Monthly Archive for October, 2008

Chinatown and The Last Detail: Two Screenplays

Chinatown and The Last Detail: Two Screenplays (10/29/08) Screenplays (1997 ****) Written by Robert Towne. This book (the first half, anyway) was required reading for the screenwriting class I’m currently taking. We’ve been using Chinatown as our working example of what makes a script work. It’s been at least a decade since I watched the film itself, and I must admit I never really related to Jake Gittes or the central drama of the story. Reading the film’s screenplay gave me a greater appreciation for Towne’s writing. As respected as the Oscar-winning Chinatown was, I was personally far more touched by The Last Detail, which was more of a subtle character study, with barely enough plot to constitute a movie. Something in the tone of the screenplay got to me; I haven’t been able to shake that feeling since I put the book down. I know I’ve seen that film as well: As I read I occasionally got flashes of Randy Quaid in his role as sailor / convict Meadows. As my wife likes to say, the screenplay and movie were definitely “of an era.”

Mr. Majestic

Mr. Majestic (10/26/08) Comics (2002 ***½) Written by Joe Casey, illustrated by Ed McGuinness. This was probably the best comic I’ve read in a while, and that’s saying something. Casey’s stories reminded me of the fun and potential in comics as a storytelling medium. That “fun” is something a lot of people have talked about in the past decade, but few people have been able to deliver. Mr. Majestic reminded me a lot of Invincible, written by Robert Kirkman. The last story in the collection, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Carlos D’Anda, was somewhat different in tone but still good, showing Mr. Majestic and a handful of other immortals present at the literal end of the universe.

On Golden Pond

On Golden Pond (10/19/08) TV-AMC (1981 ***1/4) Directed by Mark Rydell, screenplay by Ernest Thompson, based on his play. This movie won Oscars for Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn and Thompson. It was Henry Fonda’s final film and the only one in which he appeared with his daughter Jane, whose Oscar-nominated overacting made me cringe. Hepburn, on the other hand, was radiant and made up for it, though. On Golden Pond was a touching movie about what happens when we get older and death starts closing in, and I recommend it on that basis. It’s a weird thing to comment on, but the film contained a surprising amount of PG-level cussing. I remember seeing it in the early 1980’s (in the early days of cable TV it was played almost as often as Stripes) and the “bullshit”‘s and “God-damn”‘s (as in “I’m gonna do a God-damned backflip!”) used ubiquitously by each and every character had far more impact back then. 27 years later they just sounded awkward and forced.

Batman and Son

Batman and Son (10/19/08) Graphic Novel (2007 *½) Written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Andy Kubert. You would think the discovery that Batman fathered a child with Talia al Ghul would pretty compelling, right? So why was this book such a disappointment? Violent, decapitation-prone six-year-old Damian Wayne was equal parts brat and Tasmanian devil. Raised by the League of Assassins, he kicked ass and took… heads. For reasons too flimsy to go into, Batman was forced to take him under his wing, into the Batcave and into Wayne Manor. Combine that premise with the least convincing romantic partner in comics history, and you’ve got the recipe for one of the weakest Batman storylines I’ve ever read.

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (10/18/08) DWA friends and family screening: Sherman Oaks Arclight (2008 ***½) Directed by Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath. I liked the first Madagascar film (which I worked on for nearly 2 years), but wished its third act had been stronger. I imagine some critics may complain the sequel didn’t carry through with the emotional depth established in its opening minutes. Also, there were a half-dozen storylines juggled throughout. Maybe that’s fair, but I was pretty entertained and thought this movie was much stronger than the original. On top of that, some of the animation and directing was flat-out brilliant. I’m proud to work for a company that produces quality family-friendly animated comedies like Madagascar 2.

Justice Society of America, Vol. 1: The Next Age

Justice Society of America, Vol. 1: The Next Age (10/17/08) Graphic Novel (2007 **½) Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Dale Eaglesham. This volume was actually the lead-up to Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga, which I read two days before. It began with the death of Mr. America’s family, and we soon learned someone was killing former JSA members and their relatives, including young children. The violence felt exploitative and sometimes I wondered what today’s writers have against the characters created back in the Golden Age. Ultimately this volume was fine, but not particularly engaging. The storyline felt tired, like it had been done a hundred times before.

Justice League of America, Vol. 2: The Lightning Saga

Justice League of America, Vol. 2: The Lightning Saga (10/15/08) Comics (2008 ***) Written by Brad Meltzer and Geoff Johns, illustrated by various. I had this book on my Amazon wish list and received it as a birthday present. It contained one four-issue story and three other stand-alone stories. I was intrigued with the premise of the main story, in which the JLA and JSA teamed up to solve the mystery of why members of the 30th Century Legion of Superheroes were suddenly appearing in the present. The answer to that riddle was somewhat less than engaging, however, and the story got bogged down with continuity details that weren’t especially compelling to a casual reader like myself. The highlight of the book for me was the stand-alone story, “Walls,” in which Red Arrow (you might remember him better as Green Arrow’s sidekick Speedy) and Vixen found themselves trapped underneath a 47-story building that had been thrown into the Hudson river during a super-battle.

Escape From New York

Escape From New York (10/9/08) TV-AMC (1981 **) Directed by John Carpenter, starring Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine and Adrienne Barbeau’s breasts. When I was a teenager, I thought this movie was pretty awesome. How could it not be? It featured my childhood favorite, Kurt Russell, as Snake, an eyepatch-wearing badass, sneaking into maximum security prison Manhattan to rescue the president, Donald Pleasence. You know what? This movie, even with Borgnine as comic relief and multiple countdown clocks, didn’t hold up. At all. Still, Barbeau’s spectacular early-eighties cleavage continues to forgive a lot of sins and is probably responsible for at least one of the stars in my two-star review.

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (10/4/08) La Canada AMC (2008 ***) Directed by Peter Sollett, screenplay by Lorene Scafaria (based on the novel by Rachel Cohn), starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings. The bottom line is I wanted to like this movie so much more than I actually did. I felt it completely squandered an opportunity to be a truly great film. Some critics have said it was too cute for its own good, and I don’t disagree. More than anything I found some of the writing, such as the awkward way exposition was handled early in the film, to be borderline amateurish. The movie still had its moments though, largely due to the appeal of its two stars. I also really liked Ari Graynor as Norah’s perpetually-drunk friend Caroline.