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The Motion Picture Academy’s Recommended Books

Posted on September 22, 2022 at 10:53 am

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has published an excellent list of “Must-Read Books About Modern Cinema, Movies and the People Who Make Them.”

Some of my favorites from the list:

Copyright 2021 Atria

Camera Man: Buster Keaton, the Dawn of Cinema, and the Invention of the Twentieth Century by Slate movie critic Dana Stevens is more than a biography or a critical assessment of one of the formative characters in movie history. It is a cultural examination of Keaton in his times and I loved it.

Copyright 2021 Penguin Books
Mark Harris, author of Five Came Back and Pictures at a Revolution, two of the best books ever written about movies and the people who made them, has produced a superb biography of the director of “The Graduate,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” and “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Just as I Am is Michelle Burford’s biography of the incandescent Cicely Tyson.

“Just as I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and a mother, a sister and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by his hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.”

Isaac Butler’s The Method is a fascinating history of a revolution in acting that was especially well suited for the movies. Instead of declaiming for the back row of the theater, the Method encouraged actors to look inside and access their own genuine emotions.

Spike Lee: Director’s Inspiration Last week, I visited the Academy’s new museum for the first time and one of my favorite exhibits was from the collection of Spike Lee. That was just a small portion. This book covers his extensive collection of original film posters and objects, photographs, artworks and more―many of these inscribed to Lee personally by filmmakers, stars, athletes, activists, musicians and others who have inspired his work in specific ways.

Meet Cute

Posted on September 21, 2022 at 7:59 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: NR
Profanity: Very strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, scenes in bar, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Comic violence, attempted suicide and suicidal ideation
Diversity Issues: BIPOC characters used solely as guides for white characters
Date Released to Theaters: September 21, 2022

Copyright 2022 Peacock
As anyone who has seen “The Holiday” knows, movies love the “meet cute.” In “The Holiday,” Eli Wallach plays a screenwriter from the 1940s who tells Kate Winslet that a “meet cute” is where there is something awwww-some about the way the couple we’ll be rooting for first see each other. The example he gives is a man and woman meeting at a store when he is trying to buy just the bottom half of a pair of pajamas and she is trying to buy just the top half. That’s a real movie, by the way. It has a cute title, too: “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife.”

The term takes on extra dimension in this new rom-com, a time-traveling dimension. We may think that Sheila (Kaley Cuoco) and Gary (Pete Davidson) are meeting for the first time at a sports bar and that it is a charming coincidence or maybe a hint that they were meant to be together when they order the same cocktail, an old fashioned. But there are hints about what Shiela will reveal. It is the first time for Gary, but not for Sheila. She has been using a time machine in the back of a nail salon that looks like tanning bed to repeat the same night for months so she can make it perfect.

She has also been going back in time to tweak some of Gary’s earlier experiences to make him a little more perfect, too. Both Gary and Sheila had painful childhoods. She thinks if she can eliminate some of the trauma he experienced, he will be happier and..better. Apparently no one ever explained the Butterfly Effect to her. You can’t just tweak experiences and expect people to be the same. Pain is part of what makes us who we are.

This is a high-concept movie that delivers a satisfying level of insight beyond the will they/won’t they of the romance. It is likely that anyone who has ever been in a close relationship, romantic, familial, or friendship, has wondered if the other party might not be easier or wished to be able to fix something that hurt a loved one long ago.

Cuoco has already shown herself to be an actress of range far beyond her excellent work in sit-coms. Davidson was a less likely choice as he pretty much always plays himself, quite literally in his only previous lead role. They are both quite good here, as Cuoco becomes more and more honest about what is going on and about her own struggles and Davidson shows us how small changes in his past would have produced a more confident, less empathetic version.

There are some odd choices here, including Sheila’s murderous disposal of her alternate timeline versions and the only two characters of color being relegated to wise counselor roles to prop up the white couple. But the parts that work have great charm and Cuoco and Davidson are a pleasure to root for.

Parents should know that this movie has very strong language, sexual references, a light-hearted portrayal of murder and attempted murder, a less lighthearted portrayal of suicide attempt and suicidal ideation, and alcohol and drugs.

Family discussion: If you could travel through time, what would you change? Is it okay for things to be messy?

If you like this, try: “Groundhog Day,” “Palm Springs,” “About Time,” “Happy Accidents,” and “Map of a Thousand Perfect Things”

Confess, Fletch

Posted on September 15, 2022 at 5:23 pm

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language, some sexual content and drug use
Profanity: Strong language
Nudity/ Sex: Sexual references and situations
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Violence, murder, scufffles
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: September 9, 2022

Copyright Miramar 2022
“Confess, Fletch” is a reboot of the affectionately remembered Chevy Chase films based on the series of books by Gregory MacDonald. The post for the new film, with Jon Hamm as the title character, is charmingly retro, evoking the style and font of the 70s. The film, from writer/director Greg Motolla, is not as effective as updating the character and settings. Motolla, the gifted director of films including “Superbad,” “The Daytrippers,” “Adventureland,” and “Paul,” has an exceptional gift for combining action, comedy, and heart, often episodic with a collection of engaging characters and always with a terrific score. But the character of I.M. Fletcher, smart-mouthed, twice-divorced investigative reporter, is never effectively updated in this intermittently enjoyable film, and the episodic screenplay drags, especially when it assumes the characters are more appealing than they are.

Hamm, who co-produced, is well cast, with great comic timing and all the charm his character needs to get away with behavior which ranges from smart-aleck to obnoxious. There are a couple of tough balancing acts in bringing this movie together, and both work only intermittently.

The first is balancing the expectations of the fans of the original films with the very different environment of the present day. The earlier films are very much of their era and not familiar or translatable to the world of 2022. Fans of the original will want to see their favorite parts on screen. People new to the character will need learn who he is and find him appealing. The poster leans toward the former, with a 70s-retro drawing that looks like a book cover.

And then there is the balance between the comedy, mostly based on Fletch’s smart-aleck quips and romantic escapades, and the mystery, which has to do with some stolen paintings worth many millions of dollars that happen to have been the property of the father of the woman Fletch was seeing and thinking of proposing to.

I’m not sure if it says something about our time or if it just says something about the lack of ideas, but we’ve seen a number of “whoops, my rental is double-booked” storyline in movies lately (see “Alone Together” and “Barbarian” for example). Fletch returns to the US after his time in Italy, planning to work on a book. His beautiful girlfriend has arranged the rental. Small problem: someone else is already there. Big problem: she’s dead. And so in true movie fashion, Fletch has to get out of trouble by solving the mystery himself.

There’s a shaggy dog quality to the storyline, as Fletch drifts from one encounter to another. Some are fun to watch, especially his interactions with a grumpy editor played by Slattery. Some are less fun, like the wonderful Marcia Gay Hard, stuck in an impossible role as the vampish stepmother of Fletch’s girlfriend. Their scenes together are among those with actors who appear to be acting in different movies when it comes to the tone and pacing. And the ending could so easily have been more satisfying instead of ridiculous and borderline nihilistic. As entertaining as it is to see Hamm in the role, the conclusion leaves a sour aftertaste.

Parents should know that this film has some mature material including alcohol and drugs, very strong language, and sexual references and situations.

Family discussion: In what ways is Fletch trustworthy and in what ways is he not? Was what he did at the end fair?

If you like this, try: the Fletch books and the earlier movies

DC Area — Join Me for a Free Screening of the Family Film “The Railway Children” on September 19 2022!

Posted on September 13, 2022 at 6:47 pm

If you’re in the Washington DC area, you can join me for a free screening of the family film “The Railway Children,” loosely based on the classic book by beloved children’s author E. Nesbit. Three evacuee children are sent by their mother to the rural English countryside to escape the bombings during WWII. A dangerous adventure ensues when they discover injured US soldier Abe, hiding out in the railyard.

RSVP here before Friday September 16, 2022. Hope to see you there!

Copyright 2022 Blue Fox Entertainment

Fall 2022 Movies to Watch Out For

Posted on September 4, 2022 at 8:00 am

The movies of fall 2022 include top actors and directors (one returning after 16 years) and some promising newcomers.

Copyright 2022 Focus Features

Armageddon Time stars Oscar winners Sir Anthony Hopkins and Anne Hathaway plus “Succession” star Jeremy Strong in a 1980s-set story of a white boy from a Jewish family in New York who is befriended by a Black classmate.

Triangle of Sadness You think “Below Deck” is about what it’s like to be yacht crew for the super-rich? Or “Titanic” is about how vulnerable even the highest level of society are? Wait until you see this film, with Woody Harrelson as the captain of a yacht for the .0001 percent, when things go very wrong.

Confess Fletch The laconic, snarky reporter originally played by Chevy Chase returns, this time with Jon Hamm in the role, alongside his “Mad Man” co-star John Slattery, from director Greg Mottola of “Adventureland,” “Superbad,” and “Paul.”

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Everyone loves Wierd Al. Everyone loves Daniel Radcliffe. This is going to be a treat.

Don’t Worry Darling We’ve heard a lot about the behind the scenes on Olivia Wilde’s follow-up to “Booksmart,” which looks like a more sophisticated version of “The Stepford Wives.” Now we’ll get a chance to see Harry Styles and Florence Pugh in this story about what at first likes a suburban paradise but turns out very much not to be.

Till Emmitt Till was a 14 year old Black young man from Chicago who went to visit his cousin in Mississippi in 1955. A white woman accused him of being disrespectful and he was murdered. His murderers were acquitted. Just this year, the woman involved was brought before a grand jury, and they declined to indict her. This is the story of Till’s mother, Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley (played by Danielle Deadwyler), who would not let America look away from what happened. She spoke out and advocated and was a key figure in the Civil Rights movement.

Operation Seawolf A veteran submarine captain (Dolph Lundgren) defends the United States from a German attack near the end of WWII.

The Whale Brendan Fraser is getting a lot of early acclaim for his performance as a morbidly obese teacher whose estranged daughter comes home. Director Darren Aronofsky always delivers the striking and unexpected.

White Noise The trailer does not give a good idea of what it is about. From what I’ve heard, the DeLillo book it is based on does not either. What we know is that Greta Gerwig and Adam Driver star as a couple in a college town confronting some strange event.

Bros The second R-rated gay male rom-com of the year also features “SNL” star Bowen Yang. The lead is co-writer Billy Eichner and behind the scenes are director Nicholas Stoller and producer Judd Apatow.

Copyright 2022 Disney

Wendell and Wilde Director Henry Selick and composer Bruno Coulais of “Coraline” reunite for another stop-motion film, featuring voices from Key and Peele (Jordan Peele also co-wrote with Selick and Clay McLeod Chapman) and Angela Bassett. Like “Coraline” and Selick’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” it looks wonderfully creative and just the right amount of creepy.

TWO PINOCCHIOS: Disney’s live action version stars Tom Hanks as Gepetto. We’re also getting Guillermo del Toro’s version with Tilda Swinton, Ewan McGregor, and Christoph Waltz.

The Woman King The all-female force in “The Black Panther” may have been inspired in part by the real-life Agojie, the fierce, all-female warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s. General Nanisca, played by Oscar-winner Viola Davis trains her troops to take their most powerful adversary.

Meet Cute Pete Davidson (“SNL”) and Kaley Cuoco (“the Big Bang Theory”) star in a romantic comedy about a couple who keep meeting and falling in love — and then meet and fall in love again.

She Said One of the most powerful men in one of the most powerful businesses in the world was a despicable predator but no one wanted to talk about it. This is the real-life story of the persistence and integrity reporters who insisted that the truth about Harvey Weinstein be told and the courage of the women who could not be silenced.

Strange World Disney’s animated story of a family on an adventure looks fabulously inventive. “Strange” barely touches the surface. Voice talent includes Dennis Quaid, Gabrielle Union, and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Catherine Called Birdy The beloved novel about a feisty medieval heroine is brought to the screen by Lena Dunham.

The Black Panther: Wakanda Forever There is no comic book villain as devastating as cancer, and the loss of Chadwick Boseman will be felt deeply by the audience and the characters in this sequel.

The Fablemans Steven Spielberg’s movies are usually, in one way or another, about family. But this is his most personal, a movie inspired by his own experiences growing up as a child and teenager in love with movies. The cast includes Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, and Seth Rogen.

The Greatest Beer Run Ever Zac Efron stars in a story that has to be true because no one could make it up, In 1967, as protests rocked the United States and Americans were being killed in Viet Nam, some dude who was a vet decided to bring the soldiers some beer. Really. The movie also stars Bill Murray and Russell Crowe. True story here and here. My favorite quote: “In what wound up being a two-month journey, Donohue boarded the Drake Victory with a duffel bag full of American beer and some clothing. The 8,000-mile trip was grueling, and by the time the ship docked at Qui Nhơn harbor, the Marine veteran had drank all the beer and needed to replenish his supplies.In what wound up being a two-month journey, Donohue boarded the Drake Victory with a duffel bag full of American beer and some clothing. The 8,000-mile trip was grueling, and by the time the ship docked at Qui Nhơn harbor, the Marine veteran had drank all the beer and needed to replenish his supplies.”

Clerks III The View Askewniverse is rivaling the MCU and the Fast/Furious films for sheer numbers. In this one, Jay, Silent Bob, Dante and Randall are back and, what else, making a movie.

Black Adam Dwayne Johnson plays a once-enslaved man-turned god who exemplifies the term “anti-hero.”

Amsterdam David O. Russell directs and Christian Bale, Anya Taylor-Joy, Mike Meyers, Chris Rock Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Zoe Saldana, and Robert De Niro star in a 1930s story about some people who witness something they shouldn’t.

Copyright 2022 WOG Film

Medieval Inspired by the true story of Jan Žižka, one of greatest warriors in history, who led a rebel army to battle the corruption, greed and betrayal rampant amongst those clawing for power in the 14th century.