Criterion is regarded by most collectors as the gold standard for international masterpieces and classic cinema on DVD. This season, it stakes itself out as a player in contemporary international cinema with the release of two acclaimed foreign films: Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale (due December 1) and, this week, Matteo Garrone’s sprawling docu-realist drama Gomorrah (Criterion). The signature image of Garrone’s adaptation of Robert Saviano’s non-fiction book, an exposé of the dominance of organized crime in Naples and Caserta, is a pair of teenage boys running around a deserted beach in their underwear while shooting off automatic weapons. (The cover of the Criterion edition transforms the image into a surreal vision of a skinny teenage boy walking through the city like a Godzilla child-man.) That’s as much glamour as you can expect from the this portrait of the mob: emotionally immature boys playing at gangster, oblivious of the reality behind their Tony Montana fantasy.
Boys with guns will be boys
Set in the poverty of coastal regions of Naples and Caserta, Gomorrah is a long and at times grueling look at five stories of people caught up in the Neapolitan Camorra, the Mafia organization that rules the region. Their hands are in everything, from selling drugs and running guns to the rag trade and, yes, contracts to haul and dump garbage and toxic waste. The sprawl makes it hard to follow and harder to connect with the characters and their stories (I was far more engaged on a second viewing), but it makes its point about the reach of the Camorra and the culture it has spawned. Garrone, who came to features from documentary, he brings a clear-eyed approach to the film and captures an atmosphere of destruction and waste in a landscape of urban blight and poverty. Criterion is releasing the film on both two-disc DVD and single-disc Blu-ray (at the same price, as is their policy), each with the hour-long documentary “Five Stories,” video interviews with Garrone, actor Toni Servillo and author Roberto Saviano, deleted scenes and more.
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Angels and Demons (dir: Ron Howard)
Dan Brown has become a bestselling phenomenon based on his flair (one resists using the word talent to describe such a lazy and unkempt writer) for latching onto colorfully arcane and conspiratorial aspects of history and symbolism and creating fictional puzzles by recutting these historical curios to snap together into his own design. But the genius of his method is in the marketing: he builds his otherwise conventional mysteries of arcane knowledge around revered institutions that offer the possibility of scandal, or at least provocative revelation.
Tom Hanks and Ayelet Zurer: looking to the heavens for inspiration?
As in The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons (based on a book that was actually written before Da Vinci but reframed in the script to follow the movie) offers suggestions of dark secrets and ancient conflicts and a holy institution with unholy dimensions, and then systematically returns the proper order with all due respect to the Catholic Church. There’s no agenda here beyond creating a hook and suggesting controversy without actually delivering anything of substance.
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To mark the big screen release of Dan Brown’s latest conspiracy fantasy, this one involving the Roman Catholic Church and the Illuminati, I put together a brief guide to the Secret Societies of the Silver Screen for MSN Entertainment.
Is membership in a secret society really for you? Do you think you have what it takes to join an organization that demands total obedience and silence? Since we can’t get any information from the societies themselves (it’s that whole “secret” thing), we’ve looked to the most reliable source of information we know — the movies! — for our research into the most notable organizations shrouded in a vow of silence. We make no claims of definitive scholarship here. We don’t even admit to the actual existence of these organizations, let alone the accuracy of the information.
We’d like to, mind you, but then we’d have to kill you.
As seen in: “National Treasure,” “The Man Who Would Be King,” “From Hell,” “Murder By Decree”
Stated goals / secret agendas: Charitable work and community leadership, but there are those who see a vast conspiracy behind the façade of social respectability and moral role models.
Famous members: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Jack the Ripper
What to look for in an applicant: A cross between a Boy Scout and a civic-minded entrepreneur.
Member benefits: Secret handshake and communication codes.
Watch out for: The Roman Catholic Church – they’re suspicious of all secrecy under the guise of benevolent services. They should know.
Dress code: None, though many work the Masonic symbol (the square and compass) into their fashion accessories: pins, buttons, maybe even secret Masonic underwear. Or is that the Mormons?
Fun activities: All those secret rituals!
Interesting (if not necessarily true) trivia from the movies: The American Revolution was launched by a Masonic brotherhood, who also smuggled the treasures of the Knights Templar to America (see “National Treasure”). Apparently, Jack the Ripper was also a Masonic conspiracy (see “From Hell” and “Murder By Decree“ – and, by gosh, if two films say it’s so, then who am I to argue?).
My painstakingly researched study goes on to research The Skull and Bones (The Skulls), The Knights Templar (Ivanhoe), Opus Dei (The Da Vinci Code), Shaolin Temple (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin), Fight Club, The Order of the Phoenix, and that great society of villains from James Bond, SPECTRE. Read the complete feature here.