Saturday, July 01, 2017

June 2017

This was a comparatively busy month for me. On 6/3, I flew to San Jose to see South Bay Musical Theatre’s productions of Chess in Concert and My Fair Lady, the latter starring the famous Jay Steele. Together we watched nearly a full season of The Great Australian Bake Off. Meanwhile, Joan and I saw Henry Phillips perform at the Improv on 6/10, where he sang “The Things in My Car,” an older song we’d never heard before.
I have not had a lucid dream since the early 1990s, but I had one on 6/15. I became aware I was dreaming during the dream, which is an exceptionally rare occurrence. But on the following night, I had an elaborately plotted dream about babysitting a very tiny fifth daughter of Cindy Newman’s who was named Faith.
After returning from a trip to Asia, Cindy invited me to join her, daughter Emma and Emma’s friend Julia for a day trip to Knotts Berry Farm on 6/22. Julia and I rode on some fun roller-coasters, while Cindy and I went on the baby rides. We all dined at TGI Friday’s for lunch. A spectacularly fun day!
On 6/24, I joined Joan for a reunion of the Dr. Demento radio show crew at The Smoke House in Burbank. A few days later, I joined a smaller version of the group at Paramount, which was attended by John “Bermuda” Schwartz of Weird Al Yankovic’s band.
Cindy and her family flew to Orlando at the end of June, so I spent a few days dog- and house-sitting for her in Beverly Hills.
BOOKS: I burned through The Grownup (Gillian Flynn), Gwendy’s Button Box (Stephen King and Richard Chizmar) and am currently approaching the end of Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, which is a hugely entertaining account of Franken’s time as a performer on Saturday Night Live, and later as a Senator. I am enjoying it so much that I purchased an earlier Franken book called The Truth. I have also been working the puzzles in a bunch of Jumble books.
TV: The regular TV season is officially over, and even two of my favorite cable shows (Better Call Saul and Fargo) have also drawn to a close for the year.
Here are the movies I saw in June:

AN INSPECTOR CALLS (2015)—As a fan of mystery/suspense thrillers, I was naturally curious to check out the famous J.B. Priestley play. A film version starring the great Alastair Sim was made in 1954, but I chose to watch the 2015 BBC film because of another great actor: David Thewlis, who has been greatly entertaining as the sleazy villain in this year’s season of Fargo. Here he plays a mysterious inspector who interrupts a family’s dinner and accuses each one of driving a young woman to suicide. It’s filled with a host of rather uncanny coincidences, the but acting is fine and it was worth a look—even if the material seems a trifle overrated. (8)

RIFFTRAX SUMMER SHORTS BEACH PARTY (2017)—Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett—the performers of RiffTrax—were joined by numerous guest stars (including Trace “Dr. Forrester” Beaulieu and comedian Paul F. Tompkins) to make fun of various old short films from the 1950s and 1960s in a live Fandango theater broadcast. (Among the shorts: Rhythmic Ball Skills, Ricky Raccoon Shows the Way and The Griper.) I have attended many of these and always laugh harder than during any “regular” comedy film. (10)

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)—Richard Matheson’s classic horror novel became this film starring Roddy McDowell and Pamela Franklin. Despite being fans of all these folks, I have never seen this ghost-story movie. True to my suspicions, it’s really not that great, which is why it doesn’t seem to have a “classic” reputation. But at least I finally scratched that itch. The poster is scarier than the movie! (6)

WONDER WOMAN (2017)—What a cool surprise! I enjoy some of the Marvel comic-book hero movies (Iron Man, Ant-Man, Dr. Strange), but have never cared much for the DC hero movies and characters (Batman, Superman, etc.). That includes Wonder Woman, whose 1970s TV show I never watched. But this new series, starring Israeli actress/supermodel Gal Gadot, is a masterpiece of girl-empowerment excitement. Physically, Gadot is a dead ringer for Lynda Carter, the most famous Wonder Woman of TV, but this time she’s surrounded by great writing, excellent acting and first-rate special effects. Takes place during WWI, but the modern-day tag suggests the sequel will be set during the 2010s. Actually, WW will appear in The Justice League movie later this year, but I’m more interested in the standalone sequel. (9)

THE BOOK OF HENRY (2017)—I had been looking forward to this movie since last year, when I got wind that Sarah Silverman (a favorite comedian) would be appearing in it. In fact, her part turns out to be quite small. This is a movie about a gifted boy (Jacob Tremblay) whose single mom (Naomi Watts) is a waitress and almost completely dependent on her son to handle the finances and other things that require intelligence. Then the kid gets sick. Before he dies, he hatches a plan for Watts to murder the jerk next door (Dean Norris), who is apparently molesting his stepdaughter. Watts is always fun to watch; the movie is generally interesting, but it’s a bit farfetched and little more than a diversion. (7)

MAUDIE (2017)—Sally Hawkins, whom I have enjoyed in several movies (including An Education, Blue Jasmine and Made in Dagenham), turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as Canadian artist Maud Lewis, a timid arthritic woman who is hired by a fish peddler (Ethan Hawke) to keep his microscopic house clean. They marry and we see their modest lives unfold. It’s a very low-key but still very moving story. (9)

THE BIG SICK (2017)—Wow! Second cool surprise of the month. Comedian Kumail Nanjiani (from TV’s Silicon Valley) writes and stars in this autobiographical comedy/drama, in which he chronicles his romance with Emily (Zoe Kazan). When she falls ill, Nanjiana bonds with her parents (Ray Romano an Holly Hunter). It’s a simple story with a huge heart and a lot of great comedy. Every performance in this film is superb, and the blending of comedy, drama and romance really took me by surprise. So far, this is the surprise hit of the year. I have previously enjoyed Kazan in Ruby Sparks, In Your Eyes, It’s Complicated and Me and Orson Welles. (10)

ABSURD PERSON SINGULAR (1985)—Perhaps not a movie in the strictest sense, but this TV adaptation of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1972 comedy is certainly movie length, so I’m including it here. This version features familiar faces like Prunella Scales (Fawlty Towers) and Geoffrey Palmer (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) and takes place on three consecutive Christmas Eves in three different kitchens. It’s a riotously funny evening of comedy! (10)

OKJA (2017)—This Netflix drama reunites the director (Joon-ho Bong) and star (Tilda Swinton) of Snowpiercer, and adds high-profile actors like Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins, Paul Dano and Giancarlo Esposito to the mix. But the real stars here are 13-year-old Seo-Hyun Ahn and her pet Okja, an immense creature that’s supposed to be a genetically modified pig, but more than anything resembles a hippo-and-dog hybrid. Okja is, of course, a highly impressive CGI effect, but Seo-Hyun Ahn brings real humanity to her role of a Korean girl whose pet is being kidnapped by evil corporate bigwigs from America. For the first 20 minutes, it’s a spectacular show full of adventure, reminding one of a variation on E.T. The Extraterrestrial. But the story soon gets bogged down when the action moves to the USA, where Swinton and especially Gyllenhaal give performances that are so off-the-charts silly that they resemble cartoon characters (one critic dubbed this movie King Kong Meets The Hunger Games). There’s a cool story and message in here, though, beneath the bloated evil-company shenanigans. (Another curiosity is who this movie is for—it seems to be a children’s film, but is loaded with numerous F-bombs.) Seo-Hyun Ahn and Okja are marvelous; too much of the rest is disappointing. (7)

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