Couch Trip 

Excellent Cadavers
First Run Features
Earlier this year, a tiny convenience store opened in Palermo, Italy. This wouldn't be noteworthy under nearly any circumstance if not for the fact Punto Pizzofree is openly proclaiming that it neither intends to pay protection cash to the Mafia, nor sell goods from vendors who pay for protection. And that fact should serve as a quick reminder that the Sicilian mob is alive, well and still willing to terrorize people. The makers of Excellent Cadavers go to great efforts to differentiate this doc from the glamorized reality of Goodfellas or the comical fiction The Sopranos by making explicit the bloody methods and political connections the Mafia has utilized throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s. Based on the research-heavy work of author Alexander Stille, Cadavers homes in on the difficult work done by two prosecutors who attempted at great cost to chip away at the mob's influence on the Italian political landscape. By telling the story through their work, the film becomes a well-reported insight into a violent reality that's vastly misunderstood. In a world where A&E and the History Channel seem to devote half their programming hours to superficial "true stories of the Mob," a movie like Excellent Cadavers is dense and richly rewarding. —Jason Ferguson

Helvetica
Microcinema DVD

There's nothing sexier than a good font. Don't believe it? Then ask a graphic designer. Or think about it. There's ITC Anna with its burlesque curves and Shelly Allegro's contorting ascenders and descenders. And don't forget the chiseled and bulging serifs of Clarendon that has brought many a designer to, er, attention (insert your own erection metaphor here). Sound ridiculous? Maybe.

Then there's Helvetica, a font that's never been accused of being "sexy," but no other typeset has had more impact or left as indelible a mark on us. And, for its 50th anniversary, this doc illustrates how one font, for better or worse, has come to dominate how we unconsciously see the world.

Helvetica, by Gary Hustwit, tracks the font from its development by Max Miedinger (with Eduard Hoffmann) in 1957 for Switzerland's Haas Type Foundry to its global use on everything from logos (Crate & Barrel, American Airlines, American Apparel) to federal tax forms to even the default font on Mac computers.

According to the many designers and font foundry leaders interviewed here — Helvetica's modern, legible and clean; it conveys the meaning of whatever word or phrase for which it's used. But that idea's not without its detractors — including Ray Gun magazine's David Carson — who see the multitude of fonts available as a palette of color from which to choose. For them, Helvetica is comparable to off-white paint. Carson argues that just because Helvetica is legible doesn't mean it communicates. For him, a word like "sunshine" typed in Helvetica doesn't convey anything people associate with the sun; heat, light or joy. He stresses the fine line between simple, clean and powerful, and simple, clean and boring.

Helvetica, like its subject, is streamlined and effective, but it's missing a distinct visual style and some depth; it could've gone deeper into the font's history and creation. Some viewers may find the subject here sterile and geeky. But if you're a font fanatic or some kind of graphic designer, then Helvetica is pure porn, daddy. — Paul Knoll

Daisy Kenyon
MGM

It's marketed as a film noir, but don't let the deep shadows and chiaroscuro lighting fool you: Otto Preminger's Daisy Kenyon is a hot-blooded domestic melodrama of the highest caliber. It's an "A" picture all the way, and one of the earliest studio products to deal seriously with the ramifications of divorce in a love triangle that's hardly standard. Joan Crawford is the title character, a forward-thinking woman torn between Dana Andrews' detached, married lawyer and Henry Fonda's aw-shucks, smitten war veteran. When she marries the latter — mostly out of spite for the former — it prompts Andrews to pursue her even more desperately. His wife finds out, giving her the grounds for divorce she'd wanted for some time, with the complications of what to do with their two already divided daughters duly addressed. Preminger's power with atmosphere and human emotion is at its most steel-trapped, and the dialogue bubbles with acidic contempt. Andrews and Fonda are a dream team on camera as most unusual romantic competitors. Rather than engaging in jealous fisticuffs, they instead affectionately call each other "honeybunch" — and they get away with it without sounding a bit gay. — John

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