Opening Friday, July 10, is Bruno, a mockumentary that finds Sacha Baron Cohen as the gay Austrian fashion designer inveigling people to make fools of themselves. Rated R for pervasive strong and crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language. 83m At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Fortuna and Minor.
In I Love You Beth Cooper, a nerdy valedictorian who professes his love for the hottest girl in his school scores when she (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes) shows up at his house that night. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, some teen drinking and drug references and brief violence. 102m. At the Broadway.
Opening Wednesday, July 15, is Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, the penultimate adventure in the series, wherein hormones compete with magic. Midnight showings at the Minor, Fortuna and Broadway on Tuesday night.
PUBLIC ENEMIES: Finally, a summer film to get excited about. Readers should be cautioned that I may be overreacting due to the uniformly dismal film fare that has, as usual, been this season's offerings, but I think that under any circumstances Public Enemies would stand out. Even those movie fans who are lukewarm to the genre will find genuine pleasures in director Michael Mann's depiction of the crime scene in 1933.
Mann has been associated with the crime film consistently during his career as a writer and director, beginning with writing some Starsky and Hutch episodes, penning an episode of the TV series Miami Vice in 1985 (a show he produced) and a couple of Crime Story episodes, to name a few. But he rose to the top with the release of Heat in 1995, which he wrote and directed, a dual role he continued with The Insider (1999) and the film version of Miami Vice in 2006. Along the way, he directed Collateral as well, which turned out to be one of Tom Cruise's better roles.
Public Enemies may not be quite up to the intensity of Heat, but it is a fine film that fits nicely into Mann's body of work as a writer and director. For one thing, Mann is not afraid of taking time in his crime films to reveal and develop character. As a result, the action sequences seem more weighty and significant than in the normal examples of genre, where action often supercedes all other elements. In fact, for all the bullets that fly in the film, the actual on-screen body count is not all that high. The toughest scenes to watch involve torture by police officers and the final scene when Dillinger is shot down after leaving a screening at Chicago's Biograph Theatre of Clark Gable's Manhattan Melodrama in which, of course, Gable plays a racketeer.
Not all of the credit for the film's effectiveness belongs to Mann, though. Johnny Depp as Dillinger seems absolutely perfect down to the smallest detail of gesture and intonation. Dillinger has been portrayed by a number of earlier actors, including Lawrence Tierney in 1945, Warren Oates in 1973 and Mark Harmon in a 1991 TV film. Even allowing for changing styles of film acting, none comes close to Depp's complexly developed character. And watching brief scenes of Gable playing a gangster makes the viewer realize how far contemporary acting is from the 1930s. Gable seems romantically stylized, almost a cartoon gangster even though the viewer may unconsciously adapt to a given era's style while watching older films.
Christian Bale as the unsmiling FBI agent Melvin Purvis delivers a somewhat more straightforward interpretation of his character, but it is a nice contrast to Depp's approach. Purvis' most complex interactions, however brief, occur with J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup), the extremely ambitious, zealous and unethical first director of the fledging agency. It is an uneasy relationship with an undercurrent of professional rivalry.
There is little significant female presence in this very male world, but the most significant is Billie Frechette, Dillinger's girlfriend. Happily, Billie is portrayed by the excellent French actress Marion Cotillard (Piaf in La Vie en rose), who manages to develop a complete and very interesting character during her short scenes.
It has certainly not been unusual, even back in the 1930s, for crime films to blur the line between the gangsters and the police, both of whom belong very much more to the same universe than us bystanders who are often victims of both. This moral stance was developed by the classic hardboiled writers such as Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain and provided one of the hallmarks of the noir film. The result is that the central gangster figure becomes the character with whom the audience most identifies. Mann follows this convention, but he does it without romanticizing or sentimentalizing Dillinger.
Public Enemies is not a perfect film and it probably is not even Mann's best, but it is very good and easily the best film about an iconic gangster since The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford. Of course, no one went to see that film, but I'm hoping a few people might work Public Enemies into their film schedule. Unless you're hopelessly hung up on stuff like The Hangover or Transformers, you won't be disappointed. I can't imagine a better film being released from Hollywood this summer. Rated R for gangster violence and some language. 140m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek, Minor and Fortuna.
ICE AGE: DAWN OF THE DINOSAURS: In Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the series of sequences involving the saber-toothed squirrel Scrat (voiced by Chris Wedge), an acorn that Scrat lusts after and Scratte (Karen Disher), a female of the species that becomes Scrat's new love interest, will remind viewers of a certain age of the sort of cartoons that you used to see at the Saturday matinees. I assume this is deliberate. Told without any dialogue, the episodic story of Scrat, Scratte and the acorn is a charming, affecting cartoon all on its own, highlighted by the acorn tango the two perform.
Unfortunately, the sequences have little or nothing to do with the main plot of the third Ice Age film, the center of which involves the expectant woolly mammoth parents Ellie (Queen Latifah) and Manny (Ray Romano), the alienation of tiger Diego (Denis Leary) and the theft by Sid the Sloth (John Leguizamo) of three dinosaur eggs so he can be a parent too. This part of the film seems slow to develop and is utterly charmless, at least to this non-target audience viewer.
The theme appears to be about the healing nature of family, certainly an appropriate plotline for young children. By the end of the film, thanks to a baby, the core tribe is back together again in a cohesive group and even the mother dinosaur has bonded with the thief Sid.
While the action does pick up in the dinosaur world sequences, I found the film to be utterly uninvolving except for aforementioned squirrel episodes. I skipped the first two Ice Age films despite generally favorable reviews. I guess I missed my moment; leave it to me to belatedly jump on the wagon. My verdict: keep Scrat and Scratte and hold the rest of the film. On the other hand, even as a youngster, I always preferred the serials that left you in suspense until the next week, wondering how the hero could possibly escape the collapsing walls of a room. Rated PG for some mild rude humor and peril. 94m. At the Broadway (2- and 3-D), Fortuna (3-D) and Mill Creek.
ANGELS AND DEMONS. In schlocky Da Vinci sequel, swashbuckling religious historian (T. Hanks) travels through pop history to rescue the Catholic church. Rated PG-13. 139m. At The Movies.
THE HANGOVER. Getting severely trashed with your bros at a Vegas-based bachelor party can have serious consequences, especially when no one remembers what happened. Rated R. 100m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
MY SISTER'S KEEPER. Parents with sick daughter have another child just to harvest her organs; harvested kid takes a stand when she gets old enough. Rated PG-13. 109m. At Broadway.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: BATTLE OF THE SMITHSONIAN. Museum exhibits come to life leading to a history-packed battle of good versus evil. Rated PG. 105m. At the Broadway.
THE PROPOSAL. When a high-powered book editor faces deportation to her native Canada, she declares she's actually engaged to her assistant, who she's tormented for years. Rated PG-13. 108m. At the Broadway, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
STAR TREK. Get the action-packed backstory on Kirk and Spock's rivalry-ridden relationship. Rated PG-13. 127m. At The Movies.
TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3. Criminal mastermind leads a gang threatening to execute a NY subway train's passengers unless a ransom is paid. Too bad a subway dispatcher steps in as an unlikely hero. Rated R. 106m. At The Movies.
TERMINATOR SALVATION. Young John Connor (C. Bale) leads human resistance to robotic overlords. But first he must solve a mystery! Rated PG-13. 115m. At The Movies.
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. Once again, Sam Witwicky finds himself in the middle of the war between the Autobots and the Decipticons with the fate of the universe at stake. Rated PG-13. 151m. At the Broadway, the Minor, Mill Creek and Fortuna.
UP. In Pixar's latest, an elderly gentleman sets out to fulfill lifelong dream despite annoying Boy Scout tagalong. Rated PG. 101m. At the Broadway and Fortuna.
X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. Film leads up to events of X-Men with story of Wolverine's epically violent and romantic past. Rated PG-13. 107m. At The Movies.
YEAR ONE. Jack Black and Michael Cera join forces to portray Zed and Oh, bonehead hunter-gatherers who take an epic journey through the ancient world. Rated PG-13. 98m. At The Movies.