Monthly Archive for March, 2012

The Moon and Sixpence

The Moon and Sixpence (3/30/12) TCM (1942 ***) Written and directed by Albert Lewin, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham, starring George Sanders, Herbert Marshall, Doris Dudley, Steven Geray and Elena Verdugo. A 40-year-old London stockbroker and certifiable sociopath leaves his wife and children to become a great painter in Paris… and an even greater wife-beating blind leper in Tahiti. Maugham’s original novel was based primarily on the life of Paul Gauguin, though Guaguin’s final end came from syphilis, not leprosy. It was interesting that the main character Charles Strickland’s passionate pursuit of his art made him surprisingly sympathetic, especially considering his despicable views of women as inferior creatures “without souls.”

The Faculty

The Faculty (3/29/12) FXM (1998 ***1/4) Directed by Robert Rodriguez, starring Elijah Wood, Robert Patrick, Josh Hartnett, Clea DuVall and Jon Stewart as Prof. Edward Furlong. The Breakfast Club meets The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’d seen this movie in the theater back when it was first released, but I must admit my main reason for re-watching it was to see The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart as a science teacher whose body’s been taken over by an alien parasite. Stewart didn’t make many movies during his short-lived acting career, but this one — in which he got his fingers chopped off, then got stabbed in the eye with a Bic pen filled with white powder — was sure one of his most memorable ones. As for the rest of the movie? It was actually a pretty enjoyable empty-calories thrill ride, and though it had its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, it also took itself just seriously enough to keep it unified all the way to the alien-reveals-its-true-form climax.

Come Fly With Me

Come Fly With Me (3/28/12) TCM (1963 **1/2) Directed by Henry Levin, based on the novel by Bernard Glemser, starring Dolores Hart, Pamela Tiffin, Lois Nettleton, Hugh O’Brian and Karl Malden. Donna, Carol and “Bergie” are three high-flying stewardesses, each on the lookout for a marryin’ man. The creators of the recently-failed TV series Pan-Am didn’t need to look any further than this movie as a model for their production design… and nearly everything about their show. The similarities were pretty striking. While not great cinema by any stretch of the imagination, this film was still reasonably entertaining and it was fun to see glimpse of Paris and Vienna from 50 years ago. On another note, In addition to Come Fly With Me, I seem to be watching a lot of early-1960s movies lately, from Doris Day’s Lover Come Back and The Thrill of It All! to Dean Martin’s first two Matt Helm films. And I’ve noticed they all have two things in common: Awesome production design and blatant sexism!

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye (3/27/12) Netflix (1973 ***) Directed by Robert Altman, screenplay by Leigh Brackett, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler, starring Elliott Gould, Nina Van Pallandt, Sterling Hayden, Mark Rydell and Henry Gibson. When Philip Marlowe’s buddy is accused of murdering his wife, the chain-smoking detective’s investigation lands him in hot water with a mob boss and cold water off a Malibu beach. The late Robert Altman made this film after M*A*S*H (1970) and before Nashville (1975), with a handful of films in-between. It took real vision on the part of the studio to let a director with such a distinctively naturalistic style take a crack at a modernized 1970s version of a well-known hard-boiled detective. For the most part it worked, and the effect was interesting if not always exactly entertaining: Aside for his love for his runaway cat, we never got much of a glimpse into what made Gould’s Philip Marlowe tick, though that may have been the key to why the film’s ending worked. Also, there was one (in my view) unnecessary “Altman-esque” scene between Hayden and Pallandt that completely killed the film’s momentum and probably should have been edited out. Finally, here are two super-fun treats, should you choose to watch this film: (1) Fans of Laugh-In must have gotten a real perverse kick out of watching diminutive Henry Gibson slap tough-guy Sterling Hayden across the face. (2) Late in the film, look for a mustached and very muscular future “Governator” in an uncredited, non-speaking role as one of Marty Augustine’s hoods.

Comic Book Men, Season 1

Comic Book Men, Season 1 (3/27/12) AMC (2012 ***1/2) Series created by Kevin Smith, featuring Walter Flanagan, Mike Zapcic, Bryan Johnson, Ming Chen and… Kevin Smith. 6 episodes, originally aired 2/12/12 – 3/18/12. Deep within the bowels of the Red Bank, New Jersey comic shop “Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash,” Walter Flanagan and his staff peel back the near mint cover and reveal the secret, ugly world of comic book collecting. I’m not sure how Kevin Smith got the deal, but he somehow managed to insert this little subculture-illuminating reality show into the middle of the ratings juggernaut that is AMC’s The Walking Dead. I must admit, it was a pretty good fit demographics-wise. As a person who devoted much of his first 25 years to comic collecting, I watched the first, decidedly shaky, episode with much trepidation. But I returned for a second helping and I’m glad I did. The show seemed to hit its stride, bolstered largely by its on-camera personalities. Throughout the run, I was fascinated by some of the collectibles that made their way into the shop: Comics, toys and original art that I have a very fan-geeky appreciation for, like (to give you two examples): an original Six Million Dollar Man action figure and Steve Buscemi original Silver Surfer art. That might not float everybody’s boat, but it floated mine. While Kevin Smith only appeared in one episode (except for podcast-ish bookends), it was fun to see his “View Eskew Universe” buddy, “Jay” himself, Jason Mewes, when visited “The Stash” for a day, to the general annoyance of the staff.

The Batman Strikes!: Duty Calls

The Batman Strikes!: Duty Calls (3/26/12) Comics (2007 ***) Written by Bill Matheny and J. Torres, illustrated by Christopher Jones and Terry Beatty. Originally published in The Batman Strikes! issues #11-14 and 16-18. (I wonder what happened in issue #15 that it was excluded?) Based on the Kids WB animated series The Batman, this collection of seven kid-friendly “Dark Knight Detective” stories was well-executed and reasonably entertaining, albeit in a somewhat disposable way. In producing a set of superhero stories aimed at a younger audience, there’s a balance that must be struck so that the stories are simplified without feeling “dumbed down,” and the stories in this volume found that balance. This collection didn’t lack for top villains, with appearances by The Joker, Bane, The Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, Clayface and Poison Ivy! Obviously at age 47 I was a bit older than the intended demographic for this book, but it still provided a fun, light read that at times reminded me of the “simpler times” Batman comics I read as a kid.

Murderers’ Row

Murderers’ Row (3/26/12) TCM (1966 **1/2) Directed by Henry Levin, based on the novel by Donald Hamilton, starring Dean Martin, Ann-Margret and Karl Malden. I.C.E. Secret agent Matt Helm fakes his own death to recover a kidnapped scientist who holds the secret to a destructive magnetic beam. Oscar-winner Karl Malden was a strange choice to play an evil mastermind, and he never seemed quite comfortable in the role. The second Matt Helm outing was thankfully less misogynistic than the first, but it was also slightly less entertaining, though I don’t think those two things were related. I attribute that to the weak script, which relied on the same time-delayed firing gun gimmick at least three times. Honestly, the high point of the film for me was when Dean Martin raced into a disco to rip Ann-Margret’s dress off her body, just as he’d done to Stella Stevens in The Silencers. I wonder: Was that a running joke throughout the four-film series? I might have to watch the remaining two films just to find out.

Talking Dead, Season 1

Talking Dead, Season 1 (3/26/12) AMC (2011-2012 ***1/2) 13 episodes, originally aired 10/16/11 – 3/18/11. Chris Hardwick is the host for a post-episode discussion of each episode of The Walking Dead. Guests included Robert Kirkman, Gregory Nicotero, Laurie Holden, Kevin Smith and many others. Yeah, it’s geeky, but I really love the audacious premise of this little show, which exists purely to provide a forum for “water cooler” chat about the episode that had just aired. I only wish its equivalent had been around twenty years ago for Twin Peaks! Hardwick did a perfect job as host, and I particularly loved his fanboy-level energy, which never felt forced. He set the tone for lots of spirited discussions, fielding fan questions along the way. It was also a lot of fun to watch the creators and actors artfully dodge questions about future plot directions or even whether or not certain characters would live past the next episode.

The Walking Dead, Season 2

The Walking Dead, Season 2 (3/25/12) AMC (2011-2012 ****) 13 episodes, originally aired 10/16/11 – 3/18/11. Series created by Frank Darabont, based on the comic by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, starring Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal and Sarah Wayne Callies. When young Carl gets accidentally shot while looking at a doe, Rick and his group find safety from the zombie hoard at Hershel Greene’s farm, but is that safety an illusion? I’m clearly a fan of this series, as evidenced by the following fact: Of the dozen or so shows we’ve watched this year, The Walking Dead is consistently the one I most want to watch after I’ve DVR’d it… even though I couldn’t watch it while my wife was in the house. Some fans have complained that the first half of the second season was a little slow, but I found it consistently engaging, with far more per-episode action than in Robert Kirkman’s comic book version / parallel universe. Sadly, the zombie apocalpse being what it is, I had to say farewell to a number of characters I’d come to love (or hate) this season. I look forward to season 3 and hope AMC and the producers manage to keep the zombie train rolling down the tracks for years to come.

Generations

Generations (3/23/12) Phantom Theater, Carnival Miracle (2012 ***1/4) Featuring vocalists Tanner McGuire & Darren Jeffries, with The Miracle Dancers and Dave Fulton & The Miracle Orchestra. Carnival Cruise Line’s muscial time-traveling show was generally entertaining, with a nice selection of songs covering the 1940s through the 1980s. My only criticism, really, was that I found the choreography for a few of the songs awkward and amateurish, even when compared with other numbers in the same show.