Monthly Archive for September, 2010

Runaways, Vol. 1: Pride and Joy

Runaways, Vol. 1: Pride and Joy (9/28/10) Comics (2006 ***) Written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Adrian Alphona. A group of teenagers witness an ritual sacrifice and discover their parents are super villains called “The Pride.” This series is equal parts teenage melodrama and conventional superhero action/adventure. While the setup is a little hard to swallow, it was still reasonably entertaining, and it will be interesting to see where it goes, if anywhere.

Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard (9/26/10) Netflix (1950 ****) Directed by Billy Wilder, screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Eric von Stroheim and Nancy Olsen. A washed-up writer becomes the live-in rent boy for a silent screen legend and loses his soul in the bargain. There’s a reason this film is as respected as it is, and the acting and writing remain crisp, one of the hallmarks of truly great films. The “behind the scenes of Hollywood” angle definitely caused quite a stir when it was originally released, and that may be why it lost the Best Picture race to All About Eve.

Wall Street

Wall Street (9/22/10) TV-FMC (1987 ***) Directed by Oliver Stone, screenplay by Stanley Weiser and Oliver Stone, starring Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas, Daryl Hannah and Martin Sheen. “Greed is, in a word, good.” This film was a timely indictment of the machinations of Wall Street and the “me decade” in general. Nearly 25 years later, still mired deep in the “Great Recession,” maybe we should have paid closer attention to the film’s message. Douglas won an Oscar for his performance as Gordon Gekko. Unfortunately, young Charlie Sheen’s acting chops weren’t quite up to the same level, and as a consequence his character evolution over the course of the film was less than believable. For the most part the film worked, though there was one shot toward the end when Daryl Hannah (whose acting was even worse than Charlie Sheen’s) looked at her reflection in a cracked mirror and I said aloud: “Really, Oliver Stone?” The sequel Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps opens in a few days, but after watching the original and seeing how the new film is tracking at 52% on Rotten Tomatoes, I think I’ll probably wait to catch it on DVD.

Diabolique

Diabolique (9/20/10) TV-IFC (1955 **) Directed by Henri-Georges Glouzot, starring Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot and Paul Meurisse. Set at a boy’s school, a frail teacher and her husband’s mistress plot to kill the husband. It’s bleak, it’s French, and a swimming pool filled with murky, stagnant water plays a major role and is featured during the opening titles and credits. What more do you need to know?

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (9/20/10) TV-FMC (1953 ***1/4) Directed by Howard Hawks, starring Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe. A blonde with an appetite for diamonds and a brunette with an appetite for the U.S. Olympic swimming team take a cruise ship from New York to Paris. My wife and I watched this film a mere six months ago, but it was her birthday and how could I possibly say no? I enjoyed it a bit more this time around, especially the clever (and covert) 1950’s sexuality that ran throughout. The film’s highlight remains Monroe singing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.”

You Were Never Lovelier

You Were Never Lovelier (9/19/10) TV-TCM (1942 **1/2) Directed by William A. Seiter, starring Fred Astaire, Rita Hayworth, Adolphe Menjou and Xavier Cugat. A song and dance man with weakness for the ponies (what we’d call today a gambling addiction) falls in love with a rich club owner’s gorgeous daughter. As beautiful as this film’s female lead was, it was clear there just wasn’t the same effortless chemistry between Rita Hayward and Fred Astaire as there was between Fred and his best-known partner, Ginger Rogers. Maybe that was because Hayward was so stunningly, breathtakingly, amazingly beautiful. In other words, “she was outta his class.”

Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet (9/18/10) TV-TCM (1956 **1/2) Directed by Fred M. Wilcox, starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen. A flying saucer full of spacemen visit a planet on a rescue mission and they’re greeted with somewhat less than open arms. Filmed in widescreen and Technicolor, I imagine this film looked incredible in the theater when it was originally released. It was interesting watching Leslie Nielsen from the Police Squad movies in a straight leading man role. It somewhat akin to (I imagine) watching a young Adam West playing Hamlet. It was fairly apparent that this film, with its militaristic Naval slant to space exploration, was an influence on Star Trek. Forbidden Planet bore a close resemblance to that later TV show. I liked this movie well enough, but there were long stretches where nothing much happened, and the story could have used a lot more action.

House on Haunted Hill

House on Haunted Hill (9/17/10) TV-TCM (1959 **1/2) Directed by William Castle, screenplay by Robb White, starring Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Carolyn Craig and Elisha Cook Jr. Strangers agree to spend a night in a haunted house for $10,000. This was another one of those movies I watched on Creature Feature growing up. It seemed pretty scary when I was 8 or 9. Considerably less so now. In the cold light of day, the “whodunit” script had a few problems, but the production values were fairly decent and I imagine many a teenage boy in 1959 enjoyed his date jumping into his arms as a result of the occasional jolts of horror.

How Green Was My Valley

How Green Was My Valley (9/16/10) TV-FMC (1941 ***1/4) Directed by John Ford, screenplay by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn, starring Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, and Roddy McDowall. A man reflects upon the sorrows and joys of growing up in a Welsh mining town. This film won five Oscars, including Best Picture. This film is one of my father’s favorites, and it saddens me that I didn’t like it more. It was certainly a simple story well told. John Ford’s direction and the cinematography was amazing and well deserving of the awards they won. In particular, I appreciated how many of the shots were staged for very specific silhouettes of light against dark or vice versa. The technical artistry was impressive. I suppose my main reason for not liking the film more was that the life portrayed was hard for me to relate to… and so much of it was awfully sad. While How Green Was My Valley may have showed the rich spectrum of human existence, it seemed to me there was a shade more heartbreak in the mix than happiness.

Heaven Only Knows

Heaven Only Knows (9/13/10) TV-TCM (1947 **1/2) Directed by Albert S. Rogel, starring Robert Cummings, Brian Donlevy and Jorja Curtright. A heavenly clerical error sends an angel named Michael to Montana to set a saloon owner on the path to his proper destiny. I’m sure someone has written a book or at least a Master’s thesis or two on the audiences of the forties’ appetite for stories with afterlife elements. It’s also interesting to me how many of those stories portrayed heaven as a beurocracy. Before I saw this film, it never occurred to me to cross supernatural fantasy with the western. But here it is. Great? No, but it was reasonably well-executed.