Monthly Archive for June, 2012


Hereafter (6/30/12) Netflix (2010 ***) Directed by Clint Eastwood, screenplay by Peter Morgan, starring Matt Damon, Cécile De France and Frankie & George McLaren. An American man, a French woman and a British child are brought together by the forces of chance and a shared connection to the afterlife. This film began with a bang, with a realistic recreation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which took the life of one of the film’s three principles… well, temporarily, anyhow. Though I enjoyed Eastwood’s film as an character study of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, there comes a point when “prolonged understatement” becomes synonymous with “nothing much happens.” At one point the film seemed to want to present a message about the value of researching near-death experiences and opening a conversation about the phenomena, but then it veered away for safer, more earthbound, less interesting waters. On the whole, I wished the film had maintained more of the adrenaline it had in its first few minutes and had been more willing to take its fascinating premise a bit further.

The Art & Feel of Making It Real: Gesture Drawing for the Animation and Entertainment Industry

The Art & Feel of Making It Real: Gesture Drawing for the Animation and Entertainment Industry (6/30/12) Illustrated Nonfiction (2008 **) Written and illustrated by Mark McDonnell. Artist and teacher Mark McDonnell provides insight into the gesture drawing process, using hundreds of his own drawings as examples. I borrowed this book from my studio’s library because I’ve been considering taking McDonnell’s gesture drawing class at the Animation Guild. After reading his book, I’m honestly on the fence. First of all, his book contained more errors than I have EVER encountered in a professionally published book. There was on average one or two typos on each page containing text. The book listed someone named Remi Sklar as its editor, and I sincerely hope Sklar wasn’t paid, especially considering how expensive hardcover art books of this type are to produce. But beyond that complaint (and I really did find the typos distracting), I also don’t think I learned very much from the book. Though it was nicely illustrated, there were a number of lost opportunities, where the drawings could have been integrated with the text to much greater effect. Also, while McDonnel showed several examples of drawing in various media, in the interest of showing a true range of stylistic approaches, the book could really have benefited from gesture drawings by other professional artists. It made me wonder a little if the book was executed largely as a vanity project to show off its creator’s drawings. Ultimately, I felt the author used a lot of words and pictures without saying very much at all. The final pages of the book promise a sequel, but if McDonnell had only put more thought and effort into this book, a sequel would not have been unnecessary.

The Crown Crime Companion: The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time

The Crown Crime Companion: The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time (6/30/12) Nonfiction (1995 **1/2) Annotated by Otto Penzler, Compiled by Mickey Friedman. The Mystery Writers of America present the definitive list of (as the title implies) the best mystery novels evah. I read this book as research for my current “mysterious” book project, hoping it would, in a fairly concise form, expand my understanding of the mystery genre as a whole and its subgenres in particular. To a degree it did that, though not with as much depth as I’d hoped. The book did indeed begin with the titularly-promised summaries of the books on the list, which for some reason actually numbered 101. But that content only extended through page 79 out of 190 total pages. The book’s next section was a set of lists of subgenre “bests,” each accompanied by an essay related to the category. In most cases the essays were written by authors whose novel(s) had appeared in the list. It was interesting to note that some authors chose to write about the entire list or peculiarities of the subgenre, while others chose to focus on themselves. The remainder of the book — A category-by-category list of winners and runners-up for various Edgar Awards — was information that is far more readily available on the internet now than it was when this book was published in 1995.

Ride the Wild Surf

Ride the Wild Surf (6/28/12) TCM (1964 **1/2) Directed by Don Taylor, starring Fabian, Shelley Fabares, Peter Brown, Barbara Eden and Tab Hunter. Jody Wallis (Fabian) and two of his California surfing buddies fly to Oahu to ride the giant waves at Waimea Bay. After recently watching Tommy Kirk in Catalina Caper (1967), I was relieved by Ride the Wild Surf‘s relatively high production values. It was obviously intended as a star vehicle for Fabian along the lines of Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii (1961). Unfortunately, playing “Elvis” meant Fabian’s character was essentially a dickhead with a chip on his shoulder for most of the picture. Yeah, he had a real “stick” up his ass. (That’s a little surfer jargon joke.) It was hard to believe that Shelley Fabares still wanted to be his girl after the crappy way he treated her. In a modern film, it would probably mean her character was motivated by suppressed memories of sexual abuse as a child. On a considerably lighter note, it was great fun seeing Barbara Eden (who I met last year at an autograph show in Burbank!) in a minor, pre-Jeannie role. Her comic timing and expressive face made her the best thing in the film, and it was obvious why Eden went on to become such a popular and beloved TV star.

Turn Back the Clock

Turn Back the Clock (6/28/12) TCM (1933 **) Directed by Edgar Selwyn, starring Lee Tracy, Mae Clarke, Otto Kruger and Peggy Shannon. Shop owner Joe Gimlet is given a chance to “get back in time” to relive the past twenty years of his life. Picture Gimlet as 1933’s version of Marty McFly, only instead of a fusion-powered DeLorean, Gimlet’s time travel vehicle involved getting drunk off his ass and stumbling into the path of a speeding truck. As a time-travel aficionado of sorts, I recorded this film on a lark, based solely on its description. It’s definitely not a great film. In particular, I didn’t care for Lee Tracy in the lead: He reminded me of a cross between Al Jolson and Bill Murray on a bad day. Turn Back the Clock was, however, mildly entertaining as an antecedent to Back to the Future (1985). In the 1933 film, “recent” historical events World War I (referred to for some reason as “The Great War”) and the 1929 stock market crash were prominently featured. The film even included a time travel joke based on Gimlet’s confusion between Teddy Roosevelt and Teddy’s fifth cousin by marriage Franklin Delano. (Yeah, you guessed it. I had to look it up.) That must have been a real knee-slapper at the time!

Pin Up Girl

Pin Up Girl (6/28/12) FXM (1944 **1/2) Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone, starring Betty Grable, John Harvey, Martha Raye and Joe E. Brown. Pathological liar and pin-up gal Lorry Jones lies her way into some pretty hot water in Washington D.C., but she doesn’t let it stop her from doing her part for the war effort. If you’re one of those people who believe that Superman looks like a completely different person when he puts on his Clark Kent glasses, you just might buy the premise for this “comedy of errors.” You might even forgive little storytelling faults, like a support character (Jones’ girlfriend) who disappears halfway through the film, never to be seen again. Then again, the WWII G.I. audience for a film called Pin Up Girl (in Technicolor) probably didn’t buy their movie tickets on account of its plot. In the spirit of “truth in advertising,” the film did feature plenty of peeks at Betty Grable’s… er, “gams,” but it also (quite understandably) served up heaps of propaganda along the way, including an extended “gams on parade” drill sergeant number. Buy War Bonds! Available in this theater!

Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt

Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt (6/27/12) Netflix (2003 **1/2) Directed by Paul A. Kaufman, starring Adam West, Burt Ward, Jack Brewer and Jason Marsden, with special appearances by Lee Meriwether, Frank Gorshin and Julie Newmar. When the Batmobile is mysteriously stolen from a Hollywood charity event, actors Adam West and Burt Ward follow clues that lead them nearly forty years in the past. Having recently finished watching the three seasons of the original Batman TV show, I thought renting this little “gem” would provide a nice little button. This made-for-television film, originally broadcast on CBS, included re-enactments from the show’s history, reminding me of a similar 2000 project: Daydream Believers: The Monkees’ Story. Return to the Batcave, however, alternated the “flashback” material with pretty cheesy footage of Burt and Adam. But it was all intended in good fun. Though I can’t in good conscience recommend this “film” to everyone, if you’re a fan of the original dynamic duo and are willing to put up with some pretty corny material… hey, knock yourself out.

True Blood, Season 4

True Blood, Season 4 (6/26/12) Netflix (2011 ***) 12 episodes, originally aired on HBO 6/26/11 – 9/11/11. Series created by Alan Ball, based on the book series by Charlaine Harris, starring Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer and Alexander Skarsgård. It must be the “season of the witch” when a coven led by a possessed necromancer threatens Sookie Stackhouse and the vampires of Bon Temps, Louisiana. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Alan Ball, one that goes back to his previous HBO series, Six Feet Under: His shows tend to have a lot of plotlines I simply do not give a damn about. There was some of that this season, but not as much as there had been in the past. Don’t get me wrong, there were still three or four throw-away storylines that didn’t necessarily go anywhere, like one in which Sookie’s brother Jason got himself gang-raped by a bunch of mentally deficient were-panthers. Even Sookie’s BFF Tara, reining queen of “unconnected plot lines I don’t give a shit about,” got pulled into the main storyline fairly early. She didn’t stay there, but at least she didn’t pull focus. Without a doubt, the highlight of the season was Eric’s hubris getting himself mind-wiped by Marnie the “not so good” witch (played wonderfully by Fiona Shaw). Hitting Eric’s mental reset button allowed the viewers (and Sookie) to see a softer, goofier side of Eric. This in turn led to lots of Eric/Sookie hay-rolling and a delightful dream sequence that made explicit the implicit love triangle with Sookie, Eric and Bill as its corners. On the whole, True Blood‘s fourth season was entertaining, even if on several occasions I found myself asking my wife (who read the entire “Sookie Stackhouse” series after we watched Season 1): “Did this happen in the books?”

Galaxy Quest

Galaxy Quest (6/25/12) DVD (1999 ****) Directed by Dean Parisot, starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub and Sam Rockwell. Jason Nesmith and the actors who played his fictional crew on the classic sci-fi series Galaxy Quest accept the “roles of a lifetime” to save an extraterrestrial race from extinction. This film asked the musical questions: “How would Bill Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the cast of Star Trek fare if they were plucked from a Trek convention, shot into space and forced to walk a mile in their characters’ shoes?” Ordinarily this premise would have been the stuff of forgettable fan fiction, but somehow Dean Parisot and screenwriters David Howard and Robert Gordon managed to keep the concept’s “fun factor” while delivering something that was entirely satisfying on an emotional level. Though Tim Allen’s Jason Nesmith was clearly the film’s center, the characterizations of the ensemble cast were varied and superb. In particular, Tony Shalhoub’s “Tech Sergeant Fred Kwan” kept cracking me up with his unexpectedly laid-back reactions to bizarre events. Hell, all the casting was pitch-perfect, and it was a blast seeing Rainn Wilson and Justin Long in early, minor roles. In numerous conversations over the past decade, I’ve encountered many people who are simply nuts for this movie. After watching it again after many years, I was pleased to see its brilliance still held up, and as you’ve probably guessed, it’s one of my personal favorites of all time. Now here’s my “big idea”: In addition to everything else, this was one of Dreamworks SKG’s first live-action films. Even though the story was very self-contained, how awesome would it be if Dreamworks Animation produced an animated Galaxy Quest sequel! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Now, if only I knew someone who worked there… (Favorite)

Dead Reckoning

Dead Reckoning (6/24/12) TCM (1947 ***1/2) Directed by John Cromwell, starring Humphrey Bogart, Lizabeth Scott, Morris Carnovsky and Charles Cane. Geronimo! Captain ‘Rip’ Murdock investigates the “accidental death” of his paratrooping pal and gets tangled up with a deep-voiced songbird named Dusty. But ain’t that just the way this crazy world spins? Bogart made a career out of playing tough guys who didn’t take “no” for an answer and always fell for dames who were more trouble than they were worth, and this film — made at the height of his popularity — delivered all that and more. I honestly can’t believe I’d never seen this film before. I watched it as part of my current “hard-boiled research,” and I’m so glad I did. It may not be quite on the same level as Casablanca or The Big Sleep, but if you’re a classic film buff looking for a good time, it’s well-worth looking for.