Monthly Archive for May, 2006

Scene of the Crime: A Writer’s Guide to Crime-Scene Investigations (Howdunit Series)

Scene of the Crime: A Writer’s Guide to Crime-Scene Investigations (Howdunit Series) (5/29/06) Nonfiction (1992 **½) Written by Anne Wingate, PhD. The subtitle of the book was very descriptive; this is one of those Writer’s Digest books intended to give aspiring mystery writers (like me) some concrete grounding in the actual science of police detection. As such, it more or less worked, though I felt I got a regrettably superficial overview, and I would have preferred more in-depth material. Though I learned less than I might have hoped, the book was reasonably well-written and entertaining. Ms. Wingate’s stories about her days on the force in Albany, Georgia were certainly engaging, and they caused me to wonder occasionally if she weren’t using the excuse of writing a technical guide to tell a lot of her favorite stories from her career.

Song of the Thin Man

Song of the Thin Man (5/28/06) Netflix (1947 ***) Directed by Edward Buzzell, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. This was the last film of the series, and there was definitely a sense that the quality had gone downhill. It might make for an interesting analysis someday to compare the first and last films to try to identify precisely what went amiss. Even having said that, I did mildly enjoy Song of the Thin Man. Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta, of course) remained great characters. It was weird seeing a very young Dean Stockwell as Nick Jr, though.

X-Men: The Last Stand

X-Men: The Last Stand (5/28/06) Glendale Mann 4 (2006 ***) Directed by Brett Ratner. I had heard fairly negative things about X-Men 3, and so my expectations were reasonably low. I was pleasantly entertained, though my fiancée was less so. There were a few surprises in store for me: (SPOILERS) Some major characters die in the film, something I wasn’t expecting. As always, it was nice to see the scenes at the school, and Kelsey Grammer was a nice addition as Beast. While I thought the “mutant cure” storyline worked well enough, the “Dark Phoenix” plot wasn’t realized to its full potential. Famke Janssen played the resurrected Jean Grey as a zombie, which limited how interesting she was on the screen. This overall sense that the movie wasn’t as strong as it could have been is possibly due to Brett Ratner’s directing skills suffering in comparison to those of Bryan Singer, the director of the first two films in the franchise.

Another Thin Man

Another Thin Man (5/27/06) Netflix (1939 ***½) Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Nick and Nora Charles are parents in this, the third installment of the popular Thin Man series. Maybe this film didn’t sparkle quite as much as the first two, but it was still mighty good. Having 1-year-old Nick Jr. in tow didn’t slow the crime-busting couple down too much. One of the highlights of the series in general was how well the laughs were integrated with intricate murder mysteries.

Last Holiday

Last Holiday (5/24/06) Netflix (2006 **) Directed by Wayne Wang. It’s hard to believe Wang, who directed Smoke and Blue in the Face, was responsible for this film. But then he also directed Maid in Manhattan, which I never quite got around to seeing. Queen Latifah played Georgia Byrd, a woman working in a department store who learns she’s dying, with only a few weeks to live. Whether she is or isn’t dying is a question that hangs in the air through most of the film. As tempted as I am, I won’t reveal the answer here. In keeping with the film’s cooking motif, Last Holiday was a blend of verbal comedy, a little slapstick, a heavier than average sprinkling of morality, and heaping doses of “seize the day” sentimentality. Sometimes that mixture can taste pretty good, but in this case it didn’t work for me.

Zero Hour: Crisis in Time

Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (5/23/06) Graphic Novel (1994 **) Written and penciled by Dan Jurgens, inks by Jerry Ordway. This was a follow-up to the 1985 series Crisis on Infinite Earths in which the DC universe was… er… re-shuffled. I personally found Zero Hour hard to follow and annoying. It wasn’t clear why some events had to happen, like the temporary reappearance of a non-crippled Batgirl or the deaths of three original members of the Justice Society. It was also unclear why Hal Jordan, the Silver Age Green Lantern, had to be the bad guy. Overall, it was a confused mishmash and largely unnecessary. The original Crisis was an attempt to build a stronger continuity among all the DC comics. It was a huge event and quite a challenge at the time, given the nearly fifty years of stories involved. Since then, it’s extended to seventy years! I would hope we’ve learned since 1985 that continuity isn’t really that important; readers seem to embrace variant timelines and alternate realities quite readily.

Hoodwinked

Hoodwinked (5/23/06) Netflix (2005 **½) Directed by Corey Edwards. This was one of those movies that was more entertaining than it had a right to be. The quality of the graphics was quite crude, but that was clearly a matter of budget. What I liked about the film was the attitude expressed in its screenplay. What distinguished Hoodwinked from standard kiddy-fare was this: It was clear the Edwards brothers really cared about this project. Even though they were working within production limitations, they still did the best they could with what they had. While the film was rough around the edges, that was actually part of its charm. The budget was quite low by animation standards, but they made enough money at the box office to justify one or more sequels. Good for them.

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code (5/20/06) Burbank AMC Town Center 6 (2006 ***) Directed by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou. There has been so much fuss about this movie, I almost am sick of it. Along with most of the Western world, I read The Da Vinci Code. In my case, I read it after reading all of Dan Brown’s other novels. In part due to all the hoopla about the book, I had been disappointed by it and didn’t feel it was as strong a novel as Angels and Demons. In reviewing the movie, it’s near-impossible to separate the phenomenon of the book from the experience, but I’ll try. As a film — directed by Ron Howard — The Da Vinci Code mostly held my interest all the way through, but there were times when my patience was tested. Simply put, there was an awful lot of talking — far more than action. And what were they talking about? If it wasn’t codes and ciphers, it was about an alternate unpublished version of the New Testament. I can see how some people might take offense to some of the story elements regarding Jesus and Mary Magdalene. In all honesty, I’m not sure those elements were handled in the most delicate manner, either. After all the excitement has eased and everyone realizes the Catholic Church has survived yet another attack by a piece of popular fiction — hopefully we can all calm down once again.

After the Thin Man

After the Thin Man (5/17/06) Netflix (1936 ***½) Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy. Nick and Nora Charles return to San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, days after their Christmas adventure in New York and stumble into a triple (or is it quadruple?) murder mystery centering on Nora’s cousin Selma’s two-timing husband. This sequel was every bit as fun as the original, and many of the elements of the first film were re-worked effectively. Powell and Loy sparkled on the screen and it was clear why this series had such a long run. A very young James Stewart played a small role as a man who’d been pining for Selma for years. All in all, great fun!

Blackboard Jungle

Blackboard Jungle (5/16/06) Netflix (1955 ***½) Directed by Richard Brooks, starring Glenn Ford, Anne Francis, Vic Morrow, and Sidney Poitier. Ford played a teacher whose first assignment was in a High School chock-full of violent juvenile delinquents. Having just watched To Sir, With Love (1967) recently, with the common link being Sidney Poitier, there is a temptation to make a comparison, and I will. Though the later film was more of a sentimental favorite, the direction in Blackboard Jungle was superior and far tighter. There was a decidedly noir handling of the material throughout the film which was clearly present in the scene in which Richard Dadier (Ford) and another teacher came out of a bar and got attacked and beaten in a dark alley. I imagine not everyone will share my high opinion of the film; the dialogue was definitely over-the-top at times (enough to be unintentionally humorous) and there was a high level of melodrama. Here’s a bit of fun trivia: Jamie Farr (as Jameel Farah) made his big screen debut playing Santini, one of the young hoods.