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BACK TO THE DRIVE-IN

April Wright has made several good documentaries, includingGoing Attractions: The Definitive Story of the Movie Palace(in which I appear)and Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-in Movie. The latter film is bathed in an understandable nostalgia for the kind of outdoor theaters that flourished in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Now Wright has gone Back to the Drive-In to pick up the story of how these “ozoners” (as Variety used to call them) made an unexpected comeback during the Covid-19 pandemic… and what has happened since. The film is loosely structured around cinema verité footage of drive-ins from coast to coast and informal interviews with their owners and managers, a doggedly determined breed of showmen and women who seem to be answering a calling. The Harvest Moon drive-in near Champaign, Illinois…

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BULLET TRAIN: GOING NOWHERE FAST

If you’ve seen Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, or Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, you’ll recognize David Leitch’s style of filmmaking. He focuses on hyperkinetic action and flamboyant violence with a heaping dose of smartass humor—a flashy showcase that often obliterates such niceties as story, motivation, and characterization. A former stuntman who doubled for Brad Pitt in years gone by, Leitch has borrowed heavily from the playbooks of Guy Ritchie, Quentin Tarantino, and Timur Bekmambetov, among others. Call it style over substance. Screen writer Zak Olkewicz used a Japanese book as his source material.  There is a premise, but it’s played mostly for laughs, even though the wildly exaggerated violence is sometimes too startling to shrug off. Brad Pitt is a professional assassin whose unseen supervisor speaks…

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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS JULY 2022 – PART TWO

THE FAMOUS MR. FAIRBANKS: A STORY OF CELEBRITY by Richard Schickel (Felix Farmer Press) I was happy to reacquaint myself with this book, a lengthy essay about the nature of celebrity based on the first man who embodied its 20th century ideal, Douglas Fairbanks. (It was first published as His Picture in the Papers in 1973.) The fact that movies enabled us in the audience to admire and identify with such a person—to feel as if we actually knew him—was unprecedented.  Schickel’s hypothesis still holds true today, more than one hundred years after Fairbanks burst onto movie screens around the world while retaining the earmarks of a “regular fellow.” The premise wears thin when the author applies it to the specifics of Fairbanks’ later life and career, but…

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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS JULY 2022 – Part One

INK-STAINED HOLLYWOOD: THE TRIUMPH OF CINEMA’S TRADE PRESS by Eric Hoyt (University of California Press) This vital new book is the result of Herculean research by the man who now supervises the Media History Digital Library, where one can search through thousands of film periodicals https://mediahistoryproject.org/. He has invested untold hours to produce this survey of the trade magazines that documented the film industry in its earliest days. Were they to be cheerleaders for the studios and distributors or would they take the side of the independent theater owner? Would New York or Los Angeles give them the best vantage point to report on this brand-new industry? At what point would Variety value movies more than vaudeville? These are just a few of the topics Hoyt raises in…

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

It’s easy to see why Dalia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing became a best-seller. It has all the ingredients to attract a wide audience: an underdog heroine with an abusive father lives in a marsh in South Carolina that makes her a literal outsider to the people of the nearest town, who treat her as a kind of freak…all except one sensitive boy who becomes her friend and personal tutor. He seems to be the ideal partner to help guide her through life…then life takes an unexpected turn. In Lucy Alibar’s adaptation of the novel, the person known as Marsh Girl is on trial for murdering the town’s most popular preppy quarterback. Daisy Edgar-Jones, an up-and-comer whose television work on such series as Normal People and Under the Banner of Heaven has…

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MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS

Is there still an audience for an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s whimsical best-selling novel Mrs. ‘arris goes to Paris? And are they so dumb that they need to have her name spelled out instead of Cockney-ized?  Whatever the case, I was charmed by this unapologetic fairy tale about a cleaning woman who dreams of wearing a beautiful ball gown designed by Christian Dior. Lesley Manville is the perfect embodiment of Ada Harris, a hard-working woman who’s still mourning the death of her husband a decade after the end of World War II. Her life may not be easy but it isn’t dull: she has a handful of colorful clients, a chatty best friend (Ellen Thomas), and a sporting man (Jason Isaacs) who knows how to flatter…

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THOR: LOVE, THUNDER AND SHTICK

I have no patience for superhero movies without a sense of humor. If executed properly (see the original Avengers) the comedy should arise naturally from the situations in the script and the characters’ reactions to them. That’s why I was so pleased when the irrepressibly funny Taika Waititi joined forces with Marvel for Thor: Ragnarok in 2017. But there can be too much of a good thing, as anyone who’s overindulged in chocolate or ice cream can verify. The new Thor: Love and Thunder is a scattered affair that, at a certain point, is played as out-and-out comedy. Can this really be Chris Hemsworth spouting gag lines? Is his relationship to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) a springboard for sitcom-style jokes? Even the rock-like creature Korg, played by Waititi, wears out…

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