Monthly Archive for February, 2008

Last Action Hero

Last Action Hero (2/28/08) HDMOV (1993 ***) Directed by John McTeirnan, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Danny Madigan (played by Austin O’Brien) is given a golden movie ticket that opens a portal to an action-packed world that works very differently than real life. I’m going to admit something a little embarrassing: I have always had a fondness for this movie, which I haven’t seen since it was first released. Watching it again after all this time, I’m not even going to try to pretend that it’s gotten a bad rap. There were portions of this film — the long set piece with the explosive flatulent corpse comes to mind — that weren’t good by any standard. I guess the left side of my brain just appreciated the postmodern premise and there was enough action to keep the right side from getting too antsy. Maybe 1993 was too early for an action movie that satirized action movies, but I have to give it credit for trying, even if it was only marginally successful.

Advise and Consent

Advise and Consent (2/24/08) Netflix (1962 ***1/4) Directed by Otto Preminger. Watching the first minutes of this film, my response was that it shared a lot of DNA with Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. It was surprisingly modern in its portrayal of Washington’s corridors of power. Shot on actual locations within the Capital building, there was something very cool about the fact that it was released while JFK was in office. This could have been a great film had it not been for one thing: Unfortunately, at aroundthe halfway point, the story took a nosedive into potboiler territory. It gave up all its momentum to a melodramatic subplot about a senator haunted by homosexual experimentation in his past. The fact that homosexuality was portrayed at all in a 1962 film was surprising. It’s just too bad that the way it was shown was so embarrassing to a modern audience. Who knew gay men in the early 60’s were so creepy?

Spiral Bound

Spiral Bound (2/23/08) Graphic Novel (2005 ***) Written and illustrated by Aaron Renier. One of the blurbs on the back called this all-ages graphic novel a wonderful read for a rainy day afternoon, and I don’t disagree. The story didn’t particularly move me, but I’ll take responsibility for that and not blame the book. I enjoyed Renier’s deceptively-simple illustration style, and there was something in the pacing of his storytelling that reminded me of Herge’s Tin-Tin books. I think the book is probably better suited to younger readers. In fact, it might make a good entry into the graphic novel format for young boys and girls.

The Associated Press Guide to News Writing

The Associated Press Guide to News Writing (2/23/08) Nonfiction (1991 ***) Written by Rene J. Cappon. I somehow managed to get through college without ever taking a journalism class or working for The Iowa State Daily. Sometimes I regret that. I have a great respect for journalism, even more so these days: I’m currently taking a creative nonfiction class through UCLA Extension and having a background in “straight” news reporting would have come in handy sometimes. It was for this reason I bought and read this book. Like Strunk and White, it was an excellent writing reference book, and also one that allowed itself the luxury of brevity.

Pal Joey

Pal Joey (2/23/08) TV-HDMOV (1957 **) Directed by George Sidney, starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak, music by Rodgers and Hart. This film (based on the Broadway musical) was a vehicle for Sinatra that placed him in a love triangle with Hayworth and Novak. Pal Joey was blatantly sexist and ripe with dated sexual innuendo throughout, so much so that it made me cringe. Die hard Sinatra fans may pardon its sins, however. Ultimately, the songs were wonderful, but there wasn’t much in the plot to recommend Pal Joey.

Double Indemnity

Double Indemnity (2/22/08) Netflix (1944 ****) Directed by Billy Wilder, screenplay by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. The last time I saw this film was at the Stanford Theater in Palo Alto, before I moved south. Now that I’ve been living in L.A. for a few years it’s kind of a treat to hear so many familiar locations mentioned. According to the unusually good “making of” DVD featurette, Wilder and Chandler hated each other every minute they worked on the screenplay. Somewhere in that unholy union they managed to invent most of the conventions of the film noir, and for that we should all be grateful. Some of the dialogue was laugh-out-loud funny, but maybe that was part of the point. Wilder’s direction was amazing — omnipresent and invisible at the same time. This film is deservedly a must-see for any serious film student.

Once

Once (2/21/08) Netflix (2006 ***½) Written and Directed by John Carney. Set in Dublin, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova played “guy” and “girl” in this infectious, highly satisfying musical fable. As Carney stated in the DVD extras, the story was deliberately simple, which made it all the more effective. Shot on a “micro-budget” of $100,000, Carney was freed from many of the pressures of a larger budget. As I watched, I was reminded of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995) and Before Sunset (2004), similarly simple movies in which dense dialogue between a man and a woman took the place of the music in Once. This movie is utterly charming and worth a look… and a listen.

Watchmen

Watchmen (2/17/08) Graphic Novel (1985 ****) Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons. On anyone’s list of top ten most influential graphic novels, Watchmen would be pretty high up. What exactly was in the water (or in the wind) in the mid-1980’s? Twenty years have passed since I first read Watchmen in serial comic form, and it’s been five years or more since I last read it as a collected volume. I’m happy to report it still stands up. I look forward to next year’s release of the Zack Snyder-directed movie, which features Jackie Earle Haley of Bad New Bears fame as Rorschach.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2/16/08) Netflix (2005 ***½) Directed by Andrew Adamson. Though I watched the BBC version last year on video, I hadn’t watched this big-budget version since it was originally released. It’s wonderful family film, the kind I hope to watch with my kids someday. I look forward to seeing what Adamson and Disney do with Prince Caspian.

The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show (2/12/08) Netflix (1971 ***1/4) Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. This was the third Bogdanovich film I watched in as many weeks, proving the adage, “Bet you can’t watch just one!” The last time I watched The Last Picture Show I was in my late teens or early twenties. At the time I think I was far more interested in catching the occasional glimpse of Cybill Shepherd’s breasts than in the stories to be found in Anarene, Texas in 1951. Older now, I appreciated this exploration of the feelings of loss, hopelessness and confinement, but let’s be honest, the film was still pretty damned depressing. As I watched, I was often reminded of similarities to American Graffiti (1973). Both ensemble films certainly launched a lot of acting careers. The two films might make an interesting double-feature, but who would buy tickets?