PICKS OF THE WEEK
Mary Poppins 45th Anniversary Edition (A)
U.S.; Robert Stevenson, 1964, Walt Disney
Julie Andrews, foolishly barred from repeating her greatest stage role, Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, by Jack Warner's insistence on casting non-singing legend Audrey Hepburn as the flower girl Galatea, got her Oscar-winning consolation prize in Mary Poppins: an also-loverly star role in this bright, juicy, toweringly good-natured Disney family musical, partly animated and based on the beguiling children's books about a tart, magical London nanny by P.L. Travers. Supporting Julie are the usual Disney '50s-'60s crew -- director Robert Stevenson (the Disney '50s-'60s wheel-horse helmsman and a descendant of writer Robert Louis Stevenson), writers Bill Walsh and Donald Da Gradi and songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman -- who supplied Andrews and costar Dick Van Dyke (as Bert the hyperactive chimney sweep) with an evergreen song-score that includes "A Spoonful of Sugar," "Chim-Chim-Cheree," "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious," and Disney's own all-time favorite from all his films, the heart-tugging "Feed the Birds."
The movie is a little long, somewhat set-bound and more than a little sugary. ("A Truckful of Sugar" would be more like it.) But this picture has become a cherished memento of a lot of childhoods. And Andrews -- whom the stubborn Warner also cheated of another of her great stage roles, Guinevere in Camelot -- is at her bright, smiley, crisp-soprano best here. Every child deserves a crack at this movie, which has also been adapted for stage and sing-along -- and they should also read the (different in tone, but just as delightful) Travers books.
By the way, the Disneyfied adjective "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" happens to be longer than the word I grew up thinking was my language's longest: spelling bee tongue-twister "antidisestablishmentarianism. But would Webster approve? Would Poppins? (Extras: Featurettes, Andrews-Van Dyke reunion, deleted song, more.)
The Pink Panther (A)
U. S.; Blake Edwards, 1964, MGM
Moviedom's master of inept detection, the maddeningly obtuse Inspector Jacques Clouseau as played to maddening perfection by Peter Sellers, makes his fantastically screw-loose debut in The Pink Panther, one of the great screwball Hollywood sex comedies, directed by Blake Edwards. Sellers, at his multilingual best, is the cracked Clouseau -- a clown who thinks he's a mix of Casanova, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes. (He also thinks he has a French accent, though a title like A Room With a View would shatter him.) And they are supported wonderfully by frosty Capucine as Clouseau's astonishingly faithless wife, David Niven as his ace nemesis, master cat burglar and seducer the Phantom, and Robert Wagner and Romy Schneider as a thief/lover on the rise and a pursued princess. Also, not least, there's the Pink Panther himself -- the movie's credit-sequence gagster and a flaw in the diamond, who went on to become a star Friz Freleng cartoon character.
Henry Mancini composed, of course -- and we should always remember that Sellers only got the part (at the last minute) because the original Clouseau, Peter Ustinov, dropped out to take his Oscar-winning role as the sleazy Simpson in another top heist comedy, Topkapi. In this case, Sellers and Ustinov made the right switch -- and Sellers' Clouseau prattled and pratfalled his way into movie comedy Valhalla.
The Lucky Ones (B)
U.S.; Neil Burger, 2008, Overnight Productions
From Neil Burger, the writer-director of the elegant period mystery film The Illusionist, comes one of the better recent contemporary road movies, The Lucky Ones. The cast is super. Rachel McAdams (as small-town bombshell Colee Dunn), Tim Robbins (as disturbed middle-American Fred Cheaver) and Michael Pena (as take-charge T.K. Poole) play three soldiers, who've completed their Iraq tours and are thrown together in New York during a blackout that temporarily halts plane travel. Pooling forces, they take a car to St. Louis, where some bad family surprises await Cheever, and eventually Las Vegas, where something similar awaits Colee. Together, they all begin to face the reality of their situation -- and of their country's.
It may seem potentially soggy, but I liked most of it. It's well written, not preachy and extremely well acted. And though we expect excellence in these kinds of roles from Robbins and Pena, McAdams springs a surprise. She's always good too, but here, as a likeable prole who's bringing back a guitar to her boyfriend's family, she moved me in ways I didn't expect.
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
The Sidney Poitier Collection (B)
U.S.; various directors, 1957-1972, WarnerSidney Poitier was the supremely likable and gifted Bahamas-born actor who became the American cinema's first major black movie star -- and also its first black "Best Actor" Oscar-winner -- before falling under dubious attack in the '70s, when some voguish sociological pundits tried to damn him as too likable, his onscreen image too perfect, his manner too amiable, and his 1967 annus mirabilis (In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, and To Sir With Love) as not Pantherish and revolutionary enough, maybe even a bit Beverly Hills Uncle Tom-ish. (I know, I was once one of those wise-cracking politico/carpers.) Always a gentleman, Poitier took his public lumps and segued into directing and, later on, supporting roles: two chores at which he showed the same casual expertise and irresistible personality that had brought him to the heights.
This fine box set exposes some of those '70s complaints as hogwash. And it also shows why Poitier became a star. It contains his great performance, in director Martin Ritt and writer Robert Alan Aurthur's On the Waterfront-ish 1957 Edge of the City, as charming stevedore Tommy Carter. Opposite three equally brilliant and well-cast colleagues, Poitier shines -- as the best friend of John Cassavetes' troubled fugitive Axel, the target of Jack Warden's racist brute of a dock boss Charlie and the loving husband of Ruby Dee. It's one of the happiest, sexiest and most touching of all Poitier's roles and an excellent feature debut for Ritt.
The set contains in addition Poitier's remarkably gutsy performance as tormented Kenyan Mau Mau leader Kimani (Uncle Tom, huh?) in Richard Brooks' gutsy 1957 movie of Richard Ruark's Something of Value (alongside another superb black actor, Juan Hernandez). Also in the pack: a quintessential Poitier performance in writer-director Guy Green's compassionate 1965 romantic drama A Patch of Blue, as the city Good Samaritan Gordon, with whom blind Selina (Elizabeth Hartman) falls in love, to the anger of her racist bully of a mother (Oscar-winning Shelley Winters); and one of Poitier's solid but underrated directorial efforts, A Warm December -- not his best, but an interesting hybrid of Hitchcockian thriller (in the beginning) and tragic romance, costarring Esther Anderson.
A fine set, with one classic and three good, daring and decent (in several senses of the word) films. Were Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper or Spencer Tracy ever fairly criticized for being too likable or having too perfect a screen image? Nope. Neither was Poitier. Every black movie player, and maybe even a few politicians, owes a huge debt of gratitude to Sidney Poitier, actor and citizen. All of us shouldn't forget it.
Includes: Edge of the City (Martin Ritt, 1957, A), with John Cassavetes, Jack Warden and Ruby Dee; Something of Value (Richard Brooks, 1957, B), with Rock Hudson, Dana Wynter and Wendy Hiller; A Patch of Blue (Guy Green, 1965, B), with Elizabeth Hartman, Shelley Winters and Ivan Dixon; and A Warm December (Sidney Poitier, 1972, C+), with Esther Anderson.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Lakeview Terrace (C+)
U.S.; Neil LaBute, 2008, Overbrook Entertainment
From Neil LaBute: a flashy anti-bigotry message melodrama -- in which Samuel L. Jackson, as a suburbanite divorced dad LAPD cop, is the prejudiced sadist, and Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington, as the interracial couple next door, are his victims.
Lakeview Terrace does grip you; LaBute doesn't seem very personally invested, but he keeps it humming. Yet the movie's setup is formula stuff, and the wildly clichéd ending tends to sabotage Jackson's performance, which, before that, is tremendous. Jackson never betrays an attitude about Abel; he plays him from deep inside, which makes him scarier. It's impressive to see that the actor who played the ultra-mellow Senor Love Daddy in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing can generate so much venom. But the climax is a waste.
The Rocker (C)
U.S.; Peter Cattaneo, 2008, 21 Laps Entertainment
Rainn Wilson plays rock drummer Robert "Fish" Fishman, who was tossed out of a band that eventually became a super-group; and gets a second chance from his nephew, who needs a drummer for his local high school band. It sounds dumb and it is -- though the movie's makers occasionally show some wit, give Wilson a few good lines and even have a part for ex-Beatle Pete Best (the drummer Ringo replaced). But despite a quasi-heroic effort by Wilson to be raunchy, clueless, lovable and cool all at the same time, The Rocker -- directed by Peter Cattaneo of The Full Monty -- just doesn't rock the house.
The Family Way (B)
U.K.; Roy Boulting, 1966, Wham! USA
Notable for containing the first semi-nude scene of one-time child star Hayley Mills, this now somewhat forgotten romantic family drama, about a troubled young couple, based on a play by Bill Naughton (Alfie) is actually quite moving. With Hywel Bennett and a fantastic performance (as Bennett's dad) by Hayley's pop, John Mills. Paul McCartney wrote the score.
A Shot in the Dark (A)
U.S.; Blake Edwards, 1964, MGM
A Shot in the Dark is another of the great early Clouseaus. In some ways, it's even better than The Pink Panther, since it introduced three key characters: long-suffering manservant Kato (Burt Kwouk), stoic assistant cop Hercule (Graham Stark) and the supremely apoplectic Chief Inspector Dreyfus (played by the inimitably twitchy Herbert Lom). Also in the cast: sexy Elke Sommer and profoundly cynical and bored George Sanders.