I ought to be more familiar with Tintin than I am. My local public library’s children’s section had hardbound volumes of all or most of the comics in the series as I was growing up. I could have gone through pretty much the whole run. But I first looked at them when I was still in first grade — perhaps just a bit too young for a series that was aimed more at teenagers. A couple books didn’t catch on with me for whatever reason, and I never went back to them. Instead, I wound up going over and reading a different Franco-Belgian classic comic, Asterix (also aimed at young adults, but more overtly funny to a youngster). I don’t regret reading the Asterix comics for a second (as an adult I can see how brilliant they are), but I do regret passing up on Tintin way back when.
This “almost but not quite” familiarity left me with an odd form of anticipation when Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg came out with The Adventures of Tintin in 2011. I knew what Tintin was, unlike most Americans, but I knew very little more. I knew the general tone of the stories, but not the specifics. I could recognize Tintin, Snowy, Captain Haddock, and Thompson and Thomson… but I didn’t know the characters. Seeing the previews was an odd mix of nostalgia and novelty at the same time. It became one of my most anticipated films of 2011… but as bad luck would have it, I didn’t manage to see it until now. That said, it was well worth the wait. Continue reading →
The second part of my Buster Keaton double feature from the other day– and the intentional part — was the 1924 film Sherlock, Jr. It’s one of Keaton’s better-known films, and one of the more critically acclaimed ones. Like many of Keaton’s works, it not only stars the comic actor, it was directed by him as well. Unlike many of those works, in this case the director credit is given to Keaton outright and is not shared with another director.
Keaton plays a theatre projectionist who fantasizes about being a private detective. He gets his chance when a watch belonging to his girlfriend’s father (Joe Keaton) is stolen. Unfortunately for the would-be hero, his rival (Ward Crane) has framed him for the crime. Continue reading →
“The Dark Ages. The land was divided and without a king. Out of those lost centuries rose a legend… of the sorcerer, Merlin… of the coming of a king… of the sword of power: Excalibur”
Fantasy, particularly high fantasy, is a genre that hasn’t always gotten a lot of respect from movie critics, or even from the public at large. In fairness to the detractors, it’s a genre that hasn’t always deserved a lot of respect. It’s doing better in recent years, thanks to The Lord of the Rings and other works showing that it can be a genre to be taken seriously, but for a long time the best one could hope for from a fantasy film was that it would be a fun, campy B-movie adventure. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, but such things seldom acquire a fan base beyond people like yours truly.
But every so often there would be a film that, while not necessarily eschewing the camp and the strangeness of the fantasy worlds, exceeded its genre cousins in both quality and legacy. John Boorman’s Excalibur, released in 1981, is one such film. Continue reading →
Layer Cake is one of those films that everybody seems to have heard about after the fact. It was a modest, but largely underground hit when it was released in 2004. But producer Barbara Broccoli was among the people who saw it, and it gave her the idea for who could be the next James Bond. And so now it seems like everybody has heard of Layer Cake as “the film that got Daniel Craig the role of Bond.” Naturally, I had to check it out.
Layer Cake is a seedy little crime film with a fairly realistic tone. Daniel Craig plays the main character and narrator, a drug supplier who doesn’t think of himself as a dealer, but rather a businessman whose business is simply cocaine. It’s a testament to Craig’s performance that it didn’t even occur to me until the end of the film that we are never told his character’s name; he is simply identified as XXXX in the credits, but he has such a strength of presence that it never seems odd that nobody ever addresses him by name. XXXX has his business down to a science. He never deals with the end user, he only deals with parties who come highly recommended, and he doesn’t deal with irregular situations. He’s got a retirement plan already worked out, and is planning on taking it soon. But things are never that simple, and his boss, Jimmy Price (Kenneth Cranham), tasks him to find the missing daughter of his boss at the same time that XXXX has to deal with a particularly irregular deal, again at Price’s insistence. Continue reading →
“One for each other and all for one
The three brave amigos are we
Brother to brother and every one a brave amigo
Wherever they need us our destinies lead us
Amigos, we’re always together
Wherever we go we’re three brave amigos
And we’ll be amigos forever
We are the Three Amigos
We are the Three Aaaaamigos
We are the Three Aaaaaaaaaaaaa….”
Comedies generally have just one true star in the film, one comic lead. There are exceptions, particularly among comics that are friends, but generally if there’s more than one comedian involved, the second is in a smaller, supporting role — and is a smaller star as well. Comics can be a prickly bunch, as anybody who has read accounts of Saturday Night Live‘s cast squabbles knows, and it can be difficult to get them to share the spotlight equally — after all, any light that’s falling on the other guy isn’t falling on you. When it does work out, it’s almost always as a duo splitting time evenly. Pulling off the balancing act with three is a rarer trick. But as the title implies, the 1986 film ¡Three Amigos! is just such a film. In 1986, Steve Martin and Chevy Chase were both at the heights of their popularity, each capable of headlining a film. Martin Short’s movie career was just beginning, but he had become known for SCtv and Saturday Night Live, and would soon have the lead in a string of comedies. Continue reading →
I did not anticipate, at any point, having three separate reviews from this series in the span of a week. My brief vacation from posting allowed me to read and review books 10 and 11, but I figured it might be a little bit before I finished the twelfth volume, The Gathering Storm. In fact, when I wrote the review for book 11, I had not yet even started reading book 12 — yet here I am, finished already, after only six days of reading (it looks like less on the calendar due to having delayed the posting date of 11′s review). I believe this is the fastest I’ve read any of the books in The Wheel of Time.
Part of this may be because this is the first book that isn’t a re-read, so all of it is completely new to me without even the barest scrap of memory spoiling things. But part of it, I suspect, is due to its place in the series. The Gathering Storm is the first of the three novels meant to wrap up the series — Robert Jordan had intended there to be only one more, but his usual inability to account for scope meant that Brandon Sanderson had to expand Jordan’s outline into three full novels. But being part of the endgame of the series means that there isn’t as much time spent dithering and setting things up — rather, things finally start to get resolved. Continue reading →
I have Michael at It Rains, You Get Wet to thank for this one; he brought it up in discussion of my Top 10 Christmas Specials, and mentioned it was the first animated Christmas special made for television. I had never seen this before, so I decided to track it down and watch it.
I did wonder a bit how this adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol would work. After all, if it’s Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, then obviously Mister Magoo must be playing Mister Scrooge, as he’s the only character in the right age bracket. But aside from a few early theatrical shorts while his character was still a little in flux, Quincy Magoo is ultimately a benign and friendly character, virtually the polar opposite of Ebenezer Scrooge (though a pretty good fit for how Scrooge ends up in the story.) The special solves this in a simple manner by having it be one of Magoo’s Broadway plays. Continue reading →
Star Wars is a film that virtually everybody in western civilization recognizes, and just about everybody has seen. From the vantage point of 2012, the film’s 35th anniversary, it almost beggars belief to think that there was a time when this film was expected to be a failure. And yet, when it was in production and nearing release, almost nobody thought that it would amount to anything. Only one man had any faith in the project; only one man thought that it would not only be a success, but a massive one.
That man was famed Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who had nothing to do with the film. George Lucas himself thought he had a disaster on his hands. Continue reading →
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. It’s an old phrase — coined by Mark Twain according to most sources — and just occasionally it seems to be true. Certainly that seems to apply to the film Dog Day Afternoon; released in 1975, it was based on a New York bank robbery that had occurred only three years prior. And if even half of it is true, it’s rather strange indeed.
Al Pacino stars as Sonny, a young man who decides to hold up a bank one hot August afternoon. His partner, Sal, is played by John Cazale. It’s supposed to be a quick ten minute job. But their third partner chickens out before it begins, and things only go downhill from there. Before long, it’s turned into a hostage situation, and a massive media circus. Continue reading →
Released this June, Brave is the thirteenth film from Pixar. For me it has proven to be the lucky thirteen rather than an unlucky one, as thanks to the local second-run theatre, I have finally managed to break my streak of somehow not managing to see any Pixar films on the big screen. I even was able to view it in 3D, which if nothing else made the panoramic shots even more breathtaking. Pixar, as is their wont, continues pushing the boundaries of computer-rendered animation in this film, making their fictionalized version of the Scottish highlands highly detailed and heavily populated with trees and other foliage. The scenery is beautiful, and so is the character design; Pixar also tests their limitations here with curly hair that moves in a realistic fashion, and fabrics and clothes that look and move realistically.
The film was written and partly directed by Brenda Chapman, who was removed from the film partway through and replaced by Mark Andrews. There’s been speculation why, but I haven’t seen anything official, and Chapman has stated that the final film is true to her vision. Certainly there is no point at which it feels disjointed from its directorial switch; the film feels like a unified whole. Continue reading →