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PAIN AND GLORY: THE LATEST FROM ALMODÓVAR

So many of Pedro Almodóvar’s best films have been autobiographical that I hesitate to criticize this one for oversharing, but that’s how I felt at first.  The filmmaker even chronicles his medical issues in some detail. I would never criticize a great artist for being personal in his work, but at times Pain and Glory made me feel downright uncomfortable. Yet it has remained with me since I saw it several weeks ago. It’s rare to find a film with that kind of staying power. Antonio Banderas is perfectly cast as Almodóvar’s alter ego Salvador, a filmmaker who has lost the will to create. He suffers so much pain that he doesn’t think he can direct another movie and doesn’t want to write anything he can’t direct.…

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EDDIE MURPHY SCORES IN ‘DOLEMITE IS MY NAME’

Eddie Murphy is back and on top of his game, playing underground comedian and proto-rap artist Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite Is My Name. It’s a role he was born to play and, to use the vernacular, he kills it. Rudy Ray Moore became a sensation in the black community thanks to a  series of “party records” which were sold under the counter at record stores across the country—a nice twist of fate, since he worked in a record store to earn a buck while waiting for his big break to come. (I remember catching a glimpse of party records in the record section of a New Jersey department store. That’s how Redd Foxx became popular, not to mention such “dirty” female comics as Rusty Warren and…

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LUCY IN THE SKY: EARTHBOUND

Lucy in the Sky is an ideal vehicle for Natalie Portman, cast as an astronaut who finds outer space thrilling and life back on earth somewhat less so. Affecting a Southern accent and sporting a short haircut, she creates a character who is thoroughly relatable, at first. We understand her exhilaration during a spacewalk and her dissatisfaction at home, despite the fact that she has a loving husband (Dan Stevens), a salty grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) and congenial colleagues. As it unfolds, however, the story takes this character to extremes. The screenplay, credited to Brian C. Brown, Elliott DiGuiseppi, and director Noah Hawley, was adapted from an earlier draft by two other writers. They in turn were inspired by the real-life story of Lisa Nowak, an astronaut…

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MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN

Alexandre O. Philippe specializes in documentaries about notable movies, including 78/52, a brilliant exploration of Alfred Hitchcock’s shower scene from Psycho. Memory is somewhat different; it isn’t a “making-of” film, as that has been done before. This is more an examination of the artwork and mythology that inspired writer Dan O’Bannon and an analysis of what makes the finished work so resonant after forty years. O’Bannon’s widow Diane has never opened her archive before, and it yields many riches. Most Alien fans know about H.R. Giger’s provocative artwork and how it affected director Ridley Scott, himself a talented artist. Fewer fans may be familiar with the astonishing work of Francis Bacon, whose paintings helped the filmmakers design the monster that pops out of John Hurt’s body in the unforgettable “chest-buster” scene.…

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‘LETTERS FROM HOLLYWOOD’ AND OTHER NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS

  LETTERS FROM HOLLYWOOD: INSIDE THE PRIVATE WORLD OF CLASSIC AMERICAN MOVIEMAKING Compiled and Edited by Rocky Lang and Barbara Hall; foreword by Peter Bogdanovich (Abrams) This is, quite simply, one of the finest books I’ve ever read about Hollywood. Editors Rocky Lang, a second-generation producer, and Barbara Hall, a longtime archivist and librarian, have gathered scores of personal notes, letters, and communiques from the era before e-mail, when civilized people still cherished the written word. They also provide important context for each selection. Because most of these letters were never intended to be read by anyone other than the recipient they are candid and revealing. They offer rare insights to the sender’s personality and, in many cases, their way of doing business. If you…

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RENĖE ZELLWEGER IS THE ONLY REASON TO SEE ‘JUDY’

Renée Zellweger is now considered an Oscar front-runner for her performance as Judy Garland in Judy. She is excellent, and it’s nice to see her back onscreen. I only wish the film was nearly as good as she is. Based on a play called End of the Rainbow by Peter Quilter, this haphazard biopic focuses on the last days of the show-business legend. Strapped for cash but desperate to keep her children Lorna and Joey Luft from being taken away by her ex-husband, she goes to the one place she can still find lucrative employment: London. This means leaving the kids behind—an agonizing choice—and struggling to deliver the kind of show her fans expect from her. It won’t be easy. Judy offers a sad portrait of a woman at the end…

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JIM ALLISON: BREAKTHROUGH—DOCUMENT OF A DISCOVERY

Jim Allison is an appealing figure, a Texas native who loves honky-tonk bars and plays harmonica for fun. In his day job, he heads an illustrious laboratory doing research into the source of cancer. Last year he received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for a game-changing discovery that has eliminated cancer cells in hundreds of thousands of people. Bill Haney’s documentary Jim Allison: Breakthrough reveals the incredible persistence, fortitude, and sacrifice that led to that success. The film explains Allison’s quest, and the way it evolved, with such clarity that even I can understand it—and I flunked my science courses in high school. I also came to learn how scientific research works: slowly. It takes a certain kind of person to court failure over and over again…

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