Monthly Archive for November, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

An Inconvenient Truth (11/30/06) Netflix (1996 ***½) Directed by Davis Guggenheim. I have got to hand it to Guggenheim, who was able to take a slide presentation Al Gore has been giving for decades and turn it into a compelling documentary. The subject matter was as gripping as it was grim. The film was basically about how the end of our world is bearing down on us like a freight train. How long have we been snoozing, anyway? Is it too late to change? Powerful questions. As interesting and well-produced as I found this film, I can still see how some might have less of a problem with the message than with the messenger. I respect Al Gore, but I also know enough about human nature to see why he turns some people off: A lot of people don’t like listening to the smartest kid in class tell them how dumb they’ve been. On top of that, there were also a few times in the course of An Inconvenient Truth when the main topic was pushed aside temporarily for tenuously-related stories from Gore’s personal life: His sister who died from lung cancer (the irony being that Gore’s father was a tobacco grower) and the life-changing epiphany that came to Gore when his son almost died after being hit by a car. I understood why these tangents were included as devices to humanize Gore for the mass audience. Unfortunately, they also came across as a little self-serving.

Stardust Memories

Stardust Memories (11/28/06) Netflix (1980 ***) Written and directed by Woody Allen. Allen made Stardust Memories — a tribute of sorts to Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963) — after Annie Hall (1978) and Manhattan (1979) and before A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982). It was a small film, compared to those that surrounded it chronologically. It’s not among his most beloved films, and I can understand that. The subject matter (a popular filmmaker who no longer wants to make comedies and is hounded by his fans) was autobiographical to the point of being self-indulgent, though to be fair, that was sort of the point of the film.

The American President

The American President (11/26/06) Netflix (1994 ***½) Directed by Rob Reiner, written by Aaron Sorkin. Reiner and Sorkin also teamed up on A Few Good Men, a fact I hadn’t realized until I read some of the DVD extras. As a fan of The West Wing, it was interesting to me to watch The American President as a prototype for that beloved (for me, anyhow) show. The premise of the movie was an intriguing one: What if the widowed president of the United States had a girlfriend? With such a premise, the story had to work as a romance as well, though it was never quite successful as a romantic comedy. To be fair, even on Sports Night, Sorkin has never handled comedy especially well; he could write witty banter, but that’s not the same thing as writing funny lines. As much as I admire him and his body of work, this comedic-deficit has also been strongly in evidence in the currently-running Studio 60 On the Sunset Strip.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale (11/25/06) Glendale Mann 10 (2006 ***) Directed by Martin Campbell, starring Daniel Craig as James Bond. The first set piece of Casino Royale (coming after a cool card-themed animated title sequence) was as exciting as I think I’ve ever seen. The setting was a construction site in Uganda, and cinema’s latest Bond chased after a spy/terrorist, performing stunts that would make Jackie Chan proud. Unfortunately, the rest of the film didn’t quite live up to that level of thrilling adventure. At two and a half hours, it was probably a half-hour longer than it needed to be. Much of the second half of the second act was consumed with card-playing, which could only be so thrilling. In the third act, the storyline got even more confusing, and I have to admit at one point I was totally lost.

Swimming With Sharks

Swimming With Sharks (11/24/06) Netflix (1994 **½) Written and directed by George Huang, starring Kevin Spacey and Frank Whaley. Huang was an assistant for a studio executive at Columbia when he left to write and direct this film. I didn’t realize it was over ten years old. I think I actually got this film confused with another film starring Spacey, The Big Kahuna (1999), which I have not seen. Swimming With Sharks was considered a black comedy, and I suppose there was some degree of humor in the situations. However, it was also unrelentingly loud and frequently very violent. There were also a number of times when I became very aware of the writing.

The Glass Bottom Boat

The Glass Bottom Boat (11/23/06) Netflix (1966 **) Directed by Frank Tashlin. Doris Day starred with Rod Taylor in a cold war comedy of errors in which Day was mistaken for a spy. It co-starred Dom DeLuise, Dick Martin, and Charles Nelson Riley. That pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the film. As with virtually every other Doris Day film, I have memories of seeing this film originally either on television or as the second or third feature at a drive-in movie show.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea (11/23/06) Graphic Novel (2005 **½) Written and illustrated by Guy Delisle. This was an autobiographical account of Delisle’s experiences while working as an animation supervisor in North Korea. He described an environment as close to Orwellian as any that has ever existed. North Korea has become an important player on the world stage, and we owe it to ourselves to learn as much about them as we possibly can. For some, this graphic novel may be a good first step.

49 Up

49 Up (11/21/06) Netflix (2005 ****) Directed by Michael Apted. This was the seventh and latest installment in the 7 Up series. Of the fourteen original children, twelve were still participating. For many viewers, including myself, the power of watching this progression has less to do with the aging of the subjects as it does with how one compares their own lives. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the long view — the continuum — of one’s life, though at age 42 I sometimes catch fleeting glimpses of that. There is a sad beauty to the fact that we all are marching inevitably toward death, and that morbidity was present just below the surface in 49 Up. As Roger Ebert pointed out in one of the DVD’s bonus features, all of the subjects seemed fairly happy this time around. It was comforting to note they have each individually come to some degree of acceptance in their lives. Sadly, assuming the series continues, eventually there will come an installment when one or more of them (or Michael Apted himself) has passed on.

What a Way to Go!

What a Way to Go! (11/19/06) Netflix (1964 **½) Directed by J. Lee Thompson, starring Shirley MacLaine. Like That Touch of Mink, which I watched the day before, this film was definitely a product of the times in which it was made. The storyline was that every man Shirley MacLaine fell in love with was doomed to incredible success and a grisly accidental death. It was one of those “stunt casting” films and featured the following as her successive husbands or husband wanna-be’s: Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, Dean Martin, and Bob Cummings. The highlight of the film was the (according to the trailer) half-million dollars worth of Edith Head fashions that Ms. MacLaine got to wear.

The Notorious Bettie Page

The Notorious Bettie Page (11/18/06) Netflix (2006 **) Directed by Mary Harron, starring Gretchen Mol. Confessing that I have, on occasion, enjoyed the charms of the arguable pin-up queen of the universe would not be much of a confession at all. It would put me in the same category as approximately half the male population with internet access. Many years ago I read a biography about Bettie Page, and it was sad for me to learn that as Page’s modeling career ended she became born again and later suffered from mental illness and was eventually arrested for assault. It was interesting that the uglier aspects of Bettie’s sad life were left out of this film. My biggest issue with The Notorious Bettie Page was that it played both sides of the moral questions: Did the “lascivious” photographs for which Bettie Page posed really do harm? In other words, was pornography bad? This film refused to take a point of view.