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INSPIRATION IN A NEIGHBORHOOD LANDMARK: RESTORING TOMORROW

Aaron Wolf grew up attending the historic Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. It had special meaning because his grandfather was one of the senior rabbis, filling the giant footsteps of Rabbi Edgar Magnin, the “rabbi to the stars.” That Hollywood connection is just one reason this saga is so compelling. The movie moguls of yore may not have been highly observant Jews but they cared about their reputations. Louis B. Mayer was an intimate of Magnin’s who helped fund the construction of the temple, while the Warner Bros. provided set designer Hugo Ballin to create massive murals perched just under the dome to impress worshippers below. They seemed solid from a distance but turn out to be facades—just like movie sets. We learn all…

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THE WIFE: GREAT ACTORS SAVE THE DAY

Watching Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce is a treat, and the details in Björn Runge’s production are so convincing that it wasn’t until the film was over that I found myself pondering its credibility. That’s a credit to the actors and director but a failing in the story, which Jane Anderson adapted from Meg Wolitzer’s best-selling novel. Close plays the title character in The Wife, the saga of a venerated American novelist who wins a Nobel Prize for literature and travels to Stockholm to accept it along with his wife and malcontent son (Max Irons), who is also an aspiring author. The relationship between husband and wife is warm and loving but built on a house of cards, liable to collapse at any moment. Flashbacks…

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JULIET, NAKED: JUST THE TICKET FOR LATE SUMMER

Any film that opens with Chris O’Dowd talking directly to the camera is starting on the right foot as far as I’m concerned–I find his attitude and sense of off-kilter humor irresistible. In Juliet, Naked he plays a man who is obsessed with a onetime singer/songwriter who has long since disappeared. His entire existence is given over to pretentious babbling about Tucker Crowe for a small but fanatical fan base online. After fifteen years, his girlfriend (Rose Byrne) is at the end of her rope. She  questions their relationship and her very existence in a boring seaside village where she runs the historical museum she inherited from her father. One day she posts a response to one of her husband’s essays about a long-lost demo recording by…

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CRAZY RICH ASIANS: YET ANOTHER BREAKTHROUGH

It’s a bit unsettling to review a movie that has so much riding on it: its producers and studio (Warner Bros.) are eager to see if the Asian-American community—and moviegoers in general—will support Hollywood’s first major film in years with an all-Asian cast. What’s more, Crazy Rich Asians is a topical romantic comedy, not a look to the past like Memoirs of a Geisha or The Joy Luck Club. The movie bolts out of the starting gate with a lively title sequence designed by YU+Co., followed by the introduction of the main characters, who are irresistibly likable. Then the film backslides into romantic comedy clichés and soap-opera conflicts, especially involving a villainous mother-of-the groom and her endless machinations. (I’m told this was toned down from the novel!) I’m an admirer…

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BLACKkKLANSMAN: POTENT AND POWERFUL

Spike Lee is an audacious filmmaker who crosses boundaries and deliberately blurs drama and reality. Never has this been more effective than in BlacKkKlansman, which defies a number of rules and offers a punch in the gut instead. The movie starts out on a light note and utilizes humor throughout, since this true story is built on a foundation of absurdity. The time is the mid-1970s. Ron Stallworth is an intelligent young man who sports an afro and volunteers to become the first black member of the Colorado Springs police force. We never learn what drives him but we do witness the astonishing results: he’s a born investigator and decides to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, initiating the connection by phone, then using fellow officer…

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EUROPEAN CULT MOVIES

This post is a part of our New Voices Section. Written by Ron Altman. For more than 25 years I have been working my way through catalogues and IMDb entries, even Leonard Maltin’s beloved guidebook, like an explorer trekking through the jungle, to find hidden gems and treasures, unheralded movies of times long gone. When in the 1990s and early 2000s it used to mean going from video store to video store and rummaging through flea-markets for rare video tapes, the development of private torrent trackers like Karagarga and Cinemageddon has given movie lovers the chance to find out-of-print, unavailable or never-released movies and download them with the click of a mouse. Labels like the Criterion Collection have made a name for themselves releasing restored…

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TALES FROM AN AGING MOVIE WATCHER

This post is a part of our New Voices Section. Written by Jack Shipley. I took a lot of things for granted as a kid…especially my own mortality. Now, in my early forties, I realize I’m not going to live forever and its changed how I view all aspects of my life. Family is more important to me than ever while getting to the movies on opening weekend has taken a backseat. Even the way I view movies has changed. Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I loved horror movies like Hellraiser, Candyman, Nightmare on Elm Street. As my responsibilities to myself and those around me have shifted, so too has my adoration for this genre. Now I raise a family of daughters in a…

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