By G. Michael Dobbs
An odd film noir, a documentary about Freemasons and a television comedy troupe are all featured in this week's DVD review column.
Director Russell Mulcahy has had one of those journeyman careers with one big credit to him - "Highlander" - and I'm afraid this new hard-boiled detective film noir offering won't be the project to push his career to a higher level.
Having written that, I have to add I watched all of "Give 'Em Hell Malone" with rapt interest to see where the film would go next.
Set in a time in the past 10 years, maybe, the film stars Thomas Jane as Malone, a one-time private detective who is a gun for hire. Known for his drinking, his durability and his capacity for revenge, Malone becomes involves in what seems at first as a simple case of retrieving a briefcase for his anonymous client.
The film opens with a very impressive action sequence that shows Mulcahy knows what he is doing in that department.
The film's overly complex plot soon unfolds and there is, of course, a beautiful woman who may be a friend or a foe.
The problem is the film has no real anchor of time or place. We have no idea if we are to assume the action is taking place now. This identification is essential as Malone and his nemesis Boulder (played with understatement by Ving Rhames) dress as if they stepped out of a 1950s pulp novel. Malone drives a 1940s sedan, yet there are contemporary cars on the road.
The result is that the mismatched scene elements create a cartoony feel to the film, one I'm not sure was the intention. One wonders if the producers didn't have the money to set the film in the 1940s or '50s and tried an in-between approach. The first rule of independent filmmaking is always to match your script to your budget, rather than try to stretch your budget around the demands of your script.
Although I can't honestly recommend this film, I won't condemn it either. It does have some good performances and action set pieces that almost make up for an overwritten plot and a confused setting.
The Whitest Kids in U'Know are the resident comedy group on IFC with their own weekly show. I've caught bits and pieces of their shows, but hadn't had the opportunity of sitting down and watching them.
Now I have so you don't have to.
There is a show business axiom that comedy is hard, drama is easy and just how hard it is to have a group of performers write and present their own material is demonstrated in this series with many misses and few hits.
Patterned after the format of "Monty Python" and "The Kids in the Hall," the shows have mostly unrelated skits that often rely on shock, rather than cleverness. Trevor Moore does stand out with his musical numbers - those are actually clever.
I was hoping the group would be next in the line of great comedy troupes, but I'm afraid they fall far short.
The two-disc set has commentary from the comics on each show as well as skits from their first and third seasons.
I'm a sucker for History Channel shows and for documentaries on subjects tinged with controversy, so this two-part look at the history of the Freemasons was right up my alley.
Now any organization that has secrets is bound to attract attention and the Freemasons have been the subject of numerous books and exposes over the last century.
This unsensational documentary was done with the cooperation of active Freemasons and historians who put the organization into its historical context.
It evens shows snippets of some of the secret ceremonies Freemasons go through as part of their initiation into the organization.
One of the intriguing aspects of the history of the Freemasons is just how many of this country's founding fathers were Freemasons.
There has been historic speculation the creation of the United States was in part a Masonic experiment!
Even though the Freemasons and their associated organizations are known for sustained public service and charity, the documentary notes how the perceptions of the organization's religious views have at times caused severe reactions against the group.
This is a thought-provoking series and one I would recommend to history - and conspiracy - fans alike.
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