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YOUNG CLARK GABLE, “FATTY” ARBUCKLE, W.C. FIELDS, LOUISE BROOKS, AND MORE

Specialty distributors haven’t given up on DVDs and Blu-rays. In fact, they seem to be busier than ever releasing rare films and archival oddities, faster than I can possibly review them. Here is a sampling of some goodies I’ve enjoyed recently. As you probably know, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s career ground to a halt once he became the center of a headline-making scandal in 1921. This left half-a-dozen feature films on the shelf, most of which are considered lost. Fortunately, his first feature, The Round Up (1920) exists in a stunning 35mm print at the Library of Congress. Cinemuseum has just released a beautiful dual-disc set on DVD and Blu-ray with a first-rate piano score by Donald Sosin. The irony is that The Round Up was not only Arbuckle’s first…

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LOVE & BANANAS: FOOD FOR THE SOUL

Love & Bananas is a modest but captivating documentary about the sorry fate of elephants in Southeast Asia. It dodges the hazard that plagues many cinematic labors of love. Too often the director’s enthusiasm and good intentions don’t translate to us in the audience. Not this time! Actress and filmmaker Ashley Bell is our avatar onscreen, and (with producer-writer-editor-cinematographer John Michael McCarthy III and director of photography-executive producer Roddy Tabatabai) she manages to make us feel as if we’re experiencing a great adventure alongside her in real time. The immediacy of her two-week trip to Southeast Asia is palpable and unpredictable. The real star of the film—a heroine by any standards—is naturalist Lek Chailert, a wise, charismatic woman who has made it her mission to save…

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FROM ‘SAMSON’ TO ‘SHANE’: THE UNSUNG VICTOR YOUNG

It’s a matter of record that Jonny Greenwood earned an Oscar nomination for scoring Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread…but a significant piece of music that sets the tone for this moody character portrait is Victor Young’s “My Foolish Heart,” played by pianist Oscar Peterson. It’s a perfect choice, just as it was when it debuted as the title song for a 1949 movie with Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews. Yet Victor Young’s name is too often neglected when people cite the top composers of Hollywood’s golden age. Admittedly, he didn’t break new ground like Max Steiner or innovate as Bernard Herrmann did. All he did was write beautiful, melodic scores, yielding a vast number of songs that became hits and enduring standards. “Love Letters,” “Golden Earrings,”…

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‘AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR’ OFFERS ONE SURPRISE AFTER ANOTHER

Watching the latest, most ambitious entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an overpowering experience….especially if you have a deep emotional connection to any of the characters. I enjoy most of these films but wouldn’t call myself a fanboy; I didn’t get that kick-in-the-gut feeling until the very end of the picture (of which I cannot speak). The finale of Infinity War is truly mind-blowing. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, whose Marvel credits include all three Captain America movies and Thor: The Dark World, took on a superhuman challenge this time around. How do you craft a script that involves almost all the major characters who have made their mark onscreen over the past decade? How does teenage Spider-man fit in with snarky Tony Stark and the wizardry of…

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I FEEL PRETTY: GOOD INTENTIONS DON’T PAY OFF

Amy Schumer is so likable in the early stages of this fable that I found myself actively rooting for the movie. I wanted it to be good, as poignant and believable as its leading character. Alas, I Feel Pretty runs aground and never regains its equilibrium. Schumer plays an underpaid, overworked, overweight New Yorker who carries bad luck like an albatross around her neck. Then, after throwing a coin into a fountain one night and blacking out at her gym the next day, she undergoes a magical transformation. She finally has everything she’s dreamed of–but it’s all in her head. She hasn’t changed a bit, but the belief that she is beautiful and stylish makes her a new, super-confident woman. This leaves her two frowsy best friends…

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