Monthly Archive for August, 2005

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (8/31/05) Netflix (1966 ***½) Directed by Richard Lester. Zero Mostel was at his very best in this madcap romp that never quit. Phil Silvers (who just looks weird without his trademark glasses), Jack Gilford, and Buster Keaton were a delight. It’s hard to believe skinny little Michael Crawford went on to be the heartthrob (I guess) of Phantom of the Opera. Though I’d seen Forum on Broadway in the late 90’s during Whoopi Goldberg’s run, I can’t believe I never saw the film version before now. It was the epitome of the 1960’s film, and a jolly fun time. Richard Lester — who also helmed The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night — did a masterful job, though some of the arbitrary handheld shots bugged me. And just when you thought it was all over, Richard (Roger Rabbit) Williams’ end titles/credits sequence provided a little bonus treat.

Heaven

Heaven (8/28/05) DVD (1987 ***) Directed by Diane Keaton. Does heaven exist? What’s it like? Is there love in heaven? What do people really believe? This documentary film, with a short running time of 70 minutes, was evenly-divided between clips of old films and interviews with (mostly) oddballs. Its recurring (and repeated) theme was “are you afraid to die?” I first saw Heaven in 1988, shortly after it was released on video, and I’ve watched it a number of times over the years. According to my movie journal, I last watched it two years ago on 8/16/03. At the time I gave it ***½ stars. This time around I cajoled my fiancée into watching it and her response when it was over was: “This is one of your favorite movies?” I still have a soft spot for the movie, but I kind of saw her point. Yes, I give it extra points for the audacity of its subject matter. But I’m older now and my point of view has shifted. The eccentric pyrotechnic visuals added little or nothing to a real understanding of the afterlife. I would love to see another film on the same subject, but handled very differently. (Favorite)

The Brothers Grimm

The Brothers Grimm (8/28/05) Glendale Mann 4 (2005 *½) Directed by Terry Gilliam. I wanted to like this movie, but it was just an unholy mess. I couldn’t understand a damned thing the characters were saying and didn’t really care about them anyhow. Everything about the film was just muddy, which is truly too bad, since Gilliam once directed three of my favorite films of all time: Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Fisher King. Such a shame, such a waste.

My Man Godfrey

My Man Godfrey (8/25/05) Netflix (1936 ***) Directed by Gregory La Cava, starring William Powell and Carole Lombard. As your friendly neighborhood hearing-impaired movie reviewer, I find myself in an awkward situation: You see, the quality of this DVD was atrocious: The sound was muddled and there were no subtitles. As a result, I had an especially difficult time understanding the dialogue. I probably only heard about half of it, honestly, so can I truly judge it? I’ll do my best. It was an enjoyable, virtually textbook, screwball comedy and I’d love to see it again if it ever becomes available in a better print. There was much to like about it, though the character played by Carole Lombard was so deranged it defied belief that socialite-turned-bum-turned-butler Godfrey wound up falling in love with her. (Apparently Powell was married to her for awhile in real life!) As was the case of many depression-era screwball comedies, the rich were portrayed as asylum escapees and the city dump-dwelling destitutes were portrayed as saintly, noble gents simply “down on their luck.”

Road to Perdition

Road to Perdition (8/24/05) Graphic Novel (1998 ***) Written by Max Allan Collins, illustrated by Richard Piers Raynner. This work was the basis for the Tom Hanks / Paul Newman film, which I haven’t watched since it was originally released, even though I own a copy. According to the book jacket, it took Raynner four years to complete the illustrations for this book. The story — about a father and son on the run in the 1930’s — was interesting enough, though I don’t really know how to judge Collins’ writing; it’s never made much of an impression on me. In this book the text was often quite sparse, with far more action than dialogue. I’m primarily recommending this book on the basis of the near photographic illustrations, though that recommendation comes with one important reservation: the characters’ faces were far too amorphic; the central character, Michael O’Sullivan, was at times drawn to resemble disparate visages ranging from Kirk Douglas to Boris Karloff! Almost certainly that was done for deliberate effect, but it was often only by context that he was identifiable.

Inn of the Sixth Happiness

Inn of the Sixth Happiness (8/23/05) Netflix (1958 **½) Directed by Mark Robson. Ingrid Bergman played an Englishwoman who dearly wanted to be a missionary in China, though her fixation was never adequately explained. I’d never seen this movie and it got very positive reviews on Netflix. I was hoping for a “lost classic,” but was somewhat disappointed. Filmed for Cinemascope, the film was beautiful to look at but was at least 45 minutes too long and was weighed down by superficial characters and over-the-top melodrama and schmaltz. Based on a true story, it was obviously intended as a vehicle for Bergman as she attempted to regain her status on the American screen.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (8/21/05) Glendale Mann 10 (2005 ***½) Directed by Judd Apatow. Steve Carell played Andy, the title character in this comedy about a nerd who never quite got around to having sex. I liked this movie a lot. As a shy, late-blooming, comic-collecting self-described geek, I could truly identify with the film. Though hilarious, there was a spine of truth that ran throughout; As crazy as things got, it never strayed far from that reality. The dialogue was raunchy, but occasionally inspired. In one brilliant scene, two of Andy’s buddies played a violent videogame while verbally attacking each other’s heterosexuality. It sounds odd to describe, but the dialogue rang particularly true.

The Ben Stiller Show, Season 1

The Ben Stiller Show, Season 1 (8/18/05) Netflix (1992 ***) I think I’m one of the few people who actually watched this show when it originally aired on Fox in 1992. It had some funny moments, though the show clearly ran out of steam toward the end of its 13-episode run. In fact, the final episode was virtually unwatchable. I’m still not sure how Stiller, a virtual unknown at the time, got his own sketch comedy show. He had good company, though, sharing the spotlight with Janeane Garofalo, Andy Dick and Bob Odenkirk. The show was self-effacing from the very beginning, which may have contributed to its limited appeal and weak ratings. There was one ironic moment when Dennis Miller talked with Stiller about cancellation and told him not to worry about it, that he would go on to bigger and better things. And indeed he did.

Baby Boom

Baby Boom (8/17/05) Netflix (1987 ***) Directed by Charles Shyer, starring Diane Keaton and Sam Shepard. I hadn’t watched this film in years, and frankly it was a bit dated. The film was certainly pleasant enough, but there was ultimately no real meat to its message. The story structure seemed a bit odd, too. While on the one hand it was a classic example of the 3-act frame, the narrative seemed stretched during the first half of the 2nd act and compressed during the second half. The problem was that while enough time supposedly passed for JC Wiatt (Diane Keaton) to build her gourmet baby food empire, the baby didn’t get any older. Also, Keaton’s chemistry with Sam Shepard as her token love interest was virtually non-existent.

March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins (8/16/05) DWA Screening (2005 ***) Directed by Luc Jacquet. One of the cool things about working at Dreamworks is the free screenings! I liked March of the Penguins but didn’t love it. The production values were good but not great; Much of the footage was grainy and/or muddy, especially the night scenes and underwater footage. It was, however, fascinating to get a glimpse into the lives of emperor penguins as they braved the harshest environment on the planet in order to procreate. Kudos to the production crew for working in such brutal frigid conditions.