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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Jack and Jill, Footloose, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Jack and Jill (Two Stars)
U. S.; Dennis Dugan, 2011 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

In comedy, shamelessness is sometime a virtue, sometimes a vice — and Adam Sandler hits both in Jack and Jill. In this drag comedy movie’ Sandler plays identical male and female twins, Jack and Jill Sadelstein, who live on opposite coasts (and, in many ways, different worlds), but are getting together for Thanksgiving, with a possibility, as it turns out, of a stay through Hanukah and beyond. They have, to put it mildly, a complicated relationship. It’s a complicated movie too — funnier than most recent Sandlers, but also sometimes violently obnoxious.Rich, successful Jack is a good-looking guy and a high-rolling TV commercial director and exec, with lots of dough, a great family (Katie Holmes is his gorgeous, ultra-nicey-nice wife Erin), and connections up the wazoo. (Producer-star Sandler has connections too: Everybody from Johnny Depp to Regis Philbin to Christie Brinkley to Shaquille O’Neal wanders through the picture.)

Jill, on the other hand, still lives alone back in the Bronx, where she took care of their late mom for years and is now alone. She has few prospects, no visible friends (though she’s so weirdly extroverted, you figure there must be a pal or two back in the Bronx), no boyfriend, a pet cockatoo who repeats her rude remarks, and mannerisms so annoying that her brother cringes at the sound of her voice. Among Jill’s more unfortunate traits: a habit of leaping into Jack’s bed and spooning (She calls it part of “twin time“), starting arguments at dinnertime, saying everything in a loud, squeaky Bronx screech of a voice, diarrheic reactions to chimichangas and a tendency to leave huge dark sweat stains on her bed sheets.

Jill is delighted to be coming to L.A. for Thanksgiving; Jack just wants her in and out as fast as possible. He’s also in the middle of a job crisis: Unless he gets Al Pacino to star in his company’s next Dunkin Doughnuts TV Spot, the doughnut people, his biggest client, are threatening to vamoose. And there’s a family problem with Jill: Unless Jack finds some kind of potential mate for his twin, she may crack up and never leave, possibly tripling his laundry bills, besides driving them all crazy.

The solution comes with the breathtaking ease of bad, obvious screenwriting. Al Pacino himself (played by none other than Al Pacino) is tracked down at a Lakers game, meets Jill (whom Jack generously brought along), falls in love with her Bronx accent, and agrees in principal to hawk doughnuts for Jack if he sets things up with Jill. Jill, unfortunately, doesn’t like Al, a weird reaction for this lonely woman, but one that writer Steve Koren tries to explain by having her say that she doesn’t know or like movies. Instead, Jill seems more drawn to the Sadelsteins’ gardener Felipe (Eugenio Dergez), a nice guy with a mean grandma (also Dergez).

They all, or most of them, wind up eventually on a Caribbean Cruise liner, where — I know you must have guessed this — Jack has to cover Jill’s hostility to Al by dressing up as his sister and ramming two cantaloupes into his brassiere.

This all plays about as dumb as it sounds — though it’s also funny at times. A lot of that is thanks to Pacino, who saves the movie over and over again.

We don’t tend to think of Pacino as a comic actor — instead we remember brooding Michael Corleone and his dark sad eyes, or bank robber Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon screaming “Attica! Attica!” But, in fact, he can be hilarious. If you’ve ever seen his last explosive monologue in The Devil‘s Advocate as a corporate demon gone mad, you‘ve witnessed one of the great movie comedy arias of the 80s.

Pacino doesn’t play comedy all that much, but he should.  In Jack and Jill, where his role is basically a protracted in-joke, he gets lots of laughs from a script — and from the show’s mock Dunkin Doughnut commercial (where he sings the praises of a new treat called the Dunkacino) — that really isn’t all that funny. But with his manic delivery and pricelessly straight face, he makes it all work like gangbusters.

Now, Sandler. Sometimes good, sometimes awful. But at least he has the guts to carry through on his (or his writer’s) sometimes bad, sometimes okay ideas. And some of what he does as Jack (or Jill) is fun. It’s not often a comedian can be his own straight man, but here he‘s Dean Martin to his own Jerry Lewis, George Burns to his own Gracie Allen, John Belushi to his own Danny Aykroyd. And though he’s often annoying — his falsetto can be like a chalk-squeak — he does get laughs. Guilty ones, sometimes, it’s true. But laughs. You try it. It ain’t easy.

Sandler is guided here, again, by his main Happy Madison Man, director Dennis Dugan, whose movies have reportedly grossed a billion dollars, and who owes it all to a few farts and poops and a tantrum or two. Dugan’s best directorial work here, other than just clearing the stage for Pacino, is his nifty before-and-after credits sequences with lots of sets of actual twins.

Meanwhile, I have a (serious) suggestion. Al Pacino is funny. Instead of lamenting that nobody‘s making any Godfathers or Dog Day Afternoons or Scarecrows for him these days, or beating up on Adam Sandler, why doesn’t somebody in Hollywood try to write Mr. Dunkacino a first rate full-fledged, comedy script with lots of space for comic arias, where he can let loose, out-Herod Herod, and kill the crowd. Maybe De Niro (or Nicholson) can be his Dino. Sandler can do a cameo. I mean: Who can it hurt?

Extras: Featurettes.

Footloose (Also Two Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Two Stars)
U. S.: Craig Brewer, 2011 (Paramount)

Small town anti-rock ‘n roll ban-the-ball conservatives, led by a charismatic preacher (Dennis Quaid), are confronted by a rocker from the city (Kenny Wormold), who rallies the teen troops while wooing the preacher’s daughter (Julianne Hough) and winning over the preacher’s wife (Andie MacDowell). The 1984 original of this movie, from the era of Flashdance and Fame — starring Kevin Bacon, John Lithgow, Lori Singer and Dianne Wiest respectively in the four main roles listed above — had a silly story, but a good cast and an extremely catchy song score by Jim Steinman, Kenny Loggins, lyricist-scriptwriter Dean Pitchford and others. And it was given a proper gloss by the sometimes underrated musical movie director Herbert Ross (Pennies from Heaven).

Here director Craig Brewer takes over for a remake (Pitchford gets co-credit on the screenplay), and updates and modernizes it all. The song score (“Footloose,“ “Let’s Hear it from the Boy,“ “Holding out for a Hero”) is almost as memorable and infectiously done as it was in 1984. The story is just as silly though — sillier maybe — and the teen revolt, though a crowd-pleaser in both movies (as well as a hit on stage in the Broadway version ) always struck me as a crock. The songs, though, still make you move. Let’s hear it for the boy. (Chris Penn, if you remember.

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Blu-ray) (Three and a Half Stars) 

U.K.; Terry Jones/Terry Gilliam, 1975 (Sony)

“Le Morte d’Arthur’ mortified. Priceless film humor from the finest team of deadpan satirists and silly-ass-skewerers in British history: John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam, the Lone Yank. (Well, maybe the Goons are the best. Maybe. By a hair.)

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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