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MARRIAGE STORY: AN EMOTIONAL KNOCKOUT

Watching Marriage Story is a transcendent experience. I don’t know how someone puts such an intensely personal story on the screen, but Noah Baumbach has done it in a way that pierces your heart. I’ve never been through a divorce but I feel the pain his leading characters endure—and inflict on each other—as if I were in their shoes. The film is called Marriage Story because a) I suppose Divorce Story would be off-putting, and b) it is the story of a marriage and how it dissolves right before our eyes. Scarlett Johansson plays an actress who has been married to self-absorbed experimental-theater director Adam Driver for a decade. She has been his muse and leading lady in the cloistered world they inhabit. They have an adorable young son, but she is suffocating…

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THE IRISHMAN: MASTERFUL MOVIEMAKING

[The Irishman is playing in a limited number of theaters until November 14, when it will debut worldwide on Netflix. The streaming service has taken a lot of hits from the movie industry, but its support of major filmmakers cannot be denied. Exceptional movies like The Irishman, Dolemite is My Name, and the upcoming Marriage Story and The Two Popes are ample evidence that the “new kid on the block” is investing in quality entertainment.] I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t go to a three-and-a-half hour movie in a gleeful state of mind. I hope I will be swept up by the film and remain unaware of the minutes ticking by. In the case of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman I was aware of the…

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REMEMBERING ROBERT EVANS

Robert Evans didn’t set out to be a movie producer or studio executive. That he became both of those things was just one example of serendipity in his remarkable life. His death today at age 89 will undoubtedly inspire people who knew and worked with him to reminisce. I met him only briefly when I chatted with him at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood a decade or so ago.     The best Robert Evans story is the one he told himself, in a 1994 autobiography called The Kid Stays in the Picture. If you’ve never read it I urge you to listen to the audio version, which at one time was the hottest book-on-tape in Hollywood. Back then it was released on cassettes;…

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AND THE OSCARS GO TO…

I count my blessings over and over again. Having watched the Academy Awards since I was ten or eleven years old, I have to pinch myself whenever I rub shoulders with Oscar candidates at their annual nominee luncheon and the decade-old Governors Awards presentation, which took place Sunday night. It’s a glittery event that represents Hollywood at its very best. This year’s winners (chosen by the organization’s 54 governors) were directors David Lynch and Lina Wertmüller, actor Wes Studi, and actress Geena Davis, who won the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to open the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ YouTube channel (imagine!) and watch highlights of the evening. David Lynch had very little to say…

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A LITTLE RASCAL GETS HIS DUE: MICKEY DANIELS OF ‘OUR GANG’

Mickey Daniels was one of the original Our Gang kids. Freckle-faced and irresistibly likable, he helped make Hal Roach’s comedy shorts a hit in the silent-film era. He died in 1970 but decades later there was no headstone or marker at his gravesite. That’s the thought that nagged at Bob Satterfield, a saintly man and stalwart of the Laurel and Hardy organization known as Sons of the Desert. Bob is a retired schoolteacher who has selflessly raised money (and spent his own) to install headstones at the final resting place of many Hal Roach comedy players.     Virtually the only source of information about Mickey Daniels is the book I wrote with Richard W. Bann, The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang.…

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MAKING MONTGOMERY CLIFT

This intriguing documentary was made by Robert Clift (the youngest of Montgomery’s nephews) in collaboration with Hillary Demmon. Its stated purpose is to set the record straight about the gifted actor who, with Marlon Brando, ushered in a new, naturalistic approach to acting on screen. According to Robert’s father Brooks Clift and others who knew him he was not (as so many stories would have you believe) a tortured soul. He was confident in his profession and made no effort to hide his homosexuality. What’s more, he worked productively even after his catastrophic car accident in 1956. During a 1960s TV interview with columnist Hy Gardner he points out that he made as many films after the accident as he did before, including his two…

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‘JOJO RABBIT’ HITS THE MARK

Lest anyone misunderstand, Jojo Rabbit is being advertised as an “anti-hate satire.” The message is driven home in the very first scene, where we meet a Nazi youth who is being indoctrinated by Adolf Hitler himself. Filmmaker Taika Waititi plays Der Fuehrer as a farcical figure, except for moments when he gets carried away by his own bombast. That’s the marvel of Jojo Rabbit, which ricochets from outlandish comedy to drama and back again in the blink of an eye. Waititi makes Hitler and his lieutenants look ridiculous but never mocks the impact of their ugly regime. That’s where 11-year-old Roman Griffin Davis comes in. He is exceptional as the impressionable boy who comes to idolize Hitler. Along the way, his worldview is reshaped by his loving mother…

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