Wednesday, August 02, 2006


As someone who has been a regular Vertigo and Sandman reader since day one, but not necessarily one who drank the kool-aid with any sort of conviction, I was of course curious about this collaboration between the Sandman writer and its cover artist. The visuals here were imaginative as you'd expect, but again the script doesn't quite live up to the promise, coming across as flat and routine, as if Gaiman didn't even try to keep up with Dave McKean's art direction. Oh well, still, it is a film with a distinctive look and while I wasn't especially entertained or surprised by Gaiman's story, I didn't get bored while it's not a revelation by any stretch, I found it watchable and recommend it to anyone who is attuned to the McKean aesthetic. B-

I didn't like the first Transporter flick at all, finding it full of sizzle with no steak, despite the presence of always-likeable Jason Statham. Against all odds, though, I found this sequel tons more fun, and I'm hard pressed to explain exactly why. Better supporting cast, perhaps, a tad more energy and imagination in the script, such as it is...who knows. All I know is that this was a neat little streamlined B-movie action thriller, clocking in at a very economical 87 minutes, and the kind you look forward to seeing come on Cinemax late at night...and while it was often preposterous, it was never boring. Kudos to Kate Nauta for not hamming it up (too much) as she played the psycho girlfriend of the bad guy. B+

I remember seeing the trailers for this one and getting very excited when I saw Kong leaping up from his perch on the Empire State Building and swatting planes out of the sky. Great idea, thought I, and it bodes well for this film, especially with Peter Jackson coming off his Tolkein movies. Unfortunately, Jackson decided he had to make Titanic the movie instead of a movie about a titanic ape, and the ridiculous, overblown pomposity of it made this more like an unholy marriage between the Sci-Fi Network and Lifetime. Mr. Jackson, I don't presume to tell you how to do your job...but I don't even think the hardcore romance flick crowd can honestly buy, even for a minute, Ann Darrow actually actively being in LOVE with the big effing ape. Think back, if you will, to the superior 1930's original. Fay Wray's Ann DIDN'T LIKE being in the spot she was in. She (quite correctly) FEARED FOR HER LIFE in the clutches of the big monkey, both on Skull Island and in NYC. She was CARRIED TO THE TOP of the E.S.B. by Kong, she didn't climb up there herself and try to shoo away airplanes. THERE IS NO WAY TO PLAUSIBLY GIVE US A SERIOUS ROMANCE BETWEEN A NORMAL MORTAL WOMAN AND A GIGANTIC APE! Can't happen! Physically impossible, and hardly practical. So all those awful scenes with Kong frolicking on the ice in Central Park, and the ludicrous impromptu vaudeville performance she gives on that ledge...well, all that Harlequin romance bullshit just sunk your movie, big guy. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is KING FRICKING KONG and ANN FRICKING DARROW, not Jack and Rose! And the shame of it is, if you take away that terrible misbegotten attempt at shoehorning the Lifetime movie of the week aesthetic into what was a riproaring adventure yarn, this Kong has a lot going for it- Jack Black was an inspired choice and he was pretty darn good, even though he didn't have the likeable regular-Joe Palooka vibe that Robert Armstrong had, he made up for it with energy and spunk. Naomi Watts was fine, when she wasn't making goo-goo eyes at the giant ape. The FX were EXCELLENT. But by not trusting in the pulp adventure at the heart of the story, Jackson shot himself in the foot with this overlong and soppy picture. Sometimes simple is better. C-

This one, on the other hand, I expected to hate a LOT but wound up liking in spite of myself. Burton's "animated" style has never really yanked my crank; it's just too mannered and twee to really be (to me, anyway) as clever as he and his admirers seem to think it is. So I went in with zero enthusiasm; I rented this because lover-of-all-that-is-ghostly Mrs. B wanted to see it. But I found myself laughing at the occasional visual pun or throwaway joke, and was entertained. That said, I think I can cheerfully go the rest of my life without seeing another one of Burton's rinky-dink Goth fantasies. B

Took me a while to become the Lips fan that I am; I was entirely unimpressed with their Transmissions From the Satellite Heart CD back in '95, when we were playing "She Don't Use Jelly" at the rock radio station I worked for for a brief while that year. A long while later, I caught the tail end of a performance on HBO's Reverb show, which had Wayne Coyne in his full bloody-faced glory performing "The Spark That Bled" from The Soft Bulletin. I had no clue who it was, and the TV listing didn't have any credits. So it took me until 2002, and their majestic "Do You Realize?" single, to get me interested- and after getting Yoshimi Battles... and loving it, I quickly snapped up Bulletin- and fell in love with it from the literal first few bars of "Race For the Prize". A definite transformation in their heads had taken place between the routine Psych-noise of Heart and the sublimities of their post-Bulletin output; but I didn't really know what until I sat down and watched this documentary recounting of the band's history from their beginnings in Oklahoma, of all places, till just before the recording of their latest album. LOTS of background on not only Coyne, but the other past and present bandmembers, and surprisingly few punches are pulled- instrumentalist Stephen Drozd's frank discussion of his drug abuse is as fascinating as it is offputting, and more often as not Coyne comes across as a bit of a crackpot. Unfortunately, not a lot of time is devoted to the actual creative process behind the songs, so that's a drawback, but it's not a major problem. If anyone is curious about this band, I couldn't think of a better way to begin, other than getting a copy of the amazing Soft Bulletin, of course. B+

Outstanding silent star vehicle for the incredible Anna May Wong. Wong is Shosho, a scullery maid at a swanky London nightclub who catches the eye of the owner and is soon the star attraction at the nightspot. Of course, complications ensue as the infatuated owner gets caught up with intrigue and murder in the Chinatown district. This British production came towards the end of the silent era, and honestly, it doesn't look as creaky and dated as many silents do- there are several nicely composed shots (in my less than expert opinion) and the production values were solid. The performances are a bit stagy, as silent film perfs tend to be, but even they aren't so stiff as to distract. If you like silent films, and if you are half as infatuated with Wong as I am (it's a character fault I have, all this obsessing over dead movie actresses), I heartly recommend this interesting period piece which gets by even by modern standards. A-

I know many are already getting sick of Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and the others in what wags are now calling the "Frat Pack", but I went in expecting nothing from this and wound up laughing my ass off. Wilson and Vaughn are top-notch as a pair of divorce lawyers who attend wedding receptions without an invite, just to meet and score with girls. But of course, this being modern Hollywood, they can't go on having fun forever and life lessons must be taught to all us poor sinners out in the Great Unwashed, so Wilson begins to second-guess his hobby when he meets Senator Christopher Walken's lovely daughter at her sister's reception. And of course, he is now faced with telling the truth and ruining what chance he does have with the engaged-to-some-one-else (who's a real jerk) Senator's daughter, or walking away, which he can't do 'cause he's in LUHVE. Vaughn, too, also gets more than he bargained for but his story is a lot funnier and a lot less dreary than Wilson's. Still, everybody's really good in this- Wilson's got that smarmy-but-likeable aw-shucks Valley Guy thing down pat, Vaughn is as boorish-but-likeable as ever, Walken is WALKEN, and even Jane Seymour, as Walken's horny wife, has some funny scenes. And Will Farrell shows up at the end as some sort of uber-wedding crasher guru, and damned if he doesn't almost steal the whole movie, especially at the end. Three-quarters of the time, these sorts of films are endurance tests for me, but once in a while one jumps up and smacks me on the nose...and this is one of them. B+

If you've seen one imitation Pixar flick with an all star voice cast featuring animals dealing with life outside their element, you've seen 'em all. This was watchable and sometimes amusing, but just barely. The imitation Robin Williams lemur was probably the most memorable character, for what it's worth. Yawn. C+

Right now, I've got Syriana and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada sitting next to the DVD player, unwatched, and next up is V For Vendetta as soon as I can get one of them back in.

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