Posts Tagged ‘Michael Douglas’

Review: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Up until the last ten minutes or so, I was really digging Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps. It’s not that we needed to revisit Gordon “Greed is Good” Gekko (Michael Douglas), that classically evil rich white bad guy who preceded (some might say, foretold) all those rich (mostly) white (mostly) bad guys who built the dicey house of financial cards that very nearly collapsed the world economy when the bubble burst in 2008. But I didn’t mind seeing how director Oliver Stone thought Gekko would have evolved after spending those years behind bars.

Wilmington on Movies: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, and Our Hitler

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Oliver Stone, 2010

Oliver Stone’s new movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps returns us to one of Stone’s great subjects of the 1980s: the glamour and corruption of the American financial markets. A sequel to Stone‘s 1987 Wall Street, this show plunges us back into the seductions and pitfalls of the casino mentality on the trading floors and the stock market, of inside guys making huge, quick profits and the dangerous games and ruinous consequences of playing with other people‘s money, other people‘s lives — and not giving a damn about it.

And it returns us also to maybe the greatest fictional character Stone ever invented (with co-writer Stanley Weiser): Gordon Gekko, the brilliant, slick-as-a-whip, high-energy, amoral corporate raider with the combed-back hair, the custom made shirts and the fashion-smartie suspenders, the omnipresent half-smirk and whiplash flow of callous cracks and cynical Wall Street “wisdom” — the man whose motto was “Greed is good.”

As played by Michael Douglas, who won a well-deserved Oscar for the performance, Gekko was intended by Stone as the ultimate bad example, an amoral, selfish bastard who betrayed and exploited people, a graveyard dancer who bought up companies, squeezed them for all he could and then, heedless of collateral suffering, gutted and maybe destroyed them — while soaking up all the millions he could and living a high life beyond even the TV-and-movie- stoked imaginations of most of us. Why did he wreck companies, and also destroy jobs and lives, and swill like a sleek hog in the profits? “Because they’re wreckable,” Gekko casually explained.

What a guy! He was the ultimate hedonist with the ultimate toys, and a dark, mean heart. And Stone and Weiser tried to make sure we’d realize what a bad guy he and what an awful example he set, by clearly showing to what would seem even the slowest and densest of movie audiences, how evilly and unrepentantly Gekko damaged and hurt people, by finally exposing him, by wrecking his life and sending him to jail in Wall Street — using, as the agent of his destruction, the movie’s handsome juvenile lead and half-sympathetic, somewhat moral, up-from-the-working-class protagonist, Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen). Bud wore a wire on Gekko to expose the bastard and goaded him into a screaming, revealing, rip-it-open tantrum.

But, in the ultimate irony and the ultimate bad real-life joke, Gekko — whom part of the audience at least knew was a heavy getting his well-earned come-uppance (maybe because they’d seen a lot of movies) — became instead an ultimate role model for a generation of swine. Sheeesh! Incredibly, he became the fantasy best pal/mentor and patron saint, for scads of ambitious, wolfish, proudly unscrupulous young Wall Street traders and raiders, who worshipped Gordon, had a hard-on for Gordon, wanted to be Gordon, and took “Greed is Good” as their own private credo.

Then these “Little Gekkos“ and other money-mad speculators — taking advantage of the horrendous and stupid deregulatory financial market policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations — proceeded to wreck what was wreckable, exploit what was exploitable, rob what was robbable, screw what was screwable, maybe even Ponzi what was Ponzable and Enron what was Enronnable, and to live high lives (some of them only in their 20s and 30s) beyond the dreams of even Gordon Gekko himself — until these rotten little high-rolling, high-fiveing parasites and their cohorts finally helped hurl us all into the great crash of 2008, and to what might have been the next Great Depression (and still could be, if the F.O.X.-G.O.P. ever gets back in power, dives into the loot and starts another deregulated feeding frenzy).

Most of the Little Gekkos probably thought the great lesson of “Wall Street” was not “Greed is bad,” but “Greed is good. Do it all pal, but watch out for wires and don’t get caught.”

I guess one or two Little Gekkos may even be reading this (though I doubt many of them waste much time on movie reviews written by lefties). And, if they are, all I can say is: Take an express-train ticket to Hell, buddy, because that’s where you belong.

That was then. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps is now.

Full disclosure. I really like most of Oliver Stone’s movies. I love them even at their most outrageous and screamingly preachy and punch-in-the-gut unfair; I tend to dig them even when they’re “bad.” And, even though, like Stone, I had a Jewish father, and I was not happy with his recent London interview comments about Jewish politics, I’m willing to forgive him a lot, even forgive him my disappointment that this Wall Street is not as savage, punchy ad brainily aggressive as I’d like it to be — that it really does seem to have been mostly written by its two credited screenwriters, Allan Loeb (of 21 and The Switch) and my old colleague Stephen Schiff (True Crime), rather than Stone.

I don’t know why anybody would want to make an Oliver Stone movie about Wall Street and high finance that wasn’t written, primarily or substantially, by Stone, an Oscar-winning screen writer whose father was a Wall Street insider — though Writers Guild credits rules mean, I guess, that he could have written up to 50%, and still not gotten script credit. But I’ll trust Google for the moment. (Loeb, by the way, worked as a stockbroker.)

Anyway, business is business, art is art, and this script is certainly out of the ordinary: smart, gutsy, its subject, and better than most of what we get from the big studios. It’s not more trash for the young and horny, the Little Gekkos and their Gekkettes, and all the wanna-be Gekkos. Stone’s hand is there in the script, somewhere, if only as an inspiration. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps just doesn’t have the rip-it-open smack and the take-no-prisoners wallop of the 1987 movie.

What it does have is perspective, mellowness, maybe a little more obvious humanity. Sometimes, that gives us a surprise or two. And it keeps pulling us in.

When we first see the new Gekko, he‘s being released from prison in 2001, with all his paltry carry-in loot being stuffed in a bag and nary a friend, relative, reporter or telejournalist, there to push a mike in his face and ask if he‘s learned any lessons. (I didn’t buy that media freeze-out. And, in any case, I think the writers threw away a possible sharp, satiric scene to get their little Gekko-chastening “God, so alone, so alone!” moment. )

Flashing gecko forward to the mid 2000’s, before the crash, he‘s on the lecture circuit, peddling a book called “Is Greed Good?”, exposing what he used to celebrate. Did Gekko actually write it all, we wonder, or as with most public figures and politicos, from Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to Hillary Clinton, did he hire an interviewer/ghost-writer? (According to The New York Times, more than 80%, of the Times nonfiction bestseller list were not written by the name on the cover. The old Stone would have had the ghostwriter at the lecture and cracked a few jokes about this.)

It’s a new world, a new time, a new Gekko, new greed. The new villains of our day are the investment bankers, and the Wall Street-is-a-casino crowd, all those guys who got from George W. Bush and others, a license to steal. (And did.) In Gekko’s audience is the character we’ve met in the meantime, this movie’s equivalent for Sheen‘s up-and-comer Gekko acolyte Bud Fox: Shia LaBeouf as Jake Moore, a young financial stud with alternative energy principles. Jake, working on Wall Street, witnessed and lamented the crushing (which we see too) of his own father-figure/mentor Louis Zabel (Frank Langella And, coincidentally he’s dating Gekko’s daughter Winnie (Carey Mulligan, at her cutest and wariest), who hates her dad, won’t talk to him, and is running a left-wing blog political website where she celebrates the kind of stuff and attitudes the old Gekko thought were for losers.

So the hook is baited, by Loeb, Schiff, Stone or whomever. Jake hooks up with Gekko, because he wants an insider‘s savvy and advice, so he can go after Zabel‘s wrecker/assassin Bretton James (Josh Brolin, looking like a dark cloud in an Armani suit). Gekko wants Jake so he can get back to Winnie, build a bridge to his old family, be a mensch maybe. James wants Jake on his team, because like Gekko before him, he has a strange weakness for young men on the rise, seems to have a weakness for seeing himself reborn in obvious movie juvenile leads.

Here’s one thing I don’t like about the new script. Like too many sequels, it tends to repeat the original and its patterns too much — though here, much less obviously. But noticeably. James is the new Gekko. (So, maybe, is the old Gekko.) Jake is the new Bud. Lou Zabel is the new Lou Mannheim (Hal Holbrook) or maybe Lou Stone. There‘s no new Darien (Daryl Hannah), unless it’s Winnie Gekko and blogging has become the new interior decoration, but some mistakes I guess we can learn from. Susan Sarandon, as Jake‘s mother, may be the new Martin Sheen (Bud’s dad) and also the new real-estate flogging Sylvia Miles, but the original Sylvia is back too, still hustling apartments. There’s no new John McGinley as the loudmouth in the other cubicle and I miss him. (“Knicks and chicks!“) Stone himself is on the trading floor, wearing just the right dissolute grin.

Bud Fox is back too, and that‘s one scene I really liked. (Some didn’t.) David Byrne is on the soundtrack as this movie’s Frank Sinatra. Byrne is good, but “Money Never Sleeps,” Talking Heads and all, doesn’t have an adequate substitute for the Chairman of the Board‘s great opening Wall Street (‘87) ballad opener “Fly Me to The Moon” — though, if they were in a humorous mood, they might have tried The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” Or Billy Joel‘s “ Moving Up,” or even, as a bow to the Little Gekkos, Joel‘s “(I Love You) Just the Way You Are.”


Afterwards, we do tend to go through the original archetypal moves and dramatic rituals again — though there are changes or evolutions, and this time, only an idiot wouldn’t realize that Brolin’s Bretton James is intended as a bad example. (I‘m not saying that a lot of idiots won’t.)


Money Never Sleeps deepens Gekko, seemingly, and shows his more human side, which Douglas only let out in little dribbles and sips, if at all, in the first movie. (Hey, the guy liked Bud.) And it works here because of the acting and the top-chop cast. Douglas is a great movie actor, and a born star (just like his own Jewish dad, Kirk, aka Issur Danielovitch Demsky). He holds the screen here and usually, in ways that most of the younger leading men, cutie-pies though most of them may be, can’t. He holds it better here than even the often on-target LaBeouf, who’s a kind of champ of his generation of casual, watchful underplaying and sincere realism.

I’m happy to see Douglas showcased this year, maybe get an Oscar nomination, for Solitary Man or Wall Street 2 — though sometimes it seemed that the filmmakers in Solitary Man wanted to wreck their character because he was wreckable. And though there may be a little too much mellowing going on in Wall Street 2 — even though the movie still has a nasty surprise or two up its suspenders.

As for the other actors, Carey Mulligan palms her usual low-key ace, even though she has the least well-written, most sentimentalized character in the movie. Langella cracks your heart on that subway platform. Eli Wallach is here as Julie Steinhardt, backing up James like another consigliore, and I must say I’d rather watch a Wallach seduction ( as in “Baby Doll”) than a Josh Duhamel one any way. Warren Buffett, maybe tired of his day job, shows up as local color. And, just as Wall Street, shot by Robert Richardson while Frank flew us to the moon, looked great and classically Manhattan, cold light shimmering over the skyscrapers and the memories, so does Wall Street 2, in a new world without a Trade Center, shot by Rodrigo Prieto.

Stone has mellowed. Gekko has mellowed. We’ve all mellowed — except maybe Mad Money’s Jim Cramer. And though mellowing can be good — though there are things about Money Never Sleeps (mostly the personal drama sections) that are better than is predecessor — I was sorry this wasn’t the Wall Street we, or a lot of us, wanted to see.

Most movie audiences probably don’t know enough about investment banks, unless they caught it in passing on Kudlow or heard it being screamed about by Cramer — and even the smartest among them may think derivative means something ripped off from Executive Suite or Citizen Kane. It wouldn’t have been belaboring the obvious, for at least 90% of the audience, to take us through a dramatic primer on how all those deregulated assholes manipulated the system, lived their high lives, and devastated the economy for most everyone else.

Greed? Good? Give me a break. A month or so ago, I was talking to an older guy in my building, a retired hospital administrator, telling him some horror stories about what happened to my 94-year-old mother Edna in the local medical system — such as the time I found her lying in sheets and her blanket drenched with blood because of an I.V. insertion error that nobody had caught. He looked at me sadly, and said he was sure that it was all true — that there was an unspoken policy at many hospitals to give second or third rate care to the elderly, because it was felt, they took up too many beds and decreased profits.

Maybe my mother wouldn’t have died in our apartment, six or so hours after the hospital released her, breathing softly “Help Me,” if there had been better medical care, kinder policies — and a few less parties, a little less Coke, one less political donation, a few less Knicks and Chicks, a few less derivatives, a little less clout, and a few less assholes, on Wall Street.

Sometimes it’s good to make your villains obvious, even too obvious, because in life they sometimes aren’t, even when they’re saying things like “Greed is good.” I’ll never forget the time one of my supervisors said to me, during an evaluation session, “You know, you’re a genuinely good person. But you’ve got to realize that there are people around here who are evil.” His exact words. I looked at this guy, surprised, and he was grinning from ear to ear. (Did I mis-hear “Evil?“ Did he really say “E-mailing?“) But I didn’t hear any alarm bells, didn’t think he was maybe tipping a hand. I thought he was complimenting me, perhaps even warning me. How naïve! Maybe I should have been wearing a wire.

Now as then, in the 2000s, as in 1986, just as Stone likes to show us, good is good and bad is bad. Greed is greed. Wall Street is Wall Street. Money never sleeps — and love of money, as they say in the Bible, is the root of all evil. Listen, you Little Gekkos, you Little Gekkettes: Greed ain‘t good and to hell with you.


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (Two and a Half Stars)


A no-holds-barred adaptation by the energetic Zack Snyder of a Tolkien-ish children‘s animal adventure series by Kathryn Lasky, all about warring owls, and two kids birds Soren and Kludd (voiced by Jim Sturgess and Ryan Kwanten) torn between the good owls, the Guardians, and the bad ones , the Pure Ones.

I’m going to have to see this one again, because on a first viewing, with what I would have to say was a not-perfectly-sharp sound system, it struck me as beautiful and exciting, even dazzling, but also somewhat incoherent and hard to follow. There’s certainly a lot of amazing 3D, and one hell of a last battle — and two terrific voice characterizations by Geoffrey Rush as the grizzled good owl Ezylryb and Helen Mirren as an ivory faced femmey bad one, Nyra. But owls have generally similar, and often non-expressive faces. It’s actually hard to tell one from another, unless you hear a voice like Rush‘s or Mirren‘s. And the movie didn‘t reach me, didn’t kill me. Then again, it still might.

Our Hitler (Hitler: A Film from Germany) (Four Stars)

Germany; Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, 1977

Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s bizarre and brilliant seven hour investigation into Adolf Hitler and his cultural-political roots is a hermetic spectacle, a political grand opera and one of the remarkable films of its era.

Shot on a sound stage, with an ingenious use of back projection to create multiple backgrounds and environments, the movie takes many of its texts from Hitler’s speeches and ruminations and those of his cohorts (Josef Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, etc.), employees and analysts. For Syberberg, Hitler was not an aberration but the mad logical end point of part of German culture, a mélange of Wagner, The Ring Cycle and Nietzsche that Syberberg recreates in authentic, fact-based writing and eloquent sound and image.

Our Hitler was imported to the U. S. by Francis Coppola, and it’s so unusual and ambitious — and so richly textured, theatrical and unashamedly philosophical — that it requires a real adjustment from the viewer. You have to take Our Hitler with a seriousness, you might usually reserve for deep intellectual books and classical art. One of the film’s major admirers. Susan Sontag called it “the most extraordinary…film I have ever seen” and “one of the great works of art of the twentieth century.“

And though some will be alienated or confused by Syberberg’s Hitler, by its dense content and unique style, the film holds up. It also reminds you that, in cinema and history alike, we often just scratch the surface of the world. (In German, with English subtitles.) (Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago)

Frenzy on the Wall: Surprise! Oliver Stone is Chasing Controversy

Monday, September 20th, 2010

When I was a young film fan, Oliver Stone was one of my favorite filmmakers. I watched films like Platoon, JFK, Wall Street, and Natural Born Killers during my days in junior high. Later on, films like Salvador, Born on the Fourth of July, Talk Radio, and The Doors were often in my rotation of films to re-watch.

DVD Wrap: The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond, That Evening Sun, Why Did I Get Married, Too?, The Exploding Girl, Solitary Man … and more

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond: Blu-ray
That Evening Sun

Movies put into limited release in the dead zone between December 26 and New Year’s Eve share certain traits. They tend to feature stars whose work has previously been recognized by the folks at AMPAS, but whose commercial prospects don’t warrant an expensive marketing campaign. A few good reviews and pre-holiday accolades could prompt a modicum of box- success, insider buzz and a wider release. If not, the picture could disappear without a trace almost overnight.

After a few stops on the festival circuit and several positive notices, The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond only managed to last about five weeks in limited release. For my money, Bryce Dallas Howard and Ellen Burstyn easily qualified for consideration in the top acting categories, but I doubt if many voters or critics saw Jodie Markell’s observant adaptation of the long-forgotten Tennessee Williams’ screenplay.

Howard played the eccentric daughter of a murderous Memphis-area plantation owner, while Burstyn portrayed a bed-ridden friend of the family who had lived the kind of life Howard’s Fisher Willow envied. As defined by the author, Fisher is the kind of 1920s, European-educated debutante who considers herself to be above the social fray, but fears being left off the invitation lists for important events.

Not terribly interested in local college boys, Fisher decides to play Pygmalion with the son of the alcoholic who manages the plantation’s commissary. Jimmy is handsome enough to pull off the ruse and smart enough not to buy into Fisher’s mad impulses. He understands that it’s important for the young woman to pretend, at least, she’s willing to conform to certain Southern conventions and rituals, if only because her spinster aunt controls the purse strings on her inheritance.

At a particularly eventful Halloween party, Fisher is taunted by her fellow debs and angered by Jimmy’s inability to immediately locate her missing earring. It provides an opening for the other girls to make a play on Jimmy, who they believe to be the grandson of a former governor. At one point, Fisher’s summoned to the bedroom of Burstyn’s character, an opium-addicted kindred spirit who’s lost the will to live among the squares.

Familiar primarily as an actor, Memphis native Markell had previously directed only one other film, a short adapted from a story by another Southern literary icon, Eudora Welty. Although far removed from the period described in Williams’ story, Markell knew that social mores had changed little between the ’20s and 1957, and outsiders could be driven crazy by traditional demands.

Although Teardrop Diamond won’t make anyone forget A Streetcar Named Desire, Glass Menagerie or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, it provides a great stage for the wonderful cast, which, besides Howard and Burstyn, includes Will Patton, Ann-Margret, Chris Evans and Jessica Collins. The making-of featurette and interviews are definitely worth watching.

That Evening Sun, another showcase for brilliant acting, takes place a bit further to the east of Memphis and several decades apart in time. In it, Hal Holbrook plays the hard-nosed octogenarian, Abner Meecham, whose Tennessee farm was appropriated against his will by his pragmatic lawyer son.

While Abner was killing time in a seniors’ community, the son leased the property to Lonzo Choat, a member of a redneck family his father particularly despised. Meecham didn’t stay cooped up for long, however. He escaped the retirement facility on his own two feet and kept on walking until he got home, where he found Choat’s much put-upon wife and daughter already in residence. Although he can’t stand sharing his farm with the Choats, Abner has little legal recourse. A compromise is reached, allowing the farmer stay in a reconditioned shed on the property. It’s an agreement that satisfies neither of the stubborn men.

Blessedly, Choat’s wife and daughter possess cooler heads and out-right war is delayed for a while by their kindness. Evening Sun is the freshman feature for writer/director Scott Teems, who adapted it from a story by William Gay. The rest of the sterling cast includes Ray McKinnon (Deadwood), Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), Walton Goggins (Justified), Carrie Preston (True Blood), Barry Corbin (One Tree Hill) and Dixie Carter, in her last screen appearance.

The DVD adds “anti-commentary” with Teems, DP Rodney Taylor and editor Travis Sittard; cast and crew interviews; a pair of behind-the-scenes pieces; and a trailer.


Solitary Man

Anyone who can recall by heart the lyrics to Solitary Man, Neil Diamond’s classic ode to failed love, will be at a disadvantage when it comes to Brian Koppelman and David Levien’s dramedy about a male cougar in heat.

Diamond’s lyrics suggest an entirely different character than Douglas’ Ben Kalmen, a handsome 60-something grandfather, who, in his twilight years, remains less interested in commitment than in one-night stands with women ranging in age from 18 to 45. One senses that Ben’s always been something of a horn-dog, but, after being convicted of fraud and diagnosed with possible heart disease, he’s decided not to wait for baldness and wrinkles to eliminate him from the game.

Once an extremely successful car dealer, Ben approaches women like a salesman would approach the potential buyer of a slightly used automobile. Lately, though, he’s gotten sloppy. Among other things, Ben’s allowed himself to be seduced by the devious blond daughter of his rich, divorced lover (Mary-Louise Parker), while escorting her to a college-entrance interview. Things only get worse for him from there.

At 65, Douglas is still sufficiently studly to play a guy like Ben and cocky enough to dispense dating advice to a dorky Fordham underclassman (Jesse Eisenberg). Still, his presence is reason enough to see Solitary Man. He also gets terrific support from Susan Sarandon, as his estranged wife; Jenna Fischer, as his increasingly disenchanted daughter; Imogen Poots, as the teen femme fatale; and Danny DeVito, as a college buddy who re-enters Ben’s life at a crucial juncture. The behind-the-scenes material isn’t particularly noteworthy.


Harry Brown

During the course of Michael Caine’s long and illustrative career, he’s played more than a few vigilantes and desperate characters unafraid to take the law into their own hands. Rent Harry Brown along with Get Carter, if for no other reason than to see just how steady Caine’s trigger finger still is, after nearly 40 years on the job.

Now 77, Caine remains perfectly capable of playing a geezer, albeit a former Royal Marine, who proves to be a worthy opponent for the local punks terrorizing the grounds of his rundown London council estate. The set-up will be familiar to anyone who’s watched Death Wish, Walking Tall or any of their many sequels and rip-offs.

Here, the local thugs and dope dealers evolve from being mere nuisances to murderous fiends, and their victims are residents too old and poor to move from the projects. Brown monitors their activity from afar mostly, until his best pal is savagely attacked. Brown’s marine training serves him well, making him as much a threat to the punks as the police, who, apart from a detective played Emily Mortimer, refuse to believe an old-timer could be so cruel.

Director Daniel Barber and screenwriter Gary Young take full advantage of the environment that spawns such sadism among dead-end kids. Harry Brown isn’t about sociology, though. It’s about action and revenge, and Caine makes the movie worth watching for genre fans. The package adds deleted scenes and commentary.


Why Did I Get Married Too?: Blu-ray

By now, I think it’s safe to say that Tyler Perry is more in tune with his audience than most critics are in touch with their readers, and that disconnect continues even as reviewers for mainstream publications are being replaced by less effete observers. Watch enough movies and most educated minds will come to the same conclusions as their peers, even if they have degrees in journalism, not film.

This is why pundits across the board, white and black, approach Perry’s movies as if they were punishment. It isn’t that such broad entertainments as Why Did I Get Married, Too? are all that difficult to watch – especially in the comfy confines of a screening room — only that each new titles tends to resemble the ones that have come before it. The messages are the same, as are most of the gags and character flaws.

Here, the same four affluent African-American couples from the 2007 original are reunited on their annual retreat, this time in the Bahamas, during which they address the question, “Why did we get married?” At first, they appear to be a happy lot, but it doesn’t take long for the fissures to show. When they do, the resulting temblors measure 7.2 on the Richter scale.

Loudmouth Angela (Tasha Smith) sets the acrimonious tone early on, as she angrily accuses her sportscaster husband of having an affair with every woman in Atlanta. Meanwhile, of all the weeks in the year, this is the one Sheila’s violent ex-husband chooses to use his time-share. He enjoys being with his former cronies, who now include Sheila’s new husband, but he clearly has other motivations. The other two couples also have serious problems, but they aren’t revealed until later.

By the half-way mark of Married, Too?, things are very noisy, indeed. The home of relationship counselor Patricia (Janet Jackson) and her mostly supportive husband appears to have been designed by a glazier, for all the glass that’s broken when she goes medieval with his golf clubs. Meanwhile, the most solid of the couples is upended by the wife’s affair.

It isn’t until these disparate souls begin heeding the advice of a strategically placed elderly couple (Louis Gossett Jr., Cicely Tyson) that the healing process inevitably begins. My problem with Perry’s movies is that I think he tries to stuff five pounds of popcorn into a one-pound bag and every emotion is exaggerated by half. That formula worked for Perry in his stage productions and the so-called urban audience followed him to the multiplex. Why mess with success?

Married, Too? has an attractive cast – when they aren’t beating each other up – and the locations are easy on the eye, as well. The bonus features include Girl Talk: The Women of ‘Married’ and Male Bonding: The Men of ‘Married’; a music video from Jackson and the pop-up Couples Character Guide Trivia Track.


The Exploding Girl

Feature films don’t come much more fragile than The Exploding Girl, a title that refers more to the lead character’s epileptic seizures than any likelihood something loud or threatening will occur over the course of its 80 minutes. As played by Zoe Kazan (Revolutionary Road), Ivy is a rather ordinary young woman, spending her summer break from college at her New York home. She’s cute, in an odd sort of way, but it’s unlikely she would stand out in any crowd of people her age.

Her epilepsy prohibits her from most forms of debauchery favored by college kids, although she does enjoy the occasional drink or joint. If anything is going to distinguish this summer from others in her life, it’s only because her boyfriend breaks up with her on one of their many long-distance calls. An unexpectedly homeless male confidante is spending the break at her house as well and feels her pain.

He seems more interested, though, in getting advice on how to pursue a tentative relationship with a girl who sounds even less interesting than Ivy. (Jaded viewer to clueless character: you’re gay, forget about it.) If nothing much happens in Exploding Girl, there’s still plenty to look at, thanks to Ivy’s strolls through the bustling city and writer/director Bradley Rust Gray‘s voyeuristic camera. The extras are of the making-of variety.



Although it continually pays homage to The Breakfast Club – that’s kinder than calling it a direct steal, anyway — Peter Coggans’ slightly comedic Woodshop serves more as a reminder as to just how good the late John Hughes was at replicating the fresh hell that was high school for many kids.

Here, the school’s naughty boys and girls are required to spend their Saturday morning in the woodshop class taught by Jesse Ventura’s Mr. Madson. Unlike the prick who supervised detention in Breakfast Club, Madson is an ex-Army Ranger with a gruff voice and soft spot in his heart for square-peg students. All the various high school types are represented here, including a distinctly unpleasant psychopath who looks as if he’s closer to 25 than 18.

Madson gives all of the students an assignment involving wood and potentially lethal machinery, but cuts them a lot of slack in the disciplinary department. That’s both a blessing and a curse for the delinquents, at least one of whom pays for his misbehavior with a severed appendage (no, not that one). As much as older viewers might be offended by the direct lift of certain Breakfast Club conceits, teens might find Woodshop entertaining enough to recommend it.


American Cowslip

Set in the overheated Colorado River town of Blythe, but filmed in an impoverished suburb of L.A., American Cowslip is the kind of indie comedy that rises and falls with the eccentricities of its many wacky characters. To this end, writer/director/cinematographer/composer/editor/producer Mark David was fortunate enough to recruit such fine curtain-chewing actors Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Rip Torn, Cloris Leachman, Lin Shaye, Priscilla Barnes, Peter Falk and, yes, even Val Kilmer.

They’re nothing compared to little-known Ronnie Gene Blevins, who plays one of the most disagreeable protagonists in recent memory. Blevins’ Ethan Inglebrink is an agoraphobic heroin addict who hasn’t changed out of the powder-blue tux he wore to a wedding a month previously. The primarily conflict in his life is the result of an eviction notice served by his landlord and next-door neighbor, an unkempt curmudgeon played by Torn (again, looking very much like his most-recent mug shot).

Both men hope to win the cash prize in the local Garden of the Year contest. Inglebrink’s American cowslip could have been a contender, if it weren’t for his neighbor’s many attempts to kill it. It’s that kind of movie. There’s also a rather twisted love story, but I wouldn’t begin to know how to describe it. A making-of featurette is included in the set.


By the Will of Genghis Khan

Two years ago, fans of sprawling, hyper-violent historical epics thrilled to Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Khan, a beautifully staged movie that chronicled the rise of one of the world’s mightiest leaders. Andrei Borissov’s By the Will of Genghis Khan tells virtually the same story, but in different, equally spectacular locales and with some of the most brutal battle scenes I’ve ever seen.

It follows the rise of Temujin, who would become Genghis Khan, from his boyhood on the Mongolian steppes to the conquest of his longtime rivals and consolidation of their armies. In addition to the magnificent settings and exciting battles, the costumes are nothing short of spectacular. American audiences who miss the grandeur of traditional westerns are advised to take a chance on both Rise of Genghis Khan and Will of Genghis Khan, as the wide open spaces and competition among warlords for land and power are comparable … or one supposes.



The lives of only a very few artists could match that of Michelangelo Merisi di Caravaggio, an undeniably brilliant post-Renaissance painter whose dramatic use of light and natural physicality remain as fascinating and visually stunning today as when they were introduced during the late 16th and early 17th centuries. More to the cinematic point, however, Caravaggio’s life was the stuff of legend.

A true creative genius, the painter developed a reputation as a brawler, womanizer and hothead. He relished controversy and went out of his way to create scandals. One way he did this was using as prostitutes, beggars and common drunks as models for paintings of great religious significance.

Angelo Longoni’s ambitious 180-minute mini-series for Italian television starred handsome Alessio Boni as the artist and featured several astonishingly beautiful European women as his muses, lovers and patrons. The re-imagining of life and architecture during the period is wonderfully done and, of course, the paintings can stand on their own merit. Caravaggio’s various stops along the road to a tragic ending are vividly rendered, as well, especially the brief time he spent in exile on the island of Malta.


Leslie Jordan: My Life Down the Pink Carpet

As the title suggests, Leslie Jordan’s one-man show is largely about being an outwardly gay actor in Hollywood and a barely closeted teenager growing up in Tennessee. The 4-foot-11 Jordan has appeared in dozens of TV shows and commercials since arriving in L.A. in the early 1980s. His most memorable turn, however, may have come as Beverley Leslie in Will & Grace, for which he received an Emmy.

He’s also had recurring roles in Sordid Lives, Boston Legal and Boston Public. As tiny as he is, Jordan makes full use of the Atlanta stage, dancing down a pink carpet, climbing over large boxes and occasionally disappearing among the props. In between witty recollections of growing up gay in the Deep South, Jordan offers hilarious anecdotes about the crazy times he shared with such stars as George Clooney, Boy George and Cloris Leachman.

He also describes how a life of booze, drugs and disco music led to rehab and various 12-step programs. Pink Carpet is a truly delightful evening’s worth of humor … self-deprecating and otherwise. And, one needn’t be gay to enjoy it.


John Rabe

Long before the full extent of Nazi atrocities were revealed by survivors and liberators of World War II death camps, Japanese forces had turned the world’s stomach by engaging in a slaughter even Emperor Hirohito’s crack marketing team couldn’t disguise … not that it didn’t try.

In the absence of international diplomats and media, Japanese troops were ordered to wipe out every living witness to the mass extermination of tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers and sanctioned rape of thousands of women. Even today, Japanese scholars dispute the extent of the tragedy, including the number of people killed, assaulted and forced into prostitution during the Rape of Nanking.

It wasn’t until photos were smuggled out of the demolished city and witnesses came forward that the world was alerted to the massacre. In John Rabe, writer/director Florian Gallenberger describes the heroism of a German factory manager and other foreigners trapped in Nanking during the siege. At first, Rabe refused to believe that Germany would form an alliance with a country capable of such horror, and he even wrote a letter to Hitler alerting him to the extent of the killing.

Although German nationals were able to hide themselves behind the swastika for a time, it eventually became clear the Japanese would rather kill members of the western business community than have them live to tell about it. Rabe was responsible for a creating a safety zone to protect innocent civilians from attack. Its population would grow to 200,000 and be allowed to exist only as long as it refused to harbor or treat Chinese soldiers and no guns were found among the civilians.

These parameters were constantly challenged not only by Japanese officers, but also the handful of westerners who couldn’t resist the temptation to save lives. It was a tense situation for everyone involved and it wasn’t until the gates to the city were re-opened to outsiders that people in the zone could exhale. Upon his return to Germany, Rabe was accused of being unpatriotic and left to the dustbin of European history.

Chinese historians held him in much higher regard, which is how Gallenberger even knew there was a Schindler’s List-like story to be told in China. John Rabe also features terrific performances by Steve Buscemi, Ulrich Tukur (The White Ribbon”), Daniel Bruhl (Inglourious Basterds) and Anne Consigny (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).


Hatchet: Unrated Director’s Cut: Blu-ray
Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated

In anticipation of the release next month of Hatchet II, Anchor Bay Entertainment has sent out an “Unrated Director’s Cut” version of the original in sparkling hi-def. Not having seen the original in either format, I couldn’t say with any certainty what distinguishes the new product from its predecessor. I’m guessing it has something to do with severed body parts or still-attached titties.

Otherwise, it remains Adam Green‘s slightly goofy, undeniably gory ode to the great slasher flicks of the 1980s. The setting is New Orleans and the swamps that surround it. Despite a ban on boat traffic in the vicinity of the home of one Victor Crowley (Kane Hodder), folks looking for an authentic “haunted swamp” adventure can’t resist the urge to get as close as they can to the scene of a hideous crime. Naturally, they all wind up as alligator food. Still, as these things go, it was pretty entertaining.

The Blu-ray edition adds commentary by Green and some of the actors; featurettes on the making of the film, its villain and his elaborate makeup; a breakdown of one of the film’s most jaw-dropping effects; a gag reel; and a conversation between Green and Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. (Apparently, in the sequel, Marybeth survived her ordeal and is given another chance to assassinate Victor Crowley.)

Growth describes what happens when an experiment involving the commercial and military use of parasites runs amok and how, even 20 years later, it’s still causing considerable turmoil on Kuttyhunk Island. While most of the chronological elements in Gabriel Cowen’s thriller are suspect, the central conceit of having human bodies becoming hosts for out-of-control parasites raised real goosebumps on my arms.

Watching seriously ugly worm-like creatures crawl in and out of various wounds and orifices – or slither visibly under living flesh – left me reaching for the remote control. Fortunately, these parasites aren’t immune to the effects of salt water on their hosts and therefore are stuck on the island … until a sequel is ordered, at least. Otherwise, the story is pretty straight-forward in its destroy-or-be-destroyed, guess-who’s-infected through-lines.

Being it the public domain, almost anyone is free to mess around with George Romero’s original edition of Night of the Living Dead. For the relatively clever Re-Animated, several dozen animators and cartoonists from around the globe were invited to participate in a remake consisting entirely of drawn interpretations of the narrative. The large number of contributors ensured that a new graphic style would be introduced every 30 seconds or so. Some are clever, others uninspired. If you can’t get enough of NOTLD, you’ll want to sample Re-Animated.

Czech director Juraj Herz has been making movies for more than 40 years, which, if nothing else, suggests that he knows how to create a decent thriller. Darkness/T.M.A is essentially a ghost story that harkens back to the dark days of the Nazi occupation, when people disappeared and evil plots were hatched.

Ivan Franek plays Marek, a musician in a Prague shock-rock band who decides he needs some R&R in the country to pursue his dream of becoming a painter. After re-settling in his childhood home, Marek learns of the village’s sinister past and legends involving his long-dead parents and institutionalized sister. The location helps make Darkness a decent way to kill some time and brain cells. Curiously, someone even managed to talk Maxmilian Schell into making a cameo.

Andrew Allen’s Brainjacked is a mind-control thriller that could very well have been inspired by testimonials about life as a Scientology robot. In it, troubled teenagers are given shelter at a facility run by a mad scientist who drills holes in their heads and implants chips in their brain. He does this presumably to give these aimless youths relief from their emotional trauma and severe headaches. Once they accept the notion that they’re being helped, the scientist and his goons can push them in any direction they like, including doing sexual favors for local politicians who could help with zoning laws and other such mundane things.

When a pair of young recruits attempt to escape and reveal the truth about the experiments, they’re confronted with a citizenry that not only ignores their pleas but also is comprised of chip-bearing airheads. “Brainjacked” looks as if it was made on the cheap, but it occasionally manages to rise above the clichés of the mind-control sub-genre.


Wonders of the Solar System: Blu-ray
Chuck: The Complete Third Season
Supernatural: The Complete Fifth Season
Smallville: The Complete Ninth Season

The BBC and Science Channel’s five-part mini-series, Wonders of the Solar System, parleys several decades worth of knowledge accumulated from various probes, rovers, high-powered telescopes and manned flights to gain an understanding of makes our solar system tick … or rotate around the sun. It also explains how Earth fits among its fellow planets and how the celestial community came to be.

The presentation gains from the Blu-ray format, if not nearly as much as other such series. The two-disc set adds the episode-length docs, What on Earth Is Wrong With Gravity and Do You Know What Time It Is?, about the intricacies of time.

Chuck, the NBC action-comedy series about an extremely unlikely secret agent, begins its fourth season in a couple of weeks, so there’s still plenty of time to get up to speed on the intricacies of the show. Zachary Levi stars as Chuck Bartowski, an electronics-store computer geek who becomes a government asset by inadvertently downloading top-secret data into his brain. In Season 3, Chuck was allowed to learn the fighting skills necessary to become useful as a field agent, as well. The package adds the featurettes, Chuck-Fu and Dim Sum: Becoming a Spy Guy and The Jeffster Revolution: The Definitive Mockumentary” “declassified scenes”; and a gag reel.

The CW network’s fantasy/horror series, Supernatural, continues to follow Sam and Dean Winchester, and the angel Castiel, on their mission to eliminate the devil. In Season 5, Lucifer is loose in the land and the Apocalypse looms on the horizon. The new season launches at the end of September. The DVD set adds Supernatural: Apocalypse Survival Guides: Bobby’s Exclusive Video Collection, Ghostfacers: The Web Series, commentary on episode 4, “The End,” an unaired scene from episode 9, “The Real Ghostbusters,” and a gag reel.

Like the Mississippi River, the CW’s Smallville just keeps rolling along. Heading into its 10th season, Clark Kent has finally embraced his true calling as a superhero and is ready to get on with his father’s business. The set’s extras adds the featurettes, Kneel Before Zod and Justice for All; commentaries on episodes “Idol” and “Kandor”; and unaired scenes.

Wilmington on DVDs: Solitary Man, Crumb, THX-1138, Macgruber and Caravaggio

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010


Solitary Man (Three Stars)
Brian Koppleman & David Levien, 2010

The thing that fascinates people about a serial seducer like Ben Kalmen (magnificently played by Michael Douglas in A Solitary Man) is his speed of conquest. What could take the average man, even in our liberated society, several months or, at best, weeks to do — sleep with the woman to whom he‘s attracted —  a great serial seducer can knock off in a single night, and maybe one or two more as well. 

Bart the Bear

Wednesday, October 1st, 1997

Bart makes as much as $10,000 a day for his movie work, before residuals. He’s had major parts in over 20 movies to date, yet has never had to learn a line of dialogue. And he contributes a part of his earning to charity every year, but never signs a check. Sounds like a guy who you’d want your daughter or sister to date, huh? I forgot to mention that he weighs 1,800 pounds and eats his sushi with the skin on. Bart is the bear who hunts Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in The Edge. Good thing he can’t fit in a Beemer or he’d be tooling around Rodeo Drive, cruising for fur coats. But, he can get you Sir Anthony Hopkins‘ home phone number.
Stone is back and it ain’t Sharon! Twentieth Century Fox is bringing the Romancing the Stone series back, probably as a Michael Douglas vehicle. Given the fact that Douglas is now old enough to be the stone, let’s try some new titles: “Romancing Alone,” “My Hair Has Stopped Grow’n,” “Romancing Old Crones,” “I’d Like To Be Prone,” “Romancing The Clone” or “Romance Without Bone.” Please feel free to email your new titles.
The proliferation of meteor films — Armageddon and Deep Impact — is no longer concentrated on U.S. shores. Continuing a diverse acting repertoire, Mike Myers has agreed to star with Brenda Fricker and Boogie Nights star Alfred Molina in Meteor, a drama written and directed by Irish playwright Joe O’Byrne. Variety says it’s a dark coming-of-age story about three children in a Dublin slum whose lives are changed when a huge meteor crashes into their backyard. Shooting starts November 10, when Myers completes his work as disco denizen Steve Rubell in 54, and before he stars in MGM’s remake of The Court Jester.
The Whole Picture delves into the dark side of entertainment journalism this week.
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