Monthly Archive for January, 2008

U2 3D

U2 3D (1/31/08) DWA Screening (2007 ***) Directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington. Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr. and… The Edge. I am going to admit something I’m a little embarrassed about: I have very eclectic musical tastes but have never really familiarized myself with U2’s music. I’ve meant to, but never actually got around to doing so. For a non-fan like myself, seeing this film was undoubtedly a very different experience than for a fan. Music aside, most of the appeal lay in the 3-D visuals. I’d seen a clip of U2 3D at a special Dreamworks presentation a year prior and was totally blown away by it. This time around… eh, not so much. The images seemed soft in the way that sometimes digital images do, and the 3D effect wasn’t as compelling. In the past two years I’ve seen the following in digital 3-D: Monster House, Meet the Robinsons, A Nightmare Before Christmas and Beowulf. In all cases except Nightmare and U2 3D I had a very positive experience. So what happened? Was it the projection system in our screening room? At any rate, I’m now concerned the presentation of 3D films and the whole 3D experience may be more fragile than I previously thought.

The Big Book of the Unexplained

The Big Book of the Unexplained (1/29/08) Graphic Novel (1997 ***) Written by Doug Moench, illustrated by various. It’s been a few years since reading any of Paradox Press’ entries in the “Big Book” series. This volume wasn’t necessarily my favorite, but it was a good starting point nonetheless. The premise of the series was that potentially dry factual information could be made more exciting by presenting it in comic book form. When I stumbled upon the first volume, The Big Book of Urban Legends, I was thrilled that my appetite for quirky nonfiction subject matter could be combined with my love of comic books. I didn’t mind the black-and-white presentation or the variety of comics illustration styles. For the next several years I sought out the books whenever I could find them and was sorely disappointed when the series ended.

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1/29/08) Netflix (1942 ***½) Directed by John Rawlins. Holmes and Watson (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) are back, this time in present-day (WWII-era) London. There was a cute moment when Holmes reached for his familiar deerstalker hat and Watson chided him: “No, no — You promised…” Granted, this film was propaganda through and through and there was little in the way of real detective work, but there was still something so compelling — bordering on hypnotic — about these characters. Maybe it’s partially sentimental: My inner child claps with glee whenever I see the plane and hear the accompanying music of the 1940’s era Universal Films logo. My personal fantasy is that someday before I shuffle from this mortal coil that the state of the art in computer graphics will advance to the point where studios can offer up an animated Abbott and Costello Meet Sherlock Holmes to the movie-going public.

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead

Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead (1/27/08) Netflix (1995 ***1/4) Directed by Gary Felder, screenplay by Scott Rosenberg. “Boat drinks!” Andy Garcia played Jimmy “The Saint” Tosnia and Christopher Walker played “The Man With the Plan” in this surprisingly overlooked film about a caper gone terribly wrong. Rosenberg peppered his smart script with idiosyncratic dialogue and that was part of the fun. He also managed to take an ending that could have been a real downer and give it an upbeat spin. Things to Do in Denver… would fit quite nicely on a double-bill with Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction.

Real Stuff

Real Stuff (1/26/08) Graphic Novel (2004 **½) Written by Dennis P. Eichhorn, illustrated by various. This edition collected stories originally printed in serial form in the early 1990’s. I bought this book about four years ago from the author himself at the Alternative Press Expo (A.P.E.) comic convention in San Francisco. This was the first time I’ve re-read the collection since originally buying it. Sex, drugs and violence were the major themes to be found in these mini-stories from Eichhorn’s life, and those themes were present in abundance. The quality of illustration ranged from amateurish to professional. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if you like the work of Joe Matt, R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar and others who specialize in the autobiographical comix genre, this may be worth checking out.

Targets

Targets (1/25/08) Netflix (1968 ***1/4) Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, starring Boris Karloff. I’m not sure exactly how I selected this movie for my Netflix queue, but I’m sure glad I did. I came away from watching it with not only a newfound respect for Bogdanovich but also for Boris Karloff! Targets was Bogdanovich’s first directorial effort (before The Last Picture Show), and the story behind the making of the film was sensational: Karloff owed Roger Corman two days of shooting, and Corman, being the legendary businessman he was, wanted to build an entire feature film around that footage. It was up to Bogdanovich to come up with a creative solution (a shootable script) within that apparently impossible production constraint. What he came up with was positively brilliant. Next, his skills as a director elevated the overall quality of the project, and what in lesser hands might have been forgettable exploitative schlock became surprisingly good, garnering positive reviews. It’s not perfect by any means, but Targets is definitely a movie that should be shown to aspiring film students to demonstrate what can be done with a limited schedule and budget.

Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark

Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark (1/24/08) Netflix (1968/2007 **½) Walk the Angry Beach (AKA Hollywood After Dark) was written and directed by John Hayes and starred a young (-ish) Rue McClanahan of Maude / Golden Girls fame. The Film Crew is comprised of Bill Corbett, Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy, three of the writers/performers of the old Mystery Science Theater 3000 show. This direct-to-video series is much like the old one, but without the puppets or silhouettes at the bottom of the screen. Please don’t take this the wrong way, Bill and Kevin, but I’m afraid heavyset middle-aged men — no matter how articulate — are no substitute for robot puppets. Sorry, guys. It will be interesting how this series compares to the Cinematic Titanic series (not currently available on Netflix), headed up by MST3K‘s original host, Joel Hodgson.

Spent

Spent (1/21/08) Graphic Novel (2007 **) Written and Illustrated by Joe Matt. Oh Joe Matt. Poor Joe Matt. Want a sound byte? Here you go: “Spent is the graphic novel equivalent of watching someone going to the bathroom for an hour… unsuccessfully.” Six years ago when I read Peepshow: The Cartoon Diary of Joe Matt, it not only showed me how gutsy autobiographical comics could be, it also inspired me to undertake my own self-published collection of stories. When Matt created Peepshow he was in his twenties. Now he’s in his forties and he has clearly not progressed either as an artist or as a human being. The fact that he used this as the basis of this book didn’t necessarily make it entertaining. A couple of times in the book Matt made a deliberate effort to alienate any remaining fan base. I felt as though I’d been poked in the eye with a sharp stick. Why did he do that, I wonder? I can’t imagine this collection has been making much money for the publisher, Drawn and Quarterly. After Peepshow, I considered myself a fan, but now I might be ashamed to call myself one. The book began with Matt living a solitary existence, his life lost to a powerful pornography addiction. Little had changed by the end of the book; if anything, his life was even more hopeless. I was reminded of Neil in the Up series of films. For many years Neil was a somewhat of a “little boy lost” himself, spiritually adrift and homeless. But eventually he found his footing again and gave us, the fans of the series, cause for hope. For Joe Matt’s sake I hope something like that is in store for him. Will I buy his next book? I don’t know. It depends. Will there be a next book?

Angels in America

Angels in America (1/20/08) Netflix (2003 ***½) Directed by Mike Nichols, based on the play by Tony Kushner. A friend recommended this 6-part HBO original miniseries to me twice and I’m glad it finally floated up to the top of my Netflix queue. The subject matter (AIDS in the mid-1980’s) might dissuade some people from watching it, but that would be unfortunate. Kushner’s material was an utter delight and I found it to be funny, intense, and uplifting. Angels in America was an ensemble piece, and as such was only as strong as its weakest player. Fortunately, amazing performances could be found from beginning to end, with most of the principles playing multiple roles. Al Pacino and Meryl Streep reminded us why they are so worthy of the awards they’ve won. Also, I was only familiar with Justin Kirk from his role as the deadbeat brother-in-law in the Showtime series Weeds; it was nice to see what he could do with a real character.

Cloverfield

Cloverfield (1/20/08) Glendale Mann 10 (2008 ***½) Directed by Matt Reeves. I find myself really torn on what rating to give this movie, but here’s the bottom line: I loved about five to ten minutes of this movie so much that I’m willing to recommend it in spite of much of the remainder. Scanning the reviews on rottentomatoes.com, it’s clear that the whole “Godzilla meets Blair Witch Project” shorthand has been worn out, but that doesn’t make it any less descriptive. I might have liked to have seen more reviewers using the word “verisimilitude,” but what the hell. I like to think of this film as telling the story of Godzilla told from the perspective of the teeny tiny little people running away screaming in background. To my friends who haven’t seen it, I’ve been describing Cloverfield like this: It takes the super-memorable, super-awesome shots and sequences from the Spielberg / Tom Cruise version of The War of the Worlds and punctuates a feature-length film with them. By now, many instances of the motion sickness-inducing qualities of the shaky-cam technique have been reported. My wife and I went to see it and were clever enough to sit in the back row. Even so, about halfway through the film, my wife had to leave the theater for a few minutes due to nausea.