Monthly Archive for March, 2014

Comic Book Men, Season 3

Comic Book Men, Season 3 (3/31/14) AMC (2013-2014 ***1/4) 16 episodes, originally aired 10/13/13 – 3/30/14. Created by Kevin Smith, starring Kevin Smith, Walt Flanagan, Bryan Johnson, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen. Kevin Smith and the proprietors of Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash peel back the cover on the surprisingly entertaining machinations of Red Bank, New Jersey’s best known comic shop. I’ve enjoyed this show from the beginning, and continue to do so. Not especially surprising, considering I lie in the dead center of the show’s demographic bulls-eye. However, I never would have expected the level of my wife’s interest in the show, which remains a mystery. I definitely think the show works better in its half-hour format than its original 1-hour form. One of the things that makes this show particularly interesting for me is when comic books come into the store that I happen to either own or have some connection with. What I find somewhat less interesting, to be honest, are the A storylines intended to unify the individual episodes, and I feel the producers are sometimes scraping the barrel’s bottom and stretching credulity. This was particularly evident in the season’s finale, which found the Secret Stash employees going to a Renaissance Faire for no discernible reason.

Phil Spector

Phil Spector (3/29/14) HBO (2013 ***1/4) Written and directed by David Mamet, starring Al Pacino, Helen Mirren and Jeffrey Tambor. When a young woman blows her brains out in his stately mansion, an eccentric giant in the music business finds himself on trial for her murder. I was a fan before, but this made-for-HBO film gave me a renewed appreciation for Al Pacino’s acting skills. Having said that, I must share much of the credit for his effectiveness with Mamet’s script. Together with Helen Mirren’s supporting performance, the result was far more effective than I expected. It’s one thing to present a crackpot whose oddball eccentricities were thrust into the news cycle for months, but to chip away at the surface of the madness to show a brilliance and a world view that was warped but crystal clear in it’s precision… That takes true talent. Though I still haven’t watched Behind The Candelabra (which was also a made-for-HBO biographical film with a name director) it’s hard to imagine that Pacino lost to Micheal Douglas’ Liberace both at The Emmy and The Golden Globes awards.

His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday (3/29/14) TCM (1940 ****) Directed by Howard Hawks, based on the play “The Front Page” by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy. An engaged female newspaper reporter gets lured into writing a big story by a slick-talking editor who happens to be her ex-husband. I’m pretty certain I’ve watched this film at least once since reviewing it back in 2008. It’s one of my wife’s favorite movies, along with The Thin Man and The Philadelphia Story. It’s clear my wife has wonderful taste in classic films. What can I possibly write that wouldn’t be repeating myself? Hell, if you’re reading this and you’ve never watched this film, do yourself a favor and rent it or stream it or whatever. And if you’re a fan of Aaron Sorkin, it might just interest you to know there’s a direct line that can be drawn between His Girl Friday and the sparkling dialogue in The West Wing. (Favorite)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (3/27/14) Cinemax (2011 ***) Directed by Guy Ritchie, starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Jared Harris as Professor Moriarty. Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson team up to take on a mysterious mathemetics professor, who may just be Victorian England’s Napoleon of Crime. I must admit that I did not give this film my full attention, as I was half-watching it while working on an art project. It’s a terrible admission, I know, but true. However, I’m confident in saying that I got the gist of the film, enough to judge it. While I admire this energetic, two-fisted, double-barreled take on one of the most famous literary creations to grace the public domain, it was fairly apparent that this sequel was created and executed more to take in barrels of cash than to advance the art of cinema. As much as I like Tony Stark… I mean Robert Downey Jr., his performance as Holmes was not one of my favorites, and I can say the same of Jude Law’s Watson. In fact, my favorite moments in the film came from Stephen Fry as Sherlock’s “smarter brother” Mycroft and Jared Harris as Moriarty. I confess I wonder if Harris’s character on Mad Men (SPOILER ALERT) was killed off in order to make room in his schedule for this paycheck… er, film.

Girls, Season 3

Girls, Season 3 (3/25/14) HBO (2014 **1/2) Created by Lena Dunham, starring Lena Dunham, Allison Williams, Jemima Kirk, Zosia Mamet and Adam Driver. 12 episodes, originally aired 1/12/14 – 3/23/14. Writer Hannah Horvath and her less-than-amazing twentysomething friends take various bites from The Big Apple. It’s not a good sign when a show’s season ends for the year and you don’t really realize you’ve watched its season finale until several weeks later. I can’t recall any particular highlights of the season, but I do remember one scene that haunted me more weeks afterwards: It was in the season’s fourth episode, called “Dead Inside,” in which Hannah learns her e-book’s editor has died, then has the nerve to ask the editor’s widow if she knows of any other editors that might take her book. That scene demonstrated a level of character unlikability and unrelatability that blew my mind. At this point I find it increasingly difficult to find any reasons to recommend this show or continue watching.

Dallas Buyers Club

Dallas Buyers Club (3/24/14) DWA Screening (2013 ****) Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner and Jared Leto. In the early days of the AIDS epidemic, a heterosexual man is diagnosed with the terminal disease and must fight public misconception and the pharmaceutical industry to supply life-saving drugs to other victims. I hate to admit it, but in spite of my wife’s interest in seeing this film in the theater, I put it off due to it’s likely depressing nature. That is not my best trait, I know. Following McConaughey’s Best Actor Oscar win, we attended a Monday Night Movie at the studio, and I was just blown away by his performance. In particular, I admired that in spite of the obvious broad strokes of his character, he somehow managed to bring something different to Ron Woodroof in every single scene. I can’t say the same for Jennifer Garner, however; she was probably the weakest thing in the film. As for my concerns about the film being a big downer? Well, I shouldn’t have been so worried. Watching a well-told story about a man refusing to give up his fight against impossible odds can’t be anything but an ultimately uplifting experience.

The Wiz

The Wiz (3/23/14) HBO Family (1978 **1/2) Directed by Sidney Lumet, screenplay by Joel Schumacher, based on the muscial by Charlie Smalls and Luther Vandross, starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Lena Horne and Richard Pryor as “The Wiz.” A soft-spoken young black woman named Dorothy travels from Harlem to the magical land of Oz, where she encounters no shortage of weirdness in an effort to get back home. I have a feeling I watched this movie on TV at some point in my teenage years, but I can’t be certain. If I did, it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Despite the gravitas of having Sidney Lumet as its director and the involvement of Quincy Jones, I don’t think it was ever a particularly good film. It didn’t help that almost all the music was utterly forgettable with the exception of two songs: “Ease On Down the Road” and “A Brand New Day.”

French Kiss

French Kiss (3/22/14) HBO (1995 ***) Directed by Lawrence Kasdan, written by Adam Brooks, starring Meg Ryan, Kevin Kline, Timothy Hutton and Jean Reno. A neurotic, acrophobic woman flies to Paris to try to win back her fiancé from the arms of a beautiful French girl but winds up entangled with an international smuggler and small-time crook. This is one of my wife’s personal favorites, and I must admit to not caring much for it when I originally saw it in the theaters when it was originally released. Though Meg Ryan was neurotically cute as ever, I think I was turned off by Kline’s imperfect French con man Luc Teyssier, finding him hard to relate to. Nearly twenty years, later it came a bit easier, due to the amazing personal growth I’ve experienced during the intervening years. I still don’t consider French Kiss to be a home run, however, and the film contained many elements that seemed jumbled.

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine (3/22/14) Netflix (2013 ****) Written and directed by Woody Allen, starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay. When her Bernie Madoff-esque husband is arrested and commits suicide, the sudden fall from the heights of New York society finds a deeply troubled woman moving in with her sister in San Francisco. Cate Blanchett won multiple awards (including an Oscar) for her portrayal of Woody Allen’s titular character, and deservedly so. It undoubtedly helped that this is the best film Woody Allen has made in many years, with the exception of 2011’s Midnight in Paris. Blue Jasmine‘s screenplay has deservedly received many nominations and accolades. I found most interesting that it felt as though someone had gone through and had removed any and all distracting “Allen-esque” lines. Finally, I was also very surprised by the acting chops demonstrated by the star of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990), Andrew Dice Clay. I would love to hear the story of how he came to be cast.

Mission: Impossible

Mission: Impossible (3/22/14) MAX (1996 ***) Directed by Brian De Palma, starring Tom Cruise, Jon Voight, Emmanuelle Beart, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames and Vanessa Redgrave. When super secret agent Ethan Hunt is blamed for his super secret team getting wiped out while on a super secret mission, he must slip through the shadows to find the mole in his super secret organization. I hadn’t watched this film since seeing it in the theater upon its original release. It sure doesn’t seem like that was nearly 20 years ago. While M:I’s most obviously memorable visual is undoubtedly Tom Cruise dangling from wires inches from the floor of a white room, what I remembered the most was very different: Given that the film was based on an old TV show, I absolutely loved that it featured a catchy title sequence (that looks a lot like the opening of the new Hawaii 5-0) featuring action-packed clips of Hunt and all the members of his team, including Emilio Estevez, (SPOILER ALERT) then killing nearly all of them within the first twenty minutes of the film. I had never seen something like that done before or since and it was very effective.