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NEW AND NOTABLE FILM BOOKS JULY 2022 – Part One

INK-STAINED HOLLYWOOD: THE TRIUMPH OF CINEMA’S TRADE PRESS by Eric Hoyt (University of California Press) This vital new book is the result of Herculean research by the man who now supervises the Media History Digital Library, where one can search through thousands of film periodicals https://mediahistoryproject.org/. He has invested untold hours to produce this survey of the trade magazines that documented the film industry in its earliest days. Were they to be cheerleaders for the studios and distributors or would they take the side of the independent theater owner? Would New York or Los Angeles give them the best vantage point to report on this brand-new industry? At what point would Variety value movies more than vaudeville? These are just a few of the topics Hoyt raises in…

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

It’s easy to see why Dalia Owens’s Where the Crawdads Sing became a best-seller. It has all the ingredients to attract a wide audience: an underdog heroine with an abusive father lives in a marsh in South Carolina that makes her a literal outsider to the people of the nearest town, who treat her as a kind of freak…all except one sensitive boy who becomes her friend and personal tutor. He seems to be the ideal partner to help guide her through life…then life takes an unexpected turn. In Lucy Alibar’s adaptation of the novel, the person known as Marsh Girl is on trial for murdering the town’s most popular preppy quarterback. Daisy Edgar-Jones, an up-and-comer whose television work on such series as Normal People and Under the Banner of Heaven has…

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MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS

Is there still an audience for an adaptation of Paul Gallico’s whimsical best-selling novel Mrs. ‘arris goes to Paris? And are they so dumb that they need to have her name spelled out instead of Cockney-ized?  Whatever the case, I was charmed by this unapologetic fairy tale about a cleaning woman who dreams of wearing a beautiful ball gown designed by Christian Dior. Lesley Manville is the perfect embodiment of Ada Harris, a hard-working woman who’s still mourning the death of her husband a decade after the end of World War II. Her life may not be easy but it isn’t dull: she has a handful of colorful clients, a chatty best friend (Ellen Thomas), and a sporting man (Jason Isaacs) who knows how to flatter…

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THOR: LOVE, THUNDER AND SHTICK

I have no patience for superhero movies without a sense of humor. If executed properly (see the original Avengers) the comedy should arise naturally from the situations in the script and the characters’ reactions to them. That’s why I was so pleased when the irrepressibly funny Taika Waititi joined forces with Marvel for Thor: Ragnarok in 2017. But there can be too much of a good thing, as anyone who’s overindulged in chocolate or ice cream can verify. The new Thor: Love and Thunder is a scattered affair that, at a certain point, is played as out-and-out comedy. Can this really be Chris Hemsworth spouting gag lines? Is his relationship to Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) a springboard for sitcom-style jokes? Even the rock-like creature Korg, played by Waititi, wears out…

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MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON

How can a film as disarmingly simple as this inspire deep feelings about loss, connection, and the meaning of family? I’m not sure I have the answer; all I know is that I was fighting back tears at the end of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. My daughter Jessie got to see the movie at the Telluride Film Festival last year and has been a proud prosthelytizer ever since. I wouldn’t want to burden this charming film with descriptors like “existential” but it’s not misapplied here. At a time when so many of us are feeling disoriented—or disconnected—a movie like this is especially welcome. Marcel was created by comedic actor and filmmaker Jenny Slate and her then-husband Dean Fleischer-Camp in 2010. Their unpretentious little short went viral…

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ANOTHER INDIE SLEEPER: CHA CHA REAL SMOOTH

I wasn’t sure what to make of a movie called Cha Cha Real Smooth, but when I learned that it won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival it earned my attention. Now I’m a proselytizer for the film and its talented writer-director-star Cooper Raiff. It’s well worth seeking out as it debuts Friday on Apple TV+. Raiff’s small-town protagonist isn’t easily described. At the age of 22 he’s still living at home with his mom (the wonderful Leslie Mann) and searching for his path in life. He’s a people-pleaser who has a facility for getting a party going and manages to turn that into a job. Then he meets a gangly, autistic teenage girl (Vanessa Burghardt) and reaches out to help her, mainly…

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‘JERRY AND MARGE GO LARGE’ MADE ME SMILE

Not every movie can be, or should be, the equivalent of Top Gun: Maverick. Jerry and Marge Go Large may not win awards or earn a fortune, but it made me smile—and I don’t take that for granted, especially nowadays. Bravo to Bryan Cranston and Annette Bening for believing in this can-do story and giving it their all. If you’ve read the “logline” you already know that the movie is based on a true story about a recent retiree who identifies a flaw in the Massachusetts State Lottery system. After striking it rich he decides to let the residents of his struggling Michigan town join in the monthly ritual, which involves driving hundreds of miles and printing out thousands of tickets. In the process, Jerry and Marge rediscover…

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