Monthly Archive for May, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda (5/31/08) DWA friends and family Screening — Universal Citywalk IMAX (2008 ****) Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson. I know, I know, I just saw this two days ago at the cast and crew screening. I sure didn’t mind seeing it again, though! The film looked absolutely amazing on the big IMAX screen. I hope it does well at the box office. What with Iron Man and Indy and Sex and the City and Hulk and Wall-E, the theaters are so damned crowded with content this summer. I always get paranoid whenever one of Dreamworks’ films opens. I wonder: “Is this the film where people decide they don’t want to see any more animated movies?” So, will I see it again? You know what? I just might — it’s that good! (One sad side-note: The day after this screening [6/1/08] Universal Studios had a terrible fire that destroyed the New York set, the Back to the Future town square and the King Kong attraction.) (Favorite)

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady (5/30/08) Netflix (1964 ***) Directed by George Cukor, starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, with Wilfrid Hyde-White as Colonel Pickering. You want to hear something crazy? As beloved as this film is, with a running length of nearly three hours, I thought this film was about an hour too long. I saw plenty of opportunities to cut it down, too. In many places Cukor’s editing philosophy appeared to be: “Don’t use three shots when you can use ten!” On top of that, it was misogynistic, often bordering on offensive, and it had a weird ending. In spite of all of this, Hepburn was radiant and Marnie Nixon (Hepburn’s singing voice) sang and Rex Harrison sang-talked their way through some memorable songs.

Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda (5/29/08) Hollywood Mann Chinese (2008 ****) Directed by Mark Osborne and John Stevenson. Wow. I can honestly say without any irony whatsoever that the word “awesome” comes to mind. KFP is a beautiful film and an amazing achievement. The animation was great, the lighting was great, the story was elegant in its simplicity, the hero was likable and easy to identify with. It’s my favorite Dreamworks movie since the first Shrek. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m more than a little envious of my co-workers who worked on the film. My sole contribution to this project was wearing a panda costume in New York for two days, but that’s another story. Oh well, maybe if this film makes the money it deserves I’ll get a chance to work on Kung Fu Panda II! (Favorite)

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters

Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters (5/26/08) Graphic Novel (2007 **½) Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, illustrated by Daniel Acuna. This was a reboot of the classic team whose members were frivolously killed off in Infinite Crisis. As with many of the “random” books I buy, I bought it used, on sale and at least in part due to the quality of its artwork. It wasn’t a bad read, and it had a fairly simple story-arc. It was also unnecessarily violent at times. Uncle Sam was presented as the literal embodiment of the American spirit, which made him a challenge as a character. There was a political subtext I found interesting: the American people were fed up with their government but were, against all odds, hopeful about the future. Quite apropos for our times.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (5/25/08) Netflix (2007 **) Directed by Jake Kasdan, starring John C. Reilly and Jenna Fischer. This biopic parody followed directly in the footsteps of Ray and Walk the Line. While I appreciated what the writers attempted to do, which was to poke fun at the conventions of the genre, I just wish they’d done it in a funnier way. Also, as much as I like Reilly as a comic actor, it was painfully obvious that he didn’t quite have the charisma to carry a film like this on his own.

Bigger Than Life: A Murder, a Memoir

Bigger Than Life: A Murder, a Memoir (5/24/08) Memoir (2007 ***½) Written by Dinah Lenney. I’m currently taking a UCLA Extension memoir class taught by Lenney. I already had high regard for her as a teacher who both inspires and nurtures. Having read her book — in which she interwove her father’s murder and its aftermath with reflections on her life — I have further respect for her as a writer. I especially appreciated her ability to write clear prose that still managed to communicates complex thoughts and emotions. In addition, I admired her deft handling when writing about members of her family. She was able to capture good and bad, sometimes at the same time, painting what felt like an honest portrait.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (5/23/08) Glendale Mann 4 (2008 ***1/4) Directed by Steven Spielberg. Apparently the U.S. Government recently passed a law stating that all reviews of this film must begin with “It’s been 19 years since Indiana Jones literally rode off into the sunset…” There. Satisfied? I did my best to prepare myself properly for this event: I watched all three of the previous films on DVD. I avoided spoilers. I glanced at reviews enough to know (Tomato-meter: 70%) to keep my expectations in check. I went into it with an open mind, knowing it wasn’t going the be the greatest movie of all time. And you know what? I enjoyed it. It was a fun ride, one that was in keeping with the franchise. Some of my colleagues have been playing a game where they rank the Indy films in order of their enjoyment. Raiders is still my favorite, of course, but I liked some parts of this film even more than Last Crusade. Tonally, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull seemed closer to the first film than the third, which descended into slapstick a few times too often.

I’m Not There

I’m Not There (5/15/08) Netflix (2007 ****) Directed by Todd Haynes, screenplay by Haynes and Oren Moverman. This was an amazing and original film, based on the “many lives” of Bob Dylan. I was captivated from beginning to end. As a Dylan / Woody Guthrie fan there was plenty to love. Six actors (including the late Heath Ledger) played facets / aspects of Dylan. Cate Blanchet was nothing short of amazing as Jude Quinn, the most easily recognizable incarnation. Is this film for everybody? Probably not, no. The storytelling was deliberately fragmented and at the very least non-conventional. It failed the “would I want to watch this film with my grandmother?” test. I’m Not There falls solidly into the experimental-yet-still-commercial genre I’ve long referred to as “mindf**k” films. The studios don’t make a lot of them, but there are others, such as David Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977) and Mulholland Drive (2001), as well as Head (1968), Pink Floyd The Wall (1982) and Waking Life (2001). (Favorite)

Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold, Vol. 2

Showcase Presents: The Brave and the Bold, Vol. 2 (5/15/08) Comics (2008 ***½) Written by Bob Haney (except for one story by Denny O’Neil), illustrated by various artists, primarily Nick Cardy and Jim Aparo. This book contains comic issues 88-109, which were originally published in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Bob Haney (who also wrote the original Teen Titans comics that got me collecting as a kid) has a reputation for the worst teen dialogue of all time. That is an unfortunate truth, but as I read this collection I felt as though I were watching Haney grow as a writer and really hit his stride. For anyone who doesn’t know, The Brave and the Bold was a team-up book and in each issue different stars from the DC Comics universe would assist Batman in solving some crime or crisis. I would love to know what editorial process was used in choosing who would appear; some of the choices were surprising and inspired, including appearances by Wildcat, Black Canary, Sgt. Rock, and even Plastic Man. And here’s a comics trivia question for the ages: Whatever happened to the London-based Bat Squad? I also appreciated the scope of the stories Haney told. Many were set in foreign countries and had the feel of an adventure movie in miniature. Finally, Jim Aparo passed away a couple years back, and re-reading the stories he illustrated reminded me of how brilliant he was; in black and white I could really appreciate his artwork. Along with Neal Adams, who illustrated many of the covers in this collection, Aparo remains one of the definitive Batman artists.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (5/11/08) DVD (1989 ***½) Directed by Steven Spielberg, starring Harrison Ford and Sean Connery. I would love to know technically why the third Indy movie looked so different from the other two. The images were altogether crisper and brighter. I suspect it was because of the film stock and lenses used, as well as the use of a lot of rim lights in the lighting design, but that’s just a guess. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a marvelous story with a solid core (the relationship between Indy and his father), but some of the scenes looked like they were lit like an episode of Laverne and Shirley. Maybe Spielberg and others were trying to make up for the darkness of Temple of Doom. Anyhow, now that I’ve watched all three of the original films and they’re all fresh in my mind, I’m ready for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls! All I have to do is try my best to sidestep spoilers between now and then and keep my expectations in check!