Monthly Archive for April, 2006

The Sentinel

The Sentinel (4/29/06) Glendale Mann 10 (2006 ***) Directed by Clark Johnson, starring Michael Douglas, Kiefer Sutherland and Eva Longoria. My fiancée loves this kind of high-stakes government conspiracy action adventure thriller diller, and so we went to see The Sentinel. I was entertained throughout. It wasn’t a great movie though, nor did it push the envelope of the ways a movie like this can be presented; The Bourne Conspiracy and its sequel come to mind in that respect. For a story like this to work, a sense of realism was vital, and so I was more than a little bothered by the unbelievability of some of its story elements. I also thought Longoria’s presence bordered on stunt casting; she didn’t really add much to the story. As for Michael Douglas, I will say for a 62-year-old man (I looked it up), he turned in a solid physical performance.

To Sir, With Love

To Sir, With Love (4/28/06) Netflix (1967 ***) Directed by James Clavell, starring Sidney Poitier as Mark Thackeray, a black engineer forced by circumstance to take a teaching appointment in London’s East End. This movie has occupied a (say it with me) “special place in my heart” for a long time. I will always associate it with my mother and her early days as a teacher during some of her rougher assignments with Omaha Public Schools. I have often wondered how many young men and women went into the teaching profession because of this movie. Sadly, it didn’t hold up as well as I’d remembered. My principal issues: Even though the title song was one of the main reasons for the film’s success, the use of music was embarrassing at times. None of the actors who played the school kids went on to become big stars, with good reason: Most of them gave weak performances. In general, there was a sloppiness to the production I hadn’t remembered, and it didn’t seem intentional. I recently read the book on which the film was based, and so I was able to make comparisons with that as well. It was a reflection of the times that in the largely autobiographical book (written in 1959), the central character had a relationship with a white woman. The movie wasn’t willing to take it that far and only implied a mutual attraction and respect.

Over the Hedge

Over the Hedge (4/27/06) Hollywood Arclight (2006 ***½) Directed by Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick. I had seen a screening of a rough version of Hedge back in January, and I was delighted by how well it all came together in the final film. I worked on Hedge for only about six months (compared to my two years on Madagascar). Overall I liked it and there were a lot of gags that worked pretty well. My criticisms: (1) The human Gladys character looked God-awful throughout; As a character TD, I was especially embarrassed by the design decisions made regarding her. (2) I think there were a lot of missed opportunities for further characterization with the woodland creatures. All the characters seemed underdeveloped in the interest in focusing on the story. In my humble opinion, it should have been possible to do both. One character did work quite well, though: It’s no secret Hammy the squirrel (voiced by Steve Carell) stole the show. Minor criticisms aside, the whole thing was a fun, good-looking romp. Did I like it better than Madagascar? I’m afraid that’s just going to have to be my little secret.

Real Life

Real Life (4/25/06) Netflix (1978 **) Written and directed by Albert Brooks. This film fell solidly into the “I really wanted to like it more” category. The concept was a parody of The American Family, an early-70’s PBS documentary that followed a family as they went about their daily lives. I’ve never seen that documentary; I wonder if it’s available on Netflix? Brooks’ take on this source material was perhaps a bit ahead of its time. In today’s world we’re seemingly inundated with reality programming and this film is possibly more topical now than it was nearly thirty years ago. Why exactly didn’t the film work better? For one thing, it was clear it was shot on a budget, with a lot of decisions made for cost-cutting reasons. More importantly, one of the main story points was how the presence of the camera crew caused the family to become stressed out and depressed. In my book, spending significant screen time showing depressed, ill-at-ease characters will almost always lead you into audience-losing territory.

To Sir, With Love

To Sir, With Love (4/23/06) Novel (1959 ***½) Written by E.R. Braithwaite. I picked this book up in, of all places, a Salvation Army store. The copy I read was an old, battered library book, with the index card and holder still inside the front cover. I loved the movie when I was younger and will be re-watching and reviewing (is that redundant?) it shortly. I never realized the movie was (a) based on a book or (b) based on real events. The book was actually more about racism in 1950’s England than about a teacher who made a difference in his students’ lives. Though it took a few pages to get into the story, once I did I was hooked and read the whole thing in two days.

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done (4/22/06) Graphic Novel (1996 ***) Written and illustrated by Ted Rall. For a year, Ted Rall asked everyone he met the question: “What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?” He illustrated their answers and compiled them into this collection of short tales, many only a page long. These “true confessions” ranged from infidelity to murder. Some of the tales were gut-wrenching to read, but I couldn’t have stopped even if I tried. My main complaint was with the thin nature of the collection. There really should have been more stories. It’s as though Rall lost interest in his own project somewhere along the way.

The Thin Man

The Thin Man (4/21/06) Netflix (1934 ****) Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Based on Dashiell Hammett’s novel (which I read this past October), this was the film that launched one of the great movie series of all time. Powell played the hard-boiled but less-than-slightly-soused detective, Nick Charles and Loy played his adoring wife, Nora. Though not exactly the model for a perfect marriage, the banter between the two was always a treat. As for the plot, who really cares? It was characters that drove this franchise! Characters, I tells ya!! (Favorite)

Bringing Up Baby

Bringing Up Baby (4/17/06) Netflix (1938 ***½) Directed by Howard Hawks. Cary Grant played a nerdy paleontologist trying to find his bone and Katharine Hepburn played an accident-prone woman with a leopard in this classic screwball comedy. I saw it for the first time, I believe, in 1986 in a film class. Though early in their respective careers, Grant and Hepburn shined brilliantly, demonstrating the stuff stars are made of. As with any movie in this genre, there was a lot of screaming and noise and flustered misunderstandings. My only (minor) criticism: There were too many times when the dialogue felt “written for the stage.”

Return From Witch Mountain

Return From Witch Mountain (4/17/06) Netflix (1978 **½) Directed by John Hough. Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann are back as Tia and Tony. It’s been three years since we last saw them and they’re in the greater Los Angeles area on a kind of vacation. Within minutes of their arrival on the 50-yard line of the Rose Bowl, Tony gets kidnapped by villains played by Christopher Lee and Bette Davis. Lee’s character has created a mind control device, which he uses to turn Tony into, effectively, a telekinetic evil killer robot. This sequel was actually marginally better than its predecessor. It was still clearly a Disney film written in a hurry, shot on a limited budget and aimed at young kids. I’m pretty sure I went to see the film when it was released, though at age 13 I would have been slightly older than its target audience.

Get a Life

Get a Life (4/16/06) Graphic Novel (2006 ***½) Written and Illustrated by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian. I recently spied this paperback at a my favorite used book store. Glancing inside at the art, it looked like something I’d enjoy and the price was right. So I bought it. A couple weeks later when I started reading it I noticed the printing quality was a little pixilated. That’s annoying, I thought. Well, when I looked at the front cover, it read: “Advance reader’s copy — NOT FOR SALE” and the date of publication inside was listed as June, 2006. Oops. So I guess this is what they call an “early review,” huh? I wasn’t familiar with Dupuy and Berberian, and apparently with good reason: They’re from the other side of the Atlantic. According to the liner notes, the adventures of their character “Monsieur Jean” have been printed in France for twenty years. As I read through them, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, which ranged in length from ½-page to 15 pages. They were all about the trials and tribulations and laughs and (especially) loves of Jean, a young writer living in Paris. His “adventures” were quite ordinary, really: dealing with his snooping landlady; the prospect of losing his sweet apartment; the irritations of his flaky best friend and falling in love with a woman whose jealous ex-boyfriend trashes his apartment, spray-painting “NOT YOURS!” on the walls. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), I could relate to the character quite well. What does that say about me?