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CHAPLIN BOOKS—NEW AND OLD

Charlie Chaplin is my hero, and I’ve read an awful lot about him over the years. Imagine how excited I was to discover new information and observations from a pair of books—one brand new, the other just a few years old. They both deal with his most fruitful creative period, when he produced twelve exceptional comedy shorts for the Mutual company in 1916 -17. He later referred to this as the happiest time of his life, and it shows in his work: films like Easy Street, The Immigrant, The Rink, and The Adventurer will never grow old.     CHARLIE CHAPLIN’S RED LETTER DAYS: AT WORK WITH THE COMIC GENIUS (Rowman and Littlefield) was written one hundred years ago by Charlie’s colleague Fred Goodwins as…

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STUNT MEN IN THE SPOTLIGHT

We all have wish lists of movies we want to see. For years I’ve been on the lookout for Sons of Adventure (1948). Why this obscure B movie? Because it’s a story about stunt men made by Republic Pictures, the studio that employed the best stunt players in the business in their serials, Westerns and B pictures. What’s more, it was directed by the king of the stunt men, Yakima Canutt, the former rodeo cowboy whose many credits included the chariot race in Ben-Hur (1959). Imagine the possibilities! Now, thanks to Andrea Kalas at Paramount (which owns the Republic library) I can cross this title off my bucket list….but, as so often happens, the film does not live up to expectations. The premise for Sons…

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BRIAN COX BECOMES ‘CHURCHILL’

Brian Cox’s forceful and persuasive performance is the main reason to see Churchill. He is utterly convincing in ultra-closeups of his face as well as wider shots that reveal his body language. The screenplay allows Cox to embody all of the leader’s caprices and contradictions—in his dealings with staff, superiors, his King, and his wife Clementine (Miranda Richardson), whose patience has been depleted. This narrowly focused story takes place in the days leading up to the Allied Invasion of Normandy in 1944. I had no idea that the cigar-chomping Prime Minister was opposed to the landing, known as Operation Overlord, or that he locked horns with Gen. Eisenhower (John Slattery) and Field Marshal Montgomery (Julian Wadham) over this crucial maneuver. Historian Alex von Tunzelmann is…

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I WONDER WHAT’S WRONG WITH ‘WONDER WOMAN’

The only wonder regarding this movie is that it could be so incredibly dull. I keep hoping DC will find a key to unlock the magic inherent in its great cast of characters, but the Midas Touch continues to elude them. We already know that Gal Gadot cuts a striking figure as Diana, aka Wonder Woman, so that’s not the problem. Neither is the origin story, which follows the path laid out by creator William Moulton Marston. In fact, the opening sequence on Paradise Island is the best part of the movie, with majestic Connie Nielsen as Diana’s mother and Robin Wright as the aunt who teaches her warrior skills. This is a woman’s world, and director Patty Jenkins—the first woman given the opportunity to…

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TREASURES FROM THE DISNEY VAULT

That’s right folks, it’s another installment of Treasures From The Disney Vault on Turner Classic Movies hosted by your truly. They’ve chosen a horse theme this month, you can read more about it HERE. Mickey’s Polo Team is a personal favorite–and if you’ve never seen it before, you’re in for a real treat. It all begins Friday June 2nd at 5pm PST/8pm ET. And in case you haven’t had a chance to listen, here are two wonderful Maltin On Movies podcast epsiodes Jessie and I had the pleasure of recording with Hayley Mills and Richard Sherman. Hayley Mills Richard Sherman Are there any treasures you’re hoping to see on the channel? Leave a comment below and let me know.

BAYWATCH: BEACH BUMMER

No one expects Shakespearean dialogue or plotting in a movie based on the jiggly TV series of the 1990s, but even the breeziest summer escapism shouldn’t be this stupid. Dwayne Johnson is quickly established as the ultra-dedicated lifeguard chief of Emerald Bay. (If anything, he takes the role too seriously.) We also meet his team, including Alexandra Daddario, disgraced ex-Olympic swimmer Zac Efron, and the wannabes who aspire to join up—some for altruistic reasons, others so they can be near the great-looking guys and girls in swimsuits. A well-meaning sad sack (Jon Bass) starts to hyperventilate just being around a friendly blonde babe on the staff (swimsuit model Kelly Rohrbach). But wait: there’s a mystery to be solved involving a greedy developer (played in one-note…

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES

Boring. That’s how I’d describe the latest Pirates of the Caribbean enterprise, subtitled Dead Men Tell No Tales. Apparently, live men tell leaden tales like this, overstuffed with subplots and uninteresting characters. Still, this seems to be what audiences want to see; four previous entries in the series have been enormously popular. As the movie opens we meet Javier Bardem, leader of a band of bloodthirsty ghost pirates who seek revenge on those seafarers who still live. Meanwhile, a young lad (Brenton Thwaites) and a spirited young woman of science (Kaya Scodelario) risk their lives to search for the all-powerful trident of Poseidon. Caught in the midst of these elaborate schemes is the shipless and shiftless Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp), whose most immediate goal is…

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WAR MACHINE: A NOBLE NEAR-MISS

War Machine has a lot going for it, including a stellar performance by Brad Pitt and an insider’s view of military life in the Middle East that rings all too true (at least to an armchair observer like me). In adapting the late Michael Hastings’ whistle-blowing book The Operators: The Wild & Terrifying Inside Story of America’s War in Afghanistan writer-director David Michôd has drawn on his own experience as a journalist to good effect. (He made a bold and successful career change with the Aussie crime-family drama Animal Kingdom.) It’s too bad that a handful of flaws work against War Machine’s complete success. It opens with a glut of narration—rarely a good idea, especially here because we can’t see or identify with the narrator,…

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THE FORGOTTEN ARTWORK OF SILENT FILMS

By now most film buffs know how good silent movies looked, in contrast to popular opinion based on the scratchy, washed-out excerpts shown on television for years. But in watching Olive Films’ Blu-ray release of William S. Hart’s Wagon Tracks (1919) I was thunderstruck by its sheer physical beauty. Not only does Joe August’s camerawork bring this story of an 1850 wagon train—and one man’s quest for revenge—to vivid life, but the narrative title cards are artfully illustrated. At first, these “intertitles,” as they have come to be called, were strictly functional. Some of them bore the logo of the releasing company (Keystone, American Biograph, D.W. Griffith), but over time filmmakers realized there was no reason not to make them attractive. Thus began a tradition…

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BRYAN CRANSTON TESTS HIMSELF IN ‘WAKEFIELD’

Bryan Cranston’s career has gone into overdrive since he caught fire on Breaking Bad. Having recently brought screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and President Lyndon Johnson to life on film, he’s now tackling a fictional character unlike any he’s played before. Wakefield is an admittedly odd but consistently intriguing film. Cranston plays a successful insurance man who commutes every night to the suburbs of New York City through Grand Central Station. One evening he forgets his keys, but instead of trying to get into his house he seeks refuge in his garage. As he looks at his wife and daughters through a second-story window he begins an interior dialogue that reveals long-suppressed resentment, jealousy, and pent-up anger at his beautiful spouse (well played by Jennifer Garner). As…

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