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BRINGING ‘JACKIE’ BACK TO LIFE

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Jackie begins at a fever pitch and never lets up; this is emphasized and embellished by Mica Levi’s haunting and relentless music score. But what Noah Oppenheim’s dazzling screenplay and Pablo Lorrain’s direction manage to do more than anything else is thrust us back in time and make us see—and think about—a series of historical events in a way we never have before. Like so many others, I will never forget the day President Kennedy was shot or the long weekend that followed. I was 12 years old and every aspect of that terrible time is permanently imprinted in my consciousness. Yet I never thought about any of this from the First Lady’s perspective: the guilt she felt over not being able to protect her…

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VINTAGE SONGS: TIME MACHINES OR MOOD ENHANCERS

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I doubt that many J.K. Rowling fans watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them would recognize the voice of Ruth Etting…yet it’s that once-popular vocalist singing “You’re the Cream in my Coffee” who helps set the scene for this 1920s story. Filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan uses classical pieces, and Lesley Barber’s beautiful music, to underscore the intense emotions of Manchester by the Sea–but when a lighter moment finally comes along he cues the Ink Spots and Ella Fitzgerald singing “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” Their joyful rendition of this Duke Ellington hit perfectly suits the montage it underscores. Old songs, and the singers who made them famous, have often served as short-cuts to identify a time period; they can also pinpoint a mood or…

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ANDRZEJ WAJDA: A TRIBUTE

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[My colleague Rob Edelman pays tribute to one of the world’s foremost directors, who died on October 9. Like all of Rob’s pieces, this was first broadcast on public radio station WAMC to a broad-based audience, and serves as both a primer and a summary of one man’s remarkable career.] [by Rob Edelman] Andrzej Wajda is the best-known and most revered Polish filmmaker of his generation. His films are daring, provocative, and personal. Plus, many are decidedly political in that they focus on individuals who valiantly resist repression or ponder the realities of war and heroism. Wajda’s most recent film, titled Afterimage, is about Wladyslaw Strzeminski, an avant-garde artist who was active in the early 20th century. Strzeminski is depicted as a champion of individual freedom…

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‘LION’ IS TEARFUL BUT FLAWED

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What do you call a movie that has a great first act and a moving finale but bogs down on the way to that conclusion? In this case, you call it Lion. I say this with regret, because the true story it tells is remarkable and it’s a shame the film is flawed. Lion spins a tale that would do credit to any author of fiction. It introduces us to a lovable 5-year-old boy named Saroo who lives in poverty with his mother, sister, and big brother in a small Indian village. Precocious to a fault and always wanting to help earn money for his family, he insists on accompanying his brother on a nighttime run. Predictably, he falls asleep on a railroad station platform…

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‘ALLIED’: TRUE-BLUE HOLLYWOOD STORYTELLING

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I wish there was another way to say “old-fashioned” and not make it seem like a putdown. I faced this problem discussing Warren Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply and I confront it again with Robert Zemeckis’ Allied. The challenge is especially acute because this World War Two story could have actually been filmed in the 1940s. Only the lovemaking scenes and presence of four-letter words nail it as a modern-day film. Few contemporary stars could conjure up the classic-style Hollywood glamor to pull this off, but Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard are fully up to the task. They look gorgeous, and so do their clothes, designed by Joanna Johnston. Pitt plays a Canadian operative who parachutes his way into the Moroccan desert and meets up with Cotillard…

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WARREN BEATTY PROVES THAT ‘RULES DON’T APPLY’

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Bravo to Warren Beatty for making an original and highly pleasing piece of entertainment. I’m tempted to call Rules Don’t Apply old-fashioned because it is so beautifully crafted—without those pore-counting macro-closeups of its stars that so many films rely on—but that might seem condescending. Perhaps the better adjective would be “timeless.” A good story is a good story and that’s what Beatty gives us: a fanciful interpretation of the elusive Howard Hughes, neatly interwoven with a love story between one of his newly-hired flunkies (Alden Ehrenreich) and an unworldly beauty-contest winner (Lily Collins) who has come to Hollywood with a contract to appear in Hughes’ movies. Beatty cannily introduces us to the young characters first so we can get to know and like them. He…

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DISNEY’S ‘MOANA’: TRADITION RENEWED

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The Walt Disney Animation Studio has been on a winning streak, and Moana continues that momentum. Beautiful to behold, especially with its lush South Seas setting, it relies on certain tried-and-true Disney tropes…but with a strong, likable heroine (performed by 14-year-old newcomer Auli’i Cravalho), a brawny adversary-turned-cohort (voiced by Dwayne Johnson), and fresh-sounding songs it’s sure to please any audience. Given that it is tracing a traditional “heroine’s journey” I found it a bit too long, needlessly packed with incident. We could have reached the same satisfying conclusion much sooner without sacrificing the heart of the tale. But there is much to enjoy here: Johnson’s willingness to mock his macho image (and even sing), the Greek-chorus commentary from his animated tattoos, and the startling animation…

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MANCHESTER BY THE SEA: AS GOOD AS IT GETS

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The annual award-movie avalanche is upon us, a bombardment of advertising, screeners and emails–but at this juncture, Manchester by the Sea is the best film I’ve seen all year. When my wife and I viewed it at the Telluride Film Festival we had to stay in our seats for several minutes afterwards to take it all in. It’s a highly emotional story that builds slowly and deliberately, disarming us by telling its story out of chronological order. Ultimately, it offers a catharsis that makes the often wrenching drama worthwhile. Casey Affleck is receiving well-deserved recognition for his performance in the leading role, but he is also perfectly cast. The protagonist of this New England tale is a quiet, unassuming man who has been through a terrible…

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THE HAUNTING OF ‘NOCTURNAL ANIMALS’

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At  one time it was normal to tell a story from beginning to end; now, juggling a movie’s timeline has almost become a cliché. Yet in his second film, (following A Single Man) Tom Ford has not only mastered a tricky narrative but establishes two separate, completely tangible environments. What’s more, he maintains a consistent tone for both facets of this seductive story, which he adapted from Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan. From the moment we meet polished gallery owner Amy Adams there’s something not quite right. (This is also true of the artwork on display, although that may be in the eye of the beholder.) Then we learn that her husband (Armie Hammer) chose not to attend her opening night celebration and see…

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ONE MORE ROUND: ‘BLEED FOR THIS’

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We’ve been there and seen much of this before: the story of a tough-talking fighter who doesn’t know when to quit, as befits his working-class New England family. For the record, writer-director Ben Younger says he deliberately didn’t watch The Fighter so he wouldn’t copy elements of that film, to which it bears a superficial resemblance…especially in its depiction of an Italian-American family from Providence, Rhode Island. But Bleed for This is still worth seeing, despite its familiar trappings. First, it’s based on the true story of Vinny Paz (full name: Pazienza), a champion who returned to boxing after breaking his neck and being told he might not ever walk again, let alone fight. No screenwriter could make this up. Moreover, it would be a…

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