DID YOU READ

On DVD: “Joy House,” “The Witman Boys”

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08052008_joyhouse.jpgBy Michael Atkinson

We’ve been trained nowadays to believe that if a mainstream movie is not a monstrous, definitive, top-heavy, eye-blasting, eardrum-bruising mega-event, it’s not worth seeing. Gone are the cultural aesthetics of the double bill (in which no one film was so commanding that it couldn’t stand to be immediately followed by another), the moviegoing habit (when diversion, charm and story were all moviegoers wanted, every weekend) and the notion of a film’s nature, like a person’s, being valued for modesty, lightweight pulpiness, empathic thrills in the moment and the pleasant company of beautiful and confident movie stars. Stuck in the summertime hell of superhero crapola and CGI migraines, it’s not hard from where I stand (which is, frankly, still a state of bedevilment about how the typically abbreviated and overwrought non-storyness of “The Dark Knight” has so many educated viewers bamboozled) to find relief in the forgotten matinee fodder of a less bombastic time. This week, it’s René Clément’s rather delightful 1964 suspenser “Les Félins” (The Felines), titled here (after the American pulp paperback it was based on, by prolific noiriste Day Keene) “Joy House.” There’s not much that’s earth-shaking about “Joy House” (except perhaps Lalo Schifrin’s pre-Jerry Goldsmith score). But it’s a movie in a way movies haven’t been in a long time: graceful, relaxed, fun-loving, unpretentious.

What you get is Alain Delon in his best persona — a ne’er-do-well playboy flitting around the Mediterranean looking for cash and ass, not unlike his Tom Ripley in Clément’s “Purple Noon” four years earlier. He’s targeted by a jealous American gangster — bring me the head of Alain Delon, literally — and escapes into the opulent Riviera clutches of icy widow Lola Albright (a stunning blonde from Akron whose résumé is otherwise comprised of cheap westerns and episodic TV) and her dewy, bubbly cousin-cum-maid, played by a pristine 26-year-old Jane Fonda at the onset of her French phase. Delon’s hired as a chauffeur — the kind whose driving is seriously impeded by his penchant for hiding under the steering wheel whenever gangsters walk by — but both the chateau-owning widow and the adorable but possibly unhinged kewpie doll have other cat-and-mouse plans for the wandering hunk, and it’s got to do with murder, swapped identities, set-ups, and so on.

It’s the kind of American pulp French filmmakers have always loved: the kind in which not one character has an iota of honesty or morality to them. This is my idea of escapism, hanging in an absurd vacation-France inhabited by nuns and sex kittens, digging the redoubtable chemistry between Fonda and Delon (honestly, Fonda’s so game and sexy here she’d muster chemistry with Fernandel), enjoying the stars’ indulgent wallow in the Riviera as I’m also casually and effortlessly following the not-too-fast narrative without the benefit of a single optical effect or a single moment where the film insists on “making” me “feel” the action. (When an on-the-run Delon hazardously flags down a passing truck, Clément hangs back and just watches the actor literally leaps on the grill.) “Joy House” is not a great film (it’s not as rich as the Patricia Highsmith-derived “Purple Noon”), but it is pure movieness, un-self-important and respectful and sweet, and I’d prefer watching it again to sitting through another $120 million comic book holocaust.

08052008_witmanboys.jpgOn another planet, and not one immune to a degree of pretension, the overlooked Hungarian film “The Witman Boys” (1997) grimly lays out the growth, like mold, of family psychopathy, and of its kind (think “The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea,” any number of Claude Chabrol films, and the numerous movies based upon the Papin sisters) it’s an expert, reserved, thoughtful piece of work. There’s a predictability to it, of course, as we observe the titular brothers (Alpár Fogarasi and Szabalcs Gergely, both of whom could pass for John Lennon progeny) react to their tyrannical father’s death by not reacting at all, and then begin torturing and killing animals (mostly off screen), and then fall under the spell of a whore who encourages them to thieve from their mother (the always mesmerizing Maia Morgenstern) and eventually edge over into homicide. Still, the stars of the show are director János Szász and cinematographer Tibor Máthé (Ildikó Enyedi’s D.P. and maybe the best unemigrated shooter in Eastern Europe); “The Witman Boys” is set in a small turn-of-the-century Hungarian city, a chilly mess of snow, oil light, stray dogs and smoky air, and it’s breathtakingly shot, in glowing earth colors and magic-hour luminescence, like Wyeth meets Vermeer meets Sargent. The cold story may be familiar, but the place and time is evoked so clearly it becomes a sense memory.

[Photos: “Joy House,” MGM, 1964; “The Witman Boys,” Bunyik Entertainment, 1997]

>”Joy House” (Koch Lorber) is now available on DVD; “The Witman Boys” (Facets) will be available on DVD on August 26th.

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Inauguration Alternative

Bill Murray On Repeat

It's a movie "Murray-thon" all-day Friday on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs courtesy of GIPHY

Democrats, Republicans and Millennials agree: 2017 is shaping up to be a spectacle — a spectacle that really kicks into high gear this Friday with the presidential inauguration. Not only will the new POTUS swear in, but all the Country’s highest offices will be filled. It’s a daunting prospect, and to feel a little anxious about it is only normal. But if your anxiety is snowballing into panic, we have a solution:
Bill Murray.

He’s the human embodiment of a mental “Happy Place”, and there’s really no problem he can’t solve. So, with that in mind, how about we all set aside reality for a moment and let Bill take the pain away by imagining a top-shelf White House cabinet filled exclusively by his signature characters. Here are a few hypothetical appointments for your consideration…

Secretary of Defense:
Bill Murray from Stripes

His incompetence is balanced by charm, and dumb luck is inexplicably on his side. America could do worse.

Secretary of State:
Bill Murray from Lost In Translation

A seasoned globetrotter steeped in regional traditions who has the respect of the whole wide world. And he kills Costello in karaoke, which is very important.

Press Secretary:
Bill Murray from Ghostbusters

“Cats and dogs, living together. Mass hysteria.” Dude knows how to brief a room.

Secretary of Health and Human Services:
Bill Murray from What About Bob.

A doctor-approved people person who knows that progress is measured in baby steps.

Secretary of Energy:
Bill Murray from Groundhog Day

Let’s be honest, this world is going to need a lot of do-overs.

Feeling better? Hold on to that bliss. And enjoy a healthy alternative to the inauguration brouhaha with multiple Murrays all Friday long in an IFC movie marathon including Kingpin, Zombieland, Ghostbusters, and Ghostbusters II.

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Home Run

Hank Azaria Gets Thrown A Curve Ball

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection

Unless you’ve somehow missed every episode of the Simpsons since 1989, then surely you know that Hank Azaria is one of the most important character actors of our time. He’s so prolific and his voice is so dynamic that he’s responsible for more iconic personalities than most folks realize. Basically, he’s the great and powerful Oz — except that when you pull back the curtain the truth is actually more impressive. And now Hank is coming to IFC to bring yet another character to the TV pop culture hive mind in the new series Brockmire. Check out the trailer below.

Based on the following Funny or Die short and co-starring Amanda Peet, Brockmire follows the story of imploded major league sportscaster Jim Brockmire as he tries to resurrect his career by calling plays for a floundering minor league team in a podunk town.

The series is written by Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable) and produced by Funny or Die’s Mike Farah and Joe Farrell, meaning that there’s funny in front of the camera, funny behind the camera–funny all around. Sounds like a ball to us.

Brockmire premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Car Notes

Portlandia On People Who Can’t Park

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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If flagrant bad parking takes nerve, then retaliatory note writing takes neuroses. Watch Fred and Carrie take passive aggression to next level in Car Notes, the new Portlandia web series presented by Subaru. The first episode is yours right here and now, and you can see every installment of Car Notes anytime online, on the IFC app and on demand.

Portlandia returns tonight at 10P on IFC.

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