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THE TRIP TO GREECE

If you’ve seen any or all of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s previous ventures (The Trip, The Trip to Italy, The Trip to Spain), you know what to expect from this latest venture from director Michael Winterbottom: an attractive travelogue punctuated by elegant meals and competitive monologues by the two funny, friendly rivals. I call them monologues because their speeches rarely involve each other: each performer takes his turn, interrupts the other, then declaims some more. Having drained the cup dry on Michael Caine impressions in their first film, they compete to see who can better imitate Mick Jagger, Dustin Hoffman in Marathon Man or a number of British television hosts who are unknown to me. Brydon breaks me up as he repeatedly launches into Bee Gees…

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MILITARY WIVES

Military Wives is unapologetically corny and predictable…yet somehow it works. I tried to resist, but I love Kristin Scott Thomas and ultimately I surrendered to the movie. Although it is written by two women (Rachel Tunnard and Rosanne Flynne) it was directed by Peter Cattaneo, the man who made the quintessential underdog movie The Full Monty more than twenty years ago. Clearly he hasn’t forgotten the recipe that turned that modest film into a worldwide sensation. The final ingredient is the knowledge that the screenplay is derived from a true story—or rather, a compendium of true stories. Scott Thomas plays the wife of a commanding officer at a British military base. An educated, no-nonsense person, she takes it upon herself to organize activities for the women whose husbands…

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‘LOST’ BARBARA STANWYCK, GARY COOPER AND MORE ON DVD/BLU-RAY

  Barbara Stanwyck is one of those actresses who makes any film worth seeing. I don’t know anyone who disagrees, yet A Lost Lady (Warner Bros, 1934) is inexplicably overlooked. It’s not an important picture but I found it entirely satisfying. Stanwyck is in top form, and Frank Morgan is warmly effective as an older man who falls in love with her after tragedy turns her into a recluse. He woos and wins her but she is still vulnerable to the advances of Lyle Talbot and especially Ricardo Cortez. A Lost Lady is very loosely based on a novel by Willa Cather, who was reportedly so upset about this adaptation that she added language to her will forbidding further screen treatments. (Her book had been filmed more faithfully in…

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MALTIN MOVIE CLUB #4: THE MEDDLER

When I saw The Meddler on its theatrical release four years ago, I feared it would be a one-joke movie. The “joke” is that a widow (Susan Sarandon) moves from New Jersey to California to be near her daughter (Rose Byrne) and just won’t leave her alone. Cell phone calls, texts, and unannounced visits to her house—even barging in while her daughter is taking a shower—are an everyday occurrence. Fortunately, writer-director Lorene Scafaria (who scored with last year’s Hustlers) based this screenplay on her own real-life situation and refuses to reduce its subtleties and complications to the level of a routine sitcom episode. She also has the benefit of a highly skilled actress in the leading role and Sarandon makes the most of it, Jersey accent and all. The…

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MALTIN MOVIE CLUB #3: WONDER

There has never been a better time to recommend Wonder (2017). It’s a beautiful movie, and Stephen Chbosky was a perfect choice to direct and co-write it. The author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, who directed his own screen adaptation, isn’t afraid of honest emotion. What’s more, he is clearly in touch with his younger self. That alone would make him a candidate to translate R.J. Palacio’s best-selling young-adult novel to film. Wonder is a tearjerker that earns our tears by drawing us into its world and giving us a deep connection to its leading characters. Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) has had 27 operations by the time we meet him, at the age of 10. He suffers from craniofacial syndrome, which causes everyone who sees him to stare—in horror, disbelief,…

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SHOW BOAT, TEX AVERY, AND MORE: A DVD/BLU-RAY SURVEY

      SHOW BOAT (Criterion Collection) Show Boat is one of the landmarks of American musical theater, and director James Whale captured the essence of the Broadway show in this stylish 1936 film. Edna Ferber’s generation-spanning novel inspired an exceptional score by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, which is heard at its best in definitive performances by Irene Dunne as Magnolia, Allan Jones as Gaylord Ravenal, Charles Winninger as Captain Andy, Helen Morgan as Julie, Hattie McDaniel as Queenie, and Paul Robeson as Joe, among others. Universal produced a silent version of the book in 1929 and hastily added talkie musical numbers as it went into release. All of that is covered in this expansive Criterion Collection release. Shana L. Redmond discusses the treatment…

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NEW AND NOTABLE BOOKS – March 2020

  PHANTOM LADY: HOLLYWOOD PRODUCER JOAN HARRISON, THE FORGOTTEN WOMAN BEHIND HITCHCOCK by Christina Lane (Chicago Review Press) Just when you think you know all there is to know about the principal figures of Hollywood’s golden age, along comes this knockout of a book about the little-known Joan Harrison. Educated at Oxford and the Sorbonne, she answered a want ad for a secretarial job at Gaumont British Pictures in 1933 and within a few short years was collaborating with Alfred Hitchcock on the screenplays of Young and Innocent, The Lady Vanishes, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent. She also became an indispensable colleague who traveled and lived with the Hitchcock family. In the 1940s she set off on her own as a producer when few women held that title, and…

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