Setter’s ‘Spectives: Love’s Got No Strings Attached in ‘Humoresque’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613OMG … I actually liked a movie with Joan Crawford in it!

That film was Humoresque, which I watched for the first time on TV last night. Quite a fun, if melodramatic ride, centering on the love affair an egocentric though brilliant violinist (played by John Garfield) has with a married socialite (Crawford). Normally, I don’t care for pictures with Joan in it, but this one had a good script co-written by Clifford Odets and able direction from Jean Negulesco. Plus, simply glorious violin playing by the incomparable Isaac Stern, who did the virtuoso performances attributed to Garfield’s musician character.

So does that mean, all of a sudden, that I’m a big Crawford fan? Not at all. This film rose above the usual sordid plotlines her flicks so often seemed to encapsulate, making it altogether a more interesting work. I frequently find her acting overdone, but in this case, she kept her portrayal in check. Whether that’s due more to the direction or her own ability, I don’t know.

Certainly, any film that features snippets from Bizet’s Carmen and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde has got to be good, right?

Well … the jury’s still out on that.

Skip’s Quips: Sorry, But the New ‘Star Wars’ Trailer Looks Blah

Blog Sketch 082813Unfortunately,  we can’t go back in time to feel what it was like to experience the original Star Wars firsthand.

We can, however, watch the trailer to the forthcoming Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens, and after doing so, I have to say that I’m not impressed.

I wasn’t too happy with director J.J. Abrams’ work on Star Trek Into Darkness, which I felt was a lot of posturing. Tedious, sloppy filmmaking, in my opinion. Now’s he’s getting his hands on the Star Wars franchise, and I’m cautiously pessimistic. The trailer to the 2015-destined new installment suggests it’s very special-effects-heavy – nothing new for this series. But I have a bigger problem. Why add more to a story that’s already ended … and in a satisfying way, to boot?

You won’t get a more iconic villain in this franchise than Darth Vader, and I don’t know if Abrams will try for that. Part of the reason the original worked, however, was due to the strength of the mythology behind Vader and his minions. They were bad. They were evil. And they had James Earl Jones’ voice leading them.

You’re not going to get the same effect in the latest sequel, and I’m worried it’ll fail because of that.

The Star Wars fan base is sizable. I’m sure this will make a lot of money. And putting out a teaser trailer now for a film that’s slated for a late-next-year debut is a good marketing strategy.

I just hope it’s not all for naught. Given the many problems with the prequels, this isn’t a new hope.

Unfortunately.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Not Feeling It With ‘Jurassic World’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Enough already with the Jurassic Park reworkings.

I liked the original 1993 movie very much. It was thrilling, scary, often funny – despite a few misguided lines here and there.

After seeing the trailer for the very similar-looking Jurassic World, I’m almost certain the latter flick’s gonna be less interesting.

We’ve been through this territory, haven’t we? Dinosaurs run amok at much-heralded theme park. How much of the same thing can we take?

The box-office results in 2015 should have the answer. I don’t yet; I’ve only seen the preview. But I suspect it won’t be anything original … or that interesting.

I guess Prehistoric Mammal Park doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Sigh.

Skip’s Quips: Nothing Funny About ‘Penguins of Madagascar’

Blog Sketch 082813I didn’t find the original Madagascar amusing. It was broad, forced, in love with its own smugness.

Now we have a spinoff: Penguins of Madagascar. To that, I say: “Humph.”

Those not-so-adorable penguins. Full of comic mischief. And little to no humor.

I realize this kind of thing isn’t geared to grown-ups with elevated tastes and sensibilities, but why must Hollywood insist on spouting out sequels to movies that weren’t very good to begin with? It’s a rhetorical question; I know it’s to make money. But the industry could at least try to put forward a strong project … not one that’s easy to dismiss.  And I suspect Penguins will be the latter.

Some things you don’t have to see to know they’re of low quality. This film is one of them. And as I’ve already suffered through Madagascar, I have no doubt that the avian addition to its dreary family will be just as bad.

I’m gonna miss its debut. On purpose. My prediction is: I won’t be missing much.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Driving Along With Spielberg’s ‘Duel’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Would you believe I’d never seen the Steven Spielberg movie Duel until last night?

A real shame, huh? Especially considering the fact that I’ve seen a host of other films helmed by the master director.

Duel, the story of an average businessman’s encounter with a homicidal, unseen truck driver on the lonely roads of California, was very tense and suspenseful. Great editing and cinematography, making the most of a tight script that was only hindered by a few bursts of internal monologues here and there … which it didn’t need.

I liked this movie a lot, and it was interesting to see such a strong picture so early in Spielberg’s career (the movie debuted in 1971). I’m not sure I’d want to watch it again; it’s not clear how the suspense and thrills will hold up. But it remains a well-crafted movie.

What film will come next for me? Only the screen has the answer.

Skip’s Quips: Pynchon, ‘Inherent Vice’ and Sloppy Moviemaking

Blog Sketch 082813Paul Thomas Anderson is a good director. Thomas Pynchon is a good writer. But will the film based on his novel Inherent Vice be any good?

That’s what I’m wondering some days after seeing the trailer to the picture, which made the flick look like a bit of a mess. Possibly an amusing mess, but a mess all the same.

I’m not totally happy with those prospects.

I like my movies tight, not sprawling. Frankly, I’m a bit worried that “sprawling” will be a euphemistic description of this film. Other movies in this director’s canon, including Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood, were sprawling in an interesting way, meandering with purpose, getting audiences to wonder what would happen next. What I’m concerned about with Inherent Vice is that it will be directionless, muddled – that we’ll be sick of predicting where it’s going by the time we get halfway through it. And that could be a cinematic problem.

Sure, it might be on a par with Anderson’s other projects, in which case I’ll be more than pleased. But I’m cautiously pessimistic here. Not sure that’ll be the case.

We’ll see.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Lamenting the Career Path of Johnny Depp

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Once in a blue moon, I wonder why certain actors have made professional decisions that have taken them away from one career route and toward another.

Take Johnny Depp. About 20 years ago, he starred in the intriguing, Jim Jarmusch-directed independent film Dead Man. Now, however, he stars in big-budget spectaculars such as the forthcoming Into the Woods, as well as Tim Burton-helmed duds such as Alice in Wonderland.

Was Dead Man an anomaly? Is Depp really just a Hollywood actor who doesn’t take cinematic risks anymore?

This is a talented performer we’re talking about here, but I’m concerned that celluloid experimentation is no longer of interest to him – that he’s riding on the coattails of his eccentric, tiresome performance in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and, as such, doesn’t feel the need to try something new and inventive. I lament that.

Hopefully, there will be more challenging roles in his future. Although in seeing that he’s reprising his role as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass, I am not convinced that’s the path he’s traveling down.

Sad.

Skip’s Quips: ‘Wild’ Trailer Makes the Movie Look Really Bad

Blog Sketch 082813Yes, I realize I’m jumping the gun when complaining about the trailer to a movie. But the preview for Wild, the based-on-a-true-story Jean-Marc Vallée film starring Reese Witherspoon as a woman who takes up hiking as a road to self-improvement, doesn’t look all that wonderful.

I’m not a huge fan of Witherspoon’s acting anyway, so that’s another hurdle. But in general, this picture looks manipulative, frustrating, like Dallas Buyers Club, which Vallée also directed. That flick also has a star that I don’t care for from a performance perspective: Matthew McConaughey.

There’s a trend here, though, and it’s the trend of trailers that don’t sell their movies as well as they should. If a preview doesn’t entice me, there’s something wrong with it. It should tout the picture’s best qualities, not make it look irritating. That’s how Wild came off. And unfortunately, that’s what it left me with.

There’s a chance that this film might be a good one. There is. I’m not expecting that, though. In this case, the trailer tells all. I’m buying that for now.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: What to Make of ‘The Interview’

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613Just thought I’d jump into the ring regarding the controversy surrounding the upcoming movie The Interview.

Saw a trailer for it recently. It looks pretty silly and sophomoric. And the premise – that a TV star and his producer would be recruited to “take out” maniacal North Korean leader Kim Jong-un – is ridiculous. Folks can rest easy. It’s just a movie.

Funny thing is, no one seemed to mind when Leslie Nielsen’s bumbling policeman Frank Drebin beat up world leader caricatures – including one of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini – with two-fisted aplomb in The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. Maybe because the context was so ludicrous, it couldn’t be taken seriously. My feeling is The Interview should be viewed in the same way. I repeat: It’s just a movie. It’s not advocating anything … right?

Which is not to say that filmmakers and their pictures shouldn’t necessarily be absolved of responsibility for the outlook of their projects. In this case, I think, the idea is so absurd that any fears about the prospect of potential political upheaval are unfounded. Case closed.

Right? Right.

Skip’s Quips: Getting Charmed by ‘Mystic Pizza’

Blog Sketch 082813Last night marked the first time in my life that I’ve watched the Donald Petrie movie Mystic Pizza.

OK, it’s not a masterpiece. But this charming slice-of-life comedy-drama, which concerns the romantic trials and tribulations of three young women as they shepherd slices and pies to customers in a Mystic, CT, pizzeria, has a lot to offer, including solid performances and slick direction. Though it’s a bit unfocused – there doesn’t seem to be a central character, and the film veers from one relationship to the other without honing in on any single one – the script offers some telling observations, particularly when it comes to prejudice in small-town America. (The three women are of Portuguese heritage, and the strongest personality, played by Julia Roberts, encounters bigotry from her rich boyfriend’s family.)

I liked this picture. I wouldn’t rush to see it again, but it was a pleasant diversion. And I’m going to refrain from calling it a chick flick; in my opinion, if a movie is good, it’s accessible to and enjoyable for everyone. So it is with Mystic Pizza: pretty solid filmmaking, and I’m glad I got to watch it. Frankly, there’s nothing mystic about that.