MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: My Week with Marilyn, Happy Feet Two, The Three Musketeers, The Geisha Boy

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (Two Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Three Stars)
U.K.: Simon Curtis, 2011 (The Weinstein Company)

Marilyn Monroe. A dream of sex, a goddess of the movies, and the ultimate blonde fantasy. She was a smart girl who got rich and famous playing dumb. She was an innocent who played with fire and whose angel-wings burst into flame. And she was a movie actress who drove her directors crazy by continuously arriving late and blowing her lines, over and over and over — and over — again. But most (like Billy Wilder) grin and bore it, and probably didn’t ultimately care because, in between the chaos and wrap time, she brought something magical to the screen and to her parts, something that nobody else could. She couldn’t be copied, though God knows, many movie blondes tried, and still do.
In any case, since 1962, when Marilyn died under still-mysterious circumstances, we still watch her obsessively, think about her obsessively, write about her obsessively (some of us), and put her picture on our walls, imaginary or otherwise. And now comes a movie, based on the two memoirs by a man who might have been her lover, and at least knew her well for a while: Colin Clark, the son of Civilisation‘s guide to the classics, Kenneth Clark.
Colin was an assistant on the 1956 production of the movie The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), co-starring Marilyn, written by Terrence Rattigan (of “The Browning Version” and “The Winslow Boy”) and costarring and directed by Sir Laurence Olivier, Hamlet himself: an acting god who, in 1957, was at his peak and regarded as international theatrical royalty — and yet who probably knew that, even though he had all the tricks of the trade easily at hand, he could never take the stage (or the screen) from Marilyn.
It’s a nice little movie, done in that precise, intelligent, well-mannered yet humane style we associate with good British literary or stage adaptations (including The Prince and the Showgirl). It was written by Adrian Hodges, based on Clark‘s two memoirs, “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me” (no, that doesn’t imply any kind of menage a trois) and it was directed by the prolific Simon Curtis (who made the BBC “David Copperfield”). It’s well-shot and lit and staged, and mostly a pleasure to watch.

And it’s filled with famous or somewhat famous show people, playing other people sometimes even more famous than they. Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier (Marilyn‘s costar and director), Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh (who played Marilyn’s role on stage with Larry), Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike (Marilyn’s supporting actress), Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller (Marilyn‘s playwright husband), Karl Moffat as Jack Cardiff (Marilyn’s cinematographer), Zoe Wanamaker as Paula Strasberg (Marilyn’s maddening acting coach), Toby Jones as Arthur Jacobs (Marilyn‘s publicist), and finally Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark (Marilyn‘s pal for a week and perhaps her spill-the-beans consort). They’re all good; the weakest link is Redmayne.

Then there’s Michelle Williams as Marilyn herself. I said above that nobody could catch Marilyn’s magic. No one can. But Michelle Williams comes close. She does a wonderful job, manages to get some of her body and a bit of her soul. And some of her blonde haired beauty, the kind gentlemen prefer. (Gentlemen, hah!)

Ah Marilyn, we hardly knew ye! Michelle (somehow I can’t bring myself to call her “Williams” or even “Ms. Williams“) understands some salient points about playing the goddess of all movie blondes (especially the dyed ones): that there’s something great about MM, but also something primally willful and confused, that in certain very basic respects, she never grew up, partly because we didn’t want her to. How could we? That’s what we loved about her, or thought we did.

Michelle also understands that to play Marilyn, the little girl/woman who won and lost the world, you have to somehow be unself-consciously self-conscious (or maybe vice versa). That’s Marilyn. That’s entertainment.

So this is a story about a lucky bloke who had a week with Marilyn. He, Colin, doesn’t seem like much, and there‘s not much else he’ll be remembered for. (Some documentaries maybe, or his dad). The fact that his role in this movie is so forgettable maybe suits that very unmemorability. I liked the picture, but then I had Marilyn fantasies too. Women may probably enjoy it as much as men, or more, though some will object to the movie’s cleverly veiled objectification. It’s not a show of much consequence really, but it’s well-done, it passes the time and it offers at least a little delight. The Prince and the Showgirl was an okay movie too and it offered a little more delight and a story-window on some legends. My Week with Marilyn gives us a second-hand, recreated portrait, a bit too respectful (too British?) to be great or near-great.

Meanwhile, if we want Marilyn, or if we want to know her at her best, we can simply turn on Some Like It Hot or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes or The Misfits or one of the others. That’s where she lives, where she‘ll live always. Runnin’ Wild, Lost control…Runnin‘ wild, Mighty bold! Feelin‘ gay, reckless too… The rest is just fun and games really, comedy and — though we don’t want to think about it too much — tragedy. Tragedy shimmying and playing a banjo.

Michelle, in My Week with Marilyn, gets that quality of effortless seduction, of innocence and sexuality commingled, and that’s why you have to see the movie: for her. Branagh (who’s already played Olivier’s great Shakespearean movie roles, Henry V and Hamlet) gets Olivier too — especially the master actor’s eloquently eccentric, alternately whiney and clamorous speech patterns. But Michelle gives us something more: the sometimes overpowering sense of entitlement of the very sexy and very famous, mixed with something bigger, bewitching, something terrifying, but lovely still, beautiful always, blonde sometimes. And mysterious. Always.
Happy Feet Two (Also Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy) (Also 3D) (Three Stars)
U.S.: George Miller, 2011 (Warner Home Video)

I’ve got to admit: The first ten minutes or so of Happy Feet Two had me worried — even though I was quite partial to the original, George Miller’s 2006 tale of a tap-dancing penguin named Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood). But this sequel’s super-busy opening shots, with thousands of cute little penguins dancing in unison in a spectacular Antarctican long shot, pounding and shuffling and flapping away to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, made the movie look as if it would be pretty hard to keep track of any of the little critters, much less to get really involved in whatever new stuff they were bringing on.
I had liked the first Happy Feet, which deserved the best animated feature Oscar it won — loved its sass and brashness and joyous wit, its unabashed pro-ecology theme, and its incredibly virtuosic animation. (The water visuals in the first Happy Feet alone are worth a cheer). But nothing in life or movie sequels is certain. Director/producer/co-writer George Miller may have a top-chop track record. But when it comes to endless-looking shots of animated penguins, much less an animated swarm of krill (which this movie also has), more might well be less, and vice might well be versa.

The plot seemed a little dicey too: yet another story about a outsider penguin, this time non-dancing little Erik (Ava Acres), the pipsqueak progeny of Happy Feet’s tap-dancing’ star Mumble and his wife Gloria (voiced and sung by Pink, replacing the late Brittany Murphy) and about Erik’s attempt to find his place in a world full of vast dancing ensembles of emperor penguins, along with surly elephant seals, con artist puffins, and globally warmed ice-walls that go sliding off into the sea, trapping everybody on an ice and snow island with no food supply.

Like the first Happy Feet, which angered some anti-ecology types, Happy Feet Two has a strong pro-ecology theme, triggered by all that melting Antarctica ice. It says that all of us — penguins and we contentious humans too — have to pull together to survive: a message that should actually appeal to lots of us, and apparently did the last time out — except possibly anyone who might be mightily miffed by the movie’s global warming angle, and possibly by the sympathy shown to Latino penguins like fiery Ramon (Robin Williams), none of whom are deported to the South Pole.

Oh, and then there’s the two krill, Will the Krill (Brad Pitt) and Bill the Krill (Matt Damon), who break away from their swarm in the ocean and try to follow their dream (or Will’s dream that is, since Bill is a Will-follower), while engaging in pun-strewn badinage that includes the not-quite-priceless “one in a krillion.” There’s Mighty Sven the flying penguin, voiced by Hank Azaria in a pseudo-Scandinavian accent that reminded me a little of actor John Qualen‘s immortal “By Yabber! By Yimminy!” Swedes for John Ford. And did I say that Little Erik gets to sing a Puccini aria, like Pavarotti? (From “Tosca,” yet.)

All of that may sound overly complicated and pretty confusing and possibly annoying, especially for a feature cartoon that will count many simple pleasure-seeking tots among its audience. But, since I liked Happy Feet One so much, I stuck it out, contented myself with a few stray “wows” at the movie‘s incredible technical feats. And when Feet Two began to get really good — in the krill scenes and the one where Erik and his chums face a growly old elephant seal named Bryan the Beachmaster (very well voiced by Richard Carter) I was ready to enjoy myself. And I did.

By the way, when I began to warm up to Happy Feet Two (not globally, but emotionally), I also decided that Pitt and Damon, miscast as they both might initially seem as krill, do a great job playing lowest-food-chain organisms. , I tell you, these two guys: They krilled me. But, after all, they do both work in an industry where it’s krill or be krilled. (Okay, I’ll stop. But they don‘t.)

When the credits finally rolled, I liked Happy Feet Two — and that movie of course will make many many millions. Well, sometimes a show earns its keep. Just as sometimes a penguin earns his/her happy dancing feet. Or opera pipes. Or fish transport medals. Or wings. Or audiences. And this one‘s a kriller-diller. (Sorry!)

THE THREE MUSKETEERS 3D (Also Blu-ray/3D) (Two Stars)

U.S.: Paul W. S. Anderson, 2011 (Summit Entertainment)

Tous pour un, un pour tous.

Alexandre Dumas pere

“The Three Musketeers” — Alexandre Dumas pere’s quintessential swashbuckling adventure tale of three crack swordsmen and lusty comrades (Athos, Porthos and Aramis) and the hothead/country bumpkin (D’Artganan) whom they befriend and help turn into a world-class, sword-slashing, heart-stealing hero in the 17th century French court of Louis the effete 13th — has been filmed so many times (more than 40, according to the indefatigable IMDB) that you’d think by now they‘d know how to do it.

Certainly director Richard Lester (and writer George MacDonald Fraser) showed most of the way in their splendid and madly enjoyable 70s film-and-sequel The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers (1973-4), with Michael York as D’Artagnan and Oliver Reed (Sir Carol’s hellraising nephew), Frank Finlay (Olivier’s Iago) and Richard Chamberlain (Dr. Kildare) as Athos, Porthos and Aramis. (And Charlton Heston as the wily Cardinal Richelieu, Raquel Welch as a prat-falling Constance, and Faye Dunaway as the murderous Milady).

There have been rowdy, likable entertainments made of Dumas’ classic before, with Doug Fairbanks or his great admirer Gene Kelly as D’Artagnan (1921 and 1948), not to mention the 1939 Allan Dwan-directed romp with Don Ameche as D’Art and The Ritz Brothers as the Three Musketeers (or their counterfeits). Or Walt Disney‘s Mickey Donald and Goofy: The Three Musketeers. Or the little-seen versions from Argentina and Egypt. Or such almost certainly horrible examples of botching the book as Barbie and the Three Musketeers, Zorro and the Three Musketeers and The Sex Adventures of the Three Musketeers — a deranged-sounding movie that may have given new meaning to the Musketeers’ famous motto, “All for One and one for all!” (Or is it “One for all and all for one?”)

Shouldn’t they have gotten all the mistakes out of their system by now with “The Three Musketeers?”

Non! Non! Non! This new version has an estimable screenwriter: Andrew Davies of the Colin FirthJennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice and other fine British literary TV and movie adaptations. It has an offbeat choice for director: Paul W. S. Anderson of the bizarre pop actioners Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat and Death Race. And it has a cast that’s at least interesting (if not particularly good). Yet this flabbergasting movie quickly zooms to heights of almost drunken excess and rampaging foolishness.

Anderson’s Three Musketeers opens with triple intro-teasers of the title trio, in a series of semi-James Bond scenes, set in Venice and top-heavy with super-mechanical gadgetry and weird armour and sadistic jokes that seem to belong in a 17th century Goldfinger. Then he gives us an anachronistic villainess Milady (roguish-eyed Milla Jovovich, looking as if she‘d rather be Lara Croft and acting like Catwoman in queenly finery), a fairly good but wasted Three Musketeers ensemble (Matthew Macfadyen as an urbane but troubled Athos, Ray Stevenson as a staunch Porthos and Luke Evans as an elegant Aramis), and one of the worst D‘Artagnans ever: teen dream Logan Lerman (of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief), who plays the role as if D’Artagnan were Dork’Tagnan, and Paris and Versailles were big fratboy parties.

Then the mincing Louis XIII (Freddie Fox) shows up, followed by his flirty queen (Juno Temple), her girlish maid Constance (Gabriella Wilde), the sinister Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen, channeling Christopher Lee), the newly villanous Buckingham (Orlando Bloom, glam-hamming it up), and, of course, the wily Richelieu, played by Christoph Waltz of Inglourious Basterds, who supplies most of the  style this show has to offer.

By the time the Musketeers and D’Artagnan are in full gear, tring to outrace Richelieu’s crew, and speed the Queen‘s diamonds back to Versailles, battling the bad guys over the English channel in a combination giant dirigible and full-masted flying galleon supposedly designed by Leonardo Da Vinci — a super-vessel that looks like Monty Python on morphine, the movie has gone beyond sanity into full-blown howling nonsense and what seems an Errol Flynn Sea Hawk-inspired booze nightmare. And since these are the kind of moviemakers who wouldn’t put a flying galleon in the air unless they could ram and crash it into a palace, a cathedral or at least an art gallery, you know what to expect.

“Although I work and seldom cease,” wrote our gal Dorothy Parker, “At Dumas pere and Duman fils./ I really can not make me care, for Duman fils and Dumas pere.” (“Fils” rhymes with “fleece,“ for you non-Francophiles and non-Parkerites.) I don’t agree. I like Dumas, bestseller factory though he may have been, and I’ve enjoyed his deathless, breathless adventure classic ever since I first read a version of it it in the Classics Illustrated series at nine or so. But Ms. Parker’s witty contempt might have been warranted had she stumbled into this movie and taken a gander at that galleon and got an eyeful of Milady Milla and watched Freddie Fox‘s Louis swishbuckling away and saw frat boy D‘Artagnan fence on the airship’s beam with the rotten Rochefort. (Where are the Ritz Brothers when you really need them?)

Not a good show. Non. But the movie is so damned outlandish it entertains you every once in a while through sheer unabashed nuttiness. Not very often though. But not your typical Three Musketeers, in any case. Non, non, non, mes amis! Tous pour tous. Un pour un. As we say (sometimes) in the Left Bank, while dueling with the villainous dogs of Cardinal Christoph, “Dumb for all and All for dumb!” (Or is it “All for dumb, and dumb for all?”)

THE GEISHA BOY (Three Stars)
U.S.: Frank Tashlin, 1958 (Olive)
One of Jerry Lewis’ biggest solo hits, this strange, nicely shot, oddly likable comedy casts him as a nervous magician named Gilbert Wooley. Gilbert, a patriotic but somehat spazzy illusionist, makes chaos of a U.S.O. tour, and develops a crush on a pretty Japanese single mom (Nobu McCarthy) and her adventurous little boy, and fights to stay with them — despite the fact that Suzanne Pleshette, in her movie debut, has a crush on him. (That Jerry seems so immune to Pleshette and prefers to spend most of his time with the Geisha Kid, becomes a real mystery.)
Sessue Hayakawa is Nobu’s gruff dad (he‘s building a model Kwai bridge), Barton McLane is Gilbert’s sour-faced Army Major nemesis, Marie “The Body” McDonald is a temperamental U.S. O. tour-mate and the whole picture is stolen by Gilbert‘s plucky white rabbit Harry (who seems to be Jerry‘s Dino for this show). The script and direction are by Frank Tashlin. It’s probably the best-looking film Tashlin ever made, and crammed with his patented cartoonish slapstick — and both the director and Jerry seem to have a crush on the look and plot of Sayonara and on The Bridge on the River Kwai, the latter of which we see in archive footage. It’s probably the only time Alec Guinness appeared with and was billed under, or actually not credited under, Jerry Lewis.


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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