Monthly Archive for March, 2006

The Lover

The Lover (3/30/06) Netflix (1992 **½) Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Jane March played a French 15-year-old and Tony Leung Ka Fai played her 32-year-old Chinese lover in this erotic drama set in 1929 French Colonial Vietnam. If you find that premise appealing, then this is the movie for you. If not, well… I personally could have done without the scenes of the girl’s family screaming at each other, but I have to admit the sex was pretty hot. There were a couple of times when it got so graphic I swear I saw body parts I wasn’t supposed to see in an R-rated movie! Ultimately, I found the movie to be a downer; though the dialogue was mostly in English, it was a French film with a French ending… if you know what I mean.

Chicken Little

Chicken Little (3/29/06) Netflix (2005 ***) Directed by Mark Dindal. As a professional working in the computer animation industry, I’m embarrassed to admit it’s taken me so long to see Disney’s Chicken Little. I really don’t have a good excuse. I guess I just wasn’t interested enough to make the effort to see it in a proper theater. I was pleasantly surprised by the film on the whole. The story was far more interesting than I’d expected. I had a general sense of the story and knew there was the “sky is falling scene at the beginning” and a baseball game and some sort of invasion by aliens. I expected a rehash of the plot from the Jimmy Neutron movie and was happy when things progressed in an interesting fashion from beginning to end. My complaints? I thought the whole “you were never there for me” subplot with Chicken Little’s father (voiced by Gary Marshall) was too soft and mushy for me to care about it. The other thing that bothered me was the character design. With the exception of the title character and a few others, the designs seemed uninspired. The animation itself was wonderful, though there were some moments when there seemed too much frantic, frenetic activity on the screen and I wish there’d been more variation.

Walk the Line

Walk the Line (3/25/06) Netflix (2005 ***) Directed by James Mangold, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon won the best actress Oscar for her role as June Carter in this Johnny Cash biopic. As with all biographical-based movies, this one suffered occasionally from “compression of convenience,” in which life events were obviously restructured and recombined for dramatic effect. I liked (but not loved) the film and the music was good. Much has been made of Phoenix and Witherspoon doing their own singing. I actually found that a little distracting and sometimes wished they’d used the original recordings. I understand why that would have been a restriction, however.

Dirty Found Magazine Presents the Dirty Found Powerpoint Show

Dirty Found Magazine Presents the Dirty Found Powerpoint Show (3/25/06) Steve Allen Theater (2006 ***) Jason Bitner and Arthur Jones are the creators and producers of Found Magazine. People send in “interesting” photographs and writings they’ve discovered in the trash or on a city street. This material is then collected and presented in magazine and book form. As Bitner and Jones explained in their introduction, some of the material they’re sent is R and X-rated and not suitable for publication in their regular magazine. They’ve decided to periodically publish this material as Dirty Found, the second issue of which was distributed to the audience in attendance. Some of the material was very raunchy and occasionally gross, but consistently entertaining. I wonder how they got the idea to present the material live to an audience? It’s not your standard theater fare; I’ve certainly never paid $10 a ticket to see a Powerpoint presentation before. Maybe they were just doing it because they could. Hell, I can understand as well as anyone the desire to indulge in a little P.T. Barnum showmanship. Even though the program got off to a rocky A/V start (their laptop went into hibernation mode and it took five or ten minutes to restart), they kept the audience entertained by reading ahead from the pieces of their presentation and passing out free cans of Miller High Life. One word about the Steve Allen Theater: It’s located in the Center for Inquiry-West, a building devoted to the pursuit of skepticism. It made for an odd venue choice, but was somehow appropriate to material that required its audience to keep an open mind.

Comin’ Round the Mountain

Comin’ Round the Mountain (3/25/06) DVD (1951 **) Directed by Charles Lamont. Abbott and Costello visit the hills of Kentucky and become part of a hillbilly feud in this lesser comedy. The central narrative conflict, such that it was, revolved around Lou’s marriage to a 14-year-old tomboy named Matt. Hmmm. As their career wound down, it was nice to note that the production values in their films were still fairly high and “the boys” were still doing their best. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much material to work with. I watched this movie on a Saturday afternoon while eating lunch following my bi-monthly Toastmasters meeting. That’s probably just about the perfect circumstances under which to watch this innocuous time-killing flick.

The Files of Ms. Tree, Vol. 1

The Files of Ms. Tree, Vol. 1 (3/24/06) Graphic Novel (1984 **½) Written by Max Allan Collins, Illustrated by Terry Beatty. It seems like many of my book reviews begin with a purchase in a used book store, and this was no exception. $3.50 was a deal too good for me to turn down. I’ve been familiar with native Iowan Max Allan Collins for some time, having lived in Iowa myself for seventeen years. We’ve never met, though he almost worked on a film project with a good friend of mine, so I guess we’re one degree of separation removed. The first two stories in the Ms. Tree saga were some of his earlier writings. At times they were clunky, but the improvement over the course of the stories was remarkable . The same was true of Beatty’s drawings. In his introduction to the second story arc, Beatty acknowledged a certain sense of embarrassment over his early work. It might be interesting to read this book and Collins’ later work Road to Perdition back to back and compare his writing development over the years. Ms. Tree still worked, however, as a classic hard-boiled detective story with a feminine twist.

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 3: One Small Step

Y: The Last Man, Vol. 3: One Small Step (3/23/06) Graphic Novel (2004 ***) Written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Pia Guerra. After all the males on earth except Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand have been wiped out, it’s revealed there are two male astronauts in orbit. There is a political tug-of-war of sorts to see who claims those other two men. While I’m recommending it, I don’t feel particularly strongly about this series. What it had going for it: The dialogue was better-written than most comic books and it was reasonably entertaining. Unfortunately, there was nothing that especially resonated with me. My reason for reading it? I got it for a good price at a used book store. If I find a copy of volume 4 under the same circumstances, I may continue reading the series.

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (3/23/06) Netflix (1969 **) Directed by Sydney Pollack, starring Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin. When I described this movie to my fiancée, she asked me why on earth I wanted to watch it. Yes, it was depressing and bleak and the unsatisfying ending was the ultimate culmination of that effect. I suppose the disillusionment theme was a reflection of the Vietnam era in which the movie was made. The setting was a dance marathon during the depression. Apparently audiences paid money to watch couples struggle on the dance floor hour upon hour. It’s hard to imagine what was so entertaining about that, but perhaps I’m underestimating the human desire to see other people’s misery. Gig Young played a sadistic (puppet) master of ceremonies for this endurance event that lasted more than forty-five days. The grand prize? $1,500 in silver dollars. I had a real issue with the characterizations throughout. Jane Fonda played a snarky bitch and Sarrazin played a yokel and neither of them were really changed by the end of the picture. If you like watching human nature at its ugliest and the repeated horn blasts signaling ten-minute breaks every two hours, then this is the film for you.

Just Like Heaven

Just Like Heaven (2/22/06) DVD (2005 **½) Directed by Mark Waters, starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo. The premise: A depressed man (Ruffalo) rents a month-to-month San Francisco apartment and meets what appears to be a ghost (Witherspoon). Hijinx and romance ensue. This was pretty light fare, and there is nothing exactly wrong with that. I enjoyed it well enough, and as I watched and there were a few lines that made me chuckle, but nothing really stuck to my psyche afterwards. So, who should see this movie? It has all the elements of a good, innocuous, first date movie.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker Chronicles

Kolchak: The Night Stalker Chronicles (3/21/06) Short Fiction (2005 ***½) This was a collection of twenty-six short stories based on the 1970’s TV show, of which I have been a fan since they were originally aired. What’s interesting about this set of stories was that they were all written with the same constraint: All were set in the present day and had Carl Kolchak working for The Hollywood Dispatch. With twenty-six stories, it was as though the book represented a TV season that might have been, yet never was. All the stories were approximately the same length, so it’s fairly easy to see how they might be reworked and fashioned into TV episodes. I enjoyed almost every one of the stories — which were consistently well-written — and am therefore recommending the volume strongly. It certainly helps, however, to be a fan of the original show. It saddens me to admit I rarely read short stories, and I don’t know why that is; whenever I do I find them a nice treat. Speaking of treats, in what had to be a fan’s wet dream, one of the stories included a meeting between Kolchak and Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows! This pairing wasn’t random; the connection was Dan Curtis, who created Dark Shadows and went on to produce the first ABC Night Stalker telefilm and produce/direct the second.