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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
Brace Yourselves: Nostalgia is Coming
Oct03

Brace Yourselves: Nostalgia is Coming

Fall in Love Now that I spend a good five minutes a day sweeping dry leaves out of our back entry, I think it’s safe to finally say it: autumn is upon us. And I’ll take it, dry leaves and all. Nestled between the smothering humidity of our summer and the desiccating chafe of winter winds, autumn in New England — and especially in the Pioneer Valley — is a perfect restorative, filled with the explosive colors of natural beauty but also...

Read More
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...

Read More
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,...

Read More
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...

Read More
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,...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
Amherst Cinema Turns Cloak and Dagger
Aug01

Amherst Cinema Turns Cloak and Dagger

In Vienna Once Quick, name this film: stylish, black and white, set overseas in or around the Second World War, but not about the ground fight in Europe. If you guessed Casablanca, you’re in good company. Michael Curtiz’s 1942 romantic drama, pairing Bogart and Bergman against the backdrop of the looming Nazi threat to Casablanca, is a perennial at cinemas all around the country. It crops up at Bogart festivals and as a bit of an odd...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
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...

Read More
Cinemadope: Toot Your Own Horn
May03

Cinemadope: Toot Your Own Horn

It must have been in 1989 or so that I first saw Colors, director Dennis Hopper’s story about police and gang violence in Los Angeles. Set mostly in South Central and East L.A., it starred Sean Penn and Robert Duvall as partnered cops — a rookie and his mentor — trying to stanch the bleeding in an area scarred by the violent clashes of the Bloods, the Crips, and Hispanic street gangs. My memory is that it was a pretty fresh...

Read More
Cinemadope: Everybody Wants Some!!
Apr12

Cinemadope: Everybody Wants Some!!

Any director worth their salt knows their strengths. Scorsese has New York and the mob; Allen has New York and neurosis; Tarantino has pop culture and cursing; Bergman had Sweden, bleakness, and death. To me, one of the marks of an interesting director — an interesting artist of any stripe, really — is a willingness, even, perhaps, a compulsion, to return to the same subject matter at regular intervals.   To some it might seem...

Read More
Cinemadope: Let’s Fight – The conflicts of good stories
Apr05

Cinemadope: Let’s Fight – The conflicts of good stories

I’m sure that any first-year film major could tell you more than I can about what makes films tick, but for me, the best of them have always come down to the story of relationships — much like our own lives. Whether it’s He Said/She Said, Axis against Allies, or Harry vs. Voldemort, the most compelling, lasting stories are never just two opposing forces slamming into one another; instead they are conflicts that explore how we can...

Read More
Cinemadope: Have Faith – The Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival Returns
Mar29

Cinemadope: Have Faith – The Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival Returns

  Religion and art have a complicated history. Together they’ve been responsible for some of the great masterworks of history — the Sistine Chapel, Chagall’s stained glass, the Dome of the Rock — but they’ve also produced their fair share of eye-poppingly awful faith-rock bands and a surprising number of Kirk Cameron evangelical movies.   But if Cameron’s work is usually seen as religion-first, then the Pioneer Valley...

Read More
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,...

Read More
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...

Read More
Cinemadope: Turkish delight, the unstoppable spirit of youth
Jan11

Cinemadope: Turkish delight, the unstoppable spirit of youth

Twice in the 1990s, a striking debut made a splash in creative circles. There were, of course, other debuts that have left their marks — Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, for instance, hit screens in 1992, cutting the channel for the coming river of pop culture-saturated stories that would make him a household name — but what made this particular pair stand out was that they both told the same story: one was a debut novel, the other...

Read More
Cinemadope: Shifting Gears, bikes, cars, and the future
Jan04

Cinemadope: Shifting Gears, bikes, cars, and the future

Here in the Pioneer Valley, bikes and biking are part of the fabric of daily life. People come from miles away to roll along the long bike path. Built on an old rail line that stretches across the Connecticut river and connects far-flung towns, the bike path has grown in popularity. New businesses have sprung up that cater to the two-wheeling crowd — check out the to-go window in the back of Easthampton’s Tandem Bagel Company, where...

Read More
Cinemadope: Nerd Christmas
Dec14

Cinemadope: Nerd Christmas

When I do the dishes in our house, I often like to plug in some headphones and catch up on a favorite podcast. One of those podcasts is a new discovery for me, so I’ve been catching up on old episodes during my nightly scrubbing. Most of the time, it doesn’t matter that the stream is about a year old, but last night I was listening when the subject of the new Star Wars trailer came up, and it took me a moment to realize that the hosts...

Read More
Winter is Coming: Holiday Film Traditions
Dec07

Winter is Coming: Holiday Film Traditions

As I sit down to write this column, the calendar is teetering on the edge of December. Thanksgiving may have been unseasonably balmy, but today was the first day all season that I left the house and immediately turned back to put on another layer. When I got back, I plugged in the tree and put on some holiday music, made a cup of tea, and curled up as tightly as I could in the softest chair in the house. And yet none of that signals...

Read More