Monthly Archive for July, 2008

The Boys of My Youth

The Boys of My Youth (7/31/08) Memoir (1999 ***1/4) Written by Jo Ann Beard. I recently took a memoir-writing class and our teacher assigned a chapter from this book called “The Fourth State of Matter.” In this chapter (or story if you prefer), Beard made the shooting that took place November 1, 1991 at the University of Iowa personal. Having spent much of my life living in the Midwest, seventeen years of it in Iowa, it was easy to relate. Overall I enjoyed Beard’s writing, which struck a nice balance between objectivity and lyricism. However, as a reader, I never felt completely immersed in her world. I can’t help but wonder if I would have felt a deeper connection with the material if I’d been female.

Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale

Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale (7/23/08) Netflix (2007 **) Written and directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. At one point during this hour and a half long wrapup to the amazing BBC/HBO Extras series I turned to my wife and said: “This comedy program has me so depressed I want to shoot myself.” This was the saddest, most downbeat television comedy show I have ever seen. Ever. Including M*A*S*H. And it was completely relentless. The thing is, I kind of got what Gervais and Merchant were trying to do, which was to take Andy Millman from the height of fame to the depths of hell (in this case Celebrity Big Brother), then end on an upbeat note, made all the more happy by virtue of contrast. In part they succeeded, and as Cat Stevens sang “Tea for the Tillerman” for the final time, I felt a hint of transcendent joy. Unfortunately, the abject misery I was subjected to prior to that moment wasn’t worth it.

Alec: After the Snooter

Alec: After the Snooter (7/22/08) Graphic Novel (2002 ***) Written and illustrated by Eddie Campbell. I suspect Campbell may be an acquired taste. This collection was made up of mostly short 3 and 4 page autobiographical stories, sketches from the life of a comic book artist and his family. I respect Campbell for having the guts to do personal comics about a quiet, unexciting life without giving into sensationalism or gimmickry. It was a comic for mature readers, in the best sense of the term. I will probably seek out and read his other work in the future. Reading this and Alec: How to be an Artist has also made me want to dig out and re-read Alan Moore’s From Hell, which Campbell illustrated over the course of ten years.

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (7/20/08) La Canada AMC (2008 ***½) Directed by Christopher Nolan. There has been so much hype over this movie that it was very hard for me to keep my expectations within a reasonable zone. Because advanced tickets were selling out all over the place (and because I hate sitting in a completely full theater) we went to a 9:00am Sunday morning showing. The bottom line is I liked it a lot but didn’t think it was quite deserving of some of the praise it has received. There were a number of plot elements that were either confusing or didn’t stand up to close inspection. Gary Oldman was wonderful as James Gordon, but Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman were totally underutilized compared to the first film. Heath Ledger’s performance was gripping, but I can’t help but feel that much of the Joker’s presence came from his attitude and makeup. I would like to see it again, mostly because I feel I missed a lot; I suspected the sound mix may have been off in the theater because I had a lot of difficulty hearing the dialogue over the music and sound effects.

Swamp Thing, Vol. 1: Saga of the Swamp Thing

Swamp Thing, Vol. 1: Saga of the Swamp Thing (7/19/08) Comics (1998 ***) Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Stephen Bissette and John Totleben. This volume collected issues 21-27, after Moore took over writing responsibilities for the Swamp Thing comic. I know it’s supposed to be groundbreaking material, and maybe it was in the mid-1980’s, but I wasn’t personally engrossed. I didn’t find the horror to be particularly horrifying and I never identified with any of the characters involved. In particular, I found the central character — who was so detached that his motivations were indecipherable — to be problematic in the extreme.

Into the Wild

Into the Wild (7/17/08) Netflix (2007 ***) Directed by Sean Penn, starring Emile Hirsch as Chris McCandless. Based on the bestselling nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild was an ultimately life-affirming movie about the death of a young man who tried to escape society’s chains but didn’t quite make it. Nearly everyone can identify with the desire to test the boundaries of one’s humanity, and I could certainly see a younger version of myself in Chris. One of the most impressive accomplishments of this relatively small production was the use of more than twenty locations. Having said that, at two and a half hours, the movie felt a little long. While I respect Penn as a filmmaker, it’s ironic that the main impact his film had was to make me want to read the book on which it was based.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (3D)

Journey to the Center of the Earth (3D) (7/16/08) DWA Screening (2008 ***) Directed by Eric Brevig, starring Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem. This was definitely one of those movies where it was best to leave your brain at home. I even wondered whether the filmmakers deliberately included extra-dumb elements early on so that the ridiculous things that happened later would seem nearly plausible by comparison. Some might find the 3-D gags over-the-top, but I’m pretty sure that was the goal. Shakespeare this ain’t, but I personally had a good time and left the theater feeling like I’d been on a really fun, well-done amusement park ride.

Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain (7/14/08) Netflix (1952 ****) Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. “All I do the whole day through is dream of you…” Holy smoke what a great film, arguably the best musical of all time. You know what makes it a four-star movie? The fact that it features two absolutely perfect and brilliant musical numbers (“Good Morning” and “Singin’ in the Rain”) back to freakin’ back! And talk about likability! Just how adorable were the three stars, anyhow? If you’ve never seen it, see it! If you’ve seen it before, see it again! (Favorite)

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (7/13/08) Netflix (1954 **) Directed by Stanley Donen, starring Howard Keel, Jane Powell, Russ Tamblyn and Julie Newmar. I could’ve sworn I’d seen this film in my mid 20’s, but I must have either been mistaken or blocked the entire thing out from my memory. This was one weird mamma-jamma of a musical that veered into the creepy domain early on. It wasn’t ultimately as disturbing as Oklahoma, but it was right up there. What made it so creepy? Basically that the titular seven brothers resorted to assault and kidnapping in their attempts to get their brides, that’s what. The constant references to the biblical sobbin’ (Sabine) women made me wonder if the movie shouldn’t have been renamed Seven Brides for Seven Attempted Rapists. Finally, on a different note, just whose story was this supposed to be, anyhow? It started out clearly focused on eldest brother Adam (Keel), but then the focus shifted several times and Adam spent a lot of time off-screen. To me that indicated a pretty serious story problem.

Outbursts

Outbursts (7/12/08) The Complex Hollywood: Flight Theater (2008 ****) Written and performed by Gordon James. My wife and I were present at Gordon’s first L.A. run of his show and it was our honor to be there for the last. I wasn’t sure if I’d get much out of it the second time around, but I did. I was even moved to tears at the end, just as I’d been for the first show.