Monthly Archive for November, 2008

Parenthood

Parenthood (11/30/08) Netflix (1989 ***½) Directed by Ron Howard, screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. It’s been several years, possibly a decade, since I last watched this film. It didn’t quite hold up like I’d hoped, but please don’t get me wrong. I still love it and it was still damned good. But something wasn’t quite right. Maybe it was this: From start to finish it felt just a smidge too engineered, too polished for its own good, if that makes sense. Still, I think it’s fair to say it probably represented the height of commercial screenwriting at the time it was produced. I think it’s also worth noting that this film was a superb example of how to write an ensemble film. (Favorite)

The Incredibles

The Incredibles (11/28/08) TV-NBC (2004 ****) Directed by Brad Bird. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Incredibles was (and is) an amazing movie and accomplishment and I hope someday Pixar and Brad Bird decide to create an Incredibles II. However, watching a two-hour movie played out over what seemed like ten hours (due to commercial interruptions) was enough to drive a man nearly insane. Thanks a lot, NBC. (Favorite)

Going to the Movies: A Personal Journey Through Four Decades of Modern Film

Going to the Movies: A Personal Journey Through Four Decades of Modern Film (11/27/08) Nonfiction (2001 **½) Written by Syd Field. I bought and read this book because I’m considering writing a series of memoir-slanted essays about my favorite films. I enjoyed the first third or so of Going to the Movies, which was a near-perfect mix of autobiography and film analysis. But then the author took a left turn and spent well over a hundred pages describing in excruciating detail his apparent discovery of the three-act structure. What was absent in this section was his passion for film itself. Besides, that material had already been covered in his earlier books. As I read, I became increasingly troubled by an underlying ego at work. Was Syd Field truly the first to discover and articulate filmic story structure as he claimed? He provided no hint to the contrary. There was an implication that screenwriters working prior to 1977 or so didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and I found that notion simply unbelievable, not to mention offensive.

Batman: City of Crime

Batman: City of Crime (11/24/08) Graphic Novel (2006 **) Written by Dave Lapham, illustrated by Ramon Bachs and Nathan Massengill. This book had a terrific start. The first fifty pages or so had me believing the storyline was taking me to a far, far darker Gotham City than Batman has ever gone before: Batman “zigged” when he should have “zagged” and as a consequence an apartment building burned, including six pregnant girls held captive in a locked room. Batman, overcome with guilt, wa frustrated that he couldn’t save everyone. Great setup, right? Then something shifted and Batman went undercover as a construction worker for what seemed like hundreds of pages for reasons I still don’t understand. The story became nearly impossible to follow and any interest I had was (as the kids say) pissed away. What a disappointment.

Lucinda Williams at the Wiltern Theater

Lucinda Williams at the Wiltern Theater (11/21/08) Wiltern Theater, Los Angeles (***½) I am a huge Lucinda Williams fan and have been since a friend turned me onto her first self-titled album in 1988. The last time I saw her perform was at San Francisco’s famous Fillmore theater in 2005, one of three performances that were used on her Live at the Fillmore double-CD set. I’ve never thought of her as a country artist, per se, though I recognize many of her songs could be classified as such. I bought her new album, Little Honey, as soon as it was released and have listened to it many times. Williams played five or six cuts from the album, but sadly excluded one of my favorites, “Circles and X’s.” She also left out “Drunken Angel” (from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road), which is probably my all-time favorite song of hers. Somehow I’m sure I’ll find it in my heart to forgive her.

Catwoman: Nine Lives of a Feline Fatale

Catwoman: Nine Lives of a Feline Fatale (11/21/08) Comics (2004 **) Written and illustrated by various. I’m pretty sure this collection of Catwoman stories spanning the decades was published in conjunction with the ill-fated Halle Berry film. As is the case with many of the comics I buy, I picked this up used and cheap. Sadly, the stories chosen for this volume were — with a couple of exceptions — not very good. It did, however, include Selina Kyle’s very first appearance (as a sexy thief named “The Cat”) in Batman #1, in which Batman delivered that classic, oft-quoted line: “Quiet or papa spank.”

Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs (11/21/08) TV-FMC (1955 **) Directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron. This was a decidedly minor musical, one that obviously aspired to be greater than it was. Astaire played a rich man who finds an 18-year-old French orphan (he sees her but she doesn’t see him) and decides to anonymously sponsor her college attendance in America. As much as I love Fred Astaire, he was clearly not giving his best performance. Caron was only slightly more engaging in this film, which was made three years before her role in Gigi.

Writing the Romantic Comedy

Writing the Romantic Comedy (11/17/08) Nonfiction (2000 ****) Written by Billy Mernit. I’m currently taking a screenwriting class (and working on a romantic comedy screenplay) and so I ordered this book on Amazon.com. Mernit was (and possibly still is) a writer at UCLA Extension, and this book was developed following a class he taught (or teaches) there. I admired his writing style; he achieved an easy-to-read, conversational flow, yet still packed in plenty of information. This was a book rich in content. Mernit’s experience as a teacher, writer and story analyst really came through in his writing. I hope someday I’m capable of writing a reference book as solid as this one.

Quantum of Solace

Quantum of Solace (11/16/08) Glendale Mann 10 (2008 **½) Directed by Marc Forster, starring Daniel Craig as James Bond. I was a fan of Casino Royale, and for the first ten minutes I thought Quantum was going to follow in its footsteps. I was wrong. This was the twenty-second film in the Bond franchise, and that in itself was a major accomplishment, I suppose. I think Moonraker (#11 — 1979) was the first Bond film I saw in the theater. I’ve seen most of the movies since, though never with any particularly high expectation. They’ve never touched me; James Bond is simply not a character I can relate to. Craig’s performance in Casino Royale piqued my interest, though, and yes, I had high hopes. Unfortunately, Quantum of Solace was an incoherent, uneven, confusing mess. I’m still not sure what the plot was. On a personal note, it was an interesting coincidence that Mathieu Amalric played Quantum’s “boss villain.” I watched Amalric mere days before in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and he was amazing. In Quantum… not so much. But then he didn’t have much material to work with. I just hope he got a nice fat paycheck.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (11/13/08) Netflix (2007 ****) Directed by Julian Schnabel, based on the novel by Jean-Dominique Bauby, starring Mathieu Amalric. This is a beautiful film, based on a true story of a man who, following a major stroke, suffered from locked-in syndrome: Though completely alert, he was paralyzed, and his only means of communication was via blinking his left eye. His only escape (and ours) was through imagination and memory. Schnabel, best known as a neo-expressionist painter, showed amazing facility as a director. Much of the film was presented in the first person, from Jean-Do’s limited point of view. This claustrophobia opened up as Jean-Do’s mind and spirit opened. This is not a film for everyone: In addition to the subjective camera, Schnabel, an American, chose to shoot the story in French in order to increase authenticity. Still, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is well worth any small effort you’ll pay in exchange for a genuinely unique film experience, one you won’t soon forget.