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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS – April 2018

TRAVELS WITH WALT DISNEY: A PHOTOGRAPHIC VOYAGE AROUND THE WORLD by Jeff Kurtti (Disney Editions) I’m a sucker for anything to do with Walt Disney. This handsomely designed volume documents his many travels, including a stint as an ambulance driver in France in 1918, the now-famous expedition to Central and South America in 1941, a return to Marceline, Missouri with his brother Roy in the 1950s, and numerous vacations with his wife Lillian. (One of those trips, to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, helped to solidify his thoughts about building a theme park, while a later visit to Switzerland inspired the Matterhorn attraction.) This book is packed with rare, candid photos—some right out of a family album—and assorted ephemera that covers nearly half a century.  …

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REMEMBERING CHUCK McCANN

No one made me laugh harder than Chuck McCann, on two memorable occasions. I was 13 when my friend Bobby London got us into a live broadcast of Chuck’s daily kiddie show, then on WNEW in Manhattan after a long run at WPIX. With no peanut gallery of kids on hand, Chuck played to his crew and kept them chuckling non-stop. Bobby and I remained unobtrusive in the darkened studio and tried to stifle our laughter as Chuck portrayed hawk-nosed Dick Tracy and the largest Little Orphan Annie you ever saw. He was flat-out hilarious, and while we were already fans he won our hearts forever that afternoon. Then I was allowed to attend my first grown-up Sons of the Desert banquet at the Lambs…

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A QUIET PLACE: WHERE SOUND BRINGS TERROR

I don’t enjoy horror films for the most part but I was glued to the screen for A Quiet Place, a truly scary movie that’s artfully executed. John Krasinski directed, co-wrote the script, and stars in the film with his wife Emily Blunt. All we know at the outset is that alien creatures have decimated the human population and are activated by noise making it essential for Krasinski, Blunt and their children to maintain silence as much as possible. As it happens, they already know sign language because their daughter is deaf. She is played (beautifully) by Millicent Simmonds, who is actually deaf and appeared in last year’s Wonderstruck. I can’t remember the last film that made such ingenious use of sound—and silence. Kudos to sound designers…

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CHAPPAQUIDDICK: HISTORY MADE HUMAN

Even if you aren’t old enough to remember the sensational incident that inspired this movie, Chappaquiddick offers a fascinating portrait of a man burdened by a family curse: Edward “Ted” Kennedy. The year is 1969 and the junior senator from Massachusetts is living in the shadow of his three elder brothers: Joseph, the “chosen one” who died in World War Two, Jack, who became President but didn’t live to serve out his first term, and Bobby, who was gunned down in yet another national tragedy. Mary Jo Kopechne was riding with Ted Kennedy when his car careened off a narrow bridge on Chappaquiddick Island. The aftermath of this horrific incident is what defined the Senator and his powerful family for years to come. First-time screenwriters Taylor Allen…

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‘READY PLAYER ONE’ ALMOST WINS

I am not a gamer, but I had no trouble immersing myself in the hyperkinetic world of Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One and had a good time watching it—for a while. I don’t share the same degree of nostalgia for the 1980s that younger people cling to, but we all cherish the movies, songs, TV shows and (yes) video games of our youth. (Hey, even I played Centipede way back when.) Adam Stockhausen’s production design is dazzling, and it’s fun to identify the nonstop references to pop culture, but they come in such profusion that the process becomes exhausting instead of exhilarating. I always enjoy seeing Marvin the Martian, for instance, but he’s onscreen for the length of an eye-blink—in the same shot as dozens of other…

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‘ISLE OF DOGS’ OFFERS REWARDS—AND REGRETS

It may be the height of redundancy to call a Wes Anderson film eccentric, but that’s the word that comes to mind as I ponder his newest creation, Isle of Dogs. Like The Fantastic Mr. Fox, it is executed in stop-motion animation and the look of the film is astonishing, from its striking Japanese settings to the richly nuanced expressions of his canine protagonists. I marvel at the skill of the specialists who sculpt these intricate puppets and then bring them to life, one frame at a time. The story deals with the mean-spirited mayor of a Japanese city who insists that a strain of disease requires all dogs to be exiled to an island that normally serves as a garbage dump. A quartet of former house pets (and…

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ALL HAIL ‘KING OF JAZZ’ FROM CRITERION

If you’re wondering why there are shouts of jubilation from film buffs and aficionados of pre-swing-era music it’s because the Criterion Collection has released a beautiful Blu-ray and DVD of King of Jazz (1930), The movie features Bing Crosby’s first appearance onscreen, as part of the Rhythm Boys trio, jazz giants Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, and a spectacular rendition of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” by Paul Whiteman, the orchestra leader who commissioned the piece just six years earlier. Impossible to see for decades, unearthed in the late 1960s (with foreign-language subtitles), then given desultory release on VHS, this pioneering early-talkie in two-color Technicolor has finally been made whole. I wrote about the West Coast premiere of its restoration at the Academy of Motion…

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CRITERION OFFERS MODERN CLASSICS

I tend to associate the Criterion Collection with exemplary releases of classics from Hollywood (like the recent Blu-ray of John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln) and international cinema (like Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr ). But Criterion is also home to some of the finest contemporary filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Mike Leigh (Meantime), Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women), Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper), and Alexander Payne, whose Election has gotten the deluxe treatment accorded to films that are many decades old. Add to that elite roster the great British filmmaker Ken Loach. Somehow I missed his 2016 release I, Daniel Blake, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Now, thanks to Criterion, I have not only seen this brilliant picture but gotten the chance to watch…

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FROM MUHAMMAD ALI TO JIM GAFFIGAN: ADVENTURES AT SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST

South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas  has become a “must” for my daughter Jessie and me. Originally a music event, its film component is now a launchpad for movies big and small and a gathering place for anyone involved in pop culture. We had a great time, as always, filling our time with podcasts, screenings, and schmoozing in roughly equal measure. I had the pleasure of introducing the world premiere of my friend Robert Bader’s new documentary Ali and Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes. Robert has been archiving Dick Cavett’s talk-show library and realized there was gold in the many appearances Muhammad Ali made on that late-night talk show in the1960s and 70s. He also knew that establishing context was essential, and conducted…

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MARVELOUS MOVIE MEMORABILIA AT AUCTION

I am a sucker for movie collectibles, all sorts. That’s why my wife and I view the arrival of a new auction catalog from Hake’s Americana and Collectibles with mixed emotions: on the one hand, we love seeing what they have to offer. On the other hand, we have to exercise caution. Our house is overstuffed as is. I figure if I point out some of my favorite items then maybe I can help them find a good home and visit them from time to time. The current auction closes this week; please see Hake’s website for more details. Ted Hake is one of the most knowledgeable dealers in the business, and his specialty is pinback buttons. His interests include sports, advertising, and political history, but…

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