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Dr. Doolittle, Gone with the Wind, Marius and Jeanette, Mendel

By Ray Pride, Sam Jemielity

JUNE 29, 1998: 

Dr. Dolittle

Filled to the brim with butt jokes, the cheerily vulgar "Dr. Dolittle" should delight more than just the crowds of 10-year-old boys who'll clamor to see a talking rat threatening to "get bubonic on your ass." Eddie Murphy is a San Francisco doctor who's repressed his lifelong ability to, well, talk to the animals. A few stray life lessons are learned by his family and partners in his medical practice, but it's mostly a matter of laying on the PG-13 verbal gags from various vermin, swine and livestock. I didn't expect to get as much pleasure as I got from the scattershot insults issuing from the mouths of SGI-generated and Henson's Creature Shop animals. While it loses steam toward the end, Betty Thomas' direction of the script by Nat Mauldin and Larry Levin had me crying several times from laughing so hard. I dunno, can you resist a quick shot of a dog behind bars at a kennel blurting, "I am Keyser Soze"? A guinea pig that sashays to "Voulez-vous couchez avec moi"? And a clown-suited capuchin monkey clutching an airline-sized bottle of Jack Daniel's confessing, "I'm a social drinker... Very social! Haaaaaa!" Among the voice artists are Albert Brooks as a depressed tiger, Norm Macdonald as a mutt named Lucky (asked his name, he confesses, "A little girl once called me, ‘Oh please mommy any one but him'"), Chris Rock, John LeGuizamo, Gilbert Gottfried and Garry Shandling. And it all weighs in at a briskly paced 88m. (Ray Pride)


Gone With the Wind

The million-dollar restoration of David O. Selznick's 222 minutes of the South in flames and a woman's cold heart and ruthless self-preservation. Pretty amazing when you consider people can't make a sturdy story anymore like the single shot that burst from Margaret Mitchell's bodice. Watching "GWTW" recently, Hattie McDaniel's long-suffering Mammy made an indelible impression. She's given scenes as dialogue that took up pages of the book - note her monologue on the staircase explaining the events after the accident that befalls Rhett and Scarlett's daughter - functional reams of exposition given a remarkable rendition. The restoration includes remastered digital sound, digital refurbishing of more than ten minutes of footage, and the use of Technicolor's dye transfer printing process, not used to strike "GWTW" prints since 1961, and just reintroduced for large-scale releases. (Ray Pride)


Marius and Jeanette

Robert Guediguian's quietly spectacular, unlikely love story unfolds in Marseilles, with the most striking moments taking place in close-ups that frame the faces of Marius, a guard at a condemned factory, and Jeanette, a volatile checkout woman with two children by two husbands, one who abandoned her, one killed by falling scaffolding. In the bleak Marseilles economy, where a lack of jobs and a profusion of immigrants have sown seeds of racism and xenophobia, it is all members of the struggling working class can do to steal small moments of happiness. Living literally on top of Jeanette, in an upstairs apartment, a staunch fortysomething Communist, Caroline, shells beans and reads the lefty tabloid "L'Humanite"; Caroline's neighbor-erstwhile lover Justin reads "Le Monde Diplomatique," lecturing Jeanette's mulatto son Malek (Miloud Nacer), who decides to observe Ramadan, on fundamentalism. This is a film of graceful moments, strung together, lingering long after the final credits: the hobbled Marius challenging Jeanette to a foot race along a dusty factory road, to a distant parasol; the pair breathing in the air under a clear blue Mediterranean sky after making love for the first time amid the cement factory's grassy ruins; Jeanette, Monique and Caroline buying Chinese silk underwear from Monsieur Ebrard, Jeanette's ex-boss at the supermarket, who fired her, then was fired himself after being caught stealing panties for his overweight wife--a woman so large, she wears through the crotch at an alarming rate, he tells the women, with all three doubled-over with laughter; Jeanette giving a blue-silk camisole set to her teenage daughter Magali (leggy, beautiful Laetitia Pesenti), who says, "If I wore this out, I'd be pregnant by the time I got to the end of the street"; and concerned whispers, at half-time of a televised Marseilles soccer match, when he stops--for his own tragic reasons-- joining Jeanette, Malek and Magali for dinner. What saves these people, what makes this movie so exceptional, is the sense of humor, unbending even as hydraulic cranes smash down the cement factory. Caroline complains when she learns the papal villa at Avignon is going to be declared a national historic site. "Why not make a factory a historic site?" she demands. Guediguian's brilliant, funny, unsentimental "Marius and Jeanette" gives the workers of the world a memorable monument. (Sam Jemielity)


Mendel

"Mendel" is an unsettling comedy, but also an unlikely charmer from director Alexander Rosler, a documentarian and children's-film maker who was born in Dachau and emigrated as a child with his family to Norway in the 1950s. Displaced to the cold Christian Scandinavian climes, nine-year-old Mendel (the intense and combative Thomas Jorgen Sorensen) and his Jewish family are faced with a world and a cast of characters who find them just as strange as they find their new surroundings. As his parents deny him stories of World War II, Mendel has to invent his own twisted mythology to explain his history, his family's history, why his concentration-camp survivor parents wake up screaming at night. Then there are the figures of Jesus Christ and Santa Claus, as mysterious and disturbing to Mendel as Hitler himself. When Mendel learns what secrets his family has withheld, Rosler's story shifts to another plane, and the story is never less than compelling, rich with the anecdotal specificity of experience. 95m. (Ray Pride)


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