PICK OF THE WEEK
No End in Sight (B)
U.S.; Charles Ferguson, 2007, Magnolia
Why did the war in Iraq drag on and on, degenerating into chaos and corruption? Charles Ferguson's meticulous documentary on the blunders of the Bush administration takes us to a host of insiders who observed the developing fiasco and have much to say -- soberly, sometimes damningly -- about what really happened. From Richard Armitage and Barbara Bodine to Jay Garner and Paul Hughes, the witnesses recount a tale of hubris and ignorance, of high Bush administration officials (and, of course, Bush himself) planning poorly, never correcting (or even admitting) their mistakes and inevitably stumbling into one mess and one morass after another.
The worst miscues, according to the film: disbanding the Iraqi army, dumping the old government en masse and handing over administration of the country to ill-equipped Bush administration cronies and pets. Importantly, Ferguson -- an M.I.T. Ph.D. and Council on Foreign Relations member -- never really questions the premises behind the war itself. (WMDs, anyone?) Indeed, he was an early supporter. This movie is about how the war was botched, not about how and why it may have been wrong from the get-go.
But, in a way, that viewpoint makes No End in Sight more powerful. Ferguson is no Michael Moore. Indeed, in many ways, he's the anti-Michael Moore, an establishment player with high access incapable of anything but the driest of jokes, and of painstaking research and chilled rhetoric. Still, even if you do want somebody, somewhere to start spewing a little venom, No End in Sight is well worth watching -- packed with information about governmental pride, prejudice and dunderheadedness, gleaned from close to the source.
Extras: Extended interviews, featurettes, video letter.
BOX SET CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
Twin Peaks -- The Definitive Gold Box Edition (Complete Series) (A)
U.S.; David Lynch, Mark Frost & other directors, 1990, Paramount.
David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks is a landmark of weird television, a small-town murder mystery/soap opera that expertly grips attention and frays nerves with its deadpan portrayal of bland middle America and the horrors beneath, of a world of soap opera emotions, coffee and cherry pie (and apple-cheeked cops like Kyle MacLachlan's Dale Cooper) undermined with lust, rape, evil and murder. Here is the entire anxious-classic series.
You only need Lynch's (underrated) 1992 feature movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to complete the tale. Who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee)? You'll find out, of course, but there's a more important question: Who killed a lot of the vital, eccentric, ambitiously offbeat American TV that Twin Peaks epitomized? Some exec should lose his/her mind and hire Lynch again.
Extras: Deleted scenes, documentary, featurettes, interactive map, music video, MacLachlan on Saturday Night Live.
U.S.; Sam Raimi, 2002, 2004, 2007, Sony
All three episodes of what aficionados tend to regard as the best of all superhero comic movie series: Sony and Marvel's smashingly exciting, surprisingly emotional adaptation of Stan Lee's comic book masterpiece. Here, sumptuously produced, is the continued tale of angst-ridden teen-turned-journalist Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and his alter-ego, the web-slinging, skyscraper-scaling, supervillain-bashing, super-costumed Spidey and his friends and enemies, played by a stellar gallery that includes Kirsten Dunst (M.J.), Rosemary Harris (May), JK Simmons (JJJ), Alfred Molina (Doc Ock), Thomas Haden Church (Sandman) and Willem Dafoe (Goblin).
The first two Spider-Man movies were such smash critical hits (Spider-Man 2, co-scripted by Alvin Sargent, has been hailed as the acme of the whole genre), that an inevitable backlash plagued the vulnerable and tearful Spider-Man 3. Seen by itself, most critics would have probably liked it fine -- just as the public liked all three. Some smasheroos deserve their popularity, and this is one of them. (Also available: Spider-Man 3 and the Trilogy in HD.)
Extras: A mother lode.
Looney Tunes, Golden Collection, Volume Five (A)
U.S.; Bob Clampett, Chuck Jones, others, 1930s on, Warner Home Video
I know, I know: Three makes for a lot of co-picks. But how can I ignore the latest Warner Brothers compendium of classic cartoon chaos and comic carnage (voices by Mel Blanc), from Looney Tunes masters Freleng, Clampett (who gets a whole disc to himself this time) and the greatest of them all, the well-loved, unrivaled and unbeatable genius Chuck Jones? No self-respecting movie buff could. Thufferin' Thuckotash! Ah say, Ah say.... Of course, you know this means war. Budabib-budabib, That's all, folks. What's up, Doc? May the spirit of Termite Terrace survive forever, as it does in this truly Golden Collection.
Extras: Documentaries, featurettes, commentaries, TV specials, recording sessions, director's extended cuts.
OTHER NEW RELEASES
License to Wed (D)
U.S.; Ken Kwapis, 2007, Warner
I love Robin Williams' mad improvisational comic flights, but there are limits, and Williams (obviously hamstrung by a dingbat script) reaches and surpasses them in this mean-spirited, dopey tale of a deranged minister who insists on putting couples (here Mandy Moore and The Office's John Krasinski) through a torturous marriage exam and pre-trial before marrying them. The movie is torture too, but with no payoff.
The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard (B-)
U.K.; Catherine Moreshead & others, 2006, Acorn Media Those two superb British actresses, Jane Horrocks (Little Voice) and Janet McTeer (Tumbleweeds), join forces here for an amiable, idealistic fable about an ordinary woman trying to crash the dirty world of electoral politics. Created by Sally Wainwright; one of those well-written, well-acted Brit TV shows that we try to emulate.
Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman (B)
U.K.; Adrian Shergold, 2005, IFC
Timothy Spall, that chubby, mole-faced chap who's one of the very best contemporary British actors, too seldom plays leads. (Mike Leigh's Secrets & Lies was a great exception.) Here's another rare shot: Spall movingly plays Albert Pierrepoint, not really Britain's last hangman, but famous because of his deadly proficiency, prolific labors and the fact that his last "client" was Ruth Ellis (played by Miranda Richardson in Dance with a Stranger). Like Secrets, this is one of Spall's nicer-spirited, low-key performances; he's ably supported by Juliet Stevenson (as his wife) and Eddie Marsan as his unlucky chum. The story is grim, the acting shimmers.
OTHER NEW BOX SET RELEASES
Night Watch/Day Watch (B/B-)
Russia; Timur Bekmambetov, 2004, 2006, 20th Century Fox
Vampires and alternative nightmare worlds in modern Moscow, as sometimes stunningly realized by director Bekmambetov and co-screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, from Sergei Lukyanenko's novels. An ancient struggle between the forces of good and evil, who patrol the night and day worlds, rages through the first two segments of a promised trilogy. A huge hit in Russia, it has a violent panache that sucks you in. (In Russian, with English subtitles.)
O Lucky Man! (A)
U.K.; Lindsay Anderson, 1973, Warner
One of the great films of the 1970s -- and one that too much of the current audience has missed -- was director Lindsay Anderson's, writer David Sherwin's and star-cowriter Malcolm McDowell's, sprawling picaresque follow-up to their 1968 English public school-revolution classic If..... McDowell's If character, smirking, cocky Mick Travis, sees and experiences a vivid, funny panoply of '60s England, based on McDowell's own youthful life as a coffee salesman. The movie suggests classic British satire (Boulting brothers) and working-class drama (Karel Reisz) filtered through William Thackeray and the Rolling Stones.
The perfectly pitched rock score is by Alan Price, of the old Animals. The cast includes Rachel Roberts, Ralph Richardson, Arthur Lowe, Anderson and Price. This is great stuff. Anderson was a film master, McDowell and Sherwin were among his most congenial collaborators and this movie is a high-water mark in all their careers. O Lucky Man! got temporarily squeezed out of the lineup by the embarrassment of riches last week. But, really, more than the important but somewhat overrated No End in Sight, it's the real pick of the week.
RECOMMENDED SIGHT UNSEEN
The Other Side of the Mirror
U.S.; Murray Lerner, 2007, Sony
Murray (From Mao to Mozart) Lerner's record of Bob Dylan's three epochal, transitional appearances at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963, 1964 (both years with Joan Baez) and 1965 (this time introducing rock 'n' roll). An essential document.