11 June 2018

The Human Pain


THE RIDER (A) - Nonprofessional actors pack a wallop here in a the thinly fictional tale of a local rodeo star struggling to recover from a serious injury in the Badlands of South Dakota. Brady Jandreau turns in a devastating slow burn as Brady Blackburn, first seen tending to a huge stapled gash in his scalp. He battles brain damage that affects the grip in his right hand, and he is forced to take a demeaning gig in a dollar store.

Brady lives with his gruff, bitter dad Wayne (Tim Jandreau) and mentally challenged sister Lilly (Lilly Jandreau), a real family acting naturally together. Brady visits a pal who resides in an assisted-living facility, brain-damaged Lane (Lane Scott), a former rodeo star trapped in his body, with eyes that still shine.

Brady defies the doctors and is determined to ride and rope, but heartbreak seems determined to dash his dreams. He aches for the adrenaline rush and camaraderie of his favorite sport. Chinese director Chloe Zhao, in her second release, has an innate feel for the American heartland, crafting somber but humbly joyous images from the stark landscape. This has the grit and heft of a great American novel. Few films are more moving.

BONUS TRACK
The trailer:


 

31 May 2018

Venus and Mars Are All Right Tonight


LET THE SUNSHINE IN (B+) - Juliette Binoche carries this sly, amusing drama about middle-aged woman frustrated by her own dating choices. Claire Denis crafts a truly adult-themed film about the tensions and emotional duels between men and women. The result is a refreshing, if occasionally slight, examination of the war between the sexes.

Binoche easily sheds her glamour as Isabelle, jumping out of the gate with a topless sex scene with her boorish, grunting (and married) lover, a pompous banker. She efficiently cycles through a series of louts and emotionally retarded and immature candidates. Whether it's low self esteem or a mild mental illness, Isabelle cannot rationally process the signals she gets and is too eager to jump into bed and fall in love with the next guy who comes along. (An actor is particularly swaddled in red flags.)

There is smart dialogue throughout. (Denis ("Beau Travail," "Friday Night," "White Material," "Bastards") collaborated on the screenplay with newcomer Christine Angot, adapting a book by Roland Barthes.) You may laugh out of discomfort as much as anything here. A French legend's cameo at the end, as a therapist putting this all in perspective, is the perfect mix of denial and farce. This is a quiet gem from Denis and Binoche.

THE HAIRDRESSER'S HUSBAND (C-minus) - An anachronism that is often cringe-worthy now in the Me Too era, Patrice Leconte's 1990 breakthrough features Jean Rochefort as a lustful middle-aged man acting out his childhood fantasies by scoring young, beautiful Anna Galiena as his devoted wife.

Rochefort, awkwardly bewigged and made up to appear to be much younger than his age (around 60), portrays the leering, monosyllabic, puppy-eyed Antoine, who as a boy had a crush on a plump hairdresser, got a glimpse of her ample bosom, and was determined to marry a coiffeuse someday. As an adult, he has a meet-creepy with Mathilde (Galiena, 20 years Rochefort's junior), who inexplicably dates and quickly marries him. She doesn't mind being the object of his odd fetish.

Leconte (who hit his stride in the early aughts with "Man on the Train" and "Intimate Strangers") uses soft focus and random flashbacks to confusing effect. It's all style over substance. It wouldn't be surprising if he has disavowed this early work.

BONUS TRACK
Our title track, the ad for Paul McCartney's mega-release from 1975, the "Venus and Mars" album:


 

29 May 2018

Sins of the Father


FOXTROT (A) - This remarkable story sneaks up on you, toying with your expectations and offering devastating insights into how we live. The film opens with a couple being informed that their son has been killed while serving in the Israeli defense forces. It's pretty standard drama, but it's a ruse; the news may not be accurate -- or the plot might be running out of order.

Either way, we eventually meet Jonathan (Yonaton Shiray) helping man a remote roadway checkpoint, where the occasional camel passes through the gate along with random cars full of motorists. Israeli writer-director Samuel Maoz (2009's "Lebanon") fabricates an intricate set-up at the outpost, full of arcane steampunk gadgets straight out of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." The subtle deadpan humor shares comic DNA with 2015's "Zero Motivation," another sharply observed Israeli military film.

Each of the parents has a compelling story to tell. Michael (Lior Ashkenazi) has his own mother issues. And Sarah Adler is compelling as Daphna, a seriously depressed wife and mother. After the initial sleight of hand in the first 15 minutes, Maoz sets everything into place, and the humanity of this one sneaks up on you.

THE RETURN (2004) (B-minus) - A relentless grind about a father who had abandoned his toddler sons returning 12 years later to take them on a brutal road trip, to either toughen them up, somehow make amends, or just to torture them. It's never really clear. All the boys know of their father is from an old photograph.

The younger son, Ivan (Ivan Dobranravov), has a perpetual scowl on his face in defiance of the prodigal father. Young Dobranravov, though, struggles to make the anger convincing, looking more like Opie Taylor acting against type in a Mayberry school play. Andrey (Vladimir Garin) is more forgiving, but then again, he doesn't feel the sting of his father's wrath as much as Ivan does.

Konstanin Lavronenko is the epitome of the intense, menacing father figure. Thankfully, this one clocks in at under two hours. The plot is nearly as harrowing for the viewer as it is for the boys, as filmmaker Andrey Zvyaginstev ("Leviathan," which we skipped, and this year's "Loveless") never lets you relax into thinking that everyone here -- in particular the boys -- will be OK. The challenges to the kids can be Job-like. (Or Noah-like: It rains a lot.) If you find yourself tempted to give in, then just fast forward a bit. The last 20 minutes are surprising and profound, making this early work of the Russian auteur just worth seeing.

BONUS TRACK
The "Foxtrot" trailer:


  

25 May 2018

New to the Queue

Not so hot ...

Alan Rudolph ("Choose Me") returns from a long layoff with a veteran cast and a throwback tale, "Ray Meets Helen."

With trepidation, we revisit Paul Schrader's world, this one about an alcoholic priest (Ethan Hawke) wrestling with a moral conflict, "First Reformed."

The Bouvier-Beale pair pre-"Grey Gardens" in the found footage documentary "That Summer."

Julianne Nicholson, Emma Roberts and Jess Weixler star in a drama about an ex-con fighting to regain custody of her son, "Who We Are Now."
  

22 May 2018

Vaudevillian


THE DEATH OF STALIN (B) - This broad farce is suitably silly and foul-mouthed, chronicling the jockeying for power in the aftermath of the unexpected death of the Soviet strongman. From the raunchy mind of Armando Iannucci (the political satirist behind "In the Loop" and HBO's "Veep") -- and a committee of four co-writers -- we get a familiar mix of political intrigue and salty slapstick, like Benny Hill doing "All the President's Men."

Steve Buscemi is the star of the show, stealing scene after scene as Nikita Khrushchev, who we all know will eventually outmaneuver rivals Beria and Molotov for control of the Communist Party and the nation. Khrushchev also begins to marginalize the bumbling heir to Stalin, Georgy Malenkov (a perfectly insecure and bewigged Jeffrey Tambor). Buscemi, padded and balding, channels his Cousin Tony character from "The Sopranos" for a sharp mix of threats and one-liners. And Andrea Riseborough offers a snide female voice as Stalin's daughter, Svetlana. The strong cast also offers small juicy roles to Michael Palin and Paddy Considine.

Iannucci, like he did in the U.S.-Britain farce "In the Loop" and with "Veep," thrives on chaos and vulgar putdowns between rivals. "Stalin" doesn't have the depth or savage zing of his previous efforts, but it's a rollicking good time.

WAIT FOR YOUR LAUGH (C+) - The long-time entertainer Rose Marie sits for an interview shortly before her death late last year and tells war stories from her time in the industry, dating back to the 1920s, when she was a 4-year-old belter, and winding through show business, bouncing from Al Capone to Dick Van Dyke. Some of her stories have the whiff of the apocryphal, but that's not really the point. This is nostalgia for the good ol' days. Ancient talking heads, including an old friend as well as former "Hollywood Squares" host Peter Marshall, indulge her, as does the director, Jason Wise. Hacky re-enactments drag this down to B-movie status. But points for color film clips from the "Dick Van Dyke" set, often featuring Rose Marie and Mary Tyler Moore in babushkas. Rose Marie is fun and saucy, and she led an interesting life. And this one slips in comfortably under 90 minutes.
 

18 May 2018

Marxish


THE YOUNG KARL MARX (B) - This serviceable biopic is buoyed by fine performances form under-the-radar actors August Diehl and Stefan Konarske as Karl Marx and Fredrich Engels, respectively, as they toil away on their revolutionary rejection of capitalism. The story is told with confidence by Raoul Peck, the man behind the political documentaries "Lumumba" and "I Am Not Your Negro."

The first half of the 19th century is depicted as a swirl of industrial sweat and high-brow philosophizing. Engels chafes at following in the capitalist footsteps of his factory-owning father, and he uses his relative wealth to help subsidize the struggling Marx, who has a family to support. After a slow start, a hum develops in the narrative, and Peck treats us to an old-fashioned hero's journey. Diehl is especially appealing, with his facility across multiple languages and his Che Guevera scruffiness. (Before he was the iconic white-bearded father of communism, Marx apparently cut a rebellious figure.) Hannah Steele is equally appealing as the perky working-class Mary Engels, plucked from the factory floor. The result has an eat-your-vegetables "Masterpiece Theater" efficiency to it.

KARL MARX CITY (B-minus) - Petra Epperlein and her perpetually knitted eyebrows digs diligently to expose the ways of the East Germany Stasi (secret police) as she tries to unravel the mystery of her father's suicide in the late '90s? Was he a collaborator? A victim?

Epperlein soberly traipses through Karl Marx City (since rechristened Chemnitz, though the huge bust of Marx remains on prominent display because it was too heavy to move), and spends a lot of times in the Stasi archives. She brandishes a large boom microphone everywhere she goes, as if it is a weapon or a shield to keep her safe. She interviews her mother and brothers; a onetime collaborator; and a few experts (one of whom unfairly questions the accuracy the beloved feature film "The Lives of Others"). Throughout she seems fearful of what she'll find out about her father.

She also skillfully mixes in oodles of archival footage from surveillance tapes, though at some point it becomes unclear what is real and what is re-enacted (we blame Sarah Polley for the phenomenon). The mood is somber and soulful, but the whole exercise can feel empty and untimely.
 

15 May 2018

Cruel and Unusual


OUTSIDE IN (A-minus) - Edie Falco and Jay Duplass slug it out as heavyweights in Lynn Shelton's lived-in drama about a school teacher who has worked to free her former student and his struggle to re-enter small-town life after 20 years in prison. Falco's face teaches a master class in acting, and Duplass is perfect as Chris, the doe-eyed man-child pining for Falco's Carol, who is stuck in a loveless marriage and battling her morose, bratty teenager, Hildy (Kaitlyn Dever, "Short-Term 12").

Chris took the fall for a group crime, involving his brother and a friend, which ended up in a death. He did 20 years without squealing, and now he returns to soggy Everett, Wash., tooling around on his BMX bike, as if he were still a high school senior. He professes his love for Carol, who wisely resists but who also hates her own household. Meantime, Hildy is drawn to the brooding, aimless sad-sack.

Shelton co-wrote the spare, sharp script with Duplass.  She has been doing a lot of mainstream TV work lately to pay the bills, and here turns in her best effort since 2012's "Your Sister's Sister," which featured Jay's brother Mark in a different kind of love triangle. They take the story on a realistic arc, avoiding a pat, conventional ending. Falco -- plain, if not haggard-looking -- runs a gamut of emotions with low-key grace, and Duplass was born to inhabit this bundle of repressed needs. A few scenes slip into trite exchanges involving secondary characters, but this is a gripping slice of life.

YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE (B-minus) - Like life, this is nasty, brutal and dreary. Joaquin Phoenix lumbers monosyllabically through this relentless revenge flick about a hammer-wielding thug whose job seems to be to rescue young girls from human traffickers. Scottish director Lynne Ramsay, the hardcore realist behind "Morvern Callar," "Ratcatcher" and "We Need to Talk About Kevin," offers up a dark, twisted, stylish nightmare that challenges you to sit through it.

Adapting source material by Jonathan Ames (HBO's "Bored to Death"), Ramsay dispenses with extensive dialogue and easy exposition, instead going for mood and id. Phoenix is bulked up and beyond miserable, resembling a psychotic homeless man. His Joe is exorcising childhood demons, mainly through vengeful violence and suicidal ideations. He stumbles on a sex ring that apparently involves a governor and a senator, with the aim of rescuing one little blond-haired, blue-eyed tween in particular (Ekaterina Samsonov). Ramsay adopts a "Mean Streets" urgency to her shots, with effective extreme close-ups, flashbacks, and jump-cut editing that gives the oldies on the soundtrack a menacing staccato effect. Like life, this is a slog. Ramsay and Phoenix are a daunting team. Hang out with them at your peril.

BONUS TRACKS
From "Outside In's" closing credits, Andrew Bird with "By Any Means":



From "Never's" scratchy oldies soundtrack, "Angel Baby" by Rosie & the Originals, from 1961:



And the pure cheese of Charlene's pure '70s cheese, "I've Never Been to Me":


  

10 May 2018

Bouts of Depression


TULLY (C+) - Too much of a cheat and a conceit -- and dare I say, even too much of Charlize Theron? -- this harrowing mix of post-partum depression and some old-fashioned delusion sounds promising on paper, coming from writer Diablo Cody ("Juno") and Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air"), who last teamed up on the underwhelming "Young Adult." Theron is a miserable pregnant woman and then disaffected mother of a third child. She already has her hands full with two other kids (the boy seems to fall on the autism scale) and a tuned-out husband (a fine Ron Livingston). When 26-year-old Tully (Mackenzie Davis) shows up as a "night nanny" she seems quirky but a god-send who not only allows for Theron's Marlo to get a decent night's sleep but also cleans the house during the night and bakes cupcakes for junior's class.

The first 10 minutes might drive you mad, and props to Theron for looking less than svelte and stunning, but a significant plot twist turns the viewer's presumptions asunder; it would have been clever but for the requirement of major idiot-plot devices that make you realize, in retrospect, that this just doesn't make sense. I sat through annoying kids and multiple breast-pumping scenes for ... that? Cody can toss out one-liners as if she's writing for a super-smart TV series, but the zingers merely fizzle and pop without leaving much of an aftertaste. This one verges on pointless.

FILM STARS DON'T DIE IN LIVERPOOL (B-minus) - Annette Bening and Jamie Bell are a charming due but director Paul McGuigan and writer Matt Greenhalgh create a disorienting, low-energy narrative about the final years of noir siren Gloria Grahame and her May-December romance with a Liverpudlian half her age. No one here tries for an epic biopic, which is refreshing; but the lack of ambition can make this seem insignificant at times.

Bening is an engaging cougar and she captures the arrogance and insecurity of a washed-up Old Hollywood beauty, living out her final days in denial. (Grahame infamously bedded her teenage stepson and later married him, back in the '50s.) Bell knits his eyebrows a lot, whether the couple is bickering in 1979 or, upon their reunion in 1981, he is tending to a dying former lover. This should jerk a tear or two by the end, and some of the scenes really sizzle. But it too often feels that the extraordinary Bening is working without a net here.

BONUS TRACK
From the "Liverpool" soundtrack, a little Southern soul, "I Haven't Got Time to Cry" by Irma Thomas:


 

08 May 2018

Middle Ten


I'm not the only one experiencing a slump. The Onion AV Club (no relation) this week had a run of 10 movies in a row falling into the range between B-minus and C-minus. And it's May, not January or February.
  • Beast - C+
  • The Day After - C
  • The Seagull - B-minus
  • Sollers Point - B-minus
  • Overboard - C
  • Manhunt - B-minus
  • Bad Samaritan - C+
  • Racer and the Jailbird - C+
  • RBG - C-minus
  • The Guardians - C+
Some of those sound like parody titles or B-movies from the '70s. Right before that run of clunkers, they gave an A-minus to "Tully." We'll be giving it a ... C+.
  

30 April 2018

Out of This World


BLACK PANTHER (C-minus) - We intentionally avoid super-hero movies, so we're not the best source here, but aren't they supposed to be fun? "Black Panther," an epic for the ages from the talented Ryan Coogler ("Fruitvale Station," "Creed"), is surprisingly dour and humorless. Chadwick Boseman is perfectly fine, if typically bland, as our hero, but it's Michael B. Jordan who adds all the sizzle as the rough-hewn brooder, N'Jadaka.

It's a heartening sentiment to suggest that a black culture in the heart of Africa, blessed with a rich natural resource and immune to outside forces, would forge a utopian world. And it's always aces when good wins out over evil. Coogler, a natural storyteller and powerful visual craftsman, merely plays with computer graphics and other silly toys for sequence after sequence of fantasy and cartoon violence. And check out the Wikipedia page's Plot section and tell me that whole narrative is not confusing as hell.

Coogler and the crew manage to tie the mythical Wakanda to modern-day social ills, but the overt suggestion that the kid from the Oakland streets (and abandoned by his father) is almost preternaturally corrupt and irreparably emotionally wounded comes off as unsettling, at the least. Luckily, the Good Guy has a way of returning from the dead at key plot points. (Did he cling to a branch after being hurled off a cliff?) Meantime, fancy fighter jets zip around and land on a dime, because they can do that in the movies. The women mostly stand around in service to the men and the needs of the narrative. And Martin Freeman seems tossed in as a CIA agent who is pressed into a little White Savior duty. Let's hope Coogler has gotten the Hollywood glitz out of his system and can go back to real life.

ISLE OF DOGS (B-minus) - Technically spectacular, this stop-action labor of love from beloved artiste Wes Anderson dog-paddles furiously to justify a raison d'etre. While I enjoyed it in the moment, it quickly fizzled from my memory. Maybe it's the animation, but it's not nearly as clever as Anderson's last such effort, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox."

As usual, Anderson meticulously crafts a unique world, this one dystopian; and here, it is a cadre of dogs who have been exiled to an island off Japan for health reasons embarking (sorry) on a "Green Beret"-like caper to rescue one of their own.  The detail in every frame can be breathtaking -- individual hairs in the dogs' fur flutter in the wind; expressions are human-like; contraptions are marvels of ingenuity.  There is so much detail included that the average viewer couldn't possibly take it all in. I alternated between a state of awe over the scrupulous production values and a state of frustration trying to decide if all that effort was worth it for a movie. It was for Anderson and his battalion (including an impressive array of voice talent, including many of Anderson's usual suspects), and I'm happy for them. Too often, though, this comes off as a retread, and art for art's sake.
 

24 April 2018

Iron Curtain Classics


VIKTORIA (2016) (A-minus) - If you have the stamina, this two-and-a-half-hour droning drama about the fall of communism in Bulgaria -- centered on a "miracle" baby born without a belly button -- is one of the most gorgeous films you'll see. The debut from Maya Vitkova features a parade of stunning visuals and a gut-wrenching performance by Irmena Chichikova as the miserable of the spoiled child she never wanted in the first place.

Chichikova is Boryana, a brooding, moping woman who longs to escape the communist-bloc nation at the start of the film in 1979 and never gets over her disappointment of being trapped in Bulgaria. After a home-remedy abortion technique fails, she gives birth in 1980 to Viktoria, who is hailed by the government as a glorious symbol of the revolution because of her missing navel. Born at the same time is a club-footed boy whose life is forever twinned with Viktoria's, he being the red-headed stepchild in the eyes of the politburo. (The families are awarded apartments in a drab housing complex, and Viktoria's parents also get a little red clunker of a car.) Viktoria's bratty, entitled behavior will include constant bullying of the boy.

Fast-forward to 1989, and we meet Viktoria (Daria Vitkova), a snotty little princess who has a bat-phone linked directly to the party leader and who is chauffeured to school every day. Boryana is still miserable, the scorn in her eyes sharper and the bags under her eyes deeper. In a gorgeous sequence between the estranged mother and daughter, as the two part ways on a path, Viktoria is aged to her mid-teens (and played by Kalina Vitkova), now a more rounded character struggling with her loss of status after the fall of communism -- and developing some of the wanderlust that her mom has.

Boryana herself felt abandoned by her own mother, and she is hectored by a live-in mother-in-law. She simply has no use for any sort of family structure. One recurring theme involves Boryana's hatred of milk, likely not unrelated to her inability to nurse Viktoria. The story can be static and frustrating, but there's no denying the beauty and heartbreak painted onto every frame of the picture.

BONUS TRACK
The trailer hints at some of the mesmerizing camerawork by Vitkova and her cinematographer, Krum Rodriguez:


 

21 April 2018

New to the Queue

... a bit of a dust-up ...

Two brothers return to the scene of the cult that they had escaped as teenagers, in "The Endless."

One of our favorite directors, Lynne Ramsay, shepherds a script from one of our favorite writers, Jonathan Ames (HBO's "Bored to Death"), starring a hit-and-miss lead (Joaquin Phoenix), for the pulpy "You Were Never Really Here."

Nonprofessional actors lend a documentary feel to Chloe Zhao's film about rodeo cowboys in South Dakota’s Sioux community, "The Rider."

Juliette Binoche stars in the latest exploration of female sexuality from Claire Denis, "Let the Sunshine In."

One of our favorites, Alia Shawkat, teams with Miguel Arteta ("Beatriz at Dinner") as co-writer and co-star in story about an intense 24-hour date, "Duck Butter."
 

17 April 2018

A Flood of Memories


CASSETTE: A DOCUMENTARY MIX-TAPE (2016) (B) - A low-budget paean to the audio cassette, the genius at work here is the pilgrimage to the Netherlands to interview Lou Ottens, the Dutch engineer at Philips who took the old reel-to-real idea and condensed it into a compact case in the early 1960s. Ottens, who also was part of the team at Philips who invented the compact disc that helped shelved cassettes, shows no nostalgia but rather an appreciation for the evolution of ideas and technology. The Philips archives provide a wealth of supporting documentation here for the three-person production team.

Elsewhere, some of the usual suspects do wax nostalgic about the golden era of the mixtape, including Henry Rollins (not annoying at all here) and some rap and hip-hop old-schoolers who convey how crucial the distribution of mixtapes was back in the 1970s and '80s. Informative and charming.

THE GREAT FLOOD (2012)  (C+) - The wonderful guitarist Bill Frisell noodles his jazzy blues licks over archival footage of the massive Mississippi River flood of 1927. Bill Morrison, who would perfect his visual technique in "Dawson City: Frozen Time," creates a visual poem from the degraded nitrate stock that survived 85 years later. Lots of rushing currents and sand-bag crews. Morrison uses the project to make a point about racial inequality, letting the images indicate the unequal impact on blacks from Illinois down to Mississippi. The essentially silent film is surprisingly static, though. Frisell's songs tend to blend together, and the stray images too often feel scattered, even though Morrison curates them into categories. A final segment showing early blues masters -- including footage at Chicago's old Maxwell Street Market -- really suffers from a lack of audio; instead, we get a lazy cover version of "Old Man River."
 

10 April 2018

The Road to Melville

Deux films de Jean-Pierre Melville:

LE SAMOURAI (1967) (B+) - A cool, handsome hired killer (Alain Delon) smolders through his days and nights in Melville's slick slow burn of a procedural. The screws twist slowly on stone-faced Jef Costello after a witness spots him leaving the scene of a shooting. Melville takes his time unwinding the sketchy plot. It's more about mood than narrative. Pretty gals aid Jef's cause. The colors are flatter than you'd expect from French cinema of the era; certainly grittier than Godard.

BOB LE FLAMBEUR (1956) (A-minus) - Bob the Gambler (Roger Duchesne) swaggers through the casinos and nightclubs of Paris in this early Melville effort in black and white. Bob headlines a complex plan to pull off a monumental casino heist. The femme fatale of the moment is the soft and pure Isabelle Corey. Bob, with his flowing white hair, has a recklessness about him that seems to portend doom. Melville explodes on the film scene with a verite style that revels in street scenes. Duchesne seems to sense that he is at the end of a long career, going for one last score along with his character.
  

04 April 2018

RIP

Two from HBO ...

THE ZEN DIARIES OF GARRY SHANDLING (B+) - At a staggering four-and-a-half hours, this bloated character study from undisciplined fanboy Judd Apatow nonetheless provides a fascinating glimpse into the comedy and psyche of pioneering comedian and guru Garry Shandling. In the mode of HBO's "Montage of Heck," about Kurt Cobain, we delve deeply into the neuroses of an artist and performer.

Some of his disciples, including Sarah Silverman and Kevin Nealon, offer heartfelt insights, and peers like Bob Saget and Peter Tolan provide a bit of psychoanalysis, as does Linda Doucette, the former lover who sued Shandling after he fired her from "The Larry Sanders Show" as a response to their breakup. We feel the burden of the man who nearly single-handedly invented the millennial Golden Age of television, mainly through those diaries, which lay bare his insecurities through the self-help koans he scribbled throughout his life -- from Stuart Smalley-like aphorisms to devastating personal insights.

Shandling's brother died during childhood, and that painful experience -- which complicated the relationship with his parents, particularly a narcissistic mother -- provides a solid foundation for a narrative structure. There are plenty of clips of the comedian who, along with perhaps Albert Brooks, was arguably the funniest man of his generation. That there was heartbreak and fear underlying his art is no surprise.

KING IN THE WILDERNESS (B) - This standard two-hour documentary focuses on the final years of Martin Luther King (assassinated 50 years ago this month) and the frustrations he experienced in pursuing is seemingly outdated nonviolent peace movement during a rapidly evolving Black Power era and while his supposed civil-rights ally, President Johnson, was getting bogged down in a horrible war in southeast Asia.

The documentary humanizes King in some ways but continues the mythologizing in others. Stokely Carmichael is put forth as his key rival. Harry Belafonte and Andrew Young figure here as key talking heads. Director Peter W. Kunhardt ("Nixon by Nixon") does a workmanlike job. His choice of footage can be inspired at times. (It's difficult not to be moved by the sight of MLK Sr. wailing over his son's casket.) Nothing spectacular here, but a valiant attempt at bringing nuance to the King story on the 50th anniversary of the man's death.