By Robin E. Simmons

We are more interested and invested in people that dwell in the shadows than in the light. It’s the struggle that makes them human and relatable. Movies especially love damaged characters that seem cursed with fatal flaws that cloud their best path. And we love them too because, in fact, they are us.



The eighth collaboration of good friends Tim Burton and Johnny Depp is more like a vanity produced transfusion by fanboys of the 1960s ABC soap opera then a full-fledged stand-alone movie. Great looking sets and cinematography – as in all Burton directed films – cannot make-up for the meandering story that trades quirky moments and set pieces in place of a cohesive plot and the steady building of tension. Yes, it’s kind of scary, often witty and bloody weird. That said, chalk-faced (again!) Depp is hugely entertaining as Baranabas Collins, an 18th century vampire inadvertently untombed in modern times and suddenly having to not only cope with modernity but old issues that continue to plague him. Depp is a master at the odd, eccentric reaction shot that reveals the fascinating weirdness that we love. Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay explores territory in which he is immensely comfortable: His two best-sellers “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” testify to that. But somehow, I wanted more from the movie. Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter and Chloe Grace Moretz are so much better than the material they have been given. The movie starts out rather straight but veers off track leaving the audience confused as to its tone. Never a good thing. Maybe it’s the uneven mixed genre of vintage TV, comedy and horror that drains the life-blood from the heart of this expensive, great-looking enterprise that could use a defibrillator more than a transfusion. Still, on a hot day in the Coachella Valley, watching this in a cool theater is a not totally unsatisfying diversion.



I love actor Ralph Fiennes’ big screen directorial debut of Shakespeare’s lesser-known, last tragedy Coriolanus. It’s not hard to see this modern dress incarnation as a metaphor for recent headlines: From the occupy movement to the downfall of dictators to the sweeping power of the vox populi to the character flaws of otherwise good men. It’s no accident if Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt and even the Falklands come to mind. Apparently not much has changed in human needs, wants and behavior. Fiennes does not shrink from giving his film – and his titular character – the urgency that the play demands. He forces the character into our zeitgeist. And it works!

This bold, visceral, magnificent and intelligent adaptation of Coriolanus is also a landmark of sorts in that the play has never before been filmed. Perhaps that omission is because it is such an unrelenting drama with few empathetic characters and no comic relief.

Shot in Serbia — how’s that for irony? — Fiennes again plays the lead he first performed on stage more than a decade ago. Here his character coldly commands an assault against an exterior enemy to divert attention from Rome’s interior political threats. But when our hero, disdaining flattery and falsity, fails to woo the public, is banished, he joins with his former enemy Aufidius (Gerard Butler) to attack his own city and it’s people. Coriolanus is eventually brought down because a flicker of compassion for his family infected his ruthless designs. It’s a film noir writ large. Vanessa Redgrave is a standout as his intensely ambitious mother and Gerard Butler serves well the subtly homoerotic mirror warrior of Coriolanus. The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay. Blu-ray.


Joe Mantegna’s utterly fascinating and totally absorbing portrait of double Pulitzer Prize winning author, rascal, reprobate and much-married, notorious wife stabber who died in 2007 is a revelation. Most of the high and low points of Mailer’s life are touched on. His six wives, many mistresses, nine kids, major works and public fights are featured. A main emphasis in this briskly-paced documentary is the acclaim he achieved with his debut novel The Naked and the Dead, perhaps his best work. Mailer was a complex, egomaniacal narcissist who was instrumental in getting a murderer out of prison only to have him kill again, who stabbed his second wife and talked her into not filing charges, who can be seen in a shocking home movie trying to bite off Rip Torn’s ear in an intense wrestling match that draws blood and terrifies his family. But his fights were not limited to just the physical. On display is the infamous intellectual brawl with Gore Vidal on Dick Cavett’s TV show.

Talking heads abound – especially Mailer’s. When asked why he started to write, he says: “ It was the only thing I was good at and I wanted to be more attractive to girls.”

One thing is for certain, Mailer never took his writing casually. In person, he could be witty, crude, poetic, brilliant, infuriating, silly or insightful — sometimes all at the same time! But he was never boring. Montegna’s terrific film brings Mailer back to life. Bonus material includes a gallery of letters from Mailer to his wife Adele and some additional interview footage from Mailer. Cinema Libre. DVD.

Actress Jodi Foster was so impressed with Mathieu Kassovitz’s explosive film when she saw it at Cannes in 1995 that she helped in getting it distributed in America through her production company, Egg. This intensely focused film centers on a group of racially diverse “outsiders” trapped both socially and economically in a Parisian underclass sub-culture. The leads, Hubert a Black, Vinz a Jew and Said an Arab have no jobs or prospects; they just hang out and wander the streets. Their empty, aimless days are frequented with fighting other alienated youths or skirmishing with the police. In one conflict with the cops, Vinz picks up a lost police gun. Later, in a fight with skinheads it all comes to a tragic head. The generous extras include an introduction by Foster, a commentary by Kassovitz and much more. Criterion. Blu-ray


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