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TOY STORY 4: A SUMMERTIME TREAT

I was dubious about the first sequel to Pixar’s wonderful Toy Story, which turned out to be terrific. But a fourth go-round for Woody, Buzz and company? I harbored doubts but I should have had more faith in the Pixar team. This is a highly enjoyable film with laugh-out-loud gags, ingenious plotting, and endearing new characters. By the closing scene I found myself marveling at how my emotions were stirred by these innately inanimate objects. The movie deals with the passage of time in clever ways, showing how Andy’s toys have made a series of transitions, acknowledging that this is to be expected in any toy’s “lifetime.” A little girl named Bonnie is the latest child to hold these characters close to her, literally and figuratively. Then…

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THELMA TODD IN THE NEWS AGAIN AFTER 80 YEARS

While sitting in a doctor’s waiting room yesterday I glanced at a TV monitor tuned to CNN. Imagine my surprise to see a 1935 newspaper clipping about the death of Thelma Todd, a longtime favorite of mine. The reason was simple: heiress and fashionista Gloria Vanderbilt just passed away at the age of 95. She and Thelma were both (unhappily) married to Pasquale “Pat” DiCicco, a shady fellow with possible mob ties who was also an abusive husband. Vanderbilt ended their marriage in 1941 and later remarried, giving birth to a boy we know as Anderson Cooper. The notion that America’s most recognizable newscaster is only two degrees of separation from an actress who died more than eighty years ago is rather incredible.    …

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BLUE NOTE RECORDS: BEYOND THE NOTES

As a jazz aficionado I expected to hear a lot of good music in this documentary and anticipated a certain amount of archival footage and interviews with some of the great musicians who appeared on the Blue Note label over the years. But I never could have guessed where Swiss filmmaker Sophie Huber would take me, or that I would be willing to go along for the ride. Blue Note was the invention of Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, boyhood friends who escaped from Nazi Germany and came to New York City. They pooled their meager resources and relied on their enthusiasm to entice musicians to record for them. Their groundbreaking boogie-woogie discs featuring Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson put them on…

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FRED AND GINGER, FILM NOIR AND HAROLD LLOYD ON CRITERION

Three recent releases from The Criterion Collection have appeared on home video before, but the new Blu-ray/DVD editions are so good they make a strong case for upgrading these titles in your library. One reason is the exceptional quality of essays the company commissions for each film. (Criterion also publishes these on their website, where you can read them for free: https://www.criterion.com/current/category/2-essays.) I love good writing, and if you feel likewise I recommend Carrie Rickey’s splendid piece about Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother, Imogen Sara Smith’s worshipful essay about Swing Time, and critic/poet Robert Polito’s eye-opening take on Detour that includes nuggets of information I’d never known before.     As to the discs themselves, Swing Time offers a mini-documentary featuring jazz and film critic Gary Giddins, dance critic Brian Siebert, and…

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LATE NIGHT: SMART COMEDY, PERFECT CAST

Mindy Kaling has written perfectly-tailored starring roles for herself and the great Emma Thompson in Late Night, a smart comedy that manages to be relevant without forgetting to be funny. Thompson is thoroughly believable as the longtime star of a late-night TV talk show—the only woman to hold that kind of job, we’re told. But her ratings have been falling off as she has become distant from her audience and unwilling to court younger viewers. Kaling plays a would-be standup comic and comedy writer who lands an interview with Thompson’s producer (Denis O’Hare) just as the host, who’s under the gun from her network boss, demands that he hire a woman to augment their all-male, all-white writing staff. Thompson is imperious and inflexible, yet there is…

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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS – June 2019

As always, books arrive on my doorstep at a faster pace than I can possibly read them, so with a few exceptions these are not reviews but a survey based on browsing. I look forward to spending more time with many of them.   HOLLYWOOD’S LOST BACK LOT: 40 ACRES OF GLAMOUR AND MYSTERY by Steven Bingen with Marc Wanamaker, Bison Archives; Foreword by Ron Howard (Lyons Press) Having chronicled the back lots of MGM, Warner Bros., and Paramount in a valuable series of books, Steve Bingen has now tackled one of the least celebrated but most colorful locations in Hollywood history: the studio and tract of land known as “40 Acres.” The studio portion was built by silent film pioneer Thomas Ince in 1915…

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GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS

Two hours wasted: that’s how I feel after watching Godzilla: King of the Monsters. This bloated production starts out as an enjoyably tacky monster movie but doesn’t know when to quit. Every pseudo-scientific explanation (and there are plenty) has a counter-explanation in order to keep the story going…and every apparent climax leads to another climax. There’s even a post-credits scene, as if we needed one. We don’t. As for the story, suffice it to say that forces have awakened Mothra. When soldiers foolishly fire on it, a two-hour chain reaction is set into motion around the globe that threatens to wipe out humanity. The monsters involved—here called Titans—all happen to be owned by Japan’s Toho movie studio: Godzilla, Ghidorah (also referred to as Monster Zero), Mothra,…

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