Posted on June 29, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
- Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember
- Directed by Peter Segal
I approach films based on old TV shows with suspicion, but the comic potential of Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart lowered my guard. But while Get Smart has its charms, it doesn’t fulfill that potential by a long shot.
Carell wisely doesn’t attempt to imitate Don Adams’ broad caricature, and plays Max as something resembling a real human being. This Smart is smart, an analyst (promoted to full agent early in the movie) who speaks many languages, remembers vast facts about the bad guys he tracks, and can turn all of that data into insightful deductions. He’s also physically fit and useful in a fight–even if his lack of experience occasionally shows.
But he isn’t particularly funny. Funny things happen to him–sometimes very funny things. In a clear tribute to Harold Lloyd, a rat crawls into Max’s tuxedo at a particularly dangerous moment, forcing him to jump around out of course when the slightest wrong movement could kill him. It’s funny, but it could have happened to anyone.
Speaking of characters who aren’t funny, Terence Stamp gives a completely straight and humorless performance as the evil mastermind Siegfried. I don’t completely reject the idea of serious villains in action comedies, but why get our hopes up by naming him after the funniest villain on the TV show. Stamp’s Siegfried would never say “Shmart, zere are good guys and zere are bad guys. I am one of ze bad guys.” (Carell gets to repeat some of Adams’ signature lines, such as “Sorry about that” and “Missed it by that much.”) At least Sigfried has a funny sidekick, played by Borat sidekick Ken Davitian.
Anne Hathaway does a fine job as Agent 99, although her exasperation with Max’s clumsy mistakes would have played better if he had been clumsier. Alan Arkin also does a nice turn as the Chief. In the cameo department, Bill Murray is a pleasure as the long-suffering Agent 13 (the guy always hiding in strange places), and James Caan plays the unnamed U.S. President–an idiot who does whatever his Vice President tells him to do. Where did they get that idea?
The whole thing climaxes with a funny yet thrilling plane vs. car chase. Too bad the movie as a whole only achieved this goal sporadically. Cutting the right half hour out of Get Smart would have made a very good film. Writing inherently funny characters would have made a great one.
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Posted on June 27, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
The July/August Pacific Film Archive schedule arrived in yesterday’s mail. It makes me want to move permanently into that theater.
They’re running five series this summer, honoring a director, a cinematographer, a novelist, a studio, and an aspect ratio.
The studio is United Artists
, receiving its yet another 90th anniversary retrospective. But unlike the UA series at the Castro
this spring, the PFA isn’t ignoring the years before 1950, when UA released (but seldom owned) the works of such heavy-weight independent producers as Samuel Goldwyn, David O. Selznick, Walt Disney, and the four artists who originally united in 1919: Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford. (Come to think of it, shouldn’t UA be celebrating its 89th birthday this year?)
and the original, 1932 version of Scarface
. Oddly, two of the original founders, Chaplin and Pickford, aren’t on the list (the PFA ran a Chaplin series late last year). Of the later films on the schedule we have Some Like It Hot
, Dr. No
, Annie Hall
, and West Side Story
, although I suggest you wait a day for that musical and catch it in 70mm at the Castro
. They’re skipping Heaven’s Gate,
the movie that brought UA to its knees.
The aspect ratio is 2.35:1, although more precisely, CinemaScope and its assorted imitators. They’re calling the series The Long View: A Celebration of Widescreen
. The films scheduled include Lawrence of Arabia
, The 400 Blows
, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
, and McCabe & Mrs. Miller
. The last film in the series, on Saturday, April 30, is Akira Kurosawa’s wonderful action comedy Yojimbo
, which will be followed by the penultimate movie in the United Artists series, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
–quite a widescreen celebration, itself. The two make a great double-bill, even if you do have to buy separate admission for each movie.
I’m not familiar with the three artists honored with their own series this summer. According to the PFA’s notes, Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira
celebrates his centenary this year, which is amazing as he’s still alive and making films. Noir novelist David Goodis
seems to have inspired a lot of good movies, including Dark Passage
and Shoot the Piano Player
. I’ve seen one of the films in the series devoted to Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa
–John Ford’s The Fugitive
(one of two English-language films in the series). It’s beautifully shot, but otherwise probably Ford’s worst film.
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Posted on June 24, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
Two of my biggest passions–Judaism and cinema–come together this summer like they do every summer for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. (Come to think of it, some of my other big passions–music, history, and sex–turn up here, as well.) The organizers are calling the 28th SFIFF the largest one ever, with “70 films from 19 countries spread across 114 screenings in five venues” in San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, and San Rafael.
The SFJFF opens at the Castro Thursday, July 24, with Strangers (which will have three other festival screenings if you can’t make opening night). I give this film a B. A Israeli man and a Palestinian woman, both young, meet in Berlin, fall in love/lust, have great sex, then must figure out the rest of their lives. To make matters more complicated, it’s the summer of 2006, war is raging in Lebanon, and each blames the other side for the resulting carnage. This sort of movie depends on the leads’ chemistry, and stars Liron Levbo and Lubna Azabal have it in Bogart/Bacall levels. Writers/directors Guy Nattiv and Erez Tadmor deserve praise for avoiding easy political or emotional solutions. But the film’s overly grainy, handheld photography–made worse by the scope aspect ratio and some distracting photographic clichés–hurt the storytelling.
The festival runs through August 11 and closes with Emotional Arithmetic at the Rafael. I have yet to see this film, but I can tell you that despite some big names in the cast– Susan Sarandon, Christopher Plummer, Gabriel Byrne, and Max Von Sydow–it has not yet found distribution.
What about the other 68 films showing? There are four films about Italian Jews During Facism. Documentaries cover everything from heavy metal musicians to the BRCA gene (which increases the chance of breast cancer) and communal living in early 20th century New York. To acknowledge Israel’s 60th anniversary (and recognize that many see this as nothing to celebrate), there are 17 films on the subject of Israeli diversity.There are even nine episodes from a popular Israeli sitcom called Arab Labor. The Centerpiece film, Love Comes Lately, is based on three stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer.
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Posted on June 24, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
Just before I left on vacation I received a press release for two upcoming series at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I’m finally now getting to it.
As the name implies, Jean Cocteau: The Orphic Trilogy screens only three films, Le Sang d’un poète (Blood of a Poet), Orphée (Orpheus), and Le Testament d’Orphée (The Testament of Orpheus). Since the pictures were made over a 30-year period, one can’t really call them an intentional trilogy, but Cocteau certainly kept returning to this one mythological theme. I haven’t seen any of these films since college, so I’ll reframe from giving an opinion. Each film gets multiple screenings throughout July.
In conjunction with an exhibit of Frida Kahlo’s work, Angel of Fire: Kahlo, Mexico, and Film screens seven films from July 30 through the end of August. Judging from the provided descriptions (I’ve never seen any of these films and only heard of two of them), Kahlo herself isn’t a frequent subject. Only one of the films, Frida, naturaleza viva, deals with her at all. The others connect with her only in that they come out of the same early-to-mid 20th century Mexican surrealist cultural stew. But it is a chance to see Buñuel’s Nazarín and the reconstructed version of Eisenstein’s ¡Que viva Mexico! on the big screen.
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Posted on June 23, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
I have a lot of apologizing to do.
As a PC World columnist, I often admonish readers for not backing up and keeping their security software up-to-date. And while I do everything possible to keep my PC and data safe, I haven’t been so diligent about my blog. And thus, when I got back from vacation, I discovered it feeding malware to my readers.
I had it cleaned within minutes of discovering the problem, but that’s small comfort if you’ve already been infected. That’s a very real possibility if you have a Windows PC and visited Bayflicks.net between June 13 and June 22, especially if your security software didn’t pop up with a warning. (When I visited the site, Kaspersky Internet Security blocked the infection with much noise and proclamations.) If that’s the situation, I recommend you scan your hard drive with a security tool other than the one you already have. Here are four of them, all free, all excellent, and none requiring heavy installations:
In the meantime, I’m altering the blog to make it more secure. I’ve updated my WordPress blogging software, forcing the design change you’ve probably noticed. Among the other security changes, I now require you to register before you can add a comment, and have added reCAPTCHA to guarantee that only real human beings can register.
I hope that I’ll regain your trust.
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Posted on June 22, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
I came back from vacation to discover the bayflicks.net web site hijacked I believe the hijacking happened on Saturday, June 14. I removed it today.
If you’ve visited the site in the last week, and have a Windows-based PC, it’s possible that your computer is infected with Trojan-Downloader.JS.Agent downloader. You can read up on it at http://www.f-secure.com/v-descs/trojan-downloader_js_agent_d.shtml.
What else can you do about it? See my article Scan for Malware With Online Tools for some suggestions.
I’ll have more details when I can get them.
In the meantime, I’m altering and fixing the site’s technical code to keep this from happening again. If everything looks funny–well, I’m trying to fix it.
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Posted on June 18, 2008 by Lincoln Spector
- Written by Yoji Yamada, Emiko Hiramatsu, and Ichiro Yamamoto
- Directed by Yoji Yamada
Yoji Yamada makes Samurai films like nobody else’s. Past works like Twilight Samurai and The Hidden Blade looked at the legendary warriors as lower-middleclass drones, worrying about money as they perform their dull peacetime jobs for an indifferent lord for whom they may one day be called upon to die. Their concerns involve financial problems, unbreakable class barriers (even within the Samurai), and marital problems. And when they’re inevitably called upon to actually fight a duel, the odds seem realistically against them. It’s as if Yamada wants to tear open the whole Samurai myth and find the reality hiding behind it.
In Love and Honor, he rips the whole Zatoichi franchise to shreds.
Takuya Kimura stars as Shinnojo Mimura, yet another low-level samurai. At least his hated day-to-day job has an element of danger. He’s an official food taster, ever on the lookout for poison. He swallows some, and although he survives, he loses his eyesight.
What good, in this unromantic view of old Japan, is a blind samurai? A blind peasant can earn a living as a storyteller or a masseuse, but no one born to the samurai class could do such a thing. Nor can his loving wife (Rei Dan) take a job without shaming the family. The combination of emotional depression and looming financial disaster soon strain the initially happy marriage.
Even a serious samurai film must have swordplay, and events (which I prefer you discover on your own) eventually force Shinnojo into one-on-one battle without benefit of sight. But Yamada doesn’t pretend that a blind man can be a brilliant fencer; Shinnojo’s one strategic advantage doesn’t promise a long, Zatoichi-style career fighting for truth, justice, and the Japanese way.
Small, flying animals make an interesting reoccurring theme. The couple keep a pair of song birds in a cage. At one point, Shinnojo wishes he could fly away “like a bat.” Different scenes feature fireflies, mosquitoes, and a very lovely butterfly.
The ending stretches credibility a bit, with a resolution tha’s both overly convenient and visible from a mile away. But that doesn’t mar what Yamada has given us: Another realistic look at people trying to get by in a medieval Japan very different from the romanticized one we’re used to. Yet he still manages to work in a really good swordfight.
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