Monthly Archive for June, 2008

Wanted

Wanted (6/29/08) Glendale Mann 10 (2008 ***) Directed by Timur Bekmambetov, starring James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. This film was a lot of two-fisted, violent, guns-a-blazing, tire-screeching fun, though it never managed to grab me emotionally. I’m not sorry I saw it in the theater, but I probably could have waited for the DVD. One historical note: In a brilliant counter-programming move, Wanted — which definitely earned its R-rating — opened the same weekend as Pixar’s WALL-E. I was a little disturbed by the unexpected presence of a half-dozen young kids in our audience and couldn’t help but wonder if their parents had been doing some theater-hopping.

Libeled Lady

Libeled Lady (6/26/08) TV-TCM (1936 **½) Directed by Jack Conway, starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy. Released just two years after The Thin Man, this was only one of three movies Powell and Loy made together in 1936. They were by far the best thing in the film; every scene they had together sparkled. Unfortunately, that was pretty much where the good stuff ended. The premise was weak, the plot logic didn’t stand up to any close examination, and the film ended without adequate closure. Libeled Lady also showed that Jean Harlow wasn’t much of an actress and I never would have guessed Spencer Tracy was destined for great things based on his performance. Finally, this film demonstrated what I can only assume was a neurological malady prevalent in the mid-1930’s: Talking really fast and YELLING. At least half the characters in the movie suffered from this dreadful affliction.

A Star is Born: Special Edition

A Star is Born: Special Edition (6/22/08) Netflix (1954 **) Directed by George Cukor, starring Judy Garland and James Mason, with music by Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin, produced by Sidney Luft, Garland’s husband. This special edition attempted to recreate the original pre-cut 3-hour version of the film using “discovered” footage and production stills. Unfortunately, I was bored for must of the film and the upbeat musical numbers (which contrasted weirdly with Mason’s alcoholic self-destruction) were mostly forgettable.

There’s No Business Like Show Business

There’s No Business Like Show Business (6/20/08) Netflix (1954 **½) Directed by Walter Lang, starring Ethel Merman, Donald O’Conner and Marilyn Monroe, with music by Irving Berlin. This was an odd film about a show business family. Though Merman received top billing, she was in far fewer scenes than I expected. The main problem with this film was that its story meandered, not finding its focus on Donald O’Conner’s character until well into the second act.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (6/16/08) DWA Screening (2008 ***) Directed by Andrew Adamson. According to Boxofficemojo.com, Prince Caspian has earned $132M at the box office. Normally that wouldn’t be relevant in my review, but in this case it is, as I’ll explain in a bit. About a half hour or forty minutes into the film, I was really enjoying myself and thought I was watching a four-star film. But then the film lost its momentum and never regained it. Not coincidentally, the same first half hour or so took place with minimal digital effects, and I thought that was a brilliant decision. So what happened? Why didn’t the film work? My wife (who has read all the Narnia books and has a great affection for the source material) had a simple answer: Too many battle scenes. While I enjoyed the action, I think she had a good point. So why is box office important? I think this was a fairly good film. Not as strong as the first, but still good. Along with about five hundred other people, I worked under Adamson on the first Shrek movie and I have great respect for him. I worry that after the disappointing receipts Disney won’t greenlight the next film in the series. I’m also concerned that the weak performance of Caspian, coupled with similarly low earnings for The Golden Compass and other fantasy-oriented films, indicates we’re seeing a marked shift in the zeitgeist. Perhaps the audience interest sparked by the Lord of the Rings films has finally played itself out. Oh well, I guess I shouldn’t complain. It looks like we’ll still have plenty of super-hero films. At least for awhile, anyway.

The King and I

The King and I (6/15/08) Netflix (1956 ***½) Directed by Walter Lang, starring Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner. There’s something so stunningly pure and right about a good Rogers and Hammerstein musical, isn’t there? Created fifty years ago in Technicolor and Cinemascope55, this film is so different from contemporary films it may as well have come from another planet. I guess I must be Mr. Weepy, because I got all teary-eyed as Marni Nixon (dubbing for Kerr) sang “Hello, Young Lovers.” What the hell was that all about?

In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal

In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal (6/15/08) Nonfiction (1999 ***) Edited by Judith Kitchen and Mary Mapumier Jones. This book was a follow-up to Kitchen and Jones’ In Short: A Collection of Brief Creative Nonfiction. In Brief was one of two books assigned during a UCLA Extension memoir class I took, which finished three weeks ago. Please don’t tell my teacher Dinah Lenney, but I only now finished this book and still have a few pages left in the other. In our class, Lenney described In Brief as “dessert sherbet” to offset the considerably denser writing of Sven Birkerts. With each piece in the In Brief collection ranging from one to five pages, these “memoirs in miniature” didn’t have much time to make a lasting impression. Still, aspiring writer that I am, I found it quite useful to have so many examples of style and approach contained in a single book.

The King of Kong

The King of Kong (6/14/08) TV — G4 (2007 ***½) Directed by Seth Gordon. I’d heard great things about this documentary about two men (Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe) who competed against each other to break the highest Donkey Kong score. While gripping from beginning to end, the documentary technique was slightly suspect and I wondered to what extent reality was being manipulated: Mitchell was portrayed from the beginning as an arrogant asshole, while Wiebe was shown as his polar opposite, making him awfully easy to root for. I’m always a sucker for any film or book that provides insight into a subculture, and it was fun visiting the world of competitive classic gaming.

Alec: How to Be an Artist

Alec: How to Be an Artist (6/14/08) Graphic Novel (2001 ***) Written and illustrated by Eddie Campbell. I picked this up used. I wasn’t previously familiar with Campbell’s graphic novel efforts. I didn’t know it before, but he illustrated Alan Moore’s From Hell. This book was really about Campbell’s ringside seat as a comic artist trying to make his way during the development of that graphic novel. The book culminated with capsule reviews of several dozen of what he considered the best graphic novels at the time. While I appreciated Campbell’s sometimes fragmented, second-person narrative writing style and sketchy illustrations, I can also see why he hasn’t necessarily gained a larger following.

The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk (6/13/08) Glendale Mann 10 (2008 ***¼) Directed by Louis Leterrier, starring Edward Norton. I was one of the millions of people disappointed by Ang Lee’s 2003 Hulk. Given some of the negative publicity a month or so back I wasn’t expecting much from this version. In the week or so preceding its release, a funny thing happened: It started getting decent (but not stellar) reviews. That, coupled with a lingering excitement buzz from Iron Man and internet info that Captain America made a brief appearance, put me in the theater for the 10am showing on its official opening day. I gotta tell you, The Incredible Hulk was not as good as Iron Man, but it was still a fun ride and I was not disappointed.