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.The...

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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 some...

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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.Not...

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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 CourseLike 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 FeelingsA 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 power...

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Cinemadope: In a Pickle
Mar20

Cinemadope: In a Pickle

The annual Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival returnsNow 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 organizers...

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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 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 WallOver 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 UpstairsLet 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 the...

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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: 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 HowLive 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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