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NO MAPS ON MY TAPS

I can’t believe it’s been almost forty years since I first saw this enchanting documentary. Now, thanks to Milestone Films, I’ve had a chance to revisit it and I’ve fallen in love with it all over again. Filmmaker George T. Nierenberg presents a poignant, intimate portrait of three gifted men who represent a bygone era of tap dancing: Chuck Green, Bunny Briggs, and Sandman Sims. They worked in vaudeville and nightclubs but for the most part they acquired their skills on the sidewalks of New York. An older generation of dancers were generous with advice and know-how, and they are also part of this story. No documentary about tap dancing would be complete without footage of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, but the clip that blows me…

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WHY I LOVE MOVIE STILLS

I bought my first vintage 8×10 photo at a used bookstore in Hackensack, New Jersey when I was 13 years old. It cost 25 cents, which was just what I could afford. I’ve continued buying stills ever since, carefully filing and cross-referencing them as only a compulsive person would. Why? Because I love looking at them, noticing details in the background, admiring the often-anonymous photographers who shot them. I thought I’d start sharing some of my favorites with you. Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall at this 1930s party? W.C. Fields looks to be in fine fettle and good humor—and look at the laughter on the faces of his companions, Herbert Marshall and Leslie Howard. Also take note of how…

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OKJA: GO AWAY, PIGGY

Okja is one of the strangest movies of this or any year in recent memory. You may have read about its high-profile debut at the Cannes Film Festival. I can’t imagine what audiences there made of this strange hybrid of family film, ecological satire, and farce. Korean writer-director Bong Joon Ho is internationally renowned for such unusual fare as Mother, The Host, and Snowpiercer, but nothing could prepare viewers for this fable about a wide-eyed girl and her pet super-pig. Yes, I said super-pig. An evil corporation run by neurotic Tilda Swinton has created twenty-six genetically enhanced porkers and sent them around the world to grow for ten years. The best animal will then be selected at a high-profile competition in New York City. There’s just one predictable hitch: the…

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MISSING MOVIE REVIEWS

If you follow my posts, you know that my family and I will be attending the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic for the next two weeks. That means I’m not in Los Angeles to screen and review some major new releases including War for the Planet of the Apes and Spider-man: Homecoming. There’s more to juggle when I return, including Disney’s D23 Convention and the San Diego International Comic-con, but I will do my best to catch up and keep up with the rest of the summer films. Thanks for your understanding. And remember, air conditioning is not reason enough to suffer through a really bad movie!

NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS: JUNE 2017

  A GATHERING OF GUNS: A HALF CENTURY HISTORY OF TV WESTERNS (1949-2001) by Boyd Magers; forewords by James Drury, Robert Fuller, Clint Walker, Henry Darrow, Don Collier, and Will Hutchins (Western Clippings) For years I’ve been a faithful reader of Boyd Magers’ periodical Western Clippings, which celebrates the Western movie genre with an emphasis on the past. Every issue is jam-packed with information, interviews, rare photos, and more. He has extended this modus operandi to his latest book, a spiral-bound publication that covers an astonishing 196 TV series in its 478 pages—with over 1,600 illustrations. The relationship to movie history is clear: in the 1950s the Saturday matinee Western was reborn as the hour television series for such stars as Gene Autry and Roy…

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THE BIG SICK

I don’t know how someone puts his life story on film, playing himself without a trace of self-consciousness…yet that’s what comedian and actor Kumail Nanjiani has done in this disarming film, which he and his wife Emily V. Gordon wrote together. I suppose it’s a logical step once a performer has learned that the best comedy is rooted in truth. Still, it’s a big step to expose oneself emotionally as he does here. The Big Sick is about a rookie stand-up comic from a traditional Pakistani family now living in Chicago. When he falls for a bright young woman (Zoë Kazan) who isn’t Muslim he skates onto thin ice, then realizes he’s not willing to sacrifice the love of his family to cement his relationship with her.…

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SCORE: A FILM MUSIC DOCUMENTARY

Score is the result of many years’ effort. Matt Schrader has been building a library of conversations with film composers, which he has compiled in a book and a two-disc DVD set. I find it remarkable that from this mountain of material he has been able to craft such a cohesive and fascinating film. (Full disclosure: I am one of his interviewees, but I had nothing to do with his editorial judgment.) A primer on the history of the subject is provided by several “talking heads” including such experts as Jon Burlingame and Richard Kraft. For the modern era, almost everyone you would want to see and hear from is represented, from Hans Zimmer to Danny Elfman. (There is also great archival footage of John Williams…

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‘BEATRIZ AT DINNER’ OFFERS FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Disarming in its simplicity, Beatriz at Dinner establishes a believable premise for a dinner party where things go terribly wrong. It’s a tribute to writer Mike White, director Miguel Arteta and their superior cast that this allegorical story never jumps the rails, as it easily could. Winning ingredient number one is Salma Hayek. She is exceptionally good as a Mexican-American healer who is devoted to her patients at a recovery center in Santa Monica, California. One day she drives to an exquisite home in Newport Beach to give a massage to a client (Connie Britton) with whom she’s had a close relationship. When Hayek’s car breaks down in the driveway Britton insists that she stay for dinner, over the objections of her husband. He doesn’t share his…

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PARADISE: MY JOURNEY THROUGH FRENCH CINEMA

If you love film you can’t afford to miss the experience of seeing Bertrand Tavernier’s Journey Through French Cinema, especially on a theater screen. When I first saw it at the Telluride Film Festival last fall I was wary of its extreme length (over three hours) and an early-morning time slot. I needn’t have worried: I was glued to the screen from start to finish and when it was over I wanted more! Tavernier is a master storyteller, as he has proven in such films as The Clockmaker, Coup de Torchon, A Sunday in the Country, ‘Round Midnight, and Safe Passage, to name just a few. This endeavor is an expansive, highly personal view of French films from the 1930s onward, as seen through his eyes. He discusses his youthful moviegoing experiences, his…

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STEFAN ZWEIG: FAREWELL TO EUROPE

I became intrigued with Stefan Zweig after falling in love with The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was inspired by his writing about Europe between the world wars. I went on to read an anthology of his work edited by Budapest director Wes Anderson, The Society of the Crossed Keys. Zweig was widely known and celebrated in his time; he deserves to be better known today. Maria Schrader’s new film (which she wrote in collaboration with Jan Schomburg) is a vivid and often heartbreaking look at the author in exile during the 1930s and early 1940s, with telling episodes in New York City and Brazil. At a crucial meeting of P.E.N. (the international society of poets, essayists, and novelists) held in Buenos Aires in 1936 he refused to condemn the…

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