MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Ponyo, Where the Wild Things are, Beaches of Agnes, King Lear and more…

Ponyo (Also Blu-Ray) (Three and a Half Stars)
Japan-U.S.; Hayao Miyazaki, 2009 (Disney)

Hayao Miyazaki‘s devotion to old-fashioned animation, in an age of computerized cartoon virtuosity of all sorts, gives his movies a charmingly personal, beguilingly hand-crafted feel — never more so than in his latest picture, Ponyo.

Another international collaboration between Miyazaki and one of the masters of the new computer animation style, John Lasseter of Pixar (who acts here as the English language co-director), it’s a kiddie-hip wondrous fairytale about the love affair between a five year old boy named Sosuke and a magical goldfish-turned-little girl named Ponyo. Their romance — beginning when Sosuke fishes the little gold belle from the sea and she smittenly turns human for him — literally knocks the world‘s socks off and pulls the moon almost down to the ocean tides.

The inspiration, quite obviously, is Hans Christian Andersen‘s masterpiece The Little Mermaid, which, in its original version (not the delightful but more emotionally shallow Disney feature cartoon), was one of the saddest fairytales ever told. But Disney’s version wasn’t a tearjerker and neither is Miyazaki’s. It‘s a little crayon-colored bliss-out of a kiddie movie, with an ecological subtext. Of course, the world and its oceans do seem threatened for a while, and one wonders how powerful and friendly Ponyo’s ocean king dad Fujimoto really is. But, once Ponyo starts chowing down with Sosuke and his family, you feel that, in this fairytale, happily ever after wont be too much of a stretch.

It’s a truly lovable film, with an immaculately childlike perspective. The drawings and animation — simpler and more primitive and Pokemon-looking than any other recent Miyazaki film (Spirited Away or Howl‘s Moving Castle) — almost seem to spring alive from coloring books, and the story twists and turns, to jump right out of your own private inner child right into your adult soul. Ponyo and Sosuke are voiced by a couple of rocklings, Noah Cyrus (Miley‘s sister) and Frankie Jonas (of the Jonas clan), and the rest of the cast includes Tina Fey and Matt Damon as Sosuke’s parents, Liam Neeson as Fujimoto, a kind of Japanese Jupiter, Cate Blanchett as Ponyo’s mother, the ocean queen, and Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin and Betty White as three great old biddies at a nearby old folks‘ home, the Goldenish Girls of this movie.

Lasseter and company have done well by Ponyo, and I think the decision to redub Miyazaki for American audiences makes a lot of sense — especially considering that the core audience, especially for this movie, is children. Let’s hope that a lot of them haven’t gotten so technically sophisticated and demanding, they can’t take a shine to this sweet little goldfish and her faithful boy pal.

Extras: Documentary; Interviews with Miyazaki and others; Interactive World of Ghibli; Storyboards.


Where the Wild Things Are (Three Stars)
U. S.; Spike Jonze, 2009 (Warner)

Some children‘s stories work primarily for…children. Some please both children and adults. But some are mostly for adults — and that may be the case with Spike Jonze‘s new movie from Maurice Sendak‘s famous 1963 picture book Where the Wild Things Are. Jonze’s film takes Sendak‘s little big book, which consists of 18 big bountifully colorful picture panels and the slightest of texts, and turns it into a wordy, beautifully visualized, but sometimes strangely enervated show — a film full of personality and intelligence, but sometimes lacking in punch or drive.

That isn’t the case with the book, which is sly and naughty, and serves as barely more than an outline and character gallery, as far as the movie concerned. Sendak’s original Where the Wild Things Are, in its few pages, tells the story of a bad little boy named Max — a juvenile hard-case who is sent to bed without supper for his infractions, and then, like Winsor McCay’s sublime Little Nemo perched on his suddenly long-legged galloping bed — watches his own bedroom turn into a tangled wild dreamland of big, wide-eyed, ferocious-looking, but fuzzy-cuddly-grinning beasties, a child-wild bunch who make Max their king and then dance around in a beastie-bash called the “Wild Rumpus.“ Like many parties, Sendak’s is over too soon (though Jonze‘s movie isn‘t.) Then Max wakes up, ready for breakfast, and the story is over.

Not much there for a movie. But Jonze and company have spent a lot of money on this live action show, which features lavish, craggy, ocean-sprayed Australian locations and huge, meticulously crafted suits of six Sendak monsters, all of whom have expressive animatronic faces, and new names and personalities dreamed up for the film and partly supplied by some famous voice actors — including James Gandolfini as the feisty but sentimental Carol, and Lauren Ambrose as self-sacrificing K. W., plus Chris Cooper as Douglas, Catherine O’Hara as Judith, Forest Whitaker as Ira, and Paul Dano as Alexander.

Max Records, the juvenile actor who plays the 9-year-old movie Max, doesn’t suggest too much of the rascally, impish quality Sendak put into his drawings. Even though Max’s Max goes on a bad-behavior rampage in the film’s opening scenes (which tend to be the best things in the show), Records tends to look and sound more like a Macaulay Culkin “Home Alone” style cutie-pie grown a little older.

And it seems a waste that the movie’s best-performing actor — Catherine Keener as Max’s Mom — only shows up in the bookend “reality” scenes, and that Mark Ruffalo, as her boyfriend, barely shows up at all. If I were Jonze and his co-writer Dave Eggers (of Away We Go), I would have pulled a Wizard of Oz riff and sent a suited, animatronically transformed Keener and Ruffalo somewhere into the Wild Things’ land, maybe along with an altered version of the older kids who chase Max. This movie badly needs conflict — or at least more conflict than we get now, which is mostly limited to Wild Thing squabbles and often exhausted-sounding banter.
Great children‘s movies, like the early Disney cartoon features, are more reckless and intense.

Toward the end, when Gandolfini’s Carol, feeling betrayed, begins to break down, ready to run even wilder in grief and disappointment in Max, the movie begins to generate some tension. But it doesn’t last long, and when Max starts to sail home, dreamland is far, far away.

Spike Jonze is certainly capable of unleashing wild visions on screen — Being John Malkovich is one of the dreamiest of recent American movies . But this one needs more wild things, more rumpuses, and far more of the unbuttoned spirit of that Sendak inspiration, Winsor McCay and his princely dream-voyager Little Nemo. Here, the rumpus is over too fast and the Wild Things don’t make your heart sing.

Extras: “Wild Things” Shorts by Lance Bangs.

The Beaches of Agnes (Four Stars)
France; Agnes Varda, 2008 (Cinema Guild)

Cinema as personal journal from the queen of the old Left Bank group, Agnes Varda, who tells us about her life, her movies, her great love for husband Jacques Demy. It’s a good life, a very good film. (In French, with English subtitles.) Extras: Three shorts by Varda; Trailer; Booklet with Amy Taubin essay.



King Lear (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Peter Brook, 1953 (EI Entertainment)

The greatest live dramatic performance in the history of network television probably took place on October 11, 1953, when Orson Welles, before the mass CBS Sunday afternoon audience, played the title role in Peter Brook‘s Omnibus production of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Welles was 38 at the time and Brook was 28, and they were a pair of matched theatrical enfants terribles at the height of their powers, still full of youthful exuberance, high ideals and cocky confidence. Both adored Shakespeare and knew his work with encyclopedic breadth, but both were also noted for their bold, sometimes irreverent-seeming interpretations (such as Welles‘s voodoo Macbeth and modern dress Fascist-era Julius Caesar and Brooks‘ ‘radical‘ reinterpretations of Measure for Measure and A Winter‘s Tale).

They joined here for an unlikely TV triumph: a full-dress telecast of a shortened version of Shakespeare‘s dark masterpiece, captured live on camera, and realized with an intensity, spontaneity and dramatic fury that few other filmed “Lears” can match — including Brooks‘ own excellent later 1971 movie with Paul Scofield as Lear.

Omnibus, a 90 minute program devoted to the high (and lively) arts, produced by Robert Saudek and the Ford Foundation, and memorably hosted by Alistair Cooke, could only squeeze about 70 minutes of Lear into its rigid time format — which meant dropping the whole character and major subplot appearances of the villainous bastard Edmund, and juggling some lines among other characters.

But what was left — all the Lear scenes and the entire portrayal of the blighted king’s unwise division of power in his bloody kingdom, his banishment of his good daughter Cordelia (played by Brook‘s wife Natasha Parry) and subsequent betrayal by his evil daughters Regan (Margaret Phillips) and Goneril (Beatrice Straight), his descent into madness and his tormented wanderings in the stormy dark wilds of his lost kingdom with his faithful fool (Alan Badel) under the eye of steadfast Kent (Bramwell Fletcher) — and the chaos of bloodshed, riot and treachery into which his kingdom soon falls, caught in the claws of the bad sisters, and of villainous Oswald (David J. Stewart), sadistic Cornwall (Scott “Jim Bowie” Forbes) and the others — is all there, acted magnificently by Welles and the entire company. The huge cast includes Arnold Moss as the Duke of Albany, Frederic Worlock as Gloucester, Wesley (“Kiss Me Deadly”) Addy as the King of France, and, as Poor Tom, Welles crony Micheal MacLiammoir, who had just played an unusually sinister Iago in Welles’ film of Othello.

The stylized TV sets (by Gene Callahan) are often lost in a film noirish gloom. The eerie music is an original score by Virgil Thomson. The camera (directed by Omnibus newcomer Andrew McCullough), is amazingly mobile and acrobatic. And the live performances have a fervor and electricity that capture still all the excitement and danger of a live stage production.
We tend to forget what a great stage actor Welles was — and what a devoted Shakespearean. Here, with his massive bulk (newly acquired from his European sojourn and haute cuisine), and his unmistakable deep, sonorous speaking tones, he gives Lear a titanic stage presence and a truly Shakespearean voice that blasts above the dark world to the seemingly unlistening heavens, a voice that cries, croons, moans and roars over the stage wind like a full orchestra hitting one Beethovian climax after another. When this Lear comes crashing down, the effect is truly tragic.

It would be wrong to ignore or deprecate this DVD and production because it was, comparatively, a Reader’s Digest condensed edition. 90 minutes, with commercials, was all they had, and yet Welles and Brook filled it beautifully, unforgettably. Nothing else like it exists in the whole Welles canon, or the Brook canon either. And though the visual quality is fuzzy, typically for a ‘50s show recorded on kinescope (a 16 mm camera picking up a TV monitor image), the theatrical bravura, preserved here, is eternal. Would to God we had similar fuzzy kinescopes of Welles‘ and Brook’s stage Shakespeares, of Welles’ Native Son and Moby Dick Rehearsed, and of hundreds of other stage classics, lost forever.

It puzzles me. Why can’t television today devote more time to great and current theater and concert performances on film? Why can’t they, or the movies, stage more original productions of classic and contemporary plays like this, or preserve more great theatrical (or musical) performances already staged? What wouldn’t we give now to see Brando, Tandy and the others in a live audience film of the original stage A Streetcar Named Desire, or Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in the stage My Fair Lady or Laurette Taylor in The Glass Menagerie, or Lee J. Cobb in the first Death of a Salesman — or even the young Orson Welles tearing up the stage as Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet (the performance that seduced the young producer John Houseman) or bringing down the house with Houseman and the rebellious cast of his outlaw production of The Cradle Will Rock?

I can turn on my set and catch all kinds of sports down to poker, badminton and high school basketball games. I can sample every kind of lewd talk show interrogation, ranting commentators, and live pop concerts galore. (And I’m speaking as someone who played basketball and loves good rock, if not bad rants). Yet we don’t preserve enough, when we easily could, the best live theatrical productions on Broadway or elsewhere — as Spike Lee did so well last year for Passing Strange. We don’t mount wildly ambitious yet relatively cost-conscious productions like the Brook-Welles Lear. Today, the high arts that Omnibus and Alistair Cooke did such a wonderful job of presenting to the mass television audience in the “primitive“ ‘50s, are mostly absent from TV (absent almost totally from the networks), and unhappily rare even in cable venues that seem perfect for them.

Luckily, Welles and Brook were in the full bloom and fire of their munificent gifts and extraordinary talents when Cooke, Saudek and “Omnibus” caught them on camera in 1953. This old-fashioned, rough but thrilling and wondrous kinescope DVD keeps them all forever young.

Extras: Backstage preview of the Omnibus King Lear; Dr. Frank Baxter (from the Frank Capra science specials) on The Globe Theater; Alistair Cooke live from the Yale Shakespeare Festival, staging The Merry Wives of Windsor; drama critic Walter Kerr on staging Shakespeare; Booklet with essays by Brook and Callow.



The Abyss/Alien/Aliens (Three and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Ridley Scott/James Cameron, 1979-89

Jim Cameron may not beat out his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow for the best director Oscar this year. But he directs up an action-movie storm in two of these three spectacularly visualized science fiction epics: the hell-for leather 1986 first sequel to 1979’s Alien, with Avatar costar Sigourney Weaver at her ballsiest, and “Ripliest,” and the underwater action saga The Abyss.
They’re not the best movies in this three-pack though. I’ve always though Abyss should have begun with more surface ocean shots before it plunged us so deep, so long, beneath it. And Aliens, for all its explosive other-worldly, roller-coaster excitement, lacks the rapt, macabre, visionary beauties of Ridley Scott‘s Alien. But they’re all visually breathtaking shows, especially in Blu-ray.

Includes: Alien (U. S.; Ridley Scott, 1979). Four Stars. With Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Harry Dean Stanton. Aliens (U.S.; James Cameron, 1986) Three and a Half Stars. With Weaver, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen. The Abyss (U.S.; James Cameron, 1989). Three Stars. With Ed Harris, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Todd Graff.



Poldark (Four discs) (Three and a Half Stars)
U.K.; Various directors, 1975 (Acorn Media)

One of the biggest hits, both critically and ratings-wise, in the history of BBC’s Masterpiece Theatre — and one of its most atypical productions — was the 16-episode, 821-minute-long serial the programme made from Winston Graham’s Poldark novels in 1975. Set on Cornwall’s ultra-scenic, Daphne du Maurian coast immediately after the American Revolution, it’s an unbuttoned, stormy tale of family hatreds, rivalries and jealousies, of commercial battles for the copper mines (the last of which would close two decades after Poldark was telecast), and of wild, wayward, dangerous love affairs. It‘s a work that mixes history and romance more in the style of Margaret Mitchell‘s Gone With the Wind than of the usual Masterpiece British classics fare of the ‘60s and ’70s.

The show also has a lustier, less class-bound hero: Robin Ellis as rebellious Ross Poldark, who fought the rebels and yanks, but admires the American revolutionaries and Indian tribes he met overseas more than the greedy bankers and stodgier neighbors he comes home to. And it also has an earthier, cuter, lower-class heroine: Angharad Rees as Ross’s snippy, impoverished servant-girl turned spirited wife Demelza Carne, one of the all-time Masterpiece Theatre cutie-pies, just as Ellis is one of its all-time hunks.

Poldark also has wilder, sexier, more violent plots subplots than most of the great British writers, save Thomas Hardy and a few others, were likely to supply. (It’s interesting to compare the show to that year’s Stanley Kubrick Thackeray movie epic, Barry Lyndon: a far greater film, but far less engaging and lively.) Of course, all that sex and violence, laced with lots of the usual elegant “M.T.” talk, is why Poldark was so popular. The interiors may now look a little daytime-soap-opera-ish, the besetting vice of pre-1980s British classic TV adaptations. But there are lots of windy, rough-hewn exterior scenes shot apparently in Cornwall, that give Poldark a hint of the greater visual richness and flavor that later became the British TV adapted-novel norm, flourishing from the ‘80s and Brideshead Revisited on.

Ellis and Rees are an unusually sexy couple for this TV genre. Ellis is a tougher, cockier type who seems to combine the ruthless confidence of a younger Trevor Howard with some of Michael Caine’s impudence and Sean Connery’s virility. And Rees is an absolutely adorable tough-little-waif-turned-mistress. One wonders why they didn’t both become movie stars, at least on a minor level; Ellis was on the big screen for a while, but both stayed primarily on British TV. And so, for the most part, did this production’s literate staff of writers (Jack Pulman, Paul Wheeler, Peter Draper, and Jack Russell), its agile directors (Christopher Barry, Paul Annett and Kenneth Ives) and its very fine supporting cast (Jill Townsend of Alfie Darling, Clive Francis and Ralph Bates). Poldark, it seems, was the high point and career peak for all of them — but a high, lusty, vibrantly entertaining career peak it was and still remains.

Extras: Cast filmographies and Cornish historical background essay.



2012 (2 Disc Special Edition) (Also Blu-Ray) (Two and a Half Stars)
U. S.; Roland Emmerich, 2009 (Sony)

Roland Emmerich, like too many top-budget Hollywood moviemakers, seems to find it far easier to destroy a world than to make us believe a simple conversation between a dad and his children (John Cusack and kids), a president father and his daughter (Danny Glover and Thandie Newton) , or a scientist and his amoral boss (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Oliver Platt).
Unfortunately for Emmerich‘s artistic aspirations (not his commercial ones, obviously), it’s those intimate scenes and how well they’re written and done, that might make us buy emotionally the idea of those same characters fighting their way through all the torrents, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes and havoc of 2012.

The German-born Emmerich obviously intends 2012 as the ultimate disaster movie, and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing these earthquakes any better, cueing these torrents, or stage-managing this havoc with more panache — which is why audiences flocked to it. Say what you will, “2012” offers us an experience, especially when that L. A. nightmare, the long-feared San Andreas Fault, goes kaflooey.

But the reason poor Cusack, as writer-dad-hero Jackson Curtis, and all Jackson’s fellow disaster-sufferers as well, begin to look, like, ridiculous here — as the earthquakes, volcanoes and floods stalk and pursue them everywhere, like rabid dogs — is because, in the interims, none of these characters really act or talk like people facing either a family crisis or a planet about to be ripped from its axis.

Emmerich, who co-writes most of his scripts — as he did here, together with the film’s Austrian-born composer/producer Harald Kloser — should hire himself a good dialogue man next time. Kloser is primarily a music man, and his only other film writing was the prehistoric dialogue for Emmerich’s 10,000 BC. (Here the characters talk like mammoth hunters who’ve been to high school and watched a few movies.) But a well-chosen word or a crackling line is often as vital and memorable, and as important for a movie’s enduring power — as Hawaii in flames, or the Washington Monument toppling down.

Extras: Commentary by Emmerich and Kloser; Time for Miracles Music Video; Deleted scenes; Alternate ending, Featurette. (Blu-Ray edition contains added featurettes.)

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.; Rebecca Miller, 2009 (Screen Media)

Here is a sometimes well-reviewed modern domestic drama, adapted by writer-director Rebecca Miller (The Ballad of Jack and Rose) from her novel about a 50ish woman Pippa Lee (Robin Wright Penn), and, coming at us in flashbacks and vignettes, her long, mostly unfulfilled life.

It’s a sad affair: Pippa is married to Herb Lee, a sarcastic publisher three decades her senior (Alan Arkin), bullied by her unbalanced mother Sulky (Maria Bello), cheated on by Herb and her friend Sandra (Wynona Ryder, weepingly contrite), befriended by lesbian aunt Trish (Robin Weigert) and Trish’s try-anything girlfriend (Julianne Moore), and hit on by writer-neighbor Sam (Mike Binder). But now, finally, at long last, Pippa may be ready to blossom into unfettered womanhood and true Pippa-ness.

This is the kind of ambitious, realistic psychological drama, sympathetically written and extremely well cast, which I’m usually complaining isn’t made enough. Does it seem churlish and loutish of me now to say I didn’t like it much, despite the sensitive, smart performances by Wright Penn, Arkin and others? I couldn’t swallow much of Pippa especially when Keanu Reeves showed up as Chris Nadeau, a kind of earth-angel of sex with a Jesus tattoo on his chest, offering both the promise of the open road/territory ahead, and redemptive masturbation in emotional crises.

This movie may overrate onanism as an antidote to grief. But it’s at least hip to the Tom Sawyerish symbolism of exiting houses by going out of open windows. Pippa and Keanu both do it, and Ryder at one point threatens to jump out of a hospital window unless she’s forgiven. (Pippa forgives her, then reneges — which kind of sums up the movie‘s attitude.) By my lights, all the characters behave badly, including Pippa. And, even worse, they rarely talk like people living in a real world, and not some therapeutic drama, full of Jesus tattoos and open windows.


Examples of Pippa Lee’s dubious dialogue (and one of these quotes is the all-important last line of the movie): “What do you pray for, when you pray?” “There‘s so many things you don‘t know about me.” “I love you anyway, you know. I‘ll always love you.” (This next is not a reply to the last line:) “How do you measure that? Do you have some kind of love-o-meter?” “All right, time to turn the corner….I‘m going to wait to become a grandmother.” “I‘m not driving off into the sunset. I‘m just seeing what happens next.” “I don’t know how the rest of my story will go. I don’t know who I’ll be in it. All I know is I feel like this is just the beginning.” (This last gem uttered while Pippa drives off into the sunset, or at least into some long shadows in the desert.)


I‘m not kidding when I say that Robin Wright Penn, who actually said most of those lines, is one terrific actress. Note to readers: Please don’t email me, telling me you say and hear things like that, all the time in your own life — because life is already too depressing.

Pauline Kael used to complain about the dialogue of Rebecca’s great playwright father Arthur Miller, which Kael thought was sometimes clunky and preachy — and I thought she was very unfair. No matter if the elder Miller came up with a clunker every once in a while. At least he was fighting for strong social issues, for family honesty and for political justice. What is this movie fighting for? The right to be yourself? The right to get off? The right to drive off into the sunset? Trust me, those rights are amply supported by almost all mainstream movies. Excuse me, please, while I look around for a window.

Extras: Commentary and interviews with Miller, Wright Penn and others.

Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (Three stars)
U. S.; Patricia Rozema, 2008

Where has Canada’s Patricia Rozema (maker of the whimsical 1987 I‘ve Heard the Mermaids Singing) been all these years? Well, among other things, she‘s done a film adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s great bleak masterpiece Happy Days, which is why it’s surprising to find her here, with a project more seemingly in sync with the Garry Marshall-Fonzie Happy Days”: a movie of the American Girl corporate symbol/character (played by Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine) in a production that suggests a ‘60s Disney studio version of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Of course, though a Disneyfied Mockingbird, would pale next to Mulligan’s and Pakula‘s 1962 classic, might actually swing, up against most of what we see.

In this case, Breslin and her adults, especially Stanley Tucci and Joan Cusack (as a magician and librarian who may be more than they seem), engage us mightily — even as Rozema and company are able to make Depression America occasionally look like a wonderland. This is a children’s edition, with an activity book. Adults may instead want the previous release, which was also in Blu-ray.

Lodz Ghetto (Three and a half stars)
U.S.: Alan Adelson/Kate Taverna, 1988 (Passion River).

Superb documentary about the horrors, struggles and tragedy of the Lodz Ghetto, where the Nazis murdered thousands. With Jerzy Kosinski. An unforgettable Holocaust document.

Alice in Wonderland (Three Stars)
U.S.; Norman McLeod, 1933 (Universal)

A really eccentric, wacky, and nicely designed little all-star show from Lewis Carroll‘s Alice classics and from ‘30s Paramount. Charlotte Henry, a 20-year-old playing a somewhat mournful-looking little girl, is Alice to a cast of Wonderlanders that includes Gary Cooper as the White Knight, “Skeets” Gallagher as the Rabbit, May Robson as the Queen of Hearts, W. C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty, Edna May Oliver as the Red Queen, Alison Skipworth as the Duchess, Sterling Holloway (typecast, as The Frog), Billy Barty as a baby and a pawn, Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles as the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, Ned Sparks as the Caterpillar, and Jack Oakie and Roscoe Karns as Tweedledum and Tweedledee (reciting a Max Fleischer cartoon version of The Walrus and the Carpenter.) Plus, no kidding, Cary Grant, on a crying jag, as the Mock Turtle.

I kept hoping for those other early ‘30s Paramount mainstays The Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont and Marlene Dietrich to show up somewhere, maybe as the Red Queen, the White Queen, and three zany courtiers — or perhaps with Groucho, Chico and Harpo as subs for the “Mad Hatter“ trio. But no such luck. Anyway, here’s some sample dialogue — it occurs right after the Marxes are informed that the movie’s Alice, actress Charlotte Henry, is actually 20 years old — culled from the long missing Marx “Alice” scene, which was discovered two years ago in a closet in a Norwegian asylum.

Groucho: “I‘ve heard of “Alice in Wonderlands” before, but this is absurd! And ridiculous!”

Chico: “You mean this is ri-donk-ulous.“

Groucho: “No. I mean: This is ridiculous.”

Chico: “No, boss. This is ri-donk-ulous.”

Groucho: “Ridiculous!”

Chico: “Ri-donk-ulous!”

Groucho: “Don’t tell me what’s ridiculous! This is ri-donk-ulous! I mean: this is ridiculous…Listen, forget the whole thing! And, by the way, didn’t I see you and your friend with the horn and the top hat, last night, sneaking out of a rabbit hole with a harp and a piano?” (Harpo honks.)

Chico: “No, boss, that’s-a no harp and piano. That’s a hop-a-piazza, like a cute little bunny!”

Groucho: “Oh yeah? Well, remind me not to renew your looking glass lease! You hear that, Macchiavelli: You’re not renewed!”

Chico: “ Renewed? That’s-a okay boss. My partner he‘s-a no look in the glass, at least — no how, no way, and no re-nude.” (Chico and Harpo laugh, bang and rub shoulders.)

Groucho: “Oh, yeah? Oh yeah? Well, I’ve got just one more thing to say, to you. And your partner! (Harpo honks again.) Stop fooling around with Alice. She’s been wondering enough as it is!”

Chico: “That’s all right, boss. That’s-a what I like!” (Harpo honks twice.)

Groucho: “I know I shouldn’t be asking this, but tell me: What exactly do you like?”

Chico: “Wandering around with Alice! (Harpo honks three times.) Or with Thelma Todd! (Harpo honks four times.) Renewed! (Harpo honks five times.) With Hot Toddy!” (Harpo honks three times — for “Hot Tod-dy” — and then puts his leg on top of Groucho’s arm and swings it.)

Chico (howling with laughter): “Renewed!”

Groucho (puffs cigar): “Ri-donk-ulous!”

We can dream, can’t we? McLeod is an underrated comedy director; he made Fields‘ great It’s a Gift, Grant’s Topper, Danny Kaye‘s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and two great Marx Brothers comedies, Monkey Business and Horse Feathers“ (both with the unhappy Thelma Todd). And the script is by no less than Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve) and the peerless designer William Cameron Menzies (Gone With the Wind), who also did the art direction. But the producers err by mashing both Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass together (obviously to get more stars in). The result is off-kilter, a jam-packed dream both languorous and frenetic, a walrus (goo-goo-ga-choob) that talks of too many things

On the other hand, how many chances do you get to see Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle?

No extras: Deleted scene above.
(Thanks to J. Fitzgerald, for “Ri-donk-ulous.”)

– Michael Wilmington
March 2, 2010

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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