MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Doubt, Alexandra, The Last Metro, Fallen Angels, No Country for Old Men and more …


Doubt (Four Stars)
U.S.; John Patrick Shanley, 2008 (Miramax)

In Doubt, Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman play a gorgon, dictatorial nun and a chubby-faced, affable progressive priest, battling in a Bronx parochial school in 1964. And they stage a classic actor‘s duel for director-writer John Patrick Shanley’s tense, humane adaptation of his Tony-winning play.

Streep plays, to a holy fare-thee-well, Sister Aloysius Beauvier, the old-fashioned and relentless principal of St. Nicholas grade school and Hoffman matches her scene for scene as Father Brendan Flynn the parish priest — a young liberal with a jokey and benevolent manner, a flair for coaching and a teasing smile that Sister Aloysius finds suspicious.

She finds it even more damning when young and earnest Sister James (Amy Adams) reports an incident involving a young black student/altar boy, Donald Miller (Joseph Foster II), who drank some altar wine and had an encounter of some kind with Father Flynn. Abuse, thinks Sister Aloysius, who’s so old school, she doesn’t even like ballpoint pens, much less the church‘s new path under John XXIII. A woman with a low prosecutorial voice and a basilisk eye, she has probably rooted out many a randy priest before. Flynn, for all his biblical-slanted blarney, is guilty in her eyes of molestation in the house of the Lord. Of that, she has no doubt.

But Sister Aloysius has a worthy, and wordy, foe/debater in Father Flynn, who will not go quietly into the sexual/sacred hell she‘s prepared for him. And he has surprising aid, and support, from the boy’s mother, the long-suffering and worldly-wise Mrs. Miller (Viola Davis, in a scorching scene with Streep) and eventually from Sister James herself. That’s the drama, and it is a drama. You may think you have Doubt all figured out, but you’re probably wrong. Even after the climax, doubts will linger. And they should. That’s the conflict — and Doubt has genuine moral and spiritual clash to show us, with formidable performances by great actors.

It also has the feeling of a real story taken from a real place and time. I attended a Chicago parochial school for one year as a non-Catholic student — at St. Thomas Aquinas in Hyde Park, Chicago — and many scenes and images here brought back a rush of remembrance. And I liked my second grade teacher nun, Sister Roberta Theresa. I also liked this movie. All the acting is excellent and, under Shanley’s compassionate, precise hand, it makes for a provocative and prize-worthy film. No doubt about it.

Alexandra (Four Stars)
Russia; Alexander Sokurov, 2007 (New Yorker)

A lovely, sad film from the great Alexander Sokurov, a director all too often neglected by American moviegoers. (The exception: Sokurov’s incredible one-tracking-shot-in-the-Hermitage masterpiece, Russian Ark. Alexandra is a seemingly small drama, but a powerful one, in the stream of Sokurov’s Mother and Son and Father, about the visit to her soldier son (Vasily Shevtsov) on the Chechnyan front by an elderly, determined woman who has seen him rarely in recent years and will probably never see him again, no matter what the fortunes of war.

She arrives by train. They meet several times. The soldiers are kind to her; she’s a little testy. Her son goes off on a patrol. She visits (without permission) a Chechnyan village, makes friends with a woman (Raisa Gichaeva) there. Though she hasn’t been there long, she must finally leave. The train departs. That is the Chekhovian stuff from which Sokurov weaves his deeply touching story. The soldier‘s mother Alexandra, sturdy, plump and heartbroken, is played by famed opera singer Galina Vishneskaya, the widow of Sokurov’s previous film subject, the supreme cellist Mistislav Rostropovich. We hear opera in the background, part of the world of art and the soul of life that war so often subverts or even destroys. This is a fine movie, currently somewhat ignored. Don’t.

I select Alexandrapartly in remembrance of its distributor, New Yorker Films and Video, Dan Talbot’s magnificent Manhattan conduit for foreign and art films, which died last February after 44 years of opening up the world and bringing us movies like Godard’s Breathless, Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Bresson’s Pickpocket, Vigo’s L’Atalante, Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Kusturica’s Underground and Angelopoulos’ Landscape in the Mist. Talbot’s superb catalogue of 400 or more titles, which he assembled over four decades, was put up as collateral for a loan by New Yorker’s owner, and like many another dubious financial deal of the era, it went bust.

Alexandra, a New Yorker title, would have been my co-pick this week anyway — it‘s another lyrical antiwar piece by the masterful director of Russian Ark — and it’s still listed this week on I name it as a last fond nod to Talbot and his wondrous legacy — and a last angry shake of the fist toward George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, the Wall Street whiz-bang’s, Blimp Rushbomb, Sean “The Sham” Hammity, and the rest of the trickle-down idiots and greed-crazed media morons who helped make such a hash of our economy and such a bad joke of our culture. Up yours, you worthless assholes. Bravo, Dan Talbot. And please Mr. T., buy some more films, and start playing it again. (In Russian, with English subtitles.)



The Last Metro (Two discs) (Four Stars)
France; Francois Truffaut, 1980 (Criterion Collection)

Francois Truffaut’s highly popular and seductively expert star vehicle for Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu is set during the war years in Nazi-occupied France. As always, Truffaut finds something to be nostalgic about, something to celebrate, something to deplore — and something to remind him of the movies of his youth. Deneuve, maddeningly beautiful as ever, plays Marion Steiner, the star and boss of a beleaguered theater troupe beset by political intrigues, war turmoil, and fascist critics (Jean-Louis Richard, who resembles a few editors I’ve had).

Depardieu is her amorously persistent, magnetic costar; and Heinz Bennett plays Lucas Steiner, her husband and renowned playwright/director, whom she‘s trying to smuggle out of the country. A big hit and major French prize-winner, this is Truffaut’s theatrical variant on his love poem to the cinema Day for Night — and it’s also hisCasablanca. (Play it again, Catherine and Gerard.) It reveals again what a warm-hearted guy — and what a great filmmaker — he was. (In French with English subtitles.)

Extras: Commentaries by Depardieu, Annette Insdorf, Serge Toubiana and others; deleted scene; TV and video interviews with Truffaut, Deneuve, Depardieu and Jean Poiret; Nestor Almendros; the 1958 short Une Histoire d’Eau, by Truffaut and his youthful movie-loving buddy Jean-Luc Godard; trailer; a booklet with an excellent essay by Armond White.

Fallen Angels (Four Stars)
Hong Kong; Wong Kar-Wai, 1995 (Kino)

My favorite Wong Kar-Wai: an absolutely incredible movie that’s kind of a continuation of Chungking Express. (It was originally intended as the third interlocking episode of that film.) In Angels, Wong gives us not only a wildly romantic neo-noir about an alienated hit man (Leon Lai Ming) and his sexy, dangerous manager (Michele Reis), but a second rapturous pop romance involving a poetic mute (Takeshi Kaneshiro) on a motorcycle. Done at the feverish height of Wong’s sardonic, unashamedly emotional, go- for-broke style, I loved this to pieces. And I also loved the credits song, which I’d never heard before but which I played seven times in a row afterwards (like I once did “I Feel Fine“ and “Run Around Sue”): Flying Pickets’ bubbly, Bach-and-Phil Spector a cappella cover of Clarke Vincent’s sweetly infectious “Only You.” Wow! I don’t care if it was Margaret Thatcher’s favorite record; it‘s still a honey of a pop love ballad. So is Fallen Angels. (In Cantonese, with English subtitles.)

Extras: Featurettes; interview with cinematographer Chris Doyle; trailers; stills gallery.



No Country for Old Men (Four Stars) (A)
U.S.; Joel & Ethan Coen, 2007 (Miramax/ Paramount Vantage)

The Coen Brothers have made a great film of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel about a busted drug deal in the West Texas desert and the relentless three-cornered chase that follows. This brutal, spare, acidly compassionate crime thriller — a primo noir in the style of Hemingway, Mailer (The Executioner‘s Song), Jim Thompson and James M. Cain — receives about as faithful and powerful a film translation as any first class American book could get these days, courtesy of those modern masters of neo-noir, Joel and Ethan Coen.

The Coens make this material their own, while preserving much of McCarthy’s dark, bleak, hard-case vision. They deserved their 2007 Oscars; the cast is dead on the mark all the way. Josh Brolin is a perfect Llewellyn Moss, a seemingly lucky welder who stumbles on the death and wreckage left behind a big drug deal, finds the heroin cache and two million in a suitcase, steals the loot, gets spotted and suddenly has on his trail, the baddest of all hired-killer, clean-up man bad-asses, Anton Chigurh (played by the great Javier Bardem, the king of bad hair and no mercy).

” Sugar“ is a sullen, murderously efficient hit man whose only flicker of compassion comes when he occasionally flips a quarter to see if he’ll kill or cut free a fresh potential victim. Bringing up the good-guy tail-end of the pursuit is that magnificent Texan Tommy Lee Jones — born and raised in the San Saba oil field region where the movie is set — who plays a kindly, solid-pro sheriff named Bell, a war vet and model citizen who just can’t understand how the world got so kill-crazy and mean, and who speaks his disillusionment in brooding melancholy monologues. (Less of them in the movie than the book, which is one reason to buy it.)

The rest of the cast, which includes Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (great on accents) as Moss’ sweet, tough Texan wife and Woody Harrelson, a wily marvel as a gabby colleague of Chigurh’s, and Barry Corbin as the old man with the cats, are all so damned good they tear your heart and freeze your blood at will. This is a tough, ruthlessly sad movie that unwinds its Peckinpah-style story slowly and calmly, knocking on Heaven’s door with barely a note of background music. (This has to have been the easiest assignment composer Carter Burwell will ever have.) It’s also the kind of movie The Getaway should have been, both times — as well as the peak of Coen, one of the all-time best film noirs or neo-noirs, and, by God, one hell of a show.

Extras: Documentaries.

Winged Migration (Four Stars)
France/Germany/Italy/Spain/Switzerland; Jacques Perrin & Jacques Cluzaud, 2001 (Sony)

One of the most beautiful and stunningly photographed of all wild life documentaries, this fascinating film follows flocks on the wing of migrating birds all over the world, not from the earth below, where we always see them, but at eye-level, wing-level, flying alongside them as they traverse countries and continents through the air on their regular seasonal migratory flights. Special cameras and devices were devised for the flight shoots; what they record is so amazing that, even without a conventional narrative thread, the experience of the film becomes hypnotic, exalting. Co-directed by Jacques Perrin, the producer of Microcosmos, and the young actor who played the intrepid reporter in Z; if you haven’t seen his Winged Migration, your life is poorer and more earthbound.



The Day the Earth Stood Still (Two stars)
U.S.; Scott Derrickson

Remaking a movie classic can be like destroying a planet. Sometimes you should think twice about it. The new movie version of The Day the Earth Stood Still — based on director Robert Wise‘s 1951 science fiction classic about an extraterrestrial named Klaatu, who is sent to warn the Earth’s inhabitants of impending nuclear disaster, and who hangs out with an earthling family to see if we’re worth saving — is a good-hearted but pretty shallow special effects extravaganza. It‘s a movie that keeps throwing in scraps of the old movie to try to make up for the fact that its new ideas are mostly lousy.

“Klaatu barada nikto” is the 1951 movie’s famous alien catchphrase, the activating message for Gort the robot. But this show couldn’t klaatu a barada if its nikto depended on it. Part sci-fi chase thriller, part disaster epic, part family trauma drama, and part global warming cautionary tale, the new Earth sends Keanu Reeves as Klaatu, Jennifer Connelly as astrophysicist Helen Benson and Jaden Smith as her ill-behaved tyke Jacob (counterparts to the roles played in the original by Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Billy Gray) on a race with catastrophe, in which we’re often just as worried about Jacob’s incredibly bad manners as whether the world will end.

The ‘51 original (see below) was a great messagey sci-fi genre movie, a sci-fi sermon against the nuclear arms race that still packs a punch — and that was just ‘50s-hokey enough in its visual effects (a flying saucer, a robot named Gort) to become a charming period piece. The new movie — directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and written by David Scarpa — may become a period piece. But its charm is mostly invisible, even though its effects summon up everything from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to The Good Earth.

Even its premise now seems faulty. Why will the planet be saved by unleashing hordes of rampaging metal insects who look as if they might, locust-like, devour everything? And can the good example of the Bensons really change Klaatu’s mind when such a bad example is being set by the president, his know-it-all Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates) and the military?

One thing the new Earth does have is a lead actor who really looks and acts like a man from outer space. The original had Rennie, an Englishman educated at Cambridge, whose advantage was that he seemed more sophisticated and civilized than that film‘s earthlings, especially gee-whiz little Billy Gray (Father Knows Best). Reeves, with his opaque dark eyes, chiseled features and strange humorless delivery (something like an anchorman from the Twilight Zone) often sounds as if he came from several worlds away. Connelly does look as if she could redeem humanity. But poor Kathy Bates, always great in the right roles, has been saddled with one of the worst parts of her career: Secretary of Defense Regina Jackson, who looks and acts like a cross between Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Nurse Ratched. Holy klaatu barada nikto! (The three disc special edition also contains Robert Wise’s four star 1951 original version.)

Bedtime Stories (Two Stars)
U.S.; Adam Shankman

Adam Sandler plays Skeeter Bronson, a put-upon but infallibly good-natured hotel handyman whose dad (Jonathan Pryce) once ran the place and who keeps telling bedtime stories to his niece and nephew, stories derived from movies, which later (sort of) come true, or suggest something true. Richard Griffiths blurps around as the new owner, who has grandiose plans. The usually reliable Guy Pearce makes an ass of himself trying to be a mean boyfriend/rival. Courteney Cox is Skeeter‘s sister and Keri Russell (Waitress) is his socially progressive heartthrob. Anyway, this is a truly bad idea for a movie and the fancy-schmancy production doesn’t help it a bit.

Yes Man (Two Stars)
U.S.; Peyton Reed

Jim Carrey is the best physical comedian around right now. Has been for a while. So why did he say “Yes” to for a high concept would-be verbal comedy like this — especially since it’s a malfunctioning concept that doesn’t work right? Was he conned?

Say “Yes.“ Carrey plays Carl Allen, a lonely withdrawn guy avoiding life and living in video stores, whose pattern changes when a buddy drags him to guru Terrence Bundley’s psycho-babble cult, a self-help con in which you start saying “Yes” to everything. Neat idea. Unfortunately, Carrey is a banker, a loan guy, which means that he‘s saying “yes” to propositions that would have terrified Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac and that definitely give this movie a weird topicality now. So, is this movie less funny than the current administration?

I can think of lots of “No”-proof questions which would have been great setups for Carrey gags and humor. “Why don’t you insult everybody in the room, and set fire to the drapes?” “Why don’t you challenge Sacha Baron Cohen to a nude wrestling match?“ “Why don’t you strike a match on a cake of soap?“ “Why don’t you stick your head up your ass?“ But nobody asked. And the movie lost me when Carrey’s Carl rode with Zooey Deschanel’s Allison on her bike and she asks him if she’s going too fast — and they didn’t make a routine out of it. (Nor did he say “Yes.”) An ideal setup for an Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?“ cross-talk routine, but the writers pass it up. I guess they said “Yes” to too many guys. So did Carrey. But are most of you going to watch this movie anyway? Say…

I.O.U.S.A. (Three stars)
U.S.; Patrick Creadon (PBS Direct)

I.O.U.S.A. is another intellectual/historical disaster movie in the”Inconvenient Truth” mold — one that substitutes charts and talking heads for natural or man-made catastrophes. But it’s no less a portrayal of a cataclysm: the descent of the United States into mind-boggling national debt and looming financial meltdown. (It’s also become five times as topical since its release last year.)

Among the witnesses here: Comptroller General David Walker, Concord Coalition exec Bob Bixby, moneyman Warren Buffet, ex-treasury secretary Paul O’Neill and others. The revelation: another fine mess that Bush and his G. O. P. macho-creepo cronies have gotten us into — partly though their obsession with tax cuts and trickle-down, partly through Iraq spending sprees and partly through sheer economic imbecility. They’re not the only culprits, however. And it seems obvious here that, as with climate change, something has to be done about it soon. Not as entertaining a film as director Creadon‘s crossword doc Wordplay, but a crucial one. We should have paid attention to these ideas and warning signs years ago.

Tales of Ordinary Madness (Three Stars)
U.S./Italy; Marco Ferreri, 1981 (Koch Lorber)

Ben Gazzara, Ornella Muti and Susan Tyrell in one of the first (and best) films adapted from the pungent lowlife works of American novelist Charles Bukowski. Gazzara, as the Bukowski surrogate, has one of his most pungent and memorable roles outside of Cassavetes. In English.

La Grande Bouffe (Four Stars)
Italy/France; Marco Ferreri, 1973 (Koch Lorber)

One of the holy terrors of ‘60s and ‘70s Italian cinema, the ferocious satirist and unbuttoned comic cineaste Marco Ferreri, hit his peak with this outrageous classic: a robust dark comedy in which four hedonistic pals played by four great actors — Marcello Mastroianni, Philippe Noiret, Michel Piccoli and Ugo Tognazzi — carry bourgeois excess to a deadly extreme. They eat, swill and fornicate themselves to death. Salo, with laughs. In French, with English subtitles.

A Song is Born (Three Stars)
U.S.; Howard Hawks, 1948 (MGM)

A remake of Howard Hawks’s and Brackett and Wilder’s Ball of Fire — the one about the shy professor-encyclopedists and their run-in with gangsters and a great moll — starring frantic patter-meister Danny Kaye in Gary Cooper‘s old part, and noir mainstays Virginia Mayo and Steve Cochran (a year before White Heat), subbing for Barbara Stanwyck and Dana Andrews. Usually regarded as one of Howard Hawks’ worst movies, but I like it. (I also likeRed Line 7000.) The professors are now musicologists, an excuse for lots of great ’40s pop music and musicians — including Benny Goodman (who also has a major supporting prof part), Louis Armstrong, Tommy Dorsey, Lionel Hampton, Charlie Barnet, and Buck and Bubbles.

– Michael Wilmington
April 7, 2009

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.


awesome stuff. OK I would like to contribute as well by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to modify. check it out at All custom premade files, many of them totally free to get. Also, check out Dow on: Wilmington on DVDs: How to Train Your Dragon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Darjeeling Limited, The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov, The Hangover, The Human Centipede and more ...

cool post. OK I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some amazing and easy to customize. check it out at All custom templates, many of them dirt cheap or free to get. Also, check out Downlo on: Wilmington on Movies: I'm Still Here, Soul Kitchen and Bran Nue Dae

awesome post. Now I would like to contribute too by sharing this awesome link, that personally helped me get some beautiful and easy to modify. take a look at All custom premade files, many of them free to get. Also, check out DownloadSoho.c on: MW on Movies: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Paranormal Activity 2, and CIFF Wrap-Up

Carrie Mulligan on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Great Gatsby

isa50 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Gladiator; Hell's Half Acre; The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Rory on: Wilmington on Movies: Snow White and the Huntsman

Andrew Coyle on: Wilmington On Movies: Paterson

tamzap on: Wilmington on DVDs: The Magnificent Seven, Date Night, Little Women, Chicago and more …

rdecker5 on: Wilmington on DVDs: Ivan's Childhood

Ray Pride on: Wilmington on Movies: The Purge: Election Year

Quote Unquotesee all »

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