CO-PICKS OF THE WEEK
Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days (A)
Romania; Cristian Mungiu, 2007, IFC
Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days, which won both the Palme d'Or and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, is a new Romanian film of relentless narrative power and nerve-racking impact. Set in Communist Romania in 1987, in a world that -- in important ways -- mostly no longer exists, it's an ultrarealistic drama about young people living near the end of the Nicolai Ceausescu dictatorship. Two college woman try to arrange an illegal abortion, in a country where terminating pregnancies after four months is considered murder -- hence the title. The movie, terrifically well written and acted (especially by Laura Vasiliu as the thoughtless unwed mother, Anamaria Marinca as her hard-pressed friend and Lad Ivanovo as the abortionist), also introduces a brilliant new director-writer, Cristian Mungiu, and reintroduces the highly gifted cinematographer, Oleg Mutu, who shot Cristi Puiu's devastating Romanian gem of two years ago, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.
Mungiu and Mutu make Four Weeks in a rigorous and beautifully controlled style: each scene shot in a single take, the camera catching all the details with an almost ruthless voyeurism. As we watch this piercing, anxious story unfold, we can feel the cold and breathe the air of that '80s dictatorship, with its barren streets, empty halls and wary people. One of 2007's best films, precursor perhaps -- along with Lazarescu, Cristian Nemescu's California Dreamin', Corneliu Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest and others -- of a Romanian New Wave that may prove as rich and memorable as the Polish, Czech, Yugoslavian and Hungarian waves that swept through the old eastern Communist bloc states before it. Within this spellbinding slice of life, Mungiu and Mutu suggest a whole angst-ridden, repressed, tyrannized society, a hell that was here only yesterday. In Romanian, with English subtitles. (Extras: Featurette.)
Claude Sautet's great French film noir -- with a script from the scenarist's own novel by crime expert/ex-con Jose Giovanni -- is a tough, brilliant, inwardly melancholy chase-and-revenge saga. It's in the dark, relentless mode of Jean-Pierre Melville and with a plot that suggests that later John Boorman-Lee Marvin-Richard Stark neo-noir classic Point Blank. This film has the look and smell of doom, and a cast that radiates violence and fate. Lino Ventura is the crook on the run from Milan to Paris saddled with his own two kids, Jean-Paul Belmondo is his hard-fighting driver-gunman-buddy ("The best thing about me is my left"), Sandra Milo (of 8½) is the looker on the road who digs Belmondo, and Marcel Dalio, Michel Ardan and Claude Cerval are among the smart-dressing, double-crossing Paris underworld denizens, ex-comrades and rats they're up against.This is close to a perfect film of its type. And, since Ventura and Belmondo are both sometimes considered French Bogart equivalents, it's also a movie that packs a double star whammy. A favorite of noir experts Melville and Bertrand Tavernier, Classe ranks near the top of the short list of French crime movie classics, with Rififi, Breathless, Diabolique, Le Cercle Rouge, and damned few others. In French, with English subtitles. (Extras: Excerpts on Classe tous Risques from N.H. Binh's and Dominique Rabourdin's documentary on Sautet; interviews with Giovanni and Ventura; trailers; booklet with essays by Tavernier and Binh, a tribute by Melville and an interview with Sautet.)
BOX SET PICK OF THE WEEK
Popeye the Sailor 1938-40, Volume Two (A)
U.S.; Dave Fleischer, 1938-40, Warner
The second two-disc box set devoted to Paramount's and the Fleischer brothers' ineffable and wildly popular, super-tough, spinach-loving sailor -- along with his spider-thin bombshell Olive Oyl, hamburger-snarfing freeloader J. Wellington Wimpy and burly basso profundo rival/nemesis Bluto -- is another joyous romp through a lost classic world of gritty, ethnic black-and-white cartoonery. As Popeye would say (or mutter) "I yam what I yam!" Right on, sailor man. (Extras: Commentaries, Popumentaries and vintage Fleischer non-Popeye cartoons.)
The Carmen Miranda Collection (B)
U.S.; various directors, 1943-46 (20th Century Fox)
Carmen Miranda, the Brazilian bombshell of 20th Century Fox's '40s musicals, was the ultimate showstopper. Though she was a genuine star -- and one of Hollywood's main trump cards in grabbing a share of the wartime South American market -- she never really played leads. Instead, she acted as an explosive sidekick for the Alice Fayes and Betty Grables, or as a femme fatale, either way deliberately fracturing the English language, rattling off Portuguese dialogue a mile a minute and then coming on and blowing away audiences with her fruit bowl hats, tight tropical dresses and machine gun delivery. Her old public in Latin America -- where she'd been a Brazilian musical superstar -- were sometimes dubious. But U.S. audiences ate it up. And, on film, she's still lots of fun: a joyous dynamo with a nonstop smile and heaps of bananas, mangos and pineapples piled on her bandana-wrapped head.
There's one masterpiece in this package, a screwball delight that some critics consider the quintessence of camp: director-choreographer Busby Berkeley's outlandish, outrageous and cheerfully out-to-lunch 1943 lollapalooza The Gang's All Here. All Carmen's Gang numbers are gangbusters, including the classic "Brazil," which is introduced "Lullabye of Broadway"-style with Miranda's real-life lover singing the verse in darkness. But the mind-boggling pinnacle is scaled when she blasts out "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," a jaw-dropping signature ballad that features underclad chorus girls waving gigantic bananas, lots of Technicolor Berkeley-style kaleidoscope "top shots" and more Freudian fruit double entendres than you can wave a phallic symbol at.
To borrow some words from Al Jolson, you ain't seen nothing like it, and you never will. All movies are in English and Portuguese.
The Gang's All Here (A-)
Busby Berkeley, 1943
Miranda shines in her finest hour and a half, with Little Miss Alice Faye, Benny Goodman's swinging orchestra, supreme fussbudget Edward Everett Horton, high-kicking Charlotte Greenwood, grinning James Ellison and gravel-voiced Eugene Pallette -- in his only singing performance, and you'll quickly see why). Boom-chika-boom!
Greenwich Village (B-)
U.S.; Walter Lang; 1944
Don Ameche is a peachy young classical composer who arrives in the Village with a concerto and a dream, Vivian Blaine is his blond dream girl, Miranda is their show-stopping chum, and William Bendix is Danny, the sneaky club owner who does a drag act.
Something for the Boys (C)
Lewis Seiler, 1944
Miranda, Blaine, Phil Silvers and Perry Como give their all for the guys and World War II.
Doll Face (C-)
Lewis Seiler, 1946
This one's from author/peeler Gypsy Rose Lee's play, the tale of stripper Doll Face (Blaine), who wants to go legit and gets some static. With Miranda, Dennis O'Keefe and Como singing the incredible "Hubba Hubba Hubba."
If I'm Lucky (C-)
Lewis Seiler, 1946
If you're lucky, you'll skip everything but the musical numbers in this near-witless remake of the 1935 movie musical political satire Thanks a Million, this time with Blaine, Miranda, Silvers, Harry James and his band, and Como, in Dick Powell's old role, as the hoodwinked crooner running for governor. Recount!
(Extras include commentaries, documentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes, radio shows (with Faye and Phil Harris), trailers, still photo galleries, Miranda "Sing With the Stars" sing-alongs, and booklet.)
OTHER NEW AND RECENT RELEASES
Be Kind Rewind (B-)
U.S.; Michel Gondry, 2008, New Line
Writer-director Michel Gondry is better off when he has a Charlie Kaufman script, like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Fool's Gold (C-)
U.S.; Andy Tennant, 2008, Warner Home Video
This sunny and shameless Caribbean treasure-hunting comedy, with Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson barely dressed as a squabbling divorced couple looking for sunken gold on rich guy Donald Sutherland's yacht, while battling gangsters and Ray Winstone -- has a pretty lousy script and garishly overdone visual comedy. But, if you have a good big screen TV, the paradisiacal location cinematography is lush and plush. I didn't mind it as much as some. (Extras: Featurette, gag reel.)
Under the Same Moon (B)
U.S.-Mexico; Patricia Riggen, 2007, Sony
A pretty effective tearjerker, this film has a story that reminds you of Gregory Nava's El Norte: a small Mexican boy named Carlitos (Adrian Alonso), whose mother Rosario (Kate del Castillo) is an illegal alien in America sending him money, tries to cross the border and join her when his grandmother dies. The cast is good -- especially Eugenio Deretz as a cynical fellow illegal who gets pulled into aiding Carlitos when they meet over the border. And the story, sentimental as it is, holds your attention with juicy support from Maria Rojo and a tasty bit from America Ferrera. In English and Spanish, with English subtitles.
Chaos Theory (C)
U.S.; Marcos Siega, 2007, Warner Home Video
This okay romantic comedy is about an anally-compulsive list-obsessed efficiency expert (Ryan Reynolds), who tells his prospective son-in-law, just before the wedding, a bizarre tale of how his life went off the rails one day after he missed a ferry. It's nothing special, but slickly done; that lovely Brit Emily Mortimer plays the expert's understandably troubled wife. (Extras: Additional scenes.)
Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins (D+)
U.S.; Malcolm Lee, 2007, Universal
An excellent cast is pretty well thrown off the cliff in this clunky, clichéd stab at a Robert Altmanesque ensemble family comedy. Among the wasted cast are Martin Lawrence (as Roscoe, the media psychology star, who's being welcomed home), James Earl Jones, Cedric the Entertainer, Mike Epps, Margaret Avery, Mo'Nique, Joy Bryant and Michael Clarke Duncan.
So I Married an Axe Murderer (Deluxe Edition) (C-)
U.S.; Thomas Schlamme, 1993, Sony
If you've got a yen for early pre-Austin Mike Myers, here he is, as a commitment-phobic bachelor, who discovers that the only woman who rings his bell (Nancy Travis) might be a homicidal maniac. The movie isn't very good, but Myers scores laughs in a double role as the single guy and his Scottish father (not Fat Bastard). With Anthony LaPaglia, Amanda Plummer, Brenda Fricker and Phil Hartman.
The Nude Bomb (D)
U.S.; Clive Donner, 1980
In a Get Smart knockoff movie that might have been titled Get Naked, the hapless Bond-challenged secret agent Maxwell Smart (Don "Would you believe" Adams) fatuously battles the forces of KAOS and a fiendish plot to undress the entire world, especially well-built starlets. With Vittorio Gassmann, Sylvia (Emmanuelle) Kristel and Alfred Hitchcock's pal Norman Lloyd. It's not quite as bad as it sounds.