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IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

James Baldwin was eloquent and poetic; he was also a complex and frustrated man who expressed his feelings in both essays and works of fiction. Impassioned filmmaker Barry Jenkins, who won an Oscar for his breakthrough feature Moonlight, has translated Baldwin’s 1974 novel If Beale Street Could Talk for the screen with newcomers in the leading roles and scored a bull’s-eye. This is s a story of star-crossed lovers who began as childhood best friends but eventually realize they are soulmates. But fate, which seldom smiles on black characters in this period, deals them a terrible blow: Fonny is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, and Tish discovers that she is carrying their baby. There are further complications, primarily from his judgmental family, but…

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THE MULE: CLINT EASTWOOD STILL RULES

Two nonagenarians steal the show in Mary Poppins Returns, but The Mule is a horse of a different color, if you’ll pardon the pun. This is a star vehicle for an 88-year-old actor-director who still commands the screen, Clint Eastwood. It’s a pleasure to watch him play a character his own age, a grumpy old man with a gift of gab and a well-hidden heart of gold.  Logic must be placed aside for the sake of drama. The movie plays like a fable but the fundamental story is true, based on a New York Times article about a 90-year-old man who successfully transported drugs for a Mexican cartel. In this telling Eastwood is a once-successful horticulturalist who has lost his property and with it, his identity and sense of purpose.…

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SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE IS BEYOND DESCRIPTION

For once, a movie lives up to its hype. Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse is the most spectacular animated feature I’ve ever seen. This takes nothing away from Disney, Pixar, or Studio Ghibli, but the core idea of creating a living comic book, and its bold, brash execution, blew me away. Even my wife, who has no interest in superhero movies, enjoyed it. The story moves at a breakneck pace and is so crammed with visual ideas and gags it’s hard to catch them all. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming. Sensing this, I chose to see it in 2-D; I get a feeling that if I watched it in 3-D my brain might explode. Start with this: there’s a new Spider-man in the neighborhood: a black/Puerto Rican teenager…

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GIFT IDEAS FOR FILM BUFF FRIENDS

DISNEY DECORATED ICE CREAM CARTONS     What’s better than great ice cream? Great ice cream in reusable Disney containers. Ample Hills Creamery founders Brian Smith and Jackie Cuscuna opened their first   “scoop shop” some time ago in Brooklyn and came to the attention of the Walt Disney company’s Big Kahuna, Bob Iger. He encouraged them to expand and arranged a Disney tie-in just in time for Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday. The Disney Mickey Mouse Collection includes one pint of Triple Chocolate Surprise, one pint of Confetti Celebration and one pint of Peanut Butter Jamboree. As a chocaholic, I devoured the Triple Chocolate Surprise and it was scrumptious. You can find a store near you at www.amplehills.com  and learn how to have a Mickey selection…

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THE FAVOURITE—AND NO WONDER

The Favourite tells a story that is universal and essentially timeless. By approaching this 18th century drama in a modern manner, iconoclastic filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) has made his most accessible film to date and cast it to perfection with three great talents: Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Colman. Here is the tale of a rivalry between two wily, headstrong women who vie for the attention and approval of Queen Anne, a doddering, mercurial leader who contends with a variety of ailments and a notable lack of self-esteem. Rachel Weisz is the power behind the throne, a woman who shows no mercy as she wields her control over everyone who must deal with the monarch. Emma Stone…

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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS – December

As always, there are more film books being published than there is time to read them, but I hope this annotated list of current titles will be helpful, especially during gift-giving season. I promise at least one more installment in the month ahead, including a look at a handful of brand-new books related to Walt Disney.   HOW DID LUBITSCH DO IT? by Joseph McBride (Columbia University Press) McBride has devoted his life to crafting massive tomes on John Ford, Orson Welles, and Frank Capra, among others. Here he explores the career of a man they (and most of their contemporaries) admired, Ernst Lubitsch. I’ve only read 200 pages so far but I’m ready to call this a brilliant study, not only for its impressive…

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‘ROMA’ UNLEASHES A FLOOD OF EMOTIONS

Roma is a stunning, often heartbreaking film, but it requires patience to realize where writer-director Alfonso Cuarón is taking us. If you surrender to him, as I did, you will be amply rewarded. It’s a memory piece inspired by the filmmaker’s youth, circa 1970, in a neighborhood of Mexico City called Roma. Cuarón wrote, directed, edited, produced and even photographed the picture. Everything we see is a replica of things as he remembers them: his family home, the furniture and artwork on the walls, the cars parked on the street. Even the neighbors were cast to resemble the people he recalls. It’s akin to Italian neorealism: a slice of life abut a middle-class family with a loving mother, grandmother, and four young, unruly children. They…

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