Monthly Archive for February, 2012

Parenthood, Season 3

Parenthood, Season 3 (2/28/12) NBC (2011-2012 ***1/2) Series developed by Jason Katims, based on the characters created by Ron Howard, starring Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter and Erica Christensen. 18 episodes, originally aired 9/13/11 – 2/28/12. The Braverman clan experiences the joy and endures the heartache that comes from living, loving and… parenting. In season 3, brothers Adam and Crosby go into the recording studio business together, Julia and Joel decide to adopt a baby, Amber gets a job and falls in love and Jasmine re-evaluates her relationship with Crosby. This under-appreciated TV drama has become one of our consistently favorite shows, and it rarely has disappointed us. Parenthood has provided a kind of hour-long drama counterpoint to the family comedy of one of our other favorite shows, Modern Family. I haven’t been keeping track of how it’s been doing in the ratings, but hopefully Parenthood will stick around for awhile. I have especially appreciated the strong writing and acting and have come to enjoy how certain characters play off each other, such as the scenes between Lauren Graham and the actress who plays her daughter, Mae Whitman. One observation: I’ve noticed in this third season that many of the storylines have begun drifting away from the show’s central theme, the relationships between parents and their children and vice-versa. I hope the producers and writers are conscious of this and will take care not to let too many future storylines dilute what is really a wonderful and elegant unifying element.

My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn (2/27/12) DWA Screening (2011 ***) Directed by Simon Curtis, based on the book by Colin Clark, starring Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh. A 23-year-old third assistant director spends some quality time with the most famous woman in the world during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl. It’s hard to know how much of this story was true; my built-in “bullshit meter” kept going off. I don’t know for certain, but I caught a whiff that the source material just might have been sensationalized somewhat. Then of course the material was further adapted to screenplay form, clearly imposing a three-act narrative where there likely wasn’t one. But let me be honest: I’m a pretty big Marilyn Monroe fan and Michelle Williams, while not being able to best Meryl Streep in the Oscar’s Best Actress category, did a lovely job of capturing the essence of Ms. Monroe. This was never more evident than in her faithful recreation of a scene from The Prince and the Showgirl in which Monroe’s character executed a cute little song and dance when she thought she was alone. Having just watched the original 1957 film recently, I was blown away by the subtle grace of Williams’ performance in that scene.

The Naked City

The Naked City (2/26/12) TCM (1948 ***) Directed by Jules Dassin, screenplay by Albert Maltz and Malvin Wald, starring Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart and Don Taylor. When a beautiful (and presumably naked) blonde model is found drowned in her bathtub, homicide detectives Dan Muldoon and Jimmy Halloran go to work tracking down her killers. The distinction of this film is that it was filmed in real locations in New York City and utilized many non-actors. It even began with a voice-over by its producer, Mark Hellinger, who let the audience know they were in for a new and different kind of cinematic experience. For the most part the technique worked, though it tended to accentuate the weak performances by some of the “professional” actors. One technique the filmmakers used throughout the film to lesser effect was unnecessary voice-overs in many of the “second unit” shots we’d today call “B-Roll.” Another aspect of this film that may be particularly amusing to 21st Century eyes was an emphasis on police procedures, demonstrating that The Naked City was clearly a direct descendant of our modern CSI TV shows.

Bless the Beasts & Children

Bless the Beasts & Children (2/25/12) TCM (1971 ***) Directed by Stanley Kramer, based on the novel by Glendon Swarthout, starring Bill Mumy, Barry Robins and Miles Chapin. Teenage misfits, tired of bullying, prejudice and having urine splashed on them, break the law to free their spiritual brothers, captive Buffalos. It’s a little surprising to know that Stanley Kramer, who directed On the Beach, Judgement at Nuremberg and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, chose as a project this small, counter-culture film. Thanks to the Vietnam war, there was plenty of disenfranchisement in the water in 1971, and that was clearly evident than in this film. It’s not a great film by any means, with its production values only slightly higher than an ABC movie of the week and a clumsy story structure that relied heavily on backstory flashback scenes. The fact that one of its main characters was played by aging child TV star Billy Mumy just added to its weirdness factor. Still, this film occupies a weirdly entrenched spot in my head, if not my heart. I was seven or eight when I first saw it in the theater, possibly at a drive-in, and it wedged itself solidly in there. I couldn’t shake it if I tried. At least part of that cerebral epoxy is due to the film’s theme song. The Carpenter’s “Bless the Beasts and the Children” (weirdly not quite the same as the film’s title) was nominated in the Oscars’ “Best Original Song” category, but lost to… “The Theme from Shaft.” “Shut your mouth,” indeed.

The Thin Man Goes Home

The Thin Man Goes Home (2/24/12) TCM (1945 ***) Directed by Richard Thorpe, starring William Powell, Myrna Loy and Harry Davenport. Nick Charles, wife in tow but Junior nowhere to be seen, returns home to Sycamore Springs and his disapproving doctor daddy, where Nick lands smack-dab in the middle of a murder/espionage caper. This, the fifth Thin Man film, showed evidence that the series had begun to sag, as evidenced by the fact that the director of the first four films, W.S. Van Dyke, had gone on to greener pastures. By normal 1940s film standards, though, it’s still not a bad movie, and while the mystery plot was the least engaging one yet, an hour and a half spent with Nick, Nora and Asta Charles still beats most company.

The Prince and the Showgirl

The Prince and the Showgirl (2/23/12) TCM (1957 ***) Directed by Laurence Olivier, based on the play “The Sleeping Prince” by Terence Rattigan, starring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. On the eve of England’s 1911 coronation, the “Grand Ducal Highness” of Carpathia invites a voluptuous blonde… well, showgirl… back to his place for a cold late dinner and hot sex, but he gets more than he bargained for. The production of this film provided the backdrop for the recently-released My Week With Marilyn, which I hope to see soon. It’s one of those films that evidently didn’t stray far from the stage play on which it was based: 75% of the film involves long scenes of characters talking in fairly isolated interiors, in this case the Carpathian Embassy in London. It was also, unfortunately, one of those films where one of the two main characters (in this case the one played by Laurence Olivier) behaved as a sanctimonious dickhead for two-thirds of the movie, then had a change of heart and the audience was suddenly supposed to love him. Yeah, right. Marilyn Monroe, on the other hand, was never more radiant. Her effervescent warmth blazed like an inferno in contrast to Olivier’s cold, stiff “Prince Regent.” It didn’t hurt that Monroe spent nearly the entire movie wearing a tight white evening gown, and at least every shot featured her shapely, well-defined… assets.

The Women

The Women (2/20/12) Netflix (1939 ***) Directed by George Cukor, starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. When Mary Haines discovers her husband’s been stepping out with perfume counter-girl Crystal Allen, she gets all kinds of advice from her mother and girlfriends, much of it bad. No men were harmed in the making of this film! The conceit of The Women, based on the long-running Broadway play of the same name, was that no men actually appeared. As a special treat, this primarily black-and-white movie also featured a short fashion show sequence shot in color, which of course did absolutely nothing to advance the plot. As any film buff knows, 1939 was a banner year for American movies. In fact, George Cukor directed The Women immediately after being fired as director of Gone With the Wind.

Green Arrow / Black Canary: For Better or For Worse

Green Arrow / Black Canary: For Better or For Worse (2/20/12) Comics (2007 ***) Written and illustrated by various, originally published between 1969 and 2003. The relationship between the “emerald archer” and his “pretty bird” has suffered its ups and downs over the year, including passion, infidelity and even death. This collection was particularly interesting in that much of its material was presented as excerpts. The net effect was a mostly linear narrative of the Green Arrow’s on-again, off-again relationship with The Black Canary. It was something I’d never given a great deal of thought to. For instance, it was news to me that Dinah Lance (Black Canary) was once tortured so severely that she was unable to have children, even if she wanted to. (Evidently she was later healed by a trip to Ra’s al ghul’s restorative Lazarus pit.) This collection was also interesting on a completely different plane, because it presented in very compact form the evolution of comic book illustration and (more particularly) writing, from its earlier “awkward” storytelling by Elliot S! Maggin and Mike Grell to later stories by Alan Moore and Kevin Smith. As the frequently chauvinistic archer might say, “Comic books have come a long way, baby.”

Astro City: The Dark Age, Book 2: Brothers in Arms

Astro City: The Dark Age, Book 2: Brothers in Arms (2/19/12) Graphic Novel (2011 **) Written by Kurt Busiek, illustrated by Brent Anderson and Alex Ross. Two brothers search for the man who murdered their parents as the pantheon as an alternate superhero universe marches on. It’s been 2 years since I read the first book in this 2-book graphic novel (which I liked), and I’m afraid I was very disappointed by the second volume. In the past, I’ve been a big fan of Busiek’s writing, particularly appreciating his way of “grounding” the fantastical world of the superhero, but I found myself slogging through this thick volume, looking forward to its end. The foreword to this volume indicated that Busiek had originally intended the storyline of The Dark Age as a sequel to Marvels, though it was obviously re-written to substitute Astro City heroes and villains for those in the Marvel universe. Knowing that made a lot of his choices in this story make more sense. Ultimately, though, I found the story of the brothers uninteresting in the extreme, and their story was far too removed from the grander multi-year heroic epic going on around them. After awhile it seemed redundant and forced.

Shadow of the Thin Man

Shadow of the Thin Man (2/18/12) DVD (1941 ***1/2) Directed by W.S. Van Dyke, starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, Donna Reed and Sam Levene. Nick and Nora are back in San Francisco, pooch Asta and toddler Nick Jr. in tow, when the death of a jockey pulls them into yet another murder! East coast, West coast, New York, San Francisco. Why couldn’t that sleuthing highballin’ couple make up their minds? With this, the fourth film in one of the best film series of Hollywood’s golden era, a bit of air had started leaking from the franchise’s tires. To be honest, the “mystery” storyline in this film was the least interesting one so far. Still, there were a few highlights, including an memorable husband and wife trip to a wrestling match and an equally memorable ladies hat, one which… heck, you might even call it “screwy.”