Posts Tagged ‘Flipped’

Frenzy on the Wall: If I Had a Ballot 2011

Monday, January 24th, 2011

2011 was not a very strong year for movies, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t worthy performances and filmmakers that deserve some attention.  As I do every year,  I’m going to give my picks for the Oscars in the major awards as if I had an actual ballot.  Since the Academy cannot be trusted to make the right decisions and will probably make the safe choice whenever possible, it’s fun to give my perspective.  Needless to say, I don’t see the Academy sending me a ballot anytime soon.

Best Picture

  • The American
  • Black Swan
  • Blue Valentine
  • The Social Network
  • Trash Humpers

I don’t believe in the Academy’s new(ish) rule to expand the category to ten nominees, so I’m going with five.  I think Black Swan and The Social Network are locks for spots and Blue Valentine will most likely make an appearance, but you can forgot about the Academy nominating something as deliberate as The American or something as truly avant-garde as Trash Humpers.  The Academy will pat itself on the back for nominating Black Swan, thinking that it’s an “art” film when it’s really just an amazingly well-done and dense genre picture.

I’m not knocking Black Swan at all – it was my second favorite film of the year – but what the voting bloc views as “avant-garde” and what is actually avant-garde are two entirely different things, so let’s not applaud the Academy just because they nominate a film as complicated as Black Swan; that should be the norm and we should be pushing them to go even further.

Having said that, I think all five of these films are worthy pictures of getting nominated in a field of ten in any given year.  A film like The American or Trash Humpers probably wouldn’t make it on my ballot of five in a stronger year and Blue Valentine is pushing it.  I didn’t catch the latter film until recently and I think it’s strong from start to finish, but that scene at the hospital towards the end really strained credulity.


I just don’t see how a man can go into a hospital and punch someone/wreck the place without security or an orderly coming to help.  People in hospitals are trained to subdue people who may get violent and yet, the man in question is able to walk out of the place and get in his car.  More than that: this was a film that I related to on such a deep level for almost every second of the film until that moment, when I could no longer relate to that character.  It’s a shame, because it’s a perfect film otherwise.

(End Spoilers)

But really, The Social Network is the film to beat and I don’t see anything coming close.  It’s not a revolutionary movie, it’s just a really great story told well.  It’s a profound statement about the times we live in and there are a lot of issues of betrayal, friendship, privacy, etc. that are brought up and explored in the film.  But more important than any of that is that it is exceptionally entertaining on a surface level.  The subtext of the film would not be nearly as interesting if it wasn’t for the fact that the text itself is so funny, poignant, and exciting.  It’s not perfect, but it’s close to it.  If I had any issue with the film, it’s that I wish it was at least an hour longer.  It’s the film of the year and unless the Academy is incredibly short-sighted (and they are), it will win Best Picture.

Best Director

  • Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
  • Anton Corbijn (The American)
  • David Fincher (The Social Network)
  • Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers)
  • Gaspar Noe (Enter the Void)

Ordinarily, I believe that the best five films are the five best directed films.  However, I had to make room for Gaspar Noe for his dynamic achievement with Enter the Void.  It’s not a great film because Noe’s script is a bit too trite, but the way he brings the impossible to life is something to be applauded and rewarded.  Derek Cianfrance did a fantastic job,  though I think it owes a big debt to the films of John Cassavetes, but it’s really not about the job that he did with Blue Valentine, but rather how masterful Noe’s direction was for Enter the Void.

Noe and Korine were the only filmmakers this year that sought to create something that was unique to the screen yet familiar enough to audiences.  I don’t think they were perfect because their natural impulse is to push the audience away rather than invite them in; it’s almost like they created video art rather than cinema (although that argument is a slippery slope and worthy of its own column).  Both Noe and Korine were successful in bringing their eccentric visions to life, but I can’t say they were the best because it was harder for me to engage with their works.

I think Corbijn did a fine job with The American, which has one of the most beautifully melancholic tones and a somnambulant yet charming pace.  The film it reminded me of the most was Anthony Minghella’s fantastic The Talented Mr. Ripley.  Both films are about handsome killers who hide themselves and fall in love, yet can’t escape their pasts; and both films are set in beautiful European cities that are shot lovingly and without rapid movements of the camera.  It’s really a complete 180 from Corbijn’s first feature, Control, and showed that he’s capable of all sorts of genres.  I’m excited to see what he does next.

For me, this award is a race between Aronofsky and Fincher.  These couldn’t be two more different films and both are really indicative of who each of these directors are as filmmakers.  Aronofsky’s Black Swan is hyper and emotional while Fincher’s The Social Network is controlled and tightly focused.  I think both films are touching in their own ways and both have (very different) built-in reasons to keep us from being too heartbroken by what occurs.  But for me, I have to go with what I thought was the better film and that’s The Social Network.  Having seen both multiple times, I don’t think The Social Network loses anything on repeat viewings whereas Black Swan loses the element of surprise that makes it so distressing to watch the first time around.  So, Fincher should – and will – win the award for Best Director.

Best Actor

  • George Clooney (The American)
  • Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole)
  • Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
  • Andy Garcia (City Island)
  • Ryan Gosling (Blue Valentine)

To me, it’s a real shame that Aaron Eckhart isn’t getting more love for his performance in John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole.  He and Nicole Kidman are equals in that movie, one performance doesn’t work without the other and both of them smash it out of the park.  Eckhart is understanding and sympathetic and yet flawed and on the verge of making mistakes; what makes his performance (and the film) work so well is that we relate to both his and Kidman’s characters from moment to moment.

Gosling is similarly great and for a lot of the same reasons.  Blue Valentine is also a film about a couple first and foremost and wouldn’t work if the two actors weren’t at the top of their games.  Gosling is given the more difficult role in Blue Valentine because he does quite a few things that might make us detest him, yet he more than makes up for it by playing a character who is understanding at the oddest of times – and Gosling makes it feel earned.  His character is not a particularly intelligent person and we’re given a few hints at why this might be the case, but can sympathize with his longing and with the ways in which he tries to make this relationship work.  Gosling and Eckhart both deserve to be nominated.

Clooney and Garcia are playing two completely different parts (and I just realized at this moment that they played adversaries in the Ocean’s 11 franchise).  Clooney is introverted from beginning to end and is loathe to tell his secrets to anyone.  Garcia is more manic and upbeat, anxious to get his secrets out.  People don’t give Clooney a whole lot of credit because he’s always so cool, calculated and…well, handsome as hell.  But he’s playing a difficult part in The American because so much of it is dependent on the way in which he moves rather than the way in which he speaks.  Garcia’s part in City Island is the exact opposite – it depends so much on how his speech and manner changes from scene to scene depending on who he is around.  Clooney’s part is dramatic and tragic in every sense of the word; Garcia’s part is dramatic in the hysterical sense of the word.  Both actors play their parts as perfectly as could be expected and I’d be willing to bet that if you swapped their roles, we wouldn’t be talking about either movie right now.

Finally there is Jesse Eisenberg who gives the best male performance of the year in The Social Network.  There isn’t enough I can say about this guy, who manages to make the character of Mark Zuckerberg into both villain and hero.  We cringe when he puts down his best friend because we know he’s better than that.  We believe he’s capable of redemption, that he’s not a monster.  The tragedy of the film is that he’s a person that so badly wants to connect with the people around him, that he wants to be popular, and yet he fails at every turn on a human level while succeeding on a business level.  Ultimately, at the end of the film, he’s in the Facebook offices surrounded by people and yet he’s completely alone – headphones on his ears, isolated from everyone and even his best friend can’t jolt him out of this unreality by smashing his laptop because there’s always another computer at his disposal.  Eisenberg convinces us that Zuckerberg is human and so we realte to much of what he does.  If we didn’t,  we wouldn’t be so disgusted by what he does wrong.  He should win Best Actor, but he won’t because the Academy will reward Colin Firth’s stammering performance in The King’s Speech.

(Side note: The King’s Speech is a perfectly decent film but it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.  Firth is a great actor, but this is hardly his crowning achievement.  The truth of the matter is that we can see Firth’s acting in every scene, we can see the wheels turning.  William Goldman once said that actors love playing drunks and mentally disabled people because Oscar voters can actually see them acting, knowing that the actor themselves isn’t actually disabled in any way.  But those aren’t the difficult roles at all; rather, the difficult roles are the ones where it’s hard to see the strings.  I think Firth does a good job in The King’s Speech, but I don’t think it was particularly difficult role to pull off.)

Best Actress

  • Madeline Carroll (Flipped)
  • Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
  • Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
  • Rachel Weisz (Agora)
  • Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

It was difficult to leave off Jennifer Lawrence (excellent in Winter’s Bone), Annette Bening (for that one amazing scene in The Kids Are All Right), Zoe Kazan (astounding in The Exploding Girl), Tilda Swinton (heartbreaking in I Am Love), Carey Mulligan (wonderfully understated in Never Let Me Go) and Hailee Steinfeld (for carrying True Grit).  It was a strong year for lead female performances.

However, I couldn’t in good conscience omit young Madeline Carroll’s dynamite turn in Rob Reiner’s Flipped.  I don’t blame you if you haven’t seen the movie because it doesn’t look like it’s going to be nearly as engaging as it is.  It’s a sentimental and saccharine-laced story of young love in early 60s suburbia, but one of the primary reasons why it works so well is Carroll’s charisma.  She’s playing an eccentric character who is irrationally in love with the boy next door.  The only reason the film doesn’t work is because Carroll is so much more magnetic than her counterpart.  She’s so good that it almost ruins the movie because no other part of the film works as well as her performance.  Carroll is someone to watch for.

Rachel Weisz carries Agora in a way that very few actresses could.  She is powerful and dynamic as Hypatia, the mathematician and astrologer in 5th century Alexandria.  There is a fine line that Weisz navigates between being magnanimous and being a martyr, yet Weisz’s Hypatia is noble throughout without us ever feeling like we’re being given a caricature of a decent person in the face of evil.  A lot of the dialogue Weisz has to recite is a bit cumbersome, but she is able to pull it off and make it sound natural.

Nicole Kidman and Michelle Williams are fantastic for all of the reasons I mentioned above in regards to their co-stars.  Kidman does some of the best work of her career in Rabbit Hole, giving us a character who is going through unimaginable pain.  And Williams continues to prove that she might be the best actress of her generation by playing a woman on the precipice of imploding.  What makes both performances so strong is the fact that both actresses make difficult choices in order to make their characters feel real and human.  The disinterested look in Williams’ eyes as she walks past Gosling in the shower “future room” sequence in Blue Valentine or the way Kidman smacks herself in the shoulder in the climactic argument in Rabbit Hole, these are tics that the actors bring to the table that humanize their characters in unexpected ways.

But the performance of the year – male of female – is Natalie Portman in Black Swan.  It’s not just that Portman’s Nina Sayers is so fragile that she’s almost on the verge of tears in almost every scene or that she commits herself so fully to this unhinged performance that is both repulsive and attractive at the same time, it’s that in addition to all of the typical acting traits she exhibits, she is also a convincing dancer.  Let me make that clear: Portman’s dancing ability and the way in which it morphs throughout the film is integral to the development of the character.  When Portman dances at the end of the film and we see that she has finally captured the essence of the “black swan” role, I could tell that there was a difference in the way she danced.  I’m not a ballet scholar, but even I could tell that there was a different emotional tone to her dance at the end of the film.  It wasn’t just in the way she moved – although there was that – but it was in the look in her eyes.  I can’t think of another performance that I’ve seen in recent years that was so dependent on movement and I can’t think of another performer who pulled it off so well.  Portman is in nearly every frame of Black Swan and she doesn’t give a single false note.  Nina Sayers is the Daniel Plainview of this year.

Best Supporting Actor

  • Matt Damon (True Grit)
  • John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone)
  • Kevin Kline (The Extra Man)
  • Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom)
  • Justin Timberlake (The Social Network)

The most difficult thing about this category was figuring out The Social Network situation.  I could easily replace Timberlake with Andrew Garfield or Armie Hammer.  And it was difficult not to put Garfield or Hammer in there in place of Kevin Kline or Matt Damon, as well.  Ultimately, I went with Timberlake in my Social Network slot because the film goes to a completely different level the moment Timberlake steps on the screen.  He is playing the most engaging character, for sure, but he is absolutely mesmerizing.  Timberlake has always been charismatic, but here he uses it to play a character who he is ruthless and villainous; he is the Iago of the film and his paranoia is always bubbling under the surface.

Kline and Damon are both playing oddball characters in their respective films and there are few actors better suited to those sorts of eccentrics than the two of them.  Kline plays a kind of greasy and unhygienic “gentleman” that I had never seen before on a film screen, yet he makes it seem familiar and comfortable.  And Damon plays a cocky and stupidly courageous Texas Ranger.  When writing about their characters, one has to use odd word pairings in order to describe them, like “stupidly courageous” or “unhygienic gentleman;”  for that alone, I think they deserve to be here.

Hawkes and Mendelsohn, for me, gave the two best performances in this category and they are surprisingly similar.  They both play shady criminals who are akin to caged animals, ready to strike at a moment’s notice despite the fact that there aren’t many scenes where they do.  It’s all in the way these actors move, the eerie calm in their eyes.  They are playing different sides of the same coin, to be sure, since Mendelsohn is truly villainous and Hawkes is surprisingly heroic.  However, if Animal Kingdom was from Pope’s perspective, perhaps he would seem more heroic and if Winter’s Bone was from Teardrop’s perspective then he might seem more evil.  I found it hard to shake either of their performances and each had a specific scene that was emblematic.  In Animal Kingdom, there was the scene in which Pope harasses one of his younger brothers and calls him gay and in Winter’s Bone, there’s the scene in which Teardrop gets pulled over by the cop.  In both scenes, we can tell from the performances of Hawkes and Mendelsohn (as well as their co-stars in those scenes) that they are capable of doing absolutely anything in that moment.  We have no freaking idea how these characters are going to react in those scenes and that’s what makes their performances so fantastic.

If I had to pick a winner, though, it would have to be Hawkes.  When the film ended, I wished I was following Teardrop on to wherever the hell he was going.  It haunted me.

(Side note: I know, I left Christian Bale off for The Fighter.  Truthfully, I really liked his performance and thought it was the best Bale has been since Rescue Dawn.  However, similarly to Colin Firth, I think Bale has the showier role and I think quite often he goes over the top.  I think he’s saved somewhat by the fact that Melissa Leo goes so far over the top that Bale’s scenery-chewing doesn’t seem so blatant, yet I found his scenes to be a bit cringe-worthy at times and for the wrong reasons.  He wasn’t terrible, and I’m certainly in the minority, but I didn’t buy into his character whole hog the way I wanted to.)

Best Supporting Actress

  • Greta Gerwig (Greenberg)
  • Rebecca Hall (Please Give)
  • Barbara Hershey (Black Swan)
  • Mila Kunis (Black Swan)
  • Dianne Wiest (Rabbit Hole)

I’m hesitant to even put Gerwig in this category because I think she’s really the lead of the film in so many ways, but I wanted to sneak her in here because she really holds that movie together.  Ben Stiller has the showier title role of the stunted adult, but Gerwig fascinated me because I know that character.  She plays the young hipster who is trying to get by and accidentally (and naively) sleeps around with all the wrong guys, including the title character.  Each of her mistakes is easily forgivable because she’s such a decent person, but despite seeming like she has her head on straight, she continues to see Greenberg, a man who is wrong in every way possible.  I really admired the way Gerwig was willing to do less in each of her scenes, knowing that the audience would be understanding her more because of her quietness.

Rebecca Hall is also playing a character that often goes overlooked by most award-givers: a nice person who does good things.  Hall plays a woman who is kind to her cantankerous grandmother and gives mammograms, often to older women.  She isn’t a dark or dangerous character, but a decent one who strives to be better.  In other words, Hall plays a character like many of us; someone who feels obligated to care for the people that she loves.

The fact that Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest gave terrific performances in their respective films should come as no shock to anyone who has followed their careers.  These are two wonderful actresses.  Wiest is quietly heartbroken and devastated throughout Rabbit Hole, hoping to spare her daughters the pain that she has felt.  Hershey, on the other hand, is playing a character who is almost hoping to pass on the pain she felt to her daughter.

For me, the winner of this category has to be Mila Kunis, for many of the same reasons why Portman should win her category.  Black Swan does not work if Kunis is not Portman’s equal and other in the film.  When Kunis shows up in the film, it’s that same feeling as when Timberlake shows up in The Social Network: everything becomes more electric and exciting.  Each scene with Portman and Kunis in Black Swan is ripe with tension and emotion because of the way they play off one another.  Witness that scene in the restaurant.  It’s not just that Kunis eats a burger while Portman eats her salad, it’s that Kunis derives pleasure from her food without much thought while Portman pokes around at her food meekly and painfully.  I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of Kunis in the awards conversation, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t win this year.

The Rest

The column is running a little (okay a lot) long, so here would be my winners in some of the other categories:

Score – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network, hands down, no contest.  One of the best albums of any kind that I heard this year.

Cinematography – Benoit Debie for Enter the Void, for doing things with the camera I never thought possible.

Best Original Screenplay – Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, and Joey Curtis for Blue Valentine.  A great screenplay for what it leaves out.

Best Adapted Screenplay – Aaron Sorkin for The Social Network.  Duh.

Best Documentary – Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop, even if it might be a gigantic joke on all of us.  A fascinating portrait of the rise of graffiti art.

Wilmington: The Ten Best of 2010

Friday, December 31st, 2010

So here’s my list of The Ten Best Movies of 2010, plus Honorable Mentions and a separate list of documentaries. I know it’s customary at this time to write about how awful a year it was, and how I had to struggle to find ten movies worthy of recognition, and how Hollywood is so bankrupt artistically and so bereft intellectually that the mere act of compiling a ten best list has become supremely dubious and morally questionable. But actually, I thought the moves were one of the few good things about 2010. (They’re certainly better than the last election.) And if you couldn’t find ten good ones, you weren’t trying.

MW on DVDs: Metropolis, Flipped, Last of the Mohicans, The Bing Crosby Collection … and more

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010


Metropolis (Most Complete Version) (Four Stars)

Germany: Fritz Lang, 1927

Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s great, spellbinding science fiction epic about a futuristic city gone mad, has been regarded as a cinematic classic since almost the very hours of its premiere, in Berlin in 1927.

At that first showing, German audiences and critics — most still in the throes of the post war German economic collapse, the Weimar Republic’s woes, and the orgiastic frenzies of the ‘20s — were stunned by the film‘s scope, ambition and brilliance, by its incredibly elaborate visions of the future, and by its clear reflections of those ferocious contemporary conflicts that would eventually lead to Hitler, fascism and World War II.

Metropolis, then and now, was in some ways, naïve and simplistic, a heart-on-sleeve movie ode to the possibilities of universal brotherhood and co-operation. (Its final motto, which Lang later faulted, was “Between the head and the hand, stands the heart.“) But it was also a powerfully wrought, strikingly visualized allegorical fable about the war between Capital and Labor, waged on vast sets that created a towering city of skyscrapers, air cabs and skywalks, a rooftop paradise of playgrounds for the rich, and, deep below those bright streets, a dark cavernous world of underground factories, manned by huge Moloch-like machines and by marching, trudging, all but beaten-down workers who lead a herded, slave-like existence far from the sunlight.

Acting out the fierce social schisms in Lang’s tale were a massively influential industrialist, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), his idealistic, progressive young son Freder (Gustave Frohlich), Fredersen’s secretive assistant Josaphat (Theodor Roos), the factory workers’ angelic darling and spokeswoman Maria (Brigitte Helm), the head worker Grot (Heinrich George) and the not-quite-mad scientist, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), who has created a robot “False Maria” (also Helm), to seduce the workers into self-destructive riot and revolt.

The movement of the film is from regimentation and mechanical entrapment to chaos — or what would actually happen to Germany in the years to come.

Metropolis‘ Berlin premiere was a triumph. Audiences were mesmerized by the overwhelming visions that Lang and his company — including nonpareil cinematographer Karl Freund, art directors Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut and Carl Vollbrecht, and special effects photographer Eugen Schuftan — had summoned up: a breathtaking world of wonders, dreams, extrapolations and nightmares that later science fiction filmmakers, in later epics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Blade Runner and Avatar, have ever since striven to match or surpass

But that Berlin run was also one of the last times that audiences got to see Metropolis the way Lang and his chief collaborator — the film’s novelist/scenarist (and Lang’s wife) Thea von Harbou — intended it. The Berlin version was about 153 minutes long, not excessive for an epic like Metropolis. But soon, the film was cut for distribution to the rest of Germany, cut further for American release, and cut again and again for its international distribution, eventually down to 87 minutes, for the 1984 disco score version by composer Giorgio (Midnight Express) Moroder.

While Lang’s great canvas of a city and a future in flames was repeatedly shortened and stripped and re-jiggered, World War 2 intervened. Lang, the son of a Jewish mother, hating the Nazis, fled Germany for America and Hollywood. Von Harbou stayed behind and herself became a Nazi Party member. And the shattered couple’s masterpiece was left, it seemed, to the whims and winds of history — and in the dubious hands of fascist tyrants who were, ironically, sometimes (including Goebbels and Hitler himself) among the movie‘s biggest fans. Soon, the original 153-minute version seemed lost forever, replaced by a plethora of alternate “Metropolises” and of true and false Marias. Those snipped-up cities became the Metropolis that most film enthusiasts knew for the rest of the Twentieth Century.

When Metropolis was restored (and I have that version; I love it) to a carefully reassembled 124 minutes and shown in Berlin in 2001 (the year in which the film is set, as Stanley Kubrick well knew), restoration supervisor Martin Koerber, while also celebrating the beauty of all they‘d found and restored, sadly wrote that “a quarter of the regional premiere version of Metropolis, including the part containing the core of the story as conceived by Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang, must be considered to be irretrievably lost.”

But, between the head and the heart, it seems, stands the hand. Of the worker, the librarian, the finder, the keeper…

As archaeologists are there to remind us, cities (and civilizations) can rise from the ashes and the earth. Just as the original, long-lost version of Carl Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc was finally found (in a Norwegian asylum), a nearly complete print of the original Metropolis was discovered in 2008, in an archive in Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, Argentina, a country itself battered by fascism, was subject to storms of history that may have delayed that discovery — and the print had deteriorated, become worn and scratched, over years of neglect.

Still, it was an epochal find. And it led to the reconstruction and the distribution (by Kino) of a 147-minute version that now contains almost all of the 1927 Metropolis.

Restored are a long-gone crucial subplot involving Josaphat and the Metropolis underworld; a mysterious character called “The Thin Man”; a long sequence set in the “Yoshiwara,” or red light district; and many small bits that amplify and clarify the film’s originally Byzantine narrative. This is not just a longer “Metropolis,” but a brilliantly elaborated one that finally contains all the pieces of the puzzle. Shorn of the confusion of most of the previous cuts, it is, in the end, a well-spun narrative that grips us throughout — besides filling us all over again with admiration for its sheer cinematic reach and fire and genius.

The false god of Metropolis is technology. The true god of the movie is humanity and love. The heroes of Metropolis are Lang and his munificently talented fellow artists. And the hero of the restoration tale is that Buenos Aires archivist, who finally brought to the light the film that had been thought lost forever for more than 80 years.

Lang himself came to reject Metropolis, perhaps because of the turn to Nazism of the woman who wrote the novel and (with him) the screenplay, his ex-love and ex-wife Thea. (The True Thea? The False Thea?) But their movie still amazes us. And the real-life story of loss, destruction and rediscovery behind this release gives us hope for other recoveries.

Maybe someday, somewhere, someone really will uncover the missing sections of Welles‘ The Magnificent Ambersons. And all those many missing reels of Von Stroheim’s Greed. Von Sternberg’s A Woman of the Sea. Murnau’s Four Devils. All those missing silent films by Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu. And all the rest of the lost gems of cinema‘s lost history.

Maybe even the last six missing minutes of Metropolis.

In most cases, we probably won’t find and recover them, won’t retrieve the irretrievable. But, like Fritz Lang and the young, pre-Nazi Thea (who still believed in head, hand and heart), we can dream, can’t we? (Silent, with English intertitles and the original score by Gottfried Huppertz.)

Extras: Documentary Voyage to Metropolis; Interview with Paula Felix-Didier, the Argentine museum curator who found the lost print; Re-release trailer.



Flipped (Four Stars)

U. S.; Rob Reiner, 2010

For the past few years, I’ve been looking, yearning even, for some American studio movies that would make me feel the way I sometimes did as a movie-going kid — digging among all the sappy dreck and obvious trash of most so-called family movies today for the kind of warm, smart, family film I used to love: movies that had great characters, that depended for theirs impact on personality, writing “invisible direction” and a strong connection to the culture outside.

I’ve longed, usually in vain, for just a few live action movies that could made me laugh and cry the way It’s a Wonderful Life or The Quiet Man or The Wizard of Oz or Meet Me in St. Louis or the old Disney feature cartoons all did when I was young. Or the way the best Pixar animation often does now.

Rob Reiner just made one. Flipped.

You may be surprised at my high evaluation of Flipped — I’d rank this movie with my favorites of the year — because, even though Reiner‘s puppy love chronicle about a grade school crush in the ’50s and ’60s (told by the smitten girl and reluctant boy in alternate chapters), has received some positive or even ecstatic reviews, and fully deserves them, it’s also received almost as many mixed notices or witty, acid-tongued knocks.

Since Flipped’s nay-sayers tend to be from the more sophisticated media outlets, you may have sensed some consensus of hip brewing. It’s an understandable take. It’s been a long time since I‘ve felt about a Rob Reiner movie the way I feel about this one. But when I walked out of the screening room for Flipped, thoroughly entertained, I was also both elated and weeping. I could feel the tears coursing down for at least twelve blocks on my walk home. (I’ll tell you why later.)

Flipped risks the opposite response, critical contempt, just as its little heart-on-sleeve heroine, Juli Baker, keeps risking rejection by throwing herself on the line repeatedly for her leaden-footed, unadventurous big crush, Bryce Loski.

Yet not only has Reiner completely regained his form here (if he ever lost it), I actually prefer Flipped to Stand By Me. (I like Stand by Me fine, but I think it was a mistake for Wil Wheaton, and not River Phoenix, to have that gun at the end.) I would also rank Flipped with or above the other previous top movies in Reiner‘s canon, This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, Misery, The Princess Bride and even When Harry Met Sally. I’d be surprised if, despite those sophisticated pans, he wasn’t very, very proud of it. And he should be.

Flipped is based on the 2001 teen novel by Wendelin Van Draanen, a longtime school teacher and mother, and someone who obviously understands kids from ground zero, with depth and sympathy. She‘s arranged the novel, ingeniously, as the two-sided story of a longtime schoolgirl crush.

In the beginning, live-wire second grader Juli Baker (played by the adorable Morgan Lily) rushes across her sunny suburban street to meet her new neighbors, the Loskis, and immediately flips for blonde, blue-eyed fellow second grader Bryce Loski (played at seven by the skittish-looking Ryan Ketzner). It’s one of those golden days, where every detail lingers forever afterward in your memory– for Juli, but not for Bryce, who immediately tries to ditch her. He gets his escape hatch when his dad Steven (Anthony Edwards), who understands pesky little girls and how annoying they can be, and tells him to go do some chores.

But before Bryce can run to his mother Patsy (Rebecca De Mornay), and hide behind her skirts, the determined Juli races after him, the two kids get tangled up, and they wind up holding hands in wittily romantic slow motion. It’s magic for her, embarrassing for him, and an image that hangs over the entire movie, until the very last shot.

From then on, we get the saga of Juli and Bryce from two sides — in alternating chapters, one told by the seemingly exasperated Bryce, the next by the seemingly indefatigable Juli. Soon we jump ahead, to the eighth grade, in 1963, where most of the story takes place.

In the movie, the kids are played as eighth graders by two splendid young actors, Callan McAuliffe and Madeline Carroll (Swing Vote). These two are both so good, so wonderfully unaffected and so completely into their roles, that you can pay them the ultimate actor compliment: You never see or feel them as separate from their characters. I think Madeline Carroll will always be thought of, and treasured, as Juli Baker, and that McAuliffe will likewise always be remembered as Bryce Loski. These youthful actors both give us everything we or Reiner could have wanted in these roles, all the subtlety and undercurrents and emotion, as does the rest of his astutely picked and beautifully controlled ensemble.

Carroll and McAuliffe score in their edgy scenes together and apart and also in the confidingly intimate voice-over narrations, where they speak their mind and tell us what they think and feel. That narrative device has also been wittily knocked, though, of course, it comes right out of the novel. Juli and Bryce’s narrations are funny, and kiddishly candid and revealing, and they tell us more about the kids, and about their families than the speakers themselves may fully understand as they speak.

They’re no natural couple. There’s a schism of temperament between them, and a class split as well.

The Bakers are blue collar, the Loskis white collar. Juli is a little dynamo, who wins science contests and is a brain and a crusader. She tends chickens and sells the eggs, hates the snobby little flirts and phonies in her class, like her big-hair nemesis, Sherry Stalls (Ashley Taylor), and adores her hard-working father, Richard (Aidan Quinn), who paints landscapes on the side; her mom Trina (Penelope Ann Miller); and her high-school age brothers Mark and Matt (Michael Bolten and Shane Harper.)

Juli gets to know, only later, the other family member, her Uncle Daniel (Kevin Weisman), whose partial strangling at birth by his umbilical cord left him mentally challenged and institutionalized, and whose health care bill keeps the whole family financially strapped.

Bryce, on the other hand, is something of a little suburban prince, with a more divided family. Smart but nowhere near as active and accomplished as Juli, he rejects her partly because his snobbish, acid-tongued dad, Steven (a role nailed by Anthony Edwards), looks down so snidely and dismissively on the Baker family and their messy yard (a weedy tangle because the Bakers’ landlord never maintains it and Richard lacks the time). Bryce‘s mother Patsy (Rebecca De Mornay) and his sister Lynetta (Cody Horn) are, in a way, princesses, too, but more likable, earthier ones. They’re basically on Juli‘s side — as is her strongest ally, Grandpa Chet (John Mahoney, good as always), who calls Juli “iridescent” and says she reminds him of his late wife, Patsy‘s mother. (Just as strongly, by the way, she reminds me of my own mother, Edna.)

Bryce, we eventually realize, really does like Juli, even if he can’t admit it. Maybe he would be her friend without prodding, if he had the guts (grade-school girls and boys of that era almost never mixed) and if he wasn’t so destructively influenced by his mean dad. And Bryce’s scathing papa’s venomous prejudices become more understandable after it’s revealed that Steven was a would be musician in his youth (a rock saxophonist in the movie, a guitarist in the book) who sacrificed his big dreams, hates his job, and wishes ill to anyone who has aspirations like the ones he tossed away. Bryce‘s worst instincts are also enhanced by his wannabe-rich-kid rat of a best friend, Garrett (Israel Broussard), a social bully and back-stabbing opportunist of the slimiest kind.

Now, you’ll see from this description that Flipped definitely has its dark and unsentimental, realistic side, that it’s no sunshiny Leave It To Beaver descendant. (It’s worth remembering though, as we now mostly don’t, that the TV Beaver was initially hailed by critics as a more naturalistic, sophisticated innovation in family TV comedies. And back then, it was.)

So, in Flipped, the incidents that drive the story forward are full of symbolic power, genuine conflict, strong themes and real emotion. This is a funny, charming movie about teen romance, but it’s also about bigotry and blasted dreams, social divisions and family tragedy. It’s about never giving up and about finally, morally growing up and becoming a person.

The characters resonate and so do the big scenes. Young Juli‘s neighborhood haven is a huge, gnarled old sycamore tree, from whose upper branches she dreamily watches the world below. When it’s finally slated for chopping down and removal, she tries to organize a town protest, even tries to enlist Bryce in her tree-in, but the embarrassed Bryce wont join — though that article about Juli’s crusade is what draws Grandpa Chet to her, and finally intrigues Bryce as well.

There’s an achingly real and painful sequence where Juli, who’s been selling eggs from her chickens to neighborhood ladies and giving them free every morning to Bryce, finally catches him sneakily throwing them away. There’s the marvelously strained and falsely convivial two-family Baker-Loski supper that Patsy organizes, where, afterwards, we finally see what a tormented bastard Steven really is.

All these episodes take on heightened significance, as we observe them through Bryce’s eyes, then Julie’s. Far from being hackneyed TV sitcom-style stuff, the whole movie is smartly designed and deftly constructed, full of passion, intelligence and wit. And full of a humanity rare for most movies these days. Flipped only seems like a sitcom if you’re not watching it closely.

That’s why it’s so right, so apropos, so flawlessly judged, that Reiner decided to re-set the story from (roughly) the present day to a span from 1957 to 1963, and to embellish the soundtrack with a Scorsesean medley of early ‘60s rock n‘ roll hits and oldies, starting with Curtis Lee’s bouncy “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” (as a fitting anthem for Juli), and ending, devastatingly, with The Everly Brothers’ (or at least Phil‘s) soulful, heart-breaking “Let It be Me.“ (Flipped, like Stand By Me, has the perfect last image and the perfect song playing over it.)

All these songs, juke box gems from the onset of the rock era, obviously mean something precious to Reiner. (They were, after all, the hits and dance songs of his youth.) And they’ll carry a charge to most of the audience as well, including most of the post-Boomer audience who know them only from revivals. There‘s an added boost from the period setting. Putting crusader/activist Juli and her eventual convert Bryce right on the cusp of the ’60s, means we know they’ll go through the late Civil Rights and Vietnam years together — and we know which side they’ll be on.

That isn’t necessarily true of the book. Author Van Draanen sets her Flipped in the present day. (It was published in 2001.) And one of the few cultural details she uses is to make Grandpa Chet a reader of novelist Tom (Patriot Games) Clancy. I hated that, not only because Clancy, a Cold War mega-thriller specialist and right wing trashmeister, seems to me such an overrated, overbought writer (Clancy’s Red Storm Rising is the worst-written long book I ever read all the way through), but because a taste for Clancy doesn’t jibe with Chet’s more liberal, open personality.

Van Draanen’s book is rich in details and insights into youth behavior, and she’s great at character and narrative. But Reiner and his collaborators and his marvelous cast have made it warmer, more deeply touching. Flipped the book would never have made me cry, though maybe Van Draanen doesn’t want tears.

Now I’ll tell you part of why the movie made my tears flow. (Part of the reason anyway.) It’s because something in it reminded me of my own childhood, though nothing that I‘m proud of.

When I was in the third grade, my mother Edna — the woman of whom Juli reminded me so much — began telling me about a family up the street whom she liked and who had a little girl named Caroline, who was about my age, was very smart and took care of some chickens, ducks and other farm animals that the family owned and kept nearby. Edna eventually brought me to meet the family, the animals, and Caroline, who had big eyes and a wide, blazing smile. She was very active and, as Edna said, very bright.

Caroline was a little older than me, and she was sort of temporarily gangly and, for the moment, very tall, as “little girls“ sometimes are at that age — a gawkiness they can grow out of spectacularly. She seemed delighted to have a friend near her age whom she could talk to and play with and show her animals. But I got worried that my classmates would think she was my girlfriend, and tease and laugh at us, if we were seen together too much. So I blew up one day in our house, and, with Caroline there, began storming childishly about how she looked, how she dressed, how tall she was. “Look at her dress! Look at her clothes!” ” I yelled, like a callous little idiot.

I cannot tell you how much I hate myself when I look back on that day, or when I remember Caroline sitting in a chair in our garage apartment, the big smile suddenly gone from her face. How still she was. How sad she was. I’ve replayed that scene and wished a hundred times I could go back in time and shake that little jerk, me, by the shoulders and yell and slap some humanity into him.

I didn’t even have the excuse of arrogant social class or a bad, snobbish father, like Bryce did. My father was a snob, but my parents were divorced and he wasn’t around. My mother and grandparents were maybe poorer than the Barkers. Somehow, I’d picked up that stupid prejudice and cruelty all by myself or from school-friends — a bigotry about looks and dress and apparent social class endemic in our culture and pop culture, and fed to us relentlessly, both then and now.

Poor Caroline. She’d done absolutely nothing to deserve my meanness, any more than Juli did in Flipped, or than Flipped has done to its acid-tongued critic/bashers. My mother made me apologize of course. Edna was embarrassed and hurt too, because in some way, I think she saw some of herself in Caroline and wanted me to like her. But I’d busted things badly; I didn’t have time to set them right.

Caroline‘s family left town shortly afterwards. I never saw her again. But, incredibly, she left me a present before they left. She gave me her two ducks — whom I named Charles Jonathan Duckworth and Janice Elizabeth Duckworth. For years, I fed those ducks and took care of them and walked with them, both quacking, up the street toward Caroline‘s old house, until one day, much later, Charles flew away.

I remember Caroline’s eyes to this day. And her smile. I remember them far more clearly than I do the sparkling eyes and flirty smiles of all the cute little girls, like Flipped’s Sherry Stalls, that I thought were so pretty at the time. But I remember her sudden sadness and stillness that day too. Over the years, every time I recall the day that I behaved like such a worthless little jerk and lost my friend, I dislike my old young self more, and wish more fervently I could wipe it all out, do something to bring back her smile, even for a second.

But how can you? Children can be very cruel. And cruelty uncorrected can blight your life. I hope Caroline was very, very happy all her life, and didn‘t have any more disappointing friends like me. And I hope she doesn’t have too hurtful a memory of the nasty little boy I was that day.

That’s one of the reasons I think Flipped is a great movie. (“I bless the day I found you; I want to stay around you…”) And it’s why I’d like people to try to ignore the negative comments it’s gotten, however persuasive they may seem, and to give it a chance. Don’t treat it like Rob Reiner’s folly, or like his been-there-done-that Stand By Me knockoff, because it isn’t. It’s really his pride and joy, one of the movies he‘ll be remembered for. Treat this sweet, brave, funny, charming, beautiful little picture like a potential treasure, a potential friend — like the little girl (or boy) who keeps knocking at your door and smiling and saying “Hi!‘” and who may have more to offer than you can possibly imagine.



The Last of the Mohicans (Director‘s definitive cut) (Four Stars)

U.S.: Michael Mann, 1992 (20th Century Fox)

From Michael Mann: A politically correct, but still blazingly exciting, version of James Fennimore Cooper’s most romantic Leatherstocking tale: the bloody, brutal war story (French and Huron against British settlers) and buried love, between lovely Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and woosdsman hero and adopted Mohican Hawkeye a.k.a. Pathfinder, a.k.a. Deerslayer a.k.a. Long Rifle a.k.a. Leatherstocking a.k.a. Natty Bummpo (all played by Daniel Day-Lewis), and unspoken feeling between sturdy Mohican Uncas and ethereal Hetty. (Cooper purists tend to dislike this film, but Mark Twain, who wrote the blisteringly funny Literary Offenses of Fennimore Cooper, might have approved. As a story, Mann makes it work.)

Day-Lewis, though seemingly odd casting, makes a terrific hero, Stowe a feisty heroine (second of out feisty Madeleines this week) and Wes Studi (as Magua) a smoldering, scary villain. The other Indians are played by Native Americans too, including Wounded Knee activist Rusell Means as Hawkeye’s eternal pal Chingachcook. The movie is well cast (also on hand are Jodhi May, Eric Schweig, Dennis Banks, Cole Meaney and Pete Postlethwaite, as is French actor-director Patrice Chereau as Montcalm), incredibly rich in detail, and beautifully shot in deep forests and high mountains, by Dante Spinotti. An excellent revisionist Western, in the Little Big Man vein. (R.I.P. Arthur Penn). Along with Heat, it’s as good as Mann has done.

(Two other movie versions of Last of the Mohicans, both worth a watch, are the classic 1920 silent film (Three and a Half Stars) directed by Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Brown, with Wallace Beery as Magua, and a fine 1936 George Seitz version (Three Stars) — the one Mann remembered from his boyhood and adapted here — scripted by Philip Dunne, with Randolph Scott as Hawkeye and Bruce Cabot as Magua.)

Extras: Commentary by Mann, Featurettes.



The Bing Crosby Collection (Three Stars)

U.S.: Various directors, 1933-47 (Universal)

“Dear gentle folk of Newport…Or maybe I should say ‘hats and cats’: I want you to lend an ear because, well, I want you to hear some really shimmering sharps and flats. For these cozy virtuosi, just about the greatest in the trade, are fixin’ to show you now, precisely how, jazz music is made!

“Well, you take some skins. Jazz begins. And then you take a bass. Man, now we’re getting’ some place…”

Bing Crosby, singing Cole Porter’s “Now You Has Jazz,” in High Society (1956)

Remember that eloquent baritone voice, soaring with melody, rife with melancholy, rippling with wit? Those icy blue eyes? Those wingy ears? That absolutely unflappable demeanor? Remember Bing’s priceless byplay with his trumpet-playing, scat-singing, virtuoso cohort on their great number quoted above, the nonpareil Louis “Satchmo“ Armstrong? (“Hey Pops, you want to grab a little of what’s left here?” “Yeah, Daddy, yeah!”) Remember “Dial ‘O’ for O’Malley?“

We can’t forget Der Bingle of course. But we tend to let slip what an entertainment industry phenomenon Crosby was, especially since his skinny Clan friend Frank Sinatra and that hillbilly cat upstart Elvis Presley have both tended to overshadow him since his death, as singer-actor movie star legends. But Crosby’s record is still pretty amazing.

Mr. C. was the undisputed top ’30’s-’40s recording star, with music’s all time top disc seller (White Christmas) and over 400 charted records in his career (more, this box’s notes gently remind us, than Elvis and The Beatles combined). One of the top box-office movie stars through the ’40s (often swapping positions with his ski-nosed pal Bob Hope). The top-rated radio star of the same decade (Hope again his main rival). A best actor Oscar-winner (for Father O’Malley in Leo McCarey’s excellent and now underrated “Going My Way.“) And don’t forget, Hope never won a competitive Oscar. (He never let us forget it, even when he got career ones.) Crosby paved the way for Frank, Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, everyone else, and don’t think they didn’t know it.

Crosby was not the usual kind of juke box idol, movie giant or matinee croon-swoon type. He was no schmo. He had a gift of gab, an admirable vocabulary, and he’d roll it out, anytime, anywhere. He‘s the only top 40 singer I can think of who could comfortably use words like “recherché“ and “discombobulate.” (His own writers accompanied him to his sets, which really annoyed Billy Wilder.)

In his early movie career, fresh out of Paul Whiteman’s band, he was sort of a typical singing popular starry-eyed guy, but he had a great sense of humor, was smart as a whip, made one-reel comedies, became a leading man, and also became one of the movies’ all-time great singer-stars and comedy straight men. (He’s usually at his best with partners, whether Hope, or Astaire, or Satchmo, or Frank and Dean — or a leading lady for whom he can lay on the withering schmaltz, and pour out the shimmering honey.

After all that fancy-shmancy intro, I’ve got say this set isn’t the best of Bing. It’s mostly early stuff, a little obscure, a little, dare we say, recherché. (He’s also the only top 40 idol who could get away with “dare we say.”) There’s only one classic here: Mississippi, with W. C. Fields. But it’s all fun to watch. By the way, you can get High Society from Warner. And you should. He does a great duet with Sinatra in the movie too. (“Is that what they’re saying? Well, did you evah!”) And also one with Grace Kelly. And “Now You has Jazz,” is — what can we say — sublime, iridescent, deliciously deliriously, absolutely the pinnacle of musical prestidigitation, a rocker with a bit of the bubbly. just one unsurpassable mellow and magnificent, cool and hot ballad for the ages. Or, as Frank would say, a gasser. (“From the equator, up to the pole: Everybody’s singin’, everybody wingin’ that rock, rock, rock, rock — rock n’ roll!”)

Hey, this intro was fun. I reserve the right to reuse some of it, if they ever put out another, better Crosby set. And they should.

College Humor(U.S.; Wesley Ruggles, 1933). Two Stars. College? Humor? Bing is a singing professor, competing for gals with, and crusading for a football team that includes Jack Oakie and Richard Arlen. and a campus that harbors George Burns and Gracie Allen. Rah!

We’re Not Dressing (U.S.; Norman Taurog, 1933.) Well, you can’t beat that cast or that title. Bing romancing Carole Lombard (who, he says in Call Me Lucky, took the title literally), plus Ethel Merman, more Burns and Allen, and, as a lounge lizard, Ray Milland. Here is My Heart(U. S.; Frank Tuttle, 1934). Two and a Half Stars. Bing, a rich crooner, disguises himself as a waiter to romance threadbare Russian royalty Kitty Carlisle and her retinue of Roland Young and Reginald Owen. Sort of imitation Lubitsch, with the best songs in the bunch: June in January“ and “Love is just Around the Corner.” (“And I couldn’t be forlorner.”)

Mississippi (U.S.; A. Edward Sutherland, 1935). Three and a Half Stars. W. C. Fields is a wily Southern riverboat captain and showman, Joan Bennett is a belle of the ball, and Bing is a reputed Northern coward who gains fame as The Singing Killer. A rib-tickling roundelay of rare and roguish jollity. Sing, You Sinners (U.S.: Ruggles, 1938). Two and a Half Stars. Crooner Bing, horn-tootling Fred MacMurray, and dance-up-a-storm young Donald O’Connor are a musical family who try to go straight, until Bing buys a race horse. They’re off! Songs: “Small Fry” and “Pocketful of Dreams.”

Welcome, Stranger (U.S.; Elliot Nugent, 1947) Three Stars. After “Going My Way,” they certainly weren’t strangers, but Bing and Barry Fitzgerald (“Impetuous! Homeric!”) collide again as grouchy old doctor and effervescent young medico, coping with evil pharmacists, medical conspiracies, small town gossip and Joan Caulfield affairs of the heart.



The Expendables (Also Blu-ray) (Two Stars)

U. S.; Sylvester Stallone, 2010

Sylvester Stallone could have been a contender.

In fact, once upon a time, he was the contender, even almost the champ. Rocky. F.I.S.T.? Rambo? Now comes The Expendables, an action movie for moviegoers who miss the ’80s. (Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to forget them.)

Sly is back, and he’s playing Barney Ross — not the heroin addict boxer of Andre De Toth’s Monkey on my Back, but the deep-voiced, heavily-muscled, mellowed but kick-ass leader of a gang of mercenaries that includes a whole Dirty Dozen or so of once or current upper-echelon action heroes: Lundgren as the scarred hothead Gunner Jensen, Jason Statham as London’s Lock, Stock basher Lee Christmas, martial artist Jet Li as Chinese mauler Ying Yang, wrestler turned actor Stone Cold Steve Austin as Paine, Terry Crews as Hale Caesar, Randy Couture as Toll Road — enough action stars or superstars to start a new country: Actionland, whose national motto is “Mess with the Best, and Die Like the Rest.”

Sending them on their way is a stern C. I. A. schmoozer named Church (played with an admirably straight face by Bruce Willis). Sitting this one out is another Stallone rival, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as the smirking Trench. (“He wants to be President,” Barney mutters.) The main villain is Eric Roberts, in another headcase role as James Munroe (not the president). The love interest is Gisele Itie as Sandra, the radicalized daughter of the evil general of a wild and woolly banana republic.

And giving the guys tattoos, as scraggly Tool, is Mickey Rourke, Eric Roberts‘ costar in that neglected 1984 NYC street classic “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” a top ’80s movie that a lot of people have forgotten or never knew. Rourke steals the entire movie, and Roberts steals what‘s left.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn‘t sometimes fun to watch all these guys, in their muscle-flexing, exploding fireball of a class reunion. But I’d also be lying if I didn’t say this was a second-tier action movie that doesn’t make much sense. (“But that’s the point!“ hard-core ’80s-lovers will lecture us. “It’s from the ‘80s! It’s not supposed to make sense! It made money!“ ) Oh yeah? If this movie had a lot more humor, more camaraderie and less phony cojones, more Mickey Rourke and Roberts, and even some more non-action Stallone, it could have been a lot better, Charlie. Instead, it’s an occasional hoot, but expendable. Extras: Commentary by Stallone; Featurette; Deleted scene; Gag reel.

Eat Pray Love (Also Blu-ray) (Two and a Half Stars)

U. S.; Ryan Murphy, 2010

This movie — taken from Elizabeth Gilbert’s international bestseller about a year spent recuperating from a failed marriage and love affair, reaching nirvana through travel, romance, epicurean feasting and spiritual questing, communing with various great souls (who mix visionary searching with snappy patter) — is so well shot, on such gorgeous locations (Rome, India, Bali), with such a fine cast (Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Richard Jenkins, James Franco, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup), that for a while, it seems better than it really is. But it isn’t. In the end, I felt gypped, manipulated, chivvied, jived. Ain’t no way to the Truth.

You have to go to the book to find out that Gilbert got an (apparently very big) advance from her publisher specifically to write this tome, with four months allotted for each country: four months for Rome and food, four months for India and prayer, four months for Bali and whoopee. It’s all on the itinerary except perhaps for the climactic fling with Bardem as Felipe the boatman, without his Coen Brothers haircut.

Better than this movie, I think would have been a romantic comedy in which writer Liz sets up the whole spiritual-epicurean world cruise with her publisher, and then everything goes wrong, except at the end. But I guess life intervened, love intervened, the Great Soul flew down and blew smoke in our eyes. Close your eyes. Breathe. Follow the light. Eat. Pray. Love. Pray. Advance. Bank transfer. Pray. Advance. Bank transfer. We should all have such a publisher! Then we wouldn’t need a spiritual guide. Or Julia Roberts. No, strike that. We‘ll always need Julia Roberts. Love. Pray. Eat.

Extras: Featurette.

I’m Still Here (Also Blu-ray) (Two Stars)

U. S.; Casey Affleck, 2010

This movie — director Casey Affleck‘s seemingly unsparing look at the weird and infamous career-change crisis (from Oscar-nominated actor to slovenly, talentless rapper) of Affleck’s brother-in-law Joaquin Phoenix — divided critics and media writers between those who thought it was a real documentary (or at least part of one), a non-fiction show full of bone-chilling glimpses of the dark side of Hollywood and the creepy side of success; those who thought it was a flat out mockumentary (or at least part of one) artfully concocted by Phoenix and Affleck, whose con game gulled David Letterman (perhaps) and much of the country; and those who don’t know and don’t care but think, in either case, it’s a crockumentary (or at least part of one) and were grossed out by producer-star Phoenix’s seemingly unsparing revelations, or skits, about what a complete asshole, deranged blowhard and ego-tripping nincompoop Joaquin or “Joaquin” can be.

It was a fake, of course and we should have known. (After all, the name of Joaquin’s and Casey’s production company was “They’re Going to Kill Us.”)

Pretty good acting job though. (By Sean Combs as well as Phoenix.) And an interesting acting challenge: Try to fool the whole country for a movie project, for a year. It even has a rich, juicy theme: the longing of a successful movie star to be an up-from-the-streets “outlaw” artist, the destructive hedonism of the Hollywood rich elite, and the ways that big money and big celebrity can curdle your brains.

Summer and Smoke (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Peter Glenville, 1961 (Olive)

Tennessee Williams’ play Summer and Smoke, set in 1916 in a small Deep South town, is about an idealistic preacher‘s daughter named Alma, who believes in the spirit, and a libertine doctor‘s son named Johnny, who believes in the flesh, and how she loves him all her life, and how he‘s drawn to her for at least one night (and maybe more), and how they just miss erotic connections, and wind up on opposite sides of the spirit-flesh debate. It’s one of his most personal and poetic works.

Williams even returned to Summer and Smoke later, as he did to his early play Battle of Angels — which became Orpheus Descending, and then the Brando-Magnani-Woodward film The Fugitive Kind — refashioning Summer years later as The Eccentricities of a Nightingale. But by then he had seemingly lost his commercial touch, if not his lyrical-dramatic one.

The movie — which has its ups and downs, but always has the benefit of Williams’ singing words and impassioned characterizations — also has a famous and first-rate performance: Geraldine Page’s Oscar-nominated turn as too-sensitive, heart-stricken, utterly trapped Alma, a woman whom she infuses with a bruised idealism and unrequited passion that almost hurt to watch, and whom she carries on a believable transition to Blanche DuBois-land and the kindness of one last stranger. (Earl Holliman, as it turns out, as a traveling salesman.)

Malcolm Atterbury and Una Merkel are also fine as Alma’s parents, the stern preacher and his demented spouse. So is McIntire, gruff and lovable again as Johnny’s doctor dad. And Rita Moreno, in the year she won an Oscar for Anita in “West Side Story,“ has another combustible role here, as Johnny‘s fiery temptress Rosa. (Too much fire this time, maybe and not enough scolding and dancing.)

But the movie, which got Oscar nominations for Page, Merkel and for composer Elmer Bernstein (who contributes an excellent, seething, bent-romantic score), seems sometimes florid and phony, in the way incautious, over-pretentious adaptations of Williams can often seem. Perhaps that’s partly due to director Peter Glenville, a theatrical whiz who knows good material (Becket) and gets fine actors, but sometimes cranks up the stage lust and dramatic pyrotechnics too much. Too summery, too smoky.

“Thomas Gomez turns up again, sweating and shouting,” Glenville-basher Pauline Kael said of Summer supporting actor Gomez, in one of her memorably witty knocks. And so he does, as Rosa’s gun-waving gangster- dad, the owner of Johnny’s favorite depraved den of sin and cockfights Moon Lake Casino — and a man who brings Bacchanal wherever he goes. (I’ll forgive Gomez anything though, because of “Force of Evil.“) As Johnny, Laurence Harvey, as so often during his early ‘60s big star career, seems to have a grudge against the world. It‘s a relief when Harvey, who was a fine Romeo in Renato Castellani’s 1954 Romeo and Juliet, gets to read some of Williams’ gentler lines, and to give Alma some of his softer looks.

I hate to say too many bad things about Summer and Smoke, because it’s the kind of material I’d like to see done more often today, with this level of production and cast. Tennessee Williams may have had his flaws, and his sins, but he could write beautifully and honestly, with feeling. Geraldine Page, a real pro, makes us recognize what strong theatrical stuff Summer and Smoke really is.

A Thunder of Drums (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Joseph M. Newman, 1961 (Warner Archive)

This adult Cavalry Western, about a blunt, prickly commander (Richard Boone), a brash lieutenant (George Hamilton, who’s part of a love triangle here with Home from the Hill” castmate Luana Patten), an insubordinate bully of a soldier (Charles Bronson), and the rest f the fort’s motley populace (including Richard Chamberlain and Slim Pickens), was written by James Warner Bellah, who also wrote Sergeant Rutledge and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance for John Ford, as well as the stories from which Ford made the Cavalry Trilogy.

And if Ford had directed this film — which received unusually good reviews and was then forgotten — it might be considered one of his classics. Newman doesn’t do a bad job though, and Boone (who played the wry gunslinger Paladin in the offbeat TV western “Have Gun, Will Travel”) is, here as elsewhere, an excellent, underrated actor. (This movie is made on demand. Browse or

The DVD Wrap: Flipped, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Collection, Deadwood: The Complete Collection … and more

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010


Anyone who lost faith in Rob Reiner after blowing their hard-earned dough on such star-studded duds as The Story of Us, Alex & Emma and Rumor Has It …, might want to give the filmmaker another chance. In the pre-pubescent romance Flipped, we meet a boy and girl who could have lived down the block from the kids introduced a quarter-century ago in two of Reiner’s most enduring hits, The Sure Thing and Stand by Me.

The emotional climate feels authentic, as do the actions of the parents, grandparents and teachers on view. The setting is suburban American, circa 1957-63, and the protagonists are new neighbors, Bryce and Juli (Callan McAuliffe, Madeline Carroll). And, from Minute One, it’s fair to assume they’re destined to come together somewhere near the very end of the picture. In the meantime, though, they undergo most of the same turmoil that affects kids feeling the first unexpected pangs of puppy love. Juli confounds Bryce with her aggressive pursuit of friendship.

He’s strangely attracted to the geeky girl, but is frightened by feelings he doesn’t understand and can’t define. Instead, Bryce begins treating Juli as if she has cooties. His increasingly shallow behavior is fortified by his dad (Anthony Edwards), a suburban snob who measures the worth of his neighbors by the tidiness of their lawns, and Juli’s dad (Aidan Quinn) doesn’t measure up to his standards. When Juli begins raising chickens in their backyard as an extension of a science project, Bryce’s dad convinces his son of the unwholesomeness of the eggs, which she delivers to their house as a neighborly gesture.

Fortunately, the moms (Rebecca De Mornay, Penelope Ann Miller) are more charitable than their husbands, as his Bryce’s grandfather (John Mahoney), who sees in Juli something of his late wife. The only question that remains 85 minutes into the 90-minute movie is whether Bryce will get over himself long enough to see beyond his dad’s prejudices.

Reiner borrows a literary conceit from Wendelin Van Draanen’s source novel, by telling the story through the contrasting viewpoints of Bryce and Juli. Normally, that wouldn’t present much of problem. Here, however, the device results in most of the story being advanced through narratives, instead of dialogue. It grows tiresome very quickly. So, too, does Reiner’s insistence on cluttering the background of Flipped with a steady stream of hits from the late-1950s and early-’60s.

They don’t emerge organically from the storyline — as they did in American Graffiti, for example — and probably wouldn’t be on either of these kids’ playlists, in any case. The Blu-ray extras are dominated by the teen stars, who testify to the on-set camaraderie, Reiner’s easy relationship with child actors, the inability of the chickens to stay in character and the basics of volcano-making for school science fairs.


Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed
The Big Mess

Facets Video’s essential series of movies by German filmmaker Alexander Kluge continues apace with circus-as-metaphor dramas, Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed (1968) and The Indomitable Leni Peickert (1970), and the zany parody of inter-galactic capitalism, The Big Mess (1971). Unlike the more accessible Yesterday Girl (1966), these titles will be of primary interest to foreign-film buffs and cultists. In addition to making grand statements about the relationship between art and commerce, and the predatory nature of capitalism, the films demand to be viewed in the context of a culture, which, by mid-century had nurtured more than its fair share of brilliant artists and demonic political leaders.

Among other interesting things about Artists Under the Big Top: Perplexed is its title’s resistance to easy translation. Read one review and it’s, The Artist in the Circus Dome: Clueless, while in another, Artists at the Top of the Big Top: Disorientated. The bewitching Hannelore Hoger plays Leni Peickert, an artistically driven woman who inherits a circus after her father is killed during rehearsal of a perilous act. Knowing that the era of the family circus is quickly coming to an end, Peickert decides she’ll create an entertainment that isn’t reliant on traditional acts and has a humanitarian agenda.

In some ways, her ideas mirror those that would be popularized 20 years later with Cirque du Soleil. Finding the financial backing for such a concept would prove problematic, however, leaving Peickert at the mercy – or lack thereof – of bankers and other investors. The costs of feeding the animals, performers and crew, alone, would soon prove insurmountable for someone also attempting to re-invent the wheel. Two years later, in Indomitable Leni Peickert, Kluge would re-visit the would-be impresario as she attempts to find success in commercial television. Like other women protagonists in Kluge’s films, Peickert is headstrong, restless, ambitious and resistant to the word, “no.”

Typically, as well, Kluge finds places in Big Top to insert newsreel footage, pungent quotes, textual montages and incongruent musical choices (the Beatles’ “Yesterday” over Nazi footage). It’s entirely possible, as well, that Kluge was commenting on changes he’d seen in the relationship between art and commerce in cinema.

The Big Mess is just that. Kluge set his sci-fi fable in 2034, when an entire solar system – not necessarily our own – is controlled by a corporate entity known as the Suez Canal Company. A monopoly, it licenses sections of planets to various companies, which, then, can exploit raw materials and eliminate competitors. The film’s protagonists are a group of rogue salvagers, who leach revenues from the waste and excess of the various businesses.

Upon its release the movie was considered to be a Marxist answer to the first third of 2001: A Space Odyssey, during which the colonization of our moon, at least, would be financed by commercial entities (many of which no longer exist). Kluge extends the satire by creating spacecraft, moonscapes and visual effects worthy of an imaginative 10-year-old.


12 Men of Christmas
A Nanny for Christmas

Among the various conceits working against Hollywood rom-coms is an insistence on inserting bright and extremely attractive characters into situations they wouldn’t encounter in a million years. In such movies, beautiful fiancés get cheated on with far too great a regularity and a woman’s long, flowing hair and shapely legs rarely are taken into consideration when layoffs begin. It’s a reverse form of sexism that simply doesn’t exist in the workplace. (Did anyone believe for a minute that Sandra Bullock’s high-powered executive in The Proposal actually would have been sent back to Canada, for the crime of overstaying her work visa?) In these holiday-themed romantic comedies, Kristin Chenoweth and Emmanuelle Vaugier are the bombshells excused from their jobs for misdemeanors almost too silly to mention.

In Lifetime’s 12 Men of Christmas, the dangerously cute and perky Chenoweth plays an otherwise successful New York publicist, E.J. Baxter, who relocates to Montana after finding her boyfriend and boss in flagrante delicto. It is a decision that smacks of paying penance for an act she didn’t initiate and couldn’t control. Either way, she probably could have found a comparable job overnight.

In any case, E.J, agrees to spend a year in Montana creating a marketing strategy for a town in desperate need of more convention and resort business. She isn’t there more than a day before she discovers a way to publicize the local search-and-rescue team, which is comprised of enough hunks to fill a racy calendar. At the same time, of course, E.J. is required to decide if the outdoorsman of her dreams (Josh Hopkins) is worth giving up a career in New York.

Likewise, in A Nanny for Christmas, the insanely attractive Ally (Emmanuelle Vaugier) is relieved of her job as an advertising executive after neglecting to discover that a potential client once was “left at the altar.” As penance for her blunder, she accepts a job as a nanny for a filthy-rich business woman who’s allowed career demands to cloud her relationship with her family.

It isn’t long before Ally endears herself with the overly regimented kids and falls for a handsome, if overly preppy guy (Richard Ruccolo) who works in her boss’ firm. She’s embarrassed to admit she’s a nanny, instead of the ad rep he thinks she is, and, anyway, such relationships are strictly forbidden by her employer. To protect both of them, she makes up the kind of white lie that almost certainly will come back to haunt her.

Even more coincidentally, the boyfriend is working to secure the account of the same chocolate maker (Dean Cain) who caused Ally to lose her previous job. It’s Christmas, though, so viewers can expect miracles. Only fans of the cast members and made-for-cable rom-coms will find something interesting here, I’m afraid.


Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore
The Search for Santa Paws

Nine years in the making, Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore is a sequel to the hit comedy Cats & Dogs, in which anthropomorphic felines and canines battled for supremacy of the pet universe. That movie struck a chord, even though it overflowed with references to 1960s spy movies and other pop-cultural touchstones kids under 10 would be incapable of appreciating.

Fortunately for parents, the homage gave them something to chew on between scenes of animal antics. Any child old enough to understand the Bondian gag in the title of the sequel probably already is ready to take on the double-entendres in Austin Powers. I can’t attest to the visual quality of the Blu-ray 3D edition of the movie, but the blend of live action, puppetry and animation looks pretty good in standard hi-def.

Here, renegade M.E.O.W.S. agent Kitty Galore (voiced by Bette Midler) threatens not only the canine population, but humans and law-abiding cats, as well. Among the other voice actors are Neil Patrick Harris, James Marsden, Nick Nolte, Christina Applegate, Katt Williams, Roger Moore, Wallace Shawn, Chris O’Donnell, Sean Hayes, Joe Pantoliano, Michael Clark Duncan and Chris O’Donnell. That’s a lot of firepower for kiddie flick. The package includes a Looney Toons short, Coyote Falls; a sneak peek of the Yogi Bear theatrical film; “Dog Dishing: Tails From the Bark Side of Hollywood”; “Mash-Up: The Best of the Best Cat vs. Dog Animated Showdowns”; outtakes; and a gag reel.

Disney may be the studio behind The Search for Santa Paws, but no one should mistake it for previous collaborations with Pixar or any other of its animated theatrical features. This straight-to-video sequel to Santa Buddies and, by extension, Air Bud, Air Buddies, Space Buddies, Snow Buddies and Chestnut: Hero of Central Park comes with built-in brand recognition and is only as good as it has to be to attract kids amused by precocious puppies.

Here, Santa travels to New York to get the ball rolling on Christmas. Instead, he’s involved in an accident that leaves his memory impaired. His dog rounds up the canine crew to get a lead on Santa’s whereabouts and save Christmas. Among the bonus features are “Sing Along to Christmas Carols With the Buddies” and a “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” music video.


The Six Million Dollar Man: The Complete Collection

The very good news for fans of the inventive mid-1970s’ TV show The Six Million Dollar Man is that Time Life has finally made the entire series available in a monumental 40-disc collector’s box, with a built-in audio chip and 3D lenticular image of Steve Austin. The not-so-good news is that, for the time being, it’s available exclusively at the Time Life website or via links to it.

People who follow ebbs and flows in the TV-to-DVD game once listed The Six Million Dollar Man as one of the top-five series yet to be preserved on DVD. The delay has been attributed primarily to issues pertaining to the American rights to the show, which are claimed by several people and have changed hands several times over the years. At one point, a theatrical adaptation was on the drawing boards, with Jim Carrey adding laughs to the original premise. When that project collapsed, plans for a comprehensive DVD package were abandoned, as well.

In addition to 100 digitally re-mastered and fully restored episodes of the sci-fi/action series, which ran from 1974 to 1979, the set includes three pilot movies (The Six Million Dollar Man, Wine, Women and War, Solid Gold Kidnapping), three reunion movies (The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman, Bionic Showdown, Bionic Ever After?), all of the crossover episodes with The Bionic Woman, audio commentaries, interactive features, and new interviews with Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner. It’s a tad on the expensive side, but collectors will find ways to afford such a bounty.

For those post-Baby Boomers unfamiliar with the show, Majors plays a test-pilot, who, after being seriously injured in a crash landing, literally is rebuilt with nuclear-powered prosthetic devices. Being a product of the American military, it was only natural that Austin would be given superhuman strength and hyper-speed in order to run down commies. Presumably, it would give us another edge in Cold War. As outlandish as that might have seemed in the mid-1970s, though, our ability to create bionic soldiers – originally put forward in Martin Caidin’s 1971 novel, Cyborg – is now a very real possibility.


The Pillars of the Earth: Blu-ray
Deadwood: The Complete Series: Blu-ray

The common thread uniting these two otherwise disparate mini-series is the chilling presence of characters portrayed with trademark menace by Ian McShane. Of the two shows, the least familiar will be The Pillars of the Earth, which debuted here on cable’s Starz network. Set in 12th Century England, after the ship carrying the son of King Henry – the only direct heir to the crown – is destroyed in a fire.

His presumed death opens the gate for much intrigue at court, but McShane’s devious Bishop Waleran has plans of his own for the succession. Caught in the complex machinations are a poor stonemason, Tom Builder (Rufus Sewell), and the pious Prior Philip (Matthew Macfadyen), both of whom envision a magnificent cathedral for the town of Kingsbridge. Even though the cathedral is being built for the greater glory of God, the bishop fights its construction at every turn.

Historians labeled this period of civil war and political intrigue the Anarchy, and it is represented as such. Pillars of the Earth, though, is as much about sorting out the royal succession as it is building a cathedral that’s architecturally viable and can stand as a beacon of freedom for laborers and peasants. Like The Tudors, the eight-part Pillars of the Earth is enhanced by a strict attention to period detail and narrative thrust, in keeping with Ken Follett’s source material. The package also includes several making-of featurettes and BDLive connectivity.

In Deadwood, McShane played another amoral character, saloonkeeper Al Swearegen. Besides setting the land-speed record for creative cussing, Swearegen’s cynicism was the glue that held the whole series together. The other characters, interesting as they were, were either owned by him or fearful of being perceived as his enemy. Like any bully, though, when confronted with superior firepower, Swearegen wasn’t averse to hiding behind the shield of local law-enforcement officials or the skirts of his whores.

And, in a truly insane creative touch, victims of his wrath often would be fed to Mr. Wu’s pigs, which were fed to the populace. The mini-series’ arrival in Blu-ray is especially welcome, if only for the hi-def visuals and bonus features. They include 17 full-length commentary tracks, with creator David Milch, actors Keith Carradine, Molly Parker, Brad Dourif, Robin Weigert, McShane, Timothy Olyphant, Anna Gunn and assorted other cast members and producers. Among the featurettes are “Making Deadwood: The Show Behind the Show,” “The Real Deadwood,” “The New Language of the Old West” and “The Meaning of Endings.” There also are dozens of daguerreotype photos and marketing images; Q&As with cast and crew; a set tour; and “Al Swearengen Audition Reel,” in which Man in Black Titus Welliver stages a one-man audition reel by impersonating Milch, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Robert Duvall and Robert De Niro.

Neither of these Blu-ray packages are for the kiddies, who may not be able to deal with the violence, sex and language. Anyone on your list without cable will welcome them as gifts.


Human Weapon: Complete Season 1: Blu-ray
Hannah Montana: Who Is Hannah Montana?

TV crime shows don’t get much more hard-edged than Luther, even on BBC America. Idris Elba (“The Wire”) plays the London police detective who always seems to be on the brink of being fired for torturing suspects, stalking his estranged wife or beating up her boyfriend. Of course, some of this can be blamed on the cases he’s assigned, which are among the city’s most heinous crimes. After establishing that a young woman likely will escape justice in the murder of her parents and house pet – she hides evidence in a soon-to-be-cremated dog – Luther suddenly finds himself at her mercy. The suspect, who’s brilliant, sees in the overbearing detective an intellectual match and challenge.

Luther is the show’s hero, to be sure, but there’s a very thin line between him and the criminals he hunts. The set includes a documentary with interviews with series creator Neil Cross, cast and crew members. In it, they explain how the series was constructed to be more “impressionistic” than “realistic.”

In the History Channel series, Human Weapon, a pair of American he-men travels the world in search of the real stories behind various martial-arts techniques. Jason Chambers, a former mixed-martial-arts champion, and Bill Duff, a former football player and wrestler, approach each new combat discipline with an appreciation for the aesthetics and culture from which it sprang. In this way, Human Weapon resembles Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. They’re also good listeners. In Season One, the men were introduced to 16 different combat styles, including Muay Thai, Eskrima stickfighting, karate, savate streetfighting, judo, pankration, krav maga, Marine Corps martial arts, MMA, kung fu, sambo, silat, ninjutsu and taekwondo. When the action gets too fast and furious, CGI artists slow it down for amateur viewers.

The latest entry in the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus DVD catalog actually is an hour-long episode from the new season. In it, the Malibu teen, Miley Stewart, reveals to anyone who hasn’t already guessed it that her alter ego is the pop superstar, Hannah. The disc adds a sneak preview of Ashley Tisdale’s upcoming movie, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure! Just for the record, Miley Cyrus turns 23 this week, so look out, world.


American Fetish

Beyond its natural appeal to bondage and nylon enthusiasts, this highly stylistic erotic thriller will be of special interest to admirers of fetish photographers Eric Kroll and Irving Klaw, models Bettie Page and Dita Von Teese, and readers of Leg Show magazine. (You know who you are.) In American Fetish, the son of an ex-con becomes obsessed with a 50-year-old unsolved murder.

His father was a nightclub owner and “blue movie” maker, who catered to the fetish crowd. The old man left behind a box full of movie tins, one of which possibly holds the key to unlocking the mystery. The case also demands that the son descends further into the demi-monde of sex clubs, exhibitionists and the cops who exploit them. Michael Simmons’ erotica is nicely lit and sensitively shot. The women who participate in the shows are extremely beautiful and empowered in the knowledge they control the circumstances under which customers satisfy their particular desires. American Fetish isn’t for everyone, but those who enjoyed The Notorious Bettie Page – or John Stagliano’s much harder Fashionistas— might want to extend the experience by checking out Simmons’ thriller.


Bangkok Adrenaline: Blu-ray

One doesn’t usually come to Thai action films expecting logical storylines and character development. No relation to the original Thai version of Bangkok Dangerous, which almost made narrative sense, Bangkok Adrenaline was the brainstorm of a group of western stuntmen, who felt as if they could concoct as good a movie as the ones in which they performed stunts.

They didn’t have a lot of money, but, as the primary actors, writers and directors, they wouldn’t be spending much on salaries or travel. They knew the fight scenes would be of greater importance than any dialogue, so that’s where they invested most of their energy. In it, a group of English-speaking back-packers decides to conclude their visit to Thailand by getting as wasted as possible and partying until the sacred cows come home (or is that India?)

Feeling as if he were invincible, one of the lads gets suckered into entering a rigged poker game. After being allowed to win for a while, the dreadlocked doofus gets his pocket picked by the rest of the players. Down a fortune, the tourists are called before a mob boss and given a demonstration of what happens to deadbeats. They’re given a week to come up with the money, but are too irresponsible to hang on to even the meager sums they earn. Instead, they decide to kidnap the enchanting daughter of an American father (stepfather?) and Thai mother.

For some unfathomable reason, the father is less incensed by the kidnapping than the ability of the guys to invade his fortress-like home undetected. Rather than pay the ransom, he decides to kill the kidnappers and lose the wise-ass daughter (stepdaughter?) in the resulting chaos. He dispatches a small army of kung-fu fighters to trap them at the drop-off point, but the westerners more than hold their ground. Another wave of fighters is similarly repulsed.

By this time, though, the foreigners have gained a couple of local allies and the respect of cops monitoring the situation from afar. All one needs to know about the action is that it’s fast, furious and wall-to-wall. If the fighting isn’t particularly artistic, it sure is fun to watch. So is Priya Suandokemai, a newcomer who’s as charming as she is pretty. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette that appears to have been shot using a camera left on a table and left turned on by accident.


Fire & Ice: Dragon Chronicles: Blu-ray

Made in Romania by a Romanian production company and starring lots of Romanian actors, Fire & Ice is a medieval fantasy in which flying dragons battle each other in the name of good and bad kings. (When did Romania become the new Canada?) Made on a budget that probably wouldn’t cover the drawing of a single CGI dragon’s wing, if it were made in Hollywood, Fire & Ice debuted here on the SyFy channel. It’s fairly cheesy, but could strike a chord among undemanding fans of monster and fantasy flicks.

In it, the peaceful kingdom of Carpia is besieged by a gigantic dragon that not only breathes fire, but is completely engulfed in flames, as well. Although her father refuses to engage the evil ruler of a neighboring kingdom, Princess Luisa leaves the castle to search for a famous dragon slayer. Instead, she finds the knight’s son, a Keanu Reeves look-alike (Tom Wisdom) who agrees to come to her rescue. Together, they summon the flying Ice Dragon to take on the fiery savior to slay the monster. Among the English-speaking cast are Amy Acker and John Rhys-Davies. The DVD arrives with a making-of featurette.


The Disappearance of Alice Creed: Blu-ray

This very decent abduction thriller opened in a handful of U.S. theaters last August, but, despite the presence of rising star Gemma Arterton, came and went with barely a whisper of attention paid to it. Once again, it’s our loss. Arterton does a nice job as the feisty title character in this three-person British export. It’s the responsibility of the kidnappers (Eddie Marsan, Martin Compston) to snatch Alice off of a suburban street and hold her for ransom in a safehouse made only slightly less secure than the Tower of London. Everything goes as planned, until the scared-senseless victim realizes how fragile the bond is between her abductors.

Even though she’s cuffed to bedposts, blindfolded and relieved of her clothing, Alice still manages to convince the younger kidnapper that she’s no threat to escape. And, by all appearances, her prison is secure. I don’t want to spoil the fun, by revealing anything more. Suffice to say, however, that Alice is smarter than both of the men, combined. Writer/director J. Blakeson’s freshman feature is as taut, suspenseful and as enjoyable a thriller as any you’ll find among the new releases in your local video store. The DVD package adds commentary with Blakeson, a deleted and extended scene, outtakes and storyboard comparisons.


Love Shack

Two big hurdles face filmmakers who set out to satirize the adult-film industry, especially considering that Boogie Nights was as much satire as cautionary tale. First, it’s difficult to mock an industry that takes itself seriously only on the way to the bank and AIDS-screening appointments.

Second, how can a satire, such as Love Shack, be taken seriously if its mainstream actors are too timid to show off their naughty bits? Certainly, it takes more than assigning such names as Teabag Nancy, Sebastian Bulge, Tush Bushman and Marty Sphincter to the characters. Actually, the angle taken by co-writers/directors Gregg Sacon and Michael B. Silver does hold promise: a group of former adult-film stars reunite to shoot a script left behind by a legendary producer after his death.

Even though most are at least 15 years past their prime, the actors accept the assignment with their oversized egos intact and private parts only slightly worse for the wear. Given the talent involved, it would have been difficult for the made-for-DVD Love Shack to arrive devoid of humor and clever gags. It’s just that when a filmmaker sets out to bag such big game, settling for an ear or tail isn’t sufficient reward for the cast or audience. Accept for Mark Feuerstein (Royal Pains) and porn icon Nina Hartley, it’s the faces of the actors that will be more familiar than their names. They’ve appeared as supporting characters in many TV popular TV shows, although mostly clothed.



Indie newcomers Damon O’Steen and Gary Weeks offer yet another vision of America’s post-apocalyptic future in the good-looking, if over-familiar Deadland. Filmed largely in rural Georgia and Alabama, the dystopian thriller suggests that a strong-willed survivor of a nuclear holocaust could, if he so desired, march through toxic forests, cross vast wastelands and outwit well-armed militias, if it meant finding his wife … who may or may not be dead.

Such romantic crusades have been a Hollywood staple for most of the last century, of course, whether the loved one is hijacked by Comanches, pirates or sheiks. This time around, a Los Angeles yuppie and his wife just so happen to be on the road to their mountain retreat when the vapor trails of nuclear warheads appear on the horizon. Flash ahead five years and male survivors are shown fighting for scraps of food, as well as power. Enslaved women have become sexual commodities.

Weeks, who also wrote the screenplay, plays survivor Sean Kalos. Five years of roughing it in the forest have left him buff, yet desperate. The only clue he has about his wife’s possible whereabouts is contained on a list of names, which are deciphered and interpreted by a wacko code-breaker, played by William Katt. The script reads like a hybrid of Mad Max and The Road, but the money to support such an ambitious project simply wasn’t there. Nevertheless, O’Steen and Weeks managed to squeeze every cent’s worth of action out of the bare-bones budget. Collectors of post-apocalyptic thrillers could do a lot worse than Deadland.


Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou, 1971- 1973
Brian Wilson: Songwriter, 1962-1969
John Scofield: New Morning: The Paris Concert

Unlike most MTV and VH1 rockumentaries, the biographies and career retrospectives distributed by MVD Visuals more closely resemble doctoral theses than Wikipedia clip jobs. No better examples exist than the newly released Sacred Triangle: Bowie, Iggy & Lou and Brian Wilson: Songwriter.

None of the subjects of these documentaries are unknown quantities, of course. Their stories have been told countless times in books, video profiles and liner notes. What differentiates these titles not only is an attention to detail, but also a willingness to dig for intellectual context. Today, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed appear to have been iconic figures from Day One. Sacred Triangle targets a period, 1971-73, when each of these artists was desperately trying to re-ignite the flame produced by early pop successes.

Their labels fretted about everything from decreasing album sales to outrageous lifestyles, fueled by drugs, sex and way too much available cash. Bowie, especially, was responsible for finding a common denominator between himself, the Detroit bad boy and heady New York singer-songwriter. Already friends, they co-produced each other’s records, exchanged songs and critiqued themselves and other musicians. At approximately the same time, young people were demanding something radically different than the output of hippy-dippy bands from San Francisco and the Hollywood Hills. It presented itself in the form of glam-rock, a genre that embraced androgyny, outlandish designer costumes and precisely coiffed hairdos.

The scene bore absolutely no resemblance to a three-day weekend with the Grateful Dead and critics were slow to embrace its eccentricities. By the time glam-rock wore out its luster, the artists had established the street cred that would allow them to be accepted by punk rockers, club kids and Goths, as well as fans not glued to a specific trend. The music created during this two-year period continues to be heard on both classic-rock and progressive radio stations. Any tour featuring Bowie, Iggy and Lou, today, would sell out stadiums around the world.

In addition to well-chosen newsreel, concert and video footage, the film is informed by contributions from Bowie’s ex-wife, Angie; Billy Name, a confidant of Andy Warhol during the heyday of the Factory; MainMan Management vice president, Leee Black Childers; New York scenester Jayne [née Wayne] County and other contemporaries.

The two-disc Brian Wilson: Songwriter is even more comprehensive, covering the period that spanned the dawn of surf music and Brian Wilson’s psychedelic experiments. No one in the history of rock music has experienced more personal and creative change than Brian Wilson, who, at one point, had ventured to a point so far out in the ozone that he was written off as a basket case. Songs, once as simple as they could possibly be, began to evolve into intricate rock symphonies and song cycles, fusing standard instrumental backgrounds with animal noises, wind chimes and electro-theremin.

The themes reflected the many ideas and sounds buzzing through and around Wilson’s brain while he relaxed in his living-room sandbox. As long as the Beach Boys produced hit singles, the label and Wilson’s fellow band members were content to follow his lead. When, however, his music began to challenge mainstream tastes, it began to look as if Brian would be thrown out with the bathwater, and some important projects actually were deep-sixed. Songwriter makes the case for Wilson’s enduring genius, while also pointing out his many idiosyncrasies and shortcomings. The set includes historical musical performances and rare and classic recordings, re-assessed by a panel of music scholars, critics, friends, fellow musicians and producers, and management figures. If this DVD doesn’t make you want to re-visit your Beach Boy collection, nothing will.

John Scofield’s guitar playing, compositions and arrangements have been admired by aficionados for more than three decades. Filmed earlier this year, New Morning: The Paris Concert provides a compelling retrospective of Scofield’s interpretations of jazz, funk and R&B, while also tipping his hat to his primary influences, including Miles Davis, with whom he recorded and toured. Here, he’s backed by drummer Bill Stewart, bassist Ben Street and pianist Michael Eckroth.

Puig On The Kiddos Of Flipped

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Puig On The Kiddos Of Flipped

Wilmington on Movies: Flipped, Takers, Vampires Suck and Centurions

Friday, August 27th, 2010

For the past few years, I’ve been looking, yearning even, for a few American studio movies that would make me feel the way I sometimes did as a movie-going kid: searching for smart, realistic dramas or thrillers or comedies (or comedy-dramas), good solid movies that had the warmth, sensibility and humanity of the classics of the studio Golden Age or later, of the late ‘60s and ‘70s.

Wide Release Of Flipped Reduced To Eight Playdates

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Wide Release Of Flipped Reduced To Eight Playdates

Flipped, director/co-writer Rob Reiner & co-writer Andrew Scheinman

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Bang Bang Man Moron

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

It was déjà vu all over again as funny buddy cops and stereoscopic hip hoppers joined the summer box office fray. The cruiser bruisers of The Other Guy debuted at the top of the movie charts with an estimated $35.7 million while the foot stompers of Step Up 3D slotted third overall with a disappointing $15.4 million.

A couple of new entries from the majors fulfilled contract obligations sans distinction. Middle Men bowed with $323,000 at 252 venues and the young love Flipped entered three markets to a gross of $233,000 on 45 screens. Both have little chance of more than token expansion.

In the niches there were solid returns of $394,000 for local hero Filiere 13 in Quebec and impressive response for Telegu-lingo Don Seenu of $224,000 while Hindi entry Aisha … Don’t Be Cupid was tepid with box office of $153,000. The dissolute twentysomethings of Twelve failed to register a pulse with just $87,800 from 231 playdates.

Among a raft of exclusive freshmen the best results included Cairo Time with $66,500 at five sites; a $16,100 tally on two screens for Venice prize-winner Lebanon; and a dozen venues posting $68,200 for large screen pictorial The Wildest Dream.

The fragmented marketplace experienced its first downturn in two months and the prognosis for the rest of summer fails to brighten as a handful of wide releases are poised in the wings next Friday. The current weekend added close to $135 million in sales that amounted to a 10% slip from last weekend and an 11% decline from 2009 when debuts of GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Julie & Julia led with respective B.O. of $54.7 million and $20 million.

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg dusted off the buddy cop genre effectively and got essentially anticipated results for The Other Guys. But it’s generally been a brutal season for comic fare and as competition ramps up in August side-stepping commercial pitfalls will only escalate.

Step Up 3D hoped to expand its audience by extending its perspective. But exit polls indicated that the film played to the core crowd who embraced 3D playdates with those engagements comprising 80% of ticket sales that out-distancing conventional showing with averages two and half times more potent.

It’s been 57 years since Kiss Me Kate employed 3D for dance and earlier this year the British StreetDance plumbed Step Up terrain and grossed an impressive $46 million in European and Asian engagements.

“3D is ideal for dance,” observed Step Up choreographer Jamal Simms. “There was very little that had to be altered for the process because you’re always working with foreground and background movement to provide perspective. But when you start to factor in the elements — dust, water — the emotional component ramps up.”

Step Up 3D had day and date openings in 11 countries via Summit and UPI. In the UK it grossed $3.2 million to rank second to Toy Story and was just behind Inception in Australia with $3 million.

Studios appear to be having a tougher time selling movies not targeted toward audiences under the age of 25 … or perhaps they’ve simply given up. Both Middle Men, an unconventional fact-based look at pornography and the internet and the first love Flipped needed a TLC approach the majors seem loathe to devote to make the difference between write off and success d’estime.

One can also disregard the notion that the marketplace is going to thin out anytime soon with news this week of new companies with capitol to produce and distribute films. The volume of movies this summer combined with at least a dozen alternative pictures playing well and holding screens has translated into a very fragmented marketplace. Next weekend’s release of five new national openings should apply the hammerlock to a lot of mainstream titles currently on screen as well as specialized fare that managed to crossover. As one mainstream distributor noted, forget about finding 3,000-screen launches until after Labor Day … there’s no room at the inn.

– Leonard Klady

Weekend Estimates: August 6 – August 8, 2010

Title Distributor Gross (average) % change * Theaters Cume
The Other Guys Sony 35.7 (9,780) New 3651 35.7
Inception WB 18.5 (5,420) -33% 3418 227.6
Step Up 3D BV 15.4 (6,340) New 2435 15.4
Salt Sony 10.9 (3,290) -44% 3317 91.8
Dinner for Schmucks Par 10.4 (3,470) -56% 3004 46.7
Despicable Me Uni 9.4 (2,740) -40% 3413 209.4
Cats & Dogs: Revenge of Kitty Galore BV 6.8 (1,840) -44% 3705 26.4
Charlie St. Cloud Uni 4.6 (1,700) -63% 2725 23.4
Toy Story 3 BV 3.0 (1,730) -42% 1714 396.2
The Kids Are All Right Focus 2.6 (2,600) -27% 994 14
Grown Ups Sony 2.4 (1,370) -47% 1769 155.7
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice BV 2.3 (1,310) -48% 1766 57
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 2.3 (1,330) -43% 1704 293.1
Ramona and Beezus Fox 1.5 (1,040) -59% 1478 21
The Last Airbender Par .67 (1,050) -63% 639 128.9
The Karate Kid Sony .63 (1,460) 6% 432 173.9
The Girl Who Played with Fire Music Box/Alliance .45 (2,600) -17% 173 4.2
Shrek Forever After Par .43 (1,400) -25% 308 237.2
Predators Fox .41 (900) -62% 454 50.5
Filiere 13 Alliance .39 (4,610) New 85 0.6
Middle Men Par Vantage .32 (1,280) New 252 0.32
Weekend Total ($500,000+ Films) $127.10
% Change (Last Year) -11%
% Change (Last Week) -10%
Also debuting/expanding
Flipped WB .23 (5,180) New 45 0.23
Don Seenu Great India .22 (8,960) New 25 0.22
Get Low Sony Classics .21 (8,210) 143% 26 0.34
Aisha … Don’t Be Cupid Viva .15 (3,260) New 47 0.15
Restrepo Nat.Geo .11 (2,270) 48% 49 0.81
Twelve Hannover .09 (380) New 231 0.09
The Concert Weinstein Co. .09 (3,470) 95% 27 0.19
The Wildest Dream National Geo 68,200 (5,680) New 12 0.07
Cairo Time IFC 66,500 (13,300) New 5 0.07
Disappearance of Alice Creed Anchor Bay 49,700 (4,140) New 12 0.05
Lebanon Sony Classics 16,100 (8.050)


2 0.01
The Sicilian Girl Music Hall 5,900 (5,900) New 1 0.01
Death of Alice Blue Toothin 3,300 (3,300) New 1 0.01
Brotherhood Olive 2,250 (2,250) New 1 0.01

Domestic Market Share: January 1 – July 23, 2010

Distributor (releases) Gross Market Share
Paramount (10) 1144.1 17.30%
Fox (13) 1143.3 17.30%
Warner Bros. (18) 1024.5 15.50%
Buena Vista (11) 1003.5 15.20%
Sony (18) 615.1 9.30%
Universal (10) 560.1 8.50%
Summit (9) 408.4 6.20%
Lionsgate (8) 242.9 3.70%
Fox Searchlight (4) 69.9 1.00%
Overture (4) 67.4 1.00%
MGM (1) 50.4 0.80%
CBS (2) 50 0.80%
Sony Classics (12) 40.4 0.60%
Weinstein Co. (4) 34.7 0.50%
Other * (201) 159.8 2.40%
* none greater than 0.4% 6614.5 100.00%

Top Domestic Grossers: January 1 – July 23, 2010

Title Distributor Gross
Avatar * Fox 466,085,966
Toy Story 3 BV 370,499,039
Alice in Wonderland BV 334,191,110
Iron Man 2 Par 310,401,894
Twilight: Eclipse Summit 272,641,092
Shrek Forever After Par 234,620,150
How to Train Your Dragon Par 217,581,231
The Karate Kid Sony 170,612,858
Clash of the Titans WB 163,214,888
Despicable Me Uni 137,600,845
Grown Ups Sony 134,812,086
Shutter Island Par 128,051,522
The Last Airbender Par 119,091,769
Valentine’s Day WB 110,509,442
Sherlock Holmes * WB 106,967,985
Robin Hood Uni 104,945,305
Inception WB 100,158,412
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel Fox 98,887,330
Date Night Fox 98,344,369
The Book of Eli WB 94,885,859
* does not include 2008 box office

Flipped Poster

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Trailer: Flipped

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

When second-graders Bryce and Juli first meet, Juli knows it’s love. But Bryce isn’t so sure. Girl-phobic and easily embarrassed, young Bryce does everything he can to keep his outspoken wannabe girlfriend at arm’s length… for the next six years, which isn’t easy since they go to the same school and live across the street from each other. But if Juli finally looks away, will it be Bryce’s turn to be dazzled?