Monthly Archive for January, 2011

True Grit

True Grit (1/31/11) DWA Screening (2010 ***1/2) Directed by Ethan and Joel Coen, based on the book by Charles Portis, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld. When Mattie Ross’ father is gunned down, she hires a drunken, cantankerous U.S. Marshall named Rooster Cogburn to track down… Hey! Didn’t I just review this film a couple weeks ago? Seriously, it was helpful to have watched the 1969 version so recently, as it made it very clear what the Coen brothers kept and what they discarded or improved. Surprisingly, they kept an awful lot; I was amazed by how similar the two films were, being virtually identical structurally, matching scene-for-scene. Overall, I did enjoy the newer version more, on nearly every level. However, it was hard to top John Wayne’s performance in the original and I don’t think Jeff Bridges quite managed to do that.

99 Classic Movies for People in a Hurry

99 Classic Movies for People in a Hurry (1/29/11) Comics (2010 *1/2) Written and illustrated by Thomas Wengelewski. As the title implies, this book contains pithy 4-panel cartoon summaries of 99 films. I’d read Henrik Lange’s 90 Classic Books for People in a Hurry and appreciated its simplicity and audacity. This follow-up book, though a natural sequel, didn’t have any of the energy of the first book, and nearly all the jokes missed the mark. Though it didn’t represent much in the way of time commitment (I read it cover to cover in about 1/2 hour) I still regret wasting money on it.

The Adventures of Mark Twain

The Adventures of Mark Twain (1/29/11) TV-TCM (1944 **1/2) Directed by Irving Rapper, starring Fredric March, Alexis Smith, Donald Crisp and Alan Hale, with John Carradine as Bret Harte. The life of Mark Twain is distilled, celebrated and fictionalized in the way only classic film biopics can get away with it. I’m pretty sure the actual Mark Twain bore little resemblance to the character in this film. The screenplay’s depiction of him actually playing as a boy with fictional characters Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Jim the slave was a big tip-off. Still, even though I was aware of the manipulative, criminally whitewashing (pun intended) screenwriting techniques from the beginning, I was still pulled in emotionally.

Waking Life

Waking Life (1/29/11) DVD (2001 ***1/2) Written and directed by Richard Linklater, featuring the voices and performances of Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. A young man finds himself trapped in an ethereal world that he slowly realizes is a dream, possibly the ultimate one. This is a strange movie that falls comfortably within the boundaries of the “mindf*ck” genre, and it is one I’m sure will discovered by introspective young men and women over and over in the coming decades. I’ve heard it dismissed by people I respect as nothing more than undergrad-level philosophical rhetoric. Still, I must admit that my mind isn’t naturally wired to easily comprehend much of the ideas expressed directly through dialogue, and yet those focused, earnest words created an oddly comforting aural texture. I particularly appreciated the application of rotoscoped animation in creating a surreal world that was a perfect match, both visually and thematically. Unlike most films, this one truly was a work of experimental art, but in spite of the disjointed styles and philosophical ramblings, Linklater took care to provide just enough of a narrative to keep it accessible enough to work as entertainment. I’m sure some would undoubtedly disagree with that statement and find Waking Life to be intellectually irritating and/or unwatchable. As for myself, in my mind I’m still that early-twenties wide-eyed youth who loved having “philosophical” discussions with his dorm friends and I imagine returning to watch this film periodically in the years to come.

Batman and Robin, Vol. 1: Batman Reborn (Deluxe Edition)

Batman and Robin, Vol. 1: Batman Reborn (Deluxe Edition) (1/28/11) Comics (2010 ***1/4) Written by Grant Morrison, illustrated by Frank Quitely and Philip Tan. Former Robin Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne’s semi-evil son Damien bicker incessantly when they take over as the Dynamic Duo. Oh, Grant Morrison. You frustrate me so. After Batman: R.I.P. I had more or less written you off. But (as a friend pointed out) it appears there are really two Grant Morrisons: (A) the one who writes weird, hard-to-follow fourth-wall / altered perception shit and (B) the Grant Morrison who writes straightforward, interesting character-driven stories told clearly, as was the case in this volume. Batman Reborn actually contains two separate 3-issue story-arcs. The first illustrated by Quitely and the second illustrated by Tan. Oddly enough, the first was far easier to follow on the page, which I’ll attribute to Quitely’s storytelling skills as an artist, not a sudden shift in Morrison’s writing style. It’s funny how delicate the relationship between word, image and narrative coherence really is.

Paris

Paris (1/27/11) Graphic Novel (2007 **1/2) Written by Andi Watson, illustrated by Simon Gane. Set in the 1950s, a young American woman studying art in Paris is commissioned to paint a portrait and falls in love with her subject. I respect Watson for having managed to make a career out of producing simple, “Indie Film”-style stories in comic book form, which aligns with my own creative aspirations. That alignment was in fact my motivation for buying and reading this book. The story of Paris was considerably lighter weight than its potential, even with all its clever allusions to the art world. A very quick read, I would estimate the scope to be the equivalent of a 40-minute short film. I wish I found Andi Watson’s writing more substantive or appealing, but I still applaud his continuing efforts doing what I someday hope to do myself.

The Golden Age

The Golden Age (1/27/11) Graphic Novel (1995 ***) Written by James Robinson, illustrated by Paul Smith. In the years after WWII, the retired heroes of the past put back on their masks and join together to face the greatest villain the world has ever known. This was originally published as an Elseworld story, meaning it took existing characters in the DC archives and mucked about with them outside the normal continuity. It was clearly a reaction to (or an effort to capitalize on the success of) Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ landmark Watchmen book from nearly a decade before. I hadn’t read this book in several years, and sadly it didn’t hold up as well as I’d expected. More than anything it made me want to re-read some of the original golden age stories, reprinted in the back pages of the 100 Page Super Spectaculars from the 1970’s. Finally, and I’m rarely compelled to comment on printing quality, but in my edition the colors used for some character narration were so dark it was nearly impossible to read the text, interfering greatly with my enjoyment of the book.

Tom Sawyer, Detective

Tom Sawyer, Detective (1/27/11) Novel (1896 **1/2) Written by Mark Twain. Based on an actual story (or so Twain would have us believe), Huck Finn narrates as he and Tom Sawyer travel back down the Mississippi to Tom’s uncle Silas’ place and solve a murder mystery involving twins. At a mere 23,000 words, this book was the briefest of Twain’s four Tom Sawyer books, all of which I read on my new Amazon Kindle. It’s interesting to note that this book made no reference to the aeronautical adventures of Tom Sawyer Abroad ever taking place. Considering the fantastical nature of that book, I’m not surprised. Judging it as a book, Tom Sawyer, Detective frequently captured Huck Finn’s voice and the flavor of the first two books, but it also felt like a short story that had been padded to book length.

They Call MeTrinity

They Call MeTrinity (1/26/11) Netflix (1970 ***) Directed by Enzo Barboni, starring Terence Hill, Bud Spencer and Farley Granger. The bean-eatin’, fast-drawin’, blue-eyed right hand of the devil from My Name is Nobody is back, this time mixing it up with his brother Bambino. Growing up, I watched all the Trinity movies because they were often shown as the third feature at the Omaha drive-in theater we frequented when I was a kid. I suspect the theater owners may have owned their own prints, they were shown so much. Many, many years later it was fun to re-watch this film (it’s sequel is next up in my Netflix queue) and even though it’s not exactly great cinema, I was able to reclaim just a hint of the childhood affection I once held for these two silly, cartoonish characters.

Adam’s Rib

Adam’s Rib (1/24/10) TV-TCM (1949 ***1/2) Directed by George Cukor, screenplay by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell and David Wayne. Married attorneys Pinky and Pinkie Bonner argue opposite sides of a case where a woman catches her husband in the arms of a floozy and shoots him. The central premise of this film was that in 1949 women were treated as second-class citizens, even in the eyes of the law, where they legally should have been considered equals. The film explored with great humor (and occasional darkness) the power dynamics of male/female relationships sixty-plus years ago. In many ways that dynamic hasn’t changed all that much, and so the film is still relevant today, though the best part of the film is not its plot but watching Tracy and Hepburn together onscreen. On a completely different note, if you watch this film, beware! Cole Porter’s prominently featured song “Farewell Amanda” will burn itself into your brain for days afterwards!