Monthly Archive for July, 2012

High Noon

High Noon (7/31/12) Netflix (1952 ****) Directed by Fred Zinnemann, based (kind of) on the story “The Tin Star” by John W. Cunningham, starring Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges and Katy Jurado. As a wedding present, a departing sheriff’s town deserts him, leaving him to face four vindictive gunmen on his own. This film was made during Hollywood’s “Red Scare,” and its screenplay was written by Carl Foreman, an “uncooperative witness” before the House Committee on Un-American Activies, who was subsequently blacklisted. His story — in which a man tries to do the right thing but everybody he counted on turns his or her back on him for reasons of self-preservation — was clearly an allegory for McCarthyism. “Do not forsake me, oh my darling,” indeed. There are many reasons why this film (shot in stark, cloudless black and white at a time when most Westerns were made in color) is ranked in the top third of AFI’s “100 Years 100 Movies” list. Everything about it works, from Gary Cooper and newcomer Grace Kelly’s classic performances to the carefully-composed shots of ever-present clocks, representing the arrival of the noon train and a vengeful villain with a reputation for roughing up the ladies. On a completely unrelated note, how cool was it that High Noon‘s “boss villain” — who went unseen until the third act — was named Frank Miller, same as the comic book writer/illustrator behind the now-classic 1986 Batman graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns?

Ted

Ted (7/30/12) DWA Screening (2012 ***1/2) Directed by Seth MacFarlane, starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi, and the voice of Seth MacFarlane. John Bennett’s best friend is a foul-talkin’, dope-smokin’ Teddy bear, which is, believe it or not, something of an obstacle to becoming a grown-up. I loved the “what if” premise of this film: What if a lonely child’s Christmas wish that his Teddy bear could come to life were granted? And what would be the repurcussions of that? LIke about a zillion other people, I’m a pretty big fan of Seth MacFarlane, primarily due to his Family Guy TV show on Fox. Though he shared screenwriting credit on Ted, it was nice to see his sensibilities and humor translated so well onto the silver screen. It was also nice to see that he has some solid directing chops. While Ted wasn’t exactly The Avengers, it still featured plenty of action, including car chases and an apartment-wrecking fight between Mark Wahlberg and Ted. As one of the more powerful men in media, I’m guessing MacFarlane will get a chance to make another movie or two. Finally, Mila Kunis (who has voiced Family Guy’s Meg since the beginning) was a real sport; the scene of her picking up hooker poop from her floor while Wahlberg cowered disgusted in the background? HILARIOUS.

The Happening

The Happening (7/29/12) FXM (2008 *1/2) Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo and Betty Buckley as Mrs. Jones. Philadelphia science teacher Elliot Moore attempts to cope with an unexplained series of mass suicides, with only his mood ring to guide him. It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally a movie comes along that makes you wonder… “Was this supposed to be this bad on purpose?” This is that film. It was nominated for four 2009 Razzies, but somehow it was beaten out for three of them by Mike Meyers’ The Love Guru. Odds are you’ve heard of this train wreck of a film (The Happening, not The Love Guru) even if you haven’t seen it. And at the risk of being a SPOILER… yes, you’ve heard right… the trees did it. I feel bad for M. Night Shyamalan. Really I do. I just wish I knew if this film was a genuine gold-plated clusterfuck or deliberate heartfeld attempt on his part to create a loving tribute to Edward Wood, Jr.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still (7/29/12) FXM (2008 **) Directed by Scott Derrickson, starring Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jaden Smith, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm and (for some reason) John Cleese. An alien named Klaatu (as in “Klaatu Barada Nikto”) is the planet Earth’s savior. His first task is an obvious enough one: exterminate all humans. I’d heard this was a fairly mediocre — and arguably unnecessary — remake of the 1951 Robert Wise / Michael Rennie / Patricia Neal original. But sometimes it’s mindless fun to watch movies (particularly sci fi movies) with lowered expectations. Keanu Reeves (whose first name I still can’t pronounce correctly without slowing down to half speed) played an alien-in-human-form far less convincingly than you might expect. Jennifer Connelly did a decent job, but her character’s motivation for helping Klaatu escape didn’t exactly pass the “plausibility test” and Connelly otherwise didn’t really have much to work with. I almost wrote that her experience on Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) had been good preparation for this role, which was in turn good prep for Thor (2011). But then I realized her role in Thor had actually been played by Natalie Portman. Ultimately, I didn’t hate The Day the Earth Stood Still, and I’ve certainly watched far worse, but there’s still not much to recommend it. It’s just an unmemorable remake that never needed to happen. Heck, even the apocalyptic effects were pretty yawn-inducing.

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Vol. 06: Frightful

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Vol. 6: Frightful (7/29/12) Comics (2006 ***1/2) Written by Mark Millar, illustrated by Greg Land, with Mitch Breitweiser. Originally published in Ultimate Fantastic Four #27-32. In this multi-story collection: (1) The FF travel back in time to “fix” the failed teleporter experiment, resulting in a super-powered world where Thor is president; (2) Johnny discovers his trip to the N-Zone left him impregnated; and (3) The zombified FF escape from their holding cell! There was a lot going on in this volume, so at least I couldn’t complain about there being enough action! I was glad to see that Ben Grimm FINALLY demonstrated how devastatingly depressed he was about his transformation into an orange rock creature. In the “classic” Stan Lee / Jack Kirby FF books, This was a pretty important element in The Thing’s characterization, and the key to his motivations. I particularly loved how Millar deftly handled a scene in which Ben reveals his suicidal thoughts, telling Reed that since he’d apparently given up trying to cure him, maybe he should try to figure out a way to kill him and relieve him of his misery. Great stuff! I’d already read the latter half of this volume’s material in Marvel Zombies: Dead Days, which included issues #30-32, but it was fun seeing the “captive zombified FF” storyline play out and reach a point of relative closure.

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Vol. 05: Crossover

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Vol. 5: Crossover (7/28/12) Comics (2006 ***1/4) Written by Mark Millar, illustrated by Greg Land. Originally published in Ultimate Fantastic Four #21-26. Reed Richards travels to and from an alternate universe populated with “Marvel Zombies,” then Sue and Johnny’s deceased mum comes back from the dead to thumb a ride in the Fantasti-Car to Atlantis. I had already read the “Marvel Zombies” material in the collection Marvel Zombies: Dead Days, which included Ultimate FF #21-23. But it was fun enough that I didn’t mind re-reading it. With zombies permeating the zeitgeist to the extent that I will probably add a “zombie” tag to my reviews blog, I couldn’t help but feel that Mark Millar didn’t quite take full advantage of the potential the “walking dead” had to offer, but it was still a brain-eating pleasure. I was considerably less jazzed about the “Ultimate” origin of Namor, The Sub-Mariner (which as a kid I pronounced “Sub-muh-REE-nur”). For some reason, Namor’s new origin story reminded me of DC’s Captain Marvel baddie, Black Adam. Though I appreciate the necessity of establishing a love triangle of sorts, I still had a hard time buying Namor’s under-motivated infatuation with Susan Storm. Having said that, I absolutely loved Greg Land’s illustrations of — and this isn’t much of a spoiler — Namor & Sue’s kiss at the end of the storyline.

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Vol. 04: Inhuman

Ultimate Fantastic Four, Vol. 4: Inhuman (7/28/12) Comics (2005 **) Written by Mark Millar and Mike Carey, illustrated by Jae Lee. Originally published in Ultimate Fantastic Four #19-20 and Annual #1. The FF meet a decidedly unpleasant “Ultimate” version of The Mad Thinker, then meet an even less interesting “Ultimate” version of Crystal and The Inhumans. The coolness of the “Ultimate” universe concept is the opportunity to start fresh and re-introduce all the classic Lee & Kirby FF villains and supporting characters — but with (hopefully) a modern and/or fresh twist. The problem in this collection was that the original versions were (in my opinion) way better. This book literally put me to sleep (okay, maybe I was tired in the first place) and it nearly made me give up on the series. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Mike Carey’s run was short-lived and Mark Millar took back the reins on the book’s writing. It was only my foreknowledge that Marvel Zombies were on their way to save the day in the next volume that kept me going.

Happy Accidents

Happy Accidents (7/26/12) Netflix (2000 **1/2) Written and directed by Brad Anderson, starring Marisa Tomei, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nadia Dajani and Holland Taylor, with a cameo appearance by Michael Anthony Hall as… Michael Anthony Hall. A woman who collects codependent relationships decides to “go with it” when her new boyfriend reveals he’s a time-traveler from the year 2470. Though I normally love time-travel movies, this one was weighted down by so much unhealthy relationship baggage, it sucked much of the pleasure out of it for me. I got the sense that the writer/director was working out a lot of “adult children of alcoholics” stuff in the guise of a romantic comedy. Was Ruby’s new beau Sam Deed crazy or an honest-to-God “back-traveler?” After awhile I cared less than you might think. I was also very aware of Anderson’s writing all the way through the film. The dialogue was never quite natural enough to create a “grounded” world (a requirement for a film like this) and there were far too many “clever” touches that were never really that clever.

Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire (7/26/12) TCM (1987 ***1/2) Directed by Wim Wenders, screenplay by Wim Wenders and Peter Handke, starring Bruno Ganz, Solveig Dommartin, Otto Sander and Peter Falk. In post-war, pre-reunified Berlin, an angel named Damiel falls in love with a circus acrobat named Marion and decides to shed his immortality in exchange for mortal sensuality. Shown on TCM as Debra Winger’s all-time favorite, this is a hard film for me to judge, because my feelings on it are so split. On the one hand it is a truly beautiful film about something no less important than the richness of human experience. On the other hand, its pace was frustratingly slow for me, like a slowly beating drum. Though it was only 128 minutes long, it felt much, much longer. One scene in which Damiel watched Marion’s final acrobatic performance seemed to last an eternity. The slow pace was accentuated also by long scenes of various angels “listening in” telepathically to the thoughts of various people, and the majority of the film’s dialogue came in this form, the cinematic equivalent of comic book “thought bubbles.” But in spite of my problem with the film’s pacing, Wings of Desire still had plenty to offer: The post-WWII footage (some of it quite graphic) was used sparingly but provided context and reinforced the seriousness of the subject matter. I also loved Peter Falk’s inclusion of the film as an American actor named “Peter Falk”… but with an unexpected twist. The film’s subjective use of color — which in lesser films could have been a gimmick — was solidly motivated by the simple premise that angels (of which there are many more than you’d think) see the world in black and white. Seeing the same characters and environments shot with and without color underscored the film’s major theme about humanity’s shared experiencing of the world through our senses. Finally, it may be interesting to know that it was remade in 1998 as City of Angels, with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, a film I saw but didn’t particularly care for.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World

George Harrison: Living in the Material World (7/25/12) Netflix (2011 ****) Directed by Martin Scorsese, featuring interviews with and/or footage of: George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono, George Martin and many others. George Harrison’s life and career before, during and after The Beatles is examined by one of history’s greatest filmmakers. At 208 minutes, Living in the Material World was quite long as documentaries go, and my wife and I watched it on two separate DVD discs. That extra length was nice, however, to give plenty of breathing room to its fascinating subject. A little more than half the film focused on George Harrison’s early days with The Beatles, leading to their break-up in the early 1970s. Harrison was portrayed as a complex man, one who was both the most spiritual of The Fab Four but also capable of great anger and prone to weaknesses of the flesh. I was reminded recently that the hallmark of a good documentary (or a biopic, for that matter) is one where you learn something about its subject that you didn’t know before, even if it was already very familiar, and this film certainly succeeded on that count. As someone who has watched many documentaries about The Beatles, I very much appreciated that the historical material was made up of footage and photos I mostly hadn’t seen before, even at times when it must have been tempting to use better known clips. Scorsese also did a wonderful job of showing Harrison’s spiritual journey, that much of his interest in Eastern philosophy and transcendental meditation was about preparation for a “good death.” By the accounts of the many who loved him, George Harrison had succeeded in that goal by the time cancer took him on November 29, 2001, at the age of 58.