Monthly Archive for April, 2005

Brief Encounter

Brief Encounter (4/28/05) Netflix (1945 **½) Directed by David Lean, based on a play by Noel Coward. Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard play a married woman and man who find themselves almost, but not quite, having an affair. I’d never seen the film before and was hoping it would be one of those rare discoveries, but it disappointed me. The film was just so overwrought and melodramatic. Clearly times have changed since 1945 and a woman being tempted to cheat on her husband doesn’t carry the same dramatic weight it once did. It was interesting to see one of David Lean’s earlier directorial efforts, though; The film was beautifully shot. In the interest of journalistic honesty, I must admit I was irritated the DVD wasn’t subtitled and only half-watched the second half of the movie while doodling in my sketchbook.

The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery (4/27/05) Netflix (1979 **) Written and Directed by Michael Crichton. Crichton is, of course, the mastermind behind Jurassic Park and TV’s ER. I rented this movie because for some reason I was curious about his skills as a director. I found it interesting he was — given his limited credentials at the time — allowed the opportunity to helm a big budget (for 1979) action adventure picture starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. I guess I found out just what the deal was: Both his storytelling and directing were reasonably competent, but far from inspired. The phrase that kept leaping to mind as I watched was “left-brained.” The “heist” story (based on actual events) was clearly plot-driven, but unbearably linear. Even the “monkey wrench” complications resolved themselves in a frustratingly linear fashion. Characters behaved in erratic ways only to serve the plot, and so on. Ultimately I was disappointed. The movie was watchable, I suppose, but there was little in its content worth recommending.

Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection

Piled Higher and Deeper: A Graduate Student Comic Strip Collection (4/25/05) Comic strips(2002 ***) Written and illustrated by Jorge Cham. Jorge was a graduate student at Stanford when he did his weekly strip, which for five years was published in the Stanford paper. Thanks to the internet, it eventually found an audience in the graduate student population worldwide. I met Jorge once through a mutual friend, Nico Scapel. Heavily influenced by Doonesbury (acknowledged in the foreword), the strip gave the reader a taste of graduate student life. I was one of those once, actually, but since my graduate program was in art, not engineering, I never had to go through much of what the PhD’s did. As a result, my appreciation of Cham’s material was semi-vicarious. That said, I have a great deal of respect for what it took to produce such a body of work.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (4/24/05) Graphic Novel (2005 ***½) Written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi. This was the sequel to the autobiographical Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, which described what it was like to grow up as a young girl in Iran. That book concluded with 14-year-old Marjane sent to live in Vienna. In Persepolis 2, Marjane described her teenage years and twenties and how she returned to and ultimately left Iran. This book included her first relationships and failed marriage. In many ways it was a straightforward account as Satrapi described the “dark” chapters in her life, such as how her boyfriend’s fear of arrest led to her becoming a drug dealer. Later, she avoided arrest (for wearing lipstick) by creating a diversion by accusing an innocent stranger of shouting sexually suggestive remarks. The illustrative style was far from polished, but it was effective and appropriate. As with any autobiographical comic work, the reader had to meet the material half-way. In the case of Persepolis, it was well worth the effort.

Absolutely Fabulous, Series 4

Absolutely Fabulous, Series 4 (4/24/05) DVD (2001 ***) Series created by Jennifer Saunders, starring Saunders and Jane Horrocks as Joanna Lumley and Julia Sawalha. This was one of those shows that played frequently on Comedy Central and I’d always intended to watch it, but it just seemed to require so damn much attention. Someone at work was selling the fourth season DVDs for $5, so I figured “why not?” I watched the whole series on one lazy Sunday afternoon and for the most part I enjoyed the episodes. I liked the verbal humor a lot and the female slant on the writing. The question remains: Do I like it enough to Netflix more episodes? Not quite. It was an awfully noisy program to watch.

Open Water

Open Water (4/24/05) Netflix (2003 ***) Written and directed by Chris Kentis, starring Blanchard Ryan and Daniel Travis. This shot-on-video “based on a true story” cautionary tale was better than I’d expected. Still, there was an occasional element of “not quite professional” acting and directing. I had a personal reason for wanting to watch: A number of years ago I was on a SCUBA trip in the Bahamas and there was a… mishap. As a result I have more than a little fear of the “open water” as well as a fear of putting my hands in professionals only to realize later that they’re just a bunch of goofballs and my life was lower on their list of priorities than their suntans. I wondered if watching Open Water would stir up any old feelings, and it certainly did. Will I ever get “back on the horse” and go SCUBA diving again? Only time will tell.

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives (4/22/05) Netflix (2004 **) Directed by Frank Oz, starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick. This was one of those times when I rented a movie even though I’d heard it was bad. Well, it was, and I could tell that from the very beginning. The writing was so weak it made me crazy. It’s hard to understand how this kind of movie gets made. Who was responsible for making the bad decisions? Was it the director, the producer? Surely the actors knew their dialogue was far from sparkling. The deleted scenes showed that most of the planned effects for the film ended on the cutting room floor. Why? Well, they were creepy. Also, the “Inspector Gadget” effects revolved around the identity of the women as robots. I guess someone in a boardroom somewhere decided it was better to leave that a bit more ambiguous. By the way, the surprise ending they hyped so much? Not much of a surprise, actually.

The Hospital

The Hospital (4/19/05) Netflix (1971 ***) Directed by Arthur Hiller from a script by Paddy Chayefsky. This is one of those movies I rented from Netflix, thinking I’d never seen it. Well, it turns out I have, though I wasn’t able to find any evidence of exactly when in my film journal. Chayefsky’s dialogue reminded me of what “real” writing can be. George C. Scott’s character screaming “We cure NOTHING! We heal NOTHING!” certainly reminded me of Chayefsky’s Network.

Vernacular Drawings

Vernacular Drawings (4/18/05) Book (2001 ***½) Illustrations by Seth. I’d been meaning to buy this book for some time, but had a hard time justifying the (non-autographed) cover price of $35, even though the production of the book was beautiful. Seth explained in the foreword that the definition of “vernacular” in this context means “ordinary.” Almost all the drawings — cartoons, really — were taken from published photos and advertisements in old magazines. Only the later drawings were drawn from photographs taken by Seth himself. I found the collection especially interesting because for the past few months I’ve been copying images myself, though not with the intent of “cartoon-izing” them. I’ve also long been fascinated with the same iconography that seemed to captivate Seth: Images of burlesque performers, men in 1950’s business suits, portraits of the American and Canadian landscape, circa 1947 and before. It was a grand, admirable collection and I’m proud to have finally gotten around to owning it.

Teen Titans, Vol. 1: A Kid’s Game

Teen Titans, Vol. 1: A Kid’s Game (4/18/05) Graphic Novel (2004 ***) Written by Geoff Johns. This book got fairly good reviews on Amazon, so I thought I’d give it a try. I have a long history with the original Teen Titans; seeing my uncle’s collection of them (only a few issues, actually) when I was four or five is part of what started me collecting comics in the first place. The goal of this particular incarnation, I think, was to re-inject a level of the fun of the original series with the continued mythology of the early eighties. Johns’ storytelling was generally good, though I got the sense the focus was on establishing the characters and relationships more than on an actual “plot.” It might have been nice if there’d been a meatier main story.