Monthly Archive for June, 2009

ABBA The Music and Super Diamond

ABBA The Music and Super Diamond (6/27/09) Hollywood Bowl (2009 ***½) Two tribute bands, one fun and memorable night under the stars at the Hollywood Bowl. Super Diamond, led by “Surreal Neil” opened. Having seen The actual Neil Diamond in concert a few years back, I was amazed by the vocal similarities. Also, I was far less concerned that this “Diamond” was in danger of permanently injuring himself with his gyrations. After the intermission, we were treated to a trip back to the seventies with the awkwardly named “ABBA the Music.” They were considerably more authentic, even down to an eerie replication of the original video choreography of many of the songs. I had way more fun than I had any business having, and for days afterward I had the song “Waterloo” stuck in my head.

Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures

Batman: The Dark Knight Adventures (6/25/09) Comics (1994 ***) Written by Kelley Puckett, illustrated by Mike Parobeck. This volume contained stories originally published in serial form in issues 7-12 of The Batman Adventures. As I wrote in my review of the first collection, this was a fairly enjoyable — if not challenging — series, and I would recommend it, though particularly for younger readers. My favorite story in the collection was the last, which focused on a young Barbara Gordon going to a costume party dressed as her favorite hero.

An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin

An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin (6/23/09) Los Angeles Ahmanson Theater (2009 ***1/4) This show demonstrated that you don’t need big production values for an entertaining night at the theater. It was just Patti, Mandy and two talented musicians on piano and upright bass. I’m a little embarrassed I didn’t recognize more songs than I did. Possibly I’m not as versed in Broadway musicals as I’d thought. There was no denying that Patti and Mandy were two very talented vocalists. The highlight of the program for me was definitely LuPone’s rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” from Evita.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (6/22/09) DWA Screening (2009 *1/2) Directed by Michael Bay, starring Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, with Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime. A friend told me that as he watched Transformers 2 he could hear Michael Bay whisper in his ear, “You’re a moron.” My experience was similar, though the thought that kept running through my mind was: “More isn’t necessarily better.” By my estimate, approximately one hour of the 159-minute film consisted of undecipherable dialogue and randomly colored motion-blurred polygons fighting each other. For the remaining hour and a half I could mostly tell what was going on, but the majority of that time also involved giant fighting robots. Don’t get me wrong, I like movies about fighting robots, I really do. Hell, I gave the first Transformers three and a half stars. But this film simply failed to live up to my summer movie cheeseburger standards. I became bored halfway through and as the explosions, plot holes, weak characterizations, racism, sexism and misogyny ran together, my mind began to wander toward more interesting territory, like my weekend grocery list. (Gotta remember that dishwasher detergent!) Put another way, as of this movie I am no longer an apologist for Michael Bay.

1941

1941 (6/21/09) TV-TCM (1979 **1/2) Directed by Steven Spielberg, screenplay by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, starring John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd and a whole mess of other people. I’m pretty sure I went to see this with my uncle George when it was first released. I enjoyed it well enough at the time, but it certainly didn’t grab my heart and squeeze it like Close Encounters of the Third Kind had a couple years before. Since 1979 I’ve often wondered why 1941 has such a reputation for being “Spielberg’s Folly.” Honestly, it wasn’t a terrible movie, but it didn’t quite work. Why? Watching it again after so many years, I believe it was a combination of things: A couple of months ago I watched the 1963 film It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and I am firmly convinced that earlier film was used as a stylistic template of sorts for 1941. This similarity was particularly strong in a scene in which a tank smashed through the middle of a paint factory… and the turpentine warehouse next door. I personally have never been a fan of that kind of humor; there’s something old-fashioned about it, somehow. The second reason I think this movie missed its mark was that it was structured as a milieu, meaning it had dozens of characters but focused on none. I think this is kind of a left-brained approach to storytelling, and it cheats the audience out of following one main character. Milieus can work (as in American Graffiti or The Big Chill), but 1941 probably would have been far stronger if we’d known whose story it was.

Bunny Lake is Missing

Bunny Lake is Missing (6/21/09) TV-TCM (1965 ***1/4) Directed by Otto Preminger, starring Laurence Olivier, Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea, with Noel Coward as ultra-creepazoid Horatio Wilson. What would you do if you dropped your 4-year-old daughter off for her first day of school and when you returned to get her nobody had ever seen her? Olivier played a London police detective trying to separate fact from fantasy. This was a gripping story up until its third act, when the story went in a direction that wasn’t entirely satisfying. I thought the point when that shift occurred was handled rather weakly. Also, the script violated one of the core tenets of detective fiction: If you have a detective, he or she must be the one who figures out who the murderer (or, in this case, the kidnapper) is. Otherwise the audience feels cheated.

The Batman Adventures

The Batman Adventures (6/20/09) Comics (1993 ***) Written by Kelley Puckett, illustrated by various. This book collected the first six Issues of The Batman Adventures, a comic book inspired by the early 1990’s animated TV show, Batman: The Animated Series. While the simplified style and characterizations made it a good candidate for younger readers, there was plenty for adult readers as well. It was a pleasant, if not challenging, read. The foreword by Bruce Timm, creator of the TV show, provided insight into DC Comics’ motivations in creating this comic: It allowed them to add a fifth monthly Batman comic while still appearing fresh.

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (6/20/09) Netflix (2008 ***½) Written and directed by Joss Whedon, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day. You know what’s funny? I forgot about Joss Whedon’s involvement until the end credits. Having recently watched Serenity, I appear to be on a Joss Whedon kick lately. I loved the music, and after several days I still have the first song, “Freeze Ray,” playing in my head. The backstory of this project was fascinating: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was released on the internet for free in three installments. The series’ fans were generally also fans of Whedon, and they made it a phenomenon. Once again I was struck by Whedon’s strong storytelling skills. In this project, he showed how hard he could hit story beats and also how deftly he could twist the ol’ emotional knife. Finally, I can’t help but recognize how Dr. Horrible himself, played brilliantly by Neil Patrick Harris, with his romanticized alienation, seemed designed to appeal specifically to the fan demographic. It was as though Joss Whedon had taken one of his fans, geek tendencies and all, and had cast him as his lovable but tragically flawed mad scientist.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (6/19/09) TV-TCM (1956 ***½) Directed by Don Siegel, screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring, based on the Collier’s Magazine serial by Jack Finney, starring Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. I’d had this classic sitting on the ol’ DVR for some time. My wife, who hates scary movies, was out of town at a funeral, so I had a perfect opportunity to watch it. So what if it was late at night and I was all alone in an empty house except for my cat? I figured an old black and white movie like this couldn’t scare me. You know what? I was wrong. More than fifty years after it was made, there was still something in this damned film that got to me. Maybe that’s why they’ve made two remakes: One with Donald Sutherland in 1978 and another with Nicole Kidman in 2007. Was the original film a metaphor for the cold war and fear of communism? Perhaps. But it was still pretty damned creepy.

Limelight

Limelight (6/18/09) TV-TCM (1952 **) Written by, directed by and starring Charles Chaplin, who also composed the music for the film. Limelight also starred Claire Bloom as “Terry, a Dancer” and featured a cameo by Buster Keaton. A drunk, washed-up clown named Calvero interrupts the suicide of a young woman, and heartfelt hilarity ensues. At the risk of inviting fans of the great Charlie Chaplin to line up to burn me at the stake, I really did not enjoy this film. I disliked it for many reasons, but the one topping my list was that I was bored much of the time; this 2-hour film should have been at least a half hour shorter. I admire Chaplin a great deal, but this unabashed love letter to himself was embarrassing to watch. Surely there’s a name for films whose good intentions drive deep into maudlin territory. On top of everything else, I thought it an odd choice that the young man cast as Chaplin’s romantic rival was his own son Sydney, who coincidentally died recently at the age of 82.