Monthly Archive for July, 2010

Luba

Luba (7/25/10) Comics (2009 ***1/2) Written and illustrated by Gilbert Hernandez. Sisters Luba, Petra and Fritz and everyone caught in their orbit have many adventures, many of them involving nudity and explicit sex. I love Gilbert Hernandez’ writing and the “out-of-Palomar” world he’s created. While the sex sometimes became sensationalistic and exploitative, there was something about the gentle tone that touched my heart. My only criticism with this massive 600-page collection was there was often a sense that the narrative wasn’t going anywhere except in a circle. Stories were often presented from different points of view and out of chronological order, which wouldn’t bother me except that I often wished there were more of an overall story arc or at least a feeling of progression.

Salt

Salt (7/25/10) Glendale Mann 4 (2010 ***) Directed by Phillip Noyce, screenplay by Kurt Wimmer, starring Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber. CIA Agent Evelyn Salt is fingered as a Russian sleeper spy and gets beaten repeatedly. More than a few critics have noted that Salt is not a particularly realistic film. That’s something I noticed myself more than a few times, and I wondered if it had originally been written as a book, where certain things might be more plausible on the printed page. Our reason for going on opening weekend was simple: My wife (who figured out the ending of the film after twenty minutes) has a King-size girl crush on Angelina Jolie. I don’t pretend to understand this, but I guess I’ll just have to suffer quietly at my wife’s side with each film Jolie makes.

Five Million Years to Earth

Five Million Years to Earth (7/24/10) TV-TCM (1967 **) Directed by Roy Ward Baker, screenplay by Nigel Kneale, starring James Donald, Barbara Shelley and Andrew Keir as Professor Bernard Quatermass. An alien spacecraft from the dawn of time is uncovered in the London underground. From a strictly aural perspective, this has got to be one of the most annoying films ever made, with long stretches of the movie devoted to characters shouting over the sounds of drilling equipment and oscillating harmonics. As the film progressed, some of the imagery triggered memories and it slowly dawned on me that I’d seen the film when I was a child, playing late at night on Creature Feature. Still later, I had a creeping memory that even back then the soundtrack forced me to ride the volume control on the little black and white TV in my bedroom so that my parents wouldn’t be disturbed.

Zero Hour!

Zero Hour! (7/24/10) TV-TCM (1957 ***) Directed by Hall Bartlett, screenplay by Arthur Hailey, starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Sterling Hayden. The lives of a plane full of sick passengers and crew are all in the sweat-covered hands of a shell-shocked veteran. If that plot sounds familiar, it’s because this straight dramatic film was the basis for the 1980 comedy Airplane! Having seen the comedy many times (including recently), it was a genuine trip to see how much had been lifted from the original. I recommend the experience.

On Borrowed Time

On Borrowed Time (7/21/10) TV-TCM (1939 **) Directed by Harold S. Bucquet, starring Lionel Barrymore, Cedric Hardwicke, Bobs Watson and Henry Travers. An old man manages to trap Death up a tree. In the years leading up to America’s entry into WWII, supernatural fantasies involving the afterlife were a big staple, and they play frequently on Turner Classic Movies. It’s usually fun to find an old film in this subgenre I’ve never seen before, and I had high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, it was disappointing, mainly due to flat characters, an awkwardly-handled central premise and a resolution that mostly just pissed me off.

True Blood, Season 1

True Blood, Season 1 (7/20/10) HBO/Netflix (2008 ***1/4) Created by Alan Ball, starring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Sam Trammell, Ryan Kanten and Rutina Wesley. Telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse falls head over heels for a vampire named Bill Compton. I was a big fan of Ball’s series Six Feet Over, but one of my beefs about that show was that I often didn’t really care about the secondary (“B”) storylines, and that was the case here as well. I didn’t realize until we were well into this season that the story for the entire season was taken directly from Charlaine Harris’ Dead Until Dark, the first book in her 10-book (and counting) Sookie Stackhouse series. I liked the central “Vampires out of the closet” premise, because it altered one of the basic rules of vampires, that they’ve had to live their lives in secret. As I watched, however, I was frequently reminded of the shows antecedents, particularly two of my favorites: Twin Peaks and Dark Shadows. Viewing “Vampire Bill” as a modern version of Barnabas Collins was a lot of fun but it also made the show seem a little obviously derivative at times.

Crazy Heart

Crazy Heart (7/19/10) Netflix (2009 ***1/4) Written and directed by Scott Cooper, based on the novel by Thomas Cobb, starring Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell. Alcoholic, awkwardly-named singer Bad Blake falls in love with a young reporter and her son. Bridges won a Best Acting Oscar for this role, and perhaps he deserved it. I’ve always enjoyed him as an actor, with my personal favorite performance being his portrayal of the main character Jack in Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King (1991). I enjoyed Crazy Heart, including the music by Stephen Bruton and T-Bone Burnett, but I can’t exactly say I fell in love with it.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz (7/17/10) TV-TCM (1939 ****) Directed by Victor Fleming, starring Judy Garland, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Frank Morgan and Margaret Hamilton. A girl named Dorothy rides a killer tornado to a magical land and learns an important lesson about the value of staying put in Kansas. This isn’t a perfect movie story-wise, and the “watery” resolution of the main physical conflict was neither set up nor executed in a satisfying fashion. But you know what? None of that matters in the face of what is arguably one of the most beloved musicals of all time. This film remains surprisingly fresh, even 70 years after its first release.

A Beatles Celebration

A Beatles Celebration (7/10/10) Hollywood Bowl (2010 **1/2) Thomas Wilkins conducted the L.A. Philharmonic, backing performances by Pattie Austin, Rob Laufer, Bettye Lavette, Todd Rundgren and Brian Stokes Mitchell. 45 years after the Beatles’ historic performance at the Bowl, their music lives on. As a card-carrying Beatles fan, I was surprisingly disappointed by most of this show. The only stand-out for me was Ms. Lavette, who managed to take the familiar songs and make them her own. Her first-person rendition of “Blackbird” was particularly effective.

A Day at the Races

A Day at the Races (7/8/10) TV-TCM (1937 ***1/2) Directed by Sam Wood, starring the Marx Brothers, Maureen O’Sullivan and Margaret Dumont. A horse doctor named Hugo Z. Hackenbush helps a young lady save her sanitarium. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I never had much of a taste for the Marx Brothers, but watching this film gave me far more of an appreciation for them. Some of the scenes were laugh-out-loud funny. One thing I never realized before was how brilliant having three of them was. It let them mix-and-match the brothers in scenes, and they sometimes carried scenes solo, and this created a real sense of variety in a feature-length film. For example, the dynamic between Chico and Groucho was different than that between Harpo and Chico, which was different between Groucho and the ultimate straight woman, Dumont. My favorite scene in the film took place in an examination room with all three brothers playing doctor with Dumont. One final note: Throughout the film, it was very evident how Woody Allen — as he’s given credit through the years — took so much of his physical comedy mannerisms and timing directly from Groucho Marx.