Monthly Archive for May, 2009

Justice, Volumes 1-3

Justice, Volumes 1-3 (5/31/09) Graphic Novel (2009 ***) Written by Alex Ross and Jim Krueger, illustrations by Doug Braithwaite and Alex Ross. I remember how blown away I was by Alex Ross’s painterly illustrations in Kingdom Come. In this series, his finishes over Braithwaite’s pencils were also very effective, but I noticed something I hadn’t noticed in the earlier work: The painted approach created a kind of distancing effect for the reader. As much as I loved looking at page after page of beautiful artwork, I was less engaged by the characters and their situations than I might have been in a traditionally inked version of the same story. One thing I did appreciate about the story, however, was that it deliberately used the mid-1970’s version of the Justice League of America (and the DC Universe), the same version I grew up with. The little 1975 version of me really liked that.

The Trip

The Trip (5/31/09) TV-TCM (1967 **½) Directed by Roger Corman, written by Jack Nicholson, starring Peter Fonda, Susan Strasberg, Bruce Dern and Dennis Hopper. God bless Roger Corman, who led the revolution in making interesting films with better production values than their budgets or shooting schedules should have allowed. The Trip — practically a documentary on how to safely drop acid — demonstrated an economy of scale and a visual inventiveness that made it worth watching, especially for aspiring film students. I imagine half the film’s budget was spent on editing; there were an awful lot of cuts and dissolve effects, which were none too cheap in 1967. A lot of psychedelic films failed because they were ultimately dull. Fortunately, the “trip” sequences didn’t go on long enough to become boring, and the film had a well-defined structure, even if I did find the ending abrupt and unsatisfying.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (5/31/09) Glendale Mann 10 (2009 ***) Directed by Shawn Levy, starring Ben Stiller, Amy Adams and a host of friendly, recognizable faces. I went to an early Sunday matinée of this film knowing full well its reviews hadn’t been particularly positive. One of the critics complained that the film was evidence of why a story with 83 characters doesn’t work. You know what? That negative review just made me want to see the film even more. I was in the mood for spectacle and cheesy effects and that’s what this film delivered. Amy Adams’ primary purpose playing Amelia Earhart in this film was to be cute and adorable, and she fulfilled that role spectacularly.

Up

Up (5/30/09) La Canada AMC (2009 ***1/2) Directed by Pete Docter, co-directed by Bob Peterson, screenplay by Bob Peterson, featuring the voices of Edward Asner, Christopher Plummer and Jordan Nagai. The latest headlines read: “Pixar Does it Again!” and they certainly did. The first few minutes of Finding Nemo (in which Nemo’s mother was killed) were pretty moving, but this was probably Pixar’s most emotionally manipulative (in a good way) movie yet. There was definitely an emotional imperative at work in the film, and Up‘s story was much more about artfully hitting the right emotional chords at the right time than about the plot. Like WALL-E (which I liked far less), the strongest part of Up was its first act. Once Carl, Russell and their floating house got to South America, the film underwent a tonal shift and became somewhat less interesting. Some have complained that the film’s villain and his dogs weren’t a very good fit for those first wonderful thirty minutes or so, and that may be true. Still, I cried no less than three times during the movie, and that’s really saying something.

Nearly a year ago, when I saw the first trailer for Up I observed the character design and cynically thought to myself: “Huh, the old man’s a square and the scout’s a circle. I wonder what the message of this film is going to be about?” Of course I was right, but it was handled in such a gentle, effective way I didn’t care. I also wondered about Carl’s motive for tying all the balloons to his house after the death of his wife, and in the unseen movie in my head I wondered if he wasn’t aiming to get closer to her, you know, up there? I was a little disappointed that this potential goldmine of emotional power went untapped and I wonder if that story element wasn’t considered at some point and abandoned as too over-the-top.

Johnny Belinda

Johnny Belinda (5/29/09) TV-TCM (1948 ***1/2) Directed by Jean Negulesco, starring Jane Wyman, Lew Ayres, Charles Bickford and Agnes Moorehead. A deaf-mute woman living in a small Nova Scotia town is raped by the town bully and later gives birth to his son. Wyman is possibly best-known now as Ronald Reagan’s first wife, but she was particularly effective in this film. Johnny Belinda managed to remain dramatic, telling a compelling story, without slipping into melodrama. On a side-note, it seems like every other film I have watched lately on Turner Classic Movies has featured Agnes Moorehead in a supporting role. She certainly got around.

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (5/27/09) Netflix (1943 ***) Directed by Roy William Neill, starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Hillary Brooke. WWII-era Holmes investigates stabbings and murder in a creepy convalescent home for shell-shocked servicemen. There were twists and turns and clues and bloodshed and red herrings a-plenty. I identified the killer early on, but does it matter? As I watched yet another of the old Universal Studios entries in the Sherlock Holmes series, I was reminded how much I liked them. It’s impossible to forget this film was made in the middle of the second world war, especially when one of the recovering soldiers made reference to concentration camps. Holmes’ parting thoughts, delivered in a speeding convertible as Watson drove the pair back to London, spoke of a “new wind blowing through the country.” You know what? The speech sounded very nearly socialist.

Justice Society of America, Vol. 2: Thy Kingdom Come, Part 1

Justice Society of America, Vol. 2: Thy Kingdom Come, Part 1 (5/26/09) Comics (2008 ***) Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Dale Eaglesham, with covers by Alex Ross. Though the confusing trade paperback title (Vol 2, Part 1?) implied a single story-arc, this collection was really a set of individual comic book stories in series. At or around the collection’s midpoint, Starman created a miniature black hole or singularity or whatever, and the version of Superman from Mark Waid and Alex Ross’s Kingdom Come got yanked into the JSA‘s presence. I found the premise compelling enough to want to get future volumes in the series… eventually.

It’s a Big Country

It’s a Big Country (5/25/09) TV-TCM (1951 **) Directed by various, starring various, including Ethyl Barrymore, Gary Cooper, Gene Kelly, Janet Leigh and future first-lady, Nancy Davis. Gene Kelly played a Greek ice cream vendor in this 8-chapter anthology film about America’s… er, awesomeness, which was inspirational to the point of being jingoistic. After watching the film, I now firmly believe we should embrace one another regardless of race, creed, color, age, political party affiliation or even religion (so long as it’s monotheistic). Hey, if Greeks and Hungarians can get along, why can’t we? Also, I learned that wearing eyeglasses doesn’t necessarily make you a sissy-boy!

Eat Drink Man Woman

Eat Drink Man Woman (AKA Yin shi nan nu) (5/25/09) TV-TCM (1994 ***) Directed by Ang Lee, written by Ang Lee and James Shamus, starring Sihung Lung. An aging chef with a fading sense of taste faces life alone as his daughters break away from home one by one. With this premise, I was reminded of Fiddler On the Roof and half-expected Shihung Lung to raise his hands up to God and shout “Tradition!” I liked this film, particularly the acting and direction, but found the drama a bit thin. The subplots featuring each of the daughters felt generic, like underdeveloped placeholders for better ideas, and they were too unrelated thematically to contribute to a unified whole. When the movie was over, I was uncertain what it was really about.

Angels & Demons

Angels & Demons (5/16/09) Glendale Americana Pacific 16 (2009 **1/2) Directed by Ron Howard, starring Tom Hanks and Ewan McGregor, screenplay by David Koepp and Akiva Goldsman, based on the thriller by Dan Brown. After reading Angels & Demons in print and seeing The Da Vinci Code, I was looking forward to this film. Sadly, it was ultimately a disappointment, and I’m not sure exactly why. Perhaps it was because Tom Hanks was never completely believable as symbologist Robert Langdon. Or maybe it was the fact that much of the film’s dramatic tension hinged less-than-credibly on a bomb made of anti-matter, a device (in two sense of the word) somehow far more believable in the book. In spite of the nonstop action, murder and explosions, I left the theater largely unaffected.