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DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: SPEED SISTERS

By Rob Edelman. SPEED SISTERS, an eye-opening documentary that has just been released theatrically here in the U.S., opens with a familiar sight… if you are a racing fan. Drivers rev their engines, just before maneuvering their vehicles onto a racetrack. But there is something different here, something unusual and, to my mind, something extra-special. The drivers all are female, and they are Palestinian. Collectively, these women have found their calling– and that calling is racing cars in competitions and winning those competitions. These young women are friends and teammates who participate in races sponsored by the Palestinian Motor Sports and Motorcycle Federation. Early on, Maysoon, the team captain, notes that it’s “uncommon to see girls racing anywhere in the world,” but she quickly adds, not without pride, that she and her…

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Blu-ray Review: The Light Between Oceans (2016)

By Greg Ehrbar. Michael Fassbender has become especially adept at characters with steely reserve. Whether they’re electronic or human, they are never robotic but they are composed of an alloy that allows the actor to create tense, internalized, restrained characters. Director Derek Cianfrance, in the fascinating audio commentary (thank you!), often comments on his quests to get to the heart of the character and the artist portraying him. In classic gothic romantic tradition, it takes love to bring out his soul. The Light Between Oceans has a period setting but is not a “retro” film, but it could have been a Jane Wyman tearjerker in the late ’40s. In fact, filmmaker Phil Solomon—who co-hosts the commentary with Cianfrance—compares Fassbender with the comparably granite-jawed Burt Lancaster.…

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The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us bears faint echoes of other outer-space sagas but carves its own niche because its hero is a teenage boy. Asa Butterfield, whom we’ve gotten to know in such films as Enders Game and Hugo, gives a sincere performance as a boy who has been raised among American astronauts on the planet Mars. All he wants is to experience life on earth. He even has a long-distance relationship with a girl he’s been messaging—without telling her who or where he is. In other words, in spite of its setting and spectacular visions of Earth from the skies above, The Space Between Us is essentially a coming-of-age story. It will probably play best with adolescents and tweens. What makes it work for me,…

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ROBERT DE NIRO IN ‘THE COMEDIAN’—A WASTE OF TIME AND TALENT

Robert De Niro fully commits to his character in The Comedian even though he’s not a terribly likable guy. De Niro is a past master of this; after all, he played Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull. But The Comedian is no Raging Bull…not even close. Jackie Burke is a standup comic who’s been reduced to the status of a nostalgia figure because of a popular sitcom he headlined years ago. This fuels a torrent of unbridled anger which comes out during his often tasteless comedy routines. A violent encounter with a heckler lands him in prison, followed by 100 hours of community service. It’s here, at a New York City church, that he meets another troubled soul played by Leslie Mann who’s also serving time…

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ADIEU TO DAVID SHEPARD

I was 16 years old when I first met David Shepard, and before our first conversation was over he offered to loan me a 16mm print to screen for my high school Motion Picture Club. It was a typically generous gesture for a man who devoted his life to saving films and showing them to appreciative audiences. If you’ve seen a superior print of a film by Chaplin or Keaton, Griffith or Murnau, chances are David had a hand in restoring it. We both grew up in New Jersey and had the same mentor, an unforgettable man named John Griggs. He was an Actor by trade and disposition, but his hobby was collecting films. He also ran a part-time business called Griggs Moviedrome, selling 8mm…

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NEW TRAILERS FOR VINTAGE FILMS

Jon Mirsalis is a very talented guy, as anyone who has heard him accompany silent films over the years can confirm. He has even integrated a synthesizer into his work, to make his scores more effective by replicating the sounds of different instruments. Jon has played piano for silents all over the country but his home base is the Niles Essanay Film Museum in Niles, California. To help promote those screenings he has developed yet another skill: video editing. Like a one-man marketing department, he posts inventive and amusing trailers for silent films in the weeks leading up to their showings. I enjoy them so much I thought I should share them with you. His latest endeavor spotlights Tod Browning’s The Unknown (1927) starring Jon’s favorite…

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A DOG’S PURPOSE

A Dog’s Purpose is a sucker punch for people who love their pets, myself included. This adaptation of W. Bruce Campbell’s best-selling book isn’t terribly original or profound but it is sweet—some would say overly so, but I’m not complaining because I enjoyed it. Why such a simple, straightforward film required five (credited) screenwriters I can’t imagine, but director Lasse Hallström, who made the moving Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2010), knows his way around this kind of material. The movie is narrated by Josh Gad as a dog who lives many lives with a variety of owners. Every time he dies he is reincarnated as a different breed in a completely new situation. That’s how our hero becomes a heroine at one point. The humans…

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THE SALESMAN: A WORTHY OSCAR NOMINEE

Although he has a substantial résumé, it took A Separation to put Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi on the international map. It’s one of the most intense movies I’ve ever seen. The Past confirmed his skill as a storyteller. His latest effort, The Salesman, has just been nominated for an Academy Award and the honor is well-deserved. Farhadi has the rare ability to take seemingly ordinary situations and build a web of intrigue and suspense around them. Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are a married couple who work with a local theater group in Tehran. One day, without warning, their apartment building collapses and they must find a new place to live. A colleague provides the answer, but neglects to tell them about the…

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ALL THAT GLITTERS IS ‘GOLD’

Matthew McConaughey has undergone another physical transformation to play the leading character in Gold–he’s balding, snaggle-toothed, and has a beer belly. But the reason this movie works so well is that we believe the his character from the inside out: a low-rent Nevada prospector who’s following in his father’s footsteps. He partners with mining engineer Edgar Ramirez and, miraculously, they find the biggest gold cache in years–and when the news gets out they are wined and dined by Wall Street heavy-hitters. They and their investors are going to make millions. Writers Patrick Massett and John Zinman, who’ve written and produced TV series ranging from Friday Night Lights to The Blacklist, based their screenplay on real-life events which you can read about HERE–but don’t do so…

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ROBERT REDFORD ON MARY TYLER MOORE

For some of you she’s Mary Richards. Maybe you know her as Laura Petrie. For my generation and many that followed she will always be that feisty, independent brunette with an ear to ear smile. And while it’s her two long-running series that we will continue to watch and enjoy, it was her exceptional dramatic performance in Robert Redford’s directorial debut, Ordinary People, that earned her an Academy Award nomination. I interviewed Redford at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival three years ago, and this is what he said.   “I’ve always liked the idea of going off in casting, going off-center. Mary Tyler Moore was America’s sweetheart, you know. The Dick Van Dyke Show was fantastic. Really, really, funny, funny show. And she was great.…

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