Monthly Archive for November, 2011

Dynamic Figure Drawing

Dynamic Figure Drawing (11/28/11) Illustrated Nonfiction (1970 ***) Written and illustrated by Burne Hogarth. The illustrator of the comic strip Tarzan and co-founder of NYC’s School of Visual Arts puts on his professorial hat to teach students how to draw figures in deep space. The paperback version I read was published in 1996, though there’s no indication the content was modified from Hogarth’s original 1970 hardback book. My purpose in buying and reading this book? I’ve been attending figure drawing sessions at my studio for years and recently I’ve decided to take my skills “to the next level.” It’s vitally important to note that the focus of Hogarth’s book is on inventing figure drawings, rather than drawing from life. Hogarth’s writing, which accompanies hundreds of drawings, reads like something from another time: It was dry and professorial to the point of being incomprehensible at times. He often used ten words when three would have sufficed. I attribute this to the era in which it was written. I generally found the book to be useful as an instructional resource, but I also found it interesting that in a book that repeatedly referred to drawing figures in space and foreshortening that Hogarth deliberately chose a “flattened out” orthographic space throughout the book, with little reference whatsoever to drawing figures in true perspective. Perhaps he felt it was too advanced a topic for his audience. If you’ll permit me a whimsical side-note: The nude, bald male figure Hogarth used for 90% of his examples kept reminding me of Doctor Manhattan in Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel; I wonder if Watchmen illustrator Dave Gibbons used Hogarth’s book for inspiration?

Show Boat

Show Boat (11/27/11) TCM (1951 **) Directed by George Sidney, based on the musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, starring Kathryn Grayson, Koward Keel, Ava Gardner and Joe E. Brown. The daughter of a Mississippi River show boat owner gets tangled up with a gambler who doesn’t seem to comprehend how random chance works. Show Boat is one of those classic movie musicals I never quite got around to watching. And it turns out I didn’t miss much: With the exception of a couple of memorable songs (“Ol’ Man River” and “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”), there was little to grab and keep my attention. Its thin characterizations and over-the-top melodrama certainly didn’t do it.

The F.B.I. Story

The F.B.I. Story (11/27/11) TCM (1959 **1/2) Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, starring James Stewart, Vera Miles and Murray Hamilton. The history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from disorganized paper-shufflers to gun-wielding G-Men is presented through the eyes and travails of a fictional amalgam. Apparently the F.B.I. monitored and approved every step of this film’s production, and it did feel at times like a whitewashed advertisement for the agency, with a little family melodrama thrown in. J. Edgar Hoover even played himself briefly in one dialogue-free scene, though he was a key character (or at least presence) in the film. While I found the material engaging enough for me to finish the film even after I realized how long it was, I don’t know that I can recommend it, even for fans of its star. In his long career, Jimmy Stewart gave us many wonderful performances, but in the case of The F.B.I. Story, I think he may have just been cashing a check.

The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree (11/27/11) TCM (1959 ***) Directed by Delmer Daves, based on the novel by Dorothy M. Johnson, starring Gary Cooper, Maria Schell, Ben Piazza and Karl Malden. A doctor with a dark past and control issues interferes with the lives of people in a Western town until they’ve had enough and decide to “string him up!” I don’t watch a lot of westerns, but my father had mentioned The Hanging Tree on several occasions. While it wasn’t a great film, it had a surprisingly complex main character and an interesting story. The dramatic focus of much of the story, however had to do with the ever-present threat of rape. But as unsavory as that element was, it was handled well; I’m not sure how he did it, but Karl Malden played a character even creepier than Rod Steiger in Oklahoma! In addition to the stars already mentioned, The Hanging Tree also featured George C. Scott in his first film appearance.

The Muppets

The Muppets (11/23/11) Glendale Exchange 8 (2011 ***1/2) Directed by James Bobin, screenplay by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, starring Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper and… well, The Muppets. “Maniacal laugh! Maniacal Laugh!” When the original Muppet Theater is threatened by an evil oil baron, two brothers from “Small Town” (one of them considerably shorter and felt-covered than the other) convince their favorite stars to get back together again for one last show. I had been waiting for this film with great anticipation, and so I was delighted when our studio let us go home early on the day before Thanksgiving and my wife suggested we go see The Muppets… on opening day! I count 1979’s The Muppet Movie among my top “sentimental” favorites. The somewhat postmodern approach to the new film (“Are The Muppets still relevant?”) worked pretty well for the characters. I absolutely LOVED all the references to the original TV show and early films. I also spent a large percentage of the film with tears in my eyes: Kermit and the muppets pondering their relevance wasn’t too different from Woody and Buzz pondering their mortality in Toy Story 3. Speaking of Toy Story: The Muppets was preceded in the theater by Pixar’s “Short Fry,” which explored the fascinating realm of Happy Meal toys, but in a far less interesting way than I would have expected (I’d give it a disappointing 2 out of 4 stars). But back to The Muppets: As much as I enjoyed the new film, the music wasn’t nearly as memorable as that in the 1979 film. It also had a slightly different energy than the original Jim Henson-era muppets, and three days after seeing The Muppets, the universe gave me an excellent frame of reference when my wife and I visited Muppet*vision 3-D, one of the attractions at Disney’s California Adventure and the last film directed by Henson before his death in 1990. In that film, with all its madcap antics, Kermit and the muppets felt more like themselves.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern (11/17/11) Netflix (2011 ***1/4) Directed by Martin Campbell, starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard and Tim Robins. A dying purple alien bequeaths an emerald energy ring to a smarmy test pilot with commitment issues. When this film came out earlier this year to mediocre reviews, I added it to the “Saved” section of my Netflix queue. And so when it arrived in the mail, I watched it with my expectations set to about a ‘3’ on a scale of 1-10. And you know what? As is so often the case, I enjoyed it far more than I expected. I will even go so far as to say that Ryan Reynolds was a good choice to play one of DC comics’ most recognizable second-string characters. Having recently read so many contemporary Green Lantern-related graphic novels and comics, I appreciated that the storyline of the film was closely aligned with the source material. Since the film didn’t do great box office, I suspect there won’t be a sequel, which is sort of a shame. I’d love to see Hal Jordan go head-to-head (and power-ring-to-power-ring) with… (OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING)… Sinestro.

Carry on Nurse

Carry on Nurse (11/12/11) TCM (1959 ***) Directed by Gerald Thomas, starring Kenneth Connor, Shirley Eaton and Charles Hawtrey, with Wilfrid Hyde-White. Patients in the men’s ward of Haven Hospital misbehave badly, leaving the nurses no choice but to insert daffodils into their patients’ rectums. Watching this relatively tame film from the safe distance of the 21st century, over 50 years after its original release, it’s hard to believe how insanely popular this film and the “Carry on” series that followed it was. And while the world of 1959 may have been a very different one, the depiction of a nurse being stripped, bound, gagged and bedded — which happened late in the film in order for one of the “crazy” patients to swap places with her — is still fairly naughty.

Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane (11/11/11) Netflix (2007 ***) Directed by Julian Jarrold, starring Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy and Julie Walters. Before she wrote some of the English language’s greatest books and before she achieved fame as a zombie hunter, Jane Austen was a simple country girl with a sharp tongue. While I don’t seek out 18th Century costume dramas, I don’t mind them, and there is something about films based on Jane Austen’s work that is comforting and pleasing to the eye. Not being intimately familiar with Austen’s biography, it’s hard for me to know the extent to which this film was fictionalized, but I admired the premise (Jane Austen as a character in one of her books), and it was executed well.

Madison Avenue

Madison Avenue (11/10/11) TV-FMC (1962 *) Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone, starring Dana Andrews, Eleanor Parker, Jeanne Crain and Eddie Albert. A Madison Avenue ad man learns what’s really important… in the dullest way possible. I recorded this dud because my wife and I had recently watched the first four seasons of AMC’s Mad Men and I thought it would be a hoot to watch a movie about the “ad game” actually made in the early 1960s. But this movie was decidedly not the one to watch. For starters, within the first five minutes, the action moved to Washington D.C. and for the most part stayed there for the remainder of the film! It was so dull I kept drifting off to sleep, only stirring occasionally to ask my wife “Are you sure you want to keep watching this?”

Paul

Paul (11/10/11) Netflix (2011 ***1/2) Directed by Greg Mottola, written by (and starring) Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, also featuring Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Jason Bateman. Two British nerds have a close encounter with a foul-mouthed fugitive from another planet. I really loved Frost & Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead (2004), though I was less thrilled by Hot Fuzz (2007). I appreciate the genre-jumping thing they’ve done in the past, and so I saw Paul as a continuation of that, kind of their loving tribute to Steven Spielberg’s Sci Fi classics. When the movie was released it got mediocre reviews (72% on Rotten Tomatoes), so I added it to my Netflix queue instead of racing to the theater. With my expectations set to “low,” I enjoyed Paul more than I’d expected. The language was consistently coarse throughout, but that didn’t bother me much. It was pretty cool to me that we’ve gotten to the point in economical visual effects where it was viable money-wise to have an animated main character in a relatively small film.