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THE FRENCH DISPATCH: QUEL FROMAGE

Writer-director Wes Anderson enjoys inventing worlds all his own, then inviting his ever-growing community of actors to occupy them so fully that we, too, become engaged. It’s a risky proposition that sometimes works beautifully (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and often defies the viewer to become absorbed in it (Moonrise Kingdom). There is no “right” or “wrong” response, only a personal reaction to the material at hand.

Here, his inspiration is The New Yorker magazine, founded in the 1920s but riding a wave of literary discovery in the 1950s and 60s. I am a longtime reader, but you don’t have to have to be intimately acquainted with the real-life contributors to recognize them in parody form—still, some degree of awareness doesn’t hurt. Following the format of a magazine, he breaks down his bill of fare to a table-of-contents preview, some sidelights and profiles, and several deep-dive stories.

With exquisite production design by Adam Stockhausen and a superbly-chosen cast, there is more to take in than any individual could hope to process in one viewing. This cavalcade of intricately detailed tableaux is pleasing to the eye, especially since the filmmaker has populated the proceedings with so many welcome actors (Bill Murray, Lea Seydoux, Benicio del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Mathieu Amalric, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, and Jeffrey Wright, to name just a few). But Anderson rushes through some passages and reveals the brilliantly illustrated closing titles at such a breakneck pace that he seems to be teasing us to play a game we can’t possibly win.

This is not the first time Anderson has devoted too much time to minutiae and too little to actual storytelling. Even devotees of his work may find this an exercise in frustration—albeit an exceptionally handsome one. When it was over I felt as if I’d seen preview trailers for at least a dozen interesting films without actually digesting any one of them in its entirety.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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