Monthly Archive for April, 2009

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (4/30/09) Netflix (Blu Ray) (2006 ***) Directed by Gore Verbinski, screenplay by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley. The last time I watched this film, during its initial release, I saw it in the theater and complained that I never knew what was going on. This time around I was able to watch it with subtitles and was better able to follow the plot. There was a lot to like about the writing, and Elliott and Rossio (Ted and Terry, if you prefer) did a wonderful job in creating rich characters and clever dialogue. However, something happened in the second half of the second act: I felt like the air started leaking from the tires and I began caring a bit less. Perhaps it’s ultimately because I wasn’t sure whose story it was. If it was Captain Jack Sparrow’s, he spent most of the film unsure what his heart desired (this was an important plot point), and having a main character without clear motives is always dangerous in storytelling. On a personal / historical note, this was our first Blu Ray Netflix rental. I was excited by the improved visual fidelity, though our 34″ screen was small enough that I felt I should sit two feet from the TV in order to get the full effect.

Wertham was Right!: Another Collection of POV Columns

Wertham was Right!: Another Collection of POV Columns (4/29/09) Essays (2003 ****) Written by Mark Evanier, with illustrations by Serio Aragones. This book was a follow-up to Comic Books and Other Necessities of Life (2002). I am a regular reader of Evanier’s blog, www.newsfromme.com, and I greatly respect his professional writing career, which has included comics, television, animation and several books. I really enjoy his writing, which presents content about comic books and related topics in a light, clean easy-to-read style. Thanks to the passion in Evanier’s essays, he managed at times to reawaken the little 12-year-old collector inside me. It was like time travel and I found myself in 1975, peering longingly into the long wooden cases at Bob’s Comics in Omaha, Nebraska once again.

The World According to Garp

The World According to Garp (4/29/09) Netflix (1982 ***½) Directed by George Roy Hill, screenplay by Steve Tesich, based on the novel by John Irving, starring Robin Williams, Glenn Close, Mary Beth Hurt and John Lithgow. I’ve made no secret about my love for John Irving’s writing. This was the earliest screen adaptation of his work, and one of my favorites, second only to The Cider House Rules, for which Irving won an Oscar for his screenplay. Garp is an altogether charming — though undeniably sad — film about the ups and downs of life. Who knows how long we’ve got, so we must make the most of each day we’re still here. This was underscored nicely throughout by The Beatles “When I’m 64” and Nat King Cole’s rendition of “There Will Never Be Another You.” This was only Robin Williams’ second starring role after Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980), and it was a shock seeing him looking so young and fresh-faced.

Justice League of America (The Unaired Pilot)

Justice League of America (The Unaired Pilot) (4/27/09) Youtube (1997 **½) Directed by Felix Enriquez Alcala, written by Lorne Cameron and David Hoselton. I learned about this unaired (except in Europe) 1997 CBS pilot from Fred Hembeck’s blog, and I watched it in 9 parts over a couple of lunch hours, thanks to the magic and majesty that is Youtube. It was almost worth the cost of admission to watch David Ogden Stiers play J’onn J’onzz, Manhunter from Mars in full green makeup and costume. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t as terrible as one might expect, and I’m not sorry I took the time to watch it. Sure, the costumes were downright dreadful, but the actors cast and the character relationships had a certain charm, so I can’t help but wonder what an adequately-funded series might have been like? After the recent success of Iron Man and other comic book heroes, and the big plans for The Avengers in 2012, will there ever be a big budget film version of the JLA? George Miller (Max Max, Happy Feet) was apparently on board to direct, but apparently that project was placed on indefinite hold in 2008.

John Tucker Must Die

John Tucker Must Die (4/25/09) Netflix (2006 **1/2) Directed by Betty Thomas, starring Britanny Snow and Jesse Metcalfe, featuring Jenny McCarthy as the hot mom. Three girls discover they share a boyfriend and scheme to take revenge via the new girl in school. This teen comedy was pleasant enough, and Thomas’ direction was perfect for the material, but the story was maddeningly toothless. There were a few references to death during the film, and from the title I secretly hoped the plot might take a Heathers-like turn somewhere in the second act. Sadly it did not. In fact, the stakes were never very high, and in the end everyone learned their respective life lessons but got off just a little too easily.

The Reader

The Reader (4/22/09) Netflix (2008 ****) Directed by Stephen Daldry, screenplay by David Hare, based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink, starring Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes and David Kross. 15-year-old Michael Berg’s first sexual relationship turns out to have been with a Nazi war criminal. Winslet won a Best Actress Oscar playing former SS guard Hanna Schmitz in this gripping drama. The Reader was at times sensual and deeply disturbing. The main characters were very real: both sympathetic and flawed, likeable and inscrutable at the same time. As much as I loved Slumdog Millionaire and was happy to see it win the Oscar for best film, I found its fellow nominee The Reader just a little more satisfying.

Months and Seasons

Months and Seasons (4/20/09) Short Fiction (2008 ****) Written by Chris Meeks. Meeks taught my first UCLA Extension class, “The Writer’s Workout.” I found him to be a supportive and generous teacher and workshop moderator, not to mention an all-around great guy. This collection of short stories is his follow-up to The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea, which I also gave four stars. I loved his writing and the choices he made. His characters covered a wide range of backgrounds, but all were richly-drawn and clearly motivated. His stories all grew from situations I could readily identify with and his writing style was extremely accessible and easy to read; I read his book very quickly, over the course of a weekend visit to family in St. Louis. I look forward to reading (and reviewing) Meeks’ “novel in stories,” The Brightest Moon of the Century, the first chapter of which was offered as a “bonus track” at the end of Months and Seasons.

The Moviegoer

The Moviegoer (4/18/09) Novel (1962 **½) Written by Walker Percy. New Orleans’ favorite stockbroker Binx Bolling’s 30th birthday looms on the horizon. He occupies his time going to the movies and having empty relationships with women. Will he find salvation in his beloved cousin Kate? Intrigued by the title, I picked up The Moviegoer at a church book sale. About a year later I was looking over the Modern Library’s list of best 100 Novels when I saw it listed as number 60. Wow, greatness right under my nose! Reading it, I immediately recognized the quality of Percy’s writing. It was dense, but not completely inaccessible. It was clear early on, however, that the protagonist’s existential search for meaning and the book’s virtually non-existent plot was not as much fun as, say, reading a Batman graphic novel. I persevered all the way to its final ambiguously hopeful page, however, recognizing I need to increase my exposure to more serious writing. In the end I’m not sorry I read it, but I wished it had contained more (or any) likable characters, action or moviegoing.

Jackass: Number Two

Jackass: Number Two (4/17/09) Netflix (2006 **½) Directed by Jeff Tremaine, starring Johnny Knoxville, Bam Margera, Chris Pontius and Steve-O. Let me make this as clear as I can: This was not my Netflix pick. It was a surprising choice for my wife, but then I don’t want to be known as a “stuck-up film snob,” do I? Keep in mind, I’m the guy who walked out of Ace Ventura, Pet Detective because it made my brain hurt. Basically Jackass: Number Two was auteur filmmaking created by and starring all the guys from my dorm I avoided because they were assholes. The thing is, the film wasn’t horrible; it was mildly fascinating from an anthropological standpoint. However, if you watch it, please know you will be subjecting yourself to (SPOILERS): testicle kicking, pubic area shaving, defecation in plastic funnels, vomiting, human ass branding, poop eating and horse semen guzzling. If this sounds like your cup of tea (so to speak), don’t let me stand in your way.

The Spirit

The Spirit (4/17/09) Netflix (2008 **½) Written and Directed by Frank Miller, based on the characters created by Will Eisner, starring Gabriel Macht and Samuel L. Jackson, with Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson and Sarah Paulson. If you’re a comic book guy like me, you probably learned about Will Eisner at an early age. He was one of the giants of the medium, and The Spirit was his most enduring creation. Eisner died in 2005, so he didn’t live to see his creations live on the silver screen. I wonder what he would have made of this well-intentioned but misguided film? I had long looked forward to a Spirit film, and years ago I got excited when Brad Bird was involved in the development of such a project. I always wondered how they’d pull it off. Eisner’s beautiful drawings were always cinematic, but his characters existed in a more cartoonish reality of their own. I respect Frank Miller as a comic artist and writer, and the pervasive stylistic approach worked in Sin City, which he co-directed with Robert Rodriguez, but it fell flat here. Perhaps the lesson is that not all comic book series are meant to be turned into live action films. However, the film was far from the worst I’ve ever seen, and I absolutely do not believe it deserved the paltry 14% it got on Rottentomatoes.com.