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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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MY OTHER PASSION: VINTAGE JAZZ

What’s the point of having a website if I can’t indulge myself now and then? Jazz is as vital to me as movies. A boxed CD set came my way late last year and having listened to it in its entirety I feel impelled to spread the word about it. NAT KING COLE HITTIN’ THE RAMP: THE EARLY YEARS 1936-1943 (Resonance Records) Nat King Cole enjoyed a long career as a hit recording artist, but before his silky vocals commanded the world’s attention he thrived as a pianist and “jive” singer. I’ve always liked the King Cole Trio, but the act is not nearly as famous as Cole became when he went solo in the 1940s. This lovingly assembled CD set is not for beginners,…

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THE BIG GOODBYE: CHINATOWN AND THE LAST YEARS OF HOLLYWOOD by Sam Wasson

THE BIG GOODBYE: CHINATOWN AND THE LAST YEARS OF HOLLYWOOD by Sam Wasson (Flatiron Press) Having given us a great biography of Bob Fosse, important books about Blake Edwards and Paul Mazursky, and an engaging account of the making of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Wasson has proven to be an insightful chronicler of 20th century show business. He is also a gifted writer who takes a novelistic approach to nonfiction.     Another author might approach a book about Chinatown the way a producer of DVD bonus features would. Wasson understands that this modern classic was not just a great film but the culmination of events that reshaped Hollywood and the lives of its principal players: director Roman Polanski, producer Robert Evans, and screenwriter Robert Towne. That’s why its…

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AN EVENING WITH BRAD PITT

I was standing in front of the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara on Wednesday night when Brad Pitt emerged from his Brinks-like vehicle to a chorus of screams from waiting fans. Some of them were lucky enough to get a handshake, an autograph or a selfie from the affable actor. It was clear to my daughter Jessie and me that this was a bona fide Movie Star: he positively glowed. Brad was there for an evening of tribute from the Santa  Barbara International Film Festival.  Having hosted these events (now called the Maltin Modern Master) for thirty years I’ve seen how people react to stars in their midst, from George Clooney and Will Smith to Cate Blanchett and Glenn Close. Nothing has ever matched the frenzy that…

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‘ALL ABOUT EVE,’ ‘PETER PAN’ AND MORE ON DVD AND BLU-RAY

While the giants of the media world slug it out on streaming platforms, smaller concerns (and one division of a communications titan) are still releasing vintage films on DVD and Blu-ray. What’s more, the bonus content they provide can’t be found online. That’s why I’m not giving up my discs anytime soon. They help me to discover “new” gems and deepen my appreciation of familiar classics all the time.     Flicker Alley is a specialty outfit that does admirable work. Its latest release is Trapped (1949), a good, solid film noir B picture directed by Richard Fleischer, starring Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton and John Hoyt. Up to now the only way one could watch it was in substandard public-domain copies. Now the Film Noir Foundation has overseen a restoration…

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