All This And Hamlet 2 – Several New Release DVD Reviews

It’s time to clean out my notebook and post a number of new release DVDs. Enjoy!


In an early 80’s television interview Roman Polanski, over wine in a ritzy restaurant, casually responds to a question about liking young girls: “Here you come to a concrete case for which I have been behind bars and that’s what you want to talk about”. So begins this documentary examination of one of the most notorious court battles in American history. For those who don’t know, (which I can’t imagine) in 1977 Polanski was charged with statuary rape, among other things, and after a year of wriggling through rigorous red tape he fled the country never to return. If he does attempt to come back he’ll be immediately arrested despite being forgiven by the girl in question (Samantha Geimer) and her mother years ago. Most folks know those basics but what this film lays out is all the particular twists and turns that resulted in the legendary director’s exile and it’s a fascinating and well crafted study that plays at times like a tight legal thriller.

Over 30 years later this is still an ongoing case as just today it was reported that Polanski lost a dismissal bid by the Los Angeles County court system. As we see in tons of TV news footage and vintage photographs, Polanski is small in stature usually sporting a bemused expression under his Beatle-esque mop top. His work though was never small in stature – the classics CHINATOWN, ROSEMARY’S BABY, and his Oscar win for THE PIANIST confirm this. He was roundly criticized by the press after the tragic death of his wife Sharon Tate for appearing to not be in enough mourning for their liking so when this incident broke they had a ferocious field day. This is good news for the film makers here because they never seem to be at a loss for the proper accompanying shot or sound bite to tell the story. Polanski only speaks from footage and interviews from the period but lawyers, press, colleagues, and most interestingly Geimer provide much insight into the complications and frustrations involved.
The film takes its title from a quote from French producer Andrew Braunsberg: “In France he’s desired and in America he’s wanted.” That defines the culture difference that court reporter Richard Brenneman explained best: “The European reporters looked on Polanski as a tragic brilliant historic figure…the American press tended to look at him as this malignant twisted dwarf with this dark vision.” The film only falters when it utilizes scenes from Polanski’s movies to illustrate certain points – it really isn’t necessary to have a clip of Mia Farrow dialing a phone from ROSEMARY’S BABY when somebody talks about getting an urgent call. As the film progresses however, these bits of his filmography are filtered in more effectively and arguably the flavor of his fine (for the most part) work should have a place in this portrait. As intriguing and informative as a documentary can get, this is vital viewing and not just for film buffs though obviously that’s who it’ll most appeal too.
HAMLET 2 (Dir. Andrew Fleming)

Poor Steve Coogan. Like his fellow brilliant Brit blokes Simon Pegg and Ricky Gervais he’s finding it hard to carve out a niche in the American comedy movie marketplace dominated by Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, and the ever present Apatow academy. This didn’t make much of a dent when it came out late last summer but it didn’t matter because Coogan was concurrently rubbing elbows with some of that comic crowd in TROPIC THUNDER (albeit briefly before blowing up). For his starring role in this wannabe indie quirkfest he sure gives a go of it as a high school drama teacher with delusions of grandeur in Tucson Arizona (“where dreams go to die” he laments). When he finds out that the drama program will be cut he stages the improbable sequel of the title in an odd attempt to save it. He cites teacher inspirational movie fare like DANGEROUS MINDS and MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS when trying to connect to his class but there’s very little that’s poetic about his soon to be dead society.

With Catherine Keener as his unsatisfied sarcastic spouse it’s like SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK but with the artistic existential angst replaced with hit and very miss one-liners! Well, not really – I just couldn’t resist the reference. There are a number of genuine laughs throughout but they don’t stack up into anything resembling classic comedy. It’s too broad, only occasionally cutting, and Coogan is so over the top with his character that his antics would make Jim Carrey cringe. The Keener subplot involving a live-in David Arquette (who I keep mistaking for Ryan Gosling) should have been excised completely and the supposed show stopping song “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” frankly isn’t that funny either. Still any movie that has an over eager Amy Poehler assisting Coogan in chewing the scenery and Elizabeth Shue playing herself isn’t a complete waste of time. If only it was named HAMLET 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO – then maybe we’d really have something here.

STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS (Dir. David Feloni, 2008)

I guess because I grew up on the original trilogy I feel obligated to see every movie under the STAR WARS banner. Despite the fact I hated the prequels, dislike the video game style of the animation I saw in awful trailers, and all the terrible reviews (it’s at 19% at I still put this in my Netflix queue when it dropped on DVD. I know this bloated pilot for the Cartoon Network series is intended to be for children but I watched most of it with my Brother’s 3 kids last Christmas and when I said “hey, it’s 6:00 – should we keep watching or switch to a Simpsons rerun?” They all screamed “Simpsons!” My sentiment exactly for this is a stone cold bore from its opening intergalactic newsreel replacing the sacred scroll to its stock celebratory ending. Somewhere in between there is bland battle after battle with lasers, explosions, close call escapes, and scores of other action that I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for.

Plot you ask? I know you didn’t ask but it’s about Jabba the Hut’s son (who for some odd reason seems based on Truman Capote) being kidnapped and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker (voiced by James Arnold Taylor and Matt Lanter) being called upon to save him to preserve the Republic or some such. Sounds riveting, right? A new annoying character to the misguided mix is added – Ashley Eckstein as Jedi trainee/weird orange freak Ahsoka Tano. She brings her own brand of obnoxious banter as she calls Anakin “Sky Guy” while she bounces through the confusing tangled terrain of this sci-fi crapfest. The voices of prequel veterans Samuel L. Jackson and Christopher Lee fail to spark the STAR WARS spirit and even a late third act cameo by C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) can’t save this animated abomination. George Lucas should be more ashamed by this than for The Star Wars Holiday Special. Don’t worry I’m not going to claim my childhood was raped but damn, it did cower in the corner for a bit after enduring this.

X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (Dir. Chris Carter, 2008)

“I’m done chasing monsters in the dark” says former agent now full time Doctor Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and apparently so is X-Files creator/writer/director Chris Carter because this is strangley stripped of the supernatural elements that were the bread and butter of the TV show and the 1998 movie (X-FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE). There’s no cigarette smoking man , no lone gunmen, and most surprisingly – no aliens. In other words everything that was cool about the X-Files is absent. A bearded Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) is yet again needed by the FBI after years of being hunted by them. He’s reluctant at first to help them with the case of several missing women, one of them an agent, but of course he shaves while Anderson dons her best 90’s professional pant suits and they rev up the old trusty X-Files mystery machine van onto a road into the wilderness chasing adventures while blaring Mark Snow’s immortal theme song on their vehicle’s sound system. Okay, I made part of that up because I was so disinterested in what really happened.

It all begs the question – why bring back Duchovny, Anderson, and Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner for a plot that’s just one step removed from an Ashley Judd/Morgan Freeman formula thriller? It doesn’t make sense to just drop tidbits about the not-so superduo’s child and Mulder’s long lost sister instead into diving head first into what fans want and deserve – that is, to actually be X-Files. The first film was creepy fun, this is just creepy. Real life subjects like Duchovny’s addiction to internet porn and the case of Anderson’s missing career * would be more compelling than this. Carter said that if this movie was successful there would be a third film that would deal with aliens and all the conspiracy stuff that this severely lacked. Well, the film bombed but I still hope he’ll make a third one solely to serve as an apology. I wanted to believe that this film didn’t suck but alas, it’s as bad as its title.

* I know that’s a cheap shot. She’s actually been in a few recent notable movies such as THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND and TRISTHAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY with Steve Coogan incidentally.
Okay, so that makes one excellent documentary, a fair only fitfully funny comedy, and 2 franchise failures. Hope my next batch of Netflix envelopes will be much better.

More later…

10 Slapped Actresses

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Sometimes fake fights turn out bad,

Sometimes, actresses get slapped.

Some nights, makin’ it look real might end up with someone hurt.

Some nights, it’s just entertainment,

and, some other nights, it’s real.”

These lines from the track “Slapped Actress” from the latest album (“Stay Positive” VAGRANT 2008) by New York rawkers The Hold Steady call upon the neo-realism of the films of the independent film innovator John Cassevettes. Written and sung by feisty front-man Craig Finn, who was influenced by watching a friend’s Cassevettes DVD box set, the song shines a theater spot-light on the hazy line between art and real life.

For those of you unfamiliar with the song here is a live clip from YouTube (albeit crudely recorded, but you should know how that goes) of The Hold Steady performing it live.

Since the impact of a slap in the face can not be easily faked and such a dramatic device is so effective yet so still such a common place cliché (think soap operas) I thought it would be somewhat insightful to look at the case studies of:

10 Slapped Actresses

1. Gena Rowlands in OPENING NIGHT

(Dir. John Cassavetes, 1977)

The Hold Steady’s “Slapped Actress” directly references all the principles of this film: “We are the actors. The cameras are rollin’. I’ll be Ben Gazzara, you’ll be Gena Rowlands” and “We’re the directors – our hands will hold steady. I’ll be John Cassavettes—let me know when you’re ready.” Finn in an interview with Uncut Magazine elaborated: “I was really taken by the scene where Cassavetes wants to slap Gena Rowlands, and he says, ‘If I don’t really slap you, it won’t look real for the performance.’ And she says ‘It’s a play, why would you have to actually slap me, that’s the whole point.’ That kinda connected with the way I think people are preoccupied with my relationship with the characters I write about. Ive always said no one really cares whether Quentin Tarantino kills people or does karate but for a songwriter theres this question of a perceived honesty, that your songs are the story of your life.”

“Performances were scripted, but delivery was not” says Wikipedia on the films of Cassavetes. A slap is one of the potent forms of delivery, so to speak. Rowlands after protesting is told by Manny (Gazzara): “It’s a tradition. Actresses get slapped. Its mandatory you get hit.” Rowlands does eventually get hit but as convoluted as it may be it’s on her own weird terms. Rowland’s Myrtle goes through the motions of a dying diva later commnented on by The Hold Steady’s sing-along concluding chorus which says of this brand of “perceived honesty”: “we make our own movies, we make our own movies…

2. Faye Dunaway in CHINATOWN (Dir. Roman Polanski, 1971) (Major Spolier!) “She’s my daughter [slap]…my sister [slap]…She’s my daughter [slap]…my sister [slap]…my daughter [slap]. She’s my sister and my daughter!” Dunaway gets multiple slaps from Jack Nicholson as not so hard nosed (he had his nose sliced by the knife of Polanski playing a small time hood) detective Jake Gittes who had no possible patience left. According to the IMDb: “After several takes that never looked quite right, Dunaway told Nicholson to actually slap her. He did, and the scene made it into the movie.” Dunaway got her slap happy revenge years later in MOMMIE DEAREST playing Joan Crawford – who Ill get to later.

3. Diane Keaton in THE GODFATHER PART II (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)

In arguably one of the most powerful confrontation scenes between a husband and a wife in cinema history, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) reacts violently upon being told Kay (Keaton) not only wants a divorce but that she had an abortion because she feels this “Sicilian thing” must end. This sends him over the line in what looks incredibly like the real thing – his incensed slap sends her reeling back onto a hotel sofa. No quotes from Keaton on whether it was authentic but this passage from Deborah C. Micthell’s biography “Diane Keaton: Artist And Icon” is pretty noteworthy: “When her parents saw Godfather II in Los Angeles, the audience applauded when Michael slapped Kay in the confrontation scene. She (Keaton) defensively explained: ‘he was a horrible character…I say to Hell with those people who applaud. My parents were with me.’” Watch the scene on YouTube here and see if you would applaud.

4. Charlize Theron in HANCOCK

(Dir.Peter Berg, 2008)

This is from a mediocre summer superhero-with-a-twist Will Smith vehicle, mind you – but to be fair I liked the first half of said film with the slap appearing to perfectly divide it. Theron went on the record: “He tried to fake slap me one time, but the fake one just didnt happen. Were still debating this one. I think he just hit me! But Will claims I leaned into his hand and thats how it happened. I was so shocked! I was like, He just slapped me! Then to another source she said: But he said, I did not slap you. I had my hand there and you turned into it Theron, however, insisted that the incident did not sour their relationship. Were just like kids, its so much fun. Hes not a woman beater! she said. Whatever the case, the Will Smith bitch slap will no doubt echo through out the ages…

4. Michelle Pfeifer in WOLF (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1994) This was another incident that inspired this post – recently Christopher Plummer revealed in his new memoir (In Spite Of Myself) : “I had to lose my temper and slap [Michelle] in the face . . . Gazing into those deep, limpid eyes of hers, I was so hypnotized, my expertise at faking a slap utterly deserted me and I let her have it with full barrels. He lamented that it was: one of the worst days of my life. Again I believe, Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer, should just take comfort in the sometimes actresses get slapped clause.

5. Brigitte Bardot in CONTEMPT

(Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) I recently saw this again, for the first time on the big screen, and I had forgotten about the slap Michelle Piccoli lays on Brigitte Bardot’s face during their lengthy domestic argument. The sequence which takes place at their flat is a painful but compelling series of break-ups and make-ups with the slap coming midway as Phillip Locate in the New York Times noted: In any film today, a man slapping a woman would end the scene, but in Contempt we keep watching the sequence for 25 more minutes, as the adjustments to that slap are digested.” It is indeed startling how Bardot brushes off the abuse, to her character Camille it seems like just yet another daily indignity.

6. Marisa Tomei in

IN THE BEDROOM (Dir. Todd Field, 2001) File this under when actresses slap other actresses. In what Roger Ebert called “the most violent and shocking moment in a violent film” Sissy Spacek slaps a hysterical Marisa Tomei. According to IMDb: There were 15 takes of Sissy Spacek slapping Marisa Tomei. The final version of the film used the first take.Looks like Tomei sure was a trooper in the slapped actress department there!

7. Anne Baxter in ALL ABOUT EVE (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Academy Award winning screenplay describes the action between Addison (George Sanders and Eve (Anne Baxter) as follows:

She smiles. Then she chuckles, then laughs. A mistake.

Addison slaps her sharply across the face.

Actually there are many comparable slaps from movies from this era and it’s a quick cold one but it’s a personal favorite because I (and I’m sure many audiences) so wanted to slap Eve throughout the whole movie. Incidentally there was a little known semi-remake called SLAP HER…SHE’S FRENCH (Dir. Melanie Mayron, 2002).

8. Shirley Maclaine in


(Dir. Billy Wilder, 1960)

As Dr. Dreyfuss, Jack Kruschen really strikes Maclaine’s face exactly as written in Wilder’s and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay (also an Academy Award winning script):

With his free hand, Dr. Dreyfuss slaps Fran viciously across the face. Bud winces. Dreyfuss, still holding Fran by the hair, takes a box of ammonia ampules out of his bag. He crushes one of the ampules in his hand, passes it under her nose. Fran tries to turn her head away. Dreyfuss slaps her again, hard, crushes another ampule, repeats the process.

So it goes for reviving a heartbroken woman from a Christmas eve suicide attempt, huh?


(Dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford famously did not get along so there is absolutely no doubt this slap is real. Apparently mere slaps were the least of their worries according to Wikipedia: During a scene after Blanche makes a desperate attempt to call Jane’s doctor, Blanche is kicked around by Jane. In reality, Crawford had several broken ribs from the scene, as Davis had really kicked her.” Crawford also felt pretty symbolically slapped later when she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for the film while Davis was.

10. Lee Bryant in AIRPLANE! (Dirs. Jim Abrams & Jerry Zucker, 1980) Thought I’d end on a comical note with definitely the fakest slaps not just on this list but possibly in movie history. As frightened passenger Mrs. Hammen (but probably better referred to as hysterical woman), Bryant starts freaking out: I can’t stand it anymore…I’ve got to get out of here! A stewardress tries to restrain her then another passenger takes over, then Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielson) all repeating calm down, get a hold of yourself! Soon enough just about everybody on board is lining up to slap (or worse) the troubled traveler. Watch the clip here.

There are hundreds, if not thousands more slapped actresses out there but that’s my top ten and I’m sticking with it. Of course, there are many slapped actors as well but I was keeping with The Hold Steady song that inspired the post. Still may do a slapped actors post someday – so stay tuned.

More later…