Monthly Archive for October, 2012

Bob Dylan & His Band Plus Mark Knopfler

Bob Dylan & His Band Plus Mark Knopfler (10/26/12) Hollywood Bowl (2012 ***) In my younger years living in the Midwest, I passed up several opportunities to see Bob Dylan play at the Iowa State Fair. This is something I’d come to regret and seeing Dylan play live had become an item on my “musical bucket list.” I’d bought Dylan’s new CD Tempest in anticipation that his concert would feature many of its songs. I was wrong; he didn’t play a single song from it. I don’t regret the purchase though, because it’s really a terrific album, and I highly recommend it. So what did he play? In a sense he played my dream set. Never in a million years did I buy our tickets thinking I’d hear Bob Dylan sing his great (and lengthy) 1960s classic songs “Desolation Row,” “Ballad of a Thin Man” (“You know something’s happening here…”) and “Highway 61 Revisited,” two of them back-to-back! It was folk rock heaven! However, they were sung in a manner that made them virtually unrecognizable and even with my hearing aids on full I could only make out the occasional lyric. But I was kind of prepared for that, having heard in the past that Dylan’s live performances have been a little hard to make out. A handful of songs I didn’t recognize at all, but two other notable songs were “Tangled Up in Blue” and “Make You Feel My Love,” the second being from his great 1997 Grammy-winning album, Time Out of Mind. At the end of the show Dylan & his band returned to the stage and sang a single encore song, but it was a killer. It took me a few seconds to recognize it, but it brought a smile to my lips and a tear to my eye: There I was at the freakin’ Hollywood Bowl listening to freakin’ Bob Dylan sing freakin’ “Blowin’ in the Wind!” My biggest complaint by far about the show was the video coverage on the large monitors, which I’d counted on, having bought our tickets way up in section R1. Throughout the evening, including during Knopfler’s exceptional opening set, the monitors showed an shot that was, from where we sat, an image of exactly the same scale as our view of the stage. Oh, how I wish I’d brought our binoculars! I confirmed online that this was a deliberate choice made, not by the Bowl, but by the artist himself. Yep, you gotta love that nutty Bob Dylan’s little eccentricities. And so, I can honestly say that I “saw” Bob Dylan play, but I never actually saw him at all. Finally, for the second time in two live performance reviews I have got to complain about the crowd. Unfortunately, The Hollywood Bowl has continued its policy of selling tickets to inconsiderate assholes, who talked (sometimes at an astonishing loud volume) throughout the concert. However, while I found their behavior inexcusable, on a certain level I can appreciate that Dylan may have given them a few things to talk about.

Deja Vu

Deja Vu (10/20/12) FXM (2006 ***1/2) Directed by Tony Scott, written by Bill Marsilii and Tony Rossio (Shrek), starring Denzel Washington, Paula Patton, Jim Caviezel, Val Kilmer and Adam Goldberg. ATF agent Doug Carlin investigates a tragic explosion in New Orleans and becomes a subject in a top-secret government time travel experiment. There are some films you record and watch because you don’t want to have to think too much, and for me this was one of those. I watched this film in pieces over the course of a weekend when I was working on a book project. But it surprised me, far surpassing my expectations in every way. I’ve long held the belief that the keys to doing a good time-travel story are twofold: (1) Finding a solid emotional hook and selling it and (2) Going full-out with the time-travel “fun and games.” Deja Vu managed to hit both of those goals while at the same time delivering a lot of action and all the suspense of an unexploded bomb aboard a ferry full of people. In addition to a surprisingly grounded (given this was escapist sci-fi) performance by Denzel Washington, the film was also masterfully directed and edited as well. Watching Deja Vu gave me a greater appreciation of the tragic loss of Tony Scott, who committed suicide earlier this year.

The Strawberry Blonde

The Strawberry Blonde (10/17/12) TCM (1941 **1/2) Directed by Raoul Walsh, based on the play by James Hagan, starring James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, Rita Hayworth, Alan Hale and Jack Carson. A hot-tempered dentist considers extracting revenge on a patient who once stole the girl of his dreams. The title was taken from a line from “The Band Played On,” a song that featured prominently in the film. While I always enjoy watching Jimmy Cagney, his frequently unsympathetic “Biff Grimes” wasn’t exactly among his most memorable roles. And while I love Rita Hayworth, her titular strawberry blonde “Virginia Brush” was entirely unlikable. The most enjoyable and interesting performance was actually by Olivia de Havilland, whose “Amy Lind” offered a little complexity and appeal in a film otherwise populated by unpleasant two-dimensional characters.

Baby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliff, and the Beatles in Hamburg

Baby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliff, and the Beatles in Hamburg (10/15/12) Graphic Novel (2012 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Arne Bellstorf. As the extended title implies, The Beatles’ early days in Hamburg, including original member Stuart Suttcliff’s tragic young death, are told through the eyes of the young woman who shot many of their iconic photographs. As someone who hopes one day to produce graphic novels of my own, this book was virtually a blueprint for what I’m aiming for, at least visually, and to some degree tonally. The simplified character designs were appropriate to the text and I loved Bellstorf’s deft visual depictions of the Beatles, especially John and Paul. Prior to reading this book, I was familiar with the general story, much of which was told in the 1994 film Backbeat, in which Kirchherr was played by Twin Peaks‘ Laura Palmer, Sheryl Lee. While I appreciated Baby’s in Black‘s text for what it was, having been based on an autobiography by Astrid Kirchherr herself, there was a subdued, dispassionate quality from beginning to end that created a sense of emotional distance. This was underscored by the book’s reduction of the font size within the word balloons, a technique traditionally used in comics and graphic novels to indicate low voices or whispering. In addition, there was a kind of awkward, unnatural nature to the dialogue, with exposition frequently presented unabashedly. But because Baby’s in Black was originally written and published in German, I have no way of evaluating how much may have been lost or changed in the translation.

Argo

Argo (10/15/12) Glendale Pacific Theaters 18 (2012 ***1/2) Directed by Ben Affleck, based on the article by Joshuah Bearman, starring Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman and Alan Arkin. In 1980, a C.I.A. operative extracts six Americans from Iran using the magic of Hollywood in the form of a fictional sci-fi epic named Argo. In this, his third film as a director after Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Ben Affleck… sorry, Academy Award-winning writer Ben Affleck demonstrated once again that he has what it takes to direct. Guided by an excellent screenplay by Chris Terrio, Argo took a little-known (and only recently declassified) chapter in history and built an incredibly suspenseful, dramatic and at times very funny (“Argo ___ yourself”) film. Ironically, while I loved the film and agree its a strong contender for Best Picture, the one thing that bugged me throughout was Affleck’s own performance. Affleck seemed to be delivering the same monotonic note over and over in scene after scene, with very little variation. It’s as though Affleck did an excellent job directing everything and everyone… except himself.

A Night at the Opera

A Night at the Opera (10/8/12) TCM (1935 ***1/2) Directed by Sam Wood, starring Groucho, Chico and Harpo Marx, with Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones and (of course) Margaret Dumont. Fast talking agent Otis B. Driftwood signs “the world’s greatest opera singer,” then boards a transatlantic steamship where his diminutive cabin… Aw, bananas! Who cares about the plot, am I right? It’s the freakin’ Marx Brothers, for cryin’ out loud! From the first few brilliant lines of impeccably paced, fresh-as-the-day-it-was-written dialogue to the last, this film demonstrates in no uncertain terms the brilliance of the Marx Brothers’ patented mix of comedy and anarchy. And Chico and Harpo even got a nice juicy scene to showcase their musical talents as well. This film is clearly a must-see classic… with only one small caveat: It breaks my heart, but my only reason for not giving A Night at the Opera a full four stars is that way too much screen time was devoted to its stupid contractually-required “boy gets girl” B-story, which I’m sure bored audiences in 1935 just much as it did me in 2012.

A Night at the Movies: Hollywood Goes to Washington

A Night at the Movies: Hollywood Goes to Washington (10/7/12) TCM (2012 ***) Written and directed by Laurent Bouzereau, featuring interviews with filmmakers, stars and bigwigs like Oliver Stone, Rob Reiner, James Cromwell and James Carville. First of all, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: This TCM original documentary should in no way be confused with 1977’s The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington, which starred Joey Heatherton and George Hamilton and is a completely different film altogether! (Whew, I’m glad I set that point straight.) Anyhow… Coming just a month before the 2012 Presidential election, this reasonably well-produced film contained some of what my wife likes to call “interesting choices.” For instance, who in their right mind would consider Back to the Future to be a political film? That’s kind of a stretch, isn’t it? The clip shown was one in which Doc Brown laughed at the idea of Ronald Reagan as president: “Who’s Vice President? Jerry Lewis?” It was awesome to see BTTF‘s co-writer Bob Gale, however, even if he was included in the documentary on somewhat questionable grounds. Further, I found it extremely interesting that while writer extraordinaire Aaron Sorkin (yeah, I’m a fan) was not among those interviewed, Rob Reiner purposely emphasized his own involvement in writing his 1995 film The American President with Sorkin, even though Sorkin is the only one IMDB.com has credited as writer. Also, there was absolutely no mention made of Sorkin’s brilliant TV show The West Wing, which in many ways picked up where Reiner’s film left off. As for the rest of the documentary’s content, it covered the usual suspects like All the President’s Men and of course Mr. Smith Goes to Washington… which should in no way be confused with The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington, which really a very different film. Trust me on this.

Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellant?: And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia!

Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellant?: And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! (10/6/12) Nonfiction (2012 ***1/2) Written by Brian Cronin. Cronin is the creator of the “Comics Should Be Good” blog and had previously written Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed (2009), a book I read back in 2010 and also gave ***1/2. I devoured this entire book cover to cover in 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon. While I clearly live smack dab in the center of Cronin’s demographic bullseye, this book was objectively a well-written delight and one that should appeal even to those far less steeped in comic book trivia than I. To be honest, I already knew about half the trivia contained in this book, but that didnt bother me in the sightest. I don’t know what’s been in the zeitgeist lately, but between this book and AMC’s Comic Book Men, I’m in comic geek heaven lately!

Blast From the Past

Blast From the Past (10/2/12) FXM (1999 ***1/2) Directed by Hugh Wilson, screenplay by Bill Kelly and Hugh Wilson, starring Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek, with an appearance by a young Nathan Fillion as the film’s token asshole. On the eve of the Cuban missile crisis, A Cal Tech egghead takes his pregnant wife into a bomb shelter where they live — and raise their son — for thirty-five years. There are some films that you just love, although they’re kinda silly and dumb, but you still love them all the same, even though you couldn’t necessarily defend them if you were asked to do so. Which is exactly the situation I find myself in. For me, this film falls solidly into that category, even though its romantic pair is named “Adam” and “Eve,” for God’s sake! It’s such a fun film with an unbelievably likable main character who embodies so many of the qualities I admire. It’s a film that totally works within the structure of a romantic comedy but also contains lots of great supporting characters and (most importantly to me) scenes of wish-fulfillment, like one where they’re in a hip L.A. dance club and Eve learns that Adam not only speaks fluent French but is also an incredible dancer (and a fighter), thanks to years of lessons from his parents. (Favorite)

The Three Faces of Eve

The Three Faces of Eve (10/1/12) TCM (1957 ***) Directed by Nunnally Johnson, based on the book by Corbett H. Thigpen, M.D. and Hervey M. Cleckley, M.D., starring Joanne Woodward, David Wayne and Lee J. Cobb. In the opening introduction, the authoritative voice of narrator Alistair Cooke assures us that the story we’re about to see is true. And it is a pretty compelling story, especially if you’re a new arrival to the planet Earth and completely unfamiliar with multiple personality disorder. And perhaps this was the case of the film’s original audience in the 1950s. As with many of the “based on a true story” films, especially those made in the 1950s, it’s hard to know how much truth remained, as the melodrama ran fairly high throughout. However, Joanne Woodward delivered a compelling performance playing the three leading roles: Eve White, Eve Black and Jane.