RANDOM PICKS OF NEW FLIX
A terrific foreign film, two familiar local namesakes and a gargantuan dud are now available on the big and little screen. Choose wisely and you will not be disappointed. Life’s too short to waste a minute on a bad movie.
One of the more engaging, witty and finally heartwarming films to come along in a while is France’s huge hit INTOCHABLE (aka UNTOUCHABLES). This huge European hit is the second highest grossing, non-English film of all time (behind Mel Gibson’s PASSION OF CHRIST) with a take of around $350 million. And that’s before opening in America. This true story is about the unexpected relationship between a super-rich French businessman widower, paralyzed from the neck down and crippled with grief who hires an uneducated, street smart African immigrant just out of prison as a reluctant caregiver. The growing friendship between these two extremes of society results in a kind of redemption from both their prisons. Francois Cluzet is just right as Phillipe, the sophisticated employer who hires the black caretaker Driss (Omar Sy) precisely because the latter shows no pity – or empathy. For the paraplegic, that’s a refreshing change. Sy exudes charisma as Driss, Phillipe’s at-first uncomfortable but outspoken helper. Although sentimental and formulaic, the casting and performances convey authentic chemistry and camaraderie that transcend any superficial clichés. I loved this sweetly subversive film that reminds of our common humanity and the treasures we find when we enter another’s world and discover repairs of what’s wrong with our own world. (Note: If you know the meaning behind the film’s title, please let me know. I’ve heard wildly different explanations.)
…AND FOR THE HOME THEATER:
SPRINGTIME IN THE SIERRAS
I was always a much bigger fan of Roy Rogers than Gene Autry. I know that’s paramount to sacrilege to some who live in the area – after all, we have Gene Autry Trail named in his honor as well as an awkward bronze tribute statue at the intersection of his “trail” and Ramone Rd. Roy Rogers made about 70 films playing himself. He has a multitude of fans of a certain generation who still hold him in high esteem for his moral character, singing and shooting. In this 1947 outing made by Republic, Roy investigates the murder of a game warden and discovers a gang of poachers led by a woman! Dale Evans is nowhere to be found, but Trigger co-stars along with Andy Devine. Highlights include a famously big fistfight and some nice harmonizing with The Sons of the Pioneers (including my favorite: “Pedro from Acapulco”). This is the rarely seen color version restored to its original 75 minute running time (on TV, it was shown in black and white and cut to 54 minutes). And one more thing, in a fight — or sing-off — Roy could take Gene any time. Film Chest Media Group distributes this vintage favorite.
MARY PICKFORD: MUSE OF THE MOVIES
There’s a whole generation – maybe two or more – of locals who only know the Pickford name as that of our popular Cathedral City theater. Turns out Pickford (1892 – 1979), “America’s Sweetheart,” was a major force not only on screen but also in the growing, uniquely American business of movies themselves. This entertaining and informative documentary utilizes audio clips from various sources that allows for Pickford to narrate her own story as it parallels the birth of cinema. Actor Michael York fills in the gaps. Among many other achievements, Pickford co-created United Artists Studio, was a founder of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and was the first actor to get marquee billing along with the film’s title. She was also the only actor to ever receive 50 percent profit share from her films, the first actress to earn a million dollars and the first to win a Best Acress Oscar© for a sound motion picture (1929’s COQUETTE). Her last husband was actor Buddy Rogers, perhaps remembered by some readers beyond his namesake road. After experiencing this film, our beautiful Pickford Theater’s name shines even brighter.
It’s hard to fathom the corporate Disney decisions behind the production of this film. The screenplay, casting, directing, acting, editing, and marketing are rife with obvious blunders and major fails. From sources who wish to remain anonymous, the budget, including advertising, exceeded $500 million. I saw this in the theater with our 17-year-old son, the target demographic for which this movie was “designed,” and he fell asleep after the first 20 minutes! Even sadder, a side effect is the unfortunately named, relatively unknown, “star” Taylor Kitsch now has two gigantic duds (BATTLESHIP) under his name so far this summer. This week I was reading “Dan O’Bannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure” — O’Bannon was a writer of the movie ALIEN, so he knows a thing or two about movie writing – and on page six of his introduction he alludes that the goal of movies is: “…focusing the audience’s attention into a state of hypnotic concentration … and holding it for two hours.” Disney should have at least talked to O’Bannon. “Tarzan” author Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter” stories have been mined in bits and pieces by the movies for decades yet the novels virtually scream for a fast-paced, full-throttle, film adaptation. The late great fantasy artist Frank Frazetta painted eye-popping portrayals of Carter and various Princesses of Mars, yet Disney apparently chose to ignore this trove of potential advertising and production material. Actor Kitsch tries but there’s no spark as Carter and the poster design is as bland as possible. There’s been a change of leadership at Disney, but this taint on their brand will long linger in the minds of those who did not fall asleep.