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Sean Penn Hunts Nazi; Schlocky ‘Bay’; Monty Python: Films

'The Bay'
Jane McNeill in "The Bay." The movie, from Lionsgate and Alliance Films, is playing in Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis, and is available on video on demand. Photographer: Stan Flint via Bloomberg

Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Corrupt politicians and juiced-up chickens take it on the chin in “The Bay,” Barry Levinson’s silly ecological thriller.

The director of “Diner” and “Rain Man” shoots for relevance and misses here with the now cliche “found footage” gimmick, a pollution-is-bad message and an epidemic that leaves blood-vomiting victims looking like extras from “The Walking Dead.”

The film begins with a young reporter (Kether Donahue, among the largely unknown cast) being interviewed via Skype several years after witnessing the gruesome outbreak of gut-eating parasites that wiped out a Chesapeake Bay town.

Interspersing her tale-telling with long-suppressed police surveillance footage, cellphone video and news accounts, “The Bay” recounts a particularly unhappy Fourth of July weekend when small-town festivities took a bad turn.

How bad? A woman soaked in a dunk-’em booth erupts in nasty-looking boils. Townies in a crab-eating contest start projectile-spewing their innards.

Something, it seems, has infected the water supply, turning tiny, Sea Monkey-like isopods into intestine munching parasites the size of Madagascar cockroaches.

Familiarity with “Jaws” isn’t needed to peg the greedy mayor for letting swimmers cavort in a bay polluted with steroid-laden chicken droppings and radiation.

Fowl Waste

Levinson and screenwriter Michael Wallach transform real-world concerns -- yes, chicken waste -- into joyless, B-movie nonsense.

But at least one character has reassuring words.

“I’ve got a town full of dead bodies!” says a panicky doctor.

“A small town,” responds a Homeland Security agent. “Let’s keep this in perspective.”

“The Bay,” from Lionsgate and Alliance Films, is playing in Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis, and is available on video on demand. Rating: ** (Evans)

Earnest Oddball

Sean Penn powders his face, paints his lips red and does some Nazi hunting in Paolo Sorrentino’s earnest, oddball “This Must Be the Place.”

Dolled up like The Cure’s Robert Smith, with a wispy Andy Warhol monotone, Penn plays Cheyenne, a washed-up New York rocker living off royalties in a Dublin mansion.

“I suspect sadness is not compatible with sadness” is a typical observation, stretched by Penn’s breathy delivery beyond patience.

When the rocker’s long-estranged father dies, the bored Cheyenne heads stateside, finding purpose by resuming his old man’s hunt for a concentration camp tormenter.

“I’m looking for a Nazi criminal from Auschwitz,” he says airily to one of the true-grit Americans he meets along his journey (if nothing else, “Place” employs some fine character actors, including Frances McDormand, Harry Dean Stanton, Judd Hirsch and Joyce Van Patten).

Written by Sorrentino and Umberto Contarello, and shot with rainy-day grayness by cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, the morose “Place” wants to say something about humiliation -- the former rock star is routinely reminded of his has-been status, while the ex-Nazi apparently had the degradation skills of, well, a Nazi.

But no amount of playful irony or droll absurdism can infuse these cartoons with significance. “Place” is no more credible than an old Nazi’s comeuppance -- a nasty thing to watch -- at the black-nailed hands of a middle-aged Goth.

“This Must Be The Place,” from The Weinstein Company, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ** (Evans)

Monty Python

When Graham Chapman (he was the one in Monty Python who smoked a pipe) died of throat cancer in 1989, at 48, he had not only written his memoirs; he’d recorded them.

Using the tapes, Bill Jones (the son of Monty Python’s Terry Jones), Jeff Simpson and Ben Timlett reunited the troupe and 14 animation companies to tell Chapman’s story in “A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman.”

They supply no more than the outlines of his life: his conventional upbringing; his education (in medicine) at Cambridge, where he met John Cleese; their work as writers for David Frost; and, eventually, the rise of Monty Python.

Animated Film

This animated feature film also addresses his homosexuality (if he was going to be a “raging poof,” he said, he would be “a butch one, with a pipe”) and his alcoholism, which he eventually beat by going cold turkey.

For more information than that, you’ll have to go to the book. But the picture offers other compensations.

Though the directors have insisted that this isn’t a Monty Python film (“it’s a Graham Chapman film”), and the 3-D animation seldom resembles Terry Gilliam’s animation for the TV show, it nevertheless captures some of the familiar old insanity (and blasphemy and obscenity).

The directors have assembled a dialogue between Chapman and Cleese using voices recorded more than two decades apart. Best of all is a clip of Cleese intoning words at Chapman’s memorial service that his friend would have loved:

“Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard. I hope he fries.” “Anything for him,” he adds, “but mindless good taste.”

“A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman,” from EPIX and Brainstorm Media, is playing in Los Angeles, Seattle and San Francisco. It opens in New York on Nov. 9. Rating: *** (Seligman)

What the Stars Mean:
***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.

To contact the writers on the story: Greg Evans at and Craig Seligman at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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