PICKS OF THE WEEK
The Bank Job (B+)
U.K. Roger Donaldson, 2008, Lionsgate
Roger Donaldson, that top-chop Aussie-bred action/crime director (The World's Fastest Indian, Smash Palace), tools up a really good one: a fast, slick, smart and very entertaining heist/crime thriller that works on nearly very level. Set in the '70s and based on fact, it's the story of a seemingly ordinary bank robbery that goes shockingly awry when the robbers (led by Jason Statham) accidentally stumble onto safety deposit boxes that contain explosive material: high-level scandals and dark secrets for which some of the owners are ready to kill.
The movie starts off as a good solid thriller in the Asphalt Jungle tradition, and then, like Don Siegel's Charley Varick, veers off into even more complex and interesting territory, including a sharp take on Michael X, a radical-chic icon of the time, and one of the gang's troubled victims. When it's cooking, which is most of the time, The Bank Job plays as if Rififi had suddenly turned into L.A. Confidential. Saffron Burrows and David Suchet (the BBC's Hercule Poirot) co-star. If you have a taste for noir or neo-noir, you'll like this one.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (A)
U.S.; Milos Forman, 1975, Warner, Blu-Ray
As a young writer, future Merry Prankster Ken Kesey wrote an instant classic -- a story that works no matter what form you put it in: novel, play, or movie. (No one's made a musical of it yet, but I bet that would click too.) This Oscar-winning classic movie stars Jack Nicholson in a great "jack" turn as Randle McMurphy, a psychopathic jailbird who feigns madness to get off prison work detail and winds up in a snake pit run by a psychiatric tyrant, Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher. Ratched, or "Big Nurse" sets out to break his spirit -- just as she has with all her other patients -- while McMurphy is hell-bent on spurring his dysfunctional buddies to mass revolt.
It's classic '60s-'70s cinema and a beautiful story: darkly humorous, bittersweet, poignant, irreverent. Kirk Douglas, who played McMurphy on stage (and who is actually better basic casting for the part than Jack) reluctantly passed the property over to his son Michael (as producer) when he couldn't get it financed. The result, scripted by Bo Goldman, directed by Milos Forman, shot by Haskell Wexler, topped by Oscar-winning leads by Nicholson and Fletcher and co-starring a splendid loony lineup that includes Brad Dourif, William Redfield, Danny De Vito, Vincent Schiavelli, Will Sampson, Scatman Crothers and Sydney Lassick -- is one of the enduring classics of American cinema, and a Nicholson performance that can blow your head off.
France; Jacques Tati, 1970, Criterion Collection
Yes, it's spelled with one "f." And though, in a way, it represents a retrenchment for Tati -- the great comic/auteur who had just suffered his financial waterloo with his unique masterpiece Playtime -- it's still a classic comedy. This time out, Tati's ineffable M. Hulot is an absent-minded inventor who gets involved in an accident-prone Paris-to-Amsterdam cross-country tour on his gadget-packed new camper, ending at an automotive fair, where his daffy inventions will be showcased. Tati, as much as his models Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, was a master of slapstick and, like Keaton's, it's dry, brilliantly mechanical slapstick. Some audiences still don't get it. But this funny little soufflé of a road movie is studded with classic scenes about mechanical malfunctions and human pileups. It's a delight. (Extras: a documentaries on Tati and the film, and a booklet with a Jonathan Romney essay.)
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
The American Film Theatre Collection (A)
U.S.-U.K.; various directors, 1970-75, Kino
Ely Landau's American Film theater was a grandly idealistic experiment that deserved to last much longer than its two seasons (1974-75): Landau produced, with superb casts and top directors, classy, intelligent and high-style versions of some of the great classic and contemporary plays of the American, British and European Theatre.
The series produced or showcased some real masterpieces -- including Laurence Olivier's magisterial film of Chekhov's supremely poignant Three Sisters, John Frankenheimer's electrifying version of O'Neill's lacerating The Iceman Cometh, Peter Hall's scathing transcription of his stage version of Pinter's dark The Homecoming, and Joseph Losey's return to the great play of his directorial youth, Brecht's Galileo -- plus a number of solid successes (Butley, A Delicate Balance, Lost in the Stars, In Celebration) and only a few misfires. But, even the failures are interesting: How often can you see Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, the immortal Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom of Mel Brooks' 1968 The Producers, cavorting together in something like Rhinoceros, in roles played on stage by Orson Welles and Olivier? It fascinates, even if director Tom O'Horgan (the stage production of Hair) seems to be edging Ionesco's absurdism too close to "Springtime for Hitler."
Clunkers aside, this is a set that every lover of theater, and great acting, should own. Later on, Landau's productions began to take more liberties with the plays (writer-actor Robert Shaw demanded that his name be removed from the AFT film of his anti-facist trial drama The Man in the Glass Booth, even though it earned Maximilian Schell a "best actor" Oscar nomination), and the splendid series eventually ceased. A shame. Landau's American Film Theater should have run forever.
Includes: Anton Chekhov's "Three Sisters" (Laurence Olivier, 1970, A) with Olivier, Joan Plowright and Derek Jacobi; Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" (John Frankenheimer, 1973, A) with Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, Fredric March and Jeff Bridges; Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming" (Peter Hall, 1973, A) with Ian Holm, Cyril Cusack, Paul Rogers and Vivien Merchant; Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" (Tony Richardson, 1973, A-) with Katharine Hepburn, Paul Scofield, Lee Remick, Kate Reid and Joseph Cotton; Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo" (Joseph Losey, 1974, A) with Topol, John Gielgud, Margaret Leighton, Edward Fox and Patrick Magee; Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson's "Lost in the Stars" (Daniel Mann, 1974, B+) with Brock Peters, Melba Moore and Paul Rogers; Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros" (Tom O'Horgan, 1974, C) with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder; Simon Gray's "Butley" (Harold Pinter, 1974, A-) with Alan Bates and Jessica Tandy; John Osborne's "Luther" (Guy Green, 1974, B), with Stacy Keach, Patrick Magee, Judi Dench and Robert Stephens; David Storey's "In Celebration" (Lindsay Anderson, 1975, A-) with Alan Bates and Brian Cox; Jean Genet's "The Maids" (Christopher Miles, 1975, B-) with Glenda Jackson, Susannah York and Vivien Merchant; Robert Shaw's "The Man in the Glass Booth" (Arthur Hiller, 1975, B) with Schell, Lois Nettleton and Luther Adler; Jacques Brel's "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" (Denis Heroux, 1975, C) with Elly Stone and Mort Schuman; and Brian Friel's "Philadelphia, Here I Come" (John Quested, 1975, B) with Donal McCann, Des Cave and Siobhan McKenna.
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Talladega Nights (B-)
U.S.; Adam McKay, 2006, Sony
This good rowdy comedy about auto-racing is sparked by funny turns by Will Ferrell as arrogant star Ricky Bobby, John C. Reilly as his mechanic and Sacha Baron Cohen as a gay French master driver.
U.S.; Steven Shainberg, 2002, Lionsgate
A shy-looking boss (James Spader) and a quiet secretary (Maggie Gyllenhaal) develop a taste for degradation. Daring, but overrated.
Eagle Shooting Heroes (B)
Hong Kong/China; Jeffrey Lau, 1993, Kino
This is a hilarious spoof of Hong Kong fantasy-actioners, executive produced by Wong Kar Wai with stunt choreography by Sammo Hung. The bang-up cast, having a ball, includes Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung and Jackie Cheung. In Chinese, with English subtitles.
A Throw of Dice (B-)
Germany/India/U.K.; Franz Osten, Kino
A rarity, beautifully restored: this is one of the few extant Indian silent films, made by German director Franz Osten, with a local cast. The story is wildly melodramatic -- two gambling-addict kings vying on the dice table over their kingdoms and a beautiful woman -- but the visuals of jungles, palaces, elephants and tigers are lush and gorgeous. With Himansu Rai, Charu Roy and Seta Devi. Silent, with new score and English intertitles.