Monthly Archive for February, 2013

The Croods

The Croods (2/28/13) Crew Screening — L.A. Live Regal Cinema (2013 ****) Directed by Kirk De Micco and Chris Sanders, featuring the voices of Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke and Cloris Leachman. A family of cavemen face extinction and must learn to trust a slightly-more-evolved homeo sapien named Guy. The action-packed opening sequence establishes within the first few minutes that the The Croods ain’t no “stone age family” like their Hannah Barbera animated cousins. You know what? I’ve been in this position a few times before. How can I objectively review a film I worked on for eighty-one weeks? The simple truth is, I can’t. But I will say that for most of the “grunts” in production, we rarely know whether the film we’re working on is really any good. After we leave the production, as I did in September of 2011, most of us deliberately avoid watching too much of the film, so that we can better enjoy the finished result. And so, I honestly did watch the film with a pair of fresh eyes, and I was very happy with that result and am sincerely proud of the small role I played. Following the screening, my wife and I drove to the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History for a swingin’ stone age wrap party, complete with custom cocktails, rock candy and temporary tattoos (I got the Tripgerbil). At the party I saw most of my fellow Dreamworkers who’d worked on the film and there was a definite sense of pride. I only hope this film finds the audience it deserves. While I loved last year’s Rise of the Guardians (which I did not work on, though many of my friends did), it didn’t get nearly the critical praise I felt it deserved and its box office was disappointing. Hopefully Croods will fare far better on both fronts.

Coffee and Cigarettes

Coffee and Cigarettes (2/27/13) Sundance (2003 **) Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch, starring Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni, Iggy Pop, Cate Blanchett and many more. A series of eleven short vignettes, all featuring characters smoking and drinking coffee… or in one case, tea. According to Wikipedia (the source of all that is truthful), the first three vignettes began as independent shorts, with the one featuring Tom Waits and Iggy Pop (“Somewhere in California”) winning the Short Film Palme d’Or at The Cannes Film Festival. “Strange to Meet You,” the first vignette (which also happened to be Jarmusch’s original short) featured Benigni and Steven Wright and was maddeningly paced, The setup was completely artificial and the dialogue was so meaningless as to border on Dada. As the film progressed, ideas and phrases that had been voiced in earlier vignettes were repeated, often with quirky twists in meaning. As I watched the film, I did so perpetually on the cusp of wanting to throw in the towel, yet someting kept me watching. I’m not completely sorry I did, though most of the vignettes failed to grab me, with one exception: The highlight by far was “Cousins” in which Cate Blanchett played both herself and her lookalike cousin Shelly. It may well have been Blanchett’s acting skill that elevated that sequence above all the rest.

Smokey and the Bandit

Smokey and the Bandit (2/27/13) TCM (1977 **1/2) Directed by Hal Needham, starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason. A Trans Am-driving charmer whose C.B. handle is “The Bandit,” escorts an 18-wheeler full of Coors beer because, as the song says, “the boys are thirsty in Atlanta, and there’s beer in Texarkana.” I’m not quite sure what inspired me to record and watch this film, but it may have been Seth MacFarlane’s sketch with Sally Field on The Oscars. Watching it again after so very many years, I have to say it doesn’t particularly hold up, though it is definitely “of its time.” Yes, it was a simpler time, a time when you could tell a woman you just met that she “has a great ass,” and she would actually take it pretty well. My biggest problem with Smokey and the Bandit was that its premise asked you to suspend disbelief to a pretty outrageous level: Am I to understand that Coors beer was unavailable in the state of Georgia in 1977? And even if that were the case, surely there had to be a reasonable substitute available. In addition, it drove me crazy that even though The Bandit and Cledus (Reed) were engaged in this wacky race (twice 665 miles, according to Google Maps), they still kept stopping to get food, get beaten up and (SPOILER ALERT) engage in hatless sex. On a personal note, this is one of three films I remember seeing while on a Caribbean cruise when I was thirteen, along with The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and the Robby Benson / Annette O’Toole film One on One.

Abbott and Costello in Hollywood

Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (2/21/13) TCM (1945 **) Directed by S. Sylvan Simon, starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Frances Rafferty and Bob Haymes, with cameo appearances by Rags Ragland and Lucille Ball. Two barbers decide the path to riches and easy living in Hollywood is to become talent agents. This was one of of Abbott and Costello’s few movies made while at MGM. I’m not sure what the circumstances were surrounding the production, but it was the kind of setup that would have been helped significantly by appearances by bigger stars, of which MGM was not exactly in short supply. It was a little embarrassing when big stars like Clark Gable and Greta Garbo were mentioned but didn’t later appear. While it was great seeing a young Lucille Ball, she wasn’t exactly a huge star at the time. My main beef with this film was that it was really just a series of overlong comedy bits — like one involving insomnia — that did nothing to advance the plot. While you might reasonably say the same about most of Abbott and Costello’s films, it was particularly apparent in this one.

The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena)

The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena) (2/21/13) TCM (1973 **) Directed by Victor Erice, starring Fernando Fernán Gómez, Teresa Gimpera, Ana Torrent and Isabel Tellería. Ana, the seven-year-old daughter of a beekeeper, is profoundly moved by the movie Frankenstein and subsequently discovers a mystery hidden in a barn. This film was introduced by TCM’s guest programmer Bill Paxton as a masterpiece of Spanish filmmaking. Well, intrigued by the Frankenstein angle, I gave it a shot, but I must reluctantly admit that I just didn’t get it. The Spirit of the Beehive was quite beautiful at times, but had incredibly sluggish pacing and it contained several story elements and character actions that never actually came together before the film’s end. Or perhaps they connected in ways too subtle for me to understand. Call me a thickheaded dunce, but I’ll be damned if I could figure out what meaning I was supposed to take away from it.

Girls, Season 1

Girls, Season 1 (2/14/13) Netflix/HBO (2012 ****) Series created by Lena Dunham, starring Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet and Adam Driver. 10 episodes, originally aired 4/15/12 – 6/17/12. Michigan transplant and aspiring writer Hannah Horvath and her likewise alliteratively-named 20-something girlfriends survive and occasionally grow, living and loving in New York City. I had a hint from all the critical attention Girls has been getting that this was a terrific show, but I had no idea just how good it was. The amazingly talented Lena Dunham, who recently won a Golden Globe for her acting on this series, wrote or co-wrote all the episodes in Season 1 and also directed half of them. Though she is a protégé of Judd Apatow, and it’s unclear how much of an influence he’s had, I particularly loved the craft Dunham displayed as she established multiple interesting characters who had depth and occasionally surprising complexity. Hannah’s boyfriend Adam Sackler, played by Adam Driver, was a particular delight, as he displayed character facet after facet over the course of the season. Especially given that HBO is its home network, it’s easy to compare Girls to Sex and the City, but it would be a mistake. The pilot episode made it very clear that despite superficial similarities, Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna should under no circumstances be confused with Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda.

Breaking Bad, Season 2

Breaking Bad, Season 2 (2/13/13) Netflix/AMC (2009 ***1/4) Series created by Vince Gilligan, starring Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul and Dean Norris. 13 episodes, originally aired 3/8/09 – 5/31/09. Walter White and his partner in crime Jesse Pinkman experience some serious highs and lows in their lives as the makers and purveyors of a chemically-pure crystal meth called “Blue Sky.” This season began with a glimpse of its end, with an image of a charred Teddy Bear being fished from Walter’s swimming pool by men in hazmat suits. The meaning of that image isn’t revealed until the very end of the second season. I’ve got to be honest: There was a stretch in the middle of this season where the show’s storyline had become such a downer that my wife considered not watching it further. For what it’s worth, the show pulled out of that tailspin in the final two episodes. As for myself, I’m still struggling against some pretty unrealistic expectations set by friends and the media about the quality of this show. I think Breaking Bad has been a tad over-hyped, at least from a story standpoint. Sure, there have been some pretty dramatic twists and turns, and the show definitely has played with its audience in terms of sympathy for the central character. Though his motives for becoming a drug peddler began with the purest intentions, Walter White’s moral descent into hell seems to be taking place one fated decision at a time. And that is nowhere more evident than when the meaning of the scorched Teddy Bear is revealed.

Saturday Night Live in the ’80s: Lost and Found

Saturday Night Live in the ’80s: Lost and Found (2/11/13) NBC (2005 **1/2) Written and directed by Kenneth Bowser, featuring interviews with Lorne Michaels, Billy Crystal, Al Franken, James Belushi and many, many more. Following SNL’s first five “golden” years came a decade of dramatic ups and downs. Kenneth Bowser followed his first “documentary” (quotes deliberate), Live from New York: The First Five Years of Saturday Night Live, with this considerably weaker look at the decade that followed. While the material was interesting to me, my overall sense was that it just wasn’t as well executed as the first program, and on several fronts: The clips selected were far from the best Bowser could have chosen. I mean, what was up with continually cutting back to Kevin Nealon’s map sketch? That just smacked of editing room laziness. Though nominally chronological, the musical clips (which I’d very much enjoyed in the first show) appeared to have been ordered randomly. Given the decade-long time period, it was jarring to see musical guests from the end of the 80s appearing when early-80s seasons were being discussed. There were lots of other examples of clips being shown out of logical sequence as well. The result was a narrative that was disjointed, one that ultimately painted an unclear picture of SNL through those years. All in all, it was a missed opportunity. It also makes me wonder why NBC is airing these programs again? Looking at IMDB.com, Bowser went on to direct shows about SNL in the ’90s and 2000s, and it appears NBC will be re-airing them in the coming weeks. Hopefully they’ll get better.

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty (2/10/13) La Canada AMC (2012 ****) Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, written by Mark Boal, starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler and Jennifer Ehle. Dedicated C.I.A. agent Maya devotes her life to tracking down and killing Osama bin Laden. This was a fantastic film and well-deserving of its Oscar nomination. It’s interesting to note that two Best Picture nominees this year are based on CIA operations, with the other being Ben Affleck’s Argo. Kathryn Bigelow demonstrated a skill for telling this type of international / life-on-the-front-line story with her Best Picture-winner The Hurt Locker (2008), and she has continued that tradition with this film. Much has been made in the press about the depiction of torture in Zero Dark Thirty, so much so that I must admit I was a little reluctant to see it and was dreading that aspect of the film. I was relieved to see that while “enhanced interrogation techniques” played a significant part of the film’s story, it didn’t constitute the entirety of it. It’s always a little tricky making a film based on historical events interesting to the audience. After all, we all know what happened to Osama bin Laden. Still, the most compelling part of this film was its third act, which presented a totally engrossing, real-time depiction of the raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Juliet of the Spirits

Juliet of the Spirits (2/8/13) TCM (1965 ***) Directed by Federico Fellini, starring Giulietta Masina, Mario Pisu, Sandra Milo and Valentina Cortese. Middle-aged Italian housewife Juliet is told by a psychic that her happiness lies in sexual liberation. Meanwhile, Juliet’s husband Giorgio is cheating on her with a gorgeous model named Gabriella. While it would be easy to dismiss this film as just a cinematic “mindf*ck,” that would be selling it short. To be fair, though, the film does incorporate a great deal of dream and surrealistic imagery. Fellini’s use of that technique built slowly from the beginning of the film and its intensity was a reflection of Juliet’s increasingly agitated mental state. According to the film’s introduction on TCM, this was Fellini’s first film in color, and he used it to great effect. Giulietta Masina did a wonderful job in the title role, though much of her acting throughout was reactive, as Juliet responded to the situations, personalities and frequently bizarre imagery around her. Masina was, by the way, Fellini’s wife.