Monthly Archive for May, 2010

Hollywood Without Make-Up

Hollywood Without Make-Up (5/31/10) TV-TCM (1963 **1/2) Directed by Rudy Behlmer and Loring d’Usseau, written by Royal Foster, hosted by Ken Murray. This hour-long film could have been called “Home Movies of the Stars.” In addition to all the behind-the-scenes film Ken Murray and others took over the years, the highlight was a set of home movies from the 1930’s taken at San Simeon, otherwise known as Hearst’s Castle. If the footage looks familiar, it’s because much of it was later incorporated into Woody Allen’s mock-documentary Zelig (1983).

Secret War

Secret War (5/31/10) Graphic Novel (2009 **1/2) Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Gabriele Dell’Otto. “One year ago” Nick Fury assembled a team of superheroes with the goal of assassinating the head of state of Latveria, then brainwashed them into forgetting their “secret” mission. This storyline mostly felt like a lot of set-up without much in the way of payoff. My favorite aspect had to do with asking the question: Where did all those classic Marvel tech-villains from the 60’s and 70’s get their funding?

Manhunter, Vol. 4: Unleashed

Manhunter, Vol. 4: Unleashed (5/31/10) Comics (2008 **1/2) Written by Marc Andreyko, illustrated by Javier Pina. Manhunter by night, attorney by day, Kate Spencer must defend Wonder Woman’s murder of Maxwell Lord. I picked this volume up used, having had no exposure to this particular incarnation of the DC Comics Manhunter character. Interestingly, this book, which contained a 6 or 7-issue run of the comic, had two completely independent, non-intersecting alternating storylines. The one in which Kate Spencer defended Wonder Woman had very little traditional superhero “action,” and the primary dramatic tension came from waiting for the grand jury to return a verdict. While this book was readable enough, I don’t have any desire to seek out other volumes in the series.

Superf*ckers

Superf*ckers (5/30/10) Comics (2010 ***1/2) Written and illustrated by James Kochalka. The blurb on the back cover described Superf*ckers as being equally enjoyable by people who love superhero comics as well as those who hate them. That was a bold but surprisingly accurate statement. Imagine, if you will, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, complete with clubhouse, as a bunch of foul-mouthed, drug-seeking, sex-starved teens. That gives you a pretty good idea what this book is about, and I loved every single page. This is definitely not a book for kids, and there are many people I would not recommend it to, but I’m sure many of my “sick and twisted” friends out there would enjoy it just as much as I did.

The Fly

The Fly (5/28/10) TV-FMC (1986 ***) Directed by David Cronenberg, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. A scientist tests his teleportation device on himself, but in his drunken state he overlooks a winged traveling companion. I hadn’t watched this movie since sometime in the early 1990’s. It was fun to see how young (and buff) Goldblum and Davis were. I don’t think I ever managed to watch the original Vincent Price version, though I was aware enough to appreciate a couple of references: “Help me.” and “Be afraid. Be very afraid.” The “scientist in search of the flesh” stuff was a little heavy-handed and seemed very Cronenberg-esque. It worked fairly well as a sci fi / horror film, though it was nowhere near as strong or memorable as Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) or John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). On the story-front, it was an interesting choice to make Davis’ ultra-creepazoid ex-boyfriend sort of heroic in the end. That choice was representative of a sort of nihilistic moral ambiguity that ran throughout.

Love and Rockets, No. 1: New Stories

Love and Rockets, No. 1: New Stories (5/23/10) Comics (2008 **1/2) Written and illustrated by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez. The Hernandez brothers are back, with separate stories (and sections) by and illustrated by each in turn. In this volume, Beto’s semi-surreal stand-alone stories were sandwiched between Xaime’s continuing fem-superhero drama. Regrettably, it’s been a few years since I read my original set of Love and Rockets books, and I’m probably overdue. Possibly it’s because my memories are a little rose-colored, but I didn’t find the writing in this book nearly as compelling as their previous books. Gilbert’s drawings were far rougher than his earlier “Heartbreak Soup” work, bordering at times on sloppy, and I found Jaime’s narrative to drift so aimlessly that I wondered if he’d made it up as he went.

Cashback

Cashback (5/23/10) Netflix (2006 ***) Written and directed by Sean Ellis, starring Sean Biggerstaff and Emilia Fox. A British art student with insomnia and a gift for stopping time works the night shift in a supermarket. This film had a remarkable genesis: It began as an Oscar-nominated short film, then financial backing was lined up for an expanded feature-length version. Rather than re-shooting, Ellis structured the screenplay in such a way that the original film became a virtually unaltered sequence in the expanded version. To give you an idea of how well it was integrated, I had no clue that had been done until I watched the “making of” featurette on the DVD. That aspect of it really worked, but what didn’t work so well were some of the new (and frequently flat) comedic elements that Ellis added to pad out the film, and some of it, like a night-time soccer game and a trip to a strip joint, felt like filler. It’s unavoidable to acknowledge that one of Cashback‘s “hooks” was its exploration of voyeuristic territory, but in the end it had a really sweet message. I only wish the film as a whole had lived up to its full potential.

Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 (5/22/10) Pasadena Gold Class Theater (2010 ***) Directed by Jon Favreau, starring Robert Downey Jr., Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johansson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke. The U.S. Army wants the Iron Man weapon, but Tony “I am Iron Man” Stark doesn’t want to let go. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the character dynamic that worked so darn well in the first film didn’t work in the second. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sorry I went to see Iron Man 2, especially since it was my first time with the amazing, upscale Gold Class Theater experience. Yes, I got my money’s worth, but not much more. Maybe the sequel lacked the heart of the first, or perhaps it’s because a lot of characters were introduced but didn’t do much. It’s really a pity, because even if it makes a lot of money it may mean the end of the franchise. It probably says a lot that even the Nick Fury / “Avengers Initiative” stuff that gave me shivers in the first film fell flat here.

Summercamp!

Summercamp! (5/20/10) TV-Sundance (2006 **1/2) Directed by Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price. This documentary covers several weeks in the lives of campers (not all of them happy) and their counselors. I began watching this shot-on-video film and got sucked in, not so much because of the documentary itself, but because it brought back so many memories of a summer camp I went to when I was seven or eight. I was a little shocked by the fact that one of the female camp counselors had as much distain for her kids (even though she claimed to love them) as she did, though that may have been the most honest part of the film. Also, I don’t generally spend a lot of time hanging around young kids, so it was interesting to me to see how obvious maturity and intelligence differences are at that age.

Timecrimes (Los cronocrimenes)

Timecrimes (Los cronocrimenes) (5/19/10) Netflix (2008 ***) Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, starring Karra Elejalde, Candela Fernandez, Barbara Goenaga and Nacho Vigalondo. When an overworked man spies a naked lady through his binoculars, his voyeuristic curiosity leads him into a time machine. I can’t remember why I added this to my Netflix queue, but it was probably the indirect result of me being a sucker for movies involving time travel. I was somewhat inspired by this Spanish low-budget independent film… In fact, I think I’d like to write a similar screenplay of my own someday. Or perhaps I already have… in an alternate timeline! Overall, this wasn’t a great movie, and I would have preferred a more appealing protagonist, but Timecrimes definitely kept the left side of my brain engaged as I waited to see how all the set-up elements would be paid off.