February 16, 2011


I'm Lucy operating the conveyor belt when it comes to keeping up with my review queue; here's a taste of my numerous false starts over the past few months, if for no other reason than to shame myself into finishing the two or three pieces I'm currently juggling.

I was 10 when "Small Wonder" debuted, and I seem to recall it as being the first TV series I approached with anything resembling cynicism. For starters, actually landing on it while channel-surfing was a bit of a crapshoot. The vagaries of syndication not meaning much to me then, I interpreted this as corporate embarrassment in the program which transferred over to me, even with my undiscriminating latchkey palette. For another thing, "Small Wonder" marked the first time I noticed special effects as such: done by Disney, according to creator Howard Leeds, they generated more laughs for their transparency than for any sight gag they were aiming to execute--which, along with the dependably lame jokes, gave the show a certain ironic lustre. I seem to recall most often encountering "Small Wonder" at the tail end of Saturday-morning cartoons, and it was only my extraordinarily passive viewing habits--combined with a frankly bottomless appetite for sitcoms--that kept me from changing the channel. A few more things I remember about my childhood experience with the show: that I loved the theme song, or at least that it took up permanent residence in my brain almost immediately; and that Tiffany Brissette, in the title role, was one of the few child actresses I didn't have a crush on, for reasons that ultimately had less to do with her looks than with the uncanniness of her performance. More on this later.

Oddly enough, the worst scene in The Sorcerer's Apprentice is the one that apes the titular segment from Fantasia/2000. It's a non sequitur, for starters, its shoehorned-in feeling aggravated by a weird edit that plays like a skip in the record. For another thing, there is nothing charming about an enchanted mop in live-action. On this we might blame the Swiffer commercials, in which anthropomorphized custodial implements are sent to the gulag because the lady of the house has decided to "give cleaning a whole new meaning." (The sequence relies on the same sort of crude puppetry and self-demystifying close-ups--all your mind sees is a grip standing just outside of camera range.) And Jay Baruchel is no Mickey Mouse, so it's a long time before we even realize that this is supposed to be that.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is not a direct translation of the original Korean title of this first instalment in Park Chanwook's "Vengeance Trilogy" (and the only one he didn't have a hand in writing--although it was clearly a huge influence on his own writing style), but it describes the film much better than the generic Vengeance is Mine would have. Revenge here is not biblically cathartic but rather the sort of dysfunction we aim to minimize with a cute title, because in fact we never want to experience it. Late in the picture, two good but misguided men stand in a river; one tells the other that he's sorry but he has to kill him, and we don't necessarily agree, but we're, yes, sympathetic to the impulse.

from an abortive attempt at expanding my BACK TO THE FUTURE review
I guess I never really realized, seeing as how I saw it before I would've seen anything that influenced it, Back to the Future's playful conversation with the cinema. It's not a pastiche, but it references a gamut ranging from James Whale's Frankenstein ("It works!!!" is this movie's version of the similarly lightning-soaked "It's alive!!!") to, with Doc Brown's climactic dangle from Hill Valley's clock tower, Harold Lloyd/Safety Last!. As the background use of 1954's Cattle Queen of Montana to signify Ronald Reagan's silver-screen past is a little bit anachronistic, one could argue that they may as well have picked the more familiar Bedtime for Bonzo from 1951, but the esoteric choice suggests more respect for the audience's intellect--not to mention Reagan. And the DeLorean's introduction struck me as especially funny this time: a truck opens up to lower a ramp like E.T.'s spaceship, and, as Alan Silvestri's score bespeaks wonder and the camera rises with reverence, billowing clouds of CO2 mist part to reveal a futuristic automobile retrofitted for time travel. Then Doc Brown stumbles out of the car...having a mild coughing fit from all the smoke. Talk about taking the piss out of Spielbergian awe--something which audiences would've especially appreciated in July of '85, if you take into account that the re-release of E.T. earlier in the summer was met with picket signs that read, "E.T. Go Home!" (At least it was in my hometown, where E.T. had barely ended its official run before this revival.)

Read anything good offsite lately, even only tangentially film-related? I really enjoyed this VANITY FAIR article on the wartime experiences of J.D. Salinger.