Movie Tickets: "The Dictator," "Bernie," "Shanghai Express"

Our picks for the best in cinema over the next seven days.
Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator. Photograph by Paramount Pictures.
Sacha Baron Cohen in The Dictator. Photograph by Paramount Pictures.

The Dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen abandons the fiction/documentary hybrid of Borat and Brüno for his latest,
The Dictator. He’s still playing an over-the-top
parody of a foreign stereotype–in this case a megalomaniacal
blend of Hussein/Qaddafi/Ahmadinejad–but the surrounding players are all fictional and
scripted, as well, rather than embarrassingly real people being
goaded into their worst behavior by Cohen’s character. After
two television series and two previous features from Cohen, 2009’s

Brüno showed that the joke was mostly played out. So
for his first fully scripted satire, Cohen channels Chaplin and the Marx
for silly political satire that’s still serious at its core. Of
course, those Middle Eastern dictators are fish in a barrel,
as ready-made for cartoonish spoofing as Hitler was for Chaplin
in 1940. Cohen doesn’t satisfy himself with just that easy
target, but also goes after Western interests that are perhaps
more beholden to the quasi-dictatorial control of the dollar
than they’d like to admit.

View the
Now playing at
theaters across the

Raj Kapoor and the Golden Age of Indian Cinema

Raj Kapoor is one of the greats of Indian cinema, an
actor and director who helped shape the entertainment factory that is
modern Bollywood, and also a respected artist lauded just as
much by critics and festival juries as by ticket buyers. Of course,
Bollywood has never quite taken hold in the US the way it has
in many other areas of the world, so this collection of films,
presented at both the AFI and the Freer, will be new to most
audiences, and an excellent introduction to an artist often overlooked
here. This weekend, the AFI screens a brand new 35-millimeter
print of
My Name Is Joker,
Kapoor’s 1970 epic failure, the life story of a circus clown that
originally clocked
in at five hours. The film has grown in status since its
difficult original release, and numerous cuts of the film are out
there; the AFI will be showing a comparatively briefer
199-minute version. In the film, Kapoor plays a variation of a character
he’d cultivated over the years (not dissimilar to Charlie
Chaplin’s “tramp”)–in this case Raju, a clown who follows in the
show-business footsteps of his late father. The film traces
Raju’s often tragic life from childhood to the end of his career.

View a scene from My Name is Joker, which screens Saturday at 3 PM at the
AFI. The series continues with occasional
screenings through
the end of June at both the AFI and the


True crime would seem to be a departure for director
Richard Linklater, a director better known for
philosophically talky dramas and pleasantly meandering comedies. But
for his latest, which is
earning him some excellent reviews, he’s taken a
ripped-from-the-headlines approach to tell the story of Bernie Tiede, a
mortician who confessed to, and was convicted of, the murder of
an elderly woman he had befriended and who had made him the
beneficiary of her sizeable fortune. The odd twist of the story
was that many in the community rallied behind Tiede, some
unconvinced that he had done it, and many simply sympathetic
with his having lost patience with a woman who was hated by many.
Linklater turns the material into a black comedy, calling on
two often-derided actors who have delivered some of their best
work for the director in the past–Jack Black and
Matthew McConaughey–to play Tiede and the district attorney trying to convict him. They’re joined by
Shirley MacLaine as the unpopular victim.

View the
Opens tomorrow at
select area

GI Film Festival

The GI Film Festival’s mission is to share the
military experience and celebrate the successes and sacrifices of
service members
through film. This year’s festival got underway earlier this
week, and continues through the weekend with plenty of features,
as well as collections of shorts and a workshop for aspiring

View the festival
Now in progress,
with this weekend’s screenings taking
place at the Naval Heritage
See the
schedule for full

Shanghai Express
and Hud

In conjunction with its “Twentieth Century Americans”
exhibition, and in celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage month,
the National Portrait Gallery is showing a double

of two classics on Saturday afternoon that both have ties to
portraits currently hanging in the exhibit. One of those portraits
is of
Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American to
become a movie star in the US. Wong was a popular supporting player,
largely typecast in the
1920s silent era in Hollywood before she headed to Europe for
more significant roles. Her success there allowed her to return
to Hollywood, though she still struggled to break free of the
stereotypical roles the studios wanted her for. One of her most
talked-about roles is the one on display Saturday, as a
courtesan in Josef von Sternberg’s
Shanghai Express, where she was technically in support of
Marlene Dietrich, but is possibly the more memorable actor in the film.

That screening is followed by
Hud, the 1963
Paul Newman-starring Oscar winner about a
callous, self-involved modern cowboy whose attitudes and appetites clash
with the more traditional
values of the Texas ranching community that has produced him.
Among the film’s Oscar wins was one for cinematographer
James Wong Howe, one of the great innovators of American cinematography, whose portrait also hangs in the gallery.

View the opening of Shanghai Express and the trailer for Hud. The double
feature starts at 1 PM on Saturday at the Portrait
Shanghai Express
up first and Hud
beginning at 3. Free.

Blu-ray/DVD Pick of the Week:

The Grey

I went to see
The Grey this past winter without many expectations: All I was hoping for, at best, was a guilty-pleasure action flick of the sort
that’s become
Liam Neeson‘s specialty since
Taken. I was surprised with what I got: a tense,
ragged, ’70s-style existential survivalist thriller about a group of
Alaskan roughnecks
stranded in some of the most brutal conditions on earth and
stalked by hungry wolves. The surprise wasn’t the plot–that was
stated fairly clearly in the trailer, even if that trailer was a
little heavy on emphasizing this as “that Liam Neeson

movie.” The surprise was just how restrained it was, and how
satisfying intellectually as well as viscerally. It’s not a masterpiece
by any means–the CGI wolves leave a little to be desired when
they’re not obscured by darkness and woods–but it’s still
an excellent lonesome adventure story, helped by some
fantastically bleak Alaskan landscapes and grainy, textured
You can read my full review over at

Special Features: Commentary with director
Joe Carnahan and editors
Roger Barton and
Jason Hellmann, along with half a dozen deleted scenes.

View the trailer.


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