Monthly Archive for November, 2009

Miracle on 34th Street

Miracle on 34th Street (11/30/09) TV-FMC (1973 **) Directed by Fielder Cook, starring Sebastian Cabot, Jane Alexander and David Hartman, with a supporting cast worth mentioning: Roddy McDowall, Jim Backus, James Gregory, Conrad Janis, David Doyle and Tom Bosley. A friendly old gent named Kris Kringle gets a job at Macy’s and goes on trial to prove he’s really the one and only Santa Claus. Make no mistake, this made-for-TV film was not the “good” 1947 version that starred Edmund Gwenn and Maureen O’Hara. But where else can you see David Doyle AND Tom Bosley in the same film? I have the vaguest memories of watching this borderline abomination when it was originally aired. Ripe for MST3K treatment, this film demonstrated why David Hartman’s acting career never quite took off as well as David Doyle’s impressive capacity for over-acting.

Lucifer, Vol. 3: A Dalliance with the Damned

Lucifer, Vol. 3: A Dalliance with the Damned (11/26/09) Graphic Novel (2002 ***) Written by Mike Carey, illustrated by various. The centerpiece of this compilation is a story set in hell, in which a demon seductress grows bored and selects one of the damned as her sexual plaything. In my lukewarm review of the previous volume I noted that my difficulty following its storyline and my general lack of enjoyment was probably the result of reading it in piecemeal fashion. This time around I read Dalliance With the Damned in a couple of sittings and enjoyed Carey’s writing somewhat more, though it was still not on the same level as the Neil Gaiman Sandman series from which Lucifer was spun off.

Justice League of America, Vol. 1: The Tornado’s Path

Justice League of America, Vol. 1: The Tornado’s Path (11/23/09) Graphic Novel (2008 ***1/2) Written by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Ed Benes. JLA’s favorite android (and Pinocchio), The Red Tornado, gets a chance to be a “real boy,” only to get smashed to a pulp by Solomon Grundy. I’ve honestly lost count of the number of Justice League “reboots” there have been. That is a phenomenon that simply baffles my mind. I guess what’s happened in the past has been that it’s been difficult to assemble a JLA roster and have it sustain over several years. Or perhaps the membership is disrupted by whatever this year’s “DC event” occurs. This incarnation, thanks to Brad Meltzer’s writing (he also wrote the superb Identity Crisis) felt like it honestly has a chance of having a decent run. Hopefully that’s the case.

The Blob

The Blob (11/23/09) TV-TCM (1958 **1/2) Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr., starring Steve McQueen, Aneta Corsaut and Earl Rowe. Steve McQueen sees an amorphous monster devour a doctor and nobody will believe him — because he’s nothing but a no-good troublemaking teenager! This was not a particularly well-written or well-directed film. McQueen, being the only actor with any talent at all, really shined, even in spite of half-assed direction which was completely incompatible with his approach to acting. Even with its faults, it was still fairly entertaining to watch, mainly because it remains such an archetypal 1950’s Sci-Fi monster movie.

Showcase Presents: Robin the Boy Wonder, Vol. 1

Showcase Presents: Robin the Boy Wonder, Vol. 1 (11/21/09) Comics (2008 **1/2) Written and illustrated by various, but featuring many stories by Mike Friedrich. From the sixties to the mid-seventies, Batman’s sidekick was featured in many solo adventures, often in the back pages of Batman and Detective comics. Thanks mainly to Burt Ward’s version on the Batman TV show, Robin was my favorite character when I was a kid. The only thing more satisfying than imagining I was Batman’s sidekick was imagining I was a teenaged hero out on my own. Many of the stories in this volume were written at a time when America was in turmoil and the generation gap was the size of the Grand Canyon. Comics made during this period struggled with their social relevance. Not surprisingly, Robin frequently found himself torn between the law-abiding values of the establishment and his identity as a young college student.

Wizards

Wizards (11/20/09) TV-FMC (1977 **) Written and directed by Ralph Bakshi, featuring the voices of Bob Holt and Jesse Welles. Centuries from now, after the earth has been ravaged by nuclear war, two wizard brothers, Avatar and Blackwolf battle it out for the future of humanity. My college roommate, a big fan of Ralph Bakshi, introduced me to this film back in the early 1980’s. My memory of it had faded over the years and mostly I remembered two things: (1) The heavy use of rotoscoped WWII footage of German Nazis and (2) Elinore the fairy’s ever-present… er, how do I phrase this delicately?… nipple bumps. Watching it again after all these years, I was struck by how much Holt’s voice sounded like a George Burns impression.

After Hours

After Hours (11/18/09) Netflix (1985 ***1/2) Directed by Martin Scorsese, screenplay by Joseph Minion, starring Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Terry Garr and Catherine O’Hara. Upper East sider / word processor Paul Hackett meets a girl in a coffee shop and ventures to a circle of hell South of Houston Street. After An American Werewolf in London I became a big fan of Griffin Dunne, and so I saw this film when it was first released and several times afterwards on video. I hadn’t watched it in years, but it was one of those rare films that was even stronger than I’d remembered it being. That may be because I appreciate Scorsese’s skills as a director more now that I’m older. Also, it’s easier now than when I was in my early 20’s for me to identify with Griffin’s main character. I’m not sure what that says about me.

A Thousand Clowns

A Thousand Clowns (11/17/09) TV-TCM (1965 ***) Directed by Fred Coe, screenplay by Herb Gardner, based on his play, starring Jason Robards, Barbara Harris, William Daniels, Martin Balsam and Barry Gordon. When his suitability as a guardian is questioned, an out-of-work TV writer must choose between his nephew and continuing to give the establishment the finger. It’s a sad day for me when a film doesn’t live up to my fond childhood memories of it. I’m not sure why — especially considering its subject matter — but I watched this film on TV several times when I was a kid. At the time I absolutely identified with Barry Gordon’s Nick, a 40-year-old man trapped in a 12-year-old body. As an actor, Gordon was also like a miniature version of Woody Allen, so undoubtedly I had an affinity there as well. While the film had several strong performances, the main reason for my disappointment after watching A Thousand Clowns again after all these years had to do with its downbeat message: In real life, non-conformists must eventually grow up and learn to conform. Jason Robards’ character began the story as an eccentric iconoclast, but ended it wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Not surprisingly, that was (and is) a rarely-conveyed message.

Zombieland

Zombieland (11/16/09) DWA Screening (2009 ***1/2) Directed by Ruben Fleischer, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin. When civilization succumbs to a zombie virus, a set of rules is all that stands between you and survival. Inspired by Shaun of the Dead and filmed entirely in Georgia, this was one of those rare films that lived up to the promise of its premise. Bill Murray appeared as himself in the middle of the film in an unforgettable cameo. There is apparently something in the zeitgeist that is fascinated by the walking dead. Why that is, I don’t know, but Zombieland fed that insatiable hunger and was a hell of a lot of fun to boot.

Lucifer, Vol. 2: Children and Monsters

Lucifer, Vol. 2: Children and Monsters (11/15/09) Comics (2002 **1/2) Written by Mike Carey, illustrated by various. Lucifer battles Japanese god-demons to reclaim his wings and there’s also a monster in a bottle. I’m afraid I read this volume in short bits over a period of a couple of weeks, which probably diminished my enjoyment. I honestly didn’t follow much of it; there were a lot of random storylines that more or less came together in the end but weren’t terrifically satisfying. If you’re thinking this is a particularly lazy and flimsy review, you’d be right.