PICKS OF THE WEEK
U. S.; Rob Marshall, 2009, Sony
8 1/2, Federico Fellini's 1963 mega-classic about a movie director's inner life and outer turbulence, is a masterpiece born of apparent chaos. Rob Marshall's movie musical Nine, adapted from the Broadway hit inspired by 8 1/2, is closer to chaos born of a masterpiece. That doesn't mean it's not entertaining. Miscast, and visually overwrought and misconceived as it might be, it's still a big opportunity (sometimes wasted, sometimes not), for some excellent actors and classy technicians to strut their stuff. What it's not, is a really memorable or delightful musical.
Nine tries to whirl gorgeously around the Felliniesque figure of Italian star filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) -- who, like the original 8 1/2 Guido (played by Marcello Mastroianni and based on Fellini himself) is trying to keep going a huge movie at Cinecitta Studio, despite the fact that the production is in turmoil, and he hasn't yet completed the script. (That's something that was sometimes true for both Fellini and his youthful idol, Billy Wilder).
As Cinecitta waits for Guido, his women/loves/muses constantly pop in for showcase numbers, including Marion Cotillard's Luisa (as Guido's wife, played by Anouk Aimee in 8 1/2), Penelope Cruz's Carla (as his mistress, played in 8 1/2 by Fellini's mistress, Sandra Milo), Nicole Kidman (as his star, Claudia), Kate Hudson (as nosy reporter Stephanie), Judi Dench (as know-all costume designer Lilli), Fergie (as Saraghina, the monster of remembered sexuality, who was played by Edra Gale in 8 1/2), and by Sophia Loren (as his Mamma). All of them get a star number. Guido gets two.
I know little about the stage versions of Nine, but they were both audience and critical hits. The first provided Raul Julia with one of his best roles, as Guido -- and briefly made a star of the epically voluptuous Anita Morris, who later hit her cinematic high point in the video of the Rolling Stones' "She Was Hot." I adore 8 1/2; I also dug "She Was Hot."
But Marshall's Nine probably lost the war as soon as the estimable Daniel Day-Lewis was miscast as Guido. Day-Lewis certainly has the brains and charisma to play a genius filmmaker. But his bonier and even ascetic-looking features suggest more of a Pier Paolo Pasolini or an Ingmar Bergman than the sensual, fleshy Fellini/Guido. (Better casting might have been Antonio Banderas, who won plaudits as Guido in the Broadway revival.) The ladies are all charmers, but none of these numbers stuck in my mind except for Fergie/Saraghina's exuberant "Be Italian."
Fellini moved in his career from classics of neo-realism, including I Vitelloni, La Strada and his scripts for Open City and Paisa, to the color phantasmagorias of his later years, and Nine could have used a comparably fluid, versatile touch. (Fellini's last movie, the wistful fantasy Voices of the Moon, starring Roberto Benigni, has never even been distributed here.) It also could have used the magnificent Nino Rota, whose buoyant, lilting, carnivalesque scores for Fellini place him and Maestro Federico among the all-time great director-composer teams.
And it probably could have used even more black and white cinematography. (Monochrome keeps appearing in the musical numbers.) We tend to remember Fellini in color, but most of his masterpieces were in black and white; that more restrained palette tends to work better against his tendency for over-packed imagery and over-indulgence. The monochrome in Nine is usually lovely.
Even though I thought Chicago was overrated, I'm perfectly willing to let Rob Marshall revive the movie musical. Other directors should too. Bring on all those Stephen Sondheim shows nobody ever filmed. Nine is the kind of movie where you really want to see a director shoot the works, as Baz Luhrmann did in Moulin Rouge! But Nine is a more ordinary spectacle. It often sings, rarely soars. Ciao, Federico. Ciao Cinecitta. We love you and we miss you.
Lola Montes (A)
France; Max Ophuls, 1955, Criterion
Max Ophuls' Lola Montes is a movie romance par excellence, one of the most visually sumptuous of all the great European film classics. It's an almost swooningly beautiful movie, a peerless example of its seductive genre: literate dramas about love affairs in elegant surroundings with sophisticated dialogue and first class, beautiful actors -- in this case Anton Walbrook, Peter Ustinov, Oskar Werner, Ivan Desny, and, as Lola, Martine Carol, the reigning French movie sex kitten goddess of the age (though she was just about to be replaced by Brigitte Bardot).
Lola Montes was also one of the two favorite movies -- the other was Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's great MGM musical "Singin' in the Rain" -- of my late mother, Edna Tulane Wilmington. She loved it madly, and whenever she saw something especially beautiful in art, she would refer to it as "like an Ophuls composition!"
Adapted by Ophuls, Jacques Natanson and others, from the real-life history of the legendary dancer-courtesan and from the book by Cecil St. Laurent, shot in color and Cinemascope by master cinematographer Christian Matras (Grand Illusion, La Ronde) in settings of incredible theatrical plushness and lushness, this film makes for a nearly intoxicating entertainment. It can do for you just what James Agee claimed was the high he experienced during Marcel Carne's and Jacques Prevert's effervescent masterpiece Children of Paradise -- "make you happily drunk."
But only until the climax, until the morning after and the last sad act, until the curtain shot with clowns.
Released in 1955, two years before Ophuls' death (at 55), it's one of the most gorgeous and heartbreaking examples of its type -- even though the central title character, the irresistible dancer and scandalous inamorata Lola Montes (as played by Carol)-- is hard to love, or even at times to like; and though instead of just one great amour, we see her engaging in numerous affairs and liaisons all across Europe, an irresistible seductress of the elite of music, art and government.
Finally, in the film's brilliant framing story, we see Lola peddling her amours for the price of a ticket in an American circus, guided by an urbane and cynical ringmaster (played unforgettably by Ustinov) who endangers his star's failing health by demanding that she perform perilous trapeze stunts -- and yet adores her as much as all her other stunned admirers. (Or so he says.)
More than that great all-consuming love that is usually the stuff of movie romance (something Ophuls himself had shown with rare perfection in his 1948 Hollywood classic Letter from an Unknown Woman), it is the idea of romance in general, of public romance, that Lola Montes explores so beautifully, so profoundly. You can get drunk watching this movie, carried away by its brilliant technique, its matchless images, its richly colored and embellished décor and entrancing performances -- all those elements that make Ophuls, as much as Orson Welles or Ophuls' own idols, F. W. Murnau and Ernst Lubitsch, one of the cinema's supreme visual/dramatic stylists.
And finally you're seduced by Lola's over-arching vision of the grand, impermanent, evanescent flow of beauty, love and life itself.
Lola Montes is a movie in love with romance, but also savvy about its pitfalls. Ophuls shows us something of the real Lola, whose list of conquests included musicians Franz Liszt (played in the film by Will Quadflieg), Richard Wagner and Frederic Chopin, and a string of politicians and leaders, topped by Ludwig of Bavaria (played by Walbrook, the emcee in Ophuls' La Ronde) -- but who ends much like the Lola of the movie, selling her scandals for a dollar a kiss in an American circus.
That's the ingenious frame of Lola Montes. We learn of her life and loves in the tabloid-romance show in which Lola appears, riding horseback, dancing on a high wire and on the high trapeze, while her life is recounted (and sometimes distorted) by the ringmaster. Circus master Ustinov romanticizes Lola in a conventional way, surrounded by an avalanche of clowns and circus performers tumbling all around him, as they guide us through the circus pageant of her past, undercut by the irony of his voice and delivery.
Ophuls, presenting the key events in flashback, with Lola's memory, romanticizes her in a different, more moving way. We see her past life as she recalls it, triggered by the show: see her bittersweet parting from Liszt at a country inn, where the two have grand carriages reminiscent of an over-scaled Sergio Leone western. We see her youth and the start of her femme fatale career, as she steals the lover (Desny) of her own mother (Lisa Delamare). Then we follow her quickly through a series of affairs, until she finally reaches the pinnacle, or as the ringmaster lusciously announces it: "Lola in Bavaria!"
Bavaria is where she meets and becomes the mistress of Ludwig, excites the enmity of the establishment and finally flees, thanks to a young leftist student (Oskar Werner, the Jules of Truffaut's Jules et Jim) who is both the first and last man she meets in the country, and who offers her a last fleeting chance at romance. Such is love. Such is life. Such is…. Lola Montes.
Ophuls' framing device is not unlike the main structural trick of Citizen Kane, which guides us through Kane's labyrinthine past by using the investigations of the faceless reporter Thompson, as he seeks to unravel the mystery of Kane's dying word "Rosebud." But here the roses are in bloom. The décor of the circus, boudoirs, ships, theaters and palaces against which Lola's amorous history plays out, become symphonies of color, as stunning as Toland's black and white fantasias in Kane. Even if you quibble about parts of Lola -- and many critics and audiences just won't accept Carol in a role that maybe needed a Marlene Dietrich -- you cannot sensibly deny Ophuls' genius for imagery, and especially his great forte, the moving camera shot, as celebrated by his admiring actor, Mason (star of Ophuls' two 1949 American film noirs Caught and The Reckless Moment) in the legendary doggerel that prefaces this review.
For Ophuls (born Max Oppenheimer, a German Jew in Saarbrucken on the French-German border), movement in a movie was life itself, an expression of both its excitement and evanescence, the way it thrills us and then vanishes before our eyes, all caught in the same reckless moment. No one, not such artists of camera movement and the long take as Kenji Mizoguchi, Murnau, Miklos Jansco, Theo Angelopoulos, Alexander Sokurov (in the phenomenal Russian Ark), or Welles -- who filmed the great Magnificent Ambersons ballroom scene in a single shot of his own -- ever wrung such beauty out of the moving camera as Ophuls. (If Welles is the Beethoven of the long take, and Sokurov its Stravinsky, Ophuls is its Mozart.) No one followed and preceded his actors with a camera so wondrously, or so fully conveyed life as a dance of love -- and death.
Lola Montes was once described by Andrew Sarris as the greatest film of all time. Personally, I wouldn't rank it above Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, Vertigo, Singin' in the Rain, The Searchers, Seven Samurai or Fanny and Alexander. But it belongs among them. And so does Ophuls' Letter from an Unknown Woman and his other '50s French masterpieces La Ronde and The Earrings of Madame de…
No other film is quite like Lola Montes. Few are so mesmerizing beautiful and well-made. It's a movie that still is just not watched enough, even by the aficionados who are its greatest champions. Like Kane and Rules of the Game, Ophuls' Lola can be seen over and over again without losing any of its poetry and passion. As we take our seats in the sawdust and tinsel, and watch the ringmaster bring us the life of Lola the danseuse, the world whirls, leaps, and dances before our eyes. (Extras: Max by Marcel, Marcel Ophuls' new documentary on his father; Commentary by Susan White; French TV show Max Ophuls ou le Plaisir de Tourneur; Silent footage of Carol testing hairstyles for Lola Montes; Booklet with Gary Giddins essay.)
Doctor Zhivago 45th Anniversary Edition (A)
U.S.-U.K.; David Lean, 1965, Warner
Boris Pasternak's novel of romance and revolution in pre and post-Communist Russia -- which won Pasternak both the Nobel prize and the enmity of his government -- became, in the hands of director David Lean and screenwriter Robert Bolt, one of the paradigmatic '60s movie love stories, thanks to both its gorgeously shot settings (by cinematographers Freddie Young and Nicolas Roeg) and to the beautiful faces, longing gazes and banked passions of its unforgettable lovers: Omar Sharif as gentle, steadfast, self-sacrificing Zhivago, and Julie Christie as tough, irresistible heartthrob Lara.
The rest of the cast is good too. Alec Guinness, Lean's touchstone, underplays scarily as Zhivago's pragmatic revolutionary relative Yevgraf. Rod Steiger is the rotten opportunist and Lara-seducer Komarovsky, Ralph Richardson is bumptious father-in-law Alexander, Geraldine Chaplin is Zhivago's beaming, tender wife Tonya, Tom Courtenay is Lara's lover Pasha turned people's General Strelnikov, and, in one of the most incendiary small parts ever, Klaus Kinski is the handcuffed anarchist on the train, Kostoyed.
But it's Yuri and Lara that we remember longest: two lovers constantly thwarted and kept from each other, yet so irresistibly, mutually attracted, that when they finally fall into each other's arms, it's as if we were watching two magnets rush and cling.
Doctor Zhivago has held up, though in the age of the Vietnam War and the New Wave, some critics blocked it out. Most of us wish they still made movies like this. In fact, David Lean had reached the peak the peak of his career, critically, with his masterpiece, 1962's Lawrence of Arabia. But the road show spectacle of Doctor Zhivago made some critics suspect him of being a secret kitschmeister, and several years later, he got a memorable in-person savaging by Pauline Kael and friends at a National Society of Film Critics meeting timed for Ryan's Daughter. Some observers, like Dick Schickel, partly blame the meanness of that meeting for Lean's subsequent 14-year silence before his last movie, A Passage to India.
But he was still at his creative and personal zenith with Doctor Zhivago. Based on a great novel, the film mixes politics and drama, romance and overpowering scenic beauty, with all Lean's spectacular control and immaculate skill. We can't forget his images, his rhythms, his romantic yarn-spinning, any more than we can blot out the memorably romantic music score ("Lara's Theme") by Maurice Jarre. Or the faces of Lara and Yuri, before they fall into each other's arms. (Extras: Commentary by Omar Sharif, Rod Steiger and Sandra (Mrs. David) Lean; Documentary Doctor Zhivago: The Making of a Russian Epic; retrospective Doctor Zhivago: A Celebration; vintage featurettes; Geraldine Chaplin screen test; trailers.)
Saving Private Ryan (A)
U.S.: Steven Spielberg, 1998, Paramount, Blu-Ray
Steven Spielberg's WW2 epic is about a steadfast but vulnerable U.S. Army captain (Tom Hanks) and his assignment to rescue Pvt. Ryan (Matt Damon), behind French lines -- the last soldier left in a family that's already sacrificed his three other brothers in battle. Written by Robert Rodat (Fly Away Home, The Patriot) and somewhat inspired by fact, Ryan is a powerful mixture of patriotic "Greatest Generation" sentiment and incredibly convincing action, including the most intense and blazingly realistic of all movie recreations of D-Day: a restaging of the Omaha Beach landing that puts you horrifically in a crossfire that seems paralyzing real and truly dangerous. The supporting cast includes Edward Burns, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Tom Sizemore, Adam Goldberg, Jeremy Davies, Dennis Farina, Ted Danson, Harve Presnell, and Paul Giamatti. Photography by Janusz Kaminski, music by the inevitable John Williams.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Leap Year (C+)
U.S.-U.K.: Anand Tucker, 2010, Universal
Leap Year -- in which Amy Adams learns that a bad-tempered Irishman who runs a tavern/hotel is in many ways preferable to a smooth-talking Boston cardiologist with a Blackberry -- is a sweet-natured picaresque romantic comedy blessed with spectacular Irish scenery and cursed with the usual cliché-ridden script.
The scenery is often entrancing and so is Adams. Here, she plays a Boston apartment designer, Anna, who's trying to get to Dublin by Feb. 20, Leap Year, so she can propose to smugly good-natured cardiologist Jeremy (Adam Scott), a self-absorbed operator who's kept her on the hook for four years without popping a question. But, thanks to inclement weather and train problems, Anna has to undergo a nervous but highly picturesque tour of Wales and Ireland, walking, hitching or hiring a ferryboat, or employing cute but surly cab driver-pub owner Declan (Matthew Goode) to get from Cardiff to Dingle to Dublin by Feb. 29. Along the way, the ill-tempered, seemingly ill-matched couple of over-anal Anna and city-hating Declan -- surprise! -- takes the old It Happened One Night road, and pass from sniping and slamming at each other, to sharing a bedroom and falling in love.
The script's flaws, which include the usual ratio of stale chestnuts and lapses in logic, mostly involve remarkable and even maddening dysfunctions and bad judgment in the couple's travel strategies. But they're not fatal, at least if you're in an Amy Adams sort of mood. With her big warming smile and genuinely sparkly and crush-inducing gazes, she's an actress who tends to pulverize grouchy disbelief -- and Goode makes her a good, gangling, brogue-sporting romantic teammate. Many of the movie's shortcomings are solved, at least a little, by Adams's meltingly lovely eyes and her game gift for self-kidding slapstick. And also by the outward cynicism and inner boyish charm, of her movie teammate Goode.
Whatever is most appealing about Leap Year comes from this pair and the countryside around them, a landscape presented in eye-catching tableaux that suggest The Quiet Man re-shot by David Lean and Freddie Young. The upshot: Leap Year is cast and directed well, but not so smartly-written, par for the over-dressed course in many modern romantic comedies, especially the ones about marriage.
Fiascos like these are, in some measure, the driving engine of this kind of travelogue-ish romantic comedy. And one could even argue that Anna and Declan's subconscious minds, already smitten with each other, are messing things up precisely to keep Anna from Jeremy. Well and Goode. But as smart as this twosome is supposed to be, you begin to marvel at their constant ineptitude at the simplest things: at driving up a hill, for example, or leaning on a car or catching a train or dancing at a wedding without beaning the bride. The trick of comedy is to make the illogical seem inevitable. Leap Year often doesn't. (By the way, isn't the leap year "proposal tradition" operative here too?)
Director Anand Tucker usually has better scripts. (He directed Hilary and Jackie and Shopgirl and produced Girl with a Pearl Earring.) Here, he's helming a kitschy scenario by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, whose Made of Honor had a similar plot: Patrick Dempsey lousing up a wedding in Scotland. Tucker shines it up some, though not all, of the time. The over-yuppied dialogue picks up early on, when John Lithgow (who knows how to transform bad lines) shows up for his one too-brief scene as Anna's raffish father and gooses things up. (Lithgow could use one more scene, in which he expresses a qualm or two about what's to come.) Adams mostly triumphs over her lines too, even when she runs into a priest on a plane (Ian McElhinny), who seems to sunk in Alec Guinness's old distracted-whimsical expressions. She's a cutie on a toot, and so, in his way, is Goode.
The movie suggests, not for the first time in an American romantic comedy, that rich guys with lots of ambition, slick haircuts and gifts of gab may ultimately be poor husband material, and that tall, scruffy, wisecrackers with natural charm and dreamy eyes are better bets. It also suggests that heart's desire may be waiting back in Brigadoon, Brigadoon, or in the land of "I Know Where I'm Going" -- or at least in Declan's rural Irish barroom country, where the land is as green as an emerald and all the fuses can get blown if you try to charge up a Blackberry.
Meanwhile, let's all raise a glass to Amy Adams, one lassie that we'd really like to miss a train with.
Play the Game (C)
U. S.; Andy Griffith, 2009, Phase 4
Most pop-slanted movies ignore or botch the problems of old age. But this one gets a few points for trying: It's a lewd, sometimes funny, often predictable little comedy about an 80something retirement home resident who enlists his lady-killing car-salesman grandson to teach him how to chase women -- and it pleases because of one prime old reason. Andy Griffith.
Griffith plays Joe, the late-life would be Casanova, and he's an actor who means something to us above and beyond his skill as a performer. And he proves it again here, in a movie so occasionally tawdry that the big comic scene here shows the now 83-year-old actor's reactions to a blow job. (Don't worry; Griffith does the scene and Joe's goofily blissful response superbly; I'd even say tastefully, if, in this case, good taste weren't such a joke.)
The rest of the film, which also stars Paul Campbell, of Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica, as David, Joe's ego-mad "sex expert," David; Doris Roberts and Liz Sheridan as Rose and Edna, two of Joe's targets at the home; and Marla Sokoloff as Julie, Rose's tempting (to David) granddaughter, is okay but unremarkable. It's fitfully funny, fitfully sexy -- done by writer-producer-director Marc Fienberg with a cheerful but uninspired competence that keeps comfortably inside the TV sitcom game-lines.
That, of course, sets off and suits Griffith fine, since he's one of the genuine American TV sitcom geniuses. How many classic sitcoms still give us even half the kick and pleasure of the old '60s Andy Griffith Show? Few better TV ensembles exist than the original team of Griffith as Mayberry, North Carolina's easy-going single father Sheriff Andy Taylor, child actor phenom Ronnie Howard as his model son Opie, Frances Bavier as matronly Aunt Bee, all the local yokels (like Howard McNear as Floyd the Barber and later, Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle) and the incredible neurotic-clown Don Knotts as nervous, bullet-in-the-pocket, gun-challenged, blowhard deputy Barney Fife. Few TV comedy teams can top Griffith and Knotts. (Indeed, the show was never really the same after Knotts left, taking with him, except for infrequent guest shots, all those incredible tics and whines and phony bravado.)
At the center of it all, seemingly one of the most generous, least star-conscious stars imaginable, was Griffith. A drawling country type with a foot-wide grin, and a native of (no kidding) Mount Airy, North Carolina, with a honey-likker-thick Blue Ridge accent to prove it, Griffith first became famous back in the '50s, with the TV, Broadway and Hollywood Ira Levin hit No Time for Sergeants, the cornpone sports comedy routine What it Was, Was Football, and Elia Kazan's and Budd Schulberg's scathing media politics expose drama A Face in the Crowd -- where Griffith went Brando, digging deeper and playing a darker, more vicious character, a kind of hobo-fascist mix of Arthur Godfrey, Buck Owens and Willie Stark called Lonesome Rhodes. (That's the character Keith Olbermann keeps referring to as the template for Fox News' smiling demagogue Glenn Beck.)
But it's Andy Taylor and company we remember best -- at least before the show got gooberized and became more self-conscious and calculatedly corny after Knott's departure. I've got one of the complete DVD sets of the show, and it's one of the few sets I own that friends keep asking me for.
Here, Griffith is moving with the times -- which definitely include oral sex, even in retirement homes. But, as with his old show, Andy makes it all go down easy -- he's just a-funning' us -- and he can even make Joe somewhat unpleasant and self-indulgent, when called for. (David is definitely a schmuck at times too; indeed, the whole point of Fienberg's comedy is that sexual gamesmanship is not quite what it seems.)
Despite No Time for Sergeants and A Face in the Crowd, Griffith never conquered the movies the way he did TV. So it's a country tonic to see him, in his 80s, enjoying a late career cinematic resurgence with films like Waitress and this one. Even if Play the Game is no great shakes, it will survive, courtesy of Griffith. What's that Andy Taylor would say? "I 'preciate it, and good night."
Tooth Fairy (D)
U. S.; Michael Lembeck, 2010, 20th Century Fox
Help me! Help me! Please! I've had some kind of crazy nightmare, and I think that I'm cracking up.
You see, the other night, I dreamed -- I must have dreamed -- that I went to see a critic's screening, at the local AMC multiplex, of a movie called (I swear I'm not making this up) Tooth Fairy.
At first everything seemed normal. All the other critics were there, gabbing away. I had a bottle of Dasani water. My cell phone was off. The lights went down.
But then things started getting... strange.
A movie came on -- and it wasn't like any movie I'd ever seen before, even though it resembled a kind of camped-up Santa Clause. It was supposed to be a family-fantasy-sports-romantic comedy (or maybe a fam-fan-sport-rom-com?), with that ever-genial ex-wrestler and movie star, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson playing Derek "The Tooth Fairy" Thompson. Derek was a rough-and-tough, really-ripped minor league ice hockey defenseman so nicknamed because he kept knocking opposing players' teeth out.
I think Derek established some kind of minor-league tooth-bashing-out record. Without steroids.
End of spoiler alert.
That was crazy enough. But then it got weirder and weirder. In this so-called movie I was watching, the Rock, or Derek, or the Tooth Fairy, or whatever he was, was wooing a beautiful single mother named Carly, played by Ashley Judd, who kept smiling, even though there was nothing to smile at. And Derek made the mistake of telling Carly's adorable little 6-year-old daughter Tess (Destiny Whitlock), who put a tooth under her pillow one night expecting a coin under her pillow in the morning, that the reason it wasn't there was because there was no such thing as tooth fairies.
What a bummer! This made the real tooth fairies -- a well-organized, heavenly bunch led by, no kidding, Julie Andrews (as Lily) -- very angry. And they kidnapped Derek and took him to Tooth Fairyland and turned him into a tooth fairy himself, dressed in a pink ballet tutu, with little flopping white wings.
I know what you're thinking! But I saw this! And it got even worse. In this so-called movie I was watching, Derek/Dwayne was tutored in tooth-fairyhood by a very tall British guy named Tracy (played, very toothily, by Stephen Merchant of the British The Office), who kept trying to get his wings, just like Henry Travers in It's a Wonderful Life. But Tracy acted so fey and Paul-Lynde-ish that the actors kept making all kinds of fairy jokes.
Meanwhile, Derek was ordered by Julie (that is, Lily) to adhere to a rigid Tooth Fairy schedule. So, at the drop of a tooth, and a call from Tracy (or was it Julie?), Derek had to drop everything, don his wings, and fly off at all odd moments -- including right in the middle of hockey games -- to shove coins under the pillows of sleeping children, all of whom started losing teeth at an alarming rate.
By now, there was a peculiar chill in the movie house. Nobody was laughing. Suddenly, somebody mysteriously bumped me in the dark. They were running out of the theatre. And the six-year-old toddler a row ahead of me turned to his mother and said, "What is this shit?"
Then -- did I really see this? -- somebody whom I swear looked just like Billy Crystal (though I couldn't find B.C. listed anywhere in the IMDB credits) gave Derek a batch of official James-Bondish Tooth Fairy gadgets including amnesia gas, invisibility aids and shrinking potions -- so Derek could be "invisibled," or made to forget everything, or get really small, and crawl under locked doors and get chased by Incredible Shrinking Man-size pussycats. All the while, Billy (or was it Lily?) kept doing a standup comedy monologue that instantly won him the Tonight Show permanent host job from Jay Leno. Then Jay himself showed up and also turned into a tooth fairy, with flopping orange wings, pursued by Conan O'Brien, who turned into a fingernail fairy, with flopping green wings.
No, I just made those last Tonight Show gags up. I'm sorry.
But I swear I saw the rest of it. And a lot more, including a climactic ice hockey game where Derek the defense-man started scoring last minute game-winning goals just like Bobby Orr, helped by the invisibility stuff -- and also by Mick, a nasty young hockey phenom, who turned into a nice young hockey phenom (played by Ryan Sheckler, who's a young skateboarding phenom). At the end, Tracy gave Derek the amnesia stuff and Derek forgot everything, and he went off to see Carly's son play electric guitar god in a school talent contest. And guess who won?
End of spoiler alert: You will forget everything you just read.
Now, nobody in their right mind would actually make a movie like that, would they? Especially famous name co-writers like Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who wrote all of this stuff with three other guys -- and who once wrote the certifiably funny Parenthood, for Ronnie Howard. And what about director Michael Lembeck, whose dad Harvey was on the very funny Sgt. Bilko TV show with Phil Silvers? And The Rock? And Julie Andrews? Flopping white wings? Tutus? Amnesia spray? Monster pussycats? The Office? Fairy jokes? Come on! All of these people would take an invisibility pill before they'd appear in anything as ridiculous as Tooth Fairy. Give me a bleeping break.
Nah, it was all a horrible nightmare.
Anyway, the lights went on and the critics started gabbing away, as if we'd all just actually seen a real movie. They were very convincing. They actually looked like real movie critics. Or like someone on At the Movies. They...They… (Remember that early Robert Heinlein Astounding Science Fiction story They? Remember L. Ron Hubbard's Fear? Remember the first Nightmare on Elm Street?)
But no, it was all just a bad dream. Brought on by too much frozen pizza. And too many artichokes. And too many bad movies at the multiplex. Tooth Fairy? A dream! It had to be!
But just in case, I'm putting all my teeth under my pillow tonight. I just hope Billy C. shows up with some amnesia spray.
Spoiler alert. You will forget everything you've just red. And, if you see Tooth Fairy, you will mercifully forget everything about it, especially the price.
Or was it Lily C?
End of spoiler alert.
Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (B)
This very instructive and engaging documentary is about Lee Atwater, the Republican Party political operative, campaign manager, chairman of the R.N.C., and advisor to Presidents Reagan and G. H. W. Bush -- who mostly devised and ruthlessly executed the current, very productive main G.O.P. electoral strategy of trashing, slandering, race-baiting, red-baiting and ridiculing your opponents (Republican or Democratic), shamelessly lying, and, in general, acting like complete assholes. Lee also played a mean rhythm and blues guitar, and he once backed up Percy Sledge, and recorded an album, "Red, Hot and Blue" with B. B. King. Lee's rocking out at the George Bush inaugural earned him admiring mention in a magazine piece by P. J. O'Rourke, another asshole. (By God! P. J. must have thought: Another hip Republican!)
After working his magic in several elections, dreaming up the Willie Horton strategy, and bucking for Bush, Sr., Lee got a brain tumor, and, near death, he started apologizing for all the mean and awful things he'd done in politics. Well, I forgive you, Lee. After all, Hell can't be much fun for Republican Party special ops with blues guitars. And if you wound up in Heaven, you're bound to run into a lot of your victims. Besides, look at all the other assholes you left behind.
Pride and Prejudice (Restored Version) (A)
U. K.; Simon Langton, 1995, A&E Home Video
Easily the best screen version of Jane Austen's most popular and well-loved novel: that sparkling, witty, charmingly knowledgeable and justly-revered tale of the 19th century British country manor romance of brilliant Elizabeth Bennett (Jennifer Ehle) and somber Darcy (Colin Firth, in the role he'll always be remembered for) -- one pair of lovers, in whom intelligence exceeds desire, complexity outweighs sexuality, and eloquence trumps passion. (Or does it?) All five hours of the BBC version, scripted by Andrew Davies, the best writer there ever was at this sort of thing, and directed by the skillful, underrated TV specialist Simon Langton: a royal treat for Anglophiles and lovers of literate filmmaking alike. With Alison Steadman (of ex-husband Mike Leigh's Life is Sweet) and Benjamin Whitrow as the elder Bennetts.
U.S.; George Pan Cosmatos, 1993, Walt Disney, Blu-Ray
A flashier, showier version of the Wyatt Earp-Clanton family feud, also recorded in John Sturges' Gunfight at the O. K. Corral, Lawrence Kasdan's Wyatt Earp and, most memorably, in John Ford's My Darling Clementine. Kurt Russell is a strong, solid Wyatt, Val Kilmer is a winningly flamboyant Doc Holliday ("I'm your huckleberry!") and the rest of the cast includes Dana Delany, Sam Elliott, Billy Bob Thornton, Charlton Heston, Michael Rooker and, as the narrator calling the shots, Robert Mitchum. Tombstone's better moments almost make you forgive Cosmatos for Rambo: First Blood Part 2. (Extras: Featurettes; trailers.)
Dirty Dancing Limited Keepsake Edition (B-)
U.S.; Emile Ardolino, 1987, Lionsgate, Blu-Ray
Patrick Swayze, Rest In Peace. (Extras: commentary by Kenny Ortega and others; interview with Jennifer Grey; featurettes; outtakes; deleted scenes; extended scenes.)
The Honey Pot (B+)
U.S.; Joseph Mankiewicz, 1967, MGM
After foundering in the great bejeweled ruins of Cleopatra -- floating away to box office perdition on Liz Taylor's bosom and Richard Burton's booze -- writer-director Joseph Mankiewicz reconnected with his admirably ironic Julius Caesar, Rex Harrison, for this forgotten but sometimes wonderful little movie: a modern Venice-set murder mystery update of Ben Jonson's Volpone with Harrison as The Fox, Cliff Robertson as The Fly, and Susan Hayward, Capucine, Maggie Smith and Edie Adams as the ladies in question. Nobody much has seen it, but it's always been one of my favorite Mankiewiczes. And it points ahead clearly to the last Mank masterpiece, the Laurence Olivier-Michael Caine version of Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT BOX SETS
Classic Quad Set 4 (B)
U.S.; Various directors, 1953-1966, Twentieth Century Fox
Movie biblical or religious spectacles had their first heyday during the '20s and '30s, when Cecil B. DeMille perfected his special bland of sex, sin, epic and inspiration in extravagant pictures like King of Kings (1927) and the first version of The Ten Commandments (1923), and saw others copy his style in the first Fred Niblo-directed Ben-Hur (1925).
The genre's second heyday came in the 1950s, a decade that saw DeMille release his second (and better) Ten Commandments (with Charlton Heston as Moses, and DeMille himself as Himself and also as the Voice of God), along with blockbusters like The Robe, David and Bathsheba, Solomon and Sheba and William Wyler's anti-DeMille remake of Ben-Hur.
That mostly reverent and old-fashioned list then gave way to the more revisionist (i.e.: liberal) epics of the '60s: Nick Ray's rebellious remake of King of Kings (1961), George Stevens' (and the uncredited David Lean's) competing Christ epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, Robert Aldrich's (and assistant Sergio Leone's) lusty Sodom and Gomorrah, and John Huston's 1966 The Bible -- the only one of these films that really respects the Bible as literature.
This Classic Fox Quad Set draws from the '50s and '60s. (You can find one of the studio's most affecting religious movies, Henry King's 1944 The Song of Bernadette on Classic Quad Set 5.) And though it may be stretching matters to include Carol Reed's The Agony and the Ecstasy in all this, that movie does boast the religious drama of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, a Pope and Charlton Heston. And all four movies, whatever their flaws, look terrific in color and widescreen. (Extras: Featurettes.)
The Robe (B-)
U.S.; Henry Koster, 1953
Minister-turned-novelist Lloyd C. Douglas wrote the book behind one of the nuttiest of all movie domestic dramas (soaps to you), Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession. Here, he supplied the plot for one of the nuttiest, if oddly moving, biblical epics: the bizarre spiritual adventure story of brooding Roman centurion Marcellus Gallio (Richard Burton), who goes bonkers and becomes inspired when he touches the robe Christ wore on crucifixion day. Jean Simmons is the beauty who spurns an emperor's dubious bed for love of Marcellus, Victor Mature is the rebellious and hunky slave gladiator Demetrius, Michael Rennie makes the Earth Stand Still again as the Apostle, and Jay Robinson is the campiest Caligula until John Hurt started dancing in a golden gown in I, Claudius. A surprising gallery of Jewish off-screen talent was also involved in this first Cinemascope movie about Christ, including director Henry Koster and black-listed ghost Albert Maltz, who co-wrote the script with Philip Dunne. It was a huge hit, but the results make you wonder what Rev. Douglas's sermons were like.
Demetrius and the Gladiators (B-)
U.S.; Delmer Daves, 1954
A weird sequel to The Robe, with Victor Mature's Demetrius taking up where Burton's Marcellus left off, and Robinson's Caligula once again drama-queening it up beyond redemption.
The Agony and the Ecstasy (B)
U.S.; Carol Reed, 1965
Charlton Heston as Michelangelo, Rex Harrison as Pope Julius, and the Sistine Chapel ceiling in all its glory, created anew before our eyes. Haters of art films sometimes complain that watching them is like watching pain dry, but this is one movie where watching paint dry is a legitimate part of the drama. Reed, because he was busy on this film, missed out on what would have been his last collaboration with Graham Greene, The Comedians. Still and all, Agony has some ecstasy in it. With Diane Cilento, Harry Andrews and Adolfo Celi.
The Bible (A-)
U.S.; John Huston, 1966
One of my favorite biblical epics, producer Dino De Laurentiis and director John Huston's mammoth, intellectual, sometimes wry version of much of Genesis, with George C. Scott as Abraham, Ava Gardner as Sarah, Peter O'Toole as the angel who leads Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah, and actor John Huston, whose Noah is worth the price of admission (or of the DVD).
Bad Girls of Film Noir, Volume 2 (C)
U.S.; Various Directors, 1946-56, Columbia/Sony
Noir has become such an infallible vintage movie brand name these days that, by now, some studio labels and public domain hucksters have really begun scraping the barrel's bottom. Mostly shot in professionally sleazy black and white, this Volume 2 of a two-part set might as well be called "Bad Girls of Bad Film Noir."
Then again, good, bad, fair or indifferent, film noir tends to more watchable and entertaining than most other movie genres. And I've got to admit I had a pretty good time at most of these femme fatale semi-stinkers-- especially Women's Prison. (Extras: All Star Theatre Episode Remember to Live;trailers.)
Night Editor (C)
U.S.; Henry Levin, 1946
The night shift at the local paper (in the pre-Internet era) gets the lowdown on how society slut Janis Carter sent her good cop-turned bad-lover William Gargan down to Fred McMurray Hell. A sort-of must, if you've ever wondered what director Henry Levin did before achieving immortality, of a sort, with Where the Boys Are.
One Girl's Confession (C-)
U.S.; Hugo Haas, 1953
The incredible B-movie basement-noir combo of blonde bombshell star Cleo Moore and writer-director-slimy-character-actor-costar Hugo Haas strikes again, as sexy port girl Cleo gets fed up with low-life passes, robs her employer, buries the loot, serves her slammer stretch and then starts wreaking havoc among hopelessly smitten males, including lecherous Hugo. This movie makes no sense, but if you've never seen Moore and Haas do their stuff, you've missed a bizarre treat.
Women's Prison (B-)
U.S.; Lewis Seiler, 1954)
A distaff San Quentin, with a wow of a cast: Warners' tough gal supreme Ida Lupino stars as the brutal warden, brutalizing a bevy of jailbird cuties that includes fellow noir babes Audrey Totter, Jan Sterling, Cleo Moore, Juanita Moore (later the tragic mother-heroine of Sirk's Imitation of Life), and Phyllis Thaxter -- with Lupino's sardonic hubby Howard Duff as the idealistic doctor who can't stand it any more. It isn't Riot in Cell Block 11, but with cast like that, it doesn't have to be. Co-scripted by Crane Wilbur.
U.S.; Lewis Seiler, 1956
Stars. Cleo Moore again, this time working her blonde bombshell wiles on Richard Crenna, the goony "Our Miss Brooks" kid who went on, as a suave adult, to co-star with Catherine Deneuve and Alain Delon in the 1972 Jean-Pierre Melville French noir Dirty Money (Un Flic). As an over-exposed photographer's model turned photographer/blackmailer, photo-hottie Cleo fries Crenna to a crisp.