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GIFTS FOR EVERY MOVIE LOVER

Flip books are irresistible, whether you’re 8 or 80… and Fliptomania offers some legendary movie moments: Cary Grant ducking a crop-duster in North by Northwest, the four heroes prancing off to see the Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, King Kong being pursued by biplanes on top of the Empire State Building and Marilyn Monroe’s dress billowing up in The Seven Year Itch. You can even watch Eadward Muybridge’s landmark experiment of a horse in action just by riffling the edge of a flipbook. At $4.95 apiece these are perfect stocking stuffers; you can also order a classic movie three-pack for $12.95. www.fliptomania.com   Why wear an ordinary T-shirt when you can sport one of these film-buff-centric garments created by the ingenious folks at Mondo in…

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I, TONYA: STRANGER THAN FICTION, ON AND OFF THE ICE

If you’re still not convinced that Margot Robbie is more than just a beauty, I, Tonya should do the trick. Robbie helped produce the film and has given herself a superb, eye-opening vehicle as ice-skater Tonya Harding, who made worldwide headlines in the early 1990s when her husband arranged to injure Tonya’s Olympics competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Screenwriter Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie have fashioned a faux interview framework for the narrative. That, and having characters address the camera, gives I, Tonya a snarky, “meta” quality that perfectly suits the material. They could have made a completely serious docudrama or turned the absurdities of the story into a farce. Instead, they drew the best from both worlds with felicitous results. Tonya Harding never had it easy, as we learn…

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CARY GRANT: MAKING IT LOOK EASY

Cary Grant remains one of the most charming actors to ever grace the screen. Because of that seemingly effortless charm he never received much credit for his acting, but three recent Blu-ray releases attest to his considerable skills. Olive Films has given deluxe treatment to two of Grant’s later hits, Operation Petticoat (1958) and Father Goose (1964). They look great and offer an array of special features that make them all the more enjoyable. Operation Petticoat (1958) is a prime example of a genre that has vanished from the landscape: the service comedy. Director Blake Edwards was no stranger to this type of entertainment, having directed The Perfect Furlough (1958 ) and co-written Operation Mad Ball(1957 ) for his colleague Richard Quine. Petticoat is set during World War II, with Grant as the skipper of…

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WONDER WHEEL HITS A SOUR NOTE

Wonder Wheel opens on a high note, with a picture-postcard panorama of Coney Island as it might have looked in a 1950 Kodachrome slide. It’s a vision that Brooklyn-born Woody Allen remembers well, I’m sure. Then we meet our narrator, Justin Timberlake, an aspiring playwright from Brooklyn who works as a lifeguard on the beach. He’s the latest in a long line of Allen surrogates: likable, with a self-admitted tendency to dramatize and romanticize life as he sees it. Unfortunately there’s nothing romantic or redeeming about the weary, hard-working character played by Kate Winslet. From the moment we meet her she feels a migraine coming on, and pretty soon she manages to pass the ailment on to us. A waitress and single mother who found refuge…

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THE SHAPE OF WATER: A GIFT FOR MOVIE LOVERS

Guillermo del Toro is a genius, but not all of his films turn out the way he envisions them. The Shape of Water is a happy exception, a feast for the senses and one of the year’s most original offerings. As usual, it has been germinating in del Toro’s mind for years. He says it dates back to the moment when, at age six, he first saw the hypnotic image of Julie Adams swimming in a white bathing suit while the Creature from the Black Lagoon stares at her underwater. It’s easy to see how that scene would imprint itself on a boy’s imagination…but what he has given us is not a remake. The Shape of Water alludes to the earlier movie, but it’s a richly detailed piece of…

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THE BREADWINNER: A UNIVERSAL STORY TOLD THROUGH ANIMATION

Only in today’s world could a story set in Afghanistan come to fruition through the collaboration of studios in Ireland, Canada, and Luxembourg…and the participation of an American named Angelina Jolie. The Breadwinner is both credible and moving because these dedicated storytellers relied on cultural advisors for authenticity and knew that the characters and their plight would have universal appeal. If you’ve seen such animated features as The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea you’ve experienced the exceptional work of Cartoon Saloon, a studio based in Kilkenny, Ireland. Breadwinner director Nora Twomey served as co-director on Kells and head of story on Song of the Sea. She approached the adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ best-selling young-adult book The Breadwinner with screenwriter Anita Doron and a talented team of designers. Their goal was to show how one brave…

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BOMBSHELL:THE HEDY LAMARR STORY

It’s no longer news that 1940s Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr invented the technology we use in cellular phones and other wireless communications. But the story behind that seeming anomaly is still fascinating, and Alexandra Dean has told it well in her entertaining documentary Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. How a legendary beauty devised this groundbreaking concept and never received recognition—let alone a dime—for it is at the heart of this chronicle. Born Hedwig Kiesler in Vienna to Jewish parents, the constant in Hedy’s life seems to have been notoriety. She embarked on an acting career in her teens and caused a sensation in Gustav Machaty’s Ecstasy (1933) where she not only appeared naked but simulated an orgasm. She married a wealthy munitions manufacturer who was extremely jealous and…

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THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS: A HOLIDAY GIFT

Who among us couldn’t use a little good cheer right now? The Man Who Invented Christmas supplies just that, in a fictionalized story about how Charles Dickens devised A Christmas Carol at a low point in his career. Dan Stevens is extremely likable as the animated author. The year is 1843. Oliver Twist has made him a worldwide celebrity and led to a wildly successful lecture tour of the United States. But Dickens’ subsequent books are flops and he is living beyond his means in an elegant London townhouse. He has a contentious relationship with his ne’er-do-well father (Jonathan Pryce) and his relationship with his wife is strained because of the pressure he feels to deliver another popular novel…going so far as to publish it himself, at great expense. Dickens collected…

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DARKEST HOUR: HISTORY IN THE PRESENT TENSE

It’s easy to portray Winston Churchill in a heroic light with the benefit of hindsight. Darkest Hour reveals how isolated he was when he accepted the post of Prime Minister in 1940 and expressed his firm belief in waging war against Hitler to the bitter end. He had virtually no support and was surrounded by formidable foes. This ambitious film takes what we know as history and captures the immediacy and uncertainty of that fateful period. Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Anthony McCarten take us inside Churchill’s world—a dark place, for the most part. If you’ve ever visited the Imperial War Museum in London you know how authentic this is. Strategies were argued and crucial decisions made in this claustrophobic atmosphere, in a nest of rooms and…

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COCO: CELEBRATING A COLORFUL CULTURE

Pixar movies always look good, but Coco is in a class by itself. Ablaze with eye-popping color, every widescreen frame is filled with richly detailed settings and appealing characters. Any concerns about overlap or redundancy with Jorge Gutierrez’s impressive The Book of Life (which also dealt with Day of the Dead) should be put aside. Coco has its own story to tell, which it does with gusto and great respect for the culture it depicts. The movie opens with a mariachi band playing “When You Wish Upon a Star” over the Latinized Disney logo. How can you not smile in response? Scenes continue on that high note (pun intended), using traditional Mexican paper cut-outs to provide the exposition we need to engage in the story. Next we meet our vivacious, wide-eyed…

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