Monthly Archive for November, 2012

The Maltese Bippy

The Maltese Bippy (11/28/12) TCM (1969 **) Directed by Norman Panama, starring Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Carol Lynley, Julie Newmar, Mildred Natwick and Robert Reed. Two out-of-work filmmakers work to unravel the “hairy” secret of a mysterious murder in their neighborhood. There was a time when the irreverent Laugh-In‘s Rowan and Martin were thrust from their studio in “beautiful downtown Burbank” into stardom. They were even popular enough to warrant a feature film, though not necessarily a good one. The Maltese Bippy (a play on their catchphrase “You bet your sweet bibby!”) was undoubtedly shot during their summer hiatus. I’ve always found Rowan and Martin likable enough, it’s just too bad the movie’s story was so mediocre. The story suffered from two problems, really: The film began with R&M getting busted for shooting a low-budget stag film, then transitioned immediately into a completely unrelated and hard-to-relate-to “world” in which Dick Martin was the landlord of a Victorian mansion filled with kooks. The second problem was the story meandered, with thin character motivations, finally ending in an “irreverent” dramatic climax that was wholly unsatisfying. Still it’s always nice to see Julie Newmar in anything.

Creepshow

Creepshow (11/28/12) IFC (1982 **) Directed by George A. Romero, screenplay by Stephen King, starring Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielson, Ted Danson, E.G. Marshall and… Stephen King? In this anthology, a series of “creepy” stories are told, all in the style of 1950s horror comics. I hadn’t seen this movie in many years, and I’d completely forgotten how cheesy it was. King wrote the film’s screenplay in a dumbed-down simulation of the E.C. horror comics he loved as a kid. Unfortunately, without exception, all his characters were thin and unsympathetic. While this was a deliberate move on his part, for me, it didn’t work, and I found myself watching it out of a sense of personal nostalgia than anything. Crazy thing is, I loved this movie when I was in high school. Watching it again after all these years, I felt a definite sense of “Wow, I can’t believe I used to like this movie. My, how I’ve grown as a human being.”

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense (11/28/12) Netflix (1999 ****) Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Bruce Willis, Haley Joel Osment and Toni Collette. Child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crow attempts to help Cole, a sensitive young boy with a secret. Poor M. Night Shyamalan. He sure has had a rough career, hasn’t he? And yet he’s continued to plug away, making film after film, each hoping to touch the greatness of this, his first film. And The Sixth Sense was (and is) a great film. I still remember seeing it in the theater and being blown away so much I had to return a day or two later to watch it a second time. And it still holds up beautifully, due not only to the script and the directing, but also the casting of Willis and young Haley Joel Osment.

The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man (11/28/12) TCM (1956 ***1/4) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle and Harold J. Stone. An innocent New York City musician is mistakenly identified as a holdup man and becomes a victim of the American justice system. In the opening of the film, Alfred Hitchcock assures us in a voiceover that though The Wrong Man is thematically similar to some of his other films, it is actually based on the true story of a man named Manny Balestrero. Made at a time long before the airwaves were cluttered with weekly detective shows, Hitchcock took his viewers on a guided tour of an experience few had experienced: The process of being arrested, booked, jailed and tried for a crime. It was a hyper-realistic police procedural where verisimilitude and texture trumped story. Its direct antecedent was Jules Dassin’s The Naked City (1948), also shot on real New York locations. For the most part the effect worked, and Henry Fonda was perfectly cast as the film’s “everyman.” Naturally, its “you are there” aspect was engrossing, though I found the storyline related to the psychological unraveling of Balestrero’s wife, however true to life, somewhat annoying.

Vampire Loves

Vampire Loves (11/21/12) Comics (2006 ***1/2) Written and illustrated by Joann Sfar, translation by Audre Jardel. Ferdinand the sensitive vampire deals with the neurotic trials and tribulations of the supernatural dating scene. At a time when angsty teen vampires seem to be everywhere, Joann Sfar offers a brutally honest and funny look at what it takes to find love. It took me back to my own dating efforts back in my 20s and 30s, when it seemed impossible to find a woman interested in me that didn’t also suffer from some kind of deeply-rooted psychological defect. My only real complaint about this volume was that Sfar’s narrative approach (described on the inside back cover as his “unique rambling brand of storytelling”) meant that sometimes interesting characters and situations were introduced (like the redheaded vampire sisters Aspirine and Ritaline), then cast aside for long stretches, possibly indefinitely. Still, I’m very thankful to my friend Leticia Silva for introducing me to Sfar and his comic book universe.

An Evening With The Monkees

An Evening With The Monkees (11/10/12) Greek Theater (2012 ***1/4) Last July, my wife and I went to the Greek to fulfill my lifelong dream of seeing The Monkees perform live. At least there were three of them performing: Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Davy Jones. It was a wonderful and super-tight show and I gave it 4 glowing stars in my review, one for each of the original Monkees. Mike Nesmith hadn’t performed with the others since 1997, and apparently that hadn’t ended particularly well. It was at a memorial service after Davy Jones’ unexpected death from a heart attack on February 29th of this year, that the three surviving members of the band, including Nez, agreed to reunite and tour once again. Now I’ve been a lifelong fan of and occasionally an apologist for Mike Nesmith. A 2005 biography about him (Total Control: The Monkees Michael Nesmith Story, written by Randi L. Massigill) didn’t paint him in particularly glowing terms. But reading that didn’t change that fact that as a kid he was my favorite Monkee (my wife’s as well) and his pioneering music video work with his “vide album” Elephant Parts back in the earrly 1980s was a major influence on me. Plus, I’ve always liked him as a singer and songwriter, both for his work while with the Monkees and afterward. And so when I learned they were playing at The Greek Theater, the same place Mickey, Peter and Davy had played a year before I “rushed out in a buying frenzy” and secured our tickets. Sadly, Ticketmaster’s website choked on my updated credit card’s expiration date and I wound up with less-than-stellar tickets as a result. (stupid Ticketmaster!) I hadn’t even considered that the concert date was in November and that L.A. might experience the unseasonable cold snap that it did, but my wife and I bundled up in warm clothes from our Alaska trip and braved the elements. So how was it? By an objective measurement, it was pretty mediocre, actually. The tightness of last year’s trio, which was honed to perfection after dozens of shows, was replaced with a sloppiness that was surprising and disappointing. Last year Mickey’s voice was on the weak side and Davy kept running out of breath (perhaps a harbinger of his final fate). This year, neither Mickey, Mike or Peter sang well or consistently, and strangely enough, each sang some songs passably yet others miserably. I’d read in a couple of news stories and on Facebook that Mike Nesmith was making a deliberate effort to channel “Monkee Mike,” meaning the goofy young man he played on the original TV show. And that worked fairly well on stage. There were a few Monkees-variety hijinks, including Mike Nesmith vocalizing the part of the Moog Synthesizer on their song “Daily Nightly.” In spite of him not being 100% solid vocally, it was very nice to hear so many songs that featured Mike Nesmith’s lead vocals. The band also included Monkee family members Coco Dolenz (Mickey’s sister) and Mike’s son Christian Nesmith. All in all I was satisfied: After all, I got to see one of my idols perform live. It wasn’t anywhere as good a show as last year’s, but I’m still very glad I went.

The Rise of the Guardians (3D)

The Rise of the Guardians (11/10/12) DWA friends & family screening, L.A. Live (2012 ****) Directed by Peter Ramsey, screenplay by David Lindsay-Abaire, based on the book series by William Joyce, featuring the voices of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Isla Fisher and Jude Law. Jack Frost joins Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy to protect the children of Earth from the Boogeyman. As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’ve been at Dreamworks Animation since 2000, and I’m currently working on my tenth film. But this wasn’t one I worked on, so while I am a studio employee and lots of my friends and co-workers worked on it, I still retain a modicum of objectivity. I was blown away by this film from start to finish, and when it was all over I was VERY proud to say I work at Dreamworks and a tad envious of my friends who did work on the film. Apparently Alec Baldwin said in an interview months ago that this film was like The Avengers for kids. And that’s not a bad comparison. There was way more action than I expected, and the fight sequences were amazingly well choreographed. The characterizations were terrific, with each of the Guardians (and Pitch, the Boogeyman) clearly motivated and delineated. The effects and design was wonderful too, with only one exception: I have always been bothered by North’s (Santa’s) overly broad shoulders in this film, and I’m not exactly sure why. The film’s story had a quality that few films have, where it felt just like a slide: Each scene flowed so elegantly into the next and the humor and action and heart was so nicely interwoven with the narrative that before you knew it you’re in the third act. And as for emotional punch… Well, let’s just say I was choked up enough a few times that my wife turned to me and whispered: “Are you all right?” As this was an early screening, there aren’t many reviews for the film yet. I sure hope it finds the audience and critical praise it deserves.

Dungeon: The Early Years — Vol. 1: The Night Shirt

Dungeon: The Early Years — Vol. 1: The Night Shirt (11/4/12) Comics (2005 ***1/2) Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim (English translation by Joe Johnson), illustrated by Christophe Blain. Young and naive swashbuckling bird Hyacinthe rescues fair maidens and fights corruption as the mysterious “Night Shirt.” I don’t normally think of myself as someone who reads tales of anthropomorphized fantasy, but there’s something infectious in this series, which was loaned to me by a friend. This was my first introduction to Joann Sfar’s storytelling, though it was unclear to me how exactly he shared writing responsibilities with Trondheim. This volume, which evidently is just a small piece fitting into a far greater whole, was originally published as two separate books.