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NEW AND NOTABLE BOOKS JUNE 2021

A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE MAKING OF FARGO by Todd Melby; foreword by William H. Macy (Minnesota Historical Society Press) Despite the pedigree of its publisher, this book is not an academic treatise. The author is a Coen Brothers fanatic who has spent years examining every detail of their career and Fargo in particular. “In writing this book,” he explains, “I traveled to Los Angeles to read multiple drafts of the screenplay. I talked to actors who got their big breaks in Fargo, and a few who didn’t. I talked to a stuntwoman who bashed her head into a doorjamb while blinded by a shower curtain. I learned about the cassette tapes Ethan gave the film’s dialect coach, then…

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F9: THE FAST SAGA LEAVES LOGIC IN THE DUST

Does a so-called summer movie have to be brain-dead? I don’t believe it. But then, I don’t believe the preposterous goings-on in F9, part of what’s now being called The Fast Saga. The series, which began in 2001 with an action yarn called The Fast and the Furious, becomes more absurd with each new entry, leaving its original premise (about illegal street racing) behind and morphing into a mishmash of car chases, cloak-and-dagger operations, spectacular explosions, and violent fight scenes. People die but show up again intact, like Wile E. Coyote after falling off a cliff. Incoherence reigns supreme. In recent installments of the series Vin Diesel has preached the gospel of family above all. In this entry we flash back in time to learn the events that shaped…

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THE SPARKS BROTHERS: I’M A BELIEVER

I am a newcomer to the Sparks phenomenon. Perhaps that’s because I’m not as cool as Flea, Beck, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, or Amy Sherman-Palladino, who are longtime followers…or perhaps I didn’t have someone like Edgar Wright to take me by the hand and induct me into their claque. But now that I’ve seen Wright’s new documentary The Sparks Brothers I’m a believer. Russell and Ron Mael—yes, they’re actual siblings—have been making their own kind of music for almost fifty years. Iconoclasts through and through, they’ve changed their style of music multiple times, refusing to repeat themselves and willing to alienate some fans by adopting radical new ideas. Through it all, they have remained true to themselves, often using sly, satiric humor to deal with…

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SILENT MOVIES FOR A HOME AUDIENCE

There is no substitute for watching a silent movie in a theater on a big screen with live musical accompaniment and a simpatico audience. But last year, as the worldwide pandemic trapped us in our homes, entrepreneurial silent-film accompanist Ben Model devised an alternate plan: screening silent short subjects for a virtual audience online. The Silent Comedy Watch Party has now passed its first anniversary and draws a loyal cadre of fans every Sunday at 3pm EST. Ben doesn’t just compose (and often improvise) piano scores; he is a proactive silent-movie scholar and enthusiast who releases rare shorts and features on his home-grown DVD label, Undercrank Productions. He has even arranged to use the Library of Congress restorations of such rarities as Marion Davies’ early features Beauty’s Worth,…

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LUCA: LIVING LA DOLCE VITA

Luca doesn’t look or sound like any film Pixar has made before. It has a charm all its own and captures our imagination from the moment it begins. It’s the living definition of an immersive experience (pun intended). Who else would dare ask us to care about strange-looking sea monsters, and then repeatedly surprise us while spinning its coming-of-age tale? The story begins underwater, where we meet an adolescent boy named Luca and his family. These fish have no idea that people regard them as sea monsters. Curiosity impels Luca to disobey his protective parents and see what life is like above the surface of the ocean. Director Enrico Casarosa and his team draw us into their lively story as Luca ventures onto dry land, where…

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HIGH UP ‘IN THE HEIGHTS’

When was the last time you were immersed in a musical experience? That’s the magic In the Heights sparks, an exhilarating adaptation of the hit Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes. As our hero Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) awakens and goes through the familiar early-morning motions of opening his street-corner bodega we are drawn into his world and resistance is futile. The Latinx neighborhood prepares for a new day and everyone moves to the infectious rhythms of life. What a way to start a movie! One by one we meet the other inhabitants of this vibrant community in Washington Heights. Most of them have come from the Dominican Republic—from a proud taxi dispatcher to an angelic woman who is everybody’s abuela (grandmother). There’s the girl…

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A QUIET PLACE PART II: A SOLID SEQUEL

Sequels don’t usually get my juices going but this follow-up to the 2018 hit movie makes all the right moves. Writer-director John Krasinski wastes no time in revealing the spindly alien creatures who caused such havoc last time… and gives us ample time to examine the disgusting details of their anatomy. But it’s the human factor–amazing ingenuity and a dogged refusal to surrender—that again takes center stage. Calm and cool-headed as ever, even without her husband to protect her and her family, Emily Blunt sets a great example for her children, an adolescent son (Noah Jupe) who’s braver then he realizes and a daughter (Millicent Simmonds) who refuses to treat her deafness as a shortcoming. A family friend played by Cillian Murphy isn’t convinced that…

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