Monthly Archive for December, 2005

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (12/31/05) DVD (1999 ***) Directed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. This was kind of an odd choice to watch on a stay-at-home New Year’s Eve, I know. I had a copy still in shrink wrap which I’d bought for $9.99 at Fry’s Electronics at least a year and a half ago. I was knocked out by it when it was originally released, and went to see it twice in the theater, a real rarity for me. On this viewing, however, it didn’t seem as fresh as I remembered it. Why was that? Was it because the world, post-9/11, has changed? Or have I? Don’t get me wrong, it was still a good movie, and the music was particularly strong, especially the musical montage tribute to Les Miserables. It was just that I didn’t see it as brilliant as I once did. Oh well, happy new year!

Mona Lisa Smile

Mona Lisa Smile (12/30/05) Netflix (2003 ***) Directed by Mike Newell. Not that it’s important, but this was my fiancée’s Netflix pick, not mine. I saw it when it was first released and it didn’t make much of an impression on me. To my pleasant surprise, I enjoyed it more than I remembered. The film was set at Wellesley College in 1953/1954. Julia Roberts played an art history teacher from California who moved East because she wanted to make a difference. Eventually she did, of course, in the spirit of inspirational teacher films like To Sir, With Love, Dead Poets Society and Goodbye, Mister Chips. The supporting cast included Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles and Maggie Gyllenhaal. One of the things I enjoyed about the multiple storylines was that each offered a twist: You had a hint of the direction they were going, but each offered a surprise. That would not have been the case with a weaker screenplay. There was a hint of depth that made me assume the movie was based on a book, but a quick check on Amazon.com showed that was not the case; there was a book version, but it was an adaptation of the screenplay.

Radio Days

Radio Days (12/29/05) DVD (1987 ****) Written and directed by Woody Allen. This is one of my favorite films of all time, and I wanted to share it with my fiancée, who‘d never seen it. I remember very well when it was originally released; I was in college at the time and I loved it so much went back to see it a second time. Radio Days was clearly a labor of love, an unabashedly nostalgic look back to Woody Allen’s childhood. It was particularly masterful how he was able to intertwine stories of his fictional family with the stories of the stars of radio’s golden age. Bravo! (Favorite)

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon (12/29/05) Netflix (1941 ****) Directed by John Huston. This was a marvelous film, a true classic. It was based on the book by Dashiell Hammett, who also wrote The Thin Man, which I read recently. Much has been written about this film, so it’s hard for me to even attempt an analysis The cast was amazing; It’s hard to imagine a greater dream ensemble than Bogart, Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Elisha Cook, Jr. I think I prefer Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1946) to Sam Spade in Falcon, but that’s only a matter of degrees.

Sky High

Sky High (12/28/05) Netflix (2005 ***) Directed by Mike Mitchell, starring Michael Angarano, Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston, with a nice cameo by Lynda Carter. This was a fun film, definitely a Disney film. I am a real sucker for superheroes and related stories. I think I also have a soft spot for teen coming-of-age stories, though I’m not sure exactly why. Sky High married these two elements together quite nicely. Disney films often seem to take place in a different dimension. Teenagers in that magic land (“kingdom,” if you prefer) are quite a bit simpler and… cleaner… than real teens. One special note: on the DVD there was an alternate opening, set in 1985, which provided the back-story set-up for the hero/villain conflict. I’m not exactly sure why the filmmakers decided to drop it, but perhaps it created some confusion about who was the main character of the film.

King Kong

King Kong (12/24/05) Glendale Mann 10 (2005 ***) Directed by Peter Jackson. I’d heard from friends that King Kong was longer than it needed to be, and I after seeing it for myself I agreed with that assessment. Don’t get me wrong; It was a spectacle, and that’s what I paid my money to see. There was a certain irony in that: I went to the theater to see the beast, just like the people in the film. Upon exiting, my biggest complaint was the casting of Jack Black. I’ve loved him in other films, but he was terribly miscast in this one. Adrian Brody was another odd choice, and he was less than believable as the romantic lead. The effects were still dazzling, however, and as a professional character technical director, I was very impressed by the emotive range of Kong.

The President’s Analyst

The President’s Analyst (12/21/05) Netflix (1967 *½) Written and directed by Theodore J. Flicker. James Coburn plays a psychiatrist with a very, very powerful patient. When the pressure of that responsibility gets to him and he tries to quit, agents from the “CEA” and the “FBR” and spies from around the globe go after him. While this film was clearly a product of the times in which it was made, it offered little to my modern eyes. Flicker’s directing and Coburn’s acting were embarrassing at times. Though I watched this film all the way through its 100 minutes, I was sorely tempted to stop after the first 20 minutes or so. Looking back, I chose poorly.

Munich

Munich (12/20/05) DWA screening (2005 ***1/4) Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Eric Bana. Munich depicted a fictionalized version of a real-life top-secret Israeli team that sought out and assassinated the architects of the 1972 massacre at the Olympic village. Bana played the team leader who was hand-picked by Golda Meier. This was a challenging movie to review, hence the awkward “***1/4” rating. It was certainly well directed and its subject matter was fascinating. There were a number of highly entertaining scenes of suspense, including a scene involving a booby-trapped telephone that would make Alfred Hitchcock proud. Would I recommend Munich on that basis? Yes. So why the tenuous 1/4? The main problem I had with this movie was that it was too long and the end of the second act and the entire third act were really depressing. In fact, there were three or four times when I thought the movie had reached its logical end, but then it kept going. I had a similar reaction to Spielberg’s A.I. The reason I’m as torn as I am is that while the end of the movie was a drag to watch, it was consistent with the downwardly spiraling psychic disintegration of the main character. It was also thematically related to the core of the movie: Vengeance may start out neat and clean, but when you go after terrorists on their level, it gets messy.

DC: The New Frontier Volumes 1 & 2

DC: The New Frontier Volumes 1 & 2 (12/15/05) Graphic Novel (2004 ***) Written and Illustrated by Darwyn Cooke. This storyline was a “re-envisioning” of the DC Comics Universe in the period of the cold war. One thing that was especially interesting about it was the co-mingling of minor characters like The Challengers of the Unknown with major characters like Superman and Wonder Woman. I enjoyed Cooke’s writing voice and his retro illustrations were perfectly appropriate. However, I was ultimately disappointed by the resolution of the story. Much was set up but the pay-off turned out to be just another earth-threatening calamity in the form of a monster called “The Centre.” Recently it feels like fifty percent of all superhero-based graphic novels resort to that kind of plot device. There should be a better way to end these kinds of stories, perhaps using something equally climactic but on a personal level.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (12/11/05) Glendale Mann 10 (2005 ***½) Directed by Andrew Adamson. There’s been much written in the press lately about the Christian symbolism in the film. It’s certainly present if you look for it, but I didn’t find it off-putting or distracting. I read the first (published) book in the Narnia series most recently about four years ago. At the time I was doing a bit of spiritual soul-searching and read it shortly after reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. The film made me want to re-read not only the book on which it was based but the entire series of books. I worked as an FX animator under Andrew Adamson on Shrek. My impression of him at the time was that he was incredibly detail-oriented, a quality that’s served him well. He was fair but not always easy to please. With that “personal connection,” I was especially interested in seeing how he would direct a live action film. I must say I was delighted with the result. My fiancée (who saw the film with me) was a far bigger fan of the original books than I. As we left the theater, she paid Adamson and the makers of the film a great compliment: For her it captured much of the magic she remembered when she read the original book as a little girl. High praise, indeed.