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Monday, March 18,2013

In full bloom

Writer-director Whit Stillman makes a delightful comeback with the witty 'Damsels in Distress'

by James Sanford
If you think you’ve waited a long time for “The Avengers” to hit the screen, imagine how fans of writer-director Whit Stillman must feel about “Damsels in Distress”: Stillman, who became an art-house darling with “Metropolitan,” “Barcelona” and “The Last Days of Disco” in the 1990s, has taken almost 14 years off from filmmaking. Even so, the long hiatus has not tarnished his talent for concocting deliciously witty, eccentric comedies, and “Damsels” shows Stillman returning to the game in high style.
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Monday, March 18,2013

Sucking in the Seventies

Tim Burton's fitfully funny 'Dark Shadows' spoofs and salutes the old horror soap opera

by James Sanford
Long before soap operas discovered the allure of extraterrestrials, evil clones and time travel, there was “Dark Shadows,” a supernatural series that haunted weekday afternoons from 1966 to 1971. While it may have been cheaply put together (if you listen carefully in some episodes, you can hear offstage coughs, sneezes and other noises, which would seem to signal that retakes were rare and that ABC valued speed over slickness when it came to the production), creator Dan Curtis’ saga of the vampire Barnabas Collins and the cursed estate of Collinwood captured the imaginations of housewives and just-home-from-school kids as well.
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Monday, March 18,2013

'Shadows' of the '70s

Two 'Dark Shadows'-inspired movies brought Barnabas Collins and Angelique to the screen more than 40 years ago

by James Sanford
Friday, May 11 — Tim Burton isn’t the first director to bring “Dark Shadows” to the big screen. That honor goes to Dan Curtis, who created the TV series and went on to oversee the 1970 feature “House of Dark Shadows” and its 1971 sequel, “Night of Dark Shadows,” both of which opened in theaters while the popular soap opera was still running every weekday on ABC.
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Wednesday, March 13,2013

The plaything's the thing

The wicked wit of Seth MacFarlane turns 'Ted' into a comedy with sharp claws

by James Sanford
“Ted” begins with a lonely young boy’s magical holiday wish for a special friend being granted. “It’s a Christmas miracle!” Mom declares as the child’s teddy bear comes to life. But don’t believe for a moment that “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane — who directed, produced, co-wrote and provided the voice for the title character — has suddenly turned sentimental and sweet-natured. The kid grows up to be John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), a 35-year-old Bostonian stoner, and his best buddy, Ted, matures into a tyrant of a toy, a foul-mouthed, drug-craving, hooker-hiring ne’er-do-well; Winnie the Pooh would wince.
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Wednesday, March 13,2013

They shoot one-trick ponies, don’t they?

Sacha Baron Cohen wears out his welcome in record time in 'The Dictator'

by James Sanford
Perhaps you are old enough to remember the days when any “Saturday Night Live” sketch that got a few giggles suddenly became worthy of its own big-screen feature. Sure, “Wayne’s World” worked and “The Blues Brothers” long ago achieved cult classic status, but what about Al Franken’s “Stuart Saves His Family,” “Coneheads,” “Blues Brothers 2000,” Tim Meadows’ “The Ladies’ Man,” Molly Shannon’s “Superstar” and the almost unwatchable “It’s Pat: The Movie”? Talk about a lot of wasted money and wasted time.
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Wednesday, March 13,2013

From Havana with love

'Chico & Rita' is a stylish, jazzy animated romance

by James Sanford
Wednesday, May 16 — It's not just love at first sight when musician Chico catches a glimpse of sultry songbird Rita in “Chico & Rita”: It's love at first sound, too. In a dingy bar in late-1940s Havana, Rita saunters onto the stage, wearing a form-fitting, butterscotch-yellow dress and a Mona Lisa smile. Seconds after she launches into a scintillating rendition of “Besame Mucho,” Chico's heart goes into orbit.
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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Endless Summer

More than the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer was a versatile vocalist who challenged her audience

by James Sanford
Thursday, May 17 — I cannot tell you where I was the first time I heard The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” or Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” or Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” But I will always remember that day in May of 1979 when I was stuck at home with the flu, bundled up in bed and listening to WGRD-FM. The DJ excitedly announced he had just received the new Donna Summer single and promised something like “you’re gonna love this one!” Then he cued up “Hot Stuff” — and my little bedside radio practically exploded from the shock.
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Wednesday, March 13,2013

That sinking feeling

Brainless, offensive 'Battleship' should drive audiences to mutiny

by James Sanford
Ugh, those surplus brain cells! You try drinking them away, bashing your skull against a brick wall, but still your I.Q. remains in the triple digits. Can anything help reduce your mind to mush? Well, take heart: A screening of “Battleship” is practically a cinematic lobotomy.
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Wednesday, March 13,2013

It's raining Men in Black

Josh Brolin is a terrific addition to the team in a hit-or-miss sequel

by James Sanford
According to the Internet Movie Database, Will Smith's proposed upcoming projects include "Hancock II," "I, Robot II" and "Bad Boys III." That's two sequels to mediocre, utterly disposable films that were popular for a brief time and one follow-up to an unforgettably wretched movie that was immortalized (and mercilessly parodied) in Nick Frost and Simon Pegg's "Hot Fuzz." Perhaps, having missed out on Oscars for his dramatic work in "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Seven Pounds" (the latter one of Smith's few box office underachievers), Smith has decided to spend the rest of his career at the recycling center.
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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Spotlight on Rob Roznowski

Michigan State University associate professor of acting receives Distinguished Professor of the Year award

by James Sanford
Wednesday, May 30 — Michigan State University associate professor of acting Rob Roznowski was named Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year by the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. The award recognizes an educator at one of Michigan’s 15 public universities who has been nominated by his or her peers for outstanding contributions through classroom work and advising.
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