MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: Monsters, Inc. 3D; Sinister; Top Gun; Twilight’s Last Gleaming; Grand Hotel..



Monsters, Inc. 3D  (Five Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition or Three Disc 3D/Blu-ray Combo) (Three Stars)

U.S.; Pete Docter,  2001-2012 (Disney)


More good, funny, beautifully crafted, heartfelt stuff from Pixar, set in the scream-powered factory of Monstropolis among all the most horrible or brainy toy monsters — notably big, scary Sulley (John Goodman) and witty Winowski (Billy Crystal). Sulley and Winowski, not as monstrous as they seem,  must now cope with their small child invader, Boo (Mary Gibbs) — and she proves to be quite a handful.

This is a typical Pixar blend of  super toys, super-tech, sentiment and sharp humor, with the added attraction of an Oscar-winning song by Randy Newman (“If I Didn’t Have You“) and a top-notch cast that also includes James Coburn, Steve Buscemi, Jennifer Tilly, Bonnie Hunt  Frank Oz and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger. It’s another Pixar both kids and their parents can enjoy together.


SINISTER (Two Stars)

U.S.: Scott Derrickson, 2012 (Summit Entertainment)

Sometimes genuinely scary, sometimes genuinely silly, Scott Derrickson’s Sinister actually has one of the more frightening uses of horror movie found footage they’ve sprung on us recently. How much you enjoy it depends on how much disbelief you can suspend and how much footage you can swallow — which may depend on how many contemporary horror movies, especially the Blair Witch and Paranormal knockoffs, are on your regular diet.

Derrickson the supposedly amateur films more effective this time, by mixing them up with supposedly “real life” stuff of what’s going on outside the found footage, with the guy supposedly watching these creepy horror home movies. In what passes in Sinister for the real world, a struggling true-crime author named Ellison (Ethan Hawke) moves his family into a house  where another family not so long ago was massacred , without informing his own loved ones of  their new home’s gruesome history or of the other murders (in other places) that preceded it.

The rest of the family — Juliet Rylance as mom Tracy, and Claire Foley and Michael Hall Daddario as kids Ashley and Trevor — begin to show signs of paranormal wear and tear. The spooks play hide-and-seek and jump-behind-a-door and we-wish we-were-in-The-Shining behind Ellison as he wanders around the place, and, as the dour local sheriff, Fred Dalton Thompson (perhaps contemplating another presidential bid), shows up and acts surly. Thompson’s deputy though, played by James Sansone, is contrastingly helpful to the author, since he’s eager to get an acknowledgement in the eventual book‘s front section.

Meanwhile, Ellison keeps his most horrific discovery to himself : In the attic are scruffy old boxes containing amateur movies of the actual murders, taken, it seems, by the actual killer or killers. They are, by far, the movie’s most disturbing moments.

These home snuff movies are creepy and ragged-looking. The real-life scenes are creepy stylized horror stuff. And the professional reality makes the amateur “reality” movies look spookier. (Kudos to cinematographer Chris Norr for the way he lights both of them; the movie looks fantastic.) Derrickson, who also directed The Exorcism of Emily Rose and the overblown 2008 remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, works with Norr to keep everything shadowy and grim and unsettling — never more so than when we witness those murders, especially the one in the tree.

Despite an effective fall-apart acting job by Hawke though, you have to swallow a little too much malarkey to completely enjoy this movie. Like all the loud noises nobody seems to hear. Or the way the family seems to except so much madness. Or the absence of everyday townspeople. Sheriff Thomson probably has the right idea.. Get out of town — or stay out of the attic — or don’t climb trees — or leave that found footage in its box, dammit.

Top Gun  (Two Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Tony Scott, 1986 (Paramount)

The all-time homoerotic   fighting flyboys movie, with Tom Cruise leading the hunks into the shower and   up to the skies. Ridiculous, but it grabs you. Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Meg Ryan   and Kelly McGillis are among the towel-holders. The big song is “Take My Breath Away.” Mine wasn’t. (For a look at  Top Gun director Tony Scott at his best, try True Romance or Unstoppable.)

Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Three Stars)

U,S.: Robert Aldrich, 1977 (Olive)

Here’s the great Bob Aldrich at twilight. An Air Force Colonel named Dell (Burt Lancaster), who has damning information about the U.S.’s involvement in Vietnam, escapes from military jail and takes over a Montana missile silo with some fellow escapees (Paul Winfield, Burt Young). Put in contact with the U.S. President (Charles Durning) and his war team (Secretary of Defense Melvyn Douglas, Joseph Cotten, Gerald O’Loughlin, William Marshall and others), Dell makes his non-negotiable demand: The Prez must inform the U.S. public that, according to secret papers Dell uncovered, the Vietnam War was unnecessary and a tragic blunder. As the President’s group argues out the crisis, and as Dell’s old nemesis, war hawk Richard Widmark schemes to take his rival down, the fate of the world hangs, as they say, in the balance.

Aldrich is a favorite of mine, as are much of this cast.  But I’ve always had trouble with his last few movies, including this one — which was loosely adapted from Walter Wager‘s more non-political thriller novel, “Viper Three.”  Colonel Dell’s logic still eludes me. Would the U.S. people be prone to believe a President being blackmailed with nuclear annihilation — or his blackmailer, who also demands millions to flee the country? Why is it acceptable, or even sane, to start World War III to prove to the American public that the Vietnam War was a mistake?  Don’t a lot of people know that already? Why not just reveal the secret papers?  What good does it do to plunge the world into destruction, in order to expose the war-mongers who almost plunged it into destruction before?

Included in Olive’s release however is a very informative “Making Of” documentary by Robert Fischer, in which critic/historian and film noir specialist Alain Silver calls Twilight’s Last Gleaming “Aldrich’s last great film,” and reveals that the picture (as well as actors Lancaster and Durning) were special favorites of the auteur whom Godard called a genius, and whom French critics revered as  “Fat Bob.“  We also learn that Aldrich turned down a million dollar salary to make the all-star World War 2 historical film, A Bridge Too Far, and ended up making this show instead. So I watched Twilight again, hoping I could nudge it into the Aldrich echelon of Ulzana’s Raid  and Too Late the Hero, if not Kiss Me Deadly and The Dirty Dozen.

Well, not quite. Col. Dell’s illogical plot still bothers me, even though it’s more obvious now that Aldrich is critical of his last outlaw hero. But Twilight’s Last Gleaming — which was shot in Germany, with German tanks and silos —  is nonetheless a fascinating film on second look, a riveting split-screen technical display (with a special nod here to Aldrich‘s superb longtime editor Michael Luciano) and a  political-moral statement of rare commitment and ferocity by one of Hollywood’s great maverick moviemakers. Maybe it does belong with Too Late the Hero.  Anyway, you should get this version for the documentary as well as the main feature. It sure as hell beats The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part Two.

Extra: Documentary Aldrich Over Munich (U.S.-Germany: Robert Fischer).

Grand Hotel (Also Blu-ray) (Three and a half Stars)

U.S.; Edmund Goulding, 1932 (Warner)

The   epitome of ‘30s Hollywood elegance and the first heavily publicized “all-star” movie, this posh classic is based on  Vicki Baum’s novel (and the play by William A Drake) about the upper-crust guests who come and go in an ultimately swanky Berlin hotel. The registry is full: Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and Lionel Barrymore, plus those old standbys romance, crime, death, art and corrupt business. And this is also the picture where Garbo famously says that she wants to be alone.

The Garbo of Grand Hotel is the film actress of the world’s dreams. She comes to come from other worlds, other times. She’s breathtakingly swoony and beautiful,  and Garbo and John Barrymore make a splendid romantic couple: Garbo as the neurotic ballet dancer who won’t dance, and Barrymore as the fallen baron who burgles hotel rooms and wins hearts, including Garbo’s. (That’s how they meet.) Wallace Beery is a brutal hog of a corporate boss, with a smirk that could devour a chorus girl and a company that is falling apart. Joan Crawford is his gorgeous, tough  secretary, a stenographer who has to take both dictation and passes. Lionel Barrymore is at his most garrulously lovable as Beery’s fatally ill clerk, trying to enjoy  a last spree. Lewis Stone is a dourly philosophical doctor who watches and comments. And humanitarian Jean Hersholt is a hotel employee whose wife is expecting.

All these stellar thespians, the cream of the studio crop, were gathered by MGM, probably to show how rich in exploitable talent they were — and also to give the sense of Berlin’s best hotel catering to the city’s best clientele (the cream of the Krupp, maybe), played by movie royalty and Berlin bosses. (One almost expects to see Irving Thalberg, Norma Shearer and Louis B. Mayer sharing a restaurant table –or Adolf Hitler heiling Beery. The movie is smoothly and consummateky directed by the sometimes underrated Edmund Goulding (The Razor‘s Edge) , a movie nabob  whom George Cukor said threw the most epic gay parties in all of classic Hollywood.

Grand Hotel is an excellent film, and its format was often copied afterwards, by movies that hailed themselves as “The Grand Hotel“ of, say, musicals (The Great Ziegfeld), or murder mysteries (Murder on the Orient Express). But it’s also sometimes overrated — never more so than in the elaborate gag ex-Berliner Billy Wilder devised for Jack Lemmon’s first TV night in The Apartment. Snacking on a TV meal in his temporarily free West side quarters, Lemmon (or “C. C. Baxter”) is delighted to discover that that evening’s late, late, late movie is Grand Hotel — with the announcer emphatically announcing all the stars: “Greta Garbo! John Barrymore! Wallace Beery!”

But C. C.’s jubilant anticipation is  soured by a sudden banal commercial, and when he disgustedly channel surfs to get away from it , he keeps bumping into Grand Hotel’s roll call again, repeatedly cut short by commercials and, on the other channels, by more idiotic ads and  a wild cowboys and Indians chase, endlessly repeated.  This is Wilder’s dig at American TV, commercials, Westerns and pop culture — with Grand Hotel as a kind of lost paradise. But, ironically, those guns-blazing Cowboys and Indians clips in Grand Hotel look to me like the chase across the Monument Valley salt flats in John Ford’s Stagecoach, a much superior film even to MGM’s legendary all star extravaganza. Stagecoach was also sometimes called “the Grand Hotel of Westerns.”

MGM sometimes overdid its own elegance and pseudo-aristocratic pretensions. But Grand Hotel is one Metro all-star production that still works. If you have a yen for Garbo, an appreciation of John Barrymore, drunk or sober, and a fondness for everyone else on the guest list,  and if you like the worlds art director Cedric Gibbons and his wizards could create on the MGM sound stages, and the gowns by Adrian and the cinematography by William Daniels,  this movie will give you a shot of rare cinematic class. It’s worthy of C. C. Baxter’s time, and ours. You could even call it “the Stagecoach of Berlin hotel dramas.”

Extras: Commentary by Jeffrey Vance and Mark A. Vieira; “Making Of” Documentary, Checking Out: Grand Hotel; Vitaphone Musical Short Nothing Ever Happens; Trailers; Newsreel; Theater Announcement.


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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