Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

December 6–13, 2001

movies

Screenpicks

Legally Blonde

($26.98 DVD)

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If the rest of this summer hit were as good as its first 20 minutes, Legally Blonde would be sheer delight. Reese Witherspoon, who’s undeniably one of our keenest comic actresses, instantly strikes the right notes as Elle, the perky sorority girl who follows the boyfriend who’s just dumped her all the way to Harvard Law. The movie’s central joke is that Elle, who fits the blonde stereotype in every other way, also happens to be as smart as a Prada whip. (When her incredulous ex-beau asks how she got into Harvard, a guileless Elle responds, "What, like it’s hard?") Unfortunately, Aussie Robert Luketic’s direction takes a nosedive, dropping the satire in favor of lowball gags and some particularly egregious swish jokes. (Oh, so flamboyantly homosexual men frequently work as hairdressers? Now I get it.) Proving again that DVD extras are determined more by market than merit, Legally Blonde is embellished with a host of semi-useful gewgaws, including two separate audio commentaries, Pop Up Video-style factoids, featurettes, deleted scenes and so on. Apart from hearing Witherspoon chat about her craft, there’s not much of interest, but you can always leave it on while you primp.

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

(Thu., Dec. 6, 8 p.m., $5, International House, 3701 Chestnut St., 215-895-6562, www.ihousephilly.org)

The second salvo in I-House’s 100 Years of Cinema is this 1964 film by Sergei Paradjanov, which draws inspiration from Dovzhenko and has inspired such filmmakers as Andrei Tarkovsky and Aleksandr Sokurov. Considered by many to be one of the greatest Russian films of the sound era, Shadows is a mixture of folklore and invention whose archetypal plot is mainly a framework for Paradjanov’s lyrical flights.

Irma La Douce

($19.98 DVD)

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The spoilsports who’ve flung their arrows at the beguiling Amélie should take another look at Billy Wilder’s elaborately excessive 1963 comedy — at least, if they want to see what a deliberate distortion of Paris’ metropolitan culture really looks like. A musical but for the music, Irma stars Jack Lemmon as Nestor, an officious gendarme whose starched-collar attitudes get him bounced from the force and reduced to relying on the prostitutes he once busted. Chief among them is Irma (Shirley MacLaine), whom Nestor instantly falls for. An absurd scheme to keep Irma out of the life finds Nestor dressing up as a English lord, giving Lemmon the chance to extract two of his most charmingly antic performances, and MacLaine, even in The Apartment, was never better. Billy Wilder’s Paris looks nothing like the real thing, but it’s obviously not supposed to, and though Irma’s 143-minute length is more than a little too much of a very good thing, it’s hard to dislike a movie that keeps giving you more good stuff.

Films That Time Forgot

(Mon., Dec. 10, 7 p.m., County Theater, 20 E. State St., Doylestown, 215-345-6789, www.countytheater.org)

Lou DiCrescenzo returns for another two hours of early film obscurities, including a screen test of a 4-year-old Shirley Temple, which was turned into a short subject after Temple hit it big. Watch also for the County’s series of Saturday kids’ matinees, starting with A Hard Day’s Night this and the following Saturday at 11:30 a.m. and 9:55 p.m. Unfortunately, the rest of the series — which includes A Christmas Story (Dec. 22), Chicken Run (Jan. 5), and Yellow Submarine (Jan. 19) — will be shown on DVD, a sad reflection of the quality of available prints, especially where "children’s" films are concerned. But A Hard Day’s Night, one of the most joyous experiences ever committed to celluloid, will be unveiled in all its 35mm glory.

Pootie Tang

($29.99 DVD)

This scrappy, disjointed comedy snuck into and out of theaters with barely a whisper, and though it doesn’t exactly rank with the classics, it still deserves better. Based on the suave but incomprehensible character from The Chris Rock Show, Pootie Tang never pretends to be what it isn’t — which is to say meaningful, or relevant, or ambitious. It’s the kind of freewheeling, kinetic movie that used to slip under the studio radar but now gets dressed up in an ill-fitting suit and trotted as a potential (or failed) blockbuster. The tale of Lance Crouther’s crime-fighting singing sensation who’s hell with the ladies, Pootie Tang is mostly a collection of gags in search of a plot, but some of them are pretty good gags. Here’s one: In the prologue, we see a young Pootie, already a player, getting chewed out by a spurned female. As she stands in the street, she goes through the familiar motions of throwing his belongings out the window — only those belongings include a handful of stuffed animals and a Big Wheel. The between-scene transitions reek of a desperate attempt to juice up a poorly testing movie with extraneous visual flash, and the 10-minute closing credits play like little more than a gimmick to reach the (probably contractually mandated) 80-minute running time. But I’ve seen throwaway movies I enjoyed a lot less.

From Here to Eternity

($24.98 DVD)

Fred Zinnemann never quite rose to the top of the ranks, but From Here to Eternity (1953) is about as good a meat-and-potatoes drama as the studio system ever produced. A shame, then, that the commentary on this "special edition" is so utterly clueless. Provided by Zinnemann’s son Tim (who was too young to remember filming) and actor Alvin Sargent (whose part is so small he wasn’t even credited), the supplemental audio consists mainly of conjectures and apologies — hardly a fitting accompaniment. At least you’ve got the captivating performances of Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift to keep you company, not to mention Donna Reed’s image-defying turn as the adulterous wife, or Frank Sinatra’s career-high turn as the stubborn Maggio. If there were nothing here but the film, you wouldn’t miss anything else, but as it is, you can’t help but feel that it’s a cheat.

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