Monthly Archive for April, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are?, Season 6

Who Do You Think You Are?, Season 6 (4/29/15) TLC (2015 ***) Series created by Alex Graham, executive produced by Lisa Kudrow and others. 8 episodes, originally aired 3/8/15 – 4/26/15. This sixth season included dives into the personal ancestry of Julie Chen, Josh Groban, Angie Harmon, Sean Hayes, Tony Goldwyn, America Ferrera, Bill Paxton and Melissa Etheridge. My wife and I have continued to watch this Ancestry.com-sponsored series, even after its move from NBC to TLC, and the core premise remains interesting. This season didn’t contain any particular highlights for me, and I may be completely wrong, but I sensed that the per-episode budgets may have been reduced. I noticed that the show spent far more time in libraries this time around, and I believe there were even some library visits that spanned multiple commercial breaks. But that could have just been my imagination.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (4/26/15) Starz (2014 ****) Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo, starring Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie and Robert Redford. When a super-powered patriot goes up against a cybernetically-enhanced assassin named The Winter Soldier, he discovers that S.H.I.E.L.D. may not be all it says it is. At least one of my friends points to this movie as their favorite in the superhero genre. After watching it for the second time, I’m tempted to agree with him, though I honestly enjoyed The Avengers (2012) more.. It really is a hell of a well-made movie, and I can see why Anthony and Joe Russo have been handed the reins for future Avengers films. Just the presence of Robert Redford adds such gravitas to the whole proceedings. I also want to note that I’m really a fan of Chris Evans as Captain America, and I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone who might play it better. He brings a wholesome earnestness to the role that is crucial, especially in a film where the “big question” is: “What does it mean to be a patriot?”

Bathing Beauty

Bathing Beauty (4/25/15) TCM (1944 **1/2) Directed by George Sidney, starring Red Skelton, Esther Williams and Basil Rathbone, plus Xavier Cugat and Harry James and their respective orchestras. A misunderstanding lands a red-headed songwriter in hot water with his beautiful fiance. Here’s my 8-word review: “Not enough swimming, too much Red Skelton mugging.” This is one of those films that was pleasant enough to watch and (thanks to the big band music) a joy to listen to, but the story’s ridiulous premise stretched incredulity beyond the breaking point and didn’t leave much room for characterization. Also, what’s the hell is the point of watching an Esther Williams movie if she’s not wearing a different bathing suit at least every 15 minutes?

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (4/22/15) TCM (1974 ***) Directed by Martin Scorsese, written by Robert Getchell, starring Ellen Burstyn, Kris Kristofferson, Alfred Lutter III, Harvey Keitel, Diane Ladd and Vic Tayback as Mel. A widow and her smart-ass son try to make a new life for themselves in Tuscon, Arizona. This film was shown as part of TCM’s Essentials series, introduced by Robert Osbourne and Sally Field. I personally find it hard to agree with the assessment of the film as truly required watching. That may be due to the fact that I was watching it in the futuristic world of 2015, forty years too late. Undoubtedly, the film must have had considerably more impact in the era it was originally released, but I honestly didn’t find it all that interesting. The film is mostly a character study about a single mother I didn’t really relate to. Though I have respect for the film’s anti-chauvinist themes. I may also be slightly (though not much) spoiled by having watched the sit-com it inspired, Alice (1976-1985), when I was a kid. At any rate, considering the rest of Scorse’s career, this was a strange directorial choice, one that came after Mean Streets (1973) and before Taxi Driver (1976).

Inner Space

Inner Space (4/19/15) Encore (1987 ***1/4) Directed by Joe Dante, starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan and Kevin McCarthy. An alcoholic test pilot is miniaturized and injected into the rear end of a hypochondriac. I hadn’t watched this film in many years, likely decades, but I had fond memories of it from its original release and multiple viewings in the late 1980s / early 1990s. It holds up reasonably well, thanks to Joe Dante’s solid direction and good performances all the way around. This film was made a couple of years before Meg Ryan’s breakout role in When Harry Met Sally (1989), and — while absolutely adorable — her acting was a tad underdeveloped. There are lots of fun Easter eggs to watch for, including: (1) An appearance early on by a stalled AMC Gremlin; (2) cameos by Martin Short’s SCTV co-stars Joe Flaherty and Andrea Martin and (3) an extra sneaky cameo (in a supermarket checkout line) by animation legend Chuck Jones!

Chronicle

Chronicle (4/16/15) FXM (2012 ***) Directed by Josh Trank, starring Dane DeHaan, Matt Garetty, Steve Montgomery and Michael B. Jordan. When amateur documentarian Andrew Detmer and two of his teenage friends stumble upon an alien-ish object in a cave, they all develop telekinetic powers but not necessarily a commensarate moral code. I had originally gone to see this film in the theater with my wife during its initial release, but unfortunately the shaky cam footage caused spousal nausea and we had to leave early. This time around I watched the film solo from the safety of our living room. It’s generally a good film and I particularly liked the cinema verite / relatively low budget angle on the familiar superhero trope. My only reservation in recommending it is that I found myself wishing the teen angst of the main character had been a bit further developed: Ultimately the story ended up hitting the same characterization note over and over, without any real twists of direction. I’m very interested to see what Chronicle director Josh Trank does at the helm of this summer’s Fantastic Four reboot, which also features Michael B. Jordon as Johnny Storm.

Grosse Pointe Blank

Grosse Pointe Blank (4/13/15) TMC (1997 ***) Directed by George Armitage, starring John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd, Jeremy Piven and Joan Cusack. A neurotic hit man returns to his home town for his 10-year high school reunion. I had watched this film on video within a few years of its initial release, and I remember being mildly disappointed by it but couldn’t remember why. It’s not a bad film, and the soundtrack is quite good, which may have something to do with the fact that The Clash’s Joe Strummer was the film’s composer. So what’s the problem? Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the film asks its audience to identify with and sympathize with a paid assassin, and not in an anti-hero way either. No amount of “pet the dog” or “save the cat” moments can undo that fundamental flaw, even if the highly likeable John Cusak does his very best.

X2

X2 (4/12/15) Starz (2003 ***1/2) Directed by Bryan Singer, starring Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Famke Janssen, Brian Cox and many others. Charles Xavier’s mutant student superheroes (or is it superhero students?) face a deadly foe from Wolverine’s amnesia-enshrouded past. I remember my immediate reaction to the first X-Men film in 2000 was this: “Finally, somebody has done a superhero film right!” I may have even said it aloud as I walked out of the theater, actually. I was very thankful to Bryan Singer for doing something that really needed to be done, which was to assume that the audience didn’t need a primer on what superheroes were; he just took it for granted they could figure it out. At any rate, I think the first film was a significant milestone and this follow-up was a solid continuation of that momentum. I remain disappointed that he didn’t stick around for the third film but glad he returned for X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).

Private Parts

Private Parts (4/11/15) MAX (1997 ***) Directed by Betty Thomas, starring Howard Stern, Mary McCormack, Robin Quivers, Fred Norris and Paul Giamatti. The self-anointed “King of All Media” tells the story of his early days and attempts to explain why lesbians were the key to his success. I often find myself re-watching films from a certain period in my life, ones that I had good memories of but hadn’t watched for a decade or more. Such is the case with Private Parts, the film that gave me (and a lot of people) a much greater understanding of the phenomenon that was (and still is) Howard Stern. This time around I found myself enjoying the film but also far more aware of how self-serving it was throughout. It doesn’t help that the core message of Private Parts was a rationalization of Stern’s on-air persona and behavior as not indicating a lack of love and respect for his real-life wife Allison (played in the film by McCormack). However, according to my own wife (and fact-verified via web search), it was only a couple of years after this film was released that Stern and Allison divorced.

What About Bob?

What About Bob? (4/11/15) SHO (1991 ***) Diected by Alvin Sargent, starring Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss, Julie Hagerty, Charlie Korsmo and Kathryn Erbe. An extremely neurotic patient invades his new doctor’s summer vacation, and in the process wins a place in the hearts of everyone… except his doctor. I had a recollection of being mildly disappointed by this film when it was first released, but couldn’t remember exactly why. Watching it again after nearly 25 years, I think it’s because there comes a certain point in the third act when What About Bob? turns into the live-action equivalent of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. As a weird aside, I was curious about the actor who played Dreyfuss’ son in the film, so I looked up Charlie Korsmo’s filmography on Imdb.com, where I was greeted with a bit of a surprise that tickled me for some reason. His bio begins: “Charles R. Korsmo is an Assistant Professor of Law and the U.S. director of the Canada-U.S. Law Institute at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he teaches courses in corporate law, corporate finance, and torts. Korsmo’s articles have appeared in the William & Mary Law Review and Brooklyn Law Review, among others.” He also appeared in Dick Tracy (1990), Hook (1991) and Can’t Hardly Wait (1998), just in case you were interested.