Monthly Archive for February, 2010

Road House

Road House (2/28/10) TV-KTLA (1989 ***) Directed by Rowdy Herrington, screenplay by David Lee Henry and Hilary Henkin, starring Pattrick Swayze, Kelly Lynch and Sam Elliott. Dalton is a bouncer who takes troubled roadside taverns and slaps ’em upside the head and kicks ’em in the kneecaps until they behave themselves, andthen he moves on to the next one. My terrible confession of the week: The main reason I watched this film was so I could better appreciate a running gag on Family Guy in which Peter Griffin kicks people, then says: “Road House.” Boy, the things I’ll do for cultural context. What surprised me was how damned entertaining and brutally archetypal this film was. It was so representative of a type of films made during an era in film history that it should be shown in universities and studied. It is that pure. “Road House.”

Preacher, Vol. 2: Until the End of the World

Preacher, Vol. 2: Until the End of the World (2/27/10) Graphic Novel (1997 ***1/4) Written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Steve Dillon. This book featured two stories: “All in the Family” and “Hunters.” Continuing the energy of the first volume, Ennis managed to crank up the outrageous dial, and some of the adult-oriented situations were pretty extreme. With this volume I got the sense that Preacher is one of those road trips where the destination is far less important than the company you’re with.

Preacher, Vol. 1: Gone to Texas

Preacher, Vol. 1: Gone to Texas (2/27/10) Graphic Novel (1996 ***1/4) Written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by Steve Dillon. When the spawn of heaven and hell breaks loose, it’s up to a man of God, a female hit-man and a vampire to straighten things out. This is a fun series, with strong writing and art by Ennis and Dillon. This book definitely favored characterization over plot, and the character introductions seemed a tad bit engineered, but I didn’t as annoying as I initially thought I would. Mind you, the world of Preacher is definitely adult-oriented, and not for the timid.

The Player

The Player (2/26/10) TV-Sundance (1992 ***) Directed by Robert Altman, screenplay by Michael Tolkin (based on his novel), starring Tim Robbins and a dozen recognizable Hollywood faces, many playing themselves. A studio executive harassed by a threatening writer accidentally kills an innocent man. I have to make a terrible confession: I’ve always admired Robert Altman but haven’t always enjoyed his work. This film is one of the most accessible of his films, and I appreciated the attempt to incorporate recognizable celebrities as a legitimate motif. Unfortunately, the effect was occasionally awkward, as in the case in a scene set at a Hollywood party, where Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows looked a little uncomfortable as the human equivalent of set decoration. I also had a lot of trouble feeling that Tim Robbins had the acting gravitas for the film’s lead. While I’ve always found him likable, throughout The Player I kept feeling he was in over his head as an actor.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 04: The Heart’s Desire

The Walking Dead, Vol. 4: The Heart’s Desire (2/25/10) Graphic Novel (***1/4) Written by Robert Kirkland, illustrated by Charlie Adlard. Rick and company continue to build a life in a prison where only a chain link fence separates them from the zombie herd. While I’m still very actively engaged in this series, I was a little more aware in this volume of the limits of Kirkland’s skills in writing dialogue. Perhaps that’s because so much of this particular book was made up of scenes of people screaming and cursing at each other. Still, there were enough unexpected plot twists to make me keep reading. In fact, I’ve already placed an order for the next three books in the series.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 03: Safety Behind Bars

The Walking Dead, Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars (2/25/10) Graphic Novel (***1/2) Written by Robert Kirkland, illustrated by Charlie Adlard. In a world filled with zombies, the operative word in the phrase “maximum security penitentiary” becomes “security.” Since I wrote about Adlard’s illustrative limitations at length in my review of the previous volume, I won’t here. One of the things I admire about this series is that each “volume” really does contain an element that sets it apart from the rest of the series. This volume was about making a home in a prison. Like previous books, it introduced new characters and contained quite a few dramatic twists. This series is definitely growing on me.

Rock Springs

Rock Springs (2/24/10) Short Fiction (2009 ***1/2) Written by Richard Ford. This collection of short stories was assigned as part of a UCLA Extension class taught by Wayne Harrison. In the class, over a five-week period, we read two stories each week, analyzing the stories and commenting on aspects of the dialogue. Some of the students in class found Ford’s stories to be depressing and repetitive. While those views were valid, I chose to look at the stories in Rock Springs as variations on a common theme. It’s true the characters often shared similar traits and the stories all took place in the same space, either physically or psychologically. Still, the writing was strong (according to the book’s front cover, Ford won a Pulitzer for his novel Independence Day), and though the inter-story similarities made Ford’s technique more apparent, that was quite helpful for purposes of my class. Based solely on this book, since it’s my only exposure to his work, Richard Ford may be a bit more downbeat than the writer I hope to be someday, but as far as short story construction goes, one could pick a worse writer to emulate.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 02: Miles Behind Us

The Walking Dead, Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us (2/23/10) Graphic Novel (2007 ***1/2) Written by Robert Kirkland, illustrated by Charlie Adlard. In this, the second installment of the series, Rick and company find an oasis in the form of a farm, but safety comes at a high price. Kirkland stated in the introduction to the first volume that with this series he wanted the luxury of time, allowing the story to unfold slowly. Knowing that helped to alleviate some pacing frustrations I might have otherwise had. It seemed that his narrative style was to let the characters slowly unfold, then to wallop the reader with an unexpected twist. On the art front, I must agree with other reviewers who have written that Adlard’s illustrations — though appropriate to the source material — are not quite as strong as Tony Moore’s work in the first volume. In particular, I often had trouble telling characters apart, a fact that was complicated by how many new characters were introduced in this volume.

Foreign Correspondent

Foreign Correspondent (2/23/10) TV-TCM (1940 ***) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders and Robert Benchley. On the eve of WWII, a newspaper reporter is sent to Europe and he falls into a plot that can only be described as arbitrarily diabolical. This film exists as a prototype for far better Hitchcock films that followed. Also, as I watched I was frequently reminded of Steven Spielberg’s directorial style and his relationship to Hitchcock. Much of the film’s weaknesses lay in its script, which committed the cardinal sin of having a protagonist who was often passive because his role as leading man was shared. As enjoyable as he was, the George Sanders character probably should have been cut.

Man On Wire

Man On Wire (2/22/10) TV-IFC (2008 ***) Directed by James Marsh, based on the book by Philippe Petit. In 1974 a man did the impossible, walking on a wire strung between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. This film won the Oscar last year for Best Documentary Feature, and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t get pulled into it as much as I thought I would. Part of the problem for me was I had a hard time trusting which film footage was real and which had been re-enacted. I’m not entirely sure why that affected my enjoyment of the film. Perhaps it’s because I found it distracting.