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‘LIFE’ SHOCKS AROUND EVERY CORNER

If you’re going to be derivative, you might as well emulate something great. Life bears more than a passing resemblance to Alien but skillfully captures much of that film’s horror and suspense, so it’s difficult to complain too much. It’s been almost forty years since Ridley Scott’s movie was released, so a fairly potent echo of it will almost certainly play with younger audiences. Director Daniel Espinoza (Safe House, Child 44) brings a confident approach to this project. He shot most of it on two large sets, holding CGI in reserve for the depiction of his monster—a Martian organism that gets loose and wreaks havoc on the crew of the International Space Station. Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal lead a diverse, globally-sourced cast including Rebecca…

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CHiPS: ESCAPISM ON THE FAST TRACK

While it may not make the short-list for Oscar consideration this year, CHiPs is definitely fun to watch. Unlike some contrived or cynical rehashes of old TV series, this one has no pretensions. It’s escapism with a capital E: a funny, energetic, enjoyably ragged buddy movie with lots and lots of car-chase action. It also serves as a showcase for the charismatic Dax Shepard and the always-impressive Michael Peña, whose comedic chops are put to great use. The story is pretty basic: hardened Florida FBI agent Peña is sent to sunny Southern California and planted undercover in the Highway Patrol in order to ferret out some dirty cops. He’s teamed up with a rookie fresh out of the Academy–who happens to be a former motocross…

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CHAPLIN AND ORSON WELLES’ ONE-HIT WONDER

Few actresses have had a mentor as notable as Charlie Chaplin or a launch-pad as prominent as Citizen Kane, yet the name Dorothy Comingore is as little-known today as it was when that milestone movie was released. I was reminded of this when I stumbled across a rare, early photo of the actress with its original Warner Bros. caption intact. Like every blurb over the next few years, this one predicts great stardom ahead. The publicity prose credits Chaplin with discovering her, which is true; he saw her on stage in Carmel, California while vacationing there. She was already married to screenwriter Richard Collins, so this may have been a rare case of actual talent-spotting for the celebrated Mr. Chaplin. The Warner Bros. entree led…

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BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: PLEASANT BUT POINTLESS

First, the good news: Beauty and the Beast is better than I expected it to be. I still don’t understand why Disney insists on recycling its most popular and beloved movies, but when the public repeatedly responds with box-office dollars it’s hard to argue this policy. Barnum had it right. Director Bill Condon has created a visually extravagant movie and cast it well enough. Emma Watson is a likable Belle and Dan Stevens a convincing Beast. Luke Evans is ideal as the handsome but unheroic Gaston, and Kevin Kline is a joy to watch as Belle’s warm-hearted father. But the hurried introduction of live-action figures who are about to be transformed into household furnishings does no one any favors. A fleeting glimpse of Audra McDonald…

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KONG: SKULL ISLAND

This is the best monster movie I’ve seen in years. I was not optimistic, having been burned before; what’s more, I still hold a special place in my heart for the original 1933 King Kong. But this movie adds new energy and excitement to a storyline that incorporates the ingredients we all expect. After all, when someone explores an unknown spot on the map populated by prehistoric monsters there are only so many ways you can go. Kong: Skull Island scared the bejeezus out of me but enabled me to enjoy the experience. It made me jump repeatedly but didn’t gross me out. I salute director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose varied experience in non-horror TV and movies (like The Kings of Summer) benefits this ambitious endeavor.…

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MOVIES WORTH SAVING—AND SHOWING

My Dad always loved my definition of a film buff: someone who will intentionally watch a bad movie. My wife and I put that to the test Monday night when we attended the UCLA Film and Television Archives’ Festival of Preservation. We were treated to a double-bill: crisp, newly-struck prints of the all-star horror cheapie Vampire Bat (1932) with Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, and Melvyn Douglas—with a re-creation of its hand-colored fire-torch scene—and the least-known film directed by the great William Cameron Menzies, Almost Married (1932). Menzies’ granddaughters were there along with his biographer James Curtis, who explained that the 51-minute film (yes, 51) brought derisive laughter when it was previewed in December of 1931. This caused Fox to commission Menzies and co-director Marcel Varnel…

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ROBERT OSBORNE: ONE OF A KIND

If ever a man got to live out his dream, it was Robert Osborne. Twenty-three years ago he was hired to be the on-camera host for Turner Classic Movies. He was the perfect man for the job because his enthusiasm was genuine and his knowledge was vast. Yet I don’t think the people at TCM realized how indelibly he would become identified with the network—or how connected his viewers would become with him. I can testify to this, having watched the reaction of people who traveled from all over the country to attend the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. When Robert would appear in the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel he’d be mobbed like a rock star. He represented everything these fans loved…

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HUGH JACKMAN RETURNS AS ‘LOGAN’

Fans of Marvel, X-Men, and the Wolverine character should be pleased with Logan–it’s a strong finale and arguably the best in this highly uneven spin-off series. With three prominent names credited for the screenplay (director James Mangold, eminent screenwriter Scott Frank, and Michael Green, whose name is also on the upcoming Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner remake) it’s impossible to know who came up with the ideas that make this movie work as well as it does. But any film that invokes George Stevens’ classic Western Shane—and shows an 11-year-old girl getting caught up in it—is definitely on the right track. The setting is the near-future and Logan is worn down, to say the least. He still has his mutant powers but they are greatly diminished.…

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SO YOU THINK YOU KNOW ‘HIS GIRL FRIDAY’ AND ‘MILDRED PIERCE’

There are few films I know as well—or love as much—as Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday (1940), the director’s fast and furious remake of The Front Page. I’m also well acquainted with the great Mildred Pierce (1945 ) starring Joan Crawford and directed by Michael Curtiz. But the new Blu-ray editions of these classics offer a feast of special features that deepened my appreciation of both pictures. That’s the beauty of the Criterion Collection’s ongoing work in this field.     His Girl Friday features a video essay by the erudite David Bordwell about the classical Hollywood style of filmmaking as practiced by Hawks, with clear and illuminating examples from the movie. I never thought about how the filmmaker staged scenes to allow for overlapping…

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GO OUT AND SEE ‘GET OUT’

Now that we’ve wrung the best of 2016 dry, it’s time to move on—and Get Out is just what the doctor ordered: a smart, bracing, original piece of work that marks Jordan Peele’s feature directing debut. (He also wrote the screenplay but it’s not his first; he shared credit for last year’s Keanu.) I hadn’t seen the trailer or read a single word about Get Out when my daughter and son-in-law insisted Alice and I join them for a showing. That clean slate made the movie’s unfolding surprises especially potent–and I’m not about to spoil the experience for anyone else. Rising star Daniel Kaluuya plays a successful photographer who leaves the city with his girlfriend (Allison Williams) to meet her family for the first time at…

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