DVDs for 09/28/10 – The Killer, The Law and Mr. Lawrence

The blockbuster releases of the week are featured at MSN—I review Iron Man 2 (Paramount) and leave Get Him to the Greek (Universal) to my colleague Mary Pols—and the release of the week, Criterion’s superb new edition of Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line on DVD and Blu-ray, is featured on my blog here. Here are the rest of the releases…

The Killer Inside Him takes a break

Michael Winterbottom’s The Killer Inside Me (IFC) is actually the second adaptation of Jim Thompson’s violent pulp novel about a blankly pleasant and reflexively polite lawman, Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), taking his place in his small Texas hometown. He also happens to be a sociopath taking his revenge on a few choice community leaders and using bystanders as bait. Winterbottom directs with a chilling calm even as the violence erupts, and he doesn’t flinch from showing the brutality of the beatings he unleashes with cold fury and cool focus. I admire his nerve—the violence, presented in almost clinical detail, is neither exploitative nor titillating—but the film saves the most brutal scenes for violence perpetrated against beautiful young women. He batters the head of Jessica Alba (whose dazed look of betrayal is heartbreaking) into a bloody pulp and kicks in the ribs of another with the seething anger of a man putting the blame on her with every blow and Winterbottom presents both with unflinching focus. It’s the misogynist edge of a sociopath and it sparked many debates over the ethics showing violence onscreen, and it’s so visceral and unpleasant that some audiences will simply want to steer clear of the whole film.

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Bob Hope Goes Hollywood

Bob Hope: Thanks For the Memories Collection (Universal)

The Cat and the Canary

Bob Hope was the snappy urban wiseguy with an easy line of smart remarks and a comic cowardice behind the confident front, a one-liner comic whose timing, self-effacing demeanor and audience rapport took him from stage to radio to screen. This collection mostly revisits the younger Hope, before he hit the road with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour and slid into a more cynical byplay. Hope is funny in those films, but he’s much more likable in the four earlier films of the set, three of them making their respective DVD debuts. Thanks for the Memory (1938), named after the Hope signature song (which he sings with co-star Shirley Ross), is a slim little comedy of the idle class in depression-era New York notable largely for Hope’s easy banter and the cast of moochers who keep landing in his apartment.

The heart of the set, however, belongs to his three pairing with Paulette Goddard, beginning with the oft-filmed haunted house chestnut The Cat and the Canary (1939). You know the story even if you’ve never seen the play: the family of the deceased gather in a spooky old mansion of an eccentric millionaire for the reading of the will and must spend the night in the place (which is located in the middle of a bayou swamp). Goddard is the bubbly heroine who is named sole beneficiary, a spooky servant goes around predicting things like “One will die tonight” and there’s an escaped patient from the nearby asylum (in the middle of this swamp?) running around. “Don’t big old empty houses scare you?” asks one relative (Nydia Westman doing a Zasu Pitts kind of goofy comic relief). “Not me,” quips Hope, here playing a semi-famous actor meeting what’s left of his family tree. “I’ve played vaudeville.” It’s hokey stuff with hidden doors and secret passages and a hidden treasure, which director Elliot Nugent stages with all the style and tension of a sitcom. But Hope and Goddard have marvelous chemistry and Hope is completely amiable, using wisecracks to cover up his discomfort and fear. “I always joke when I’m scared,” he confesses to heroine Goddard. “I kind of kid myself into being brave.” Hope’s delivery makes this less a laugh line than a confession and a promise; he’s got integrity and the courage to both reveal his vulnerabilities and overcome them. Goddard, meanwhile, is a spunky beauty with crack timing, a born comedienne too often called upon to play the straight man and provide the sex appeal. She does both admirably in Cat and was rewarded with a return engagement with Hope.

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