|
The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
  • Movie Man: 'Anatomy of a Murder' is top courtroom drama

  • If you’re looking for courtroom drama, you don’t have to look far, with thousands of hours of Court TV, “Law & Order” reruns and plain-old courtroom news on your television.

    • email print
  • If you’re looking for courtroom drama, you don’t have to look far, with thousands of hours of Court TV, “Law & Order” reruns and plain-old courtroom news on your television.
    But if you’re looking for a truly great courtroom drama, one that’s complex, funny, smart and surprising, you need to watch “Anatomy of a Murder.” Released way back in 1959 and featuring a one-of-a-kind cast, it’s — no kidding — the greatest courtroom drama ever made.
    Based on a book by a Michigan Supreme Court judge (writing under a pseudonym), “Anatomy of a Murder” follows a small-town Michigan lawyer (James Stewart) as he defends a young lieutenant (Ben Gazzara) on murder charges. Where things get complicated is when Stewart examines the motive: Gazzara claimed he killed the local bar owner for raping his wife. But as Stewart gets to know the wife (Lee Remick), he begins to wonder if there was a rape — or if, down deep, even Gazzara believes there was a rape.
    Pretty adult stuff for 1959, and “Anatomy of a Murder” doesn’t stop there. There’s much discussion over the word “panties” being used in the courtroom (again, scandalous stuff for 1959), but on a deeper level, “Anatomy of a Murder” hints that what really happened doesn’t matter — what matters is what the jury thinks happened. It might not be justice, but it’s the law.
    Masterfully directed by Otto Preminger (a guy who loved pushing the envelope, content-wise), “Anatomy of a Murder” is full of elements that make it a classic film. The cast also includes a young George C. Scott as the big-city prosecutor, Eve Arden as Stewart’s world-weary assistant, Orson Bean and Howard McNear (Floyd the barber from “Andy Griffith”) as expert witnesses and lawyer Joseph Welch, the man who brought down Sen. Joe McCarthy, as the judge. What’s more, not only does jazz legend Duke Ellington supply the music, he also has a cameo as “Pie Eye,” who for some reason is playing piano in a tiny Michigan tavern. That Michigan atmosphere, incidentally, is one of the movie’s biggest stars. Preminger filmed the movie in the Upper Peninsula, and it gives the film a feeling like no other Hollywood picture. Heck, even the opening credits — iconic images created by legendary Saul Bass — are memorable. It’s just a great, great movie.
    Thankfully, Criterion’s new edition does it justice. Besides a remastered print of the film, it includes footage from the set; segments on Ellington, Bass and Preminger; the trailer and more.
    ‘The Town’
    Someone at Warner Home Video must really love Ben Affleck.
    I mean, “The Town” is a fine film, with solid direction and acting from Affleck and a strong supporting cast. But it’s not a classic — though you wouldn’t know that from the packaging of “The Town Ultimate Collector’s Edition.” The boxed set includes multiple versions of the movie on Blu-ray and DVD, a feature-length documentary, a map of the Charlestown area of Boston, a folder full of files about the film’s characters, a hardcover book of photos from the set, a letter from Affleck and, believe it not, temporary tattoos exactly like the one Jeremy Renner’s character sports in the movie (and that you only see on-screen for a split second).
    Page 2 of 4 - Quite a package for a movie that’s pretty good — but not great. I liked a lot of “The Town,” including the well-staged robberies and the simmering tension between the various thieves. But I thought it was another example of a movie let down by its ending, one that does right by its star but not by its main character. I don’t want to spoil anything if you haven’t seen it — because it is worth watching — but the final scenes make no sense. The idea that the FBI would just quit surveilling the one person with a connection to their fugitive, then ignore the expensive — and public! — gift made in the name of that fugitive’s mom is ridiculous.
    But still, aside from the ending, it’s an entertaining film. And, as I might have mentioned, in comes in one heck of a box.
    ‘Adventure Time’
    I’ve written about “Adventure Time” before in this column, but it’s worth writing about again. That’s because it fulfills a vital need in children’s entertainment: It offers kids something weird enough to drive their parents from the TV, shaking their heads in confusion and frustration. Which, after all, is what every kid wants.
    When I was young, way, way back in the early 1970s, we had “Lidsville,” “H.R. Pufnstuf” and other seemingly drug-addled creations from the gang at Kroft Studios. No parent in his or her right mind would endure more than 10 seconds of those shows, meaning on Saturday mornings, we had the TV to ourselves. “Adventure Time,” Cartoon Network’s hit series, operates on the same principle, but with two major differences: One, it doesn’t air on Saturday mornings. And two, unlike the terrible shows of my misspent youth, it’s actually good.
    In case you’ve never seen it, “Adventure Time” focuses on Finn (a boy) and Jake (a dog). Together, they go on adventures (well, duh) in a variety of crazy kingdoms, each ruled by an even crazier princess. It’s full of talking horses, giant monsters, a villainous Ice King and, of course, butt jokes. In other words, it’s the sort of show you would’ve created as a kid — only better.
    The latest DVD collection, “It Came From the Nightosphere,” collects 16 episodes of the show, including the Emmy-nominated (that’s right, Emmy-nominated) title episode. Even if you haven’t seen the show before, you’ll catch up right away. And if you’re still confused, don’t worry. I’m sure your kids can explain it to you. Even the butt jokes.
    Read Will Pfeifer’s Movie Man blog at rrstar.com/blogs/willpfeifer/ or email him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com.
    Page 3 of 4 - Some new DVDs out this week:
    “The Adventures of Tintin”: The fact that this very expensive movie involved Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson didn’t help it at the box office, but it should find an audience on DVD and Blu-ray, where viewers can replay the impressive action scenes.
    “The Descendants”: George Clooney stars in this comedy/drama from director Alexander Payne. Among the winners for the film’s Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar was Jim Rash, better known for playing Dean Pelton on the NBC sitcom “Community.”
    “My Week with Marilyn”: Speaking of Oscars, Michelle Williams was nominated in the Best Actress category for her portrayal of screen icon Marilyn Monroe in this drama that looks at the time she spent in England filming “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Sir Laurence Olivier.
    “Young Adult”: Charlize Theron plays a troubled author who returns to her hometown and tries to seduce her former high school boyfriend (Patrick Wilson), who’s now happily married. Comedian Patton Oswald won rave reviews for his portrayal of a misfit Theron hangs out with.
    “Melancholia”: Danish director Lars Von Trier is known for making uncomfortable, downbeat films, and he seems to find the perfect topic with this one, a movie about a troubled family facing the actual end of the world. Critics said it was beautifully filmed and utterly depressing.
    “The Killing”: Normally, I would never spoil an entire season of a TV show in some snarky comment about a DVD release. But in this case, because I wasted so much time watching this show, I’m going to do it: Despite the fact that the DVD box asks, in bold red letters, “Who Killed Rosie Larson?” YOU DON’T FIND OUT WHO KILLED ROSIE LARSON! Now you don’t have to watch the whole season. You’re welcome.
    And CDs
    One Direction, “Up All Night”: This band is composed of five boys who auditioned for the British TV show “X Factor” as solo artists then were encouraged by none other than Simon Cowell to unite and become a powerful force in pop music. In other words, beware!
    Meat Loaf, “Hell in a Handbasket”: Mr. Loaf called this “the most personal record I’ve ever made. It’s about how I feel the world’s gone to hell in a handbasket. It’s really the first record that I’ve ever put out about how I feel about life and how I feel about what’s going on at the moment.”
    The Decemberists, “We All Raise Our Voices to the Air”: This 20-track live double-album was culled from the band’s 2011 tour. And, if you’re one of those vinyl fanatics, you can skip the two CD set and buy the three-LP version instead.
    Page 4 of 4 - Cannibal Corpse, “Torture”: Sounds like another cheerful collection of upbeat tunes from the fun-loving folks in Cannibal Corpse.
    — Will Pfeifer
    Sources: thedigitalbits.com; tophitsonline.com
      • calendar