MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVDs: Toy Story 3, The Toy Story Trilogy, The Magician, Centurion, Winnebago Man … and more

PICK OF THE WEEK: NEW

Toy Story 3 (Four Stars)

U. S.: Lee Unkrich, 2010

Toy Story 3 is just what we’ve come to expect from Pixar: a brilliantly conceived and immaculately animated knockout of a family show: witty and scrumptious, moving and marvelous, and something that parents can enjoy every bit as much as their children undoubtedly will.

Bravo! Again.

Directed and co-written (story) by longtime Pixar hand Lee Unkrich; co-produced and written (story again) by Pixar head John Lasseter, who started it all; with a script by Little Miss Sunshine’s Michael Arndt, another batch of super-nifty songs by Randy Newman, and another great unimprovable cast, this movie deserves every “hurray” and “kai-yai-yippie“ it can field.

Toy Story 3 ties up the tale of youngster Andy’s faithful toys: that beguiling bunch led by indomitable cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), and stalwart sidekick-spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). It ends the three-part saga in ways that are both powerfully entertaining and eminently, emotionally satisfying. I laughed and smiled all the way through it, and brushed away some tears at the end, and I bid these old friends a fond farewell. Just as the Pixar gang wanted me to

Many of the Toy Story 1 & 2 bunch are back for the farewell party: including courageous cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), the finicky Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), jolly dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), frugal piggy bank Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and the resourceful Slinky Dog (Blake Clark). And there are plenty of new arrivals, including a fancy clothes horse of a Ken Doll (Michael Keaton), who’s a patented mate for Andy’s sister’s blond fashionista Barbie Doll (Jodi Benson), as well as a terrific new villain: a pink, squeezable, folksy tyrant, who looks like an ursine Barney, smells of strawberries, and is named Lotso Huggin‘ Bear (voiced with perfect genial scariness by Deliverance’s Ned Beatty). There’s even a terrific enforcer for bad Lotso, the silent, but infinitely menacing Big Baby.

Toy Story 3 shows us what happens to them all (especially the old pals left from 1995‘s Toy Story and 1999’s Toy Story 2) when college-bound Andy finally packs to leave home. Apparently, he’s outgrown his old playroom pals, marking them all (except Woody) for the attic, and by accident, almost throwing them all away (except Woody) in the trash. That catastrophe is eluded by sheer toy pluck, but the near garbage apocalypse alienates all the toy gang (except Woody), and they choose instead to be sent off to a seeming toy paradise nearby, the Sunnyside Daycare Center, a place with plenty of tots anxious to play with new and pliable playthings. (Except Woody.)

Unhappily, the paradise has some snakes. It turns into a living, screaming toy hell, a prison and toy torture chamber run by Beatty‘s Lotso, a homespun dictator who suggests a sadistic variation on Will Geer‘s Grandpa Walton, as grandpa might act with a 44 Magnum in his overalls. Luckily, Woody is still around outside, determined to save them all.

Of course, you can pretty much predict what happens — though you may be a little surprised by the dark psychological roots of Lotso Huggin’ Bear‘s evil, which are rendered in flashback. But so what? Great fairytales or children’s stories are usually a bit predictable, which is part of why they work so well.

The toys are always being saved from impending doom and loss, just as toys sometimes are in real life. And Toy Story 3 one has the most ferocious cliffhanger climax of them all. The gang not only has to escape from Sunnyside, in a jailbreak that irresistibly reminds you, as did Nick Park‘s Chicken Run, of Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough busting out in The Great Escape. They have to survive the hellish, fiery threat of trash compactors and incineration, shown to us in terrifying toy’s-eye views.

I don’t think the movie is too exciting for most kids, but some adults should probably be forewarned: the final action scenes in Toy Story 3 are more exciting than anything in some of the recent hyper-violent action trash like The A-Team or From Paris with Love.

Mostly that’s because we actually care for these little animated toys, which, along with the studio’s consistent technical genius, is the true secret of Pixar. The Toy Story movies use both invented toy characters (Woody, Buzz, Jessie) and real mass-market toys (Ken and Barbie, Slinky), and the mish-mash creates the kind of haphazard play-world with which a real kid might populate his or her fantasy-world. The toys come alive and talk when they’re together and away from their human household. But when Andy appears, they flop down inanimate, and wait to be played with.

It’s Andy who brings them alive and who gave them their personalities, and though they’ve somehow achieved an independence that lets them confab and soar and race all over town without him, it’s Andy (played here in youth by Charlie Knight and, college-age, by John Morris) who probably triggers their stories, which is why the savvier Woody is so faithful to him.

The toys, and not just Andy’s gang, symbolize the crucial elements in all three Toy Story movies: the power of art and dreams, and of empathy. If you can’t empathize with your playthings, and with the stories and dreams they evoke, you may not empathize much with people either. If you can’t weep or at least feel bad for a little, lost, cast-off toy (who was once your faithful friend), you may not be all that concerned about, say, a loyal animal pet, or about other human beings, or even about the whole interconnected, living, breathing planet. The hell with them, you may feel. They’re just plastic too. Toss ‘em out. Burn ‘em. Get new ones. Tough little stud or cookie that you think you are, you may be more worried about clean-up time, and about “grown-up” tea party stuff: taxes and money and the loot that will buy you grown-up toys that probably won’t talk back.

John Lasseter, who conceived the Toy Story movies, and wrote and directed the first one, and worked and was a driving force on the next two, really created a wonderful, heartfelt modern pop myth when he dreamed up Woody and Buzz and all their buddies, which is why audiences responded to it so strongly. In that myth, we get something to treasure. We discover that all our long-ago, long-vanished toys and dreams and friends are not really gone. They still care about us and miss us as well, and, with all their toy-strength, toy-brains and toy-courage, they will try their damnedest to come home and return to us. Like all myths, this one can comfort us and help reclaim a world that is lost.

But, since this is a farewell party, Toy Story 3 says something a little different as well, something about growing up (Andy) and about being part of a community (the toys). I won’t reveal it, of course, but that new twist is what made me brush away that tear.

You see, I had toys as well, small, very inexpensive but infinitely precious playthings that my mother bought me long ago, when I was four or five, before school started, even though she could barely afford any extras or non-essentials. They were a grand company of little play farm animals, and they included three intrepid adventurers named Horsey, Bully and Colty, who went on heroic quests together and had a wicked nemesis, named Mrs. Cow.

I was the enthralled and happy witness to all of this trio’s (or quartet’s) adventures, or at least the ones they had when I was watching. Later, I drew and wrote crayon-colored comic books about them. They’re gone now, of course: accidentally thrown away or left behind long ago. Lost, lost…But I still miss them, even bad old Mrs. Cow. And I’d like to think, for a moment at least, that they’re fighting to come back to me, battling cars and trucks and trash collectors and evil teddy bears and incinerators, to make their way home.

That’s why Woody the cowboy is one of Tom Hanks’ best roles, one of the parts he should be happiest he played. And Buzz is one of Tim Allen’s, and Jessie one of Joan Cusack’s. And ditto for everybody else, especially Ned Beatty, the meanest Goddam teddy bear you‘ll ever see and hear. How much empathy and art does it take to bring all those toys alive — both for the actors and for the expert company of technicians and artists who brought them all home? Lots, I bet. Thank you, Pixar.

Extras: Featurettes, Deleted scenes.

___________________________________________________

PICK OF THE WEEK: CLASSIC


The Magician (Four Stars)

Sweden: Ingmar Bergman, 1958

Ingmar Bergman’s 1958 classic The Magician carries us back to Sweden in the 19th century, a supposedly “enlightened” but dark country, a realm of snobs and mountebanks, of bawdy life and relentless death — a fearful, funny, magical land where science battles superstition, realism clashes with fantasy, ghosts seduce witches, and August Strindberg dances with Hans Christian Andersen.

Through a stark, black and white forest, rides a coachful of traveling players in a traveling show, a troupe starring the dour, silent mesmerist Albert Emmanuel Vogler (Max Von Sydow), his beautiful cross-dressing assistant and wife Manda (Ingrid Thulin), the genial, lusty barker/emcee Tubal (Ake Fridell) and Vogler’s grandmother (Naima Wifstrand), a wise and wizened little old lady who brews potions and may be a witch.

They ride through a dark forest of spiky black trees, where Death lurks: more specifically, where Von Sydow will find Bengt Ekerot — the unforgettable scowling chess-playing Death Max faced in Bergman‘s The Seventh Seal — here playing the dying, threadbare actor Johan Spegel.

Through the softly howling darkness, they are on their way to a town of large houses, splendid furnishings and blazing candles, where the complacent bourgeois rulers who engage them for an evening’s entertainment scoff at magic, and snort at theater and its tricks. There, the players will present a show of levitation, telepathy and communion with spirits from beyond, before that audience of scornful nabobs, critics and rationalists, including the condescending royal medical advisor Dr. Vergerus (played by Gunnar Bjornstrand), the mocking consul Egerman (Erland Josephson), the mean bailiff ( ) and the consul’s more susceptible wife (Gertrud Fridh). In the household, in the kitchen — remember, actors always must use the back entrance and sleep with the help — they will meet a host of lively servants, including another of Bibi Andersson’s sexy Saras.

The troupe has problems. Vogler cannot talk. His wife is disguised as a man. Tubal is a drinker and a rake. The leaders in their audience despise them and want to make fools of them. The wires may break, the mirrors may crack, the levitating bodies may fail to rise and the curtains may fail to fall. And somebody, either in the cast or in the audience, may forget their lines.

But there’s a magic in theater, a spirit raging within the silent magician Vogler. There’s an angel in the wings, and maybe even a demon in the attic, and they can triumph over anything, even a hostile house. Even death itself (played by that distinguished actor Bengt Ekerot).

Bergman was a real man of the theater, probably Sweden’s leading stage director of the last century and one of its great playwrights as well (though he wrote almost all his “plays” for the movies). And this is his ode to the stage, his valentine for his fellow directors and players, and his flip-of-the-bird to the snooty Svenskas and sarcastic world critics and carpers who tried to chasten or silence him, to cut him down to size. It’s a comedy about death, anguish, persecution and humiliation, all those things that a Strindberg or a Hedrik Ibsen turned into drama and tragedy. Drama lurks here and so does tragedy, but they’re both just part of the company. (Take a bow, torment. Laughter, you‘re on next.)

Playing with Bergman is his incredible troupe of Malmo Theater actors, one of the great repertory troupes of all theater or of all movies — including his bewitching then-mistress and matchless ingenue Bibi. (No summer night should be without her smile.) Bravo and encore to them all, especially for the movie’s end…

SPOILER ALERT

…when the sun comes mysteriously out, and the brass band plays, and the traveling players take one last bow and travel on to their next engagement…

END OF SPOILER

The Magician (called The Face in Swedish) came near the end of Bergman’s great string of ‘50s films, the pictures that introduced him to the world audience. It was climax of a group of four consecutive masterpieces that included Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. And it’s a movie that has two very obvious and very notable direct descendants in the Bergman fimography/lexicon: Persona, which has another stage Vogler who doesn‘t talk, and Fanny and Alexander, where there’s another stage troupe and another Vergerus who tries to spoil the show. (There’s also another more neglected offspring: Bergman’s 1969 TV film The Rite, in which comedy takes a holiday, and Strindberg and Kafka take over more of the stage.)

The Magician is obviously one of his key works. And playing gloriously for and with Bergman in this picture, is his incredible troupe of Malmo Theater actors, one of the finest repertory troupes of all theater or all movies — including his bewitching then-mistress Bibi. (No summer night should be without her smile.)

But The Magician displeased Bergman’s early admirers at Cahiers du Cinema, and it’s been underrated or neglected by some auteurist critics ever since. Robin Wood, writing about the film in his monograph, virtually became a Vergerus himself. Ah, wrong. The Magician is great stuff, quintessential Bergman. (Read the essays in the accompanying Criterion booklet by Geoff Andrew and French filmmaker Olivier Assayas for more testimonial.) No filmmaker was more of a cinematic auteur, more of a writer, or more a man of the theater than Ingmar Bergman — or more brilliant at all three.

So it’s always made me angry, a little, that some otherwise rational critics, irritated perhaps that Bergman was one of the few filmmakers accepted by so many non film specialists as an artist, tended to underrate him, to try to over-politicize or debunk him, to deny him a place at the table, to be nasty and rationalist and play the Vergerus.

But forget all that. Instead, let’s see The Magician in this beautiful Criterion edition. Ready? The lights are dimming. The audience is quieting, the programs rustling in the dark. The curtain rises. The forest is dark. (Hear the coach!) The players are ready and waiting, slipping on their masks, their faces: Max and Ingrid and Gunnar and Erland and Bibi, forever young. Listen. Watch. Feel. Let Bergman, the mesmerist, weave his magic. (In Swedish, with English subtitles.)

Extras: Video interviews with Bergman, one by Olivier Assayas and Stig Bjorkmen; Visual essay by Peter Cowie; Booklet with essays by Geoff Andrew and Assayas, and an excerpt from Bergman’s book Images.

___________________________________________________

PICK OF THE WEEK: BLU-RAY

Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years of Warner Bros. (Blu-ray) (Four Stars)

U.S.: Clint Eastwood, Don Siegel and Other Directors, 1968-2008 (Warner)

From Dirty Harry to Unforgiven. From Where Eagles Dare to Letters from Iwo Jima. From The Gauntlet to Gran Torino.

Go ahead. Make our day.

Includes: (All movies are U.S.) Where Eagles Dare (Brian G. Hutton, 1968) Three Stars. With CE, Richard Burton and Mary Ure. WW2 shoot-out, a la Alistair MacLean. Kelly‘s Heroes (Brian G. Hutton, 1970) Three Stars. With CE, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas. WW2 as comedy. Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971) Four Stars. With CE, Andy Robinson. Clint’s angry Frisco cop signature role. Magnum Force (Ted Post, 1973) Three and a Half Stars. With CE, Hal Holbrook. The second Dirty Harry movie. The Enforcer (James Fargo, 1976) Three stars. With C. E., Tyne Daly. The third Dirty Harry.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood/(Philip Kaufman), 1976) Four Stars. With CE, Sondra Locke, Chief Dan George. Great quest western. The Gauntlet (Clint Eastwood, 1977) Three and a Half Stars. With CE, Locke. Pat Hingle. A hard-drinking cop and a hooker witness run a mob/corrupt police gauntlet. Every Which Way But Loose (James Fargo, 1978) Three stars. With CE, Locke, Ruth Gordon and Clyde the orangutan. First Philo Beddoe movie.

Bronco Billy (Eastwood, 1980) Four Stars. With CE, Locke and Scatman Crothers. Naïve Western hero saves his Wild West Show. One of Clint‘s favorites. Any Which Way You Can (Buddy Van Horn, 1980) Two and a Half Stars. With CE, Locke, Ruth Gordon and Clyde the orangutan. Second Philo Beddoe movie. Honkytonk Man (Eastwood, 1982) Four Stars. With CE and Kyle Eastwood. Neglected gem: Clint as dying C&W singer/picker, on the road to the Grand Ole Opry with nephew. Firefox (Eastwood, 1982) Two Stars. With CE, Freddie Jones and Nigel Hawthorne. Rare Clint clinker: Empty Cold War plane chase thriller.

Sudden Impact (Eastwood, 1983) Four Stars. With CE and Locke. Fourth Dirty Harry. And the second best. City Heat (Richard Benjamin, 1984) Two and a Half Stars. With CE and Burt Reynolds. Unhappy crime comedy misfire, with old TV pal Burt. Written by movie’s original director, Blake Edwards Tightrope (Richard Tuggle/(Eastwood, 1984) Three Stars. With CE and Genevieve Bujold. New Orleans neo-noir, with Clint as tormented cop. Pale Rider (Eastwood, 1985) Three Stars. With CE, Michael Moriarity and Chris Penn. A supernatural twist on Shane. Heartbreak Ridge (Eastwood, 1986) Three Stars. With CE, Marsha Mason and Mario Van Peebles. Clint aces as raspy-voiced, hard-ass U. S. Marine top kick, in so-so gung ho Grenada story.

Bird (Eastwood, 1988) Four Stars. With Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora and Keith David. Great movie bio of bebop jazz sax legend, Charlie Parker. The Dead Pool (Buddy Van Horn, 1988) Two and a half stars. With CE, Liam Neeson, Jim Carrey and Patricia Clarkson. Fourth, and weakest Dirty Harry, despite cast. Pink Cadillac (Buddy Van Horn, 1989) Two and a Half Stars. With Bernadette Peters and Carrey. Okay chase comedy with Clint as bail-bond skip tracer vs. fascist gang. White Hunter, Black Heart (Eastwood, 1990) Three and a Half Stars. With CE as “John Wilson“ (aka John Huston) in cool adaptation of Peter Viertel‘s backstage African Queen novel. The Rookie (Eastwood, 1990) Two and a Half Stars. With CE, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia and Sonia Braga. Sleazy but sometimes gripping old cop/young cop thriller.

Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992) Four Stars. With CE, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris, Morgan Freeman and Frances Fisher. Western masterpiece and big Oscar winner. A Perfect World (Eastwood, 1993) Four Stars. With CE, Kevin Costner and Laura Dern. Engrossing chase thriller, with psychological twists. The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood, 1995) Four Stars. With CE and Meryl Streep. Poignant romance, with CE in off-type vulnerable/sensitive role as National Geographic photographer who woos married woman (Streep). From Robert James Waller novel, which it improves. Absolute Power (Eastwood, 1997) Three Stars. With CE, Hackman, Ed Harris, and Laura Linney. Dark political thriller.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Eastwood, 1997) Three and a Half Stars. With Kevin Spacey, John Cusack and Lady Chablis. Shot in Savannah: Good true-crime thriller, based on John Berendt’s book. “True Crime” (Eastwood, 1999) Three stars. With “ Space Cowboys” (Eastwood, 2000) Three and a Half Stars. With CE, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland. Aging astronauts show Right Stuff. Great cast clicks. “”Blood Work” (Eastwood, 2002) Three and a Half Stars. With CE and Jeff Daniels. Nifty mystery. “Mystic River” (Eastwood, 2003) Four Stars. With Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden. Great Boston set neo-noir, about murder and the ruinous past, from Dennis Lehane’s novel.

Million Dollar Baby (Eastwood, 2004) Four Stars. With CE, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. Modern nourish boxing classic, from F. X. Toole story. Clint’s second big Oscar winner. Letters from Iwo Jima (Eastwood, 2006) Four Stars. With Ken Watanabe. Superb, grim WW2 movie: War is hell, from the Japanese side. Gran Torino (Eastwood, 2008) Four Stars. With CE. Get off my lawn. Clint‘s acting swan song? We hope not .The Eastwood Factor (2010). Three Stars. Fine documentary.

Extras: Documentary, Featurettes; Book.

CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK; BOX SETS
Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years of Warner Bros. (Blu-ray) (Four Stars)
U.S.: Clint Eastwood, Don Siegel and Other Directors, 1968-2008 (Warner)
See above.)

The Toy Story Trilogy (Blu-Ray DVD) (Ten Discs) (Four Stars)
U.S.: Various Directors, 1995-2010 (Walt Disney)

The best film trilogy of any kind I’ve seen since The Lord of the Rings — which, after all, had the advantage of being adapted from a classic.

The Toy Story movies are all classic American pop-film mixtures. They‘re sentimental family fairytales, but they’re also hip satiric comedies, deeply emotional parables of friendship and community, Randy-dandy musicals, and pulse-racing adventure movies packed with cliffhangers and breathless chases. The toys are always being saved from impending doom and loss, just as toys sometimes are in real life.

Pixar has kept up a commercial/critical double whammy triumph ever since the first. Defying the averages, they manage to keep turning out better and better movies (most recently the animated masterpieces Wall-E and Up). And they‘ve gone on to become one of the major cultural/commercial forces in American movies, if not the foremost of all. The only complaint I have about Pixar is that it frustrates me that this company, supposedly making movies for children (though really for adults too) makes stuff that’s so much smarter and better, and even more adult — than the vast majority of the live-action stuff for more supposedly mature audiences.

Dammit, don’t we adults deserve something as good as this? If Lasseter and company can make these toys come so wondrously alive, why can’t most of the “adult” movies do the same thing, with human beings?

Includes: Toy Story (U.S.; John Lasseter, 1995) Three and a Half Stars

In many ways, the most important American movie release of 1995 was director/co-writer John Lasseter‘s Toy Story, the first animated feature from Pixar — which scored a big audience hit with this bouncy, funny tale of a community of toys who (just as we always expected) all come alive when their boy-owner Andy (John Morris) and his mom (Laurie Metcalf) leave the room. Among the delightfully computer-animated gang: stalwart cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), timid dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), excitable Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), lovelorn Ms. Bo Peep (Laurie Potts) and the newest arrival, intrepid cosmonaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) — whose arrival creates a surfeit of heroes, a potentially dangerous rivalry between Woody and Buzz.

Toy Story 2 (U.S.; John Lasseter/Ash Brannon/Lee Unkrich, 1999) Four Stars. Toy Story seduced both audiences and critics, and it was rousingly succeeded by Toy Story 2 –in which Buzz and the gang have to save Woody from an evil toy seller Al (Wayne Knight) and a life in the Al’s Toy Barn toy warehouse museum, with yodeling Cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) and gabby old coot Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). It’s one of the rare sequels that is both a totally logical outgrowth of the original, and even better than its predecessor as both art and entertainment. It’s no exaggeration to say that Toy Story 2 is the Godfather 2 of feature cartoons. (Toy Story 3 proved a bit better capper than Godfather 3.)

Both Toy I and Toy II, by the way, boast song scores by that song-writing genius, acid Angeleno, and seeming nemesis of short people and long red lights, Randy Newman. His “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (from “I“) is a great kid anthem. And his abandoned toy ballad “When She Loved Me“ (sung by Sarah McLachlan in II) is a real heart-tugger. (In Newman’s defense, I’d like to point out that all the toys here are quite short. (Satire, people, satire.) The eight-man writing teams on 1 and 2 include Lasseter, Pete Docter (Up), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) and Joss Whedon.

Toy Story 3 (U.S.: Lee Unkrich, 2010) Four Stars. (See above.)

Extras: Featurettes, Deleted scenes; Animated studio stories.

___________________________________________________

OTHER CURRENT OR RECENT DVD RELEASES

Centurion (One and a half Stars)

U. K.; Neil Marshall, 2010

Michael Fassbender (no relation to R. W. Fassbinder), as Centurion Quintus Dias, wanders around a pre-Christian, pre-Beatles Britain (Scotland, actually), swallowed in murk and gloom, and echoing with the din of battle axes and random decapitations. You think you’ve got it rough? Also around, trapped in the bloody havoc and the boggy mire, are Andreas Wizniewski as Commander Gratus, Dave Legend as Vortix, Dominic West as General Titus Virilus (these names are not jokes), Lee Ross as Septus, Ian Ickthorpe as Tankus (that was), O’Haffer L’Habidine as the Arm Wrestler, David Morrisey as Bothos and the late Oliver Reed as General Vampires Suckus. (Joke, joke.) Axele Carolyn and Olga Kurylenko provide unusual love interest as a homicidal psychopath and a friendly witch.

SPOILER ALERT

Almost all of them except Centurion Quintus and the beautiful witch die horrible deaths or buy out their contracts and flee to the Via Veneto.

END OF SPOILER

Off-screen, director-writer Neil Marshall quashes a suit by the descendants of Thax, Bothos, Gorlachon, Garlicus, Achivir, Matrix and the Arm Wrestler, who claim their ancestors were not incoherent brutes with British accents, guzzling mead, thrusting spears into each other and wallowing in mud. And the Roman Empire falls, immediately after the first screening of this movie.

The only really good thing about Centurion is that it’s not Centurion II. Or Vampires Suck.

Winnebago Man (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Ben Steinbauer, 2009 (Kino)

About two decades ago, on a hot day in Iowa, with flies buzzing and the camera and microphone running, a burly, bell-voiced TV writer-producer-performer-pitchman named Jack Rebney tried to get through a half-hour Winnebago sales film he’d written, while strolling around and inside the camper, speechifying and extolling the vehicle’s many virtues.

But the heat poured down, the flies buzzed in his face, he kept going up on his own lines, and finally he began blowing his top when he blew a line. “Shit! Fuck! Shit!” he yelled, over and over again, and “My mind has turned to shit!” and other words children shouldn‘t hear. He exhorted everyone to calm down, “including me” and then blew a line and blew his top again. “Do me a favor. Do me a kindness,“ he said to his assistant Tony, polite but tense, and later Tony pitched a towel at him. “Shit!“ he roared. The tantrum became serial, epic — and after a while, you sense that Jack is not just spewing, but playing comic relief to himself, exaggerating his own fury to get through the day.

Jack got though the sales film (it’s one of the extras on this DVD) and later the filmmakers that day edited together a video of his various tantrums, and it became a classic and got him millions of watchers and fans, and eventual superstardom on the Internet. It also earned him the nicknames “The Angriest Man in the World” and “Winnebago Man.“

But meanwhile, Jack disappeared. He’d had a long broadcasting and film career, starting on WBBM in Chicago, but suddenly you couldn’t find him anywhere, even on the Internet, except for the “Winnebago Man” video. I don’t know, maybe the Winnebago people saw it and got mad. I have a vision of them watching the Jack outtakes in a conference room and yelling to each other “Shit! Fuck! What the fuck is this guy doing? Shit!” But probably they didn’t do anything, just frowned and had another meeting. It shouldn’t have mattered. Bill O’Reilly has a far nastier candid tantrum (“Do it now! Do it now!“) available on the Internet, and look what happened to him.

Ben Steinbauer is a filmmaker, a film teacher and the director of this movie, and he loved Jack and loved the video. Ben is a gentle-acting, soft-spoken guy here, and you get the idea that he never uses a four-letter word unless it’s absolutely necessary, that he lets guys like Jack do his spewing for him. Steinbauer decided to find the Angriest Man and film him, and he did.

It was a little surprising though: Jack was living alone with his dog Buddha, working as live-in caretaker for a wildlife sanctuary, and he seemed to be happy in his reclusive life, but incommunicado, except for daily calls with his best friend, Keith Gordon, a pilot. What happened? Did he see the video himself and get embarrassed? Jack agreed to be filmed, but he was mostly nice, well-spoken, a sweet guy. A little aggravation; no tantrums. Not much there for a documentary, except for wildlife sanctuary lovers.

Then, a while later, Jack got back in touch. He admitted he’s been putting on an act, playing nice for the camera. He invited Ben back. He agreed to be filmed again. Something had happened though, something sad. As Jack said, “his vision had left him.” He was blind, but still at the sanctuary, still with Buddha. Jack was willing to talk though, even seemingly willing to get angry on camera again — and there was a lot he was angry about, especially Dick Cheney.

SPOILER ALERT

Then Ben made a big mistake. He had wanted Jack to spew some, but he asked Jack to stop talking about politics, and talk about something personal instead. Jack didn’t want to talk about himself and his life; he wanted to talk about what an asshole Dick Cheney was.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why Ben wouldn’t let him. If you’ve got Paderewski, you let him play the violin. If you’ve got Rubinstein, you let him play the piano. If you’ve got Louis Armstrong, you hand him a horn. And if you’ve got Jack Rebney, you let him blow his top. Especially about a jerk like Dick Cheney, who pisses me off too, and who deserves it. You know something: Fuck Dick Cheney, and the horse he rode in on. But I’m sure Jack could say it better, with more force and feeling. He is a sweet guy, at least here, but sweet guys can get burned.

So the filming broke up. Too bad, but later Ben got a happy ending of sorts for this movie, by taking Jack and his best buddy Keith (who does the late interviewing, a good pick) to the Found Footage Film festival, where it was a packed house and they watched the Winnebago Man tape (again, I‘m sure for everybody there). Jack talked and they loved him and gave him great gusts of roaring applause and approval. Later, at the end, Ben drops Jack off at his place and Jack tells them all to get lost. But he’s just playing nasty; he watches the camera car and the retreating camera all the way up the road.

END OF SPOILER

There’s another mistake on Ben’s doc. They start with Jack’s classic tape, but they don’t run it all. You can see it — as I did — by going to YouTube or Googling “Jack Rebney,” but you shouldn’t have to. You should be able to see it all in the doc, straight through, and they don‘t even include it as an extra — even though, along with Jack Nicholson blowing up at Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge, this is the “Emperor Concerto“ of temper tantrums.

Anyway, do Jack a kindness and watch him in Ben’s movie. It isn’t perfect, but hell, neither was the Winnebago.

Extras: The complete lost Winnebago Sales Video, starring Jack; Featurette with Jack, Ben and Michael Moore; Trailer.

Henry Miller‘s Tropic of Cancer (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Joseph Strick, 1970 (Olive)

Henry Miller’s classic of unbuttoned hard-core sex confession and four letter word ribaldry and misogyny, with the words and sex acts intact, but somewhat implausibly transferred from ’30’s Paris to late ’60s Paris, probably because there was no money for sets. Director Strick took a lot of heat for his movie adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses and he deserved to. But this movie is somewhat better, if a hard sit for any radical feminists who may mistakenly wander in. (Then again, it may confirm their worst suspicions about men.)

Rip Torn, sporting his shark’s grin, seems to be having a damned good time as “Miller” (who does a brief cameo); Torn also narrates Miller’s unfettered prose well. And Ellen Burstyn, as Miller’s wife June, or “Mona,” makes about as big an impression as you can possibly make in five minutes. Like Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge (see above) she’s absolutely eerie-beautiful.

Jimmy the Gent (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Michael Curtiz, 1934 (Warner Archive)

It’s a Michael Curtiz movie, so it really moves. And it stars the young Jimmy Cagney and Bette Davis, so you know it has charisma and star style to spare. But this snappy romantic comedy about a detective (Cagney), who specializes in finding lost heirs, and his comely ex-employee (Davis), who’s deserted him for his phony-gentleman, tea-serving competitor (Alan Dinehart), is just fast but ordinary Warners stuff, with a fast but so-so script. On the other hand, who can resist a movie with Cagney, Davis and Allen Jenkins? (This movie is manufactured on demand. To order, visit The Warner Brothers Archive Collection at www.WarnerArchive.com)

2 Responses to “Wilmington on DVDs: Toy Story 3, The Toy Story Trilogy, The Magician, Centurion, Winnebago Man … and more”

  1. Throughout the awesome pattern of things you actually secure a B+ just for effort. Exactly where you lost me personally was in your specifics. You know, it is said, the devil is in the details… And that couldn’t be more true here. Having said that, allow me tell you what exactly did work. The text is incredibly persuasive which is possibly the reason why I am making an effort in order to opine. I do not really make it a regular habit of doing that. Second, even though I can certainly notice the jumps in logic you make, I am not sure of just how you seem to connect your points that make the final result. For the moment I will, no doubt subscribe to your issue but wish in the near future you actually link your dots much better.

  2. Robb says:

    If you can just give me a hint for the right passage, it would be helpful, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Wilmington

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Studios treat audiences like lemmings, like cattle in a stockyard. I don’t want to ask actors or anyone else on a movie to work so hard with me if the studios treat us as though we’re making Big Macs. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is not a Big Mac. Gone Girl is not a Big Mac.”
~ David Fincher In The October Playboy

 

“We’re on our way out. Anybody that doesn’t realize that is looking like it’s Christmas or something. We’re on our way out, as a culture. America doesn’t make anything anymore! The Chinese make it! Detroit’s a great example. All of those cities that used to be something. If you go to a truck stop in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, you’ll probably see the face of America. How desperate we are. Really desperate. Just raw.”
~ Sam Shepard Sings America