MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVDs Three Monkeys , Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Angels & Demons, Funny People, and more…

PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW

Three Monkeys (Three and a Half Stars)
Turkey/France/Italy; Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2008 (Zeitgeist Films)

Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the brilliant Turkish cineaste (Distant, Climates), whose exquisite visual tableaus, minimalist plots and flair for long dramatic silences, irresistibly recall the heyday of Michelangelo Antonioni, here offers more plot than usual, in the film that won him the “Best Director” prize at the Cannes Film Festival.There’s so much plot, in fact, that Three Monkeys, at times, suggests a foreign language neo-noir, something like Christian Petzold‘s recent German Double Indemnity redo, Jerichow. Like many a good noir, Three Monkeys plunges us, at first, into night — and then leaves us there, even when the sun rises. Nervous politician Servat (played by Ceylan’s co-writer Ercan Kasal), falls asleep at the wheel, and awakens to find he’s killed a pedestrian. Desperate, he begs his driver Eyup (Yavuz Bingol) — who wasn’t present at the accident — to take the blame and go to jail, in return for cash and favors.

But, after Eyup goes through with the deal, his lazy, self-indulgent son Ismail (Ahmet Rifat Sungar) wheedles his attractive mother Hacer (Hatice Aslan) to get an advance from Servat, so he can get an expensive car. She does, Servat is smitten — and disaster obviously looms.

Ceylan may be a great director — he‘s certainly the most impressive Turkish movie talent since Yilmaz Guney (the writer of Yol) — but I wouldn’t quite call Monkeys a great film. Maybe, in the balance, it’s too melodramatic. But it’s a stylistic coup though, that often knocks your eyes out, and the acting has the spare, unexaggerated power of one of the major European art films. Ceylan, at his best, reminds you not just of Antonioni, but of Herzog, Angelopoulos, Tarkovsky. This is the kind of movie that opens up another world, in this case modern Turkey, before our eyes. (In Turkish, with English subtitles.)

Extras: Director’s note; Interview with Ceylan; trailers.
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PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC OR VINTAGE
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (3 Discs) (Four Stars)
U. S.; David Hand, 1937 (Disney)

A fairytale movie perfect for children, and the grownups who accompany them, this is one of the landmark movies of Hollywood‘s Golden Age, and the first great animated feature (unless you count Lotte Reiniger‘s marvelous 1926 silhouette film, The Adventures of Prince Achmed), blessed with still thoroughly charming and thrilling imagery and one of the finest of all cartoon song scores. (Leigh Harline’s set includes “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Heigh Ho” — and not many cartoon songs wind up getting a jazz prince Miles Davis to cover them). The voice actors include Adriana Caselotti as Snow White, Lucille LaVerne, Pinto “Goofy” Colvig and Billy Gilbert.

Walt Disney’s pride and joy, with both DVD and Blu-ray discs in one package. It never really ages — any more than Dopey, Sleepy, Bashful, Grumpy and Doc do.

Extras: Commentary by animator John Canemaker, music video, games, sing-along, original Disney storyboards, and featurettes.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: BLU-RAY

Ballast (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Lance Hammer, 2008 (Kino)

Lance Hammer’s excellent low-budget indie, set in the lower-middle-class contemporary South marks the debut of a remarkable new American cinematic talent. Hammer, with a sure and poetic hand, shows us the aftermath of a death which separates two friends, black and white: bad feelings, a splintered family, delinquency, and violence. The acting is monosyllabic and very spare, the images are realistic and lyrical. It’s a European-style film shot on recognizable and indelible American landscapes.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: BOX SETS

The Golden Age of Television (Four Stars)
U.S.; Various Directors, 1953-1958 (Criterion)

The Golden Age of Television is a title that usually refers to the remarkable period of live TV drama which ran from the late ’40s through the early ’60s, with a heyday that really started around 1953 — the year when writer Paddy Chayefsky’s Marty, debuted to thunderous acclaim on The Goodyear Television Playhouse. (Among the other signature shows: Studio One, Philco Playouse, The U. S. Steel Hour, Kraft Television Theater, and, probably the best of them, Playhouse 90.)

It was a period of extraordinary achievement by often young and stellar new actors (Paul Newman, Rod Steiger, Jack Lemmon, Julie Harris, Kim Hunter, James Dean and many others), by skilled directors quickly mastering an entirely new medium (notably Sidney Lumet, Franklin Schaffner, Robert Mulligan, Dan Petrie, Ralph Nelson, Delbert Mann and the Young Turk star of the group, John Frankenheimer), and especially by a whole slew of sometimes brilliant and daring young writers, able (perhaps because they were answering in these cases only to a sponsor or two rather than a whole entrenched network corporation) to demonstrate a literary and dramatic ambition, a sense of real life humanity, and an active social conscience, that often surpassed the “serious” movies of that time, the then-active black list period (among the star wordsmiths, Chayefsky, Rod Serling, Reginald Rose, James Costigan, and JP Miller).

But it was also a period lost to us for decades, since its only remnants and records were on often mediocre-quality and fading old kinescopes: copies of the original programs photographed right off of TV monitors, during the original broadcasts.

This excellent new Criterion set offers eight Golden Age dramas, restored from the original kinescopes, as they were re-broadcast for the 1981 TV anthology series The Golden Age of Television, with the original 1981 introductions and interviews. Most of the major, best-known Golden Age classics are here, including several that were later made into highly praised, successful movies: Patterns, No Time for Sergeants, Bang the Drum Slowly, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Days of Wine and Roses, and the Oscar-winning Marty. (One of the major omissions here is Schaffner and Rose’s scorching original live TV version of 12 Angry Men, since rediscovered and included in the recent Studio One DVD anthology.)

These live dramas had an excitement and immediacy that can’t really be matched in most filmed TV dramas today. Despite their minimal sets and seemingly bare-bones black-and-white visual technique (which still required considerable technique by the technicians and real virtuosity from the actors and directors), the best of these shows can still sear themselves into your memory. They were also laboratories and showcases for some tremendous writing and some extraordinary acting. (The original Marty is better-acted than the movie is, especially by Steiger.)

Far from being fading relics, or unseen and unrepeatable classics, these eight gems (along with the original 12 Angry Men) suggest that we’re really missing something because of the lack of live TV drama today. It’s a potentially great form that could be just as appealing and just as relevant — and just as important a showcase for new talent today. A modest proposal: With all the cable channels now available, couldn’t some ambitious, literate New Yorkers and smart theater people get together and rev up this sometimes thrilling dramatic form again? (All films in the set are U.S. TV productions.)

Includes: Marty ( Delbert Mann, 1953). Four Stars. Written by Paddy Chayefsky. The famous tale of a lonely Italian-American butcher and how he finds unlikely love at a dance hall, while ignoring his Mickey Spillane-loving chums. Brilliant dialogue by Chayefsky and acting by Steiger as Marty, Esther Minciotti as his mother, Joe Mantell, Nehemiah Persoff and others as his buddies, and Nancy Marchand as Marty’s equally lonely opposite number. Remarkably, this show was a hastily-put-together last-minute replacement for another drama that fell through; Chayefsky was still writing it during rehearsal week.

Patterns (Fielder Cook, 1955). Three and a Half Stars. Written by Rod Serling. Richard Kiley is Fred Staples, a young executive who undergoes a horrendous baptism by fire: hired to replace Andy Sloane, a good, decent, veteran industrial relations exec (Ed Begley) by Ramsie, the ruthless, cold-blooded company head (Everett Sloane), who is trying to drive the vet to despair and retirement. I’ve seen corporate sadism like this; it’s not exaggerated. Patterns is another legendary show, wired up tight as a ticking bomb in this live version — though I dislike the more cynical and pragmatic ending here, changed from Serling’s more idealistic original. Fuck corporate survival of the fittest. Staples should have cold-cocked Ramsie and taken a walk.

No Time for Sergeants (Alex Segal, 1955). Three Stars. Written by Ira Levin, from Mac Hyman‘s novel. Andy Griffith in the role that made him a star: as the ever-grinning, heavy-drawling, amiable snafu specialist Will Stockdale, who makes a cornpone-and-grits mess of the Army. With Robert Emhardt. A Wind from the South (Daniel Petrie, 1955). Three Stars. Written by James Costigan. The best TV actress of the whole Golden Age, Julie Harris, luminously plays Irish working woman Shevawn ( a role written for Siobhan McKenna), looking for romance. With Donald Woods, who says he fell in love with Harris here; you will too.

Bang the Drum Slowly (Daniel Petrie, 1956). Three and a Half Stars. Writer Arnold Schulman adapts Mark Harris’ novel, about the pathos of fading careers and mortality in baseball. And Paul Newman, in his breakthrough movie year of Somebody Up There Likes Me (the Robert Wise-directed, Ernest Lehman-written Rocky Graziano bio-pic) plays a roughly similar athlete-author role here, just as well: 20-game-winning pitcher and writer Henry Wiggen, who, despite upper-office and managerial cruelty, tries to make the last season of his slow-witted, dying catcher-roommate, Bruce Pearson (Albert Salmi), a happy one. With Rudy Bond and George Peppard. In the 1973 movie version, scripted by Harris, Michael Moriarity and Robert De Niro played, extremely well, the Newman and Salmi roles.

Requiem for a Heavyweight (Ralph Nelson, 1956). Four Stars. Written by Serling. Jack Palance plays battered vet heavyweight boxer Mountain McClintock, an aging vet who, like Serling‘s earlier Andy Sloane, is being pushed out and humiliated, this time by his own scheming manager, Maish (Keenan Wynn). Kim Hunter and Ed Wynn (Keenan’s dad) are Grace and Army, Mountain‘s compassionate social worker and trainer. This is quintessential Serling, the best-regarded TV drama of his pre-Twilight Zone years. The movie, which was also directed by Nelson (who gets my vote as the most underrated of the Golden Age helmsmen), starred Anthony Quinn, Jackie Gleason, Julie Harris, and Mickey Rooney in the four main roles. This time, it’s actually better than the TV version (in Serling’s opinion too), with a tougher, bleaker ending. (In addition, a fascinating drama about the backstage turbulence behind Requiem, later appeared on Desilu Playhouse, called The Man in the Funny Suit,“ written and directed by Nelson and costarring, as themselves, Ed and Keenan Wynn, Red Skelton, Serling and Nelson.)

The Comedian (John Frankenheimer, 1957). Four Stars. Written by Serling, from a story by Lehman. With Marty, this is the best show in this entire set: a no-holds-barred portrait of a vicious, egomaniacal TV comedian, roughly based on Milton Berle and Texaco Theater, and of the self-centered comic’s fast-paced, cynical, spinning-like-a-top show biz world. Mickey Rooney brilliantly plays Sammy Hogarth, the venomous comedian; Hunter and Edmond O’Brien are Sammy’s long-suffering wife and alienated head writer, and jazz singer Mel Torme is Sammy’s gentler, kinder brother. Besides offering an amazing gallery of live TV acting — especially by the incandescent and indefatigable Rooney, but by the others as well — The Comedian is also an incredible feat of live-camera directorial technique by Frankenheimer, whose nonstop control of the piece is awesome.

Days of Wine and Roses (John Frankenheimer, 1958). Four Stars. Written by JP Miller. As we watch, a beautiful young couple descends into alcoholism, lovingly, darkly, painfully, screamingly. The movie version of Miller‘s story, costarring Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick and Charles Bickford (as Remick‘s father) is extraordinary and moving. But so is this original TV version, costarring Cliff Robertson, Piper Laurie and Bickford, and directed by Frankenheimer, who would later himself fall into, and escape from, alcoholism. For me, either Wine and Roses ranks at the top of the list of all booze dramas, superior to both the more classic The Lost Weekend and the more explicit Leaving Las Vegas.

Extras: Commentaries by Frankenheimer, Mann, Nelson and Petrie; interviews with Griffith, Harris, Rooney, Steiger, Hunter, Kiley, Robertson, Laurie and others; booklet with essay and liner notes by Ron Simon.

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OTHER CURRENT OR RECENT DVD RELEASES
Angels & Demons (Two and a Half Stars)
U. S.; Ron Howard, 2009 (Sony)

For sheer off-the charts looniness, it’d be hard to top the furious plot and addle-brained climax of Angels & Demons, Ron Howard‘s brisk, spectacular-looking but utterly goofy new movie of another book by Dan (The Da Vinci Code) Brown — the Catholic apocalyptic thriller specialist and concocter of what seem the daffiest conspiracy theories this side of Chicken Little.

Church activists have nothing to fear. But Brown — whose books I will never, never read, even if his publisher waterboards me — has been lucky enough, once more, to have his special brand of unholy foolishness rendered by director Howard and star Tom Hanks — two filmmakers of such quiet skill and bedrock ordinary-Joe humanity and sensibility that they are almost able to ground their author’s wildest and goofiest flights of fancy in some kind of tongue-in-cheek, good-humored sanity.

Imagine another movie of Angels & Demons starring James Woods in Hanks’ role, and directed by Dario (Suspiria) Argento, and you’re envisioning a gory freak show that really could drive you into the mouth of madness. (And might, actually, be more entertaining.)

But somehow, Hanks and Howard, those two all-America nice guys, fudge their way through the whole sacred mess. It’s no snap. Brown’s premise (streamlined by screenwriters Akiva Goldsman and David Koepp) is truly outlandish: built on what’s supposedly a contemporary resurgence of the ancient pro-science, anti-religion cult/secret organization, the Illuminati.

Roaring for revenge, these naughty new Illuminati resurface in modern Rome, assassinate the Pope, and, even as the college of cardinals mulls over succession, kidnap four of the preferiti (i.e.: top candidates for brand new Pope). Why? It seems the Il gang are fixing to slaughter these four fishers of men like ancient martyrs, one by one, after branding them with “earth, fire, air and water” tattoos at four scenic Roman churches, whose locations are tipped off by tell-tale clues in Bernini‘s religious statues.

Wow! How’s that for a high concept? Only one man alive apparently can figure all this out: that sterling agnostic, Harvard symbologist and Da Vinci Code-cracker Professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) — who has been rushed off to Rome by the Vatican police and hooked up with sex-bomb physicist Vittoria Vetra (Ayelet Zurer), the two of them gamely diving right into this sacred scavenger hunt with only six hours or so ‘til what may be doomsday.

Mind you, when I say that symbologist Langdon hooks up with sex-goddess physicist Vetra, I‘m not implying any Roman hanky-panky. There are no sexual tensions between these two, nothing that might get the motors running on any modern Legion of Decency. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine sex of any kind taking place in this movie, which seems to transpire in an alternate world where Bernini’s statues are the prime hotties, where the angels have stolen all the condoms, and where Rome’s prostitutes have all gone off to celebrate Cabiria Day.

What is a physicist from Switzerland doing in this grand slumgullion of Catholic shtick, Hans Zimmer choirs, mass cardinal serial killings, blood baths in the sacristy and action set-pieces in incredible Hollywood reproductions of the Vatican? I‘m glad you asked. It seems that Vittoria was hanging around the CERN Large Haldron Collider one day, waiting for some anti-matter to get cooked up, when somebody rotten breached security, whacked her fellow scientist and vamoosed with the anti-matter (or God Particle?), which is now, it seems, part of the Illuminati’s fiendish plot to stage their own depraved version of the Silence of the Blood of the Lamb.

In fact, we’re set by now for a mind-boggling climax/finale which, what with the nuking of the Vatican, the grisly preferiti massacres, and the shootouts in the papal chambers, may end up as Rome’s worst day since Peter Ustinov‘s mad songster/lutenist Nero set it afire in Quo Vadis.

Incredibly, until then, Langdon and Vittoria still keep faithfully, and chastely, racing around the city from church to church — aided, in a manner of speaking, by fashion plate Inspector Olivetti of the Vatican Police (spiffy Pierfranceso Favino) and by dour Commander Richter of the Vatican‘s Swiss Guards (somber Swede Stellan Skarsgard) — each time missing out by minutes in saving yet another cardinal from yet another branding (with “Earth-Air-Fire-Water” tattoos) and yet another hideous death. Meanwhile, the Illuminati’s crack assassin, played by sure shot Dane Nikolaj Lie Kaas as Mr. Gray (a refugee from Reservoir Dogs?), runs just minutes ahead of them, killing more people with fewer guns than anybody since Clint Eastwood knocked off hundreds of Nazi soldiers while backing up Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare.

As you can see, this is a movie that could use a Nero or two. But, while all this stuff is exploding before our eyes, the college of cardinals keeps toughing it out, determined to pick-a-Pope, no matter what the Hell is going on outside or in, even if the whole blessed place blows up — and while debating so many improbable last minute papal candidates that I began to wonder if we’d get a campaign from Fox News’ resident evil altar boy, Sean the Sham Hammity, backed by Bill “Riled Up“ ” O’Reilly as a devious carmelengo (chairman). Or if Mel Brooks would show up at the convocation, bedecked in papal finery, and saying “It’s good to be the Pope!”

But no such luck. There’s already a sneaky altar boy type and crafty carmelengo, available: apple-cheeked priest Patrick McKenna (Ewan McGregor), the dead Pope’s pet laddie-buck, and one of the most resourceful clerics since Bing Crosby’s Father Chuck (“Dial O for”) O’Malley sang “Toora-Loora-Loora“ to Barry Fitzgerald and “Swingin‘ on a Star” to Bill Frawley. Father Pat has taken over heavenly operations, and is all set to make our jaws drop in the movie‘s goofiest sequence — involving a bomb, a helicopter, a parachute and a square full of surly stem cell protestors and frantic Pope groupies.

Get the picture? Did I forget to mention Armin Mueller-Stahl as Cardinal Strauss, waltzing his way through the movie, making guttural utterances of doom? Yes — and I also missed Danish heartthrob Thure Lindhardt as Chartrand, the sexy young phenom of the Swiss Guards. And we absolutely have to add Rance Howard, Ron’s dad, often cast by his son, who here plays Cardinal Beck. (No more Fox News jokes, please.)

And what about the turn with Steve Franken — the immortal Chatsworth Osborne Jr. of Dobie Gillis and the great drunken waiter of the Peter Sellers-Blake Edwards masterpiece The Party — who here caps a career of dedicated tomfoolery by playing Cardinal Colbert. (No relation to Steve C.) Or the scene where the character based on the late Cardinal Spellman, played by the late Paul Lynde, shows up to demand that Angels & Demons be condemned along with The Miracle and Baby Doll, while Spellman secretly plans his own private, audience-participation performance of G. I. Joe at the Satyricon, played by 80 male hookers in the Catacombs. (No, I‘m just kidding. But only about that last one.)

Well, that’s about it, folks. Except to confess that, despite this ridiculous script, Allan Cameron’s production design is fantastic, Salvatore Totino’s cinematography is noirishly beautiful and the production credits are fabulous all around. But engaging guys like these, and Zimmer, Koepp and Goldsman, and the whole cast, and poor Ronny Howard (you should buy Frost/Nixon instead, or even Night Shift), is about as sensible as hiring Izhtak Perlman and Yo Yo Ma to play a medley of “Turkey in the Straw,” “Copacabana” and “The Pina Colada Song” with Jessica Simpson, in the Sistine Chapel. (You should check out all those clues on the ceiling.)

Remember when Hollywood made sensible, moving or amusing movies about the Catholic Church? Like Hitchcock’s blood-chilling I Confess? Or Otto Preminger’s unfairly damned The Cardinal? Or Leo McCarey’s heart-cockle-warming The Bells of St. Mary’s? Those days seem gone. If God and the Devil made a video game together, it might have looked like Angels & Demons. Next time out with Dan Brown, Tom Hanks should demand a contract that lets him stop chasing around these ecclesiastical madhouses for a minute or two, and take time to fondle his leading lady‘s God Particle.

Funny People (Three Stars)
U.S.; Judd Apatow, 2009

Money doesn’t solve everything, and universal health care or good sex don’t either. But at least moolah, good doctoring and the horizontal bop may help you make more serious movies, situated somewhere between all the crowd-pleasing dirty joke-a-thons.

Director-writer Judd Apatow has become such a comedy movie powerhouse, cornering the market on his specialty — sex comedies about horny nerds, mixing raunchy, excrement-spiced hilarity with sometimes successful attempts at quasi-sensitive drama — that I wonder if Funny People runs the risk of being dismissed by some as Apatow’s, and star Sandler‘s phony Oscar-mongering “serious” bid.

That wouldn’t be fair, though the strategy here seems obvious: tell the same jokes about fellatio and flatulence and smut-what-all that decorate movies like Knocked Up, and set up the same kind of sexual power fantasies. But make your lead character — in this case, Adam Sandler as comedy movie king George Simmons — a lonely, sad but still indomitably gag-slinging fellow, who’s lost his one great love (Leslie Mann as ex-wife Laura), and is apparently dying of a rare blood disease. Then have him watched over, in all his sad affluence and melancholy L. A. hedonism, by young loser-comic Ira (Seth Rogen), whom George impulsively hires as his death-watch go-fer.

Funny People works, most of the time, on all of the levels it’s trying to hit. It’s a funny Apatow sex comedy and a canny dive into the world of L. A. standup comedy — and it’s also a human drama, capable of touching, or at least groping, your heart.

It’s typically offensive, of course, and sometimes shallow. Sandler however, does an excellent job in a role that’s no pushover: an L. A. player/winner who’s also sometimes a jerk, and who has to stare for a long time into the abyss. Comedy performances are all too often slighted by Oscar voters, and you don’t want Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and Sasha Baron Cohen to have to play characters with terminal illnesses (like “Bruno?“) to get recognized. The movie starts with George seeming to make fun of death in a little video. Then, all too soon, he’s actually facing it, with a doctor telling him he has a mostly fatal illness, and that the only likely treatment is an experimental regimen with only an 8 % success ratio.

Sobered, George tries to escape his current world of Sandler-like boffo box office big movie bad jokes, blockbusters in which he plays mermen and babies, and revisits his past. He plays comedy clubs again, little places where he can connect with a live audience, who can act as unofficial mass shrinks. At one of those clubs, he runs into Rogen as a young unsuccessful comic named Ira, who amuses him by making fun of the darker speculations in his monologue — and he hires Ira as his (potential Eve Harrington?) go-fer and sounding board.

Ira isn’t exactly the happiest of funny people either. He rooms with an egotistical, successful TV comic actor and sort of comedy babe-magnet, Mark (Jason Schwarzman) and a soon to be successful standup buddy Leo (Jonah Hill), and makes his real living, building deli sandwiches. Suddenly, he’s plunged into George’s world of beach homes and stretch limos, and also, he’s privy to George’s obsessions, like falsetto balladeering and the pursuit of ex-wife Laura (Mann, who has an influential husband around). Laura is, George has belatedly decided, his one true love, perhaps because she looks better than him in a swimming suit. (Perhaps not.) Laura is no easy prey. When they were together, he cheated on her constantly, and now she’s been married for years and has two daughters (played by the Apatow girls).

But, such is George’s jokester‘s charm, that she proves surprisingly susceptible, though she has an Australian husband Clarke (Eric Bana), who is friendly, self-confident, well-muscled and possibly dangerous.

Sandler underplays George, adopting a relaxed, resigned manner, that helps the jokes and doesn’t cornball up his sickness. Rogen plays his specialty, a raunchy smart guy a little over his head. And though his big weeping scene looked as phony as one of Glenn Beck’s dry-eyed on-camera crying jags, he’s good. So is Jonah Hill. (I was less high on Schwarzman.) And Bana amusingly sends up Australia and machismo. (Or are they the same thing?) There’s also a parade of sharp cameo comics and standup scenes, including Andy Dick, Charles Fleischer and Ray Romano.

Apatow often gets knocked for his reliance on sex and crap. But here, we see that’s all just par for the pressure cooker world of standup. If you had to get laughs from a lot of strangers, you might start relying on coitus and feces too. I‘m not too hot on Farrelly Brothers movies either. But they wouldn’t get made if people didn’t laugh at them. And they do.

That’s the ultimate kick and the last laugh. Funny People presents comedians, especially Jewish comedians, as a breed apart, whose knack for getting laughs, even out of life‘s worst moments, gives them a strong, sure, but not always moral or ethical power. A sexual power as well. You can believe George as a stud and Ira as his raunchy acolyte. Sometimes writing a good joke is as good as sex. And, as Preston Sturges said in Sullivan’s Travels, making people laugh can be a damned wonderful thing in this crazy caravan. Even if all you’ve got are sex and crap jokes.

Bruno (Blu-Ray) (One and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Larry Charles/Dan Mazer, 2009 (Universal)

Irrepressible Sasha Baron Cohen does a gay fashionista routine, as campy Bruno, poster boy for the Make a Swish Foundation. I thought Borat and its attack verite style were overrated, maybe by critics who wanted to be Borat. This movie suggests I was right.

Four Christmases (Also Blu-Ray) (One and a Half Stars)
U. S.; Seth Gordon, 2008 (New Line)

And, as far as I’m concerned, that‘s four Christmases too many. Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn — whose families have split up, creating a frantic Yuletide schedule and this movie’s frantic plot — learn that life isn’t wonderful, that George Bailey is dead and that Rudolph doesn’t have a red nose. Yes, Virginia, your little friends are wrong; there is a Jon Favreau. Guys, I feel for you, but take this movie back to the dead-elves morgue.

The Way of the Gun”(Two Stars)
U. S.; Lewis Teague, 2000 (Lions Gate)

Ryan Philippe and Benicio Del Toro are dumb kidnappers who create their own guns-blazing charnel house; Juliette Lewis is their pregnant victim. Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects, has a smart line or two, but he over-relies on violence to solve all his problems.

Cujo (25th Anniversary Edition) (Also Blu-Ray) (Three Stars)
U.S.; Lewis Teague, 1983 (Lions Gate)

Stephen King and his movie adaptors unleash a rabid St. Bernard on Dee Wallace and son. Scary stuff. And no truth to the rumor that the remake will star Bruno as Dee and Borat as Cujo.

A Walk in the Sun (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Lewis Milestone, 1945 (VCI Entertainment)

Milestone’s great anti-war movie was the original All Quiet on the Western Front, a film triumph that he never surpassed. Here is his best pro-war movie, with Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Lloyd Bridges, John Ireland and Sterling Holloway heading, with some character and realism, toward a Nazi shootout down the road in Italy. Scripted by Robert Rossen.

Extras: Featurette, interview with cast member Norman Lloyd.

– Michael Wilmington
November 24, 2009

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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch