Monthly Archive for August, 2011

Green Lantern: Blackest Night

Green Lantern: Blackest Night (8/31/11) Graphic Novel (2010 **1/2) Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Doug Mahnke. Originally published in Green Lantern #43-52 (2009-2010). As the super-powered zombie apocalypse continues, this volume begins with an issue-length (back)story about the origin of the Black Hand, filling in the blanks between the original silver age villain and his role in this miniseries event, then focuses on the “Blackest Night” events as seen from the POV of Hal Jordan, Star Sapphire and Sinestro. The “Blackest Night” mega-event was the strangest story to wrap my head around. It’s a little like Kurosawa’s Rashomon, but with flying zombies. Each book in this series was by its nature incomplete, offering only a sliver of truth. I appreciated the intellectual desire for fragmented multi-dimensional storytelling and acknowledge that it’s reflective of our 21st century times. However, it’s not quite as satisfying as a linear (non-pan-dimensional) story.

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?

Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (8/30/11) TV-TCM (1957 ***) Written and directed by Frank Tashlin, based on the play by George Axelrod, starring Tony Randall, Jayne Manfield and Joan Blondell. An ad man, desperate to keep his job, invents a fictional headline-grabbing relationship between himself and sexy heartthrob “Rita Marlowe.” Before long, “Loverdoll” (Randall) finds himself causing teens to swoon and his fiancee to pass out from breast-enlarging exercises. He gets promoted, even receiving the key to the executive washroom. In short, he gets everything he wanted, except for the genuine love his soul needs. While this wasn’t a great film by any stretch, its stars high likability factor and Frank Tashlin’s “animated” direction made it a lot of fun to watch.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon

The U.S. vs. John Lennon (8/29/11) TV-Sundance (2006 ***) Written and directed by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld, featuring interviews with Yoko Ono, G. Gordon Liddy, George McGovern and Ron Kovic. This documentary explores John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s activist activities in the late 1960’s into the 1970’s. Did they single-handedly end the Vietnam war? No, of course not. They did, however, cleverly take their celebrity spotlight and redirect it to a cause they believed in: Peace. The late 60s/early 70s was a fascinating era and this film examined a chapter of Lennon’s post-Beatles life that hasn’t received a lot of cinematic attention. As a fan, I know from some other materials I’ve read that the film glossed over some of the negatives (Lennon’s early 1970’s “bad boy” clubbing, drinking and drugging) to paint a more saintly picture. However, it was still a fine film with great interviews, and I imagine the film’s slant may well have been why they were able to get Yoko Ono to participate.

Blackest Night

Blackest Night (8/28/11) Graphic Novel (2010 ***1/4) Written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Ivan Reis. Originally published in Blackest Night #0-9 (2009-2010). When dead heroes and villains start returning from the dead, it’s up to Green Lantern, his amazing friends and a rainbow of ring-bearing corps ranging from red to indigo to find a way to return them to their graves. Let’s face it, I love zombies! And you don’t have to look any further than Marvel Zombies to find evidence that combining superheroes and the undead can work. I loved the premise of this book, and the execution of that premise wasn’t bad. At its core was an awareness that many, many heroes and villains have died over the years and so many have returned from the grave that the DC afterlife’s “revolving door” policy has gotten a little silly. This series attempted to explain that and even address it a little bit. It suffered only on a few fronts: (A) The heroes figure out pretty quickly that the “evil loved ones” that have returned are essentially illusions; This took a lot of the dramatic punch out of the emotional horror show. (B) There was a vague assurance at this volume’s conclusion that from now on in the DC Universe death might be somewhat more final, but neither the characters voicing that sentiment nor I really believe that. (C) I doubt I’m giving much away by writing that at the end of the book some “deceased” characters did get another chance. Unfortunately, many of the choices made for “who stayed dead and who was resurrected” had me scratching my head. There was probably an explanation for the choices, but I had a hard time seeing any pattern.

Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star

Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star (8/25/11) TV-TCM (2002 **1/2) Written and directed by Peter Fitzgerald, featuring interviews with Anjelica Huston, Diane Baker, Christina Crawford and many others who either acted with, slept with or were abused by… Ms. Crawford. The real “elephant in the room,” of course, was the infamous book written by Crawford’s adopted daughter Joan, Mommie Dearest (“No more wire hangers EVER!!:”). This 2002 Turner Classic Movies documentary attempted to portray Joan Crawford as a complex and driven woman who was more than just the abusive alcoholic portrayed in the book and 1981 movie. I don’t know that it was altogether successful in that. With Christina Crawford as one of the primary interview subjects, it was obvious that Crawford’s daughter was still bitter and very, very angry 25 years after her mother’s 1977 death. Also, the documentary definitely painted a portrait of Crawford as a woman who bedded nearly any (powerful) man who came into her path. There was clearly a dramatic tragedy in the fact that the woman who won an Academy Award for Mildred Pierce, yet ended her career with the1970 movie Trog about a caveman named… well, “Trog.” Ironically the main effect this documentary had on me was it made me want to rent Mommie Dearest.

Dexter, Season 2

Dexter, Season 2 (8/24/11) Netflix (2007 ***1/2) Series created by Daniel Cerone, Clyde Phillips and Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, starring Michael C. Hall, Julie Benz, Jennifer Carpenter, Keith Carradine and Jaime Murray. When Dexter Morgan’s underwater “dumping ground” is discovered, Special Agent Dale Cooper… I mean Frank Lundy… is brought in. Meanwhile, Dexter-hating Sergeant Doakes does some investigating of his own. I absolutely LOVED the second season of Dexter. Considering the writing for this series started so weak in Season 1 I thought about throwing in the towel, this season really stepped it up, particularly story-wise. I especially loved how Dexter found himself fighting a war to protect his “secret identity” on so many different fronts: Lundy, Doakes and Lila, his psycho Narcotics Anonymous sponsor. The tension at times kept winding tighter and tighter and it was frequently apparent that our favorite fictional serial killer of all time had nowhere to go. Great writing.

The Long, Long Trailer

The Long, Long Trailer (8/23/11) TV-TCM (1953 **) Directed by Vincente Minnelli, based on the novel by Clinton Twiss, starring Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Honeymooners Ricky and Lucy… I mean “Nicky” and “Tacy”… buy a “home on wheels” and embark in what may well be the last adventure of their married lives. Shot during a 6-week I Love Lucy hiatus and clearly designed as a Technicolor vehicle for America’s favorite TV couple, this movie had promise… which it entirely failed to deliver upon. Even with Minnelli at the helm, there was a sense that the writers left the “funny” at home and quite frankly a lot of the scenes involving various mishaps and near disasters with the trailer ended up just stressing me out!

Mad Men, Season 1

Mad Men, Season 1 (8/22/11) Netflix (2007 ***1/2) Series created by Matthew Weiner, starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser and John Slattery. It’s 1960 and Don Draper is the top Creative Director at Cooper-Sterling, a 2nd-tier ad agency. Draper also has a dark secret in his past. True confession time: I’ve always had an affinity (bordering on past-life memories!) for this specific period and location in American history, and at one point in my 20s I actively fantasized about having a time machine that would allow me to have a “day job” working on Madison Avenue at an advertising firm in 1959. And so you may find it shocking that it took me as long as it did to start watching this show. In hindsight, I think what held me back was the fear that a TV show (even an award-winning one) could never capture the story in my own imagination. Well, guess what? Mad Men, Season 1 came pretty damned close. The episodes were all well-written, well-acted and well-directed. But in addition to that, it was clear the creative team put a great deal of effort into doing the research to be true to the period. That made for a truly immersive experience and the world in which the story was set became an integral part of the show. The alternative could have been a prime-time, basic cable soap opera that gave little more than superficial lip service to a rich and fascinating (to me, anyway) time and place.

The Music Man

The Music Man (8/21/11) TV-TCM (1962 **) Directed by Morton DaCosta, based on the musical by Meredith Willson and Franklin Lacey, starring Robert Preston, Shirley Jones, Buddy Hackett and “little” Ronny Howard. Professor (and con-man) Harold Hill whips Riverside, Iowa into a band-loving frenzy, but what he really wants is to get into a pretty librarian’s panties. This “beloved” musical falls into the same category as Oklahoma and Carousel, musicals with stories that are really pretty awful and seedy if examined closely. I loved watching Robert Preston on-screen. His movements (though he wasn’t really a dancer) were almost ballet-like, as if he could’ve given Gene Kelly a run for his money in that department. However, the character he played was pretty despicable and motivated solely by money and lust. Of course he underwent a necessary transformation, but that change didn’t happen until well into the third act. Preston’s “person of romantic interest” was played by the lovely Shirley Jones, whose voice was about an octave too high to be pleasant to my modern ears, seeming like a throwback to the musicals of the late-20s. It was the kind of voice that would’ve killed on Broadway but seemed shrill in our living room. As for the music, the film contained several memorable numbers (“76 Trombones,” “Till There Was You”) but even more forgettable ones. Now for a weird factoid: When Buddy Hackett started singing “Shipoopi,” my wife and I had the exact same reaction: We thought Seth MacFarlane had written it originally for Peter Griffin to perform (quite memorably) in an episode of Family Guy. How the HELL did they get away with a song named “Shipoopi” in a family musical in the 1950s???

Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart (8/19/11) TV-Sundance (1990 **) Directed by David Lynch, based on the novel by Barry Gifford, starring Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern and Willem Dafoe. “Manslaughterer” Sailor Ripley breaks parole and takes to the road with his best gal Lula Fortune, but along the way they encounter a lot of weird shit, the weirdest being a psychotic named Bobby Peru. God knows I love David Lynch, but some of his films are pretty hard to watch. I’m not quite sure what the creative goal was. Wild at Heart, with Nick Cage’s extended Elvis impersonation and its frequent nods to The Wizard of Oz almost worked as a comedy, but not really. For fans of Lynch it’s required viewing, but for “normal” people, it’s probably unwatchable.