“Pleasant Valley, where all is peace, and love, and harmony, and where men are beating each other’s brains out.”
It’s rare that an opening title card sets the tone of a movie quite so effectively as the laugh-out-loud beginning to Alexander Hall’s 1941 gem “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” now out in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. It’s both a funny line and a signifier of one of the themes of the film, about how nothing quite lives up to our idealization of it. Not even Heaven.
Pick of the week: “Charles Bradley: Soul of America” — A former James Brown impersonator, Bradley has grown into a soul music force of nature in the twilight of his life, and this affecting documentary looks at both his recent success and the long, hard road that led up to it.
Action film of the week: “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” — My full review is here. Legendary Hong Kong director Tsui Hark mixes martial arts and Sherlock Holmes-style mystery in this lavish tale, as a 7th-century gumshoe looks into a conspiracy to assassinate the Empress.
Sci-fi film of the week: “The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra” — This film is a deliberately bad parody of cheesy ’50s sci-fi movies, as scientists compete with each other for control of a valuable alien substance.
Comedy of the week: “Heaven Can Wait” — Warren Beatty plays an easygoing quarterback who gets zapped into the after life before his time in this witty 1978 comedy, which also includes the invaluable Charles Grodin and Dyan Cannon.
TV show of the week: “Orange is the New Black” — I don’t normally do TV shows on Instant Gratification, but I have to sing the praises of this great Netflix Original series, starring Taylor Schilling as a privileged woman who goes to a federal women’s prison for a year. It’s absolutely nothing like you would think of “women’s prison drama” would be — it’s funny, insightful and often very moving.