'Little Fockers' is a disaster on film

Where to begin. If Greg Focker's surname was even mildly funny in the first film, "Meet the Parents," and could provoke a slight smile in the second film, "Meet the Fockers," it has, in this third, and hopefully last, incarnation become painfully boring.

"Little Fockers" is awful: a cynical, demeaning attempt by the studio to wring one last centavo out of an idea (you're father-in-law is a stone-cold paranoid) that should have long ago been shelved. What is truly sad and unexpected is that some of the best talent in Hollywood — to include Barbra Streisand, Dustin Hoffman, Blythe Danner, and even Harvey Keitel — signed on for the third leg of what was already a wobbly stool. The movie, from the first frame, begs the question, why? Other than a paycheck, of course, meaning salaries that would keep most families afloat until the next decade.

The movie also feels like a sleazy betrayal by the actors and writers. Good screwball comedy can be elusive to be sure. But when done well, it has elements of incongruity, surprise and the improbable, at times violating social conventions and taboos with unexpected enthusiasm. When it works, it can be decidedly entertaining (recall Dustin Hoffman's "Tootsie"?). When it doesn't, when it's lazy and banal and simply just terrible, it can be a disaster. "Little Fockers" is a train wreck. Nothing makes sense. It is just one dumb, empty vignette after another, involving, of course, erectile dysfunction meds (Sustengo), projectile vomiting (one of the kids hates lasagna), suspicious meddling (Robert DeNiro doing cranky), really dumb misunderstandings and miscommunication.

For further proof of the cynicism of the studio, recall that this movie was released during the holidays, somehow received a PG-13 rating, and screamed holiday family fare. As if.

Season of the Witch

January is a strange month for movies. Many filmgoers are waiting for those final films — Oscar contenders yet to be released. Meanwhile, the other movies appearing enter what can be thought of as the Bermuda Triangle of Hollywood.

"Season of the Witch" is a good example of the latter.

For anyone who sees the film, well, they'll be ever thankful that they are safely ensconced in the 21st century and not waking up in a cold, damp, muddy room in England in the 14th century, also known as the dark ages. Or, worse, forcefully recruited by a fanatical church to join its priests on a series of Crusades to kill the infidels and take possession of Jerusalem; clearly, the whole century was unhinged.

When two knights, Behmen (Nicolas Cage) and Felson (Ron Pearlman), decide that they've killed far too many women and children, they quit their Crusade (mid-1300s), leave the Holy Land and return to England only to find the country has been leveled by an unrelenting, horrific plague. In villages and abbeys, people are dying or are nearly dead, their faces covered with black, disfiguring pustules.

Accused of being deserters, they are given the task of taking a witch to a certain castle some 400 leagues away where she will be given a trial by the tonsured, righteous monks whose power emanates directly from God and therefore can never be questioned. Women were routinely accused of being the cause of the plague and either drowned or hanged — or both. Some were loaded down with rocks. If they floated they were demons. If they drowned they were pure of heart. No one ever accused the church of not being seriously misogynistic. What other reason could they have found that might cause such devastation and arbitrary death: lack of good hygiene? Fleas from the ubiquitous rats with which they shared their abodes? Lack of clean water for bathing (who bathed?) and drinking? Nah. Had to be demonic possessions, meaning women in league with Lucifer.

Now "Season of the Witch" could have been an interesting film. It's richly produced, nicely costumed, passable CGI, and both Pearlman and Cage are good actors, as is Claire Foy, who portrays the young woman to be put on trial. Had the trial actually taken place, that would have made for an interesting act three. Behman and Felson were sympathetic to the accused and would have rejected the flimsy presumption of guilt afforded the girl by the church.

But, alas, the movie has a standard, predictable ending that seems hugely derivative and uninteresting. Recall that we have now entered the Bermuda Triangle of movies. On the radar and then, abruptly, gone.

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