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‘TIME’ WELL SPENT

A woman named Fox Rich is literally in our face as Time begins. She is addressing the camera, maintaining a video diary of her comings and goings. The cumulative effect only hits home as a major chapter in her life comes to a close in Garrett Bradley’s Time. This is one of the year’s best documentaries, and one of the most disarming. It already earned the filmmaker the Directing Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize. Other accolades are still to come. Fox Rich exudes poise and self-assurance, but it’s a pose she strikes—not just for the camera, or her family, but for herself. She and her husband robbed a bank twenty years ago, and while she’s served twelve years…

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NOMADLAND: WORTH WAITING FOR

Filmmaker Chloé Zhao opens Nomadland on a tight closeup of Fern’s face—a woman we might chance to meet any day of the week.  Because she is played by Frances McDormand there is no better way to establish a connection between her and us in the audience. We know she is genuine; there is no artifice here. Fern is leaving a town so desolate (since the closing of a factory) that its zip code has been retired. She puts in time at the local Amazon warehouse, collects her pay and retreats to a modest van. She’s not homeless, she explains; she’s houseless, and there’s all the difference in the world. Fern has learned to survive on her own since the death of her husband. She keeps to herself…

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COLLECTIVE: A RIVETING DOCU-THRILLER

When a so-called documentary has you gasping at one moment and on the edge of your seat the next, you know it’s exceptional. Alexander Nanau’s Collective, from Romania, is just such a film. The title comes from the name of a nightclub that caught on fire in Bucharest one night, killing many people because there was only one exit. Even worse, many burn victims who might have been saved later perished because of bureaucratic issues within the country’s network of hospitals. Filmmaker Nanau chooses to follow one fearless investigative journalist whose determination forces the Romanian government to answer for its sins. By exposing deep-rooted corruption in his country’s health care system he puts his very life on the line.       Later in the film we meet…

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TEAM MARCO: A SENTIMENTAL SLEEPER

I am a relative latecomer to Team Marco, which has played at 54 film festivals around the globe and won the Audience Award as Favorite Family Film in Mill Valley. It becomes available on digital platforms this weekend. Julio Vincent Gambuto’s debut feature could be dismissed as formulaic and overly sentimental—but only by misanthropes. It’s a life-affirming feel-good movie about an 11-year-old boy who’s addicted to video games and his 76-year-old Italian-American grandfather, who introduces him to bocce and the rewards of fresh air and friendship. Owen Vaccaro plays the boy, who’s being raised by a single mother, and Anthony Patellis is his “nonno,” a bombastic sort of guy who doesn’t know (or care to know) about electronic devices. There isn’t much suspense as to where…

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MANK: MOSTLY AUTHENTIC BUT EMPTY

If you’ve read even a few volumes of Hollywood history you’ve probably encountered Herman J. Mankiewicz, whose well-earned reputation as a wit rests on a handful of oft-told anecdotes. All of them are dutifully included in David Fincher’s ambitious film, based on a screenplay written some time ago by his late father. The through-line of the movie is the now-legendary set of circumstances that surrounded the writing of Citizen Kane. Mankiewicz was “drying out,” as they used to say, in a shack near Victorville, California, dictating to a secretary. John Houseman was charged with keeping an eye on the alcoholic writer on behalf of the Mercury Theater troupe. Orson Welles was not present, and how large a role he played in the final version of that…

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OVER THE MOON: A BEAUTIFUL JOURNEY

First, full disclosure: I wrote the text for this movie’s coffee-table tie-in volume, which comes out next week from Titan Books. I agreed to do it only after watching a rough cut of the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Over the Moon is, like any animated feature, the work of many people but everyone I interviewed took inspiration from its director, master animator Glen Keane. Glen spent 37 years at the Disney studio and brought to life some of the modern era’s most indelible characters: Ariel in The Little Mermaid, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, the young hero in Aladdin, the title characters in Pocahontas and Tarzan, and Rapunzel in Tangled, among others. Several years ago he won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject for Dear Basketball, a collaboration with the late…

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THE DONUT KING: AN IRRESISTIBLE HUMAN INTEREST STORY

I’ll admit I never gave much thought to the fact that here in Southern Californians we have a disproportionately high number of donut shops, almost all of them owned and operated by Cambodians. Nor did I realize that one man was responsible for this phenomenon—the same guy who introduced  the now-ubiquitous pink cardboard box. Alice Gu’s film introduces us to Ted Ngoy, a refugee who escaped from a hellish, war-torn country in 1975, came to the U.S. with no money or friends. He not only made a success of himself; he shared his good fortune with scores of relatives and friends. His secret: hard work in the extreme, a willingness to learn, and sheer determination. It’s an irresistible human-interest story… but it’s only the first…

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