MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

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 …


How to Train Your Dragon” (Also Two Disc Blu-Ray DVD Combo) (Three Stars)

U.S.; Dean De Blois/Chris Sanders, 2010 (Dreamworks)

The visual flash and dash that the new Dreamworks animated saga How to Train Your Dragon pours into its panoramic 3D scenes of ferocious Medieval battle and Viking sea quests — and especially this movie’s Avatar-like flying sequences, with dorky hero Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel) grabbing the reins and soaring cloudward astride a friendly dragon named Toothless — is so truly, technically amazing, so full of such giddy, sky-drunk rapture, that you can forgive this movie almost anything. Almost.

There are some things though that you kind of have to forgive in this generally impressive adaptation of Cressida Cowell‘s young people’s book series — despite its exciting tale of a Viking land, besieged by hordes of dragons and by a mysterious queen bee-like monster-in-the-mountain, of the Viking society threatened by them, and of a boy, Hiccup, the more soulful, less warlike son of Viking lord Stoick the Vast (Gerard Butler), forced unwillingly into soldiering. Hiccup is the lad who discovers the truth behind it all.

To name one flaw, I thought the beginning, which takes us to Hiccup’s homeland, the dragon-besieged isle of Berk, and immediately subjects us to a horrific dragon assault, shown in a series of hectic, action-packed mobile “tracking shots,” was too instantly and incessantly hyper-active and ultra-violent, especially for a film with a basically pacifist theme — a movie that wants us to root for the non-violent non-warrior who tries to bring peace to a land of constant carnage and danger.

The opening, for me at least, would have been better with something quieter before the storm — however virtuosic that dragon-storm, however riveting that warfare. The movie could have used a lot more initial contrast between the dreamy predispositions of Hiccup, and those bloody dragon assaults that come blasting at us right from the start. Not that Hic should have been more of a fool. But Baruchel’s voice is a little too monotonously dorky and nerdy, even annoyingly so, for the first twenty minutes or so.

And I thought that this movie, or maybe its source material in Cowell’s books, could have used a counter-paternal character: a Merlin-Yoda sort of peaceful mentor to teach or suggest to Hiccup the other side of life (maybe also a gentler, more nurturing female character) — instead of implying that the kid has no real elders and picks it all up by himself, on pure instinct. This lack of emotional modulation and contrast extends to the rest of the kid characters who join Hiccup at the dragon-killing school, an academy run by gruff Gobber: Jonah Hill as Snotlout, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fishlegs, T. J. Miller and Kristen Wiig as Tuffnut and Ruffnut, and even America Ferrera, wonderful as the toughie-gal, dragon-slaying Astrid. Couldn’t there have been more would-be peaceniks among them right from the start? (Admittedly that predisposition also could have come straight from the book, which I haven’t read.)

Finally, speaking as a descendant of proud Swedes, I have to register a big objection to the thick Scottish accents which the filmmakers have endowed on alleged Vikings Stoick the Vast and Gobber the dragon master (Craig Ferguson), both of whom seem to be trying to out-burr Sean Connery. For verisimilitude, they should be close to Max Von Sydow‘s knight or Gunnar Bjornstrand’s squire in that other medieval movie saga The Seventh Seal. (Instead, they’re closer to Mike Myers as Fat Bastard in The Spy Who Shagged Me.)

Vikings were Scandinavians, dammit, and we deserve as much credit for them as we do for Ingmar Bergman, Bjorn Bjorg, Greta Garbo, or ABBA. The Scots have Connery, Bill Forsyth, Braveheart, kilts, bagpipes and a lot of stingy Scot jokes. And, incidentally, Craig Ferguson. Isn’t that enough?

Dragon shows its gentler side however, in a marvelous sequence that finally ratchets down the opening violence: the scene where Hiccup stumbles on Toothless, a purplish Night Fury dragon (Cowell‘s world is full of dragon-breeds and the movie delineates them all in loving detail) and heals the wound that the strangely puppy-like creature received (from Hiccup) in the battle just previous.

Then, the movie becomes a variation on George Bernard Shaw‘s Androcles and the Lion, where that gentle Shavian Christian-among-the-Romans Androcles (played by Alan Young in the movie) won the lion‘s heart by pulling a thorn from his paw, or on Disney’s The Reluctant Dragon, or many another Why-can’t-we-all-get-along fable. And the magic kicks in for most of the rest of the movie. Hiccup charms Astrid, uses his dragon-soothing powers to seem to become a star warrior-student, disappoints his dad when Stoick discovers and misinterprets the dragon-bond, is ostracized, and then….Well, you’ll see. It isn’t original, but it is satisfying.

By the way, when will the movies make use of Jack Vance’s fantastic The Dragon Masters? The time seems ripe for it. The time and the technology were certainly ripe for director-writers Dean de Blois and Chris Sanders on this movie. Earlier, in 2002, they made Lilo and Stitch, a feature cartoon which has all the childlike joy and gentle lyricism that this movie somewhat lacks and could use. So maybe it’s a matter of the original material or creative choices.

I don’t think Dragon is dragged down much from its soaring heights, flaws or not. But I also don’t agree with some of Dragon’s admirers that it’s somehow much better than either Avatar or Alice in Wonderland — two gargantuan hit fantasy movies that shouldn’t be penalized simply because so many people like them. A lot of people like Dragon too. Comparisons aren’t necessary, not even to Androcles and the Lion. But How to Train Your Dragon could still use more sweetness. And, as far as I’m concerned, more Swedes. Skoal!

Extras: Featurettes; Deleted scenes; Interview with original author Crowell; Storyboards.



The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Also Blu-ray) (Four Stars)

U.S.; John Huston, 1948 (Warner Bros. Video)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, based on the 20th century classic novel by B. Traven, is a 20th century classic movie as well, and, along with The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle and The Man Who Would be King, the best argument against critics who low-rate writer-director (and here for the first time, actor) John Huston.

It’s a superb movie, an inarguable classic, one of the great westerns, one of the best-ever literary adaptations, and one of the great Humphrey Bogart pictures: a lacerating, mesmerizing, eye-opening, pin-you-to-seat portrayal of greed and its consequences, hard as nails and warm as flesh.

Bogart plays one of his all-time best roles: Fred C. Dobbs, a down and out American in 1925 Tampico, who hooks up with two other Yanks, the tough but decent Bob Curtin (played by Tim Holt) and the grizzled prospecting expert Howard (John’s father Walter Huston, in his all-time best role and Oscar-winner), to form a trio of treasure hunters in the Sierra Madre mountains (hilly, stony, sun-drenched peaks beautifully shot on location by Huston and cinematographer Ted McCord.) The three strike gold, but they also hit a vein of darkness: the paranoia, discord and violence that sudden riches often bring. Walter is wise and savvy, but he can’t warn his younger comrades.

Curtin is a good guy but he’s powerless to stop fate. “Dobbsy” is an okay guy too, but gold and greed turn him into a monster. There’s another, far more unabashed monster here too: Alfonso Bedoya as the bandit leader Gold Hat, who snarls at Dobbs those memorable lines “Badges? We ain’t got no badges! We don’t need no badges! I don‘t have to show you any stinking badges!” He’s a classic killer, and so is the movie.

Don Siegel once said that he wanted to make The Treasure of the Sierra Madre more than any property he ever read, but that he couldn’t possibly have made as good a film as Huston’s, because he would have let the producers talk him into shooting it in a studio, and Huston wouldn’t. That’s why John Huston is a great filmmaker. He read well, chose wisely and never betrayed his material. He knew where the gold was in Treasure of Sierra Madre. and he got it. He also knew how to lay back and get the best in his dad and in his pal Bogie and all the others. He got that too.

I saw Sierra Madre last year in a brand-new 35 mm print at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in the AMC Classic Film Festival, with Anjelica and Danny Huston representing their dad on stage — and I was stunned at how great it was, how ageless, how superb the actors all were (including Bruce Bennett as the smart interloper and Barton MacLane as the exploitive thug of a boss, and especially Bogie and Walter), at how the movie just jumped off the screen at you and hooked you good, and left you with eyes open and brain sharp and heart chilled and racing. It’s a cliché of sorts, but it’s true: They just don’t make movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre any more. Or guys like Bogie and John and Walter Huston. Or maybe they do, and we just don’t treasure them enough.

Extras: Commentary by Eric Lax; Documentaries on John Huston and the film; radio version of Treasure with the original stars; and a Warner Night at the Movies package, with Leonard Maltin intro, vintage newsreel, comedy short, classic Looney Tunes, and Warners trailers.



The Darjeeling Limited (Two discs) (Also Blu-ray) (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Wes Anderson, 2007 (Criterion)

Three rich-kid misfit brothers — played by Owen Wilson (swathed in bandages), Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman — make a pilgrimage to their spiritually sequestered mother (Anjelica Huston) on a charmingly old-fangled train, where the conductor serves high tea and becomes angry if snakes are smuggled aboard.

This is Anderson’s best film since Bottle Rocket and a complete recovery from the arch attempted humor of his tediously oddball The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. You have to be in the mood for it, but I was.

Extras: The short pre-Darjeeling Anderson-Schwartzman-Natalie Portman film Hotel Chevalier; Commentary by Anderson, Schwartzmann and co-writer Roman Coppola; Documentary; Conversation between Anderson and James Ivory; Deleted and alternate scenes; On-set footage by Coppola; Booklet with essay by Richard Brody.



The Films of Nikita Mikhalkov (Five Discs) (Four Stars)

Russia/U.S.S.R.; Nikita Mikhalkov, 1976-1994 (Kino)

Film comes easily to Nikita Mikhalkov: the master Russian moviemaker — maker of Dark Eyes, 12, Close to Eden and Burnt by the Sun, and the subject of this superb and sometimes surprising box set from Kino.

Mikhalkov is a phenomenon, a first-rank, much-praised, much-prized, and highly versatile artist of the screen, as craftsmanlike and affecting a screenwriter as he is strong and innovative a producer, as excellent a director of actors as he is brilliant and dynamic a visual stylist. He’s an inspiring filmmaker whose work is always entertaining and deeply engaging, and who constantly enhances and ignites the talents and best instincts of his coworkers — including his ingenious production designer and sometimes co-writer and actor, Alexander Adabashyan, his lyrical composer Eduard Artemyev and his virtuosic cinematographer Pavel Lebeshev.

To top it off, Mikhalkov is also one of the best movie actors in Russia. Mikhalkov’s older brother, the equally talented and much-awarded moviemaker Andrei Konchalovsky (director of Siberiade and The Odyssey, and Andrei Tarkovsky’s co-writer on Andrei Roublev and Ivan’s Childhood) has said that his sibling is “the Russian Jack Nicholson.”

And despite an understandable familial bias on Andrei‘s part, it’s not really an exaggeration. As an actor, Mikhalkov has all of Nicholson‘s (and Gene Hackman‘s ) earthy magnetism and charisma, if maybe not all of Jack‘s hair-trigger pugnacity. (Nikita and Andrei are the children of an amazing artistic couple; Andrei took the last name of their mother, a famous painter, and Nikita took the surname of their father, a renowned poet, and the lyricist who wrote the words to the old Soviet national anthem.)

Kino’s five-film set, packed with extras, gathers together two of Mikhalkov’s most internationally famous films, two brilliant, lush period pieces that display all his manifold gifts, the Oscar-winning 1994 “Burnt by the Sun” (in which Mikhalkov also, unforgettably, plays the lead role) and the great movie that made his name as a director, 1976‘s “A Slave of Love” (in which the co-scenarist was brother Andrei), together with a less well-known (in the West) and less-screened, but no less accomplished masterpiece of literary adaptation, 1980’s Oblomov, based on the classic 19th century novel by Ivan Goncharov.

Also in the package are two more neglected (in the West) works, 1979’s Five Evenings and 1983‘s Without Witness: both more contemporary, more economically shot, done with much more limited means, but very ingeniously planned and designed within those limits. These two movies, based on plays by two major Russian playwrights, Alexander Volodin and Sofia Prokofyeva, both still very popular in Russia but little-screened here (I‘d never encountered either before), are true actors’ showcases. Like the three films above, they brilliantly display the gifts of some of Russia’s best stage and film actors.

Mikhalkov’s recurrent theme is the plight of volatile or sensitive people trapped in constraining or changing, even chaotic social conditions — whether the rigid aristocracy of 19th century Russia (Oblomov), the world of make-believe and moviemaking in the throes of the Russian Revolution (A Slave of Love), the vise of Stalinism closing in on an erstwhile Revolutionary military hero (Burnt by the Sun) or the banal conformity, over-crowded communal apartments and paranoid repression of the Khruschev-era U.S.S.R. (Five Evenings).

Mikhalkov has directed relatively little since his world-wide critical hit Burnt by the Sun in 1994. Reportedly, he was angry that he got beaten for the Palme d’Or that year at Cannes by Quentin Tarantino and Pulp Fiction (Mikhalkov did win Cannes’ runner-up award, the Jury Prize, for Sun), as well as depressed by the current ongoing turmoil, breakup and social collapse in Russia.

But last year, Mikhalkov released 12, an adaptation and rephrasing of the 1957 American classic Twelve Angry Men, originally made by one of his favorite directors, Sidney Lumet, and he is now at work on Burnt by the Sun 2, one sequel I look forward to. This marvelous five-film set reminds us what a great film artist he is, how rich and beautiful and exciting his best movies are, what fascinating cinematic worlds he opens up on the screen, and, most of all, how much Nikita Mikhalkov loves people and the actors who play them. (All films are Russian film productions, in Russian and other languages, with English subtitles.)

Includes: A Slave of Love (U.S.S.R.: Nikita Mikhalkov, 1976) Four Stars. Set during the turbulence of the Revolution, kept temporarily at bay at a lush film shoot location, this is one of the best portrayals ever of the silent film era: energetic, romantic, poetic, funny, bursting with life and beauty. With Yelena Solovey as Olga, a silent film goddess inspired by the legendary real life, tragic movie actress Vera Kholodnaya. Also with Rodion Nakhapetov and Alexander Kalyagin, and co-written, in one of their rare collaborations, by the brothers Konchalovsky, plus Fridrikh Gorenshtein. This is my favorite Mikhalkov.

Five Evenings (Mikhalkov, 1979). Three and a Half Stars. Tamara and Alexander (Lyudmila Gurchenko and Stanislav Lyubshin), a couple long separated after their World War II affair, meet again 17 years later in the cold war Khruschev era, rekindling sparks and resentments, unearthing old secrets and lies. Based on Alexander Volodin’s play, designed and co-scripted by Alexander Adabashyan, who also plays the hero’s (or maybe anti-hero’s) reserved, reluctant, mustached friend. A gem, and also a real feat of filmmaking virtuosity. Mikhalkov, the actors and his Oblomov crew, shot it in 25 days, during a brief break in the shooting of that complex period production.

Oblomov (Mikhalkov, 1980). Four Stars. A wonderful adaptation of the great Ivan Goncharov novel, about an unambitious, somnolent mama’s boy of an aristocrat named Oblomov (Oleg Tabakov, in a near-perfect performance) who, after retiring from civil service at 30, likes to sleep all the time, tended by his shabby drunken valet. Oblomov, a recluse in a world whirling out of his control, inherits his family’s lands in the country, and falls in love, sleepily and ineptly, with a beauty in the nearby mansion (Yelena Solovey), a girl who is also attracted to Oblomov’s best friend. Beautiful, funny, heartbreaking; like Chekhov on a more epic scale, with more obvious comedy.

Without Witness (Mikhalkov, 1983). Three and a half Stars. A quiet woman and her sadistic ex-husband, still embroiled in a turbulent relationship, spend a night of fury, anguish and remembrance together in her apartment, which becomes a battleground. An explosive chamber drama, in the fiery style and inwardly melancholy mood of Edward Albee‘s Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The couple are played by Irina Kupchenko and Mikhail Ulyanov, and they’re both tremendous.

Burnt by the Sun (Mikhalkov, 1994). Four Stars. Colonel Sergei Kotov, a war hero of the Soviet Revolution (Mikhalkov, in his most famous role), goes to his lovely, halcyon country retreat for a brief summer vacation, joining his family and some surprise guests — including agents of Stalin’s secret police, who are no respecters of laws, heroes or humanity. Costarring Oleg Menchikov and Nadya Mikhalkov, Mikhalkov’s daughter, who here plays his screen daughter. Winner of the best foreign language film Oscar, and the 1994 Cannes Grand Jury Prize (see above), Burnt by the Sun is usually considered Mikhalkov’s masterpiece. It probably is.

Extras: Interviews with Mikhalkov, Adabashyan, Artemyev and Kupchenko; Documentary Vera on Vera Kholodnaya; filmographies; photo albums. Note: You can see Vera Kholodnaya silent movies — she died young, at 25, in 1919 — on the Milestone set devoted to early Russian silents, and on Milestone’s Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer.



The Hangover (Three Stars)

U. S.; Todd Phillips, 2009

Recipe for a “hangover“: Four male buddies — or actually, three buddies and a hanger-on who desperately wants to be one of the bunch — take off for Las Vegas and one last bachelor bash, driving a 1969 Mercedes borrowed from the bride‘s dad (Jeffrey Tambor). Reading right to left, they’re Phil, the studly but married English teacher (Brad Cooper), Stu the nerdy dentist (Ed Helms of The Office), Alan the slobby and somewhat whacked out brother-in-law-to-be (Zach Galifianakis), and Doug, the very tolerant, very likable groom (Justin Bertha).

Shake and mix well. Once in Vegas, our fun-loving quartet check into a deluxe hotel villa suite and begin their night of revelry with a toast up on the roof, with knockout libations that have been, unfortunately, secretly spiked with what one of them thinks is Ecstasy, but is actually the date-rape drug. (See The Human Centipede. No, check that, don’t see The Human Centipede!)

The next morning , three of them wake up in the suite, hung over and unable to remember a single thing that happened after they imbibed the drink and drug. Here’s what they see: the apartment wrecked, booze on the furniture, a baby in a bassinet, one of dentist Stu’s front teeth missing, the Mercedes gone, pizza on the sofa, a mattress speared on the pole outside, a live tiger in their bathroom. And, oh yeah, the groom mysteriously missing, with barely hours for the guys to find and deliver him to the wedding and his beaming bride. Pretty soon they’ll see Doug‘s mattress speared on a roof pole and they’ll run into the cops whose squad car they stole, the gay Chinese gangster whose blackjack loot they accidentally glommed, the friendly stripper/hooker named Jade (Heather Graham) whom Stu married last night at The Best Little Chapel, Black Doug, and Mike Tyson, who happens to own the tiger.

What happened? Where is Doug? What about the impending nuptials with Tracy (Sasha Barrese)? And who the hell is Black Doug? (Since he’s played by Mike Epps, we at least know he’ll get some laughs too.) Despite myself, I‘ve got to admit this is a terrific premise, at least for exactly the kind of raunchy, male-bonding comedy that usually plays to knuckleheads, but occasionally delivers the goods. (The last one I remember that worked this well was Wedding Crashers, with Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Rachel McAdams, and a dirty-minded cameo by Will Ferrell. (The memory of that last will help you forgive him for Land of the Lost.)

The Hangover is an example of a movie genre I often hate: the Daffy, Goofy Sex-Crazed Guys comedy (an 80s mainstay) — a picture in which we’re privy to the horny, boozy, pants-dropping antics of a gang of guys out for a smashed-but-keep-going, party-till-you-drop high time: a lewd-minded crew that often includes the stud, the nerd, the slob/weirdo and the nice guy/author surrogate (or variations thereof).

There have been hundreds of movies like this, and most of them stink. This one works.

Why? Director Todd Phillips, who has made at least one funny male-bonding comedy, Road Trip — as well as some others (Old School, Starsky and Hutch) that I’d rather forget — has a real flair for this wild and crazy guy bunch kind of situation. There’s a knowing edge to his handling of this very familiar stuff, the progressive revelations of their crazy misbehavior — and it humanizes the story. Writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who were guilty of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and Four Christmases (Take them back, guys) have dreamed up lots of funny bits, most of which work. But they’ve also given the whole thing a neat structure that makes the story far more interesting and engaging.

Instead of showing us the wild night as it happens, one blitzed catastrophe after another, they turn the whole show into a film-noir-in-reverse detective story, where the three guys left behind have to piece everything together, and suffer while they recall what irresponsible clowns they were.

This device makes the story more entertaining, funnier and also less offensive (than usual), since the guys are paying for their misdeeds after indulging in them, and since we don’t see the orgies that got them in Dutch until a rapid-fire lewd end-credits sequence of the photos that recorded their blacked-out blowout. The movie suggests that there is such a thing as a morning after, and that they are consequences to every orgy. Besides, it is always funnier to recall this kind of stuff afterwards, sober. Did I ever tell you about the night one of my friends walked out in the middle of W. Gilman street, stark naked and chugging a bottle of Aqua Velva, and two police cars pulled up around him? Or the time somebody‘s girlfriend started a water fight inside our apartment house that lasted for an hour and ended up waterlogging the kitchen? Then there was that drunken night time trip to the zoo…. (The joke is: You think I‘m kidding, but I’m not.)

Finally, the element that really makes The Hangover is the cast. The three leads are perfect clown adventurers. Bradley Cooper’s Phil recalls every ultra-glib ladies man and take charge guy you’ve ever met. Ed Helms, as the defanged dentist Stu, is a dream of an angst-ridden straight man and guilty hen-pecked nerd, with a classic worried shockeroo look that suggests Harold Lloyd crossed with Charles Grodin. Galifianakis (Dave the Bear in the lousy What Happens in Vegas) makes such a funny oddball out, like early fat-demonic Jim Belushi crossed with a delusional touch of Don Knotts, that he even manages to survive one too many peeks at his butt. And Bertha is a terrific likable guy — and a good sport too, since he has to miss most of the action.

The rest of the cast is good too, especially Rachael Harris as the girlfriend from hell, Graham as the hooker form heaven, Epps as B. D., and Ted Cheong as the kind of gay Chinese gangster you don’t want to encounter in a Turkish bath. Even Mike Tyson makes you laugh.

I’ve knocked off a half star here for the cop car and blackjack scenes, and the sometimes mushy ending, none of which makes the wicked comic sense of the rest of the movie. But, audiences for this type of show will get everything they want, while audiences who normally wouldn’t go near a picture like this will get more than they bargained for. I‘m usually not fond of movies partly inspired by TV commercials. But this is one case where we’re lucky that what happened in Vegas didn’t stay there. Party hearty, dudes. The morning after is a killer.

Extras: Commentary by Phillips and Hangover stars; Featurettes; CD song sampler, Wedding photo album.

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) (One Star)

U.S.-German: Tom Six, 2009 (IFC Films)

The Human Centipede is “Nausea Horror” (a new genre, maybe?) at its sickest. (This whole movie deserves a Spoiler Alert.) Director-writer Thomas Six’s unabashedly sleazy, stomach-turning plot starts with two sexy, lively American girls (Ashley C. Williams and Ashlynn Yennie), on holiday, having a car break-down at night in the woods. The first motorist who finds them starts spouting obscenities and jerking off in his car seat.

Then, after the girls run away, they find an isolated house, where a wild-eyed, taciturn German mad scientist (Dieter Laser, trying for the Klaus Kinski glaring lunatic award), feeds them the date rape drug in glasses of water and then ties them to operating tables in his lab. There he plans to use them and a third prisoner, a screaming Japanese businessman (Akihiro Kitamura), for his grand experiment: grafting three human beings together, head to anus, intestine to intestine, so they form one continuous “human centipede.”

I mean: What the hell? Why does Doctor Dieter want to do this? (Why does Six want him to?) Surely the Doc doesn’t intend to write it all up in a medical journal. Nor, it seems, does he want to start a freak carnival, or produce TV’s most disgusting reality show. Is it out of sheer professional pride? (The movie boasts that its story is “100 % medically accurate,“ which gives you pause).

But graft them all together the bad doctor does, head to ass, creating his very own centipede, or as he coos, “My sweet centipede!” Meanwhile, two truculent German cops prowl around his house and pool. But don’t worry about too much bad taste here. In some odd fit of modesty, the mad scientist grafts his victims all together in their underpants, or maybe in their swaddling clothes. The movie, as you might expect, comes to no good end, and neither do the three parts of the centipede.

It’s not well-written. It’s not well-acted (except, in a weird way, by Laser). It’s not well-photographed or well-directed. It’s not funny. It’s not compelling. It didn’t strike me as scary. It’s a mediocre treatment of a creepy idea, like “Troll 2” trying to be “Salo” — and watching it struck me as the cinematic equivalent of eating live centipedes, on a bet. Now, if you actually want to look at this pathetic excuse for a movie, go ahead. You can’t say you weren’t warned.

Extras: Commentary by Six; Interview with Six; Deleted scene; Featurette; Trailer.

Three Kings (Three Stars)

U.S.; David O. Russell, 1999 (

Satiric war comedy, set in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, from writer-director David O. Russell (Spanking the Monkey), about four cynical U. S. soldiers (George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze) on a gold heist. Somehow, for me at least, this doesn’t always work as well as it should, but it’s funny and exciting, and it‘s a classic Clooney role. Classic Cube too.

Deep Blue Sea (Two Stars)

U.S. Renny Harlin, 1999

The Life Aquatic gone haywire: An underwater scientific base springs a leak and start sinking (so does the movie), while intelligent sharks start chasing and devouring dubiously intelligent humans. Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Rapaport and LL Cool J all try to stay afloat in this, but the sharks have all the good lines.

Extras: Commentary by Harlin; Featurette; Deleted scenes.

Harlow (Two Stars)

U.S.; Gordon Douglas, 1965 (Olive)

Jean Harlow was the first archetypal Blonde Bombshell of the movie’s Sound Era, and though time has shown she wasn‘t in Marilyn Monroe’s category, she was a sexy, funny, fun-loving dish, and her best movies are still fun to watch, especially Red Dust, Dinner at Eight, Libeled Lady, and, of course, Bombshell.

This movie however, with Carroll Baker in full platinum blonde/low-cut gown regalia and war paint, isn’t much fun, even though it was written by Hitchcock’s sometimes very witty screenwriter John Michael Hayes (To Catch a Thief, The Trouble With Harry). “Harlow” also seems dubious as both drama and film history, even though it’s based on the best-selling biography by Irving Shulman and Arthur Landau, with Landau, Harlow’s agent and manager — who is portrayed in the movie by Red Buttons — acting as official “advisor.“ Among the things Landau has advised the moviemakers is that Landau was a saint.

Harlow meanwhile, is shown as a rather serious, ultimately tragic gal, not too interested in sex (until she falls apart at the end), but capable of arousing wild lust in most of the men around her (that part, at least, is true), except for tragic hubby Paul Bern (whimsically played by Peter Lawford) and, of course, the saintly Landau. Also milling around are Harlow’s exploited mom (Angela Lansbury in a role you might have pegged for Betty Field), Raf Vallone as her exploitive Italian dad (in a role perhaps better suited to Vittorio Gassmann), Martin Balsam as an exploitive studio boss, Mike Connors as an exploitive co-star, and Leslie Nielsen (in his mean, non-comic mode) as an exploitative director. (Mysteriously, Harlow’s mom keeps referring to her daughter as “Jean,” though the star’s birth name was Harlean Carpenter.)

The whole movie is glossy and dull and has about as much period feel or zip as the 1968 Valley of the Dolls. Gordon Douglas directs, without mucho gusto; tragically (and not comically), he doesn’t exploit the material enough.

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14 Responses to “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 …”

  1. Keil Shults says:

    I’ll never understand that vocal minority of folks who seem so affectionate toward The Darjeeling Limited, and I certainly can’t imagine anyone finding it to be superior to both Rushmore AND The Royal Tenenbaums. I even think The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a better film. Keep in mind, however, that I still enjoy Darjeeling, even if it coming on the heels of Zissou had me concerned that Anderson was losing his way while also becoming blatantly, stylistically repetitious. Hopefully the vastly different filmmaking required for Fox shook things up a bit for an obviously gifted director.

  2. the best movie actors for me would be Val Kilmer and Morgan Freeman, they are really nice ..

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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