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REMEMBERING SIDNEY POITIER

Sidney Poitier’s milestone achievements are so numerous they scarcely need repeating here. But I would like to pass along a personal reminiscence.  Meeting The Man for the first time made a deep impression on my wife and me. His physical presence was imposing but his demeanor was disarmingly casual. He was unfailingly kind over the years; I even got to introduce my daughter to him. It was after a few brief social interactions that I built up the nerve to invite him to my USC class and he agreed to come. I wanted to show my 20-something students The Defiant Ones but he suggested something less racially charged like The Bedford Incident or To Sir With Love. I chose the latter. The dated but still likable film played well with my…

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THE HAND OF GOD: AN INSPIRED IMPORT

Paolo Sorrentino has made some exceptional films, including ‘Il Divo’ and ‘The Great Beauty’ (my favorite) but he says it took twenty years—and the courage he derived from watching Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma—to tell his own coming-of-age story in The Hand of God. I’m sorry he struggled so long with this project but it was well worth the wait. The film’s opening sequences are reminiscent of Fellini’s Amarcord, revealing our adolescent hero’s mental snapshots of his family, a rich assortment of eccentrics—odd-looking, vulgar, intensely human. He remembers them fondly, in some cases lustfully, yet when his brother actually auditions for Fellini the director dismisses him as being too conventional-looking. The boy’s emotions are dominated by the arrival of soccer star Diego Maradona in Naples. It is all he…

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REMEMBERING PETER BOGDANOVICH

Anyone who loves movies, and movie history, owes a giant debt of thanks to Peter Bogdanovich for interviewing, chronicling, and bearing witness to so many veterans of Hollywood’s golden age. Listening to the audio version of his fascinating book This is Orson Welles is one of the great experiences of my life. The book reads well but springs to life when you hear the Great Man himself, as recorded in a wide variety of locations over many years’ time. (I still have my well-worn audiocassette.) I first met Peter at a reception at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan celebrating the publication of his book on Allan Dwan. (That was 51 years ago!) I told him how much I enjoyed the program notes he wrote for…

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JOCKEY: BETTING ON CLIFTON COLLINS, JR.

Many character actors never land a leading role, despite having proven themselves in film after film (from The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit to Traffic and Capote). Clifton Collins, Jr. has been handed a golden opportunity in Jockey by director Clint Bentley and his co-screenwriter Greg Kwedar. Striving for realism but not taking a literal approach to their story, they lay the groundwork for Collins to “own” the film, playing a hard-bitten jockey whose health is deteriorating just as he encounters a horse that can carry him to greatness. You won’t find any histrionics in Jockey, just a well-told story about a racing “pro” who has worked hard his whole life and, like his comrades, endured a never-ending series of injuries. He enjoys a friendly relationship with his trainer (another pitch-perfect performance from Molly…

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BETTY WHITE WAS A LIVING LINK TO BUSTER KEATON

Like millions of others, I am mourning the passing of actress, animal activist and all-round purveyor of good cheer Betty White. Yes, I can verify that she was as nice in person as she seemed to be on television. She was also a pioneer in the video medium, starting in 1949 and continuing for the next five decades. She even wrote a book about her experiences called Here We Go Again. While plugging its publication on a local morning show here in Los Angeles she was asked to name the most memorable people she’d ever worked with in TV. To my astonishment the first person she cited was Buster Keaton, whom she’d encountered in the earliest days of L.A. television. I couldn’t let this rest, so I…

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LICORICE PIZZA: VALLEY HIGH

Paul Thomas Anderson grew up in the suburban L.A. sprawl known as the San Fernando Valley and has set several of his films there (notably Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch Drunk Love). His latest is a flashback to 1973, a kaleidoscopic series of vignettes involving a high-school hustler (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son Cooper) and an “older woman” (Alana Haim) who engage in a series of comedic misadventures together. There is no obvious storyline. The filmmaker immerses us in a particular time and place he loves that enables him to drop names that may have no meaning to most of his audience (like the once-swanky restaurant Tail O’ the Cock, or the title establishment, a fondly remembered used-record shop) as he spins his entertaining tall-tale. Hoffman is…

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PARALLEL MOTHERS: ALMODÓVAR’S LATEST

Pedro Almodóvar is a master stylist and storyteller. As a longtime fan I am glad he is so prolific, because if one of his films doesn’t meet my (high) expectations I console myself with the knowledge that there is another one in the works. In less skillful hands, the ingredients of Parallel Mothers might result in a soap opera that would invite quibbles over credibility. But Almodóvar’s characters have inner lives; we empathize with them and that makes them real. Penélope Cruz plays a successful photographer who gives birth to a child without committing to a longterm relationship with the father. She befriends a younger woman who shares her hospital room immediately following the birth, and the two promise to stay in touch. Cruz cannot know that…

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