Monthly Archive for July, 2005

Beg the Question

Beg the Question (7/30/05) Graphic Novel (2002 ***½) Written and illustrated by Bob Fingerman. I’ve seen Fingerman’s art before, but I wasn’t really familiar with his body of work. I picked up this book (a collection of stories originally published in Minimum Wage Comics) because… well… er…. Okay, okay, it was on sale in hardcover for $4.95, and it was hard to go wrong at that price. I was intrigued by the absolutely solid cartooning style and also by the story, about a young 22-year old cartoonist and his girlfriend living and loving in New York. The story covered the period between proposal and their marriage ceremony. There was a lot to like about this work, which came across as a very polished underground comic. How autobiographical this book was I don’t know; at one point the author himself made a “guest appearance” in the offices of a porn magazine. One of the cover review/blurbs pointed out Fingerman’s fearless dealing with issues of sex, relationships, pornography, race, and abortion. That was certainly a true statement, I never felt the stories were exploitative.

Batman: Black and White

Batman: Black and White (7/29/05) Graphic Novel (1998 ***½) Written and illustrated by a variety of writers and artists in anthology form, the preface made it clear that was really the point. This edition collected the first several issues of the mid-nineties series. It was a good read, though most of the dialogue and text was minimal, allowing the primary focus to be — without the distraction of color — the fantastic artwork.

The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed (7/28/05) Netflix (1956 ***) Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, based on the play by Maxwell Anderson. How this movie came to to end up in my Netflix queue, I do not recall. Basically this was a story about a very naughty little girl, who was not merely a “bad seed,” but an eight-year-old evil homicidal murderess. The whole story played out like a… play. The dialogue and action were very stage-like. Watching it in the year 2005, this “cautionary tale” came off as over-the-top and melodramatic. A modern remake — not that I’m suggesting it would be a good idea — would have ample opportunities for explicit violence and gore. In fact, some of the 1950’s restrictions yielded some unintentionally amusing moments: (minor spoiler) At one point the girl set the creepy handyman (played by familiar character actor Henry Jones) on fire and he ran screaming around the house. But you don’t actually see his charred body; what you saw instead was the girl’s mom watching from the living room window, her head panning slowly as she watched. It was freakin’ hilarious, I tell ya! Well, I guess you just had to be there… The trailer (which I watched as part of the bonus materials) asked the audience not to reveal the film’s “shocking climax” at the end of the film. I’ll respect their request, but let me just say it was amusing in its own bizarre way.

The King of Comedy

The King of Comedy (7/27/05) Netflix (1983 ***½) Directed by Martin Scorsese. I don’t think I’ve seen this film since the late eighties. Poor Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro). At times his heartfelt disconnect with reality was hard to watch. He wanted so badly to get his comedy stylings on the Jerry Langford show that he kidnapped the host with the help of a crazed fan played by Sandra Bernhard. Jerry Lewis was an interesting choice as Langford. He played kind of a one-note character who alternated between stoic and pissed off. I can’t help but wonder if it would’ve been better had the part been played by someone else. Still, it was a good film. Not Scorsese’s best, but good.

Fat Actress, Season 1

Fat Actress, Season 1 (7/27/05) Netflix (2005 **½) Series created by Kirstie Alley and Brenda Hampton. Part of the joy of Netflix is being able to watch (or half-watch) shows that originally aired on premium channels I don’t get. When the marketing blitz for the show was going on I was intrigued, but… no Showtime, no show. Mere months later I was able to watch all seven half-hour episodes on DVD, though most of the time I drew in my sketchbook while it played. Fat Actress was a pseudo-reality Arrested Development-style show about Kirstie Alley’s life, which has been augmented to a ridiculous degree with fictional elements, such as when her crackhead brother came for a visit. Each episode was co-written by Brenda Hampton and Kirstie Alley, though one of the bonus featurettes made a point that there was a great deal of dialogue improvisation. The show was watchable but little more; I wanted to like it more than I actually did. Looking back, I probably could have passed on watching the series, but at least my curiosity has been satisfied.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (7/26/05) Novel (2005 ***) Written by J.K. Rowling. I had read in a review that one of the “beloved” main characters died in the end of book #6. Whether that happens or not I’ll not say, but that thought was in the back of my mind as I read this 650-page book over a weekend and a couple of evenings. When I finished, I was mostly satisfied but not totally. Rowling is a good writer and is a master of the chapter-end cliff-hanger page-turner. Her writing in this book was simple but deft.

The situations in which Harry found himself ranged from those of a typical sixteen-year-old to that kind of mortal peril found only in the wizarding world. That actually was kind of a balancing act, one I found didn’t always work. Honestly, it was a little weird when Potter was torn between focusing on: (a) his love life; (b) his schoolwork; (c) the upcoming Quiddich tournament; or (d) playing a central role in the fight against Voldemort and his army of death eaters. Hmmmm. Giving Rowling the benefit of the doubt, perhaps there was a deliberate message: life is composed of “big stuff” and “small stuff” and both have importance. Sounds reasonable enough.

This being the sixth book in a seven-book series, there was a lot of set-up for the final installment. I think that was to be expected. Reading Half-Blood Prince, I found myself thinking about the movie franchise: Will it sustain? The fourth film comes out in November. How do the actors feel about their commitment to Hogwarts? There has been an intertwined relationship between the book and film versions of the Potter stories; I must admit it is easier for me to recall details from the books that have been made into films.

Fantastic Four

Fantastic Four (7/23/05) Glendale Mann 10 (2005 ***) So here’s the deal: I’m giving FF three stars, because I just plain enjoyed it and I wasn‘t bored. After watching it get trashed by critics, I really didn’t expect much. In fact, I was going to give the movie a pass completely, but then I read a review by Fred Hembeck on his blog. He said he’d gone in with reduced expectations and really ended up liking it. So I figured: “maybe it’s not so bad.” Perhaps it’s relevant that I’m a Fantastic Four fan from way back when, and I have to say I’ve been waiting my whole life for a movie version. It certainly was not what I envisioned in my dreams, but then my take on the franchise for a long time has been that it should have been done as a period piece, set in the early 1960’s during Kennedy’s term in office. They should have played up the B-movie science fiction aspects, which, in a way, I suppose they ultimately did. Anyhow, I generally thought the movie was fun and good, mindless summertime fare.

Six Feet Under, Season 3

Six Feet Under, Season 3 (7/21/05) Netflix (2003 ***½) Thank God for Netflix! The Six Feet Under DVDs are prohibitively expensive, and I don’t understand why. I guess their fans are loyal enough to shell out $90 or more for a DVD set. Not me. I’ve watched the season 3 discs over the past couple of months. The first episodes in the season truly impressed me. Something about the writing was sharp, yet sublime. The characters were given real issues to deal with and seemed to pop off the screen. It was interesting this season to watch Claire deal with her first year as an art student; I could relate as she struggled to “draw a perfect circle.” As the season wore on I felt the writing lost a little of its earlier charm. Situations seemed a bit more random and disconnected, both physically and thematically. After Lisa’s disappearance, Nate — arguably the central character — became sullen, drunk, and 1-dimensional. All in all, it was another fine year in the Fischer funeral home. Though I suppose I’ll have to wait for nearly a year for its release on DVD, I look forward to season #4.

The Love Bug

The Love Bug (7/20/05) Netflix (1968 **½) Directed by Robert Stevenson. I was inspired to rent this because of the recent release of Herbie: Fully Loaded (which I didn’t see). I realized it had been years since I’d seen the original, and had fond memories of it. Like the man said, they don’t make ’em like that anymore… and with good reason. Watching it was… er, challenging at times. The writing and acting were so stylized and exaggerated. You might ask what the producers at Disney were smoking in the late sixties, but of course all they were doing was making a product to be consumed by an audience of kids and their parents. It was fun that so much of the film was set in San Francisco, a city I’ve come to know and love. At 108 minutes it was a bit too long, though, and the story structure seemed lopsided; there was a great deal of plot development in the first half hour, but then the last hour of the film was devoted to racing scenes and corny gags. I can picture parents my age renting this movie to watch with their children. And I can picture those young kids saying, “What the hell is this?”

The Last Shot

The Last Shot (7/19/05) Netflix (2004 ***½) Written and directed by Jeff Nathanson. This film only got 2.5 stars on Netflix, so my expectations were fairly low. But you know what? I thought it was hilarious! I laughed out loud several times, thanks to clever lines like: “I tried committing suicide twice: Once in the bathtub… and once in Switzerland.” Alec Baldwin and Matthew Broderick were so fun in this “based on a true story” comedy. The producers must’ve worked overtime too, because there were a ton of famous faces in supporting roles and cameos, from Calista Flockhart to Tony Shalhoub. It was also nice to see Buck Henry again.