MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Robin Hood, Charade, Playing for Time, Forbidden Planet, The Secret Behind Their Eyes … and more


Robin Hood (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Ridley Scott, 2010
“To live outside the law, you must be honest,“ Bob Dylan once sang (in “”Absolutely Sweet Marie,“ from “Blonde on Blonde“). And that’s the credo that permeates most of the many, many screen incarnations of Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, that most honest of outlaws, most dashing of rebels, and most enduring of British historical legends and heroes. From Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. to Errol Flynn to Richard Greene to both Sean and Jason Connery, Kevin Costner and now Russell Crowe, Robin, as he’s portrayed in literature, film and TV, has remained our favorite outlaw, our preferred sharer of the wealth.

Even so, Ridley Scott’s and Brian Helgeland’s new take on Great Britain‘s most popular heroic legend — the centuries-old tale of the deadly archer/rebel and his merry men, defying authority, robbing the rich and rewarding the poor — is unusual.

It’s a film of stunning, gorgeous imagery and bloody, deadly action, a vast panorama of lush landscapes erupting into hellish violence and sudden death, with arrows raining down from the trees and the cliffs and scything through flesh, of swords hacking off limbs, and warriors dying in mud, while aristocrats frolic and commoners suffer. It has a stern, emotionally scarred, death-dealing Robin (Crowe), some lusty Merry Men, an angry Maid Marian (here “Marion”), and some villains you can cheerfully hate.

It’s as much a visionary triumph of the magic of movies, as some of Scott‘s best previous pictures: whether set in the nightmarish future (Alien or Blade Runner), the stormy present or near-present (Thelma and Louise or Black Hawk Down), or the distant, perilous past (Gladiator). Indeed, with its snippets of Richard the Lionheart at war, shown at the beginning of the show, Robin Hood links right up to Scott’s underrated masterpiece, (the uncut) Kingdom of Heaven. It becomes in some ways the flipside of that medieval legend of bloody history and conflict.

But Scott’s movie is more difficult, more complex, than any standard swashbuckler or tale of the Hood. Russell Crowe, the movie’s Robin, and Ridley’s most frequent star/collaborator, is a surlier, less buoyant, less charming and limber movie Robin Hood than either Flynn or Fairbanks – to name two of the sexiest archers of movie yore. And Cate Blanchett may be the toughest, dourest and least maidenly Maid Marian (here “Marion”) ever.

But the actors can afford to take risks, since Scott and his company and his high tech experts are taking them too.

The 12th century world and the people that Scott has set down around his anachronistic hero and heroine becomes a vast paradise and battleground of verdant greensward, dense forest, boisterous villages full of rustic peasants and unkempt revelers, ocean-side cliffs dropping sheerly down to wave-whipped beaches suddenly seething with warriors, and castles towering in stony grandeur or ruin against the sky, all shown in compositions that remind you irresistibly of not just of the younger Breughel (who might have painted those rowdy villages), but of other masterpieces of 15th century Dutch landscape and realist painting somehow set to life. It also becomes so vivid a celebration of our dreams of the classical England and of English history, that the background of “Robin Hood” is a dominating presence all by itself.

This new kingdom of heaven and hell that Scott has wrought — working with a superb company that includes production designer Arthur Max, cinematographer John Mathieson, costume designer Janty Yates, composer Marc Streitenfeld and lots of others — lends extra color, bite and reality to the film’s roiling gallery of heroes and ladies, simple folk and royalty, villains and killers (the bad bunch is led by Mark Strong as turncoat Godfrey and Oscar Isaac as King John).

Robin Hood has its flaws — of drama, of emphasis or of too much violence. And lots of critics have been quick to point them out. But this is a truly beautiful movie. And its mix of visual grandeur, jolting violence, and heroic balladry — the way Robin Hood brings both the historic past and the popular legendry to life — comprise the show’s best defense against charges of pretension or confusion, or of travesties of history and of well-loved movie legends.

Crowe is one of the smartest of today’s action-worthy leading men, and he plays Robin with a wary gaze, a steady bow-hand and quick reflexes, as if he actually were a soldier facing long odds in a dangerous world. Crowe is one of the few star hunk movie actors who’s also quite willing to play roles that make him look overweight, physically maladroit, intellectually fallible, emotionally vulnerable, fat and sloppy –as long as they’re great roles as in The Insider and A Beautiful Mind — and I think that actually helps him in movies like this, when he’s playing a kind of historical super-hero like Robin. You can either be a Sean Connery, a Michael Caine or a Clint Eastwood, and play action heroes by not taking the heroics quite too seriously, or you can play it straight like Matt Damon and Daniel Craig, or you can be like Crowe, and make the heroism look hard and dearly-bought.

He has an unusually fine cast behind him, and Helgeland (who wrote L. A. Confidential, of course, but also, on the minus side, committed Payback) has given them all parts and lines they don’t have to mangle or embroider or be ashamed to say.

There are a lot of gazillion dollar movies that don’t give us anything but intellectual heartburn. And there comes a time when we movie critics, especially, have to stop acting as financial advisors, and audience analysts, two jobs in which we should feel uncomfortable in any case (especially these days), and give the Ridley Scotts of the industry, however reckless they may seem and however many hundreds of millions they spend, their due — just as we and our forebears should have cut slack to such notorious budget-busters, over-reachers and over-perfectionists in their day as D. W. Griffith, Erich Von Stroheim and Francis Coppola. What better way to rob from the rich and give to the poor, than to make a really good expensive spectacular left-wing movie like this? Especially if it may even return its investment?

After all, as Dylan says, to live outside the law, you must be honest. (I know you always say that you agree. So, where are you tonight, Sweet Marie?) (See more Robin Hoods below.)

Extras: Digital director’s cut; Documentary; Featurettes; Deleted scenes.


Charade (Four Stars)

U.S.: Stanley Donen, 1963 (Criterion)

There have been many, many pastiches and knockoffs of the suspense thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, but few as good, or as vibrantly entertaining, or as packed with their own special personality, as director Stanley Donen’s and screenwriter Peter Stone’s 1963 Charade. Donen gives the movie his own impeccable high style touch, while pulling off one sparkling or tense set-piece after another. He also uses one of Hitch‘s favorite leading men, Cary Grant, and a leading lady whom Hitch wanted but couldn’t hang onto (Audrey Hepburn, who bowed out of Hitchcock’s No Bail for the Judge project just before she made Charade, when the director insisted on keeping some gamy sex scenes.)

Donen’s main models, quite obviously, are those three Grant-Hitch classics Notorious, To Catch a Thief andNorth by Northwest. I wouldn’t call Charade the equal of any of them (well maybe, of Thief). But a lot of smart people would, and some actually prefer it, including Pauline Kael, who called Charade both “a charming confectionery trifle“ and “the best American movie of 1963.”

The story takes place in France and mostly in Paris, where Hepburn is a piquant, Givenchy-clad and sometimes very forward widow, whose murdered husband’s corpse and other items connected to it are still being chased down by a stellar band of crooks that includes James Coburn, George Kennedy and Ned Glass. Aiding Audrey (or are they?) are two seemingly stalwart but maybe secretly equivocal characters played by Grant (the mysterious lover) and Walter Matthau (the knowing government man). The movie, sumptuously shot by Charles Lang, and given the full Henry Mancini score and title song treatment (with Johnny Mercer lyrics), is full of witty byplay, swanky eroticism, lovely sights, top-notch acting, and finely-crafted (if mostly tongue-in-cheek) thrill scenes. Grant was never more popular than when he appeared here, still knocking them dead at nearly 60. Audrey, meanwhile, was never more beautiful. They click, definitively. We’ll bet even Hitch was amused.

Extras: Commentary by Donen and Stone; Featurette; Booklet with Bruce Eder essay.


Playing for Time (Four Stars)

U.S.; Daniel Mann, 1980 (Olive)

Playwright Arthur Miller‘s powerful Holocaust drama, based on the memoirs of Jewish cabaret singer/musician Fania Fenelon, is one of his best works, a moving and inspiring look into the belly of the Nazi beast, Auschwitz. As memorably played by Vanessa Redgrave, Fenelon — who sang, played and made arrangements for the Auschwitz camp inmate classical orchestra — becomes a symbol of the artist’s plight under fascism, one of Miller’s great themes.

Head shaven, eyes anguished, pouring out music for Dr. Mengele and other aficionados and beasts, Redgrave keeps touching greatness in her portrayal — which is both classically restrained and emotionally naked. Equally strong is Jane Alexander as the orchestra’s demanding conductor, a relative of Gustav Mahler. The rest of a brilliant cast includes Shirley Knight, Viveca Lindfors, Christine Baranski, Verna Bloom, and Marisa Berenson.

They all rise to the occasion. This made-for-TV movie classic received a brace of Emmies, including one for best drama, and citations for Miller, Redgrave and Alexander. But it’s been relatively neglected since, perhaps because it was directed by non-auteur Daniel Mann.

That seems unfair. It’s really Mann’s finest work too, and his services as a Method-oriented director of actors, and a man who respected good material, could be very valuable. (Anna Magnani and Shirley Booth won best actress Oscars under Mann for his films of Tennessee WilliamsThe Rose Tattoo and William Inge‘s Come Back, Little Sheba, as did Liz Taylor for the lesser-written Butterfield 8.) So what if he didn’t have much of a visual style? So what if he directed Who’s Got the Action? and Our Man Flint?

Mann didn’t betray this material, which, for theme and dramatic execution, is predominantly Miller’s anyway. As in Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, that quintessential socially-concerned writer soars to the heights here. Playing for Time has an Ibsenesque fierce conscience, lucidity and theatrical strength.

Like his great colleague Williams, Miller was disgracefully neglected, in the latter parts of both their careers, by the American Broadway theater whom they had both graced and ennobled. Let’s name the reason for that neglect for what it really was: yet another form of bigotry called ageism. But Playing for Time proves that Miller, supposedly past his prime, retained his courage and eloquence, while Auschwitz retains all its terror as a symbol of the far limits of inhumanity.


Forbidden Planet (Blu-ray) (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Fred McLeod Wilcox, 1956 (Warner)

The best-reviewed and still one of the best-loved science fiction movie of the ‘50s — a decade when most sci-fi cinema, Day the Earth Stood Still and this movieaside, was somewhat campy and junky, a mélange of giant bugs and outer space shootouts — was this classy, lusciously mounted extraterrestrial adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with Walter Pidgeon as Morbius, the deep space Prospero on planet Altair-4 (custodian of the vanished race The Krell’s treasure trove of scientific advances), Anne Francis as his sexy, mini-skirted Miranda of a daughter Altaira, Leslie Nielsen as the (non-comic) starship commander J. J. (who gets the hots for Altaira), and Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman, Jack Kelly and James Drury among the crew. Also omni-present, brewing coffee, chauffeuring the crew, saving lives, and bootlegging booze, is the most popular and charismatic robot of the era, R2D2 and C3PO’s granddaddy, Robby the Robot (voiced by Marvin Miller).

This movie, the recognizable antecedent of both Star Wars and Star Trek, was directed, with warmth and a sense of wonder, by the maker of Lassie Come Home and The Secret Garden, Fred McLeod Wilcox. It’s intelligently written (by Cyril Hume, who co-wrote Bigger Than Life that same year), and beautifully designed and shot in color and Cinemascope, with an animated monster courtesy of the Walt Disney studio. The music, sounding vaguely Stockhausenish, is an experimental electronic score by Bebe and Louis Barron. The highlight: almost any scene with Robby, and Morbius’ fantastic science lesson about the secrets of Altair‘s forbidden planet.

Extras: Documentary Watch the Skies!: Science Fiction, the ‘50s and Us” (Two and a Half Stars); Featurettes; Deleted scenes; Excerpts from The MGM Parade; Trailers; and two later appearances by Robby the Robot. Robby appearsin the 1957 feature, “The Invisible Boy” (Two Stars) a mad-computer tale also scripted by Hume and directed by Herman Hoffman, and an episode of TV’s The Thin Man,” with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as Nick and Nora, directed by Oscar Rudolph (Alan’s dad).


The Secret Behind Their Eyes (Also Blu-ray) (Three and a Half Stars)

Argentina; Juan Jose Campanella, 2009 (Sony Classics)

Another of those stylish foreign language mystery films that have been delighting sophisticated American art house audiences for the last several years. This one, directed by Juan Jose Campanella is about a political crime and murder from the age of “disappearances” still being investigated (on his own) by Benjamin (Ricardo Darin), a relentless, now-retired prosecutor, who’s also still in love with his old boss Irene (Soledad Villamil), still bedeviled by the same damned fascists, and still looking for vengeance for his brilliant, drunken, murdered friend (Guillermo Francella).

This engrossing movie won the 2010 American Oscar for best foreign language film (against the formidable opposition of The White Ribbon, A Prophet, and several others) — and also picked up 13 Argentine Oscars (including everything important) and nine Argentine Clarins. Darin, meanwhile, holds the screen, like few international stars. (Though not as handsome as either, he reminds you of Marcello Mastroianni crossed with Michael Caine.) And Campanella (Son of the Bride) has both a sure humanizing touch with actors, and lots of style. No masterpiece maybe, but a very good film and a first-rate entertainment. (In Spanish, with English subtitles.)


TCM Greatest Gangster Films Collection: Prohibition Era (Two Discs) (Four Stars)

U.S.; Various Directors, 1930-1939 (TCM/Warner Bros.)

They rise. They fall. Three quintessential variations on the classic Warners gangster rise and fall tale, plus a lighter-hearted gangster comedy, all packed with blood, guts, booze and gunfire, all starring Jimmy Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, or both. (Bogie sneaks into one of them as well.) You’re better off with the earlier Warners gangster sets, which are more complete, but this set’s a real treat for the budget-minded.

Included: Little Caesar (U.S.: Mervyn LeRoy, 1930) Three and a Half Stars. From W. R. Burnett’s great, terse, hard-boiled novel about a Capone-like gangster’s rise and fall. with Edward G. Robinson superb as the bestial Rico, supported (maybe) by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Sidney Blackmer and Glenda Farrell. Try not to feel a chill when Robinson moans “Mother of Mercy (or God), is this the end of Rico?”

The Public Enemy (U.S.: William Wellman, 1931). Four Stars. Cold as ice, hot as whiskey, hard as stone: another matchless hoodlum rise and fall epic with another star-making performance: Cagney’s as the feral thug Tom Powers. Donald Cook plays Tom’s Brother. (Cook was the original star, and Cagney had the “brother” role, but they switched parts.) With hot blonde babes Jean Harlow and Joan Blondell and the movies’ most famous grapefruit victim Mae Clarke. What an ending this one has!

Smart Money (Alfred E. Green, 1931) (Two and a Half Stars) Robinson is a naturally lucky, brash barber/gambler who gets fleeced by the city slickers and smashes the card-sharps back in a milder, funnier version of the Little Caesar rise and fall story. Cagney, in an amazingly physical and balletic turn, is his tough sidekick/brother. (It’s their only pairing.)

The Roaring Twenties (Raoul Walsh, 1939). (Four Stars) Cagney and Bogart are WW1 army buddies who thrive and dive during Prohibition and its aftermath, which sees their boozy rise and violent fall. The rest of the salty Warners cast includes Jeffrey Lynn (as the straight arrow in the foxhole), Priscilla Lane (of the Lane Sisters), Gladys George and Cagney’s off-screen pal, Frank McHugh. This is Walsh at his best: tough fast, racy, deluxe storytelling. It’s top-chop Walsh-Warners too, with that great terrifying dance of death ending.

Extras: Commentaries; documentaries; vintage short subjects, newsreels and cartoons; trailers.

TCM Greatest Gangster Films Collection (James Cagney) (Two Discs) (Four Stars)

U.S.; Various Directors, 1935-49 (Warner Bros.)

Second of the two TCM Greatest Classics Warners Gangster Collections that came out last week — two sets of four genuine Warners gangster movie classics apiece, with archetypal performances by James Cagney, supported by the matchless Golden Age Warners repertory company. As Cagney says, in the blow-away climax of the 1949 masterpiece White Heat, “Top of the world, Ma!”
All movies are U.S. releases.

Included: G-Men (William Keighley, 1935) (Three Stars) Cagney, accused of playing too many sexy gangsters, plays a sexy G-man in this deliberate image switch. It works. The public bought it. But “Public Enemy” is still much better. With Margaret Lindsay, Ann Dvorak (Cesca in Scarface) and Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham in King Kong).

Each Dawn I Die (Keighley, 1939) (Three and a Half Stars) Hard-as-nails prison drama about the tight-as-a-fist relationship between framed Cagney and prison kingpin Raft. All the archetypes are here, but it’s a slugger: Warners factory work at peak efficiency and impact. This movie was also a big favorite of USSR dictator Joseph Stalin, which, considering the lousy way his minions treated Russian cinema geniuses Eisenstein and Dovzhenko, should show you where his head was at. (A question: Did Stalin identify with Cagney or Raft?)

City for Conquest (U.S.; Anatole Litvak, 1940) (Three and a Half Stars.) High-style left-wing near-noir, and a quintessential Warners ‘40s tough guy classic. (Try not to choke up at the end. I dare you.) Based on a John Dos Passos-James T. Farrell style urban novel by Aben Kandel, written smartly by later black list victim John Wexley (Angels With Dirty Faces), directed with lots of verve, style and a blistering pace by the underrated Litvak, it has a super Warners cast, all at the top of their game.

Cagney, who’s wonderful, is Danny, the sweet self-sacrificing welterweight boxing contender who goes blind in the ring, Sheridan is his girl Peg the dancer, Arthur Kennedy is Danny’s much loved Gershwin-style composer-brother Eddie (his concerto is by Max Steiner), Donald Crisp is the fatherly fight nabob, Anthony Quinn is the mean wolf of a ballroom dancer who disses Danny and steals Ann, Ward Bond (who else?) is a tough cop, Frank Craven has an odd “spirit of New York City” narrator role (which parallels Craven’s famous “Stage Manager” part in Thornton Wilder’s Our TownOn the Waterfront. He even has a great signature line: “Oooh, I never figured on that at all!”

White Heat (U.S.; Raoul Walsh, 1949). Four Stars. One of the peaks of both film noir and the gangster movie, with rat cop Edmond O’Brien, slut Virginia Mayo, heel Steve Cochran, monster ma Margaret Wycherley and, above them and above us all, an overpowering, ruthless, magnificently crazy lead performance by Cagney as gangster and Oedipal killer/psychopath Cody Jarrett, a piece of classic Cagney movie acting that has to be seen to be believed. “Top of the world, Ma!” (BAAAAAAMMMM.)

Extras: Commentaries by Richard Schickel (City for Conquest) , Drew Casper (White Heat) and others; documentaries; vintage short subjects, newsreels and cartoons (including early Chuck Jones); radio plays; trailers.


Mars Attacks! (Two and Half Stars)

U. S.; Tim Burton, 1996 (Warner)

Tim Burton plays at being Ed Wood, Jr. on a grander scale in this deliberately cheesy ’50s style sci-fi invasion movie, but he’s got too big a budget to make it work right. It’s the only movie I can think of, though, based on chewing gum cards. (But can “Dubble Bubble Adventures” with Jennifer Love Hewitt be far behind?) The all-star cast includes Jack Nicholson as the president, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Annette Bening, Sarah Jessica Parker and Martin Short. By the way, there’s a great Astounding Science Fiction “little green men from Mars” story by Fredric Brown, called “Martians Go Home,” that Burton should have used instead.

James and the Giant Peach (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Henry Selick, 1996 (Walt Disney)

British writer Roald Dahl started out was a specialist in the adult and macabre, crafting witty little literary gems of crime, sex and suspense for class markets. (Playboy often ran them, and Alfred Hitchcock often adapted them for his TV show.) Then he switched to children’s stories, jettisoning the sex, adding more whimsy and fantasy to the suspense, and coming up with modern classics like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (filmed twice, first by Gene “Willy Wonka” Wilder and later by Tim Burton), and this juicy little tale of voyage and adventure, filmed by Burton (the producer) and Henry Selick: the team behind The Nightmare Before Christmas.

It’s an odd, sophisticated, beguilingly weird and somewhat creepy tale of an orphan boy named James (Paul Terry)* who escapes from his two awful aunts, Sponge and Spiker (Miriam Margolyes and Joanna Lumley), when a giant peach shows up, and grows up, on their coastal hillside home, filled with genial giant talking bugs, and then sails off toward New York City, land of James’s dreams.

The film, done in Selick‘s sprightly stop-motion animation style, begins somewhat murkily and nightmarishly, then really takes off when the boy and the bugs sail away. The look is bewitching and the cast is swell: including Susan Sarandon (see below, with Tim Robbins) as the seductive Spider, Simon Callow as the posh-voiced Grasshopper, Richard Dreyfuss as the streetwise Centipede, Jane Leeves as the matronly Ladybug, and David Thewlis as the Naked earthworm. Dahl’s stories are for children of course. But, like Edward Gorey‘s, they probably have their strongest admirers among adults. Here‘s an example.

* No relation to the cartoonist of Terrytoons.

Louie Blouie (Three Stars)

U.S.; Terry Zwigoff, 1985 (Criterion)

A wonderful documentary/music/concert film about a charismatic but neglected (sadly still) traditional jazz virtuoso and all-around artist, Howard “Louie Bluie“ Armstrong, whom director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb) heard on an old 78, tracked down, and filmed — with Louie Blouise and his friends and fellow musicians, playing and reminiscing. Armstrong is a superb, salty raconteur and he holds the camera, and plays, with the ease of a master.

This was Zwigoff‘s feature debut, and, though critically lauded at festivals, it didn’t get much of a release, probably partly because it’s only an hour long. Since this swell, super-fine Criterion DVD release includes half an hour of excellent unused musical footage by Louie Bluie and friends, I’d like to see Zwigoff cut that half hour in, get the standard 90 minutes, and give the movie a long-delayed, long-deserved theatrical run. Play that mouth harp, Louie Blouie! But maybe I’m just dreaming. It’s good to have all this great stuff available anyway.

Extras: Commentary by Zwigoff; Unused footage; Illustrations by Armstrong; Stills gallery.

Rogues of Sherwood Forest (Two Stars)

U.S.: Gordon Douglas, 1950 (Columbia/Sony Classics)

Robin Hood’s son (John Derek) returns from the Crusades, discovers tyrannical chicanery afoot among King John (George MacReady) and other royal or aristocratic miscreants, woos another maid, Marianne this time (b, reassembles his dad‘s Merrie Men, and starts robbing from the rich and giving to the poor all over again. Not very good, but sort of fun; director Gordon Douglas, who went from “Our Gang” comedy shorts to being a kind of house director for the Chairman of the Board (Frank Sinatra) — with stops at Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and Them! in between — is an unpretentious stylist who can keep a story moving. It’s dubious though whether this one should be kept in motion — especially since some of the action scenes were simply, obviously filched out of The Bandits of Sherwood Forest below.

One historical note: Alan Hale, who played Little John to both Errol Flynn‘s Robin (in 1938) and Doug Fairbanks’s (1922) does John again for Derek. It was the likeably blustering Warner Brothers standby Hale’s last movie role. .

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (Two Stars)

U.S.; George Sherman & Henry Levin, 1946 (Columbia/Sony Classics)

Another son of Robin Hood (this time, Cornel Wilde), helps his dashing bow-wielding dad and the once again reassembled Merrie Men (including Edgar Buchanan as Friar Tuck), as they all romp through the woods, drop from the trees, send down hails of arrows, avenge ambushed barons, storm the castle and battle such royal/aristo Magna Carta-hating, tax-crazy scamps as (again) frosty George MacReady and the even frostier Henry Daniell. There’s another, blonder Maid, but no Marian. (It’s Anita Louise as Lady Catherine.) And the Queen is played by Jill Esmond, whom Vivien Leigh stole from Esmond‘s husband Laurence Olivier. (Sir Larry is nowhere to be seen, which is exactly what Jill was always complaining about.)

Bandit is practically the same movie as Rogues. Sometimes (see above) it even has the same scenes. Incidentally, one wonders why Robin Hood (here played by Russell Hicks) had so many sons, surrounded as he was (and as his sons were) by so many Merrie Men and so few Maids, Marian or otherwise. But in any case, we think Cornel Wilde is a better son of the Hood than John Derek, though he didn’t have as pretty and springy a Bo. (Sorry.) Wilde also lacked Derek’s great Errol-Flynnish signature line from Knock on Any Door: “Live fast, die young and have a good-looking corpse.” George MacReady, eat your tyrant heart out.

Triage (Two and a Half Stars)

France/Italy/Spain/U.K.; Danis Tanovic, 2009 (EI Entertainment)

From writer-director Danis Tanovic: a strong, if over-obvious, anti-war drama, set in Kurdistan, with Colin Farrell as a war photographer who’s seen and been damaged by darkness and death. Also in the cast: Paz Vega and Christopher Lee (in his best recent role, as a man with a past). Tanovic remains commendably ambitious, if not yet completely comfortable as an English language scenarist. But the movie is well-shot (by Seamus Deasy) and worth seeing.

Extras: Interviews with Tanovic, Farrell, Vega and Lee; Featurette; Behind-the-scenes footage.

(Untitled) (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Jonathan Parker, 2009

One clever recent movie comedy about the contemporary art world — not that there are that many of them — is (Untitled), an (untitled) work by the writer-director/writer producer team (Jonathan Parker and Catherine DiNapoli) who were behind the 2002 Crispin Glover film of Melville’s Bartleby. I say that despite the fact that Parker seemingly takes somewhat seriously much of the Chelsea gallery art phenomena at which he here pokes some lightly delicious fun — a scene that I mostly find often genuinely ridiculous and phony-baloney elitist.

Abstract expressionism? Action painting? Concept art? Fooey! I tend to agree with Picasso: Art needs a subject, though the artist can then do whatever he/she wants with it. I also agree with Mel Brooks’ gabby old art movie patron watching the film short about abstract painting in The Critic: “I think it’s symbolic of….junk.” Ah, give me the Dutch masters (see above) — and I‘m not talking cigars. If a modern equivalent of Rembrandt, Vermeer, Bosch, or Breughel applied that kind of brilliant super-real or super-fantastic style to modern or timeless subjects today, it would still be great art. Unlike most of what hangs or hung in Chelsea. And it would probably get a bad or mixed review from some current art critics. (Realism? How passe!)

(Untitled) is about an “artiste” named Adrian Jacobs (Adam Goldberg), an angry young composer of John Cage-ean concept music, who gets involved with the impeccably sexy, blonde, and deliriously pretentious Chelsea art gallery boss, Madeleine Gray (Marley Shelton, in one of the year’s better comic performances). Madeleine handles Adrian’s brother Josh (Eion Bailey) and his highly popular abstract corporate art (but won’t hang it in her gallery).

And she becomes interested in Adrian as well, despite the fact that his dissonant, crash-the piano, smash-a-glass compositions irritate hell out of even the paltry audiences that come to them, and also seem to baffle his collaborators, like the blonde musician named The Clarinet (Judy Punch). All Adrian’s music, by the way, was composed by David Lang, a composer friend of Parker‘s, and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

The jokes in this movie are a bit like Woody Allen’s art gallery seduction humor, except they go on for the whole movie. There’s the concept artist who takes household items and titles and hangs them. There’s Vinnie Jones’ machismo-besotted taxidermy artist Ray Barko, a Brit sadist who uses stuffed animals and bedecks them with stuff. Parker is able to make fun of these types so successfully, because he’s not unsympathetic to this gallery world — much more sympathetic than I would be.

For my money, Goldberg’s Adrian is too surly. But Shelton’s Madeleine is as perfect as a Vermeer mirror. (Untitled) is also stunningly photographed by Svetlana Cvenko, a cinematographer who should be on call whenever anyone wants to shoot a Chelsea gallery. Or even the Guggenheim.

Camp Rock (One star)

U.S.; Matthew Diamond, 2008 (Walt Disney)

Wasn‘t there a time when rock n’ roll was the music of rebellion, nonconformity and the underclass? This awful, sugary hit Disney Channel TV Movie is about a summer camp for young middle class (and above) rockers, with teen rock hopeful Mitchie (Demi Lovato) getting snubbed by upper class rockers, falling in love with nice teen rockers, helping her caterer mother feed the whole rockin’ camp, and finally rocking out with her incredible composition “We Rock,” in a rock star contest finale to end them all. (We can only hope).

Costarring young star rockers the Jonas Brothers. All we can say is: Rock on, camp rockers! Rock on, Jonas Brothers! Rock it up! Camp it up! ‘Cause there’s nothing like a camp that rocks! (Really.)

Outsourced (Two and a Half stars)

U.S.; John Jeffcoat, 2006 (Ocean Park Home Entertainment)

A sweet, intelligent, well-shot and sometimes very funny romantic comedy from director/co-writer Jeffcoat about an American white collar guy (Josh Hamilton) who gets his job outsourced and has to travel to India to train his replacements. While there, he falls in love with India — and one of the replacements. Good, but the ending is unsatisfying. A subject like this needs more bite. With Ayesha Dharker and Larry Pine.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 1/2 (Two Stars)

U.S.; Ken Kwapis, 2005 (Two Stars)/U.S.; Sanaa Hamri, 2008 (Two and a Half Stars)(Warner)

Two female-bonding movies for the price of one: Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (the saccharine 2005 hit movie based on Ann Brashares’ teen novel) and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 (its sequel).

Half of Sisterhood 2 works fine but that the other half stumbles and gets schmaltzy too. Both movies focus on the four separate (and sometimes intertwined) stories of four young women: school-age buddies who share the magical reassurance of a pair of decorated jeans that passes from hand to hand and mysteriously fits all of them. This quartet includes angry young filmmaker Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), dedicated theater lover Carmen (America Ferrera), family-troubled archeology student Bridget (Blake Lively) and broken-hearted artist Lena (Alexis Bledel). All of them are well-cast and all but Bridget have man problems, ranging from possible pregnancy to broken vows.

Don’t worry. Everything works out peachy-keen — for the sisterhood, if not necessarily their pants. The two sequences that work best in 2 are the ones with Tibby (an affecting look at a relationship crisis) and with Carmen (a neat little post-All About Eve tale of backstage jealousy and triumph anchored by another pungent, right-on performance by Ferrera.)

Less successful are the stories with Bridget and Lena — though Bridget’s has the advantage of an appearance by the luminously stage-stealing Blythe Danner (who can still spark up any movie) and Lena‘s ends with Greek scenery that blazes on the screen.

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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