The West End Cinema’s top selections come in two flavors: contemporary and vintage.  The new movie is Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America, which has already courted controversy from critics and audiences alike.  I can’t see why: a high-school girl and a middle-aged, terminally ill schlub go on a cross-country rampage, hunting down any and all faux-celebrities (think Kim Kardashian or anyone “American Idol” related) who hog the media spotlight.  Others might see a dark thriller in this material, but Goldthwait turns the bloodbath into a big, broad comedy.

The vintage choice: a newly restored print of Mike Nichols’ landmark film, The Graduate.  Full disclosure: I’m not as keen on The Graduate as most are.  I think it drags more than its supporters like to admit, and Nichols’ meticulous composed widescreen images sometimes leech the air out of the comedy.  Nevertheless, The Graduate deserves proper respect because of its impact on cinema, and it features Dustin Hoffman’s first brilliant screen performance.  See it, even if you don’t love it.

Read up on the West End HERE.

At the AFI Silver, the Jack Nicholson retrospective is highlighting one of Jack’s best vehicles, the 1975 thriller The Passenger.  Actually, “thriller” may be too strong a word.  While the setup recalls the suspenseful leanings of a Talented Mr. Ripley – Nicholson’s amoral photojournalist trades identities with a dead man and finds himself running afoul of the deceased’s nasty associates – director Michelangelo Antonioni trades in pure thrills for creeping, opaque dread.  He’s more concerned with visually mapping the internal landscape of a man so underwhelmed with his own existence that he feels the need to steal another’s, and that ambiguity gives Nicholson one of his most challenging roles.

Less artistically difficult but way more fun is Ronald Neame’s 1966 caper Gambit, which is playing as part of a Shirley MacLaine retrospective.  MacLaine plays a dancer who plans a daring art heist with Cockney rogue Michael Caine (very young and very cheeky).  That’s the easy part.  Everything else…well, let’s just say they run into some difficulties.  Gambit is effortlessly charming, and it has a great plot twist, one that was just parodied in ABC’s “Cougar Town,” of all places.

For more on either flick, click HERE.

And if you can’t get enough Shirley MacLaine (and I know I can’t), then go to either the Bethesda Row or E Street Cinemas this Friday to catch Bernie.  Richard Linklater (he of School of Rock and Dazed and Confused fame) helms this docudrama, which focuses on the relationship between Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), a gentle funeral home director, and Marjorie Nugent (MacLaine), the rich widow he cared for.  Here’s the hook: after Marjorie’s foul temperment caused Bernie to put four bullets into her (the hard way), no one in their small East Texas town got all that upset about the crime. Marjorie had it coming, you see, and Bernie was just so nice…

Learn more about Bernie HERE.

To quote the Bard: “You know how I know this is a s—t idea?  Because this is really obviously a s—t idea.”

Community DC Film Beat: Metro Area Cinema for 15 May – 22 May