Monthly Archive for September, 2005

Neil Diamond in Concert

Neil Diamond in Concert (9/29/05) Staples Center, Los Angeles (2005 ***) It feels weird to review a rock concert, but I guess it makes sense in the context of my media journal. Years from now it’ll be fun to look back, read and remember, huh? I bought the tickets as a present for my fiancée. We drove to downtown LA the night of the wildfires; the air smelled of smoke and there was an orange haze all around. Though I’d been there recently for the SIGGRAPH conference, I’d never been to a show at the Staples arena. It was a big, sold-out performance. In the audience, gray and silver hair was commonplace; most folks were even older than me! The couple seated in front of us made an interesting pair: She was a skinny mid-fifties fan who rocked out with reckless abandon. He was an older, hearing-aid-wearing gent who sat while others stood and used his binoculars scan every location in the arena except the stage! But enough with the people-watching. The show was… fun, though the song selection was odd at times; I’m not a huge Neil Diamond fan, but I had still hoped to recognize more of his songs. Some of the visuals played on the big video screens were over the top. The patriotic imagery during “Coming to America” made me a little uncomfortable. Mr. Diamond is getting up in age (64, according to Google) and the physical demands of doing a live 2.5-hour concert were obvious. Understandably, he has had to scale back a bit, but still is one hell of a performer. Watching his geriatric gyrations, I couldn’t help but think back to a concert I went to in the Summer of 1974 in Omaha, Nebraska: The performer that night was none other than Elvis Presley!

Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers (9/24/05) Netflix (2001 ***½) This was the 10-part HBO miniseries based on a book by Stephen Ambrose. With Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks as executive producers, it was a spin-off project from the Oscar-winning Saving Private Ryan: Could you take the battlefield techniques used so effectively in that film and use them in episodic television? Hell, yeah. Starting with the invasion of Normandy on D-Day and ending with the surrender of the Japanese army and the close of WWII, the episodes were punctuated by realistic battle sequences like the famous Battle of the Bulge. In one episode entitled “Why We Fight” the soldiers were on patrol in the woods and discovered a Nazi death camp. They learned the camp guards had killed as many prisoners as they could before locking the gates and fleeing. And so the soldiers (and the viewers) caught a glimpse of an even greater horror than that of war itself. Band of Brothers was very moving stuff and I highly recommend it.

Corpse Bride

Corpse Bride (9/24/05) Glendale Mann 10 (2005 ***) Directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson. To what degree Tim Burton was a hands-on director, I do not know. You can get an accurate sense of Corpse Bride from its trailer and commercials. It worked most effectively on a visual level; There were, of course, familiar Nightmare Before Christmas design conceits throughout. My main criticism was that both the story and its characters were a bit thin (no pun intended), and I was never particularly engaged emotionally, no matter how beautiful it was to look at. Though obvious to the point of obnoxiousness, it’s worth comparing it to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which I saw one week before. Both were animated using stop-motion techniques, and both had nominally Halloween-related themes. W&G was gentler and looked more old fashioned… and was much, much funnier. Corpse Bride (thanks in part to the digital cameras used) looked more modern and stylized. Wallace and Gromit were solid (clay) characters with “believable” proportions. The characters in Corpse Bride were exaggerated to the point of impossibility; I wondered occasionally how the skinny legs on Victor (the main character) supported his weight. The lighting in Corpse Bride was far more pyrotechnic and was used as a major design element, while the lighting in W&G was effective but sometimes perfunctory. Though I liked Wallace and Gromit just a tad more, I have to give Corpse Bride credit for having the guts (so to speak) for being a children’s movie about… well, death.

Trace

Trace (9/22/05) Novel (2004 *) Written by Patricia Cornwell. I’ve read a handful of Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta books in the past and it’s been about five years since last I read one. During a recent trip to St. Louis I found myself in need of a book to read on the long flight and so I picked up Trace in the airport gift shop. I could have chosen better. It was, in a word, awful. Every single character in the book was unpleasant, and most of them disliked each other. The plot structure was a total shambles, leading me to honestly wonder whether or not Ms. Cornwell actually plotted the project before she started writing. There was a weird story shift in the middle of the book as Scarpetta’s gruff-but-lovable sidekick Marino became involved with the kinky mother of the murder victim. Not only did it not advance the main story, it didn’t even make much sense. My only explanation is that when Cornwell got to the end of her book she found herself short of her 400-page goal and went back in and added filler. What a freakin’ hack. On top of everything else, the killer’s motives and psychology were never fully defined, and…. Ah hell, why am I even bothering?

Lord of War

Lord of War (9/20/05) Universal Studios Citywalk (2005 **) Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, starring Nicolas Cage. I wanted to like this movie more — I really did — but ultimately I have to look at what I walked out of the theater with, and it was… a “hat full of nothing.” It might have worked as a black comedy, but the humor would have needed pumping up. It could’ve worked as a drama, but then the central character would have needed to truly be in jeopardy. (SPOILER) I thought the end was a total cop-out and nullified any danger that drove much of the action throughout. What was the point of the film? I guess the film’s goal was to increase my awareness that on any given day, in many of the global military conflicts, the guns being used have been supplied by the United States.

The Hot Rock

The Hot Rock (9/19/05) Netflix (1972 **) Directed by Peter Yates, screenplay by William Goldman. The Hot Rock was a caper movie, a star vehicle for Robert Redford and George Segal, with Zero Mostel thrown in for good measure. The best way to describe this film is it was a prototype for later, better-executed movies like The Sting (1973) or The Italian Job (2003). Throughout the film, every choice the writer and director made was obnoxiously obvious. The characters were broadly drawn and their motivations were not terribly subtle. At one point Redford’s character basically spelled out his obsession with being “jinxed” in a manner that was not even slightly believable. All the characters were quirky for the sake of being quirky. Sadly, there was zero on-screen chemistry between Redford and Segal, and no attempt was made at exploring their (potentially buddy) relationship. In a way, the film was a cliche’ of a cliche’, and worked as a specimen of a developing genre. It may be a good movie to show in a film class as an example of what not to do.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (9/17/05) DWA Screening (2005 ***½) Directed by Nick Park and Steve Box. Wallace and Gromit are such gentle, beloved characters. The Curse of the Were-Rabbit took them from their award-winning animated short roots to feature length, and I think the transition worked. I saw the film in a packed theater, full of Dreamworks employees and their families. Kids and adults alike seemed to have a jolly good time, myself included. There were plenty of homages to classic horror films and a few twists and turns even I didn’t anticipate. I can’t help but wonder how it will compare against Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, which is coming out about the same time. Corpse Bride looks slicker and more modern, due at least in part to the digital cameras used. I worry W&G‘s box office will be negatively affected by the fact it’s more old-fashioned in appearance.

Writing Treatments that Sell: How to Create and Market Your Story Ideas to the Motion Picture and TV Industry

Writing Treatments that Sell: How to Create and Market Your Story Ideas to the Motion Picture and TV Industry (9/11/05) Nonfiction (2003 **½) Written by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong. I read this on a flight to and from St. Louis. I must confess I was disappointed; I expected more emphasis on the actual writing of treatments, but instead the focus of the book was split between story structure and the business of selling your story ideas. Having read a number of books on story and writing screenplays, this limited the usefulness of this book for me. Also, the few examples of treatments that were included were pretty weak. The authors used examples from their clientèle, which were mostly made-for-TV films I’d never heard of. I expected far better.

Breakfast After Noon

Breakfast After Noon (9/8/05) Graphic Novel (2001 ***) Written and illustrated by Andi Watson. I bought this book based on the positive reviews on Amazon.com. It was okay, but didn’t have the emotional weight of Blankets or Jar of Fools or other comparables in the genre. The book was set in England and followed the relationship of an engaged couple who suddenly found themselves out of work and on the Dole. This change in their economic landscape resulted in increasing tensions. Aside from that, not much really happened, though. Rob (the male character) slipped from denial to depression while his fiancée Louise took computer retraining classes. The resolution (which I won’t reveal) seemed less than natural and I didn’t personally believe it. It was a quick read — 200 pages took me about an hour — with more visuals than dialogue, Watson’s deceptively simplistic (and undoubtedly economic) drawings were appropriate to the subject matter… but… several times I wished he had provided more detail and nuance in the characters’ expressions.

Gidget

Gidget (9/8/05) Netflix (1959 *) Directed by Paul Wendkos. The first word that comes to mind in describing this movie is… “creepy.” There was an ugly undercurrent of pedophilia throughout, and I got the sense that Gidget was written, directed and produced by perverts. So just why on God’s green earth did I add it to my Netflix queue in the first place? Simple: After watching Beyond the Sea, I thought it might be a hoot to watch an old Sandra Dee movie. It seemed an innocent enough choice, but boy was I in for an unpleasant surprise. Some of the writing was so awful it reminded me of Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. A surprisingly frequent focus of the film was the fact that Ms. Dee’s 16-year-old bosom was less than ample. Compared to her busty friends, she was as flat as her second-hand surfboard. All the surfer boys either ribbed her repeatedly about her lack of… boobage or (brrr…) kept finding excuses to touch her inappropriately. Cliff Robertson played a 40-year-old nihilistic “surf bum” who lived on the beach. (Apparently you could do that in 1959.) In one scene, Francine (AKA “Gidget,” short for “girl midget”) went with him to his friend’s romantic beach shack, putting her virtue and virginity at risk. She did this ostensibly to make her crush Moondoggie jealous, but it didn’t really make much logical sense. Anyhow, the whole film was “wrong” on a variety of levels and left a rotten taste in my mouth. To top it all off, even though Gidget was originally shot in Cinemascope, the DVD version was pan and scan. Yeccchhhh!