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‘DUNKIRK’ MISSES THE BIG PICTURE

Dunkirk may be the most understated World War Two movie ever made. That doesn’t mean it’s anemic in depicting the horror of combat; quite the contrary. But in his effort to avoid the clichés and rah-rah patriotism of war movies past, writer-director Christopher Nolan has swung his pendulum to the other extreme. Dunkirk is based on one of the most remarkable episodes of the 20th century, when thousands of soldiers were evacuated from the French coastline by a flotilla of small sailing vessels. Nolan has chosen to tell this saga through a series of parallel incidents, focusing on individuals and downplaying the Big Picture. What’s missing, for me, is that macro-view of this extraordinary event. I didn’t expect a conventional history lesson from Nolan, but…

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NITRATE CAN’T WAIT: IS HOPALONG CASSIDY DISINTEGRATING?

[My longtime friend Dick Bann, with whom I wrote a book on Our Gang years ago, had no training as a film archivist, but spent a number of years working with the late David Shepard at Blackhawk Films and then supervised the restoration of the Hal Roach film library in Los Angeles—for which he deserves our everlasting thanks. He has also been involved in the William Boyd estate and its Hopalong Cassidy holdings for many years, which prompted this recent missive. I thank Dick for giving me permission to reprint it here.]   By Richard W. Bann   In a prolonged absence from home, I was happily occupied back East, ensconced within film vaults at a remote ranch built in 1783, way back when the…

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FILM FESTIVAL DIARY: KARLOVY VARY

It’s been a while since I attended a major film festival outside the U.S., and I didn’t know what to expect at the 52nd Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic. This venerable and prestigious event is a vast movie sampler, with films from around the globe and a natural emphasis on Czech and Eastern European countries. Yet on opening night the honorees were all American—Casey Affleck, Uma Thurman, and composer James Newton Howard—and the kickoff film was The Big Sick, introduced on video by its star and co-writer Kumail Nanjiani. No power on earth can rival the allure of a Hollywood movie star; that was reaffirmed at the end of the festival when Jeremy Renner came to town to introduce Wind River,…

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NO MAPS ON MY TAPS

I can’t believe it’s been almost forty years since I first saw this enchanting documentary. Now, thanks to Milestone Films, I’ve had a chance to revisit it and I’ve fallen in love with it all over again. Filmmaker George T. Nierenberg presents a poignant, intimate portrait of three gifted men who represent a bygone era of tap dancing: Chuck Green, Bunny Briggs, and Sandman Sims. They worked in vaudeville and nightclubs but for the most part they acquired their skills on the sidewalks of New York. An older generation of dancers were generous with advice and know-how, and they are also part of this story. No documentary about tap dancing would be complete without footage of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, but the clip that blows me…

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WHY I LOVE MOVIE STILLS

I bought my first vintage 8×10 photo at a used bookstore in Hackensack, New Jersey when I was 13 years old. It cost 25 cents, which was just what I could afford. I’ve continued buying stills ever since, carefully filing and cross-referencing them as only a compulsive person would. Why? Because I love looking at them, noticing details in the background, admiring the often-anonymous photographers who shot them. I thought I’d start sharing some of my favorites with you. Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall at this 1930s party? W.C. Fields looks to be in fine fettle and good humor—and look at the laughter on the faces of his companions, Herbert Marshall and Leslie Howard. Also take note of how…

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OKJA: GO AWAY, PIGGY

Okja is one of the strangest movies of this or any year in recent memory. You may have read about its high-profile debut at the Cannes Film Festival. I can’t imagine what audiences there made of this strange hybrid of family film, ecological satire, and farce. Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho is internationally renowned for such unusual fare as Mother, The Host, and Snowpiercer, but nothing could prepare viewers for this fable about a wide-eyed girl and her pet super-pig. Yes, I said super-pig. An evil corporation run by neurotic Tilda Swinton has created twenty-six genetically enhanced porkers and sent them around the world to grow for ten years. The best animal will then be selected at a high-profile competition in New York City. There’s just one predictable hitch: the…

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MISSING MOVIE REVIEWS

If you follow my posts, you know that my family and I will be attending the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic for the next two weeks. That means I’m not in Los Angeles to screen and review some major new releases including War for the Planet of the Apes and Spider-man: Homecoming. There’s more to juggle when I return, including Disney’s D23 Convention and the San Diego International Comic-con, but I will do my best to catch up and keep up with the rest of the summer films. Thanks for your understanding. And remember, air conditioning is not reason enough to suffer through a really bad movie!

NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS: JUNE 2017

  A GATHERING OF GUNS: A HALF CENTURY HISTORY OF TV WESTERNS (1949-2001) by Boyd Magers; forewords by James Drury, Robert Fuller, Clint Walker, Henry Darrow, Don Collier, and Will Hutchins (Western Clippings) For years I’ve been a faithful reader of Boyd Magers’ periodical Western Clippings, which celebrates the Western movie genre with an emphasis on the past. Every issue is jam-packed with information, interviews, rare photos, and more. He has extended this modus operandi to his latest book, a spiral-bound publication that covers an astonishing 196 TV series in its 478 pages—with over 1,600 illustrations. The relationship to movie history is clear: in the 1950s the Saturday matinee Western was reborn as the hour television series for such stars as Gene Autry and Roy…

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THE BIG SICK

I don’t know how someone puts his life story on film, playing himself without a trace of self-consciousness…yet that’s what comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani has done in this disarming film, which he and his wife Emily V. Gordon wrote together. I suppose it’s a logical step once a performer has learned that the best comedy is rooted in truth. Still, it’s a big step to expose oneself emotionally as he does here. The Big Sick is about a rookie stand-up comic from a traditional Pakistani family now living in Chicago. When he falls for a bright young woman (Zoë Kazan) who isn’t Muslim he skates onto thin ice, then realizes he’s not willing to sacrifice the love of his family to cement his relationship with her.…

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SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY

Score is the result of many years’ effort. Matt Schrader has been building a library of conversations with film composers, which he has compiled in a book and a two-disc DVD set. I find it remarkable that from this mountain of material he has been able to craft such a cohesive and fascinating film. (Full disclosure: I am one of his interviewees, but I had nothing to do with his editorial judgment.) A primer on the history of the subject is provided by several “talking heads” including such experts as Jon Burlingame and Richard Kraft. For the modern era, almost everyone you would want to see and hear from is represented, from Hans Zimmer to Danny Elfman. (There is also great archival footage of John Williams…

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