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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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‘BEATRIZ AT DINNER’ OFFERS FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Disarming in its simplicity, Beatriz at Dinner establishes a believable premise for a dinner party where things go terribly wrong. It’s a tribute to writer Mike White, director Miguel Arteta and their superior cast that this allegorical story never jumps the rails, as it easily could. Winning ingredient number one is Salma Hayek. She is exceptionally good as a Mexican-American healer who is devoted to her patients at a recovery center in Santa Monica, California. One day she drives to an exquisite home in Newport Beach to give a massage to a client (Connie Britton) with whom she’s had a close relationship. When Hayek’s car breaks down in the driveway Britton insists that she stay for dinner, over the objections of her husband. He doesn’t share his…

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PARADISE: MY JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA

If you love film you can’t afford to miss the experience of seeing Bertrand Tavernier’s Journey Through French Cinema, especially on a theater screen. When I first saw it at the Telluride Film Festival last fall I was wary of its extreme length (over three hours) and an early-morning time slot. I needn’t have worried: I was glued to the screen from start to finish and when it was over I wanted more! Tavernier is a master storyteller, as he has proven in such films as The Clockmaker, Coup de Torchon, A Sunday in the Country, ‘Round Midnight, and Safe Passage, to name just a few. This endeavor is an expansive, highly personal view of French films from the 1930s onward, as seen through his eyes. He discusses his youthful moviegoing experiences, his…

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STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE

I became intrigued with Stefan Zweig after falling in love with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was inspired by his writing about Europe between the world wars. I went on to read an anthology of his work edited by Budapest director Wes Anderson, The Society of the Crossed Keys. Zweig was widely known and celebrated in his time; he deserves to be better known today. Maria Schrader’s new film (which she wrote in collaboration with Jan Schomburg) is a vivid and often heartbreaking look at the author in exile during the 1930s and early 1940s, with telling episodes in New York City and Brazil. At a crucial meeting of P.E.N. (the international society of poets, essayists, and novelists) held in Buenos Aires in 1936 he refused to condemn the…

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DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME

Dawson City: Frozen Time tells two stories, both fascinating. The first has to do with the accidental discovery of 35mm film reels buried in the Yukon over one hundred years ago and miraculously preserved by the permafrost. The second is the incredible boom-and-bust-and-boom-and-bust saga of Dawson City itself, where the movies were discovered. Filmmaker Bill Morrison, who has made dramatic use of decaying silent footage before (in such features as Decasia) has hit the bull’s-eye here, as his two narratives fold together in serendipitous fashion. The films resided in Dawson City, Canada for the same reason that long-lost American films were discovered in New Zealand several years ago: it didn’t pay to ship the prints back to their distributors, as this was the last stop on their…

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CARS 3: SLOW START, STRONG FINISH

Saying that Cars 3 is better than its predecessor isn’t much of a compliment. What matters more is that it hearkens back to original 2006 Cars and winds up on a surprisingly thoughtful note. The soundtrack even features the voice of the late Paul Newman in a series of flashbacks as our hero, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson), remembers how much the encouragement of Newman’s character Hudson Hornet always meant to him. There’s plenty of high-energy racing and colorful characters to engage kids in the audience, but unlike other Pixar animated films that openly deal with life transitions (outgrowing childhood toys in the Toy Story films, the onset of puberty in Inside Out, old age in Up) this one camouflages its message in a flurry of action. The story deals with the…

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SALLY HAWKINS SHINES AS MAUDIE

Sally Hawkins’ extraordinary performance drives the unusual biographical drama Maudie, the story of  folk artist Maud Lewis. Afflicted with a variety of physical ailments, we meet Maud in her 30s when she’s still living with her waspish aunt, who endures her presence only because Maud’s unfeeling brother pays her. The time is 1938 and the setting is a small, remote fishing village in Nova Scotia. Another of the local misfits—to put it mildly—is fish peddler Everett Lewis, played with conviction by Ethan Hawke. He is the oddest of oddballs, an orphan who had his cabin moved by oxen to be away from people in town. When he posts a hand-written note in the general store asking for a cleaning woman Maud steals the piece of paper so…

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PICTURE PERFECT: THE KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Since 1946 the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival has been attracting world-class guests and their movies. Casey Affleck is set to receive the President’s Award at this year’s event, which takes place June 30-July 8…and I’ll be there to see it as I make my first visit to this picturesque 14th century spa town. (Do you remember the 2006 movie Last Holiday with Queen Latifah? It was shot there and it looks like no other place on earth.) One thing I know for sure: there won’t be an idle moment. Every year Karlovy Vary showcases an imposing 180 new feature films, many of which are making their world, international, or European debuts. Casey Affleck is presenting his latest collaboration with writer-director David Lowery, A Ghost…

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