MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on Movies: Defiance, Hotel For Dogs and Paul Blart: Mall Cop

DEFIANCE (Three Stars)
U.S.; Ed Zwick

Ed Zwick’s Defiance, based on a true-life story about Jewish partisans — who carve out a community-in-hiding in a Belorussian forest during World War 2 — is fairly unique among World War 2 movies, in presenting Holocaust-era Jews not as tragic victims and survivors, but as heroes and heroines who fight back and persevere against Nazis and anti-Semites.It’s well-made, in much the same vein as Zwick’s Civil War epic Glory and I enjoyed it. [SPOILER ALERT] I especially enjoyed seeing Liev Schreiber, in his intensely macho performance as Zus, one of the Bielski brothers, roar to the rescue, at one point, of leader/brother Tuvia (Daniel Craig). Schreiber and Craig, both excellent here, are playing the kind of full-bore movie hero parts that, in a different kind of movie decades ago, might have gone to Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper — and I don’t mean that in a mocking way. (Nor am I talking about Vera Cruz.) Believable heroism and self-sacrifice — even believable stubbornness, in Tuvia’s case — can be thrilling things in a movie like this, and Defiance gives both stars good roles and a strong arena, as it also does for Jamie Bell, playing Asael, the youngest brother.

Defiance has received mixed reviews. Variety’s Todd McCarthy, who is usually right on the money, compared it unfavorably to the superb Belorussian sagas of Russian directors Larisa Shepitko (The Ascent) and Elem Klimov (Come and See). But that seems a little unfair. The Ascent and Come and See are two of the greatest, and most unjustly neglected, war films in movie history. Should you knock a good new newspaper movie by comparing it to Citizen Kane? Defiance is a good, and unusual, World War 2 movie, and it deserves its audience.

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HOTEL FOR DOGS (Two Stars)
U.S.; Thor Freudenthal

Marley, eat your heart out. Scads of incredibly cute and amazingly gifted dogs, all strays or rescued from the dogcatchers, find a home of their own in an abandoned hotel discovered by two astonishing kids (Emma Roberts and Jake T. Austin) — orphans who have been fostered out to live with a pair off cretin rockers, the Scudders (Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon), but can now escape into a wonderful world of Rube Goldberg toy contraptions and feeding machines and doggies galore. (And no pooper-scoopers.) Don Cheadle is around to confer a little false credibility as a kindly social worker who really likes kids and dogs. There’s a big canine chase at the end, almost worthy of the Bone Ultimatum. (Sorry.)

This one would have been better, and cheaper, as a Max Fleischer Grampy cartoon. I like dogs too, and I’ve even loved one or two, but this is getting ridiculous. Arf, already.

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PAUL BLART: MALL COP (One Star)
U.S.; Steve Carr

Devotees of shopping malls, bad jokes and movie catastrophes might find some amusement in Kevin James’ mind-boggling new star vehicle Paul Blart: Mall Cop. But the movie lost me somewhere between Blart’s drunken barf-fest at the mall employee’s karaoke party and the chubby mall cop’s heroic battle with a bad-ass gang of nasty free runners, vicious BMX bike riders, and brutal skateboarders: speedy hooligans who take over Blart’s mall ( a real one, in Birmingham, Mass.), drive out all the customers for a heist, led by Kier O’Donnell as the evil, wisecracking Veck. (What, no Dawn of the Dead zombies?)

But all these in-disgustingly-good-shape bad guys prove no match for ton-of-fun hero Blart who — inspired by his love for comely Amy (Jayma Mays), who is being held hostage. along with a rancid pen salesman Casanova (Stephen Rannazzisi), by the Veck mob — races to the rescue on his PT (Personal Transporter), braving everything, to get a date. As Blart goes from a polyester Fatty Arbuckle to a kill-the-creeps Arnold Schwarzenegger type, the movie easily cops the I Lost My Heart at Taco Bell prize, trouncing Mall Rats, Scenes from a Mall and that Dawn of the Dead remake to become the worst shopping mall movie in living memory.

James is a pretty funny actor and he even gives Blart some schmaltz. But this movie is beyond resuscitation. I wonder if anyone suggested to James that he might have had a much better show by forgetting that siege, concentrating on character gags and letting Blart chase around the skateboard-BMX-free running crew and best the Casanova, without everything escalating into a Hard Boiled style action movie wingding fiasco? Just asking.

– Michael Wilmington
January 16, 2009

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Wilmington

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