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‘TIME’ WELL SPENT

A woman named Fox Rich is literally in our face as Time begins. She is addressing the camera, maintaining a video diary of her comings and goings. The cumulative effect only hits home as a major chapter in her life comes to a close in Garrett Bradley’s Time. This is one of the year’s best documentaries, and one of the most disarming. It already earned the filmmaker the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. Other accolades are still to come. Fox Rich exudes poise and self-assurance, but it’s a pose she strikes—not just for the camera, or her family, but for herself. She and her husband robbed a bank twenty years ago, and while she’s served twelve years…

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COLLECTIVE: A RIVETING DOCU-THRILLER

When a so-called documentary has you gasping at one moment and on the edge of your seat the next, you know it’s exceptional. Alexander Nanau’s Collective, from Romania, is just such a film. The title comes from the name of a nightclub that caught on fire in Bucharest one night, killing many people because there was only one exit. Even worse, many burn victims who might have been saved later perished because of bureaucratic issues within the country’s network of hospitals. Filmmaker Nanau chooses to follow one fearless investigative journalist whose determination forces the Romanian government to answer for its sins. By exposing deep-rooted corruption in his country’s health care system he puts his very life on the line.       Later in the film we meet…

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MALTIN MODERN MASTER: AN EVENING WITH BILL MURRAY

I’ve been hosting tribute evenings for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival for more than thirty years. They’ve even put my name on the award—The Maltin Modern Master—which I take as a high compliment. The tribute evening takes place at the historic Arlington Theater on State Street in Santa Barbara—but not this year. When festival director Roger Durling called to tell me who had agreed to accept the honor this year I was floored: Bill Murray. Bill Murray!  Then came the letdown: the conversation would be virtual. Drat!, as W.C. Fields would say. But I didn’t reckon with our honoree’s unpredictable mind. I also didn’t know what to expect. would he be serious or jokey? Would we have time to play all the film clips we’d…

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CURIOSITY IS THE KEY

At a time when many of us are searching for something good to watch at home, I’d like to recommend a handful of films from off the beaten path. The only thing they have in common is that I like them, because they introduce me to worlds (and people) I wouldn’t otherwise know about. Attack of the Murder Hornets sounds like the title of a cheesy 1950s science-fiction film. It is, instead, a droll documentary about a very real threat to the Pacific Northwest that could have spelled disaster for the already depleted bee population of North America. Michael Paul Stephenson, whose resume includes Girlfriend’s Day and Best Worst Movie keeps a straight face, so to speak, as he documents the discovery of these winged invaders by a working-class beekeeper…

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AU REVOIR, BERTRAND TAVERNIER

The world has lost a brilliant filmmaker, historian, and champion, and I have lost a cherished friend, Bertrand Tavernier. He died at age 79, which is too young for a man I hoped would live forever. I admired such films as The Clockmaker, Coup de Torchon, and A Sunday in the Country long before we met. In 1994 he sent me a long letter via fax. It was jam-packed with news about his latest films and books. He was familiar with my Movie Guide and said, “Thank you for your comments on my movies. I agree with the restrictions [and] criticisms on Daddy Nostalgia. I missed [on] that film. But I think you are too severe for Life and Nothing But, one of the films I am most proud of. It got not…

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THE FATHER: FACING THE INEVITABLE

Many of us have already dealt with the painful result of a parent or loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease; many more of us will have to face this reality in the years ahead. Playwright Florian Zeller puts us inside the mind of an aging man who is caught in the grip of this unforgiving condition. The result is disorienting and it all rings true. For that reason I find it hard to say I liked or enjoyed The Father, although I respect and admire it.  That the man in question is played by the great Anthony Hopkins raises the stakes even higher. In the film’s establishing scenes he tries to bluff his way through an embarrassing slip of memory, causing grief to…

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DEAR COMRADES! IS A COLD WAR MASTERPIECE

Andrei Konchalovsky has one of the most eclectic resumés of any contemporary filmmaker, ranging from historical epics like Andrei Rublev and such homegrown classics as Uncle Vanya (costarring the great Soviet actor-director Sergei Bondarchuk) to a Sylvester Stallone vehicle (Tango & Cash) and Runaway Train, which might best be described as an existential action yarn. Dear Comrades! is one of his most impassioned films and arguably his best. As a child of the Cold War I have vivid memories of the fearsome Premier Nikita Khrushchev and the stories I read about life in the U.S.S.R., where people had to battle crowds just to get a loaf of bread. Dear Comrades! recounts a notorious real-life incident from 1962 that was such a source of shame and embarrassment that it was covered up for thirty years. Daily life in…

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