Bruce Fretts

John Malkovich's THE DANCER UPSTAIRS and the myth of the actor-director

John Malkovich's THE DANCER UPSTAIRS and the myth of the actor-director

The rap on actors as first-time directors is that they’re often more interested in exploring characters—and indulging cast members—than they are in telling straightforward stories. Think of slow-paced character studies like Sean Penn’s THE INDIAN RUNNER or Gary Oldman’s NIL BY MOUTH. Even Tommy Lee Jones’ modern Western THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA and veteran auteur Robert Redford’s wartime drama LIONS FOR LAMBS (both of which I’ve recently written about) favor long scenes of motivation-revealing dialogue over peppy, narrative-advancing plotting.

Mitt Romney: THE QUIET AMERICAN?

Mitt Romney: THE QUIET AMERICAN?

It’s always the quiet ones. That’s what they say about serial killers, but the same could hold true for foreign-policy hawks. Maybe Mitt Romney’s curiously muted performance in this year’s third and final presidential debate was inspired by Teddy Roosevelt’s famous line, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” More likely, he was channeling the tragically clueless title character in THE QUIET AMERICAN (which airs Sunday at 8:15P on Sundance Channel) the deservedly Oscar-nominated 2002 adaptation of Graham Greene’s prescient anti-Vietnam War novel.

Is Paul Ryan the new MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE?

Is Paul Ryan the new MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A buff, young Congressman with a peninsular hairline unexpectedly earns his party’s nomination for Vice President, but he’s really just a puppet of global corporate forces who want to install him in the White House so he’ll implement their nefarious agenda. No, it’s not THE PAUL RYAN STORY—I’m talking about Jonathan Demme’s eerily prescient 2004 remake of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, airing on Sundance Channel tonight at 9P.

LIONS FOR LAMBS and the real cost of war

LIONS FOR LAMBS and the real cost of war

From PATHS OF GLORY to PLATOON, the best war movies bring a global conflict down to a personal level. Director-star Robert Redford takes that approach to the War on Terror — and, more specifically, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan — with his 2007 drama LIONS FOR LAMBS (airing Thursday at 10P and all month long on Sundance Channel). With 68,000 U.S. troops still stationed in Afghanistan and the next president facing a December 2014 deadline to decide how many will stay longer, LIONS FOR LAMBS remains more relevant than ever. Clocking in at a lean 92 minutes, most of it unfolding in real time, the action takes place simultaneously on three fronts.

FACTOTUM: It takes hard work to be poor in America

FACTOTUM: It takes hard work to be poor in America

“All I wanna do is get my check and get drunk,” Hank — the alter ego of Skid Row poet laureate Charles Bukowski — tells one of the many employers who fire him in FACTOTUM, airing tonight at 8P and 9:45P. “Now, that might not sound healthy to you, but it’s my choice.”

FACTOTUM: It takes hard work to be poor in America

FACTOTUM: It takes hard work to be poor in America

“All I wanna do is get my check and get drunk,” Hank — the alter ego of Skid Row poet laureate Charles Bukowski — tells one of the many employers who fire him in FACTOTUM, airing tonight at 8P and 9:45P. “Now, that might not sound healthy to you, but it’s my choice.”

Mitt Romney has a thing or two to learn from MELQUIADES ESTRADA

Mitt Romney has a thing or two to learn from MELQUIADES ESTRADA

When it comes to the issue of immigration, Mitt Romney has two faces. There’s the one he wore at his now-notorious behind-closed-doors fundraiser in Boca Raton, where he “joked” to a roomful of fat cats that “it would be helpful to be Latino.” Then there’s the noticeably browner face he wore to a forum on the Spanish-language network Univision, where he spouted meaningless rhetoric about how the answer to illegal immigration is “self-deportation.” He seems so unconcerned with understanding what life is like for Spanish-speaking immigrants (illegal or otherwise) in this country, it’s a milagro he can discuss issues of concern to that community while keeping a straight face.

BIG FAN and the real blood sports both on and off the field

BIG FAN and the real blood sports both on and off the field

After Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan committed a penalty that may have cost his team a recent game, he received death threats on Twitter. Who would be crazy enough to do such a thing? Meet Paul Auferio (Patton Oswalt), a 36-year-old schlub who works at a dead-end day job and spends his nights calling in to a sports-radio station to proclaim his undying love for the New York Giants — and his murderous hate for the divisional rival Philadelphia Eagles. He’s the tragic title character in the super-dark comedy BIG FAN (airing tomorrow night at 8P on Sundance Channel).

Did DEATH WISH kill gun control?

Did DEATH WISH kill gun control?

Once upon a time in America, there was a gun-control debate. Then came Charles Bronson. In 1974′s DEATH WISH — tonight at 10:10P on Sundance Channel — the journeyman character actor shot to superstardom as Paul Kersey, a self-confessed “bleeding-heart liberal” who becomes a pistol-packing urban vigilante after his daughter is raped and his wife is murdered. Made for a modest $3 million, the gritty flick earned back more than seven times its budget and spawned four sequels over the next 20 years. Now director Joe Carnahan (THE GREY) is planning a remake.

Care about the presidential election? Then you seriously have to watch W.

Care about the presidential election? Then you seriously have to watch W.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” Vice-President Joe Biden told the crowd at an Ohio rally last weekend. “And we know how it ends.” He was referring, of course, to the prospect of electing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, who promise a return to the policies of George W. Bush. If you need a reminder of what exactly those were, check out Oliver Stone’s controversial 2008 biopic W. all month long on Sundance Channel. It’s a movie you probably haven’t seen — but you should.