...

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Cinemadope: The Prison in Twelve Landscapes
Jan30

Cinemadope: The Prison in Twelve Landscapes

Building a Wall Over the last few years, a regular appointment in Boston meant that I was frequently traveling along Route 2 between Franklin County and the Hub. It was more convenient than driving south to hook up with the Pike, and more picturesque, even if it did mean losing cell service now and again. I got used to it, and before long it felt little different than my commute to Northampton along Route 5. But however many times I...

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Cinemadope: “The Brand New Testament” at Amherst Cinema
Jan23

Cinemadope: “The Brand New Testament” at Amherst Cinema

The Man Upstairs Let me say this right up front: I’ve never acted a day in my life. The closest I came was tagging along with a friend while he auditioned for an open call for extras on a pirate movie, where my college-freshman goatee briefly attracted the attention of someone with a clipboard. Maybe I missed my calling, even if I was only meant to be an extra in twenty Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Still, many of my friends over...

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Cinemadope: Schlep West, Young Man
Jan16

Cinemadope: Schlep West, Young Man

More than most people, Americans love a good road story. I think it’s something that is simply part of our collective national subconscious, a metaphysical result of the vast physical breadth of the nation. Few of us, even today, really get (or take) the chance to explore our own country. But deep down, the desire has always been there, and we are always ready to read someone else’s account of it, running straight through from Lewis...

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Cinemadope: Is Spielberg Corny?
Jan09

Cinemadope: Is Spielberg Corny?

There are times when I look back on my youth and shake my head at my younger self. Mostly, it’s when I think about the dreck that was on in the after-school hours on the local UHF stations: sugar-cereal cartoons that were a 12-year-old’s forbidden fruit. It is with a heavy heart that I try to estimate the amount of time I spent glued, wide-eyed, to episodes of ThunderCats. But there are other stories from those days that have stayed...

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Cinemadope: Three films about hummus, bagels and blintzes
Jan03

Cinemadope: Three films about hummus, bagels and blintzes

When it comes to film, the Christmas and New Years weeks are not usually a great time for filmgoers, with the exception of a few blockbusters and carefully planned Oscar-hopeful releases. Studios and theaters know that we’re all too damn busy rushing out to buy a last minute gift or go to another holiday party, so they push openings back for much of their best fare. What does get sent out is largely the cinematic equivalent of all...

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Cinemadope: Denzel Washington stars in August Wilson’s Fences
Dec27

Cinemadope: Denzel Washington stars in August Wilson’s Fences

Month of August Despite his legendary status in American theater, August Wilson is not a name one hears attached to many film projects. The self-taught dramatist, who dropped out of high school after being falsely accused of plagiarism, left behind an astounding body of work — including plays like Jitney and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — when he passed away at age 60 in 2005. His work changed the way the experience of black Americans was...

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Cinemadope: Wild Things
Dec19

Cinemadope: Wild Things

Director Garth Jennings has had an interesting, if short, career. Coming out of the gate with an adaptation of the Douglas Adams cult classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in 2005, his first big film grossed many millions, starred people like Zooey Deschanel and John Malkovich, and opened its first weekend atop the North American box office. It seemed like a good start, even if you weren’t a fan of the Adams book. Two years...

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Cinemadope: Cracking a Chestnut
Dec12

Cinemadope: Cracking a Chestnut

When my wife and I began seeing each other — a decade ago, now — one of our early big dates was an afternoon out for a December performance of The Nutcracker, put on by the Pioneer Valley Ballet at the Academy of Music in Northampton. It felt special and somehow grand, with both of us in clothes we didn’t wear so often, each done up a bit for the occasion. But it also felt sweetly innocent and profoundly local, seeing those kids...

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Cinemadope: Going Rogue
Dec05

Cinemadope: Going Rogue

It was about a year ago that I stole away for a late night screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the long-awaited “Episode VII” that returned fans to the world of droids, lightsabers, and The Force. It had been an especially anticipated film due to the terrible disappointment of the films that preceded it in the Star Wars filmography: the mostly atrocious prequel trilogy that squandered one of popular science fiction’s greatest...

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Cinemadope: All Together Now
Nov28

Cinemadope: All Together Now

Whatever your thoughts are about the outcome of last month’s election, it seems fair to say that a Trump presidency will be less welcoming of — if not downright hostile to — many of the world’s cultures. As a film writer, that leaves me feeling both deflated (will foreign films find it even more of a struggle to distribute stateside now?) and, paradoxically, a bit hopeful. Film often captures something in us that we didn’t know was...

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