Monthly Archive for October, 2014

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (10/31/14) Video On Demand (1948 ***1/2) Directed by Charles Barton, starring Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Lon Chaney Jr., Bela Lugosi and Glenn Strange. A slow-witted fella and his fast-talking pal get wrapped up in a real Universal classic monster mash! I must confess that I only half-watched this film with my wife and some friends on Halloween night. During the course of the movie we chatted, ate pizza and paused about every five minutes to give candy and glow-sticks to our neighborhood trick-or-treaters. Still, even though I hadn’t seen it in years, I feel fairly confident in my judgment of this great film that I’ve seen perhaps a dozen times since childhood. It’s arguably the best film Bud & Lou made in the course of their careers. It’s also a brilliant mixing of horror and comedy, and is probably still useful as an example of how to do that combination properly. Probably my favorite part of the film was watching Lon Chaney Jr.’s absolutely earnest performance as the soul-tortured Wolfman, in delicious tonal contrast to Abbott and Costello’s hijinks. (Favorite)

Justice League: A New Beginning

Justice League: A New Beginning (10/29/14) Comics (1987, 1989 ***) Written by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, illustrated by Kevin Maguire. Originally published in Justice League #1-6 and Justice League International #7. A billionaire named Maxwell Lord decides it’s high time the world’s greatest super team (in the DC universe, anyhow) is re-assembled. I was a big fan of this series, which came out at a time when I was still buying comic books in serial form. I’m not sure if there’s any actual basis to it, but I’ve always felt a connection between this incarnation of the JLA and the TV show Moonlighting (1985-89). Just as the weekly adventures of Maddie and David brought a comic His Girl Friday dialogue sensibility to TV, Giffen and DeMatteis brought it to the unlikeliest of DC properties, the Justice League of (freaking) America! Even today I admire the audacity of whoever got behind that idea and gave it the go-ahead. It was fun to see the personalities of well-known (and some lesser-known) heroes clash like squabbling children, and a high point of the collection was Batman knocking out the Green Lantern Corps’ token A-hole Guy Gardner with a single punch. Having said (or, for you purists, written) all that, I regretfully admit that in the intervening decades the books didn’t necessarily hold up well. Maybe it’s simply a factor of the overall quality of comic book writing improving over the years. It’s also highly probable that my thorough enjoyment way back when was a combination of (a) The fact that I was in my early 20s and (b) the impact that always comes with the “shock of the new.”

True Detective, Season 1

True Detective, Season 1 (10/27/14) HBO (2014 ***1/2) Created by Nic Pizzolatto, starring Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan. 8 episodes, originally aired 1/12/14 – 3/9/14. Detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart set aside their vast differences to solve a series of serial killings nearly twenty years past. I loved the extended time scope (1995-2012), showing the changing characters. And “characters” is definitely the operative word. Most of my interest in this series was based on the contrasts and conflicts between Hart and Cohle, though I freely admit that McConaughey’s character was the more intriguing of the pair. The highlight of the season by far was an insanely well-executed 6-minute tracking shot in the fourth episode, “Who Goes There,” that reminded me strongly of combat video game footage. As for the season’s conclusion, I’m afraid my feelings are mixed: While I respected its poetry, it wasn’t as satisfying as I had hoped for, given the strength of the rest of the season.

Room 237

Room 237 (10/21/14) Netflix (2012 ***) Directed by Rodney Ascher, featuring interviews with Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns and more. Various conspiracies related to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) are presented for your edification and bemusement. This documentary was sometimes intriguing, sometimes near-hypnotic and sometimes a stretch of credulity. For example, I’m not sure how likely it was that superimposing the film played forward and backward was really a viable method for gaining insight into Kubrick’s “hidden” intent. The main effect the film had on me was to make me want to watch The Shining again.

The I.T. Crowd, Series 4

The I.T. Crowd, Series 4 (10/18/14) Netflix (2009 ***) Created and written by Graham Linehan, starring Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson and Matt Berry. Six episodes, originally aired 11/21/08 – 12/26/08. The three-person I.T. team, Jen, Roy and Moss, continue their absurd misadventures, often in comic opposition to Company Chief, Douglas Reynholm. In this, the fourth season, Jen entertains visiting executives, Roy and Moss visit an exclusive club, then play hookey and Douglas’ wife returns from the grave. There’s not much to say, reall. I found this fourth and (with the exception of a special aired in 2013) final season to be mildly entertaining, except for the final episode, which was extremely disappointing.

Casting By

Casting By (10/13/14) HBO (2012 **1/2) Directed by Tom Donahue, featuring interviews with Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Robert Redford, Woody Allen, Jon Voight and many other familiar faces. Primarily focused on Marion Dougherty (who passed away in 2011), this documentary sheds light on the little-understood role of the casting director and its evolution since the 1940s. In some ways I felt this documentary was a bit misrepresentative of itself. About 75% of its content was about Dougherty, with a few other casting directors and background thrown in. Though I’ve had a love affair with Hollywood films my entire life, I never really gave much thought to the role of the casting director or their contributions. One thing notably absent was any mention whatsoever of the famous “casting couch,” even to provide historical context. Perhaps that would have diluted the documentary’s mission: To legitimize the profession and achieve Academy Award recognition of it. Though that may be the case, I would have liked to have learned just how much truth there was to the “casting couch” myth as it fit into the old Hollywood studio system of old. Overall I found the film to be moderately interesting and it certainly wasn’t short on A-list interviewees, including Woody Allen, who rarely appears in these sorts of productions. However, I also found that Casting By‘s production values were not quite up to the level of contemporary documentary production. If I had to guess, I imagine that might be because the interview footage was collected over a lengthy period and consequently included footage shot on older video equipment.

The I.T. Crowd, Series 3

The I.T. Crowd, Series 3 (10/10/14) Netflix (2008 ***1/2) Created and written by Graham Linehan, starring Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson and Matt Berry. Six episodes, originally aired 11/21/08 – 12/26/08. Deep within the subterranean bowels of Reynholm Industries headquarter building, the 3-person I.T. department continues to live their antic-filled lives, dancing like clowns for your bemusement. This really is a delightful series and is perfect for consumption in bite-sized form as I eat my breakfasts and lunches at work. Highlights of the third 6-episode season included: Hidden video urination, a bank robbery, Roy becomes a street person, a well-received speech turns apocalyptic, the impact of social media website Friendface, Roy shoots a sexy calendar and Douglas Reynholm accidentally shoots himself in the leg, not necessarily in that order.

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick

Sex Criminals, Vol. 1: One Weird Trick (10/10/14) Comics (2014 **1/2) Written by Matt Fraction, illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. Originally published in serial form as Sex Criminals #1-5. Susie’s adolescent sexual awakening comes with a startling revelation: Every time she has an orgasm, time stops. Later, as an adult, she has sex with a Jon, who shares her odd superpower… and suggests they collaborate on a bank robbery. This book was heavily promoted on Amazon.com, and reading the description it seemed like a pretty awesome premise. I only wish it had been exploited in a stronger, more engaging way. The book began with an “on-screen” narration by Suzie, in which she appeared as a ghostly adult version as her younger self discovered masturbation and her sexual super-power. Unfortunately, the device (on-screen narrator), interesting at first, was overused and wore out its welcome. I also must admit that Zdarsky’s artwork, though proficient, left me flat. I also took a dislike to his effects for “The Quiet,” which were used to indicate that time had stopped. I can honestly say I wish I’d liked the book more, but there was little in the way the book ended (Susie & Jon’s antagonists held little interest) that made me want to read a second volume.

The I.T. Crowd, Series 2

The I.T. Crowd, Series 2 (10/6/14) Netflix (2007 ***1/4) Created and written by Graham Linehan, starring Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Matt Berry and Noel Fielding as Richmond. 6 episodes, originally aired 8/24/07 – 9/28/07. When company chief Denholm Reynholm commits suicide, his shoes are filled almost immediately by his degenerate and incompetent son, Douglas. Other highlights of the season include a trip to the theater, a German cannibal, a disastrous dinner party, a love interest that looks uncannily like a magician and a promotion for Jen. This outrageous British comedy continues to entertain, with some particularly inventive ideas, though I don’t think it hurts that as a lifelong nerd I’m squarely in the show’s target demographic.

Masters of Sex, Season 2

Masters of Sex, Season 2 (10/4/14) SHO (2014 ***) Created by Michelle Ashford, starring Michael Sheen, Lizzy Caplan, Caitlin Fitzgerald, Beau Bridges and Allison Janney. 12 episodes, originally aired 7/13/14 – 9/28/14. Following the events of the first season, famous sex researchers Masters and Johnson pick up the pieces and move their research to a new hospital. Watching the second season, I recognized early on that I simply wasn’t finding it as entertaining as the first. There was something intrinsically interesting (and yes, a tad titillating) in the origins of the famous sexual research. The storylines covered in the show’s sophomore season didn’t seem nearly as compelling, particularly the amount of screen time devoted to Will Masters’ impotence. As the sex research itself receded into the background, the direction the show took was often more about the changing times of the early 1960s. After awhile, unfavorable comparisons with Mad Men were impossible to avoid. Ultimately, the problem was that the show had lost its focus sometime between the first and second season. I was reminded of certain seasons of Alan Ball’s True Blood, where I found only about half the storylines remotely interesting at any given time. Having said all that, I imagine we’ll probably tune in again next year to see how the main story (the relationship between Will Masters and Virginia Johnson) progresses. Though I suppose I could just look that up on Wikipedia…