October 1 - Working at home with Woody:
DVD - Interiors
Woody Allen’s first dramatic film is a vast departure from the previous films in the auteur’s repertoire, but given the direction of Annie Hall, it’s at the same time a logical progression. Interiors follows the lives of three adult sisters in, naturally (for Allen), an upper class family following the separation of their parents. Their father Arthur (EG Mitchell) is a lawyer, eager to live his own life, their mother, Eve (Geraldine Paige) an interior designer, manic depressive and all around difficult person. The siblings’ relationships with one another and the psychological impact their mother has had on them is the meat of the film, but it primarily leads to the (highly annoying) problems of the rich… Joey’s (Mary Beth Hurt) bellyaching about “I want my life to have meaning” and Renata’s moaning (Diane Keaton) of “I want to be recognized for my art”, is quasi-relatable but not to such tormented extremes. The sisters are, by and large, wholly unlikeable, their manipulative mother equally so, and were it not for the arrival of Pearl (Maureen Stapleton), their father’s vivacious new girlfriend-turned-wife (whom the kids deride as a commoner), it would paint a pretty bad portrait of Allen’s impression of women (as most of his films do). Then again, Frederick (Richard Jordan), Renata’s long-term partner is the most unbearable of the group (in part because Jordan’s not much of an actor), and his pathetic attempt at raping her younger gone-Hollywood sister Flyn (Kristen Griffith) tosses him at the top of the despicable heap. It’s really only Joey’s husband, Mike (Sam Waterston) and their father that provide a level-headed, sensible respite from all the bitching and moaning that permeate the film. I dislike movies that highlight the tormented struggle of the upper class, and all the emotional and psychological b.s. that seem to occur in them because their lives, inherently problem-free, need to therefore have self-created obstacles. That said, Allen nails the tone of the film perfectly. Score-free, minimally edited (stationary cameras provide a sense of spying in on, rather than participating in these affairs) and sparsely designed (which is almost funny given the “interior decorator” aspect of Eve’s character), I actually appreciate and like the film in spite of the content and characters.
DVD - Dexter Season 4
Getting into a show on DVD, watching it generally a season behind it’s original air dates has its advantages and disadvantages. In the former, you can plow through a season in a couple days, unobstructed and commercial-free. It’s like binging on potato chips, only you don’t feel any regret afterwords (unless you stay up until the wee hours of the morning on a workday). On the other hand, it’s almost impossible to avoid opinions and spoilers in the intervening months waiting for DVD and the show ramps up for its next season.
This season ended in a metaphorically explosive fashion, with Rita (Julie Benz) being murdered by Arthur (John Lithgow), the Trinity killer, this season’s main arc. The death was spoiled for me in an innocuous one-line news “blip” in the local Metro, which I read before I could even stop myself from reading. Knowing this going in, there’s a definite sense of fatalism to Dexter and Rita’s entire relationship this season, an utter sense of foreboding doom to everything that happens between them. The general sense of their relationship in the show was how bad will it hurt when Rita finds out about Dexter, but this season, knowing that’s not an issue, it’s rather how badly will it hurt Dexter when she’s killed, likely reflective of his own mother’s death. There are the little things: going to therapy; Dexter’s secret man-cave; the abandoning Cody on a fishing/camping trip to make a kill… they all cast doubt in Rita’s eyes (or at least in Dexter’s view of Rita’s eyes) that something is amiss and that his protected life is going to come crashing down. But the reality is Rita is confused by Dexter and worries more that he’s anxious in their relationship and that she will lose him, the great (if often absent) man that she thinks he is. Perhaps it’s being a newish father and stepfather myself that I can relate in part to Dex’s situation of feeling encumbered, and the show deals with that effectively, but I also found myself more and more on Rita’s side, thinking Dex’s late-night dalliances should be more and more a thing of the past as he has other, bigger responsibilities now.
But Dex’s emotional stuntedness and lack of understanding of human civility leads to the bulk of his relationship problems, and it’s the slowly built understanding that he indeed does have genuine emotions, and it’s the realization of actual love and care for his family that provide the most satisfying element to the show, as well as the limited promise that he might be able to shake his bloody urges completely (working once again the addiction theme from season 2). But knowing the season’s end, these promises were empty and even at times infuriating. Equally infuriating was Dexter’s belief that he was always in control, leading a secret life to learn about Arthur and learn from him was like a cat toying with its prey only to have it bite him first and poison him, setting of a domino chain of bad stuff happening. It’s decent drama but it’s sloppy character play, out of place, and thus feels almost like sloppy writing.
Lithgow’s Arthur was definitely a curiosity that unfolded rather nicely. I like Arthur as a put-together family man with a 30-year past of murderous impulses that he managed to hide, and it actually felt like an unfortunate Thanksgiving filler episode that placed Arthur as tyrant rather than beloved family man, especially as there was little real payoff. The family would have been even more devastated and the impact on Dexter probably even more profound has Arthur been a really great father. The dichotomy between Dexter and Arthur, in terms of Dex being good for the people in his life (except maybe, Doakes)
The season overall had some great Dexter moments, but I realized that I like Dexter less and less as a character the more self-aware he gets… with the level of confidence he has in himself, he should be more cognizant of the fact that his vigilante shtick isn’t an essential and that there are other avenues to justice than murder and feeding his own urges. He never thinks exactly how satisfying it would have been for Deb had she been the one to reign in Trinity, that perhaps she has her own urges or needs to satisfy. My serious hope for the series is that its endgame comes down to Deb vs. Dexter (or rather Dexter’s actual concern for his family or his self-preservation… afterall, if he doesn’t have his family, isn’t he then just a plain old serial killer).
Deb, it turns out this season, is the heart and muscle of the show. Emotionally she does all the heavy lifting, from her decision to sleep with Lundy, to dealing with his death, continuing his work, finding his killer, finding out about Harry’s past, and closing the book on all the scenarios she got involved in this season. Dexter had a lot to juggle and Deb stepped in with an equal amount of pins in the air.
The Batista/Laguerta romance was a painfully unnecessary sub-plot, giving two ongoing characters something, anything to do. Much of the same went for Quinn’s dalliances with reporter Christine Hill until a 9th episode reveal FINALLY gave it some purpose, but it was so awkwardly handled, as if the contentious Quinn were suddenly someone we actually cared about what was going on in his private life. Of the supporting cast (Deb and Rita excluded), Masuka was really the only one to make it through the season with any dignity. Even Harry, or Dexter’s pained visions of Harry became, tiresome and unnecessary.
The end of Season 4, abrupt as it was, leaves Season 5 as a wide open slate in which Dexter can either fight his demons and become the man and father he thinks Rita would want him to be (the redemptive angle), or he slips into a deeper, darker mode that consumes him (the damnation angle). Or it could just return to status quo, having Dex become the competent serial killer juggling two lives, but there’s not a lot of life left in the series, the characters or the concept, so the creative team should certainly be planning its endgame now.
Brightest Day #11
DC Comics Presents: Jack Cross
Doom Patrol #15
Secret Six #26
Tron: Betrayal #1
October 7Work from Home with Woody #4
Manhattan - moving past the surreal comedic elements of Annie Hall, and instead focusing more on the character-focused storytelling aspect of Interiors, Manhattan is the upsetting amalgam of his two game-changing works. Here, in rather pretentious (yet no less fantastic) black and white (I mean, just check out the opening montage with its prominent fireworks display… fireworks, in black and white, seriously) Allen has a definite visual pastiche he’s working with and it’s really the most refreshing element of an otherwise tiresome script delving yet again into the self-important upper crust of New York society. Allen’s usual tropes (or soon to become his usual tropes) are at play… infidelity, borderline-insane women, and the whole May-December thing…oh, and the Allen-as-Lothario which results in one of the few moments that pays off nicely involving the great Wallace Shawn as contrast. This was my third viewing of Manhattan and hopefully my last, as I find it tiresome, patronizing, and contemptuous. The fact that I don’t understand whether it’s Allen celebrating or lampooning the New York elite doesn’t really matter as either way it won’t change my opinion.
Running Wilde episodes 1-3 - Netflix
This is supposed to be Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz’s stab at the traditional sit-com, something that will attract the common viewer and run for years and make him a ton of money. Sorry Mitch, it’s far too smart, far too absurd, and far too unconventional for the average American viewer to get into, but at the same time it’s not smart, absurd, or unconventional enough, it appears, to appease the legion of critics and Arrested Development devotees to get their support behind it. But, I love it. It’s not as densely packed or complexly structured as AD, but it’s still dense and complex compared to 90% of the rest of the sitcoms out there. Fitting comfortably in with the 30 Rock and Community set, it’s unfortunate that Running Wilde didn’t land in the “Outsourced” slot on NBC, instead showing up on FOX at an undetermined date and time (thankfully I managed to find it on Netflix). Is there even a complimentary sitcom at FOX to partner it up with for an hour? It could happily sit post-Family Guy, but it’s not animated (but then neither are most of the popular shows on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim these days, so there). Anyway, I love the cast, right down to the narrator, a 13 year old girl named Puddle (having the terrific British comedic performer Peter Serafinowicz is an inspired casting choice). Silly, meandering, and irreverent, it’s unfocused, but not as aimless as it might seen given how prone it is to distraction. There’s a lot to like, and I’m sure more to like on repeat viewings.
The Social Network - Director David Fincher teams with noted television writer Arron Sorkin (The West Wing) to bring an alinear, fast-talking, surprisingly absorbing narrative about the birth of Facebook, frameworked by the lawsuits that quickly enveloped it, and the key personality behind it, Mark Zuckerberg. As with any Hollywood bio-pic, one has to take the truthiness of the film with a grain of salt, and treat the characters as characatures of the real people. Zuckerberg, as portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, comes off as a unlikeable, but not unsympathetic, personality, perhaps borderline autistic (or having aspergers), leaving him socially inept, but obviously tremendously intelligent. Remarkably involving, funny and intelligent, it even toys with college comedy tropes at times, as well as establishes the social order of the ivy leagues. Fincher’s visual style is a curious meld with Sorkin’s rat-a-tat dialogue, but it’s handled terifficly, an the young cast is uniformly solid. It may not be the best film of the year, but it’s probably the most accessible of the great films of late, the subject matter providing the right element of familiarity to make it a popular movie despite lacking any sex or violence.
Super-High Me (Netflix)- Notorious stoner comedian Doug Benson’s “spoof” on “Super-Size Me”, wherein he elects to not smoke pot for 30 days, undertake a battery of tests, then stay almost constantly high for 30 days undertaking the same battery of tests. Is resoundingly unscientific, but it is kind of an amusing process. The more enlightened part of the film involves the side story about the conflict between the legalized medical marijuana users in California and the crackdowns by the federal DEA (who don’t recognize California’s law). Again, however, it doesn’t explore it in any depth, and is ultimately frivolous.
Casino Royale (60’s)(Netflix) - what a terrible, plodding mess of a film this is. Attempting to be a spoof of the James Bond franchise during a time when the franchise was still in its infancy and was still revered enough that any real lampooning of it would be uncouth, so it never really commits to the comedy, and the actual plot borders on indecipherable. Beginning with a senior James Bond (David Niven) being drawn out of retirement, he takes over the agency he used to work for and elects all subsequent spies are also codenamed “James Bond” and designated “007″. Through sexy manipulation, they enlist gambling expert Evelyn Trembell as their latest James Bond to take on Le Chiffre (Orson Wells) in a winner-takes-all tournament (to what end: unknown). There’s a side plot about Sir James’ daughter, Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet) going to espionage school in Berlin that serves absolutely no purpose, as well as the recruiting of another Bond (Terence Cooper) which serves even less purpose. The whole thing winds up being the masterplot (of sorts) of James’ nephew, Jimmy Bond (Woody Allen) and culminates in a typically 60’s slapstick Benny Hill-esque brawl (with sea lions, goats, cowboys and indians and more) in the Casino Royale, just before it explodes killing the enitre cast. Burt Bacharach provides the overwhelming score dripping in schmaltz. With the exception of the lovely lady eye candy and one particularly trippy sequence (and a delightfully kooky Wells) it was a brutal film to watch (compare to: Modesty Blaise)
Sarah Silverman: Jesus Is Magic (Netflix) - Sarah Silverman’s vulgar-but-cute shtick is well known at this point, and has, especially after three seasons of her “Programme”, metamorphosed into an extremely polished persona. The foundations were already solidly in place at the time of release of “Jesus Is Magic”, but her routine did not seem as tight as it should have been for what was a minor theatrically released stand-up performance. Wry and smart, Silverman straddles the line between clever and obnoxious, and it’s personal preference on which line she falls on. For my part, I see her as the former until she picks up a guitar at which point she leaps over into the latter. The musical numbers also were presented as recorded production numbers instead of showing straight through the stage performance, not that I’m sure it would matter in either respect.
The Ten (Netflix) - David Wain’s sketch comedy exploration of the 10 Commandments features the expected forays into absurdity (a prison rape love story; Winonah Ryder steals a ventriloquist’s dummy whom she’s infatuated with; AD Miles learns the glory of nudity and Roberta Flack instead of church, etc). It’s a funny and curiously overlooked film (whereas Wet Hot American Summer has gained a rather sizeable cult following, I hadn’t even heard of this).
Dana Gould: Let Me Put My Thoughts In You (Netflix) - full of contempt and rage, but with a complete understanding of his own temper, Gould’s act percolates funny and then boils into a rage of hysterics (god, that was cheesy). It all culminates in a long, graphic and hilarious theoretical story about sucking dick in San Francisco to spite his father.
The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 (70s - Netflix) - A fantastic suspense film from the 1970’s, a subway car his hijacked with 18 people aboard, and ransomed for 1 million dollars. We follow the action from multiple perspectives, the criminals involved, the hostages, the various transit police officers, the mayor and his consultants, the bagmen and assorted transit workers. The attitude screams 1970’s New York (”I’m the goddamn mayor of this goddamn city…”) to highly entertaining extremes, and overall it’s a taut, well played film with a dynamite score from David Shire.
Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #5
Booster Gold #37
The Return Home: Batgirl #1
The Return Home: Red Robin #1
Green Lantern #58
Justice League: Generation Lost #11
Mighty Crusaders #4
Tiny Titans/Little Archie #1
Strange Tales II #1
Warlord of Mars #1
Stardust Memories - starting with an analysis of the critical/social response to “Interiors”, Woody’s clearly dealing with working in the shadow of himself, coming to terms with his own celebrity. So much of the film is undercut with peppy upbeat jazz soundtrack. It’s a slight movie, however, losing the plot frequently giving way to Allen’s fixation with women (loving, lusting and longing after) and his search for meaning.
Young and Handsome: An Evening With Jeff Garlin (Netflix) - It felt like a mildly unpolished routine, with Garlin getting distracted by his own material from time-to-time (or is that just his thing?) but there were some really explosive moments of comedy and otherwise generally amusing anecdotes and observations.
One False Move (Netflix) - The direction isn’t great, the acting is pretty awful, but the story/script is actually pretty good. After a sequence of brutal drug related killings, two LA cops head to small town Arkansas where they lie in wait with the local sheriff, but as their cultures clash (subtly, rather than overtly), their targets continue to leave a trail of bodies on their journey to them. Billy Bob Thornton co-wrote the film but his turn as one of the criminals is borderline unbearable.
The Eiger Sanction (Netflix) - An early Eastwood directorial effort is confused about whether it’s a climbing film or a spy film, and it’s not terribly great as either. There are some gorgeous climbing shots, but the training regimen laboriously detracts from the central plot. The Bondian spy elements (the eccentric handler and the dandy nemesis, the big mouthed climbing instructor and the sexy women). The action is dull, Eastwood’s acting borders on cliche, and John Williams’ score is 70’s TV show quality. There’s some good pithy dialogue (and some really bad pithy dialogue involving rape-talk…for humour or as a come on…really), and some clever toying with spy tropes (especially Eastwood’s rather progressive attitude about the grey area of good guys versus bad guys) and it almost seemed geared towards a franchise-in-the-making, but it really didn’t lend itself stylistically to even this one film. Not a complete failure, but at best awkward.
Batman and Robin #15
Sixth Gun #5
Legion of Super-Heroes #6
Working From Home With Woody - Radio Days
Somewhere between the odd nostalgic foray into Allen’s youth in Annie Hall and the mixed bag/non sequitur affairs of Bananas and Love and Death falls this film, a wistful quasi-autobiographical(seeming) look at 1940’s pre-television era and the impact of radio as popular culture on that generation. Following primarily the lives of young-Allen-sub Joe (played by a very young Seth Green) and his extended family, the film also delves into some of the radio personalities. The film as a whole is not dis-interesting or at all bad, but also it’s not extensively comedic and hardly tightly narrative. It’s fluff, a cloud of fond memories.
Dazed and Confused - people love this film. I personally don’t get it. What’s the point? Is there no point. A day in the life of 1970’s high school kids, during the transition to Seniors and Freshmen? Whatever. It’s summarized at the end that “These can’t be the best years of my life” or somesuch and all the “nostalgia” of high school on display in this film just makes me a tiny bit nauseous. I fully dug Adam Goldberg’s character and his utter disdain for the whole social structure of high school, which completely reflects my view on my experience, both in real life and the film. Apparently director Linklater insists that Dazed And Confused is about painful memories, but it seems to have as much reverence for the time, which many supporters of the film glom onto, than it does disdain for it. But perhaps, given how deeply Freaks and Geeks mines the same territory, this just feels shallow.
Balls of Fury - a surprisingly tame and undaring sports-film parody, but it’s not a parody, because it so readily embraces its cliches, rather than defies them or lampoons them. It’s a straight forward redemption tale with some goofy elements which are, mysteriously, never mined for any comedic value. I loved Christopher Walken, but then I always love Christopher Walken, and Maggie Q will go on to much better work, but is still a marvel to admire here, but I just can’t really get over how mercilessly unchallenging this film is. The most provocative part is its title and even that feels like it’s stretching for a weak joke. It’s not a horrible movie, but it is a terrible comedy, because it’s just not funny.
Beasts of Burden/Hellboy One-Shot
Captain America #610
Avengers vs Pet Avengers #1
Justice League: Generation Lost #12
Supergirl Annual #2
Deadpool Team-Up #888
G.I. Joe/Cobra II #9
Hard Eight (netflix) - Paul Thomas Anderson’s first feature showcases the potential he was full of but is the thankfully forgotten stepchild in his repertoire. What Anderson as both writer and director mastered with Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood (and to a lesser degree with Punch-Drunk Love) was patiently and fully developing his characters and their relationships with one another, allowing the actors time to breathe and convey their familiarity. With Hard Eight, Anderson and the actors rarely give you any understanding of their connection thus the believability of their relationships are never earned. Philip Baker Hall rules this movie completely, and Sam Jackson puts in a terrific turn as an ominous but not unsavory character. We unfortunately never truly understand Gwyneth Paltrow’s character, and John C. Reilly seems like he’s nervously unfamiliar with what acting is. Hall’s character is supposed to be a father figure to Reilley, but it only seems forced to be that way, as is Reilly and Paltrow’s harried and sordid relationship (of which we’re really only exposed to one day of, which doesn’t bode well for a life together). Anderson’s long holds, tracking shots and framing techniques are all evident here, and he elicits an shining, one-man performance out of Philip Seymore Hoffman early in his career with a short craps table trash-talk interlude. Not a horrible film, but a gateway to much superior work.
Walking Dead - episode 1
Frequent Stephen King adapter Frank Darabont turns his attention to comics, adapting Robert Kirkman’s post-zombie apocalypse to the small screen for AMC. The first episode remains fairly faithful to the page, with all the beats feeling familiar (if not downright predictable). Darabont has created a distinct (sandy western) pastiche for the show which gives the requisite grittyness, and there’s a healthy dose of menace, but having read the books, I feel like there are going to be no surprises in the coming weeks, and given how dark and unforgiving the story gets highlighting humanity at its worst, it’s not the most inviting show. Plus, the story involves a number of aspects which I just don’t like, such as the 28 Days Later cop of a guy waking up from a coma to find the world around him has changed, and the annoying needle-in-a-haystack/unlikely scenario of hunting for your loved ones in the wake of a massive cataclysm. Also, poor horsey.