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DISNEY BOOKS GALORE

  MARC DAVIS IN HIS OWN WORDS: IMAGINEERING THE DISNEY THEME PARKS by Pete Docter and Christopher Merritt (Disney Editions) Walt Disney was stingy with compliments, but he called longtime animator Marc Davis his “renaissance man” and meant it. As the production of animated films wound down in the 1950s, Disneyland and the upcoming New York World’s Fair consumed much of Walt’s time and nearly all of his energy. His Midas touch intact, Disney reassigned many of his artists to his WED operation, later renamed Imagineering. Davis brought his artistic talent and whimsical imagination to the task of world-building and left his mark on such enduring attractions as the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Haunted Mansion, It’s a Small World, The Enchanted Tiki…

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PIXAR SCORES WITH HEARTFELT ‘ONWARD’

With an uninspired title like Onward the newest offering from Pixar doesn’t do itself justice. Derived from director and co-writer Dan Scanlon’s experience growing up without knowing his father, this heartfelt film scores a direct hit on our emotions. Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) is a nice kid with no self-confidence. He can’t even muster the nerve to invite some classmates to his birthday party…unlike his gangly big brother Barley (Chris Pratt), who still believes in the magic and sorcery that used to rule their world. Barley convinces his sibling that by summoning a certain spell they can bring their father back—for just one day. This will require Ian to find the courage he’s never shown before, not to mention faith in the power of magic. Like…

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A SINGULAR VOICE: KELLY REICHARDT’S ‘FIRST COW’

Kelly Reichardt’s slowly paced films aren’t everyone’s cup of milk, but I thoroughly enjoyed her latest effort, First Cow. I’ve been a fan since her 2006 feature Old Joy, which like this one deals with friendship in a serene setting. Since then she’s made such striking films as Wendy and Lucy, Night Moves, Meek’s Cutoff, and Certain Women. They are quiet, observational, and at times elliptical; they all bear her unique stamp. The story of First Cow isn’t so much told as revealed, bit by bit. Following a modern-day prologue, a shot of a boat on the Columbia River takes us back one hundred years to a settlement in Oregon. The pace of life and the tranquility of the locale are as unfamiliar to us as an outpost on the moon. A cook (John…

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SORRY WE MISSED YOU: ANOTHER SMALL GEM FROM KEN LOACH

Ken Loach’s follow-up to the heartrending I, Daniel Blake covers similar ground, dramatizing the way “the system” of commerce and government in the 21st century devalues and undermines working-class people. Sorry We Missed You was filmed in Newcastle, England but could be transposed to any community in the so-called civilized world. Kris Hitchen plays an ordinary guy who’s done all kinds of work but hasn’t dealt with the modern gig economy until now. As he applies for a position with a package delivery firm he will not be a traditional employee. In fact, he is taking on enormous financial responsibility (by leasing a van) and a punishing schedule. His wife (Debbie Honeywood) endures a similar situation as a caregiver who has no control over her hours or the quality of…

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‘BIRDS’ PREYS ON CIVILIZED MOVIEMAKING

What price girl-power? Does the positive energy of a female-centric comic book movie—made by women—compensate for the nihilistic, super-violent nature of its content? Is this really a step forward for women, behind the camera and in the audience? That’s the conundrum presented by Birds of Prey (full title Birds of Prey And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)….now re-titled Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. Harley Quinn, the playfully perverse D.C. character who made her screen debut in Suicide Squad, has a vast following. She is brought to vivid life once more by Margot Robbie. The movie also features four other kick-ass women, one of them an adolescent girl. But these potty-mouthed females engage in the kind of mindless violence that actually hurts to watch. (Spoiler alert: Harley…

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DOWNHILL: A SMART COMEDY/DRAMA FOR GROWNUPS

If you’re among the relative handful of people who saw Ruben Östland’s wry Swedish film Force Majeure you’ll know the story of this remake, about an upscale couple on a European ski vacation which puts their relationship to a critical test. I liked the original very much but I also enjoyed this Americanization, directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from a script credited to them and Jesse Armstrong. This talented team found commonality with the source material and put their imprint on it with the help of a perfect cast led by Julia-Louis Dreyfus and Will Ferrell. I hesitate to reveal too much but the premise is part of Downhill’s ad campaign and trailer. (In contrast, I saw Force Majeure knowing nothing about it, which was a definite…

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REMEMBERING KIRK DOUGLAS

If I could step into a time machine, I would set it for 1981 in San Francisco so I could see Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster play Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in a play called The Boys of Autumn, which ran for all of six weeks. The stars had hoped to take it to Broadway but as Kirk told me years later, “For the first time we realized we were getting old. It was a two-character play. I was an ex-vaudevillian. I played the banjo and sang… and at the end of the play, we were exhausted.” I sure wish I could have seen those titans together on stage. Douglas always enjoyed working with his friendly rival and pal. “Burt was a really, really interesting guy,” he said.…

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