Deeply misguided “Churchill” puts the “wince” in “Winston”

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We’re awash in Churchills right now in pop culture. There’s John Lithgow scowling away on Netflix’s “The Crown,” and later this month Gary Oldman will pile on the prosthetics in “Darkest Hour.”

But if there’s an actor who seems most suited to play the gruff but charismatic bulldog, called the greatest Briton of the 20th century, it would be Brian Cox. And he wouldn’t even need much makeup or prosthetics, having arrived to the set pre-jowled.

So it’s baffling, almost angering, that the movie “Churchill” so completely wastes Cox’s performance as Churchill. Cox’s performance is just fine in the movie (out now on DVD from Cohen Media Group). But the movie itself is so incredibly misguided, so willfully ignorant of the history both as it was and as the audience perceives it to be. It fails as drama because it fails at history.

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Kristen Stewart haunts “Personal Shopper,” a very French ghost story

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In her last collaboration with director Oliver Assayas, “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Kristen Stewart’s character literally disappeared halfway through the movie.

While watching the pair’s next film, the haunting “Personal Shopper,” one half-expects her to vanish before our eyes in this movie, too.

“Personal Shopper” is a ghost story, elliptical and surprising, and it’s not always clear that Stewart isn’t the ghost. The film is out now in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection.

Assayas says in an interview on the Criterion disc that he wanted to make a ghost story that was quintessentially French. That included the Paris setting, and references back to the 19th century, when Europeans would regularly hold seances and even craft crude portraits in which their deceased loved ones “appeared.” In “Personal Shopper,” the ghosts seem to be all around us.

Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, an American living in Paris who works as a personal shopper to a wealthy celebrity philanthropist, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). Since Lara is too famous to go out in public, Maureen goes out and buys expensive clothes and jewelry for her. We hardly see Lara in the film, and she hardly sees Maureen, and each is an almost spectral presence in the life of the other.

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UW’s Hyphenated American Film Festival kicks off this weekend at Union South

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I’ve been a big fan of the Wisconsin Union Directorate’s Film Committee’s programming over the last few years — they seem to fill the Union South Marquee Theatre with just the right mix of recent hits that will bring in the students and indie films that people might have missed during their brief theatrical runs, or didn’t play in Madison at all.

One thing I’ve really liked is WUD Film’s commitment to use their fall and spring film festivals to target specific kinds of films, and subtly try to make a point with those festivals. Last spring, when there were plenty of articles about how so few female directors get the chance in Hollywood to get behind the camera, WUD responded with the Directress Film Festival, made up entirely of films made by women.

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Albert Brooks’ “Lost in America” is a horror movie for the middle class

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In a new interview that’s one of the bonus features on the new Blu-ray Criterion Collection edition of “Lost in America,” Albert Brooks is asked about being cast as a villain by Nicolas Winding Refn in “Drive.”

Brooks says that Winding Refn first saw “Lost in America,” it scared him. He was particular unnerved by the anger in Brooks’ performance, as advertising executive David Howard who tries to “drop out” of society comfortably (in a Winnebago, with a comfortable “nest egg”), only to face real financial ruin when his wife Linda (Julie Hagerty) gambles away that nest egg.

It’s odd at first to think of Brooks’ performance as a scary one. But while watching the Criterion disc, I happened to mute the sound during the scene where David is excoriating his wife for losing all that money. And without hearing Brooks’ great, funny dialogue, without hearing him refer to a nest as a “round stick,” it really is startling how angry he is at his wife.

It’s an anger that comes from fear, a fear that we laugh at because we recognize it so deeply. “Lost in America”is one of the best comedies ever made. And it’s also a horror movie.

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Sweet Ginger Brown, “The Flamingo Kid” is Garry Marshall’s best movie

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Garry Marshall once quite a TV writing job as a young man because he wouldn’t write what the producer called “schmunny” – i.e. schmaltzy and funny. Ironic, of course, since schmunny would sum up most of Marshall’s career as a director, sometimes tipping towards funny (“Overboard”), oftentimes tipping towards schmaltz (“Beaches”), but always somewhere in between the two.

His second film, 1984’s “The Flamingo Kid,” gets the balance just right, although I’d call it sentimental and nostalgic, but not schmaltzy. The underrated gem may get a second look now that it’s being turned into a Broadway musical next year, and is out this week in a new Blu-ray edition from Kino Lorber.

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James Ivory’s “Maurice” and “Moonlight” would have a lot to talk about

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If nothing else, “Maurice” has the British’s gift for not talking about what they’re talking about on full display. Being gay is referred to, famously, as “the unspeakable vice of the Greeks” by one character, and in other instances we hear a gay love affair referred to as a “muddle” or “messiness.” As Ben Kingsley, playing an American hypnotist, says in what may be E.M. Forster’s novel’s most quotable line, “England has always been discinclined to accept human nature.”

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