Monthly Archive for September, 2009

Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle (9/24/09) TV-IFC (2004 ****) Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, based on the novel by Diana Wynne Jones, featuring the voices of Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall and Blythe Danner. Against the backdrop of an ongoing war, a shopgirl named Sophie meets a wizard named Howl and shortly afterwards the Witch of the Waste puts a curse on Sophie that turns her into an old woman. I think this may be my favorite Miyazaki film yet. It’s fantastic, yet very accessible. Like some of his other films, the story motivations aren’t always clear, but it was still quite satisfying.

High School Confidential!

High School Confidential! (9/22/09) TV-TCM (1958 ***) Directed by Jack Arnold, starring Russ Tamblyn, John Drew Barrymore, Mamie Van Doren and Jerry Lee Lewis, with a small role by Michael Landon. “If you flake around with the weed, you’ll end up using the harder stuff.” Weedheads and hopped up kittens alike turn their heads when a crazy new hep cat is grazin’ for grass, dig? What was it about movies about teenage drug abuse that brought out the crazy in middle-aged filmmakers back in the fifties and sixties? That’s a question for the ages. And why was it so hard to find actors to play teenagers who looked like they were under 30? This film was just well made enough to be watchable and just bad enough to be riveting. Highlights included a weird teen lingo version of Christopher Columbus� discovery of America and a nihilistic beat poem — neither advanced the plot, but they sure were weird.

Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story

Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story (9/21/09) Netflix (2002 **1/2) Directed by Lawrence Schiller, written by Norman Mailer, starring William Hurt, Mary-Louise Parker and David Strathaim. FBI traitor Robert Hanssen was a pretty weird and creepy guy. Not only did he sell secrets to the Soviets for years, he also planted hidden video cameras and photographed his wife without her knowledge, then shared the results with his voyeur-loving buddy. Schiller and Mailer were the team behind The Executioner’s Song (1982) and from the behind-the scenes featurette, I got the sense they used that fact to get access to Hanssen’s family, friends and former co-workers at the FBI. I have to say, I wasn’t very impressed with this production. Between the material and William Hurt’s affected impression of a borderline sociopath, I was turned off. Part of it was the limited production values. Master Spy was originally created as an HBO made-for-TV movie, which allowed a certain amount sex and nudity which was presented in a largely gratuitous fashion.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (9/21/09) TV-TCM (1939 **1/2) Directed by Wiliam Dieterle, based on the novel by Victor Hugo, starring Charles Laughton, Cedric Hardwicke and (in her first role) Maureen O’Hara. The year 1939 produced some classic films, including Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz and this one. I’d never seen it before and expected to be blown away. But I wasn’t. In fact, I found Monsieur Hugo’s story to be meandering, dipping frequently into outdated political rhetoric. For me, Hunchback never added up to a compelling story, and I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about many of the characters. For instance, King Louis XI (played by familiar-faced Harry Davenport) was likable most of the time, but when he pulled that “trial by ordeal” bullshit at Esmeralda’s trial, he was clearly a royal ass. Also, I know we were supposed to feel sympathy a-plenty for Laughton�s Quasimodo, but when he poured a hundred gallons of hot molten metal onto the crowd trying to break their way into Notre Dame Cathedral, I felt it was a disproportionate response to their actions.

Pink Martini

Pink Martini (9/19/09) Hollywood Bowl (2009 ****) Featuring founder and pianist Thomas M. Lauderdale and vocalist China Forbes. It’s not often I see a band and immediately want to own some of their material, but this was one of those times. In fact, at one point during the first half of the show I slipped down to the gift shop and bought their first two CDs as a gift for my wife�s birthday. A friend described Pink Martini’s music this way: Imagine spending an evening at the Cocoanut Grove in the 1930s. I’m embarrassed to admit a sense of dismay that this band I’ve never heard of before had enough fans to fill the Hollywood Bowl. That’s really saying something. This Portland, Oregon band has evidently been around for over a decade, and now that I’ve experienced them firsthand I can see why they have so many fans. In addition to songs sung in Spanish, French and Portuguese, Pink Martini has a modern, quirky side too: Late in the show they were joined by a familiar and unexpected friend, Emilio Delgado (Luis from Sesame Street), for a lovely sing-along rendition of “Sing (Sing a Song).”

The Goon, Vol. 5: Wicked Inclinations (The Goons)

The Goon, Vol. 5: Wicked Inclinations (The Goons) (9/18/09) Comics (2006 ***1/2) Written and illustrated by Eric Powell. The tone seemed to have shifted in this fifth volume, with the story (in which the Priest has created a horde of baby ghouls) taking itself a bit more seriously. The book ended with a set of short-short Goon stories written and illustrated by various artists.

Office Space

Office Space (9/17/09) TV-IFC (1999 ***1/2) Written and directed by Mike Judge, starring Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston and Gary Cole. Cubicle rat Peter Gibbons hates his job and hates his life until a hypnotist opens an escape hatch in his brain. Anyone who’s ever worked in a cubicle farm (including yours truly) or has sat in meetings playing “Buzzword Bingo” or has fantasized about beating the crap out of a “paper jam”-prone printer can appreciate this movie. Mike Judge did an excellent job of capturing a snapshot of corporate culture in the late-1990’s. The take-away message of the film was that most people don’t like their jobs and if you’re one of them it’s up to you to figure out what’s tolerable and what you can change.

The Goon, Vol. 4: Virtue and the Grim Consequences Thereof

The Goon, Vol. 4: Virtue and the Grim Consequences Thereof (9/16/09) Comics (2006 ***1/2) Written and illustrated by Eric Powell. Eric Powell and The Goon take on Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and something is terribly wrong with Dr. Hieronymus Alloy. There’s even a hilarious text story at the end written by Reno 911‘s Thomas Lennon. As I’ve indicated in my reviews of previous volumes, this series got off to an uneven start writing-wise, but it seems to have found its rhythm, and I definitely recommend it to comic readers looking for a good time.

Surf’s Up

Surf’s Up (9/16/09) Netflix (2007 ***¼) Directed by Ash Brannon and Chris Buck, featuring the voices of Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges, Zooey Deschanel and James Woods. An Antarctic penguin named Cody Maverick learns a lot about surfing, life and himself as he competes in the Penguin World Surfing Championship. This was a good film and was rightly nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Unfortunately, it never found the audience it deserved and made less than $60M domestically. Its faux surf documentary angle, inspired by The Endless Summer (1966), was original, though it may have limited its appeal. I enjoyed the film but was never fully engaged in the characters emotionally, possibly because the stakes weren’t particularly high.


Compulsion (9/15/09) TV-FMC (1959 ****) Directed by Richard Fleischer, screenplay by Richard Murphy, based on the novel by Meyer Levin, starring Bradford Dillman, Dean Stockwell, Orson Welles, E.G. Marshall and Martin Milner. “I want to do something really dangerous, something that will have everybody talking, not just a few guys!” Artie and Judd are two rich brainy pals who kidnap and off a punk kid… for kicks. Based on the Leopold and Loeb case, the same source inspiration for Hitchcock’s Rope which I reviewed recently, this film started strong and never let up. Orson Welles’ death penalty denouncing courtroom monologue at the film’s end was powerfully written and powerfully delivered.