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A FAMILIAR NAME RETURNS TO THE SCENE

Laurel and Hardy are back on DVD, along with Edgar Kennedy, Snub Pollard, and other silent-comedy favorites, and we have Kit Parker to thank for it. If you rented 16mm films in the 1970s and 80s for your school, library, or film society you probably dealt with Kit Parker Films. Chances are equally good that you enjoyed the experience, as Kit loved what he did and tried to hire people who cared about movies. His catalog was ornamented with drawings by his father Al, one of the finest and most distinctive illustrators of the 20th century. The 16mm rental business imploded some years ago, but Kit has never really left the scene. He has been actively involved in video and DVD releases, mining the Lippert…

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KEDI: A NEW PERSPECTIVE

Kedi is all about cats, but it bears no relation to those stunt videos that go viral online or an episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos. This disarming documentary explores the lives of seven felines who inhabit the streets of Istanbul and the humans who care for them. Filmmaker Ceyda Torun doesn’t anthropomorphize her stars or (to the best of my knowledge) manipulate the footage she has shot, much of it from a cat’s-eye level. In tracing the way these animals have insinuated themselves into the lives of the men and women who care for them, Torun tells us a lot about the individuals—and the human species overall. The participants include a fisherman, an artist, a restaurateur, and a fruit vendor. They speak openly and…

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JOSEF VON STERNBERG’S SALVATION

It’s a cultural crime that several of Josef von Sternberg’s films no longer exist. We shouldn’t be cheated out of seeing anything created by the artist responsible for The Blue Angel, Morocco, and The Last Command. Fortunately, one rarity has been saved and is now available on DVD through the Austrian Film Museum. The Salvation Hunters (1925) was preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive (with funding from the Stanford Theatre Foundation) and proved to be a real eye-opener when it was first screened in 2009. It was Sternberg’s first film—although hardly his first experience behind the camera—made independently on a shoestring. It remains as daring and unusual today as it must have seemed ninety years ago. The Salvation Hunters is a poetic parable…

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VALENTINES DIRECT FROM HOLLYWOOD

It’s been a while since I pinned some pin-ups on this page. Valentine’s Day seems as good a time as any to revisit these appealing, sometimes cheesy cheesecake photos. If you’re new to my website you may not have seen my holiday pictures before, so here’s a bit of backstory: from the silent days right through the 1960s, movie studio publicity departments kept their contract players busy posing for holiday-themed photos, because local newspapers and national magazines loved to publish them—not only promoting the starlets but their upcoming films as well. Here are some poses I haven’t run before, along with a few old favorites. Happy Valentine’s Day! Nancy Carroll was Paramount’s resident sweetheart during the early talkie era in films like Follow Thru, Honey,…

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LAND OF MINE: TIMELESS AND EXPLOSIVE

Even though seventy years have passed, compelling stories from World War II and its aftermath keep surfacing onscreen. Land of Mine is a fictional film inspired by an inherently dramatic real-life situation: during their occupation the Nazis planted more than two million land mines along the coast of Denmark. At war’s end, the Danish commandeered young German POWs to remove and defuse these mines. The film focuses on one man, a sergeant (Roland Møller) who despises the Germans for what they did to his country during their five-year stay. He is placed in charge of a squadron who live in near-squalor near an enormous beach where, it’s estimated, it will take three months of nerve-shattering work to rid the area of mines. In time he…

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THE MAKING OF HIGH NOON

The subtitle of Glenn Frankel’s new book, published by Bloomsbury, is The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. That’s because the two subjects are inexorably intertwined. High Noon is also one of those successful ventures for which many people were eager to take credit. (I learned this first-hand when I coproduced and hosted a video documentary about the film in the early 1990s and interviewed many of its collaborators.) Frankel, who wrote a superb book about John Ford’s The Searchers (see my original review below) has done his homework, which necessitated casting a wide net. You can’t discuss the making of High Noon without tracing the birth and evolution of Stanley Kramer’s independent production company in the late 1940s, and you can’t…

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STARS IN MY EYES

Award season is surreal. You find yourself on a first name basis with the world’s biggest stars and filmmakers—and I don’t attend a fraction of the events that occur almost daily. Every year I get the opportunity to be a fan, meeting and greeting the folks I admire. The day after the Academy Awards are handed out, this process comes to a screeching halt and I may never see them again, but it’s certainly nice while it lasts. My family and I often find ourselves overwhelmed by the conversations and experiences we’ve shared. Monday I attended the Oscar Nominees Lunch, a privilege I never take for granted. It’s one of the nicest, most genteel events of the year, an oasis of calm and camaraderie in…

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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: SPEED SISTERS

By Rob Edelman. SPEED SISTERS, an eye-opening documentary that has just been released theatrically here in the U.S., opens with a familiar sight… if you are a racing fan. Drivers rev their engines, just before maneuvering their vehicles onto a racetrack. But there is something different here, something unusual and, to my mind, something extra-special. The drivers all are female, and they are Palestinian. Collectively, these women have found their calling– and that calling is racing cars in competitions and winning those competitions. These young women are friends and teammates who participate in races sponsored by the Palestinian Motor Sports and Motorcycle Federation. Early on, Maysoon, the team captain, notes that it’s “uncommon to see girls racing anywhere in the world,” but she quickly adds, not without pride, that she and her…

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Blu-ray Review: The Light Between Oceans (2016)

By Greg Ehrbar. Michael Fassbender has become especially adept at characters with steely reserve. Whether they’re electronic or human, they are never robotic but they are composed of an alloy that allows the actor to create tense, internalized, restrained characters. Director Derek Cianfrance, in the fascinating audio commentary (thank you!), often comments on his quests to get to the heart of the character and the artist portraying him. In classic gothic romantic tradition, it takes love to bring out his soul. The Light Between Oceans has a period setting but is not a “retro” film, but it could have been a Jane Wyman tearjerker in the late ’40s. In fact, filmmaker Phil Solomon—who co-hosts the commentary with Cianfrance—compares Fassbender with the comparably granite-jawed Burt Lancaster.…

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The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us bears faint echoes of other outer-space sagas but carves its own niche because its hero is a teenage boy. Asa Butterfield, whom we’ve gotten to know in such films as Enders Game and Hugo, gives a sincere performance as a boy who has been raised among American astronauts on the planet Mars. All he wants is to experience life on earth. He even has a long-distance relationship with a girl he’s been messaging—without telling her who or where he is. In other words, in spite of its setting and spectacular visions of Earth from the skies above, The Space Between Us is essentially a coming-of-age story. It will probably play best with adolescents and tweens. What makes it work for me,…

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