Monthly Archive for September, 2008

All Star Superman, Vol. 1

All Star Superman, Vol. 1 (9/27/08) Comics (2008 ***½) Written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Frank Quitely. After the disappointment of Frank Miller and Jim Lee’s All Star Batman and Robin, this book was a real treat. As stated in the Introduction, Superman and his origin have been re-envisioned a dozen times. Almost without exception, those reboots have sidestepped the “silly” Mort Weisinger 1950’s version of the “Man of Steel.” Grant Morrison somehow magically managed to embrace that version (complete with Jimmy Olsen’s signal watch!) and made it fresh at the same time. Quitely’s illustrations had a “Little Nemo in Slumberland” quality that was somehow the perfect complement for Morrison’s words. Though I would have preferred a single story-arc instead of serial continuity, All Star Superman ranks high among my favorite Superman books.

45 Master Characters

45 Master Characters (9/25/08) Nonfiction (2001 **) Written by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. I believe character archetypes are important, and perhaps some writers may find this to be a decent reference book. However, it really didn’t do a very good job of holding my interest. I had to make a real effort to finish the book and really have little desire to describe its failings further.

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight (9/22/08) DWA Screening (2008 ***½) Directed by Christopher Nolan. This was my second time seeing this film. They had a free showing after work, so I figured why not? I was seated in the third row, so the experience was a little more immersive; I never did get to the Imax version like I’d meant to. (Mild spoilers follow) I really loved this film up to the point where The Joker bomb-rigged the ferries. It was at that point when the movie sagged for about 20 minutes and never quite recovered its momentum. In screenwriting (all writing for that matter), there’s this dramatic principle of escalating tension. In the case of The Dark Knight, the intensity (and fun factor) peaked with Batman interrogating The Joker in the holding cell. It was all downhill from there, with a minor uptick when The Joker blew up the hospital.

The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud

The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud (9/22/08) TV-FMC (1984 *½) Directed by Danford B. Greene, starring Bud Cort and Carol Kane. Bud Cort starred in Harold and Maude, which may possibly be my favorite film of all time. When I was in college I occasionally went to the reading room at the library and checked out and read issues of Variety. Yeah, I was weird that way. One day I saw an advertisement for Secret Diary, and I got excited, since it was a new movie starring Cort. I never heard of of it since, and never saw it available for rent at the local video store. I’d forgotten about it entirely until I saw it in the program guide for the Fox Movie Channel, which I subsequently recorded. It’s easy to see why this film was virtually lost to the cinematic cosmos: It’s nearly unwatchable. There was an air of amateurishness that hung over every line of dialogue, every lighting setup, every shot composition. Truthfully, I’m probably being kind giving it one and a half stars.

The Thing

The Thing (9/21/08) Sci Fi Channel (1982 ***) Directed by John Carpenter, starting Kurt Russell. I have vivid memories of watching this (R-rated!) film on Cinemax repeatedly back in the early days of cable TV. Watching it now, years later, I think Carpenter really knew a thing or two about building suspense and developing an air of paranoia. Given the passage of time, the weak link for this film may have been the dialogue. Some of it was good but much of it sounded pretty false. (Note: Spoilers follow!) The film’s end, in which MacReady (Russell) and Childs (Keith David) shared a bottle while waiting to freeze to death, has always troubled me. It was terribly unsatisfying on some basic level. Was Childs an alien? If so, was MacReady truly too exhausted to care anymore? And if he didn’t care, why should we?

Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!

Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys! (9/17/08) TV-FOXHD (1958 **) Directed by Leo McCarey, based on the book by Max Shulman. The cast was star-studded in a bizarre way, so forgive me if I list more than normal: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Joan Collins, Jack Carson, Dwayne Hickman, Tuesday Weld and Gale Gordon. This was one of those films my wife describes as “of an era, but not in a good way.” I remember reading a beaten-up paperback copy of the Shulman book as a teenager. Shulman was also the comic mind behind the character Dobie Gillis. A few of you reading this may even know who that is. Unfortunately, what passed for adult suburban screwball comedy in 1958 didn’t really translate for a modern audience. I spent most of the movie in a state of unease. Let me approximate the sensation: Imagine being under-dressed at a fancy dinner party where you didn’t know anyone, sitting in an uncomfortable chair, having just bitten into an unexpectedly pungent hors d’oeuvre. It wasn’t quite that bad, but it was close.

The Rose

The Rose (9/16/08) TV-FOXHD (1979 **) Directed by Mark Rydell, starring Bette Midler, Midler won a best Actress Golden Globe, but not the Oscar — she lost out to Sally Field! This movie has been on my “never seen it but should” list for a long time. I finally got around to it, but it was a disappointment: It was overlong (125 minutes but due to sluggish pacing it seemed longer) and I ultimately didn’t know what I was supposed to get out of it. Midler’s character was clearly inspired by Janis Joplin, but I would have preferred a straight biopic. Nevertheless, The Rose was the film that made Bette Midler a star, even though comparisons (not all of them favorable) with Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born remain inescapable.

You Deserved It

You Deserved It (9/15/08) Comics (2005 **) Written and illustrated by Bob Fingerman. I love Fingerman’s illustrations — he’s one of my favorite comic artists — and this was a beautiful, colorful volume, comprised of several pieces originally published separately. It’s too bad his storytelling left me flat. The gratuitously violent, sex-filled centerpiece, “Otis Goes to Hollywood” was especially confusing; it seemed to be heading in a clear direction, but then near the end the storyline suddenly veered toward a wholly unsatisfying conclusion. It was as though Fingerman had been making it up all along and had intended another chapter but then became bored by his own story.

Fireworks Finale: Celebrating Summer with Brian Wilson

Fireworks Finale: Celebrating Summer with Brian Wilson (9/13/08) Hollywood Bowl (***½) This was a program elegant in its arrangement. It began with the LA Philharmonic performing three pieces (Mozart, Bach and Gershwin) selected by Wilson. Then Wilson and his band came onstage and they performed “Forever She’ll Be My Surfer Girl,” “Midnight’s Another Day” and “God Only Knows,” backed by the philharmonic. For the second half of the show, Wilson and his band played more than a dozen hits. As I sat there on a perfect Southern California night, I looked over at the radiant joy on the face of my Southern Californian wife (who grew up listening to the Beach Boys catalog) and I thought, just briefly, “Maybe I deserve to be here.”

Got War?: A Doonesbury Book

Got War?: A Doonesbury Book (9/12/08) Comic Strips (2003 ***1/4) Written by G. B. Trudeau. I will be a Doonesbury fan until the day I die, though I enjoyed this collection slightly less than its predecessor, Peace Out, Dawg! There may be some small irony in the fact that I finished this book (while walking on my treadmill) the day after the seventh anniversary of 9/11. The sequence of strips contained in this volume covered the beginning of the Iraq war, which is now well into its fifth year. With a topical strip like Doonesbury, reading old runs can be very much like traveling back in time. It was both disturbing and sobering to note the optimism expressed by those old strips regarding the length of the war.