Get Smart

Action Comedy

  • 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.

New PFA Schedule

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?)
From those first three decades, the PFA will show Steamboat Bill, Jr., Stagecoach, Broken Blossoms,
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?, Harakiri, 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.

What’s Screening, June 27-July 3, 2008

It’s been quite a week. I come home from vacation to discover that my site has been hacked and is infecting PCs. I cleaned out the infection immediately (or more precisely, someone at Bayflicks’ host, IX Web Hosting, did it), but making sure it doesn’t happen again feels like a full-time job. You can read about my problems in Bayflicks Hijacked and Technical Problems and Apologies and Technical Issues. But I also managed to tell you about Cocteau and Kahlo at SFMOMA and the Jewish Film Festival.

The Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival opens Friday and runs through Sunday. This year, the festival centers around the studios in the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC). This Edison-led trust, made up of nine leading studios, controlled the American industry during some of its formative years. Most historians don’t look upon the trust favorably; its cautious policies slowed the art’s development and proved, in the long run, economically short-sighted. But filmmakers struggling with the MPPC’s rules, including D.W. Griffith, helped develop the art. The festival will screen seven collections of shorts (no features) [I stand corrected. Six of the seven programs contain a feature in addition to the shorts], each from a different MPPC company. Each series will be presented by a historian and accompanied by a member of the Museum’s regular stable of pianists.

The Frameline LGBT Film Festival also continues through Sunday. Read my preview here.

DOUBLE BILL: Duck Soup & Animal Crackers, Stanford, Wedneday through next Friday. In Duck Soup, a blatantly corrupt politician becomes the country’s all-powerful leader on the whim of the wealthy elite. Once in office, he cuts benefits for the working class, fills important positions with unqualified clowns, and starts a war on a whim. But how could a comedy made in 1933 be relevant today? The Marx Brothers at their very best. Like its predecessor The Coconuts, Animal Crackers is just a photographed stage play. But this second time before the cameras, the brothers perform in top form, in a play that really rides on their strengths. Technically crude, but wonderful in every other way.

North By Northwest, Cerrito, Saturday, 6:00; Sunday, 5:00. Alfred Hitchcock’s light masterpiece, not as thoughtful as Rear Window or Notorious, but more entertaining than both of them combined. Cary Grant plays an unusually suave and witty everyman mistaken by evil foreign spies for a crack American agent, and by police for a murderer. And so he must escape almost certain death again and again while chased from New York to Mount Rushmore. On the bright side, he gets to spend some quality time with a very glamorous Eva Marie Saint. Danger has its rewards.

Iron Man, Red Vic, Wednesday and Thursday (and next Saturday). Director Jon Favreau and his team of writers insert all the requisite thrills into a story strong enough to support the pyrotechnics rather than get buried by them. After a close brush with violent death, weapons tycoon, genius, and all-around jerk Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) wants out of the death business. But he’s conflicted about his new-found pacifism, so he secretly builds the ultimate one-man weapon–an armored, flying suit with guns and missile launchers attached–to help him keep the peace. Favreau knows better than to fill his movie with wall-to-wall action, and always ties the well-choreographed fighting to the story. See my full review for details.

Jewish Film Festival

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 festivalThe Strangers 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), Love Comes Latelythere 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.

Cocteau and Kahlo at SFMOMA

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.

Apologies and Technical Issues

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.

Bayflicks Hijacked and Technical Problems

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.

Lincoln Spector

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