The Apple (1980). Welcome to the future, where society is controlled by one giant record company. Will the earnest lady folksinger and her Will Ferrell-lookalike boyfriend get lured into stardom by the evil Mr. Boogalow? This was as horrible as it sounds, a wannabe Rocky Horror crammed with lots of unmemorable songs and beyond tacky mylar fashions. One thing I can say is that it sure is, um, unique, and lovers of bad cinema would be advised to give it a once-over. Now I can’t wait to check out that Bibi’s Greatest Hits album.
Justice: Crimes, Trials and Punishments by Dominick Dunne. This was an unexpectedly fascinating book lent to me by the s.o. It’s made up of reprinted articles from Vanity Fair, with about a third of the pieces devoted to the unbelievable media circus surrounding the O.J. Simpson trial. Going in I thought I was all over O.J., but Dunne’s perspective is utterly riveting and he uncovered a lot of weird and unsettling details about that whole fiasco. It really was a page turner. Dominick Dunne isn’t so much a traditional journalist as a personal observer — a bit gossipy and name-dropping at times, but never lacking in depth. An uncomfortable highlight came from Dunne’s reflections on the tragic death of his own daughter Dominique, and the subsequent trial of her murderer.
Lady and the Tramp (1955). This was part of an ongoing re-evaluation of the classic Disney animated movies. For some reason, previously I lumped Lady and the Tramp in with plush yet boring efforts of the time such as Alice In Wonderland or Peter Pan. I was wrong. Although the predictability of the story is a handicap, this is a warm and beautifully made film. On the widescreen DVD edition, some of the lushly painted backgrounds left me agasp, and the animation teems with quality and craftsmanship. It’s a nice coincidence that I viewed this in the same week as Persepolis (see below), as both films are fine examples of the artistry that can be found in good hand drawn animation.
The Last Picture Show (1971). Checked out this DVD from the library after realizing that I hadn’t seen this in years (and that my earlier viewing was an edited-for-TV version). I believe it’s actually one of the best films of the ’70s, mostly due to the uniformly excellent cast. I also like the bone dry, straightforward tone that Peter Bogdonavich sets fort. You just know that, had a new young filmmaker tried to adapt this book, the film would take on a sarcastic or belittling tone — but Bogdonavich just tells it like it is with a brilliant cast to flesh it out.
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921). Usually I’m not too hot on earlier silent films (they tend to be static and stodgy), but this Mary Pickford vehicle was nicely made and completely charming from beginning to end. Here Miss Pickford plays the duo roles of the titular street kid turned English Lord and his own mother. The film uses a lot of then-innovative camera trickery with Pickford playing against herself, in addition to making the already petite actress look even smaller as a young boy. Even if I could never fully accept her as a boy, Pickford is plucky and winning as usual. I could totally buy that she was the most famous and beloved woman on earth in the teens and ’20s.
Persepolis (2007). Like many, Persepolis first caught my eye after it garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film. In the end I actually enjoyed this slightly more than the eventual winner, Ratatouille, simply because it’s more ambitious and different. This was great exercise in exploring the human side of political upheaval, and I found myself identifying with the everyday struggles of central character Marjane more often than not. It’s also an impressively creative effort from a stylistic point of view. I loved how the filmmakers used various subtle shifts in visuals, like using color in the contemporary scenes or having the story of Iran’s past dictatorships told in shadow puppet style. It’s kind of sad that it takes a scrappy little French studio to make something so provocative and dazzling, but maybe it’ll serve as a signal for big time U.S. animation to get its collective butts in gear.