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Bob Mondello

Hollywood is in the process of closing out a record-breaking, $11.2 billion year. The big draws were talking animals — including a fish called Dory and a bear named Baloo — a slew of superheroes and a new batch of Star Warriors. The numbers have movie studios — especially Disney, which led the pack — celebrating.

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We've all been there — hopelessly tangled in red tape, struggling to get a faceless bureaucracy to hear us. So the conversation that takes place under the opening credits of Ken Loach's absurdist dramedy, I, Daniel Blake, will be as familiar as it is sublimely ghastly.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — a slightly longer time ago, actually, than usual — there's a little girl named Jyn. She has a dad who was an important cog in the Empire's war machine until he went on the lam. As Rogue One starts, his Imperial overlord (Ben Mendelsohn, sneering up a dust storm) has caught up with him, and it's Jyn who must go on the lam.

The World War II drama, Land of Mine, has what sounds like the season's proudest, most patriotic title, but it's actually a dark pun — a reference to the more than one million land mines the Nazis buried on the Danish coastline, hoping to deter an Allied invasion.

Perhaps the strategy worked, since American and British forces landed miles away in Normandy on D-Day, but it left Denmark with a booby trapped west coast, and a logistical problem of staggering proportions. The coastline wasn't declared officially safe until 2012.

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We keep hearing that this election is like no other, but when I watch old movies, I often hear echoes of what's going on in the campaign.

The guy who opines in A Face in the Crowd (1957), say, that in the then-new age of television, "instead of long-winded public debates, people want capsule slogans."

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The tragedy was local, yet seemed to speak to the whole of journalism: On July 15, 1974, reporter Christine Chubbuck pulled out a revolver during a live evening newscast in Sarasota Florida, and as her coworkers looking on in horror, shot herself in the head.

The what was simple, the why hard to fathom, and that's no less true in Antonio Campos' compelling retelling of the tale in his biopic Christine.

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If you're looking for evidence of Andrzej Wajda's filmmaking smarts, it's right there in his first, black-and-white movie, made in 1955. A trench-coated young man races through Warsaw at the height of World War II, past corpses dangling from streetlights, pursued by Nazi soldiers who chase him into a building and up a central staircase.

In theory, the two new movies dealing with America's racial history ought to describe a cinematic straight line: Nate Parker's provocatively titled drama The Birth of a Nation imagines the events leading up to an 1831 slave revolt, while Ava DuVernay's documentary, 13th, examines the legacy of the constitutional amendment that outlawed slavery. A matched set...yes?

In practice, the underlying social narrative is twisty, and the films intersect in complicated ways.

One of the nation's biggest environmental disasters is now the season's big disaster flick. Sound insensitive? Well, rest assured the filmmakers were aware of — and have managed to sidestep — any qualms audience members are likely to have.

Deepwater Horizon tells the story of the oil drilling rig that turned into an inferno in 2010 off the coast of Louisiana — a story of tragic, entirely avoidable missteps and astonishing personal heroics.

Movie remakes have not been setting the world on fire lately. The all-gal Ghostbusters will maybe break even. Ben-Hur and Tarzan each cost — and lost — a fortune. So what's Hollywood pushing this weekend? The Magnificent Seven, a remake of a remake — admittedly, one with a decent pedigree.

In Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), a pickup band of seven sword-wielding rōnin are hired by a Japanese farming village to protect it from bandits. Only three of them walked away at the end.

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A forgetful fish named Dory turned out to be this summer's big movie star.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FINDING NEMO")

ELLEN DEGENERES: (As Dory) Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim.

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It's 1989 in the new movie Southside With You, and two attractive young lawyers are going out for the first time. Were their names not Michelle and Barack, we might not be along for the ride. But they are, and the ride is sweet in the idyll constructed by first-time feature-writer/director Richard Tanne.

The perils of misplaced confidence animate the story of Florence Foster Jenkins, both in real life and in the various fictions built around her.

New York indie filmmaker Ira Sachs makes quietly observant relationship movies that are designed to get under an audience's skin in the gentlest of fashions, but to the most emotional of effects.

His last film, which dealt with the pressures the outside world exerted on a marriage, was called Love Is Strange. His latest is called Little Men, but might easily be subtitled "Friendship Is Strange."

American theater lost its mother on July 29. Arena Stage co-founder Zelda Fichandler, widely regarded as the matriarch of America's regional theaters, died at 91 of congestive heart failure in Washington, D.C.

Here's how Alfred explains villainy to Batman in The Dark Knight: "Some men aren't looking for anything logical like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

The first time Mike Birbiglia wrote, directed and starred in a film (Sleepwalk With Me) he played a stand-up comic. This was not a huge stretch for him, as he is, himself, a stand-up comic.

His second film, Don't Think Twice, doesn't stray too far from that model. It's about an improvisational comedy troupe a lot like the one in which Birbiglia got his start. And if this seems like quite a bit of navel-gazing for one filmmaker, rest assured that Birbiglia's been keeping it funny.

This piece was inspired by NPR's summer recommendation series, Read, Watch, Binge!

Over the next two weeks, Republicans and Democrats will gather in Cleveland and Philadelphia for a ritual that has become almost entirely ceremonial: Each party will "select" pre-selected presidential candidates.

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