MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

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.


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.


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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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon