Monthly Archive for September, 2012

Batman Live

Batman Live (9/30/12) Staples Center, L.A. (2012 ***1/4) Directed by Anthony Van Laast and James Powell, written by Allan Heinberg. Millionaire Bruce Wayne takes a recently-orphaned aerialist named Dick Grayson under his wing, and together they dress up to fight the forces of evil in Gotham City. According to the BatmanLive.com website, this big-budget arena show premiered in the UK on July 19, 2011 and requires TWENTY semi trailers to move its sets from location to location. Lifelong bat fan that I am, my wife brought us tickets for this show as an early birthday present. A few days before the show, I talked to a friend at work who’d just taken her boyfriend to the show, also for his birthday. She warned me that it was highly cheesy with a flimsy storyline. Well, forewarned is forearmed, and I braced myself for the worst. But you know what? I loved it! I thought the creators had made a very smart move by focusing on the Robin origin story and I completely accepted the unabashed way in which they featured all of Batman’s rogues gallery. A break-out at Arkham Asylum allowed them to feature The Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, Two-Face, The Scarecrow, Harley Quinn and (of course) The Joker. Some of the pyrotechnic effects were stunning, such as when (mild spoiler ahead) Harley Quinn shoots her clownish boyfriend’s hot air balloon with a bazooka. For my wife, a clear highlight of the show was the Batmobile, which was featured prominently. The show’s creators clearly paid close attention to small details. For example, as we left the show, I noticed that the confetti that had been shot from The Joker’s enormous confetti cannons was shaped like little bats!

Invitation to the Dance

Invitation to the Dance (9/30/12) TCM (1956 ***) Written (though uncredited) and directed by Gene Kelly, starring Gene Kelly, Igor Youskevitch and Claire Sombert, with an appearance by Andre Previn. This film was an anthology divided into 3 parts, eachfeaturing various musical and dancing styles: “Circus,” “Ring Around the Rosy,” and “Sinbad the Sailor.” The last sequence was a fairly elaborate, half-hour long live-action / animation combination set in a sheik’s harem. The animation was executed by William Hanna, Joseph Barbera and Fred Quimby. It’s historically interesting to note that this sequence predated similar work done in Disney’s Mary Poppins (1964) by eight years! On a side note, when I started watching this film, I actually thought it was the one in which Kelly famously danced with Jerry Mouse, but that was actually Anchors Aweigh (1945).

Studio One in Hollywood: “Twelve Angry Men”

Studio One in Hollywood: “Twelve Angry Men” (TV) (9/29/12) Netflix (1954 ***1/2) Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, written by Reginald Rose, starring Robert Cummings, Franchot Tone, Edward Arnold and eight others. A troubled young man is on trial for killing his father and the only thing standing between him and the electric chair is Juror #8. Talk about a glimpse into TV history. Immediately after my wife and I watched the 1957 film based on this TV program, I turned to the Blu-Ray bonus features and discovered they contained the original version in its entirety. It was originally broadcast live on September 20, 1954 as the first episode of Studio One‘s seventh season, and it was destined to become a landmark in TV history, winning three Emmy awards and, according to the Blu-Ray’s “making of” featurette, an award for “program of the year,” though an internet search failed to verify that. Of course, the teleplay was adapted a few years later into the classic AFI Top 100 film by the same name. Now while it’s not nice to pick on a classic, I think it’s fair to point out that Robert (“Love That Bob”) Cummings — who played the story’s main character — was not exactly in the same acting stratosphere as Henry Fonda. Then again, few actors were, are or ever will be. I write this even though Cummings was awarded a Best Actor Emmy for his role. It’s also worth pointing out that for modern viewers who seek out this historic TV event, a minor treat awaits: Though many of the jurors will appear vaguely familiar, arguably its most recognizable one will be the foreman, played by the late Norman Fell, Three’s Company‘s Mr. Roper.

12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men (9/29/12) Netflix (1957 ****) Directed by Sidney Lumet, screenplay by Reginald Rose (based on his teleplay), starring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, Jack Klugman and others. A troubled young man is on trial for killing his father and the only thing standing between him and the electric chair is Juror #8. There’s no wonder this film is on the AFI’s list of top 100 films. For a movie adapted from a TV show and set almost entirely in a single confined setting (a jury room), it really packed a wallop. And of course it’s still as relevant now as it was then. This must have been an actor’s dream, portraying awesome, though in some cases thoroughly unlikable, characters like these twelve… yes, angry… men. Henry Fonda’s strong performance as the film’s main character, Juror #8, demonstrated why he’s considered one of film history’s great actors. Finally, on a personal note: For some reason, one of my favorite moments in the film is when Klugman asks Fonda and the other jurors: “You ever see a knife fight?”

Stand By Me

Stand By Me (9/25/12) TCM (1986 ****) Directed by Rob Reiner, based on the short story “The Body” by Stephen King, starring Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, Kiefer Sutherland and John Cusack, with Richard Dreyfuss narrating and providing bookends. Four young boys set out in search of a dead body… and themselves. I went to see this film in the theater when it was originally released. I would’ve been a junior in college then. I hadn’t watched it in many years until just now, and I’d forgotten how truly great a movie it was. It’s so good, in fact, that I’m going to have to count it as one of my favorite films. There’s something about a good coming of age movie that really speaks to me. One of the things that made it work as well as it did is that the entire movie had the tone of (and scope of) a well-written short story, mixing nostalgia for the past and a sense of memoir in which characters are revealed through their actions. Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans’ screenplay was pitch perfect, masterfully capturing the flavor of the kids’ dialogue while still clearly delineating them as characters. And in Rob Reiner’s capable hands, their script was beautifully executed. According to TCM’s resident know-it-all Robert Osborne, this film put Ben E. King’s titular song on the charts for more weeks than it was when originally released, thanks in part to a music video featuring River Phoenix and Will Wheaton. (Favorite)

If Lucy Fell

If Lucy Fell (9/22/12) Netflix (1996 **) Directed by Eric Schaeffer, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Eric Schaeffer, Ben Stiller and Elle Macpherson. Two idiosyncratic NYC roommates share each others’ secrets… and a suicide pact. I just know there’s a story behind the making of this quirky, nominally romantic comedy. Schaeffer, the film’s director, cast himself as one of its leads and he also wrote the screenplay with Tony Spiridakis. There was definitely a quirky sensibility at work, and the dialogue between Schaffer and Parker was sometimes inspired, but the film never quite worked for me in a larger sense. Much of the missing energy came from the questionable casting of Schaeffer himself, and the romantic scenes between him and Elle Macpherson just made me uncomfortable, which was probably kinda sorta the intended effect. Regardless of that, this film undoubtedly contributed to Sarah Jessica Parker getting cast in HBO’s Sex and the City, which began two years later, running from 1998 to 2004.

Alice’s Restaurant

Alice’s Restaurant (9/17/12) TCM (1969 **1/2) Directed by Arthur Penn, based on the song by Arlo Guthrie, starring Arlo Guthrie, Patricia Quinn, James Broderick and Michael McClanathan. The son of a folk legend is inspired to write a song about a memorable Thanksgiving spent with Alice and Ray, a hippie-friendly couple with a church and a restaurant in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This is one of those “hearing impaired” reviews where I feel compelled to mention that the version of the film I watched on TCM was not closed-captioned, and the sound was so muddy I feel I was only able to make out half the dialogue. This seriously impacted my enjoyment of the film. My favorite parts were the lighthearted ones directly based on Arlo’s 34-minute “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” song, written in 1967. I also enjoyed the scenes of him visiting his dying father Woody Guthrie (played by Joseph Boley). Unfortunately, much of the film was taken up with the abusive relationship between Ray and Alice and the destructive arc of a heroin addict named Shelly, whose “deal” I never could figure out.

For Me and My Gal

For Me and My Gal (9/16/12) TCM (1942 **1/2) Directed by Busby Berkeley, starring Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, George Murphy and Martha Eggerth. Set before and during “The Great War,” song and dance man Harry Palmer (Kelly) convinces Jo Hayden to team up and wow the vaudeville circuit, but then WWI (not to mention Palmer’s ego) gets in the way of their big break. This film was the great Gene Kelly’s feature debut. You’d think a movie combining the talents of Berkeley, Garland and Kelly would be money in the bank, but unfortunately this “musical comedy” was weighed down by way more melodrama than was necessary. Kelly’s character was so flawed (eventually injuring himself to avoid being drafted) that it made him unlikable and hard to watch. Quick show of hands: Who wants to see Gene Kelly play a cowardly asshole? Not me. On a completely separate note, this film contained a minor technical oddity: In a scene set in a private railroad car, Martha Eggerth’s cleavage was apparently too sensational for 1940s era audiences, and as she sang “Do I Love You?” her… well, boobs were blurred out, using (I’m guessing) an optical printing effect with Vaseline on a glass plate. Crazy!

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (9/15/12) Netflix (2010 ***) Directed by Mark Romanek, based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, starring Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. Set in a dystopian alternate universe, schoolmates Kathy, Ruth and Tommy laugh, play and fall in love with each other… all in spite of knowing their organs will be harvested when they reach their early twenties. This film was quite beautiful to watch, and the performances by the cast were quite good, in spite of a consistently downbeat rhythm. Not surprisingly, this film about the fragility of human life was both depressing as hell but also ultimately uplifting, though I don’t know that I ever need to see it again. It was fun, however, to watch Andrew Garfield in a pre-Social Network / Amazing Spider-Man role, even though his “not-exactly-the-sharpest-tack-in-the-drawer” character Tommy didn’t give him much to work with.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon (9/14/12) FXM (1991 ***) Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, written by Lawrence and Meg Kasdan, starring Kevin Kline, Mary McDonnel, Danny Glover, Steve Martin, Alfre Woodard and Mary-Louise Parker. The lives of six Los Angelenos and their families intertwine while the police helicopter hovers Godlike overhead, watching all. Though downbeat at times, this film was ultimately uplifting, as its core message is that we are all in it together, even as our society becomes more and more fragmented. I’ve been a fan of Lawrence Kasdan ever since The Big Chill (1983), and I remember going to see Grand Canyon in the theater when it was originally released. However, I can certainly identify with it a hell of a lot more now that I’ve lived in L.A. for eight years. It’s interesting to note that this film was released in 1991, the year before the 1992 L.A. riots. I also can’t help but wonder how this film would play as a double-feature with Paul Haggis’ 2004 Oscar-winning ensemble film Crash, which Imdb.com describes as: “Los Angeles citizens with vastly separate lives collide in interweaving stories of race, loss and redemption.” That summary could just as easily been used to describe Grand Canyon.