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TOP GUN MAVERICK: THE SKY’S THE LIMIT

Why would anyone in today’s desirable moviegoing demo want to see a sequel to a 1986 film—even one as popular as Top Gun? The question becomes academic, if not downright moot, after watching this superior film. It’s hard to picture another entry in the summer movie sweepstakes that can equal or exceed this one for pure, adrenalin-fueled entertainment. Tom Cruise proves he’s still got what it takes to command the screen, even when he’s playing a character who might have been cast with someone decades younger than himself. He retains the looks and swagger of a youthful leading man without actually stepping into (or out of) a time machine. His character’s backstory explains his presence in the elite U.S. Navy flight program. Since his reputation…

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EMERGENCY: A MUST-SEE SUMMER SLEEPER

I’ve been hesitant to write anything about Emergency because I wish everyone could see the film as I did, knowing absolutely nothing about it ahead of time. Given that it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival that may be tough to do… but believe me, the less you know about it the more you will enjoy and appreciate it. Amazon Prime has cut an excellent trailer that manages to tease the film without completely tipping its hand—no small feat considering that it starts out as one kind of movie and winds up being something else entirely. A cast of mostly unknowns responds perfectly to K.D. Dávila’s savvy screenplay and Cary Williams’s…

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THE FASCINATING BACKSTORY OF ‘FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’

Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen is no ordinary behind-the-scenes documentary. For one thing, it chronicles the adaptation of a musical play that qualifies as a genuine phenomenon. Based on a story originally told in Yiddish, it has turned out to have universal resonance. It even spoke to a Canadian director who, despite his surname, isn’t Jewish. Norman Jewison has many fine films to his credit but this one had special meaning for him. Finding the right cast and collaborators was as vital for him as securing the right location. How could he have known that his renowned production designer, Robert Boyle, would have a unique knowledge of Yiddish theater—and a collection of incredible photos documenting life in an Eastern European shtetl?  Musical director John Williams…

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ALL HAIL ‘THE DUKE’

If the rampant bloodiness of The Northman and the hyperkineticism of Everything Everywhere All At Once don’t strike your fancy you would do well to check out The Duke, an unmistakably British import starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. Its quiet charm stakes a claim for mature viewers but don’t mistake “offbeat” for “bland.” There’s nothing banal or predictable about this lighthearted tale, which is based on a true story. Its protagonist is a free-thinking fellow named Kempton Bunton (Broadbent) who made history when he stole a valuable Goya painting from the National Gallery of Art in London. As portrayed here, his motivation is disarmingly simple: he resents the fact that a government man repeatedly shows up at his door demanding that he pay his television tax (which is how…

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BUSTER KEATON: A FILMMAKER’S LIFE

BUSTER KEATON: A FILMMAKER’S LIFE by James Curtis (Knopf) At more than 600 pages, this is not the kind of book one takes up casually. I cleared time on my calendar to read it cover to cover. By the time I got to Buster Keaton’s blossoming film career in the 1920s, it was hard to put down. I was genuinely excited to learn what was coming next. It’s not that I don’t know the basics of Buster’s life and career; Curtis has dug deep and found fresh, fascinating details that explain how and why some movies came about, and how the methodical performer and filmmaker executed some of his still-astonishing gags. New information about films made one hundred years ago? That’s right. Curtis also proffers…

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OLD MOVIES MADE NEW ON BLU-RAY AND DVD

REPEAT PERFORMANCE (Flicker Alley) Joan Leslie, Louis Hayward and newcomer Richard Basehart top the cast of this intriguing drama that takes place on New Year’s Eve and enables its leading character to relive a painful and upsetting year. It marked a promising start for the newly-christened Eagle-Lion Films, which just months earlier had been known as PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation). Now, with an infusion of money and prestige from Great Britain’s J. Arthur Rank and the moviemaking knowhow of producer Bryan Foy, Eagle-Lion was out to bring some class to the ranks of B movies. This saga is well told in a concise documentary by Stephen C. Smith and narrated by Alan K. Rode (both of whom are well-versed in this field). Eddie Muller, familiar…

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FILM BOOKS FOR THE NEW YEAR

Some of these books are new, while others were released under cover of pandemic darkness. In any case, this is my first opportunity to acknowledge and write about them. KEEP ‘EM IN THE EAST: KAZAN, KUBRICK AND THE POSTWAR NEW YORK FILM RENAISSANCE by Richard Koszarski (Columbia University Press) Thanks to his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject and dogged research, Richard Koszarski has produced a definitive chronicle of New York film production in the mid-20th century. What’s more, he augments and corrects misinformation to be found in untold numbers of existing articles and books. This book provides long-elusive details about the making (and financing) of Soundies, “race” pictures, and other niche films in the 1940s and 50s. The arrival of producer Louis de Rochemont and his…

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