Monthly Archive for July, 2006

Glen or Glenda

Glen or Glenda (7/30/06) DVD (1953 **½) Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr. It’s tempting to give this movie a single star, because it really is a bad movie in most senses of the word. But I’m not going to, and here’s why: My rating scale is based on my personal enjoyment, and I actually got a fair amount of entertainment out of my viewing experience. Glen or Glenda falls into that rare category of films so bad they actually become good. There was a luminous passion with which Ed Wood wrote, directed and starred (as Daniel Davis) in this picture. The film’s structure drifted in and out of coherence; only a slightly twisted mind would envelop an exploitative treatise on transvestitism with such an elaborate narrative structure. There were at least two framing stories: In the first, a police detective consulted with a psychiatrist following the suicide of a transvestite. In the second (brilliantly reenacted in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood), Bela Lugosi played “The Scientist,” who may or may not have been God. His monologue (“Pull the string! Pull the string!”) made little sense. There was also a bondage dream/nightmare sequence near the 2/3-point in the film that reminded me of an Irving Klaw photo session with Bettie Page. The sequence didn’t really relate to the core theme or story of the film, and yet somehow I didn’t mind….

The Tick: The Entire Series

The Tick: The Entire Series (7/30/06) DVD (2001 ***½) “I am the wild blue yonder!” This was a brilliant but short-lived TV series on Fox, and it makes me smile every time I watch it. I’m not the first to say it, but Patrick Warburton was born to play The Tick. His over-the-top naive character was splendidly complimented by David Burke as Arthur, and together they made a wonderful duo. It’s really too bad this show was canceled after only nine episodes. I wonder how it might have evolved. The writing was really top notch, and it was fun to explore the domain of the superhero from a real-world frame of reference. On the DVD’s audio commentary, Barry Sonnenfeld (director of the pilot and executive producer of the series) talked about the choices made in creating a live-action world based on Ben Edlund’s comic creation. I feel he did a brilliant job and the property was compatible with other Sonnenfeld projects like Men in Black and The Adams Family.

Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet (7/28/06) DVD (1986 ****) Directed by David Lynch. Blue Velvet is a film that has a personal significance to me: When I first saw it during its original release, it made me realize how powerfully manipulative film can be, and I found that fundamentally inspiring. Most critics consider it David Lynch’s Magnum Opus, and I agree with that assessment. Simply put, it’s one of the great films of my generation. Sadly, its content wasn’t for everyone and it remains a hard film to watch at times. Dennis Hopper’s Frank Booth was a profoundly disturbed man and there was imagery (long since burned into my brain) that extended beyond comfortable boundaries and became deeply disturbing. Never before or since has the conflict between good and evil — a theme that would be central to the world of Twin Peaks — been explored with a masterful touch both dramatic and comic. There was a 1950’s naiveté to the proceedings; watching it now after all these years — can it possibly be twenty years later? — it represents a bridge between my life now and a world thirty years before the film was made. (Favorite)

The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant (7/27/06) Netflix (1999 ****) Directed by Brad Bird. When this movie was first released I saw the trailer and TV commercials and decided it wasn’t worth seeing. By the time I learned otherwise, it was no longer in the theaters. The mishandling of The Iron Giant by Warner Brothers’ marketing remains a cautionary tale to everyone in the animation industry: It is quite possible to put your heart and soul into a project and produce an amazing movie and still have it belly-flop at the box office. There was so much to love about this movie. The story was as rock-solid as you can get. I love that it was a period piece set in the 1950’s that evoked not only a sense of a more innocent America, but also a sense of the Sputnik-induced paranoia of the times. The animation was top-notch throughout, ranging from exciting battles and explosions to surprisingly gentle scenes between a boy and his 100-foot robot friend. Though produced at Warner Brothers, it would fit right in alongside the very best Disney films of all time.

Monster House

Monster House (3D) (7/26/06) Glendale Mann 10 (2006 ***½) Directed by Gil Kenan. My fiancée and I went to see this film on a Wednesday night; it was playing on two screens as we got to the ticket booth we learned the 7pm show (the one we were going to) was playing in digital 3-D for only $2 more. What an unexpected treat! Monster House wasn’t a perfect movie, and I had some mixed feelings, but my overall experience was strongly positive. Because I saw it in 3-D (which was excellent, by the way), I can’t discount the contribution that may have had to the sensation of being on a roller coaster that was frequently thrilling and only occasionally confusing. The movie opened with a shot of a single orange leaf. In a self-conscious homage to Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis was one of the executive producers), we follow the leaf as it leads us down a residential neighborhood and directly into the story. The main characters were all twelve or so, and the tone of the whole thing reminded me of contemporary juvenile fiction. There were some genuinely scary moments, and there will undoubtedly be a lot of seven-year-olds with bad dreams. Much has been made of the use of motion capture for the character motion, but I felt it was generally used effectively, though there were a few times when the actions captured seemed to deliberately call attention to themselves. The character designs weren’t 100% successful, but I liked the fact they weren’t over-designed and at times they demonstrated surprising appeal. I was especially impressed by how tight the direction was. According to imdb.com, this was the first film Gil Kenan has directed, and I was impressed by how fluidly he told the story and how well the camera related to the characters.

Big Star: The Short Life, Painful Death, and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop

Big Star: The Short Life, Painful Death, and Unexpected Resurrection of the Kings of Power Pop (7/24/06) Nonfiction (2005 ***) Written by Rob Jovanovic. This was an unusual choice for me; I rarely read books or magazines about the music world. However, since buying an iPod a few months back I’ve found myself listening to the first three Big Star albums a LOT. When I stumbled upon this book listing at Amazon.com, I figured what the hell, and so I ordered a copy. The first word that comes to mind in critiquing Jovanovic’s writing style is “competent.” He did a solid journalistic job of researching the history and material and selecting quotes from the hundred or so interviews he did. This was no small task, considering he was researching events thirty years in the past. I appreciated that this project was a labor of love coming from a fan of Big Star and their music. Sadly, I would guess there’s not much of an audience for the book. Most people aren’t aware of the band or their incredible music, and the mystery of why they never got the audience they deserved is… Well, that’s really the central question of the book, isn’t it? As much as I respected the job Jovanovic did, what was missing for me was a sense of storytelling variety. While I don’t suggest he should have sensationalized the material, the tone throughout the book never really changed, even when he described Chris Bell’s death and its emotional aftermath. It was also a real shame that Alex Chilton, arguably the central figure of the story, refused to be involved with the book’s production, and the work suffered as a result. Having said all that, I don’t regret buying and reading this book one iota. If you are a Big Star fan like me and want to learn more about the story behind the legend, this book is probably the only chance you’re ever likely to get.

Superman / Batman, Vol. 1: Public Enemies

Superman / Batman, Vol. 1: Public Enemies (7/24/06) Graphic Novel (2004 **½) Written by Jeph Loeb, illustrated by Ed McGuinness. From the beginning of this book, Loeb established a technique of parallel narration by Superman and Batman. His point was to provide a comparison/contrast of the two heroes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t especially clever and was so distracting it interfered with the story. The primary physical conflict was this: A meteor the size of New Zealand is on a collision course with earth, and since the meteor is a fragment of Superman’s home planet Krypton (and is in fact made of Kryptonite), U.S. President Lex Luthor blames Superman and declares him and anyone who assists him a fugitive. Frankly, as story spines go, this wasn’t one of the most inspired. So what made the book mildly worthwhile? The visuals and eye-candy. The most interesting bits in the book were appearances by a wide spectrum of DC comics characters, both heroes and villains, and the way in which those characters were drawn by Ed McGuinness.

Coupling, Series 1

Coupling, Series 1 (7/23/06) Netflix (2000 ***) I’d head about this British sitcom a year or so ago when one of the major networks aired an American version which immediately belly-flopped. The best way to describe the show — which featured three men and three women — is that it was like Friends… if they all talked nonstop about sex. Most of the plots were sexual in nature. In an example from the sixth and last episode of the season, we learn that Patrick keeps a walk-in cupboard full of videos of women he’s slept with. Susan, one of his many ex’s, becomes enraged when she thinks Patrick has shown the home-made porn to her current boyfriend, Steve… and all the others as well.

Amadeus Live

Amadeus Live (7/20/06) Hollywood Bowl (2006 ***) This was the second concert I’ve seen at the Bowl, and there will be many more to come over the course of the summer. This production of Amadeus featured Neil Patrick Harris as Mozart and Michael York as Antonio Salieri. The performances were good, as was the music. Being hearing impaired, the music wasn’t as loud as I would have liked, though I had little trouble hearing the voices of the actors. I’ve always liked the story of Amadeus. There is something about the character of Salieri — a man whose curse was to recognize both the genius of Mozart and the limits of his own talents – that I especially enjoyed and identified with. The worst nightmare of any artist is to come face to face with their own mediocrity. On a personal note, this was the second time I’ve seen this story presented on stage: In the early 1990’s my friend Scott Koepke played the title role in a Community Theater production in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: I Accuse My Parents

Mystery Science Theater 3000: I Accuse My Parents (7/19/06) Netflix (1944/1993 **½) Original directed by Sam Newfield. According to imdb.com, Mr. Newfield (who died a month after I was born) was likely the most prolific director of American film ever, having directed more than 300 films. Clearly the sensational nature of this film was the reason it was selected for the MST3K treatment by Joel Hodgson and company. However, I was actually surprised by the relatively high quality of the direction. Most of the B-films shown on the “Satellite of Love” were directed by individuals with marginal skills at best. The screenplay (and undoubtedly the budget) of I Accuse My Parents didn’t leave much to work with, but Sam Newfield still apparently did his best with the material available. As for the MST3K dimension of the experience, it was one of the weaker episodes I’ve seen. Still, a weak episode of MST3K is usually better than most popular TV comedies.