Monthly Archive for September, 2011

Mad Men, Season 3

Mad Men, Season 3 (9/29/11) Netflix (2009 ***1/2) Series created by Matthew Weiner, starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Vincent Kartheiser and John Slattery. As the employees of Cooper Sterling grow used to their recent acquisition by their British overlords, Don Draper’s mysterious past finally catches up with him at home. Clearly one of the best-written series on TV (and with the awards to back that up), my complaint about the second (preceding) season was that the show never seemed to know where it was headed. In Season 3, the Madison Avenue world of 1963 clicked along with almost all its cylinders firing. One delightful highlight was the sixth episode, “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency,” which had one genuine “HOLY F*CKING SHIT!” moment that caused me to literally jump up from the couch and stare at the screen in disbelief as to what I’d just witnessed. My only real nitpick with Season 3 was that the show’s depiction of the historic, tragic events of November 22, 1963 didn’t have anywhere near the emotional resonance I’d expected. I wanted more, somehow. However, Mad Men more than made up for that in the next episode, the season finale, aptly entitled “Shut the Door. Have a Seat” which shook up the show’s premise and provided a wonderful “narrative slingshot” into Season 4.

Contagion

Contagion (9/25/11) Glendale Americana Pacific 18 (2011 ***) Directed by Steven Soderbergh, written by Scott Z. Burns, starring Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Laurence Fishburne. What do you get when you cross the DNA of a bat with that of a pig? A global pandemic that makes smallpox look like the freaking sniffles. It’s hard to explain what drove me to see this movie. It may have been the idea of an intelligent, star-studded, well-acted horror film about the disintegration of society. Contagion certainly delivered that, beginning with (mild spoiler alert) Gwyneth Paltrow’s death and autopsy within the first five minutes of the film. I couldn’t help thinking as I watched that as terrible as the pandemic scenario was and how realistically it played out on the screen that I was almost completely unmoved emotionally. Why was that? The sequence of events was fairly matter-of-fact, and there was occasional melodrama in the dialogue, yet none of the characters appeared genuinely shaken to their very core by the staggering loss of life happening all around them.

Real Steel

Real Steel (9/13/11) DWA Screening — Burbank AMC 16 (2011 ***) Directed by Shawn Levy, screenplay by John Gatins, starring Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo and Evangeline Lilly. A broken-down ex-boxer and his 11-year-old kid take a scrappy broken-down underdog boxing robot named Atom all the way to the top. Equal parts The Champ, Rocky and Rock-Em, Sock-Em Robots, Real Steel was maddening at times because it was such a dumbed-down version of what could have been a truly awesome movie. But I’ll be damned if the end didn’t have me cheering in my seat and even tearing up a little. As much as I loved the CG robots knocking the holy rivots out of each other, the best part of the film by far was Dakota Goyo, who got to play the most adorable annoying kid I’ve seen in a long time. Shawn Levy, who previously directed the Night at the Museum films may still have a lot to learn about directing non-CG actors, but I’m glad he never (apparently) asked young Goyo to “tone it down.”

Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks

Tchaikovsky Spectacular with Fireworks (9/9/11) Hollywood Bowl (2011 ***1/2) The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led by conductor Bramwell Tovey is joined by master cellist Christian Poltera and the USC Trojan Marching Band for a 4-part Tchaikovsky program featuring Romeo and Juliet, Rococo Variations, Music from Act IV of Swan Lake, and ending with the 1812 Overture. This was a wonderful, albeit somewhat surreal evening at the Bowl, one made all the more entertaining by Tovey’s hilarious commentary: The show began a few minutes late, thanks to a trio of circling helicopters hovering around a small fire (as Tovey assured us) “just on the other side of that hill.” We learned later that it had been one of Jack Nicholson’s houses on fire. (Gotta love living in Hollywood.) Once the helicopters flew away, the program settled down until the fireworks finale. My wife and I have seen the fireworks at the Bowl a number of times, but never, evidently, when the wind was blowing toward the audience. Within two minutes of the fireworks beginning, smoke filled the front of the bowl, surrounding us in our seats, leading us to whisper plans for an emergency escape, should one become necessary. What’s more, because of the atmospheric haze from the smoke, each time the fireworks went off, the entire world seemingly blazed with that color: red, green, blue. It was one of the most incredible visual things I’ve ever seen, what I imagine being inside a cloudbank during a lightning storm would be like. The smoke was so thick at one point that we could barely see the Trojans as they “slipped onto” the walkway in front of the stage, and the musicians behind them were pretty well engulfed. How they managed to gather enough breath to play their instruments I have no idea. With smoke filling the Bowl and the final note fading, we practically leapt from our seat to make our way to our bus and the L.A. Zoo, leaving behind us the world famous Hollywood Bowl and yet another memorable season. See ya next year, L.A. Philharmonic!

Mad Men, Season 2

Mad Men, Season 2 (9/7/11) Netflix (2008 ***) Series Created by Matthew Weiner, starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones and Christina Hendricks. Don Draper’s lifestyle choices cause the gradual erosion of his marriage with Betty. Meanwhile, Peggy Olsen’s power at Cooper Sterling grows, but will she ever make a scratch in the glass ceiling? In all honesty I spent most of Season 2 wondering where the hell the season was headed story-wise. Don’t get me wrong: I love the show and especially continue to love the “high fidelity” of the early 1960s world. However, I’m finding that the stories increasingly vague. Get to the point, Mad Men!

Dexter, Season 3

Dexter, Season 3 (9/6/11) Netflix (2008 ***1/4) Series created by Daniel Cerone, Clyde Phillips and Melissa Rosenberg, based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay, starring Michael C. Hall, Jennifer Carpenter, Julie Benz, David Zayas and Jimmy Smits. Miami’s favorite serial killer Dexter Morgan accidentally kills an “innocent” guy and makes a new friend in the process — the victim’s brother! The tension during the second season was so delicious because at each turn it really felt like Dexter was going to get caught. The tension in Season 3 never reached those same heights. Having Dexter’s new “friend” turn out to have an appetite for revenge killing was an interesting twist, and Jimmy Smits was terrific in that role. However, it just wasn’t nearly as gripping as the preceding season, leading me to wonder what was going on behind-the-scenes on the set. In fact, the first episode of Season 3 even looked weird, with strange pinkish highlights in the lighting. Did they try shooting with a new type of camera or something? Enquiring minds want to know…

Okay, following a quick Google search I was able to determine they did change cameras between Season 2 (“Panavised Sony F900” with an “Arri 435 film camera for ramping and slowmotion work”) and Season 3 (“Sony CineAlta F23”). Hmmm. Not necessarily a change made for the better, I would say.

The Big Picture: AFI’s Great American Movie Quiz Hosted by Alex Trebek

The Big Picture: AFI’s Great American Movie Quiz Hosted by Alex Trebek (9/4/11) Hollywood Bowl (2011 ***) How’s this for a fun, interactive movie-themed evening at the Hollywood Bowl? Multiple-choice trivia questions were “answered” using red, green and blue glow sticks. Following each “answer,” a movie clip was shown, with its orchestration provided by the live orchestra. I’ve been a sucker for glow sticks since I was in my early teens, and I LOVE movie trivia. This evening (our second trip to the Bowl in a single weekend!) was a lot of fun, even though the individual clips ran a bit too long. Also distracting from the evening’s enjoyment… and I’ll phrase this in the form of a question… “What quiz show host really loves to hear himself talk?” You guessed it, Alex Trebek, himself. You wouldn’t guess that about him, would you? Anyhow, Mr. Trebek may know a lot of things about a lot of things, but he clearly had some gaps in the category of “Live Show Pacing.”

Travels of Thelonius (Fog Mound)

Travels of Thelonius (Fog Mound) (9/3/11) Graphic Novel (2007 **1/2) Written by Susan Schade, with illustrations by Jon Buller. Floodwaters carry a chipmunk named Thelonius (“Thelonius Chipmunk,” get it?) to a post-apocalyptic city, where the decayed remains of human civilization hide new dangers… and new friends. I “discovered” a fairly beaten-up copy of this book on sale at my favorite used book store. I was intrigued by its more-or-less 50/50 split of prose and graphic novel presentation. I’m admittedly curious about the publication story there: Was the book/series originally conceived as a full-on graphic novel but they only had the budget for X pages of illustration? Perhaps. I think I may have preferred a full-on graphic novel to this hybrid, though the story simply wasn’t all that gripping, regardless of how it was told. While this was the first “chapter” in a series, I’m not particularly motivated to buy any further installments.

Green Lantern Corps: Blackest Night

Green Lantern Corps: Blackest Night (9/3/11) Graphic Novel (2010 ***) Written by Peter J. Tomasi, illustrated by Patrick Gleason. Originally published in Green Lantern Corps #39-47 (2009-2010). The sky is filled with flying Black Lanterns as Green Lanterns Kyle Rayner, Guy Gardner and Kilowog join forces with a fellow corpsman literally the size of a planet. I wrote previously about the inherent dissatisfaction in reading a jagged facet of a much larger story. However, the narrative in this particular volume, which included Guy Gardner’s turn as a member of the bloodthirsty Red Lanterns, seemed to work, mostly because it had a clear focus with a beginning, middle and end. Yeah, I’m a sucker for that. Why did it work where Green Lantern: Blackest Night didn’t quite? Perhaps it was because of the “story space” occupied, or perhaps it was because Tomasi was able to do something the DC events chief architect, Geoff Johns, was unable to do: Find coherence in bedlam.

Totally 80s Hollywood Bowl: The Human League, B-52s, The Fixx & Berlin

Totally 80s Hollywood Bowl: The Human League, B-52s, The Fixx & Berlin (9/2/11) Hollywood Bowl (2011 **1/2) One night, four bands, lots of annoying chitchat in the audience! I don’t know what was in the air at the Hollywood Bowl on Friday, September 2… Well, let me take that back; I definitely know what the guy diagonally in front of us was smoking. Anyhow, the people seated around us simply would not shut up! Seriously, people! What’s wrong with you? It’s a mystery to my wife and I why in God’s good name The Human (freakin) League got top billing over The B-52’s. (They must have pretty damned good representation, I guess.) Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and the rest of the B-52’s were definitely the high-point of the concert. How is it possible that there was never a cartoon series or animated movie based on that band? There you go, Hollywood. That’s my big idea for 2011! My wife and I were plenty sore day after the concert from all the dancing we did. Okay, full disclosure: We left right after the B-52’s and didn’t actually stick around for Human League. Why? (A) We wanted to catch the first shuttle bus back to the L.A. Zoo and (B) knew it couldn’t be anything but anticlimactic.