Monthly Archive for April, 2014

Hyde Park on Hudson

Hyde Park on Hudson (4/26/14) HBO (2012 **1/2) Directed by Roger Michell, written by Richard Nelson, starring Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Samuel West, Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams. FDR’s sexual relationship with his distant (and adoring) cousin “Daisy” is interrupted by a visit from the King and Queen of England, who have come to America seeking help in fighting Germany. This film didn’t get great reviews when it came out, scoring a paltry 36% on the Tomatometer, and so my expectations weren’t high. While it wasn’t a great movie by far, and Laura Linney didn’t exactly push the envelope of her acting range, it was interesting to watch Bill Murray’s performance. It would be an easy job to ridicule his casting, but that odd decision resulted in one of the main reasons the film kept my interest. In understanding the situation with the famously-stuttering King George VI, father of our Queen Elizabeth, it absolutely helped to have seen The King’s Speech, the 2010 film that made “fuckity-fuck-fuck-fuck” a household hyphenate and went on to win the Best Picture Oscar.

Young At Heart

Young At Heart (4/25/14) TCM (1954 **1/2) Directed by Gordon Douglas, starring Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Gig Young, Ethel Barrymore, Dorothy Malone and Alan Hale Jr. An angsty, cynical, selfish dick of a musician enters the bucolic home of a musical family, stealing the heart of one of their daughters and bringing way too much drama. It’s tempting to dismiss this film by saying the best thing about it is its title song, performed by Sinatra and written by Johnny Richards and Carolyn Leigh. Yes, very tempting… It’s worth noting that this 1954 film was a musical-ish remake of the 1938 drama Four Daughters. Also, if you watch this movie and decide its ending feels like a cheat (as I did), it’s because it was not the movie’s original ending. In the original (60-year-old spoiler ahead…), Sinatra’s character dies at the end. As well he should have.

700 Sundays

700 Sundays (4/24/14) HBO (2014 ***1/2) Directed by Des McAnuff, written by Billy Crystal and Alan Zweibel, starring Billy Crystal. In this one-man Broadway show, comedian / actor / master of ceremonies Billy Crystal tells the story of his life, focusing on his first fifteen years (approximately 700 Sundays) before the death of his father. I’ve been a fan of Billy Crystal since seeing him on the TV show Soap (1977-1981) and later on seventeen episodes of Saturday Night Live‘s tenth season. After watching 700 Sundays, I’m a little ashamed to admit that in recent years I’d more or less written him off. Not so much as a has-been, but as a performer whose best work was behind him. This Tony Award-winning show proved just how wrong I was. It was terrific from beginning to end, with strong material, and a solid performance by Crystal that demonstrated he’s every inch the performer he’s ever been.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (4/24/14) HBO (2012 ***1/4) Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, starring Steve Carell, Keira Knightly, Rob Corddry, Amy Schumer and Martin Sheen. In the closing days before the planet Earth’s “death by asteroid,” a man takes a roadtrip with a strange woman to seek “the one who got away.” Given its apocalyptic premise, this was a surprisingly sweet film. Though it’s nominally a black comedy, it showed a lot of heart, while somehow at the same time staying true to the reality of a global extinction event. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that this is the kind of slightly downbeat, slightly bittersweet role Carell was born to play. It reminded me tonally of Peter Sellers’ Chancey Gardener in Hal Ashby’s Being There (1979), one of my favorite films, and in my view that’s high praise indeed.

The Sixth Gun, Book 4: A Town Called Penance

The Sixth Gun, Book 4: A Town Called Penance (4/24/14) Comics (2012 ***) Written by Cullen Bunn, illustrated by Brian Hurtt and Tyler Crook. Originally published in The Sixth Gun, issues #18-23. Becky Montcrief tried to rescue Drake Sinclair from The Knights of Solomon, and in the process learns more about the origin of six enchanted six-shooters. I’m sad to report that for a series that started out so strong, I’ve increasingly lost interest in its storyline. Not even occasional imaginative touches like the mildly original silent issue (#21 by my count) did much to change that. Consequently, unless something changes and I start reading more comics than I have recently, this will probably be the last volume I’ll read and review.

Australia

Australia (4/21/14) Netflix (2008 **1/2) Directed by Baz Luhrmann, starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Bryan Brown as King Carney and Brandon Walters as Nullah. In pre-WWII Australia, a refined English widow teams up with a cowboy and a magical half-breed to drive cattle across an unforgiving land. This movie, which followed seven years after Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge (2001), was a financial flop, earning only $50 million domestic against its $130 million budget. Its reviews weren’t great either, earning a weak 55% on RottenTomatoes.com, which doesn’t really surprise me. It definitely had a few strikes against it, and I personally had trouble with its 165-minute running time and highly-stylized dialogue and presentation, which felt at times like an assault on the senses. By the end of the film I had warmed to it considerably, though largely due to Brandon Walters’ totally endearing turn as young Nullah, who was wholly sympathetic and impossibly cute onscreen.

The Walking Dead, Vol. 19: March to War

The Walking Dead, Vol. 19: March to War (4/20/14) Comics (2013 ***1/2) Written by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Charlie Adlard Originally published in The Walking Dead #109-114. Rick Grimes takes a shot at taking out their evil overlord Negan, but things don’t turn out as planned. They say a hero is only as good as his or her villain, and in Negan, Robert Kirkman has created one of the best “bad guys” in comic book history, albeit a decidedly R-rated one. If you’ve been reading my reviews of this series, you know I feel the comic version of The Walking Dead has been uneven since the first issue. It’s worth noting, therefore that this is the third volume in a row I’ve felt worthy of a 3.5-star review. It’s probably no coincidence that the uptick started right around issue 100 point (collected in Vol. 17), in which Negan beat one of the most beloved characters to death with a barbed wire-wrapped baseball bat named Lucille, a weapon that shares its name with B.B. King’s Gibson guitar.

The Front Page

The Front Page (4/19/14) HBO-FAM (1974 ***) Directed by Billy Wilder, based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Susan Sarandon, Austin Pendleton as the condemned Earl Williams and Carol Burnett as Mollie Malloy. A newspaper reporter with a penchant for adjective-laden prose quits his job to get married, but his manipulative editor talks him into covering one last story. This movie was based on the play on which His Girl Friday (1940), one of my wife’s favorite films, was made, and it’s sure hard to compete with the Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell version. Still, there was an undeniable energy in The Front Page and it went places the 1940 version didn’t. It also had a couple of in-jokes, including a reference to writer Ben Hecht and The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which was the inciting incident for the film Some Like It Hot (1959), which had been directed by Wilder and starred Jack Lemmon. This was made fairly late in Billy Wilder’s career, and he only directed two more films after this. It was fun seeing Lemmon and Matthau onscreen together and they were both effective as ever. Carol Burnett’s performance, however, consisted mainly of yelling.

We Can Fix It!

We Can Fix It! (4/19/14) Graphic Novel (2013 ***1/4) Written and illustrated by Jess Fink. A woman travels back in time to visit earlier versions of herself… and make out with them. I loved the premise of this book, which offered a fun variation on autobiographical comics. I only wish it had been a little more successful, and I think the key to “fixing it” (pun intended) would have been to offer more of a unifying story, rather than what felt like a series of random memoir-ish vignettes. There was an overall sense of it having been “made up as the writer/artist went along.” In particular, the final few pages felt rushed, as though Fink was racing to get a sense of closure. The unfinished pencil artwork might disappoint some, but given the nature of the material it didn’t bother me.

Parenthood, Season 5

Parenthood, Season 5 (4/18/14) NBC (2013-2014 ***1/2) Created by Jason Katims and Ron Howard, starring Peter Krause, Lauren Graham, Dax Shepard, Monica Potter, Erika Christensen and Craig T. Nelson. 22 Episodes, originally aired 9/26/13 – 4/17/14. The lives, loves and losses of the Braverman Clan defy cancellation. Much of this season’s drama focused on the disintegration of Julia and Joel’s marriage, which I never entirely bought into. I’ve long had a theory that the goal of Parenthood‘s writers is to portray the various types of families and family situations, with separation and divorce being uncharted territory so far. Ironically, I had a suspicion in the first season that J & J’s marriage was heading toward divorce, but by the end of the season the writers had steered their marital airplane back toward sunnier skies. As for the season overall, what can I say? My wife and I are clearly fans of a show that has that comfortable feeling like wrapping yourself up in a favorite blanket. It seems to be one of those shows that’s always teetering on the brink of cancellation, but a quick search on the internet shows evidence it’s been renewed for a sixth season, so… we’ll see you in September, Parenthood!