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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Cinemadope: Into the Woods
Nov21

Cinemadope: Into the Woods

With Black Friday upon us this week, the maelstrom of the holiday shopping season has officially begun. Weekends will find increasingly desperate hordes descending on anything that looks like it might hold toys or electronics, toddlers will go into full meltdown mode on the mall mezzanine, and the relentless saccharine cheer of holiday music will begin to take over our brainwaves. As a great fan of holiday music, I actually don’t mind...

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Cinemadope: Animal House
Nov14

Cinemadope: Animal House

Anyone who has invested enough time in reading a great book series will recognize the feeling: as the end of the final installment approaches, a mix of elation and emptiness starts to creep in. Soon the story will come full circle, and when it does, there will be nothing more to read. These days, it is perhaps a feeling more commonly felt during Netflix marathons — “what will I do when I finish Stranger Things?” Fans of the Harry...

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Cinemadope: Continental Divide
Nov07

Cinemadope: Continental Divide

Strike up a conversation about foreign film with most American film buffs, and the discussion will almost certainly travel East, over the Atlantic, on a European course. Those buffs with enough wind in them might even reach the Middle East and parts of Asia, but few take the detour south to Africa. It’s a bias that I suspect many filmgoers don’t even realize they have, but one that keeps some great films from finding an audience. This...

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Cinemadope: Underdogs, from the Sox to the Cubbies
Oct31

Cinemadope: Underdogs, from the Sox to the Cubbies

Shortly before I sat down to write this column, the unimaginable happened: the Chicago Cubs clinched a World Series berth for the first time in 71 years. If you don’t follow baseball, just know that it was a long drought — Lawrence of Arabia long, if you’re more of a film person (of course, they haven’t won it yet; that drought has lasted since 1908). Here in Massachusetts, where Sox fans know a little something about long waits, it...

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Cinemadope: Food for Thought
Oct24

Cinemadope: Food for Thought

We in the Valley may have an above-average awareness of food co-ops. Take a Sunday drive around Western Mass, and you’ll find co-ops dotting the landscape, serving local communities and offering an alternative to the big box grocery chains that might not find it profitable to serve some smaller towns at all. But even the savviest of co-op members might be surprised by Steve Alves new documentary about the phenomenon. Food for Change...

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Cinemadope: The Vermont Yankee Story screens Sunday
Oct17

Cinemadope: The Vermont Yankee Story screens Sunday

Yankee No How Live in the Valley for any length of time, and you’ll soon know of Frances Crowe. The diminutive white-haired woman is something of a local celebrity, thanks to a life spent in activism, where her infectious cheer is matched by her uncompromising (and equally infectious) commitment to living an ethical life, and to calling out institutions that promote conflict, oppression, or harm. At age 97 — and after who knows how...

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Cinemadope: The Nanny’s Gaze, discovering the secret world of little known Chicago street photog Vivian Maier
Oct10

Cinemadope: The Nanny’s Gaze, discovering the secret world of little known Chicago street photog Vivian Maier

A lifetime ago — maybe two lifetimes now — I was an art school student. I was a hard worker but probably too concerned with what others thought of my work, and even then I knew that was a problem. That feeling seemed confirmed by the work being done by a classmate of mine: a shy, unassuming young woman who flew so far under the radar that she was skimming the grass. Her art — when I finally got to see her most honest work, and not...

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Cinemadope: Going Wilder
Sep26

Cinemadope: Going Wilder

When the world lost Gene Wilder a month ago, it was a bit of a surprise to many — he hadn’t appeared onscreen in quite a few years, preferring to devote himself to the books he wrote later in life. But if it was a surprise, it also stung. For myself, and I suspect for many other creative types of my generation, Wilder seemed like a kindred spirit: someone who had a great many of the same hang-ups as the rest of us, but who had somehow...

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Cinemadope: Transitions
Sep12

Cinemadope: Transitions

When your life seems fairly well set in its ways, change can be hard. Actually, change can be terrifying. You might have a family that you love and a job that you look forward to, and something can still seem not right. Accepting that — in other words, accepting our own messy and complicated self — and taking the steps to explore those feelings, requires a brave soul. And to have it all work out in the end very often requires the help...

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At Amherst Cinema: An actor dives into a reporter’s death
Sep06

At Amherst Cinema: An actor dives into a reporter’s death

There’s a famous scene in Network, Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film about the state of the television industry, in which veteran newsman Howard Beale (Peter Finch), bitter about his impending dismissal in the face of declining ratings, announces to his audience that instead of fading away he will go out with a bang – by killing himself on air in an upcoming broadcast. It doesn’t quite happen that way in the film (without Beale continuing on,...

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Cinemadope: A Queen and Her Kings
Aug29

Cinemadope: A Queen and Her Kings

A musician’s life is never easy. I’m not talking about those of us who pick up the guitar now and then, or even the many who, long after it becomes clear that they will likely not move beyond the coffee house or bar circuit, still pack up the Volvo to head out for a weekend gig. I’m thinking instead of those people for whom performance is a necessity — people who from early on have been driven to sing, dance, blow a horn, or beat a...

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Cinemadope: These New Kid Flicks Aren’t Just For Kids
Aug22

Cinemadope: These New Kid Flicks Aren’t Just For Kids

No Kidding One of the great myths of cinema is that kids movies are for kids. Sure, they might be a bit more brightly colored than most, or hit most of their punch lines a little more on the nose, but never forget that these films are made by grown-ups. Peel back that sweet outer layer, and very often you’ll find a richer, more complex flavor just beneath the surface. This week, a small army of “kid’s movies” land on area screens,...

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Cinemadope: On the Road Again
Aug15

Cinemadope: On the Road Again

Alien. Blade Runner. Black Hawk Down. The Martian. Over the decades, director Ridley Scott has built a career on making the kinds of films (often with a bit of a sci-fi bent) that combine quiet moments with explosive action. But for me, he will always be first associated with a film that many people are surprsed to find he directed at all. That film is the now-classic 1991 road movie Thelma & Louise, screening this week...

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Sisters and Soldiers: New Films This Week
Aug09

Sisters and Soldiers: New Films This Week

A quiet world, invaded Sometimes it seems like we have always been at war. Whether on a small scale or a world stage, we as a species seem never to tire of hurting each other, and of finding inventive new ways to do it. But perhaps even more depressing than that terrible march of progress from stones to drones are those ancient horrors that are still so terribly common in our more recent conflicts. One of those horrors is at the heart...

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Cinemadope: Music! Intrigue! Nuts! Documentary film screenings this week
Jul25

Cinemadope: Music! Intrigue! Nuts! Documentary film screenings this week

In this political season, there has been a lot of talk about the meaning — good and bad — of dynasties in our national discourse. The truth is that, for a country that prides itself on its history of flipping the bird to royalty all those years ago, we sure do love to see familiar faces on the big stage: Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton are more than mere names. They are signifiers and shorthand that let us feel connected to the wider...

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Cinemadope: Fallout
Jul19

Cinemadope: Fallout

Conspiracy Theories “Challenger” will forever be one of those words whose meaning — or at least its history — is immediately known to anyone old enough to have lived through the 1986 space shuttle disaster. That tragic moment, witnessed live by so many American children (I was one such seventh grader, watching on a TV wheeled into our social studies classroom), is still seared in our national memory. Just seeing the shape of the...

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Cinemadope: Prince’s Purple Reign
Jul11

Cinemadope: Prince’s Purple Reign

We all have a tendency, as we get on in years, to remember our better days and let the not-so-great times wash away in the river of time. It’s human, and while you might roll your eyes at your great-aunt launching into that same story about sneaking into a Beatles concert, rest assured that someday someone will be rolling their eyes at your own oft-told stories. But you? You’ll be too happy to notice. In film, too, stories we love get...

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Cinemadope: Defiant Requiem showing in Amherst
Jun27

Cinemadope: Defiant Requiem showing in Amherst

Notes on War When it comes to war and film, there will never be a shortage of stories. Whether tales of daring or death, on the front or at home, war can bring out the best and worst in us, and create lifelong strength — or leave one with lasting wounds. And while we at home, removed from the reality of conflict, might imagine our soldiers as one mass of humanity, the truth is that they are millions of individuals, each with their own...

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Cinemadope: Here and Gone
Jun20

Cinemadope: Here and Gone

Small films shown quickly, so see them today Showing movies is a tough racket, and the hard truth of the matter is that an opening weekend can make or break a film’s chances at breaking even at the box office. Do decently out of the gate, and you might get a chance at week two; do not-so-decently, and you’re probably destined for the DVD bin at Walmart — if you’re lucky. One of the trickier bits about writing a weekly film column is...

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Cinemadope: Swede Hearts, a celebration of the best Bergmans in film: Ingmar and Ingrid
Jun06

Cinemadope: Swede Hearts, a celebration of the best Bergmans in film: Ingmar and Ingrid

  Hear that a local theater is hosting a Bergman festival, and the first thought that will pop into the heads of most art-house denizens will be that of the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. An icon for the ages, the director’s films — The Seventh Seal, Fanny and Alexander, etc. — came to define “foreign film” for a generation of moviegoers. There have been a whole lot of Ingmar Bergman festivals over the years, and it’s fair to...

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Take Note
May31

Take Note

  Movies without music would be like books without adjectives. So much of the emotional impact of film as we know it depends on auditory cues and clues, even though we aren’t really aware of it much of the time. When we are aware of it, more often than not it lessens the impact of the music on a scene. But done right, movie music — in which I include not just soundtrack songs and title themes but also the little recurring motifs,...

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Cinemadope: ‘April and the Extraordinary World’ plays this weekend; Longevity serum, missing scientists, and a talking cat named Darwin
May23

Cinemadope: ‘April and the Extraordinary World’ plays this weekend; Longevity serum, missing scientists, and a talking cat named Darwin

Ask people what they like in art, and you might think that all they want is “the real world” mirrored back at them. We hail the Old Masters — their mastery of light and shadow, their ability to make hard marble seem like supple skin. But where would we story lovers be without alternate worlds? In a world sometimes overly concerned with making art seem “real,” it’s always a pleasure to find oneself happily lost in another place, and...

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Cinemadope: A Bugs Life
Mar08

Cinemadope: A Bugs Life

There was a time in my life — not, in truth, all that long ago — when I didn’t think that the genius of Looney Tunes would ever be equalled. Sure, animation has grown to encompass all sorts of new technologies since Bugs and company first hit the screen, but what made those cartoons so essential to me as a boy was never just how they were drawn. Instead, it was the wordplay and wit at work, and the unending nods to all sorts of adult...

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Cinemadope: Piano Man, Marvin Hamlisch’s musical legacy
Feb29

Cinemadope: Piano Man, Marvin Hamlisch’s musical legacy

You don’t have to be a music nerd to know Marvin Hamlisch. Or a theater nerd. Or a film nerd. Or a television nerd. Because even if you don’t know him by name, Hamlisch’s work will have seeped into the soul of anyone who was alive in the latter half of the 20th century. He was, after all, that rare creative beast (there have been only 11 others) who attained what has come to be known as an EGOT: winning an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar,...

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Cinemadope: A Bird in Hand, Sesame Street comes to Northampton
Feb08

Cinemadope: A Bird in Hand, Sesame Street comes to Northampton

As I sit here in my shirtsleeves, typing away near a slightly open window, I really must insist that readers of this column remember this minor detail: it is February. This is the time when we’re all supposed to be calling all the hardware stores, asking about roof rakes and ice dams; or buying one of those weird ergonomic shovels because all the normal ones are sold out, bought by normal people who think ahead. I mention it not...

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Cinemadope: Keeping the Beat
Jan25

Cinemadope: Keeping the Beat

One of my favorite memories of being young and broke in New York is of a night my then-partner and I went to a Manhattan music spot to hear one of her co-workers play. The venue was a second floor residence — it seemed a good bet that, despite the space made for a dance floor, someone called it home after the music was over for the night — and the bar carried wildly marked-up drinks from the bodega below. The man who had invited us...

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