ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959). A Molotov cocktail of a movie when it first appeared in 1959, Anatomy of a Murder was so controversial that audiences were taken aback by both its frank language and unexpected ambiguities, and Mayor Richard Daley even went so far as to prohibit it from playing in Chicago. The picture ended up not needing the Windy City: It proved to be a box office smash across the rest of the country, as moviegoers lined up to hear A-list actors utter such previously taboo screen words as "rape," "slut," "bitch," "intercourse," "panties" and (love this one) "spermatogenesis." Director-producer Otto Preminger, no stranger to ruffling moral-watchdog feathers, never succumbs to the sleaziness inherent in the material, instead turning out a highly intelligent and tightly controlled drama that still ranks as one of the all-time great courtroom procedurals. An excellent James Stewart stars as "humble country lawyer" Paul Biegler, who agrees to defend an army officer (Ben Gazzara) accused of murdering the bar owner he claims raped his wife (Lee Remick). At his side is his alcoholic friend and fellow lawyer (Arthur O'Connell), while helping out the prosecution is the slick assistant state attorney general (George C. Scott, making his mark in only his second year in films). And refereeing is the quick-witted — and often exasperated — Judge Weaver; in a casting stunt that works, he's played by Joseph N. Welch, the army lawyer who shot to national fame for his takedown of the despicable Senator Joseph McCarthy ("Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"). Although the film failed to win any Oscars, it did manage to land seven nominations, including Best Picture, Actor (Stewart) and Supporting Actor (both O'Connell and Scott).
DVD extras include newsreel footage from the set; a new interview with Otto Preminger biographer Foster Hirsch; a new interview with critic Gary Giddins about Duke Ellington's score for the film; a look at the relationship between Preminger and the legendary graphic designer Saul Bass with Bass biographer Pat Kirkham; and excerpts of a 1967 episode of Firing Line, featuring a discussion between Preminger and William F. Buckley Jr.
JACK AND JILL (2011). In the cesspool of cinema known as the Adam Sandler Oeuvre. Jack and Jill certainly ranks near the very bottom; it's stupid and infantile, of course, but it's also lazy and contemptuous, a clear sign that Sandler and director Dennis Dugan (his seventh Sandler film; stop him before he kills again!) aren't even trying anymore, safe in the knowledge that audiences will emulate Divine in John Waters' Pink Flamingos and chow down on whatever dog doo is presented to him. Here, the stench is particularly potent, as this story about an obnoxious ad man (Sandler) and his whiny, overbearing sister (Sandler in drag) is a nonstop parade of scatological bits, prominent product placements, faux-hip cameos (Johnny Depp, welcome to the halls of whoredom), wink-wink chauvinism, racism and xenophobia, icky incest gags, annoying voices (not just Sandler as Jill but also the made-up language spoken by the siblings), and the usual small roles for Sandler's beer buddies (including, groan, David Spade in drag). Al Pacino co-stars as himself, inexplicably smitten with Jill; he provides the film's only two or three chuckles (especially a line about the Oscars), but even long before the sequence in which he raps about doughnuts, it's clear that he's become an ever bigger sellout than Robert De Niro. Now that's saying something.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes; a blooper reel; a piece on the cameos spotted throughout the film; and a featurette on Sandler's man-to-woman transformation.
THE RUM DIARY (2011). Johnny Depp has long worshipped at the altar of Hunter S. Thompson, so perhaps it's this idolatry that prevents him from acknowledging that The Rum Diary, an adaptation of a 1959 Thompson novel that wasn't even discovered until 1998 (reportedly by Depp himself), is a crushing mediocrity. As he did in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the actor again plays a fictionalized version of the influential journalist — here, he's pre-gonzo Paul Kemp, a mild-mannered writer whose stint at a struggling American newspaper in Puerto Rico allows him to eventually discover his fire, his passion, and his desire to stick it to the "bastards." Unfortunately, fire and passion are just two of the elements missing from this arid, disjointed effort, which isn't presented as a shaggy-dog story so much as a flea-bitten one. Kemp's interactions with a cheery capitalist (Aaron Eckhart) and his beauteous fiancee (Amber Heard) are rarely believable, while Giovanni Ribisi delivers one of his typically twitchy — and typically awful — turns as one of Kemp's confidantes. Ribisi's histrionics aside, The Rum Diary is unbearably sedate — a Prozac picture when a touch of reefer madness would have helped.
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