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By Karen Martin

This article was published October 11, 2013 at 2:04 a.m.

Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm

Ain’t in It for My Health: A Film About Levon Helm directed by Jacob Hatley (not rated, 83 minutes)

Arkansas native Levon Helm, best known as drummer for The Band, was instrumental in the cultural revival of what Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America” in the late 1960s.

Jacob Hatley’s documentary mostly hangs around in Helm’s wonderfully messy kitchen and studio, capturing his interactions with family and other musicians and his more difficult relationship with a recurrence of throat cancer.

Some of the residual bitterness from Helm’s time with The Band is referenced - Helm held a grudge against the group’s Robbie Robertson until the end of his life - but the film never tips over into the “where-are-they-now?” mode.

Because we know that Helm, who died in April 2012, is coming to the end of the line, Hatley’s film is draped with a gentle melancholy tone. It’s interesting to watch Helm collaborating with former Bob Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell, who pretty much served as the musical director of Helm’s famous Midnight Rambles and led Helm’s band on an unfinished Hank Williams song for The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams project.

Although it could have been edited to a running time of 60 minutes without losing much, this is an appealing production about a guy at his home and the assorted characters, including Billy Bob Thornton, who’d visit him. It gives viewers a sense of what it was like to spend informal time with Helm, puttering around his cluttered kitchen with his red plastic cup (into which he keeps pouring Coca-Cola). And by the end of it, whether you knew him or not, you’ll feel his loss.

Bonus features on the Blu-ray and DVD include deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer.

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, 30th anniversary edition (R, 107 minutes) The 30th-anniversary edition of Monty Python’s uniquely ridiculous and often hilarious comedy that investigates various stages of life, starting with birth, in a series of vignettes. Those who grew up with this sort of spirited, off-kilter humor are very clear as to whether they like it or not. Younger viewers may find that Monty Python’s absurd, mostly vulgar approach to humor may not be their cup of tea. But you won’t know until you try. With Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle; directed by Terry Jones and Gilliam.

Much Ado About Nothing (PG-13, 106 minutes) Shakespeare’s film career hit its pinnacle in the early 1990s when Kenneth Branagh directed superlative adaptations of some of his plays, including Henry V, Hamlet, Love’s Labour’s Lost, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing. Now comes Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado, set in modern-day Santa Monica, Calif., and using Shakespeare’s original text to again tell the story of the complicated relationship between Beatrice (Amy Acker) and Benedick (Alexis Denisof). The setting is Whedon’s house, a nice Chenal Valley-style space complete with shelves of Barbie dolls in the background of his young daughter’s room. But the director of the second Avengers film (coming in 2015) needn’t worry about any damage to his residence from fire or explosives. Unlike Branagh’s sexually charged production, there are no sparks this time around.

It’s definitely not Acker’s fault. She’s the main attraction here, a vibrant, saucy presence who delivers Shakespearean language as if she was born speaking it, snaps out wisecracks and insults with an insinuating smile, and can handle pratfall scenes with humor and grace. The best moments are when she’s onscreen by herself, pondering yet another unanswerable question about whether marriage is right for her.

The other performances are competent, but they seem like they were recorded in a lonely sound booth (like voice talent for animated films) rather than while interacting on a set. There’s so little character definition in this low-budget black-and white production that it’s hard to remember who’s who from one scene to the next. Romantic comedies, especially those of Shakespeare, benefit from strong personalities who absolutely own their roles. That’s not happening here. Where’s Branagh when we need him? With Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Fran Kranz.

Get Him to the Greek (R, 114 minutes) This wickedly funny 2010 comedy, now available on Blu-ray, stars acerbic comedian Russell Brand as brilliant, bedeviled British rocker Aldous Snow who, despite a pesky tendency toward substance abuse, intends to embark on a gargantuan comeback tour. He’s notoriously unreliable, though, and it falls to nerdy recording company underling Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) to skirt the interferences of London drug smugglers, New York brawlers and Las Vegas madness to get Snow on stage, on time, for opening night at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. With Elisabeth Moss, Rose Byrne, Pink; directed by Nicholas Stoller.

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 10/11/2013

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