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BE NATURAL: A WOMAN REWRITES FILM HISTORY

Be Natural is a revelatory film about pioneering female filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché. Writer-director Pamela B. Green has done a superior job of telling her story in this lively account of a neglected woman. The briskly-paced documentary not only sets film history on its ear but demands a thorough reexamination of Blaché’s extraordinary career. Alice Guy was present at the Lumière Brothers’ presentation of their first motion picture…a fitting start for an unusually fruitful career. Yet she was cheated out of her rightful credit as a writer, director and studio chief early in the 20th century when her longtime boss Leon Gaumont published a history of his company, omitted her name and credited others for work she did. As Green tells it, she was the one who persuaded…

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THIS YEAR’S TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL—FROM MY POINT OF VIEW

It’s hard to believe that this is the tenth year that Turner Classic Movies has staged a film festival in the heart of Hollywood. I’ve been lucky enough to participate from the beginning, although my assignments are so varied and random—and the bill of fare so jam-packed—that one could go through all four days without catching sight of me. Nevertheless I had a great time and want to share some of my experiences. Opening night on the red carpet felt bittersweet because I was reminded of all the great people from Hollywood’s golden age who are no longer here. Tony Curtis, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Ernest Borgnine, Luise Rainer and so many others were part of this celebration just a few years back. Even so,…

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PETERLOO: HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Mike Leigh is one of my favorite filmmakers, in part because you never know what to expect from him. He’s given us slices of life (Life is Sweet, Secrets & Lies), character studies (Another Year, Happy-go-Lucky), a lavish period piece about Gilbert & Sullivan (Topsy-Turvy) and a breathtaking portrait of a great British painter (Mr. Turner). Peterloo is something else altogether: a historical document of events leading up to a brutal massacre of townspeople in Manchester in 1819. Knowing that outcome in advance removes any vestige of suspense. What we get instead is a meticulous re-creation of everyday life in the early 19th century. The focal point is one working-class family that struggles to get by, in spite of wage cutbacks at the local cotton mill and a…

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SHAZAM! NEVER TAKES OFF

Shazam! wants to be slick and smartassy except when it suddenly chooses to be warm and sincere—like a TV commercial for some medication or life insurance. You can’t have it both ways but this film repeatedly tries to do so. I’ve always loved the character who originated as Captain Marvel in 1940s comic books (and lost that name to Marvel in a famous lawsuit). He was essentially a rip-off of Superman but he had his own style and flavor. This movie, however, is a muddle. Parents should know that Shazam! opens with a scene where a truly nasty father (John Glover) verbally abuses his young son, Thaddeus Sivanna, leaving lifelong psychic scars. Then we witness another childhood trauma: young Billy is separated from his mother at a…

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MALTINFEST LINE UP AND TICKETS

MALTINFEST 2019 at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre In association with The American Cinematheque May 10-12, 2019     SING STREET (2016) is a musical charmer from John Carney, the Irish filmmaker who made ONCE. It’s the story of a young man who starts making music videos so he’ll have an excuse to talk to a beautiful girl (Lucy Boynton). This is the kind of movie that leaves you feeling better than you did walking into the theater. That makes it a perfect opening night choice. The screening will be introduced by comedian and film enthusiast Doug Benson following a live recording of his popular podcast “Doug Loves Movies.”     PLEASE GIVE (2010) is a sly social satire from writer-director Nicole Holofcener (Oscar-nominated this year for…

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DIANE: A SLICE OF LIFE WORTH SAMPLING

Mary Kay Place is an asset to any movie she’s in, and in Diane she is the center of attention. In his narrative filmmaking debut, writer-director Kent Jones has built a story around her, based on observations of his own family. That, and Place’s honest performance, not only ground this evocative slice of life but make it highly relatable. Diane is a woman who gives and gives and gives. She spends much of her life driving from one place to another: to church, where she helps run a soup kitchen with her friend (Andrea Martin), to the hospital where an old friend is dying, to the home of her drug-addicted son (Jake Lacy) who is in fierce denial when we first encounter him, and to…

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‘DUMBO’ BEGS THE QUESTION: WHY?

Disney’s new live-action Dumbo isn’t awful….but it isn’t very good, either. Why waste so much money and talent on a film that is foredoomed to take second place to a classic? I know it’s all about making money, yet surely there are new ideas to pursue instead of constantly reproducing past successes. In this case the bar is set impossibly high. Dumbo is my favorite animated Disney feature. It’s got heart, humor, and originality. What’s more, it tells its story in just over an hour’s time. It’s a perfect movie. Why Tim Burton would devote himself to a mediocre remake with a bloated script I can’t imagine. I won’t waste my time or yours describing the story, which takes place (of course) at a circus. The screenplay bears only…

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