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Starring: Dick Foran, Peggy Moran, Leo Carrillo/Lionel Atwill, Lon Chaney Jr., Anne Nagel

Horror Island / Man Made Monster

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In Brief: The movie year of 1941 was probably the best one that director George Waggner — a solid craftsman, if not a particularly inspired one — ever had. In rapid succession, he knocked out Horror Island, Man Made Monster and The Wolf Man. There’s no doubt that the last in the list is his best known, but, in all…
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Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Bradley Whitford, Cherry Jones, Wrenn Schmidt

I Saw the Light

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The Story: Disjointed biopic of country singer Hank Williams. The Lowdown: Tom Hiddleston is terrific in the lead role, while Elizabeth Olsen lends good support in this handsome film. Unfortunately, the film housing these performances has one of the most poorly structured scripts of all time.
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Starring: Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Dita Parlo, Erich von Stroheim, Julien Carette

Grand Illusion

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In Brief: If you don’t know Jean Renoir, it’s time you did, and Grand Illusion (1937) is the best place to start. Generally considered an anti-war film — and it is one — Grand Illusion is really too many things to be neatly pigeonholed by genre. It’s a World War I story — essentially a story about French prisoners…
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Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter, Gal Gadot

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

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The Story: A simple story about Batman being on the outs with Superman that's overly complicated in order to bring in other characters and the requisite mayhem and property damage. The Lowdown: It's neither as bad as it's been painted nor as good as one might hope. It takes itself too seriously and so isn't…
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Starring: James Cagney, Victor Jory, Anita Louise, Dick Powell, Olivia de Haviland, Joe E. Brown, Mickey Rooney

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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In Brief: In a fit of culture, the Warner Bros. decided to go full-on prestige in 1935 by hiring in one of the most controversial — but exceedingly famous — interpreters of Shakespeare to bring his production of A Midsummer Night's Dream to the screen with the idea of using it as an artistic showcase for…
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Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler March 16-22: The Divergent Creative Embrace of the Bronze Serpent from Heaven

In Theaters. This week we get one theoretically “big picture,” one specialty mainstream movie and three art titles, one of which seems to be already written off judging by its limited showtimes. However you look at it, that means five new movies hit town this week. Actually, the way last week shook out in terms […]

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Starring: Deanna Durbin, Robert Stack, Eugene Pallette, Helen Parrish, Leatrice Joy, Kathleen Howard

First Love

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In Brief: The name Deanna Durbin may not be immediately familiar to today’s audiences, but she practically carried Universal Pictures single-handedly between 1936 and 1941 — and she remained one of their biggest stars until she retired from movies in 1949. She had an operatic voice and was that rarest of things: a completely appealing…
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Starring: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Tyne Daly, Stephen Root

Hello, My Name Is Doris

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The Story: An older woman falls in love with a co-worker who is at least half her age. The Lowdown: A touching, charming, often funny (with an undercurrent of pain) film that showcases its star, and indeed the whole cast. A must-see? Close enough as makes no difference.
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Starring: Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Bela Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers, Lon Chaney Jr.

The Ghost of Frankenstein

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In Brief: In what is perhaps the greatest line of ballyhoo ever penned, the trailer for Erle C. Kenton’s The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) assures us, “Here is drama completely strange!” Unfortunately, there’s not much all that strange about it — unless you’ve never seen a Frankenstein movie. This is the movie where the once-great series dropped…
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Starring: Claudio Brook, Silvia Pinal, Enrique Alvarez Félix, Hortensia Santoveña, Jesus Fernandez

Simon of the Desert

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In Brief: What once made Luis Buñuel’s Simon of the Desert (1965) a favorite of university film classes — its 45-minute running time being perfect for one class session — has since conspired to make it one of the filmmaker’s more obscure works. After all, 45 minutes is an awkward fit for just about anything other than a classroom.…
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Cranky Hanke’s Weekly Reeler January 27-February 2: Finest Fifty Shades of Nominated Panda

In Theaters.  You know things are looking grim when the most promising mainstream release of the week is the third film in an animated series. OK, we do get the Oscar nominated short films, so that’s something, but we are clearly still in the winter of our discontent — again. Next week promises to be […]

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Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akiro Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada, Masayuki Yui

Ran

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In Brief: Having tackled Macbeth in 1957 with Throne of Blood, the great Akira Kurosawa took on King Lear toward the end of his life with Ran (1985) — and the results were astonishing. Though his eyesight was failing, he managed to create one of his most visually stunning films with the help of his…
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Starring: Lon Chaney Jr., Robert Paige, Louise Allbritton, Evelyn Ankers, J. Edward Bromberg, Frank Craven

Son of Dracula

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In Brief: Robert Siodmak’s Son of Dracula (1943) is a film that, but for one thing, would be one of the great horror pictures. Unfortunately, that one thing is a badly miscast lead, Lon Chaney Jr., as Dracula (or, if you prefer, his son) — and that’s a pretty big problem. (For kicks, you can always start a rip-roaring…
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Starring: Benjamin Dickinson, Nora Zehetner, Dan Gill, Alexia Rasmussen, Reggie Watts

Creative Control

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The Story: A pill-popping advertising executive gets involved with a new form of "virtual reality" in the course of his work. The Lowdown: You'd be hard pressed to find a better looking movie and a more interesting premise. But, dramatically, the film suffers from unlikable characters and a certain smugness.
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Starring: Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Yauenkü Migue

Embrace of the Serpent

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The Story: Intercut parallel journeys through the Amazon by two ethnographers in different eras. The Lowdown: Rich and strange mystical film that is filled to the bursting point with dream images and bizarre characters. It's always a pleasure to look at and is endlessly intriguing, but it can't quite pull off its ending.
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Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr., Douglas M. Griffin, Suzanne Cryer

10 Cloverfield Lane

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The Story: A young woman awakes from an accident to find herself in an underground bunker where she's told the world above has fallen prey to some kind of cataclysm that makes it uninhabitable. The Lowdown: This sort-of, kissing-cousin, pseudo-sequel to Cloverfield is really two movies joined together with very visible seams. It's not awful,…
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Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane

The Brothers Grimsby

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The Story: An idiot soccer hooligan ends up teaming with his spy brother to save the world (more or less). The Lowdown: A collection of raunchy, vile, gross, disgusting, offensive gags — many of which are actually offensive and funny at the same time — packed into a spy-spoof that is not recommended for the…
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Starring: Ramon Novarro, Francis X. Bushman, May McAvoy, Betty Bronson, Claire McDowell

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

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In Brief: I first saw Fred Niblo’s 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur 44 years ago — a battered, 16 mm bootleg print courtesy of film professor "Knocky" Parker at the University of South Florida. The film was projected at silent speed (an error that made it last for what seemed like three days), looking very scratchy, with obviously missing…
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Starring: Melissa Rauch, Gary Cole, Haley Lu Richardson, Thomas Middleditch, Sebastian Stan

The Bronze

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The Story: A bronze medalist Olympic gymnast — and longtime local celebrity — is forced by circumstances to train a more-promising young contender. The Lowdown: When the film gets past its often noxious first 40 minutes and becomes a more appealing story, this raunchy rom-com comes into its own. But those first 40 minutes can…
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Starring: Michael Pitt, Louis Garrel, Eva Green, Anna Chancellor, Robin Renucci

The Dreamers

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In Brief: One of the most controversial and sexually frank movies of its decade, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers (2003) is a classic example of a film that’s not for everyone. Fully earning its NC-17 rating, its themes are adult and the use of sex and nudity is pretty unflinching, and should be borne in mind. The story concerns a…