Despite a lot of critical acclaim, THE AMERICAN (2010) is an overly arty film that can’t overcome the stock underlying story about whether assassin George Clooney will be able to walk away from his life of crime and find happiness with a hooker who has, yes, a heart of gold. Thumbs down.. “Why do you have a gun in your purse?”
FOLLOWING (1998) was Christopher Nolan’s second film, a neo-noir in which a seedy writer obsessed with stalking people is initially unnerved, then intrigued, when the professional burglar he’s tracking suddenly invites him along on a job—which turns out to be an elaborate double-cross involving a beautiful woman, incriminating photographs and a hammer. Nicely done. “No little old lady has been killed in the manner you describe.”
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? (1967) is the story of stunned liberals Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn discovering their daughter took their lectures on racial equality so seriously she’s now engaged to a black man who happens to be world-class heart surgeon and humanitarian Sidney Poitier. Well-meaning though it is, the film is hamstrung by the efforts to make the idea acceptable to white audiences, from making Poitier such a Model Minority to avoiding any current racial issues. When Poitier’s father points out that the marriage would be illegal in sixteen states, Poitier asserts that his generation is post-racial (“You see yourself as a colored man—I see myself as a man.”) and Hepburn’s black cook comes off as the voice of white bigotry (muttering darkly about black radicals and accusing Poitier of “getting above his place.”). Tracy and Hepburn still have their star power, but this is not the movie to catch it in. “I can explain the whole situation in probably two minutes.
IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE (1958) has a space crew returning from Mars with accused murderer Marshall Thomas—who supposedly murdered his stranded crew to make the rations last longer—only to discover he wasn’t lying when he claimed the real killer was a Martian. Oh, and when everyone came on board for the flight home, so did the creature …A low-budget but effective thriller, above average for the time.“On Mars, the only thing living was something we called—death.”
JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS (2010) has a parallel Luthor enlist the League’s help against an evil counterpart called the Crime Syndicate, unaware that while most of the evil team simply wants absolute power, Owlman (James Woods voice) has a nihilistic plan to erase all reality The Earth-3 cameos are almost as lively as in Justice League Unlimited (evil versions of Vixen, Vibe, Katana, Halo and what are apparently some sort of the Marvel Family—plus designing the Martian Manhunter’s counterpart on the lines of Tars Tarkas); well done. “The difference between us is that we both looked into the abyss—and when it looked back, you blinked.”
SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009) reworks a plotline from the Superman/Batman book wherein Superman and Batman find their efforts to stop a giant green kryptonite meteor striking Earth are complicated by President Luthor framing Superman for murder, setting a billion-dollar bounty on his head and scheming to exploit the meteor for his own ends. A good one, with Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly and Clancy Brown in their old roles, LeVar Burton as Black Lightning (though I’m not sure he gets any lines) and Allison Mack of Smallville stunt casting as Power Girl. “Do you realize that every morning, I wake up and dream about strangling you?”
IN RECKLESS HANDS: Skinner vs. Oklahoma and the Near Triumph of American Eugenics by Victoria F. Nourse chronicles the background and events of the 1940s Supreme Court decision that ended the eugenicists’ dream of creating utopia by sterilizing “habitual criminals” along with the “feebleminded.” Nourse shows the widespread acceptance of eugenics in popular culture (though by the time of the court decision, the Nazis were already souring people on it), and the sexual overtones (women were routinely labeled “feebleminded” for being sexually active—and part of the alarm over sterilization seems to be the sense that it feminized the men). She also points out that the issues in play in the courts weren’t individual rights (“At the time, those could easily be trumped by the government’s ‘police power.’”) but the then current concept of “class legislation”—that by arbitrarily deciding some criminals didn’t require sterilization (political crimes, tax evasion, violating prohibition and embezzlement were all exempt), the law created a de facto caste system that violated the principle of equality before the law. Well done.
The fantasy stories in SKINNY DIPPING IN THE LAKE OF THE DEAD by Alan DeNiro, didn’t work for me, but no question he has some good, bizarre concepts as a boy sets out to kill all the cuttlefish in the world, Byzantine warriors invade a college town and a man gets his amputated leg replaced with a fairy-tale. Somehow though, they never really add up to anything I liked.
JAPANESE INN: A Reconstruction of the Past by Oliver Statler is a chronicle of the history of one particular inn the author fell in love with during the post-WW II occupation, and in so chronicling, following a history of Japan in the rise and fall of the shogunate, the development of a patent-medicine industry (pitches for which, it seems, are the same the world over), uneasy relationships with the West, various legendary figures (this is the first detailed account I’ve read of the 47 Ronin) of course, the war. Not fully historical (the author admits he’s included figures who may not have visited the inn) but better than I expected.