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US: JORDAN PEELE’S COMPLEX TAKE ON HORROR

Get Out announced the arrival of an exciting and important new voice in American film: writer-director Jordan Peele. We already knew what a talented actor and comedic artist he was, but the originality of this trenchant social satire was something else again. What could he possibly do for an encore? Us is a chilling, if marginally more conventional, exercise in horror. It has a prologue teaser that doesn’t fully pay off until the finale, and a number of clever, gruesome twists along the way. Us focuses on an African-American family and a childhood experience that haunts its loving and devoted mom (Lupita Nyong’o). Their trip to a summer house puts them perilously close to the beach at Santa Cruz, California, where Nyong’o had that encounter that hangs over her…

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BINGE-ING ON ORSON WELLES’S ‘MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS’

When people say they are bingeing these days, it usually means watching one or more seasons of a TV series in marathon fashion. I’ve been doing the same thing with a single film: the Criterion Collection’s recent Blu-ray release of Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons. To be honest, I’ve never given this film much consideration. It’s well-known that the wunderkind’s follow-up to Citizen Kane was butchered by RKO after at least one disastrous preview. The studio didn’t think to save the excised material. so all we have is the 88-minute release print—shorn of more than 30 minutes—which offers only a taste of what the filmmaker had in mind. A generous selection of interviews, commentaries, and video treatises highlight key scenes and call attention to the details of every…

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‘THE AFTERMATH’ SQUANDERS ITS POTENTIAL

I find the period immediately following World War Two in Europe to be one of the most fascinating periods of the 20th century. It has inspired such great films as Fred Zinnemann’s The Search, Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair, and Carol Reed’s The Third Man, to name just a few. Now comes The Aftermath, a romantic drama set not in Berlin or Vienna but bombed-out Hamburg, where a British Army Colonel (Jason Clarke) is sent with his beautiful wife (Keira Knightley) to keep a lid on a volatile situation. Their marriage is already fragile after the loss of a son, and this change of scenery only heightens tensions between them, especially when he commandeers the stately mansion owned by a genteel German architect (Alexander Skarsgård), who stays on as a tenant…

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THE MUSTANG REARS UP AND WON’T LET GO

Matthias Schoenaerts has a formidable screen presence. If you saw him in Bullhead (the Belgian film that put him on the map), Rust and Bone, or Far from the Madding Crowd, you know that I mean. The effect of his silent presence is put to great use again in The Mustang, but this time he meets his match in a fiery horse. Director and co-writer Laurent de Clermont-Tonnere has made excellent use of her leading man and his equine costar. The screenplay is based on a real-life situation: thousands of mustangs roam the American west and their population has to be thinned out, one way or another. Prisoners in a number of Western states are given the chance to tame these animals so they can be sold at auction and put to…

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CAPTAIN MARVEL: GIRL POWER TAKES FLIGHT

As a parent, I wish a film like this had been made when my daughter was young. I searched for movies with positive female role models, and believe me, they were hard to find. In Captain Marvel, Brie Larson plays a woman who comes to learn that the most important power she possesses has been inside her all along. This being a superhero’s origin story, there is much more to Captain Marvel than that…but to my way of thinking it is still the most significant takeaway. This venerable Marvel comic-book property has landed in the hands of writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, whose films include Half Nelson (which earned Ryan Gosling an Oscar nomination as Best Actor), Sugar, It’s Kind of a Funny Story,…

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JOSEPH PULITZER: THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

Joseph Pulitzer was a social reformer and a scandal-monger at the same time. That his name lives on as a synonym for excellence in journalism is a great tribute and, as we learn from this excellent documentary, a great irony. It was the unbridled feud between this Hungarian immigrant and fellow newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst that gave birth to the term “yellow journalism.” That is just one of the many contradictions that make up the man portrayed so well in this documentary by Oren Rudavsky. The film opens, as it should, with Nicholson Baker leafing through bound pages of the New York World that he helped saved from destruction. (That’s a great story in itself.) The World was not only a massive broadsheet but a colorful one, literally…

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“OF MICE AND MAGIC” IN RUSSIAN? DA!

Next year will mark the fortieth anniversary of my book Of Mice and Magic: A History of Animated Cartoons. I feel lucky that it’s still in print; that’s because it has been adopted by high school and college courses covering the history of animation. But I never could have foreseen that it would have another life in the Russian language! This happy turn of events came about because one of the country’s preeminent animators, Fyodor Khitruk, wanted to use it as a teaching tool. Frustrated that he could not interest a Soviet publisher, he set about translating the text, word for word, himself. (He had worked as a translator during World War Two.) Khitruk died in 2012 but some colleagues never gave up on the project.…

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