Monthly Archive for June, 2013

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (6/30/13) Netflix (2009 *) Directed / curated by Mike Schneider, based on the original film directed by George Romero. More than 150 animators and animators combine their ghoulish forces to create an alternate video to accompany the classic film’s soundtrack. Due to a copyright irregularity/loophole, the original Night of the Living Dead (1968) is in the public domain, which means that pretty much anyone can make copies of it and sell it or (as in the case of NOTLD:R) create alternate original works based upon it. Earlier this year I decided on a whim to download Romero’s film and more or less have my way with it, doing my own “remix,” if you will. I thought it was a fairly clever idea, and I was well along the way toward executing it when I learned that Schneider had broken into my house, stolen my idea, then time-traveled back to 2009 and produced it. In the words of Doc Brown, “Great Scott!” When I first discovered my “brilliantly original” idea had already been done four years ago, it was only a small consolation to see what terrible reviews it had received on Netflix and elsewhere. I kindly attributed the poor reception to the anijam / “exquisite corpse” nature of the concept. When I rented and watched Mike Schneider’s film, I was further surprised to see it begin with an introduction by Washington DC’s resident Creature Feature host, Count Gore De Vol. Gadzooks! One of MY ideas was to have MY version of the film introduced by a horror host as well! Well, as they say, “great minds think alike.” I was resigned to the fact that my idea was not an original one, and so I settled in to see exactly what Schneider had “curated.” Only a few minutes into NOTLD:R I began to understand why it hadn’t exactly stunned the critics with its awesomeness. The animation, what there was of it, was mostly (and this is being kind) spectacularly crappy. It was so bad there were stretches that were virtually unwatchable. Much of the “animated” consisted of camera pans on storyboard artwork, not exactly the same thing as animation. I also couldn’t understand why Schneider had decided to do the whole remix in black and white, a constraint I hadn’t even considered, because I knew it would be so visually limiting. My only guess is that he thought color would change the film’s tone, which I suppose it would have. After I’d watched the whole thing (fast-forwarding though those “unwatchable” stretches after the halfway mark), I played one of the DVD’s bonus features, a trailer for the film. To my great surprise, the “official” trailer was excellently edited, using only the crème de la crème. You know what? That’s an art film I’d want to watch! It’s only too bad Schneider’s talent pool hadn’t allowed him to execute the entire movie at that level of quality. As for my own remix, after watching NOTLD:R, I realized my approach may still have some merit, and so, quite appropriately, I’m not declaring it dead quite yet.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 18: What Comes After

The Walking Dead, Vol. 18:  What Comes After (6/29/13) Comics (2013 ***1/2) Written by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn. Natural leader Rick Grimes plays it close to his vest, giving his intrepid group the impression that he’s submitted to Negan’s control while working clandestinely to find their oppressor’s weaknesses; meanwhile, his one-eyed son Carl has other ideas about how to handle the man who killed his friend. The preceding volume, Something to Fear (which contained the comic series’ 100th issue) was a hard act to follow, but this one did a great job, and it was one of the stronger volumes in the series. The recently-introduced mega-bully Negan had a nice complexity (especially after his actions in Volume 17). His fuckity-fuck-fuck-fuck dialogue interacting with Carl was both chilling and also often quite funny. Negan’s “reasonableness” made him all the better as a villain, because of the built-in uncertainty in the reader’s mind of what he was going to decide was “reasonable.”

Bride and Prejudice

Bride and Prejudice (6/28/13) IFC (2004 ***) Directed by Gurinder Chadha, based on the novel by Jane Austen, starring Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Nadira Babbar, Chaman Bakshi and Naveen Andrews. Lalita’s prejudice gets in her way of appreciating a wealthy American arrival to her small town, the prideful William Darcy. Though I’ve watched Indian films before (including Chadha’s 2002 Bend It Like Beckham), it’s quite possible that this was the first “Bollywood musical” I’ve ever seen. I’ve been meaning to watch one for some time, but had just never gotten around to it. With Bride and Prejudice, I’m still unconvinced I’ve seen one, actually. My sense is that this film didn’t really qualify as authentic, considering its source material, several scenes set in America and England and the fact that the male lead was an American. Though it started out a bit clunky, this little film grew on me as it went along, and I’m not sure if that’s because I gradually grew to like the characters or because the film’s quality actually improved. I suspect it was a combination of both. Of course I was well-acquainted with the original classic story, which I’d most recently experienced in the form of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

House of M

House of M (6/25/13) Comics (2012 ***) Written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Olivier Coipel. Originally published in House of M #1-8 and The Pulse: House of M Special Edition. When Wanda Maximoff (The Scarlet Witch) grants her father Magneto’s wish by altering reality so that Mutants are the dominant species, members of The Avengers and The X-Men must work together to put things back the way they were… regardless of the emotional toll. I probably should have read this before Avengers vs. X-Men, as it set up some of the X-Men and Avengers tensions that came into play in the later story. Besides, House of M was — as described so humbly by the blurb on the back of the book — the “blockbuster Marvel Comics event of 2005!” I guess that’s what I get for ignoring Marvel continuity for nearly a decade, then spot-reading trade paperbacks in a random order. The premise of this book was interesting enough and the storytelling was clear, though I was never fully engaged.

Mad Men, Season 6

Mad Men, Season 6 (6/23/13) TV-AMC (2012 ***1/4) Series created by Matthew Weiner, starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Kartheiser, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery. 13 episodes, originally aired 4/7/13 – 6/23/13. Madison Avenue ad man Don Draper just can’t seem to keep a drink out of his hand or his Dick Whitman in his pants. Even though I discovered it relatively late (we watched seasons 1-4 on Netflix), I’ve become a big fan of Mad Men. Season 6, even though it was set against the backdrop of the turbulent year 1968, began on a slow note, something widely discussed both in our home as well as in the myriad crannies and nooks of the Internet. However, the season ended on an exceptionally strong note in a way that surprised and delighted me. I very much hope that power will continue through its seventh and final season. It’s also worth noting that the gradual emotional fall of Don Draper though the course of 13 episodes resonated nicely with the show’s enigmatic title sequence of a silhouetted ad man falling from a great height. Highlights of season 6 included: the introduction of the mysterious Bob Benson; Pete Campbell running into his father-in-law in a whorehouse; Ken Cosgrove getting shot in the face with a shotgun; Peggy accidentally stabbing her increasingly-annoying boyfriend in the abdomen and just enough twin imagery to remind me of Twin Peaks.

Man of Steel

Man of Steel (6/23/13) Manhattan Beach Arclight (2013 ***1/2) Directed by Zack Snyder, starring Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe. When Kryptonian despot General Zod threatens earth, a secret undercover alien do-gooder named Clark Kent must come out of the shadows and put on a cape. The well-known production backstory of this film is that after the disappointing critical reception to Bryan Singer’s 2006 Superman Returns, the keys to the Kryptonian kingdom were handed over to Christopher Nolan, who had produced and directed the money-making Dark Knight series. Many reviewers have called Man of Steel darker, and I think that’s true only in contrast to the original Christopher Reeve films, of which Singer’s version was intended as a continuation. Zack Snyder’s film was certainly far more realistic, and his directing more modern. Overall, I very much enjoyed the film. Cavill was perfectly cast, matching well with my own personal image of Superman. Man of Steel was entertaining on a big-budget f/x-heavy action film level, while also delivering emotionally. Special care in the script was devoted to establishing clear and plausible character motivations, a crucial element that gets lost in so many of these kinds of big budget action-focused films, and something I especially appreciated.

Life Drawing in Charcoal

Life Drawing in Charcoal (6/22/13) Nonfiction (1971, 1994 ****) Written and illustrated by Douglas R. Graves. Master illustrator Douglas Graves walks aspiring students through his charcoal illustration technique, one step at a time. I very much appreciated this book and found it to be one of the strongest art instruction books I’ve read. It helped that Graves was working in a realist style, and his mastery of the medium was apparent to even the most casual observer. My favorite aspect of the book was Graves’ “director’s commentary” approach, in which his thought process was articulated in incremental drawings. He wrote clearly — but without skimping on details — about all the incremental additions and changes made along the way and his reasoning for each one. His text was also a source of occasional unintended amusement: Keeping in mind the original version of his book was written in 1971, it was entertaining to read occasional editorial comments related to the increasing length of men’s hairstyles and the apparent androgyny of today’s young men and women.


Turbo (6/20/13) Crew Screening (2013 ***1/2) Directed by David Soren, featuring the voices of Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Luis Guzman and Bill Hader. A Van Nuys, California garden snail with exceptionally big dreams races in the Indianapolis 500. Once again I find myself in the position of reviewing a film produced by my studio, but on which I did not contribute. The concept of a snail wanting to race at Indy was one I’d been skeptical about in the extreme since the first day I heard it. And yet, somehow the damned thing worked. It’s also one of the most family-friendly films Dreamworks has produced, along the lines of Over the Hedge (2006) and Kung Fu Panda (2008). Turbo‘s story was somewhat simple, but rock solid. I’ll admit I didn’t find myself connecting with Turbo on an emotional level nearly as much as I did with my studio’s previous film, The Croods, but I loved the simple “dream big” message, and the Indy 500 race action was exciting and superbly animated, thanks to Soren’s direction and head of character animation David Burgess’ talented team. In a summer cram-packed with other animated theater fare, I hope this little film with a big heart manages to find the audience it deserves and do big box office.

Hollywood Canteen

Hollywood Canteen (6/19/13) TCM (1944 ***1/4) Written and directed by Delmer Daves, starring Robert Hutton and Dane Clark, featuring appearances by Joan Leslie, Bette Davis, John Garfield, Joan Crawford, Jack Benny and many, many more. Two wounded G.I.s pay a visit to the famous Hollywood Canteen, where one of them gets a kiss from the object of his affection, Joan Leslie. This film started out strong and the first forty-five minutes were terrific, but then some of the non-plot-advancing musical and comedy numbers started to seem a little long. It was also somewhat awkward that the film featured two back-to-back versions of Cole Porter’s “Don’t Fence Me In,” performed first by Roy Rogers, then a few minutes later by The Andrews Sisters. I’m sure there’s a production backstory there, but I don’t know what it is. The film was clearly All-American WWII propaganda from beginning to end, but it was still highly effective and moving. In fact, for reasons I don’t fully understand, my eyes got all weepy off and on throughout the film. I guess I’m just a sucker for a story about G.I.’s doing their part for their country. To say this film was star-studded would be understating the obvious. The opening credits crawl, in which the featured stars were listed alphabetically, seemed to last three minutes! I felt the various stars were nicely integrated, allowing them to deliver their cameos without them feeling too much like cameos. It was, however, a little weird to see John Garfield and Jack Carson busing tables while Joan Crawford and Patty Anderson danced with G.I.’s.

Life Without Dick

Life Without Dick (6/18/13) Netflix (2002 ***1/4) Written and directed by Bix Skahill, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Harry Connick Jr., Johnny Knoxville, Craig Ferguson and Teri Garr. A painter accidentally kills her boyfriend, then hooks up with an art dealer who turns out to be a reluctant hit man for the Irish mob. I enjoyed this movie far more than I ever thought I would. It started out goofy (the shooting happens within the first couple of minutes) and over time the film’s stylized dialogue (and the characters from whose mouths it emerged) grew on me. Life Without Dick was clearly intended as a black comedy, and fits nicely into that subgenre, but I also appreciated that it never went so dark that it made me squirm. That’s a misstep that could very easily have been made. I was particularly impressed by how strong the screenplay was structurally. Skahill clearly knew his stuff. I’ve often found with other films that a deliberately “quirky” tone was employed in part to camouflage story or character problems, but that was not the case here.