“Obit” is an entertaining film about journalists facing the ultimate deadline

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Those of us on social media know the feeling; that sense of dread when everybody in your feed is suddenly talking about a famous person you hadn’t thought of in a while. Go back far enough in your timeline and you see why.

A lot of us are amateur obituarists now, posting our remembrances and recollections in 140-character bites on Twitter or a little more on Facebook. That collective outpouring can be a fine and even necessary way to mourn – at least until the point when people in your feed start making inappropriate jokes. But the documentary “Obit,” now out on DVD from Kino Lorber, makes the case for leaving it to the pros.

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“Hopscotch”: His name is Matthau. Walter Matthau.

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If Jim Broadbent had been hired to play the next James Bond (and that idea sounds better and better with every word I write), the result might be something like Walter Matthau in “Hopscotch.”

He’s an international secret agent who jets from Germany to Bermuda to London, a master of secret identities who catches the bad guys and stays one step ahead of his pursuers. All while wearing grandpa sweaters and reading glasses.

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“In This Corner of the World”: A family struggles to survive in Hiroshima’s shadow

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History is the ultimate spoiler in the Japanese anime “In This Corner of the World,” which follows an ordinary Japanese family as they eke out a simple but happy existence in a seaside village. But as we watch their day-to-day life, we feel a mounting sense of dread, because this is the 1930s and 1940s, and the bay they live by is Hiroshima Bay.

Writer-director Sunao Katabuchi is mostly circumspect about showing the devastation of war, instead focusing on its effect on these characters. But this poignant and heartbreaking film is definitely for older kids and adults only.

“In This Corner of the World,” distributed in the United States by Shout! Factory, is now playing at Marcus Point.

The film follows Suzu (Rena Nounen), a young woman from the village of Hiroshima. As a girl, she loves to draw, and the film brings her pencil drawings and watercolors playfully to life. When she looks out at the bay, the whitecaps look like hopping white rabbits to her, and so they go into the painting.

At 18, Suzu is forced to move to the neighboring village of Kure and marry a quiet young clerk, living with his family. At first, this seems like a hard and unfair life, as the family requires Suzu to do all the cooking and cleaning for them, and Suzu’s new husband seems distant.  But she gradually warms to this new life, and her husband and in-laws prove to be kind people.

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As the film moves slowly forward, we see how the war impacts this little family before the first bomb is even dropped. Sugar and soy sauce are rationed, forcing them to get creative at mealtime. The authorities, hunting for spies, are suspicious of Suzu’s artwork, and forbid her from painting.

Then the planes come, and we feel the true terror of life during wartime, the endless air raid drills, the loss of family and neighbors, the destruction everywhere. The film focuses on the resilience of these people, their determination to help each other and keep living their lives as best they can.

The hand-drawn two-dimensional animation is stunning. It captures both the flights of fancy of Suzu’s imagination and the reality of her life in Kure. The animators drew from actual photos of the village to make the world they drew as realistic as possible – even the brands of the candy bars in the store are accurate.

“In This Corner of the World” is a low-key, at times slow-moving film. But it builds cumulative power because we spend so much time, day in and day out, with this family. Their story, and their survival, becomes important to us.

“Cinematic Titanic” resurfaces with more riffs for “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fans

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Once upon a time, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” fans clung onto their tape-recorded copies of their favorite show like they were life preservers, watching them over and over and hoping they wouldn’t disintegrate in their hands.

Now it’s fair to say we have an embarrassment of riff riches at our fingertips. The “MST3k” offshoot Rifftrax constantly releases new commentaries and in-theater simulcasts. And, of course, there’s the new version of the show on Netflix, with 14 episodes and even a touring live show with two more new ones this summer. And, if you check your local comedy club listings, you might see former cast members Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff doing live riffs in your town as “The Mads Are Back.”

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Nearly a half-century later, Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” still shocks and unnerves

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There are plenty of controversial movies. Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” is notorious.
How notorious? The new Criterion Collection Blu-ray of Peckinpah’s 1971 film is the first Criterion disc I know of that includes an extensive interview with a film critic who is not a fan of the movie. Actually, Linda Williams, who calls the film “deeply misogynistic,” likens “Straw Dogs” to D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as a film that shouldn’t be buried or dismissed, but studied and talked about.
Others are more complimentary, of course. But Peckinpah’s film stills hits like a punch to the gut, leaving us queasy and unsettled. The home invasion thriller has become a genre onto itself over the years, from “The Strangers” to “The Purge” — one could see Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” as a bald rebuke to Peckinpah’s vision. But none are as disquieting.

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Gone in an Instant: “The Verdict” and four other good movies leaving Netflix in August

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Netflix giveth, and Netflix taketh away. Every month, movies leave Netflix as new deals are struck with other streaming services, Netflix decides they’re not performing so well, or one of the myriad other reasons that Netflix never explains to us about why movies come and go.

The bottom line is that these movies are leaving, and you’d better catch them while you can. All movies are leaving Aug. 1 unless otherwise noted.

The Verdict” — Sidney Lumet’s 1982 film is one of the great courtroom dramas ever, Paul Newman gives one of his best performances as an alcoholic lawyer taking on the power brokers of Boston in an unwinnable case.

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Instant Gratification: “20th Century Women” and four other good movies new to Netflix and Amazon Prime

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20th Century Women” (Amazon Prime) — My full review is here. Mike Mills’ film is semi-autobiographical, but his ’70s teenage stand-in really fades into the background as his film looks at several strong, influential women in his orbit, including Annette Bening as his prickly, baffled mother and Greta Gerwig as one of her older, worldly tenants. Not for nothing, the film also serves as a potent reminder of the impact that Planned Parenthood has had on countless’ women’s lives over the decades.

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