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REMEMBERING ANDRĖ PREVIN—AND STANLEY DONEN

The news of André Previn’s death hit me hard. I couldn’t explain why, at first; then I realized that he has been part of my life since I was a kid. At age 13 I used my spending money to buy his album featuring jazz interpretations of My Fair Lady—with a great picture of the pianist and Audrey Hepburn on the cover. I’ve been listening to it ever since. I also love the 1962 album he recorded with Doris Day called Duet, which features one of the first-rate songs he wrote with his then-wife Dory, “Control Yourself.” When I met the ageless actress-singer she was happy that I mentioned this record, which she also cherished.     I never met Previn but I did have a lovely phone…

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APOLLO 11: RELIVING A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EXPERIENCE

I was a teenager when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in the summer of 1969 and, like millions of people around the world, I will never forget that moment. I can only guess how this film will play to viewers who didn’t experience the glory years of NASA and America’s space program, but I can tell you that I marveled at the sights and sounds of Apollo 11 and choked up as it reached its conclusion. (Moreover, I didn’t need a title card to identify the first voice we hear, which recurs throughout the movie. Newscaster Walter Cronkite has become synonymous with mid-20th century events.) Watching this saga on a giant IMAX screen plays a key role in its impact. NASA documented every facet of…

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GOING GAGA FOR CONSTANCE BENNETT

At one time she was Hollywood’s highest-paid star. Today, Constance Bennett’s name is known only to the most devoted film buffs…but I realize she has a link to one of this year’s Oscar nominees. You see, Bennett starred in the 1932 movie What Price Hollywood?, which inspired the 1937 screenplay for A Star is Born, which in turn has been remade four times with Janet Gaynor, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and this past year with you-know-who.     Constance’s father was actor Richard Bennett, a major theatrical figure who also appeared in films, not the least being Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons (as Major Anderson). If you’ve seen him as Ronald Colman’s mentor in Arrowsmith (1931), you’ll never forget him. Bennett sired three daughters, two of whom became bona fide stars in their…

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OSCARS CAST A WIDE NET

I’ve been watching the Oscars since I was a kid and covering them since I moved to Los Angeles in 1983, so I can assure you that it’s not a cliché when people say it’s an honor just to be nominated. To be one of five (or even eight) candidates out of a year’s worth of movies is no small achievement. But in any race, someone is declared the winner. That’s why I was pleased by the outcome of this year’s Academy Awards. Green Book, Roma, Bohemian Rhapsody, The Favourite, Blackkklansman, Black Panther, A Star is Born, and If Beale Street Could Talk all had cause to celebrate. Even First Man, which was otherwise forsaken, took home a well-deserved prize for its extraordinary visual effects. With the rise of…

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SLEEPERS! FILM NOIR, WESTERN AUTEURS ON DVD AND BLU-RAY

Even as “physical media” is ostensibly disappearing there are new DVD and Blu-ray releases being released on a regular basis, with valuable bonus material. The newest company to join the parade is Arrow Academy (Arrow Video in the United States), which is offering superb digital transfers of Joseph H. Lewis’ signature films My Name is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night. The pleasure of watching beautiful copies of these films would be worth the price alone, but following the lead of the Criterion Collection, Arrow has gone the extra mile for film buffs.     My Name is Julia Ross (1945) has always had a strong reputation, uncommon for a B movie, but my recollection of So Dark the Night (1946) was dim until I revisited it and I count it as…

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ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

A striking new female character is ready for action in a fantastic-looking movie. Based on a Japanese manga comic book, Alita: Battle Angel combines the talents of two tech-savvy filmmakers, James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez. Screenwriting has never been their strong suit, but working with Laeta Kalogridis (who wrote the most recent Terminator movie), the vfx wizards at WETA and Cameron’s longtime producer Jon Landau, they have crafted a dynamic comic-book yarn. Like so many of these projects it hews to a formula, and it’s longer than it needs to be, but I still enjoyed watching it. Cameron’s Avatar set a new standard for performance-capture and Alita reaffirms the exceptional result of that methodology. We’ve come a long way from Polar Express and even Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Alita is played by Rosa…

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EVEN MORE OF MY FAVORITE MOVIE SCORE

Imagine loving a movie soundtrack but never having a chance to hear it all. The most-played score in my collection is Jerome Moross’ evocative, Oscar-nominated music for The Big Country (1958), William Wyler’s sprawling film starring Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston. Most people would probably point to Elmer Bernstein’s The Magnificent Seven or Ennio Morricone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as the ultimate Western scores, but I have a deep, abiding affection for The Big Country which is difficult to put into words. I just love listening to it. Moross is not one of the acknowledged giants of film music, but he made his mark all the same. Once an orchestrator for Aaron Copland, some of that composer’s ideas rubbed off on him and became part of his musical DNA. His…

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