Hyde Park on Hudson Roger Michell (R, 94 minutes)
In Hyde Park on Hudson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Bill Murray) is having an affair with his spinster distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley (Laura Linney) in 1939. It’s not all that obvious, though, because there’s zero chemistry between Murray and the usually captivating Linney, whose mousy character doesn’t seem to be the sort to attract a full-of-himself leader of the free world - even one who is wheelchair-bound after a losing bout with polio.
The film, directed by Roger Michell, uses their complicated but uninteresting relationship to set the stage for the first-ever visit of the king and queen of the United Kingdom to the United States, where the royals hang out at the president’s private digs in upstate New York and are, much to their astonishment, expected to eat hot dogs.
King George VI (aka Bertie, the guy with a stuttering problem played by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech) and his uppity wife, Elizabeth, aren’t paying a social call; they’re seeking American support for a fast-approaching showdown with Hitler.
The president, when not struggling to balance the disagreeable presence of his wife, his mother and his multiple mistresses, entertains his captive audience with cocktails, lectures and older-more-experienced-guy wisdom about the state of the world.
“When it’s not utterly baffling, the film can be as charmingly aimless as a springtime stroll in the park,” says our film critic Philip Martin. “Near the end, it seems to make an argument against the close scrutiny of ‘heroes’ even as it diminishes the great man - Franklin Delano Roosevelt - who resides at its center. I don’t trust it as history, though that doesn’t disqualify it as fun, and I’m not sure the air of deliberate slightness isn’t a peremptory strike against real criticism. It seems kind of silly to take something so slight seriously.”
Naked Lunch (R, 115 minutes) Surreal and unsettling, David Cronenberg’s film version of William S. Burroughs’ creepy 1959 novel stars Peter Weller as an exterminator who accidentally murders his drug-addicted wife (Judy Davis) and becomes involved in a secret government plot being orchestrated by giant bugs in a port town in North Africa.
“There’s a synergistic overlap here between Cronenberg’s own particular brand of weirdness and Burroughs’s; they’re both twisted in ways that complement each other nicely,” says Hal Hinson in The Washington Post. “If the movie has a flaw, it’s that the aspects of Burroughs’ work many believed unfilmable still resist visualization. What had seemed unthinkably subversive on the page seems slightly literal-minded, and somehow tamer, on screen. Still, it’s a dank, genuinely sick trip into the dark, rancid basement of the writer’s mind - a fitting homage to the labors of a true original.”
Blu-ray features include a high-definition digital transfer; audio commentary featuring Cronenberg and actor Peter Weller; “Naked Making Lunch,” a 1992 television documentary by Chris Rodley about the making of the film, a special-effects gallery featuring artwork, photos and an essay by Cinefex magazine editor Jody Duncan, a collection of original marketing materials, an audio recording of William S. Burroughs reading from Naked Lunch, a gallery of photos of Burroughs taken by poet Allen Ginsberg and a booklet featuring reprinted pieces by film critic Janet Maslin, director Rodley, critic and novelist Gary Indiana and Burroughs.
Life of Pi (PG, 127 minutes) Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm) directed this beautiful fantasy, which won four Academy Awards (including best director for Lee), about a young man who survives a spectacular ship disaster at sea only to become marooned on a lifeboat with the ship’s only other survivor - a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Terrible and fabulous consequences follow.
“When adrift with Pi and the tiger on the open sea, the film is at its most wondrous: A ravishing spectacle that treads judiciously on the infinite line between what’s possible and impossible,” says critic Marjorie Baumgarten in the Austin Chronicle.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXVI (unrated) The latest installment in the MST3K series is defined as “one cult TV series with two guys, two robots, four movies and 10,000 jokes” and includes four discs. The B-movies targeted for ridicule are The Magic Sword, based on the medieval legend of St. George and the Dragon in which a young knight defies his magical foster mother and sets out to rescue a princess from a trouble making wizard; Alien From L.A., a 1980s clone of Journey to the Center of the Earth that stars Kathy Ireland as a teenager who goes in search of her missing archaeologist father and stumbles into an underground civilization that’s unaware of life on the surface; Danger!! Death Ray, in which a powerful beam of light invented for peaceful purposes (of course!) is stolen by a terrorist organization; and The Mole People, the tale of two archaeologists who discover a subterranean world of albinos and their mutant slaves.
Bonus features include interviews with some of the B-movies’ directors and MST3K’s Mike Nelson.
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 04/12/2013
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