Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Evangerion shin gekijôban: Jo (Evangelion: 1.0 You Are [Not] Alone) (2007)

Two anime movie reviews in a row? Wacky! The Neon Genesis Evangelion tale has some history. First there were the anime and manga series, followed by several epilogue-y films, and now the whole show is being condensed into a set of feature-length films that (theoretically) won't require prior viewing of the series to enjoy. Well, we'll see about that. Evangelion 1.0 introduces us to a future involving superior technology and a biblical feud that's taken out half the human population.

Building-size "angels" are coming to earth to wreak havoc on "Tokyo-3" and the secretive group NERV is the last defense, developing large-scale fighting mechs (called Evangelions or "Evas" for short) piloted by, for some reason, teenagers. Shinji Ikari, the son of NERV's lead commander is brought on to be the new main pilot. Still a high school student, he doesn't like going into battle and doesn't fully understand the necessity of his actions, but maintains a quiet obedience that worries his handlers.

With an interesting premise, potentially interesting characters, and gorgeous visuals, Evangelion has a lot going for it. Unfortunately it's weighed down by an ambiguous and convoluted backstory and undeveloped script, and I felt lost during parts of the story. There are a few characters who seem superfluous whom I imagine are important in the series or will be expanded upon in future installments, but here it comes off as poor writing. The actual premise is barely given an explanation, with a few sentences of narration remarking upon the Angels eating the fruit of Wisdom and humans eating the fruit of Life, and for some reason this has caused Angels to destroy all humans. Why is this grounds for destruction? Why are they only attacking this one city? What's God up to in this scenario?

I really loved the animation, with its insane details and cinematic eye. Plus the main character Ikari looks like Tenchi! He's pretty whiny though, and I was more interested in his awesome roommate Misato, who's a beer-guzzling, short shorts-wearing military commander who's also a pretty lady! What a combo. I also like Rei, the other Eva pilot, mainly because she's super mysterious and has blue hair, and she's sort of mean to Ikari. Also what the hell is up with Ikari's dad? What a diiiiiick.

Despite its narrative flaws and confusing script, I did like Evangelion 1.0, but I suspect I can't fully appreciate it without first watching the show. Which I do plan on doing soon. But looking at this as a stand-alone film, it doesn't quite work by itself.


Original art for this film (available on etsy)


Monday, August 30, 2010

Hokuto no ken (Fist of the North Star) (1986)

Possibly the most head-explody film I've ever seen (and that's saying something), Fist of the North Star is what my co-viewer quite appropriately termed "grindhouse anime". Drawing from the manga and anime series of the same name, the film takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with warring fighters that take to the "North Star" or "South Star" styles. There's no East or West in the future, I guess. There is, however, a lot of 80's hair.

Kenshirô has been named the master of the North Star power, much to his elder brothers' chagrin, but soon his girlfriend Yuria is stolen away by the South Star master and he's dropped into a canyon and left for dead by his brothers. Kenshirô then rises from the ashes with the help of an inexplicably magic little girl and goes about fighting tons of evil people so he can fix the world or whatever. Rei (the best character), a dude who slices people up with neon blue lines resembling a Windows 95 screensaver, is unfortunately relegated to partially saving his blind sister and hanging out with some kids. Sigh.

Oh jeez. Well let's start with my first impressions of this film: Really bad animation, with some nice painterly backgrounds but just god-awful character designs. Drawn by dudes who aren't comfortable drawing women, and possibly have never seen a woman naked. Lots of head explosions. Blood spurts out of bodies without any care for the laws of gravity. The story makes absolutely no. damn. sense. Who the hell are these characters? Why is the little girl magic? What are these kids doing here in the first place? Why does everyone keep changing size all willy-nilly? Why does Ken make those high-pitched "Aii-yaii-yaii-yaii!" noises when he fights? And what is the deal with his eyebrows? How many villains does this movie have? Why did this become a tragic love story five minutes before the film ends?

There are many questions, as you can see. It's a weird story with little context, transition, pacing, explanation, or character development. This is the kind of movie during which one should really just sit back and enjoy the incredible amounts of gratuitous violence and hilariously convoluted dialogue. So that's basically what we did. Like any great b-movie, Fist of the North Star is loaded with illogical sci-fi tropes, confusing plot twists, poorly scripted conversations, and a heck of a lot of blood and gore. The shoddy animation just makes it that much funnier.

I haven't read the manga or seen the show but it seems that the film doesn't encompass the entire story of the series, making for a really anticlimactic battle that I guess would be the set-up for a bigger showdown in the nonexistent sequel. I have little intention of watching the anime since I've read that it isn't half as awesomely violent as the film or comic version. I'll probably just continue living in ignorant bliss of any possible explanations or better-written takes on the story, preferring this completely crazy movie. All I need are the exploding heads, really.

As a movie: 1.5/5
As entertainment: 4/5

PS There is a live-action American remake of this. I can only imagine it is completely rad. Anyone seen it?

PPS Dudes. Check out the trailer. There's less head exploding than I would have liked, but it's got this awesome song from the movie.

Further Reading:
Badmovies.org review


Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Searchers (1956)

On the recommendation of Caitlin (because, spoiler alert, this may well show up in a podcast later), I picked up the John Ford-directed The Searchers, which is only my 3rd or 4th John Wayne movie. I'm still working out how I feel about it, so this will be one of the more rambly, unsure posts. Wayne stars as Ethan Edwards, a hardened Confederate veteran who's mysteriously been away for years since the war ended.

He comes home to his brother's family on an isolated farm and almost immediately they're attacked by a vengeful tribe of Comanche Indians, with the brother and his wife killed and their two daughters kidnapped. Ethan and Martin (Jeffrey Hunter), the family's adopted orphan son, gather several townspeople together to search for the missing girls, but these men all either die or give up. The two remaining men's quest turns into a multi-year struggle that takes them across the American West, with Martin trying to somehow control Ethan's often cruel actions.

This is a very harsh film. Wayne's character is downright mean and unlikable, but annoyingly he's usually right so you sort of have to side with him. There's a rawness to the interactions between most of the characters that makes it difficult to really get a grip on the film when coupled with several moments of levity and tenderness. I'm also not crazy about the pacing- the story spans several years but there is little indication of time passing and it seems so unlikely that these men have been trekking around for that amount of time. It feels long, and it can be a little boring at times.

However, The Searchers still manages to be a really interesting movie about the consequences of obsession and revenge. The script subtly works complexities into its characters and tries to honestly explore the relationship between white settlers and Native Americans during the period of western expansion following the Civil War. There are definitely some racist/ignorant themes, but for a movie from the 50's it could have been much worse. The film does show them as humans- just weird ones- and often focuses more on the brutality of white men: there are several shots of slaughtered Indian villages but few reminders of white people dying at Indian hands, and Wayne's violent outbursts stand in contrast against most of the Indian characters' calmness.

I guess I'm still unsure how I feel about this movie. Dang. It's certainly smart, with a multi-layered story and some great performances from Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, and Vera Miles (who is awesome in her sadly limited role). But as a whole it's slightly unsettling, with a mean, alienating undercurrent and general Native American stereotyping. For now I remain in the middle, but we'll see if I'm able to formulate a stronger opinion during the podcast discussion!



Saturday, August 28, 2010

Gongdong gyeongbi guyeok JSA (JSA: Joint Security Area) (2000)

This is the only Park Chan-wook film available in America that I hadn't seen yet, so now I feel sort of complete. Set along the military line running between North and South Korea, Joint Security Area begins with a seemingly simple crime that gradually unfolds into a complex and surprisingly touching drama. It begins whens Major Sophie E. Jean (Lee Yeong-ae), a member of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission who is ethnically Korean but raised in Switzerland, is brought on to lead an investigation into some confusing events involving both sides.

South Korean soldier Lee Soo-hyeok (Lee Byung-hun) is found crawling over the border from the Northern side with a wounded leg, claiming he was taken prisoner and escaped by shooting his two guards (Song Kang-ho and Shin Ha-kyun). After speaking to both Northern and Southern soldiers, Jean suspects a cover-up and endeavors to discover the true nature of the crime.

Joint Security Area starts off slowly and a bit muddy, gradually setting up several key characters and their complex situation. It isn't the most welcoming film, but once it settles into its back-and-forth rhythm it becomes a highly engrossing, moving tale. At first I was somewhat confused and unsure about the various characters and what the big event/crime actually was, and couldn't get fully into it. As the story progressed I came to better understand the questions being asked and the motivations of the people involved.

The performances are superb, with several familiar faces (always an exciting thing to me for a foreign film, in which I'm less likely to recognize castmembers). The ever-smashing Song Kang-ho has a wonderful turn as a battle-scarred North Korean sergeant who fiercely stands by his country's values even as he opens himself to an enemy. Lee Byung-hun, who enticed me with his incredible attractiveness in The Good, The Bad, The Weird, displays a versatility and gravitas in this more dramatic performance. At first I didn't recognize Lee Yeong-ae, I think because her character is so different than her starring turn in Lady Vengeance, but she is very interesting here: she's essentially the only woman in the entire movie, has bilingual dialogue, and is the necessary link between the two sides of the crime. She handles the role with strength, but I do think her character's backstory is thrown in there too haphazardly.

While I was utterly captivated and emotionally compromised (trying not to cry on the bus, actually) by the end of the film, the slow start and early narrative problems kept me from fulling loving Joint Security Area. That being said it's an excellent and beautiful movie that subtly explores the "brother against brother" tensions unavoidable in civil war. I admittedly know little about the North/South Korean conflict, and while it's of course steeped in that history, the story is never alienating to the uninformed. Park has evolved into one of the strongest filmmakers of this decade and this is a very good early work.



Friday, August 27, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #5

Alright, time for everyone's favorite part of the week! (Please, let me have my little fantasies.) This entry in the Movie Sketch Project comes courtesy of John Cameron Mitchell's glamorous and gritty rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. While I was walking home from the screening I formulated an idea for an ink-splattered rendering of the poster image, and I think it came out pretty ok. The colors and brightness are a little off though from scanning, but full viewing it will help. Also, fyi for those interested in such matters, I'm selling this stuff on Etsy.

Read on for the Hedwig goodness!

Let me know what you think!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

El Calentito (2005)

The rad video store Hollywood Express had a display for movies with lady rockers towards which I naturally gravitated. It led to several new additions to my netflix queue (yes I feel guilty for not renting right from them), and I kicked off with El Calentito. Set in early-80's Madrid against a politically turbulent atmosphere that eventually leads to a military coup, the story concerns the trials and tribulations of fictional all-girl punk band Las Siux. Their raw, infectious sound (sort of a clash between Bikini Kill and Shonen Knife) has attracted a label executive, but one of their main members leaves the day before they're set to meet him.

After accidentally befriending remaining bandmates Carmen (Ruth Díaz) and Leo (Macarena Gómez), naive and sheltered college student Sara (Verónica Sánchez) is convinced into temporarily joining them so they can perform for the exec in 10 days time. She becomes embroiled in their underground world of drugs, hair dye, homosexuality, and that dang rock and roll music, but primarily sets her sights on losing her virginity and opening up onstage.

If you wish The Runaways had a political backdrop, more gay characters, and a lot more boobs, then El Calentito is for you! It's a really fun little film with great music and likable characters. For the most part it's a comedy, with your typical coming-of-age tropes of a strict upbringing and anti-virginity quest, but the undercurrent of government tension and exploration of gay and trans lifestyles give it a dramatic note to balance out the wacky antics of the band. The acting is sometimes uneven, but I really enjoyed the characters- especially the adorable punk Leo and the outspoken bar owner Antonia.

It may not offer too many new ideas to the music movie genre, but the film certainly accomplishes what it set out to do. It tells an interesting story about an all-female band that is very in charge of itself and explores some of the alternative 80's culture, while throwing in some political commentary and historical references. It's funny and sweet but still able to be taken seriously, and avoids the requisite drug drama. Plus, I dug the music! A celebration of ladies making punk rock! If none of this appeals to you, there really are a number of boobs to be seen. So, there's that.



Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001)

Hey you! Check out the YAM Magazine LGBT Blogathon for a huge collection of great articles on LGBT film.

The Brattle Theatre screened this as part of their "(Some of the) Best of the Oughts" series, and boy howdy was I ready to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch on a big screen. Because it is great. Writer/director/star John Cameron Mitchell adapts his own stage musical into a stunning film debut both hilarious and heartbreaking.

Mitchell plays the titular Hedwig, an East German singer who escaped to the US a year before the wall came down by marrying an American soldier. Just before leaving he (then called Hansel) received a botched sex-change operation that leaves an "angry inch" behind. Hedwig lives as a woman, eventually forming a rock band and inadvertently shaping future goth rock star Tommy Gnosis (Michael Pitt), whom she follows around (we won't use the word "stalks") with her band while he tours major venues.

Piecing together a fascinating and moving story through energetic rock performances, cheeky monologues, and flashbacks, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a bright, saturated, and unabashed musical. Themes of sex, love, and gender identity are boldly explored with honesty and wit, while Hedwig's wild backstory is laid bare with several dreamlike segments. She is a complex character, made harsh and self-absorbed due to past circumstances but ultimately very sympathetic and captivating. Mitchell is so heartfelt and likable in his portrayal, working in equal amounts of imprudent comedy and tearjerking drama. He also has an incredible stage presence when singing.

With a supporting cast that includes a fast-talking Andrea Martin, stage actress Miriam Schor in surprisingly convincing male drag, and a number of wide-eyed yokel extras, not to mention a killer soundtrack and jaw-dropping costumes, Hedwig is generally a real hoot. The script is both funny and tragic, and I loved the back-and-forth mode of storytelling. Sadly I've not yet seen the theatrical version so I'm not sure how it was originally staged, but here Mitchell takes advantage of the filmic medium and works in a number of imaginative visual sequences and cool transitions. There's even an awesome animated sequence for one of the earlier songs.

I guess my only overall complaint is that it moves a bit too quickly, and the ending feels like it's come on too fast. Also Hedwig's marriage is given very little exposition. But really, this movie is super great. See Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The end.


"Tear Me Down"
"Wig in a Box" (this one's been in my head since last week, and that's ok)

My original art for this film is for sale as a print. There's a gig poster, too, also for sale.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lost In Translation (2003)

I hadn't seen Lost in Translation since I was about 16 or 17, when it depressed me to no end and I was in a funk for the rest of the day fueled by sad songs from Iron & Wine. Sheesh, high school, am I right? I've been wanting to revisit it for a while now and had a lovely late-night viewing last week in honor of the Coppola/Peirce LAMB Blogathon. The film follows well-educated but directionless Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), staying in Tokyo while her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) works on an extended shoot.

The story alternates between her and aging actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray), staying at the same hotel to work on a promotional campaign for whiskey. The two bond over their shared loneliness and insomnia, developing a close relationship during their short time together. Bob is stuck in a loveless marriage with two children while Charlotte is beginning to feel trapped and ignored in her own two-year marriage. Their own unstated romance is explored with subtlety and silence.

This is a film characterized by an understated beauty and quiet sadness that linger after the credits roll. So much is communicated with so little explanatory dialogue, with Coppola employing a range of interesting visuals and reserved emotional cues. She captures Tokyo as a bright and colorful but somewhat gritty city, and pinpoints the acute loneliness that expatriates may feel amidst a foreign culture. Her script is quite smart and realistic, with moments of very sweet humor peppering the otherwise pensive, almost minimalistic atmosphere.

Like all of her films so far, Lost in Translation is a movie about well-off white people with first world Problems, and while that's a theme that is bound to get old, she just handles it so well here that I can't really complain (considering that I myself am a white person with first world Problems). The central characters are complex and relatable for me, especially Charlotte. Johansson gives an effortlessly likable and honest performance that appropriately identifies the isolation and uncertainty that can attach themselves to long-term relationships. And I like that she's fairly toned-down and unglamorous in her appearance (though still smoking-hot, of course). Murray is notably self-effacing and adorable in his performance, and treats the old mid-life crisis thing with equal parts comedy and depression.

I think it's fair to say that this movie sticks with you. The understated and insightful script, gorgeously saturated visuals, and ambiguous ending left me thoughtful and disconnected after viewing, but luckily with slightly less depressing effects than my 16-year-old self experienced. It's just a beautiful film in every sense of the word.



Monday, August 23, 2010

Hot Fuzz (2007)

In preparation for our awesome discussion of Edgar Wright on the most recent episode of Some Cast It Hot, I rewatched Hot Fuzz since I hadn't seen it in a few years. As usual, I picked up more little details than I had on previous viewings, a lovely facet of Wright's filmmaking style. The story concerns supercop Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), transferred to the safest village in England after making his comrades in London look bad. He soon latches onto a possible murder plot following several unlikely "accidents" lead to deaths, and with the help of his action movie-obsessed partner Danny (Nick Frost), he works to uncover the small town's mysteries.

Massive shootouts, thrilling chases, geek references, gruesome killings, and crossword puzzles- really, Hot Fuzz has it all. I remember advertisements claiming the film was made by the guys who watched every action movie ever made, and while I imagine that's a stretch, it's an apt claim. It's loaded with action cliches that are handled with witty parodic style and laced with clever dialogue, throwing in a good dosage of gore and thrilling heroics to keep everyone occupied. Despite his slacker persona Pegg is surprisingly believable as a talented no-nonsense cop, and receives generous support from awesome actors like Frost, Jim Broadbent, Paddy Considine, and Timothy Dalton, along with a host of supporting appearances from recognizable British comedians.

Hot Fuzz is just so good. I don't have much to say about it (also I'm pretty sleepy at the time of writing) except that it is an exceptional comedy equally enjoyable as a buddy cop action flick. It starts off slowly and gradually builds with expert comedic timing to a most explosive finish. Wright and Co just make awesome films, and that's all there is to it. Looking forward to finally getting the final entry in the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy!


PS Ok so I know there are a lot of cameos/small appearances in this film from cool actors but I didn't realize the extent of them! I already knew about Cate Blanchett's disguised turn as Angel's ex, but did you know that Peter Jackson is shown briefly as well? And Garth Jennings, director of Son of Rambow and Hitchhiker's Guide, AND Edgar Wright himself as "Shelf Stacker/Voice of Dave". Cool.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Double Team (1997)

This is an actual scene from this movie. For real.OK: JCVD and Dennis Rodman are in an action movie that involves terrorism, guns, high kicks, European travel, and Mickey Rourke, so there was no way I wouldn't want to see Double Team. The utterly nonsensical and convoluted plot sort of goes like this: Jack Quinn (Van Damme) is a retired anti-terrorist superspy living in France with his pregnant wife. When mercenary assassin Stavros (Mickey Rourke) steals plutonium to... do something bad? maybe?... Quinn is re-enlisted. He misses his target, Stavros's son ends up dead, and our hero ends up in a near-exact replica of The Prisoner. Then he busts out and finds out his girlfriend is kidnapped (apparently?), and he teams up with weapons dealer Yaz (Dennis Rodman) and they travel around Europe with suspicious ease to take down Stavros (who's pissed about his son) once and for all. That's sort of what it's about. In a way.

Oh jeez, this is one of the most awesomely ridiculous movies. At first I was taken aback and confused by how little the story made any kind of sense, but as it progressed and it got crazier and crazier I was able to just sit back and enjoy. The fights are pretty spectacular, the dialogue is beyond cheesy, and Denis Rodman's wardrobe and hairstyle changes are fascinating and frequent. There's a tiger fight, skydiving, landmines, a toeknife, an underwater battle, and an exploding Colosseum. Van Damme does some high kicks, Rourke boxes, and Rodman relates all of his actions to basketball in irrelevant metaphors.

While Double Team certainly comes off as raucous, campy fun, it was definitely trying to be a mostly serious action thriller, so its unintentional hilarious effects are almost sad. The completely weird and unnecessary Prisoner tangent, the child-killing, and the pregnant-wife kidnapping all point to an attempt at a more intelligent type of film, but it's written so stupidly that nothing works. It's funny as hell, sure, but I felt really lost both narratively and thematically during the earlier parts of the film before I had a handle on the craziness. Generally, it's a very strange and very entertaining action movie with kickass actors, intense action scenes, and a laughably inexplicable plot. Good times.

As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 4/5


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some Cast It Hot, Ep. 4: We Are Sex Bob-omb!

Oh lookie it's time for another tantalizing episode of Some Cast It Hot, the beyond-excellent podcast featuring Allison from Nerdvampire, Caitlin from 1416 and Counting, Sasha from The Final Girl Project, and yours truly! This week we've got Edgar Wright fever for real, digging into his earlier projects Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz, and making our way up to his most recent awesome film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. There's also some discussion of b-movies, comic books, and Soviet love nests. So there's something for everyone, really. There were a few setbacks regarding scheduling and internet access, but doggonit we made it and Sasha did a wonderful speedy editing job! Check it out here, on podomatic, or in itunes and let us know what you think, please! Comment here or send an email to somecastithot@gmail.com. Rad!


Al Pacino vs. Robert De Niro Weekend

For the past few years my guy has held a movie marathon spotlighting the films of heavyweight actors Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, and this time around he rented out a screening room at our local theater. It was lovely to have air conditioning, extra seating, a big screen, and popcorn! I'm notably under-educated when it comes to the films of both these men, so several were new to me which was nice. I'd always thought myself more of a De Niro supporter, but I'm coming around on Pacino after seeing two more of his Oscar-nominated roles. We took in four films, alternating between each actor. Don't worry, there's no Heat or Righteous Kill here.

Midnight Run (1988)
I came in to this one late since I was taking a bus back from NJ, but luckily I'd seen it before and already knew it is completely awesome and one of the best buddy road trip movies ever. De Niro is a lonely no-nonsense bounty hunter paired with Charles Grodin as a neurotic mob accountant on a harrowing journey from New York to Los Angeles filled with wacky mishaps, great characters, and a fair number of gutbusters. I came in right when our heroes were conning a small-town bar to get hold of some twenties. Good times all around, no question.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Wow. I'll admit I've never been that interested in Al Pacino and didn't really understand what the big deal was, but now I get it. I totally do. His wide-eyed portrayal of the real-life Sonny Wortzik, a down-on-his-luck bank robber whose supposedly simple heist turns into a high-profile day-long hostage situation, is astounding. The Lumet-directed story is intriguing and well-paced, almost playing out in real time to slowly uncover the details surrounding the bank job and Sonny's motivations. The supporting cast- including a superb Chris Sarandon and adorable Carol Kane (!)- is excellent, slipping in and out of lightly comedic moments and incredibly tense and dramatic ones. It's just a really great film all around.

The King of Comedy (1982)
Ooooh Scorsese perfectly balances manic creepiness with genuine hilarity in this wonderfully dark comedy starring De Niro. He is strange and sometimes frightening in his role as aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin, who'll do anything (anything) to see his fantasy of being friends and partners with successful show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis) come true. There's a great blend of daydreams and real life that becomes harder to separate for Pupkin but easier for the audience as the story progresses. For me Sandra Bernhard is the real standout as the downright unsettling but incredibly funny Masha, a serious Langford stalker who teams up with Pupkin when things turn really dark.

Scent of a Woman (1992)
Then it was time for the more Hallmarky part of our marathon, with Chris O'Donnell playing a lower-class prep school student who takes a temporary job as a caretaker to blind, cantankerous veteran Frank Slade (Al Pacino). They take a surprise trip to New York so Frank can knock out his bucket list with a "weekend of pleasures"- namely a fine hotel, an expensive meal, a lady of the night, and a suicide. The somewhat sappy script is elevated by truly fantastic performances and surprise appearances by young Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bradley Whitford, and Gabrielle Anwar. The story is predictable and I didn't really care about the prep school subplot, but it's populated with several moments of true humor, tension, and insight. And coincidentally, this was the second film directed by Martin Brest! We didn't even realize! That dude makes long films. (Also: good ones.)

Thanks for the good times, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro! See you again next year!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #4

Alright I'm sort of phoning it in today, I'm really sorry but I had a headache while working on this (and still do) and am just generally having a bad art-week (any drawing ability I do possess tends to come and go without warning). When I was watching Sweeney Todd while working on last week's ink drawings, I knew I'd want to do something based on that film. I love the color scheme and detailed 19th century costumes so I figured it'd be right up my alley. I wimped out when my initial idea didn't come out the way I'd intended and wound up with a passable, cartoony full-figure pencil and pen drawing of Mr Todd and Mrs Lovett holding their weapons of choice. I'm sure it's been done before and to much better effect, and I apologize for being lame. BUT! I promise I have an awesome idea for next week's entry that I'm really excited about! Click ahead for the Sweeney Todd sketch to hold you over until then!

Also: I'd like to thank the latest episodes of the MILFcast and The Film Enigma for providing the background entertainment while working on this drawing.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Other Guys (2010)

I take a two day vacation to the beach and the nice sunny one gives me sunburn and the other one is rainy and cloudy. Sigh. So my mother, brother, and I took in a showing of The Other Guys, since apparently it wasn't as bad as the trailers hinted. Parodying the buddy cop movies of the 80's and 90's, the film partners Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell), a paperwork-loving nerd, with Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), an aggressive street cop shamed after accidentally shooting Derek Jeter.

Their clashing personalities lead to heated arguments and botched operations but they eventually form a sincere friendship while working on an investment fraud case involving the weasely David Arshon (Steve Coogan). Even though their coworkers- including Captain Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton)- doubt the case is even real, Allen and Terry press on with dubious methods and plenty of bickering.

I'd pretty much given up on Will Ferrell, as he hasn't been in anything I've liked since Stranger Than Fiction. His over the top theatrics and man-boy persona just annoy me, really. But I was fairly impressed with his turn in The Other Guys, in which he has a more downplayed and (somewhat) intelligent persona. He still has some manic outbursts and stupid character traits, but generally I found him pretty likable. The fact that he's working alongside such a talented comedic cast is of course helpful! A short-lived appearance from Sam Jackson and Dwayne Johnson as the ultimate badass cops is perfectly handled, and the supporting turns from Michael Keaton, Anne Heche, Eva Mendes, and Rob Riggle are great. I always enjoy Steve Coogan so much even though he continues to not find an audience in the US. And of course, Mark Wahlberg: what a guy. He's easy to make fun of, but I really do think he's a great comedic actor and he's very funny and likable here.

The script is surprisingly clever, aptly parodying the action genre with self-aware dialogue, and I found myself laughing almost despite myself sometimes. Unfortunately the criminal plot itself starts off unintelligible and ends up taking a few unfunny turns (the whole "Allen used to be a pimp" thing? Just idiotic). I know the story isn't actually important and is irrelevant to the success of the most of the humor, but it was a drawback for me since I felt lost during any of the expository conversations. Throw in a sort of emotionally abusive husband-wife relationship and too many emasculating jokes and The Other Guys is held back from being an all-out uproarious comedy. That being said, it's still really quite funny, with some great running gags and excellent performances.


Further Reading:
Flick Chick review
Frankly My Dear podcast review
Joel Crary review


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Willow (1988)

I'm always down for some cheesy fantasy, though the promise of a young Val Kilmer and smiley Warwick Davis are already enough incentive. The Ron Howard-directed Willow stars Davis as the eponymous hero, a member of the dwarfish "Nelwyns" who wishes to be a great sorcerer but repeatedly fails the test to become an apprentice. His young children discover an abandoned human baby girl and Willow is assigned the task of taking her back to her people. Turns out she's the prophesied savior of the land and the evil Queen Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) wants to capture her to perform a special ritual that will crush the prophesy's prediction. It's up to Willow and wiley swordsman Madmartigan (Val Kilmer) to protect the child and bring her to safety.

Effectively a combination of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars (George Lucas wrote the story), this film is an enjoyable but unremarkable family-friendly fantasy tale. The effects are outdated, the story is predictable and notably derivative (then again what isn't?), the jokes are cheesy, and the characters are grossly under-developed. The main lady/romantic interest (Joanne Whalley) is given very few lines and seems unbelievably changeable to me. Plus, everyone in this film is mad racist against Nelwyns. It's a little unsettling.

However, Willow is full of a lot of things I dug! Warwick Davis is incredibly likable and I was impressed with his performance as a husband and father considering he was 18 at the time. He handles the role with humor and charisma, and makes me sort of like the lame baby he's always worrying about, which is a true credit to his acting ability. Kilmer is the Han Solo of the group, effortlessly portraying an overconfident and untrustworthy scamp who eventually betrays his courageous nature. There are a number of fun creatures and magical happenings that keep the proceedings interesting, from a two-headed (and hungry) monster to a high-speed snow race. The visuals are generally lovely and detailed, though not especially inventive.

I would have really loved Willow as a kid, and that's cool. Seeing it now I found it enjoyable enough for the excellent performance and fanciful atmosphere, though the script was a bit lacking.



Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Death 4 Told (2004)

For those who don't follow his words ceaselessly, the unparalleled Great White Dope held a contest on his blog for which the winner received a signed copy of the notably awful horror anthology Death 4 Told, in which he has a small role. A stipulation of winning this treasure was watching it and writing a review of it, so here I am: winner, but also loser. From "Master of Horror" Bo Buckley, the film features four unconnected (I think) short stories about different white people affected by the supernatural.

In "The Doll's House", a young couple moves into a large and suspiciously affordable new house only to discover that the previous tenants' dead son still frequents the place. In "Folklore", a group of college-ish guys and gals find Native American demons on a camping trip gone bloodily awry. The crew of a ghosthunter tv show meet real (and violent) ghosts for the first time in "World's Most Haunted". And finally, a phony psychic played by, for some reason, Margot Kidder is shocked when her tarot cards start correctly predicting death for all her customers in "The Pscyhic".

There's so much and yet also so little to say about this film. It's really bad, no doubt about it, but it also doesn't seem to be trying very hard so it's not even entertaining. The acting is shoddy and amateur, sure, but rarely ventures into completely over the top, tending to stay in the stilted "middle school theater production" range. Margot Kidder does her best to lend some credibility to the proceedings with her turn as a frightened tarot reader with a fake French accent, but it's not much use when the script is dull and predictable. Then Tom Savini shows up for a minute.

The first two stories are incredibly forgettable, with little in the way of horror, character, or interest. (Of course Dope's gleeful performance as a local drunk in "The Doll's House" is an exception.) "World's Most Haunted" is the best of the set, utilizing a premise similar to that of the far superior Pontypool: A character is trapped in the middle of a zombie-ish attack and forced to experience its effects through a secondary source (here it's night-vision video feeds). It's not necessarily good, and it employs the tired "haunted mental institution" trope, but it has the beginnings of a potentially cool short and is the only one that effectively communicates a little fear and tension. "The Psychic" is better made than the others, but that's not saying much.

Death 4 Told is just boring, really. The "tales of terror" don't even reach levels of slight creepiness, and everything is quite mediocre. For the most part it's not bad enough to even be funny, just middling. Ah well, now I know.


Further Reading:
Great White Dope review (yeah, he reviewed his own movie)


Happy 101 Thingie

I was tagged a little while ago by both Peter at Magic Lantern and Anna at Life of a Cinephile and Bibliophile but I haven't had a chance to post about it. So, thanks dudes! I have to come up with a list of things that bring me joy, which shouldn't be too difficult since I have a lot of hobbies. I know this meme has been going around for a while and I'm not sure who hasn't done it yet so I'll just leave it open to anyone reading this who wants to take part! Also I'm too lazy to find people to tag, oops.

Click ahead for some things that bring me joy:

-Working! I just got a job yesterday after looking for over three months. It's been exhausting and really stressful and I'm just really relieved. I hate feeling useless so I'm looking forward to having something to do with my time that will also give me money.

-Music in general, but especially Broken Social Scene. Their music is both achingly beautiful and wonderfully sensual, and I could listen to them every day without ever tiring of it. I'm seeing them perform in September and I am beyond excited. Also once I got to talk to Kevin Drew on the phone when my friends met the band at SXSW. Highlight of my life so far? Basically. I also find great enjoyment in badass lady rockers like PJ Harvey, Emily Haines, Patti Smith, Kathleen Hannah, Joan Jett, Ari Up, Corinne Tucker, Louise Post, and Kim Deal.

-Art in basically any form. I may not love every movement or artist, but I can always respect anything that's creative and expressive. I think I could lose myself in almost any art museum and find lasting happiness.

-On a related note, Making Art. I'm not very good at it and I often don't have the drive to do anything interesting, but those days when I can really get into it and become completely absorbed in something I'm drawing or painting are truly lovely.

-My Favorite Foods. I may be a notoriously picky eater, but I find great pleasure in the things I do love eating, which usually means good Italian pasta or a tasty dish from a Japanese Hibachi steakhouse. I'm also a sucker for Funfetti cake, mmmm. And peanut butter, because oh jeez, it's the perfect spread.

-Having a Nice Chat. I am extremely talkative, as anyone who's heard me on a podcast has likely noted, and I really just enjoy good conversation, either with old friends or new acquaintances. I love when you can change topics like crazy and then later wonder how you started off talking about butterflies but landed on reciting lyrics from mid-90's hip hop.

-Organizing. You can call it obsessive compulsive disorder if you want, but I don't mind that I have a sincere desire to straighten and alphabetize everything I see. It's really comforting, and I feel both a sense of accomplishment after organizing a group of something as well as slight disappointment that I'm done with the job.

-Sci-fi and Fantasy books. Since I was a kid I've been obsessed with all things magical and futuristic, and continue to find delight in such fare, from Farel Dalrymple's surreal comics to Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch series.

-Finally, The Cinema. Duh. Movies have become so integral to my daily life and conversation, and I don't mind a bit. There are few things more satisfying than getting lost in a really good movie, I'd say. Being the severely visually-minded person that I am, it's the perfect medium for me to absorb new stories, characters, and ideas. And writing about them is pretty satisfying, too, especially when it leads to meeting so many other fine film fanatics!


Monday, August 16, 2010

Metropolis (1927): 2010 Restoration

Last week I re-watched the original version of Fritz Lang's seminal sci-fi film Metropolis and then caught a special screening of the restored version at the Brattle Theatre. It was pretty swell to see such a visual treasure on a big screen and in its most complete form. My review and comparison of the different versions is up now at 366 Weird Movies, and I'd love it if you gave it a read! It was also the subject of last week's Movie Sketch Project, in case you missed it.


Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

While I was working on the latest Movie Sketch Project, I suddenly came down with a case of the Musicals, finding Sweeney Todd to be the best remedy after listening to (and singing loudly along with) both the Broadway Revival and film soundtracks whilst making breakfast. Now you know how these things happen. Tim Burton's take on the darkly comic classic stars (who else?) Johnny Depp as the titular barber, who is back from a 13-year stint at a penal colony under a false charge, and he is ready for some serious revenge.

The lascivious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) had him sent away so he could seduce Todd's beautiful wife Lucy (Laura Michelle Kelly), but in an unexpected turn of events she poisons herself and Turpin adopts her baby daughter Johanna (Jayne Wisener). Todd quickly sets up a barber shop in his old establishment above a seedy pie shop run by Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham-Carter), and the two of them strike up a deadly partnership that leads to hearty cannibalism and egregious throat-slitting, while our hero bides his time for the one man he has sworn to kill to come in for a shave.

Sweeney Todd is one of my absolute favorite stage musicals (itself based on an 1846 penny-dreadful); the brilliant 2005 Broadway staging probably inspired me more than any other performance I've seen (and I've seen a good number). Thus you can deduce that I was thrilled that it would see a film adaptation from visual innovator Tim Burton but reserved in my excitement since it could never live up to the play. As a movie it suffers from the symptoms of most musical adaptations: several of the best songs are cut, the lead actors aren't strong singers, the story is reduced for time, etc. There's just no way it could be faithfully translated from stage to screen in a mainstream film.

Despite these negative aspects, it's really quite a good movie. The script maintains the appropriate levels of horror and humor set against Burton's gorgeous and atmospheric backdrop of grungy Victorian London. With its fast-paced Sondheim tunes and intricate, character-heavy narrative, little time is wasted but there is still a fine attention to detail. While I missed some of the sub-plots and character nuances from the source material, what's important is that its devilish and morbidly funny spirit is definitely preserved. Depp and Bonham-Carter gleefully latch onto their deranged roles with dedicated and slightly exaggerated performances. Rickman plays it straight as the odious Judge Turpin, making him both a formidable villain and a ridiculous suitor to his underage ward.

The smaller parts are cast with actors who are actually singers, which is quite nice, but then most of their songs are cut out, so it didn't matter all that much. Depp (who trained intensively with a vocal coach) does a surprisingly good job with his numerous and varied songs, but unfortunately it's Bonham-Carter who falters in the musical department. She's absolutely perfect as in the role of Mrs Lovett, but she just doesn't have the voice to carry her multiple songs, many of which are expository. I almost wish she'd been dubbed, loath as I am to suggest it, and because she is my favorite character in the show I did feel the difference more keenly.

Setting aside my gripes concerning its adaptational merits, Sweeney Todd is a visually stunning, wonderfully dark musical comedy whose subject matter is well-tailored to Burton's recognizable hand. Its central characters are charming in their mania as they flit about London with little conscience until, of course, their actions catch up with them in a dramatic, swelling finale. The ending is eerie and unflinchingly true to the original, which I appreciated.


Original art for this film


Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Expendables (2010)

Ok, ok, so I have to admit upfront that I am one of the seemingly few people who wasn't super-psyched for this movie, because I don't especially care for (or am not familiar with) Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, or Jet Li. I love Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzeneger, but knew they'd only have cameos, so really the main thing for me was Mickey Rourke, who is awesome... but not really in it that much. Suffice to say that with The Expendables we do not exactly get what was advertised.

Vilena, a made-up island in South America, is suffering all sorts of Problems brought on by a puppet dictator (David Zayas) and his greedy American master Munroe (Eric Roberts, aka "Julia Roberts's brother"), so the mysterious Mr Church (Bruce Willis) assigns Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his team of mercenaries to investigate and take him down so the poor Latino villagers can be saved or whatever. There are complications when Ross figures out that Munroe is ex-CIA and they're just being used to do the Agency's dirty work and will probably be killed afterward (because they're, wait for it... expendable). Also there's a rebel lady (Giselle Itié) who's the dictator general's daughter and Ross likes her I guess or something so she has to be saved from the bad guys.

The story is basically Commando with more characters, less women, and inferior pacing, which is fine in an "80's Action Movie Throwback" kind of way, but frustrating for a movie made (and taking place) two decades later. Structurally the narrative is choppy, with several back-and-forth location switches and a lot of temporarily convenient characters. The forced romantic subplot involving Jason Statham and Charisma Carpenter is unnecessary and seemed thrown in haphazardly just to rack up another female personage to victimize. The dialogue is mostly cheesy, but not always in a good way. All in all, the film needs to be either more serious or more campy, because currently it's just sitting clumsily in the middle.

This is almost completely Stallone and Statham's movie, with a few great supporting action scenes from Li, Lundgren, and Terry Crews. It's got a definite "I'm naming my successor" vibe. Rourke has zero action moments and is instead relegated to a totally awesome but really sad tattoo artist who reminisces about his time in a more violent line of work. His big monologue serves to remind us that oh yeah, he didn't win that Oscar. Damn. I really enjoyed him in it but he was severely under-used, possibly because he was busy shooting something else.

For all the hackneyed plotting, cliche conversation, and general stereotypes, The Expendables has these really excellent scenes peppered throughout that remind viewers of how badass it could be. The Schwarzenegger/Willis cameo was the highlight of my day, and made me want to watch The Terminator and Die Hard simultaneously, somehow. There are a number of satisfying explosions, surprisingly grisly shoot-outs, and well-choreographed fight scenes that blew me away. Unfortunately several of these were filmed in the dead of night and in severe shaky-cam close-up, which didn't exactly sit well with the person stuck in the very front row (me).

Basically, if you really want to see Dolph Lundgren battling Jet Li, this movie is for you. If you really want to see Stone Cold Steve Austin wrestle Sylvester Stallone, this movie is for you. If you really want to see Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Sylvester Stallone hang out for a few minutes, this movie is for you. Otherwise, just watch Commando, because The Expendables does not deliver on its gimmicky badass casting promises despite moments of excellence.


Further Reading:
Snarky's Machine review


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Knowing (2009)

So I'm living with a dude who kind of has a thing for Nic Cage, citing that even though he isn't always in the best movies, he always gives his all to every performance and is never boring to watch. I guess for this reason he rented Knowing on blu-ray, and by golly we sure did watch it! Admittedly I was curious since I like director Alex Proyas. The story surrounds an elementary school time capsule from 1959 that contains a sheet of paper filled edge to edge with mysterious numbers.

When the capsule is unearthed in 2009, precocious student Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) brings the paper home and shows his father John (Nicolas Cage), an astrophysicist and professor at MIT, who then picks out a pattern that details the dates, death rate, and locations of several large-scale disasters of the past 50 years, with three left in the future. He rushes around the Boston area trying to learn more about the numbers' writer and her family while also avoiding creepy pale guys that keep following his son around. There are some explosions.

What could this mean? Trust me, it doesn't make much sense in context of the film either.Knowing starts off with an intriguing premise and an eerie, atmospheric style that commands attention. Sure, Nic Cage isn't the most convincing astrophysicist, but I could look past that because I was interested in the apocalyptic mystery and creepy pale dudes following him around. As the film progresses, the plot just gets stupider and stupider, with the awkward introduction of new characters and an ending at least as bogus as Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull's. I couldn't take it seriously anymore, and for the most part we just riffed on it to keep things interesting.

The film is populated with awesome disaster movie moments, including a massive plane crash and a smokey finale that I really appreciated. Proyas's eye for intense and effective visuals cannot be denied, and it's a shame his cinematic talents are wasted on such a lackluster story. The acting is as hokey as I'd expect from a big-budget Cage flick, but not much could be done for the clumsily-developed characters. The script is uninspired and increasingly predictable, with Proyas seemingly ripping off his own ideas from Dark City even though he doesn't have a writing credit (actually, spoiler alert, this movie could be seen as a kind of prequel to that far superior movie if you think about it).

Knowing could have been a pretty kickass mystery/thriller/disaster movie, but for the most part it's a disappointment. I really liked some of its basic concepts and the big disaster scenes are done really well despite heavy use of CGI, but alas, there isn't much to recommend it. Fun to make fun of, though! ...But not enough to be worth it.


Further Reading:
If Reviews Could Kill review


Friday, August 13, 2010

"Films That Defined Us" Blogathon

Hey, movie community! Marc over at Go, See, Talk! has developed an excellent blogathon premise titled: The Films That Defined Us. We'll be talking about some of the movies that we loved as kids- the ones that inspired our cinephilia, or developed certain tastes within us, or had us destroying the VHS tape from too many repeat viewings.

I broke mine down into 8 films that I watched often in grammar school (that's pre-K through 8th grade for you non New Jerseyans). Each had some sort of impact on my tastes or understanding of film and storytelling, and I'll wager that they're not all what most people might expect from me. List after the jump, organized by date of release.

Pollyanna (1960)
This didn't actually have that much of an effect on my future movie tastes, I don't think, but I watched it so much as a kid I thought it worth mentioning. My copy actually belonged to my nanny (babysitter who lived with me, not grandma), who had a major influence on what I watched during my formative years. I loved Pollyanna because of its old-timey feel and how quaint Hayley Mills is, but I think a big part of it was that I was intrigued by a movie that was older and not very well known (at least not by my peers)- just the idea that these great films exist outside the commercials on tv. Eventually I developed a taste for classics and today I continue to seek out lesser-seen films, so I do feel a connection between my experience with Pollyanna and moviegoing habits today.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)
Here's one I'll still enjoy today. It has a delightful old-timeyness to it as well, and for a time I thought it was made much earlier than 1968. The epic journey, catchy songs, and slight magic to it all greatly inspired child Alex (who, incidentally, was adorable), and to this day I'm a fiend for musicals and fantasy adventures. Dick Van Dyke is delightful, and everybody else is super British. I loved all the wacky inventions and the thought of a time period when everything was changing so quickly (it escaped my immediate notice that I was living in a similar era). Interesting fact that I learned only when I saw the Broadway play a few years ago: The script is co-written by Roald Dahl, and it's based on a story by Ian Fleming. Cool, huh?

Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983)
Alright, I can only assume this will be on everyone's list, but it's well-deserved! I also got these from my nanny, who loves science fiction and definitely instilled that life-long interest in me. I loved everything about Star Wars, from the destiny-fueled journey to the badass lightsaber fights. It was The Empire Strikes Back that left the biggest impression: that was the first time I'd ever seen a movie in which the bad guys won in the end. The idea fascinated me, that maybe sometimes good guys didn't win in the end, and now I almost always enjoy unfortunate or twist endings.

Grease (1978)
My best friend/neighbor and I used to watch this movie an unhealthy amount of times a month when we were in 3rd or 4th grade, along with Batman & Robin (discussed later) and Weird Al music videos. These were our tastes. We used to take turns singing along as different characters, but Sandy was so lame we'd have to fight for Danny's parts. The sexual innuendo tangentially taught me some things about adulthood (like what a hickie is). I love musicals, I love the 50's, and I love people who frequently dye their hair, so Grease still plays a major part in my interests today. I also enjoy makeovers and changing personalities to please a love interest. For even more disclosure I will admit that I have totally seen Grease 2 multiple times. Of my own volition.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)
My favorite Disney movie, still, it was also my first Broadway play (which I've seen 3 times total). The story is the right amount of fantasy, romance, and comedy (Lumiere still cracks me up), and the animation is gorgeous. I identified so strongly with the character of Belle, moreso than I did with any other girl in a family film. She's incredibly independent, intelligent, outspoken, and an avid bookworm, and I could both relate and look up to her when I was young. As I grew up I became increasingly interested in the feminist movement and I think characters like Belle laid some of the groundwork.

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)
It's a well-known fact in my family that my dad and I have almost exactly the same off-beat and stupid sense of humor, often to my mother's chagrin. My love for Mel Brooks was instilled early by my father, and Men in Tights is the first one I remember him showing me. And then I obsessed over it for weeks. I already had something of a crush on Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride, and the addition of sword fights, musical numbers, blind jokes, and Dave Chappelle ensured its enduring power over me. To this day it's one of the 5 or so movies I can quote word for word. And to this day I remain a fan of really silly movies.

Pride & Prejudice (1995)
I know this is technically a miniseries, but it's quite relevant! This shows off my mom's influence over my tastes, which include everything Jane Austen, British, romantic, and period piecey. I remember the night she decided to start showing me the BBC Pride & Prejudice tapes, and it was like I had reached a step in maturity, like I was finally deemed ready. It later became one of my favorite books, and I've continued to seek intelligent female authors and women-centric romance films ever since. Plus my mom and I still love to sit down and watch cute romantic comedies and dramatic period pieces from time to time. Hell, who else would see The Young Victoria or Coco Before Chanel with me?

Batman & Robin (1997)
Ok, big secret movie confession that isn't really all that secret: I have seen Batman & Robin more times than anyone can count, and I love it, and I know all of Poison Ivy's lines, and for a long time this is the only thing I identified George Clooney with. It was part an obsession shared with the same neighbor who loved Grease (she was Poison Ivy for Halloween), and we were never able to explain why we loved it so much. We only knew it was usually the movie we wanted to watch at any given moment, once in a while broken up by a viewing of Batman Forever. Hell, I feel like watching it right now but my VHS copy's back home. In terms of my cinephile development, I think this is a good early hint of my love for cheesy and campy action films, and my eventual adoration for superheroes in any medium. To bring it all together, I was pretty psyched when I saw Barbarella for the first time and realized Uma Thurman's monkey suit striptease was a reference to the zero-gravity opening scene.

There we are. A bunch of sort of disparate movies that influenced a lot of my movie tastes in later years. Cool. What about you guys?


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #3

I know this is a Friday series, but tomorrow is the Films That Defined Us Blogathon so I'm doing it early. Plus I'm at the beach and don't feel like writing about movies all the time, for once.

Ok I'm mixing it up a little today with a film that I haven't written about this week, but did see: Metropolis. I re-watched the original release and then saw the restored version at the Brattle Theatre, and it was pretty awesome. There's no review yet because I wrote about it for 366 Weird Movies and it won't be published until next week (I will let you know!). This time around I found myself totally captivated by Brigitte Helm's strange and twitchy performance as the robot doppelganger of the saintly revolutionary Maria. She's sort of creepy and sexy all at once, it's so awesome. Thus inspired, I did a diptych of the original Machine Man and its humanoid version as played by Helm. I don't often use brushes for ink drawings (usually I enjoy the precision of pen) but I think it came out mostly ok? They are cropped and a little muddled from the scanner, so please be kind. Click ahead to gaze upon the activity that dominated my Sunday and Monday afternoons.

Again if anyone is interested in purchasing anything, let me know. Most things I make I'm willing to part with for under $25. Also I'm still unemployed... This pair is for sale in my etsy shop. The original works, not a print!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)

Alright, free preview screening! With Edgar Wright, Anna Kendrick, Michael Cera, and Jason Schwartzman in tow! I'm a lucky lady, I know, and I'm not here to gloat. I'm just here to tell you that this movie is seriously great, not just for comic, video game, and Toronto nerds, but for people who enjoy looking at large screens upon which pleasant imagery is projected. Based on Bryan Lee O'Malley's 6-part graphic novel series, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World reaffirms Wright's complete mastery of stylish self-aware comedies.

Shortly after falling for the rollerblading delivery girl Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the titular bassist Scott (Michael Cera) learns that he'll have to defeat her seven evil exes if he plans on dating her. He also juggles band practice with Sex Bob-omb (Mark Webber and Allison Pill), a teenage stalker (Ellen Wong), a gossipy roommate (Kieran Culkin) and sister (Anna Kendrick), and the return of his own evil ex, Envy Adams (Brie Larson), who's become a sellout rock star since their breakup. There are a lot of video game references and dramatic battles in this fairly surreal and colorful world.

Well I am a big fan of the comics and of Edgar Wright and of movies that fuse multiple genres into a tasty smoothie of enjoyability, so I was definitely set to love Scott Pilgrim vs The World. I was worried about how the source material would translate, and I'm so, so impressed with how Wright and co-writer Michael Bacall handled it. There's a perfect mix of dialogue and sight gags lifted from the comic and new jokes that still suit the wacky tone, resulting in one of the funniest movies I've seen this year. It condenses the story accurately without losing too much of the fun characters and eager atmosphere.

The casting is surprisingly inspired, and though it's huge none of the characters get lost. Say what you will about Michael Cera, but he really nails the lovable cluelessness inherent to Scott and rocks the fight scenes. The evil exes are excellent, from Chris Evans's furrowed-browy movie star to Mae Whitman's angry ninja. I loved Allison Pill and Ellen Wong, both playing Scott's former girlfriends, but unfortunately the former is under-used and the Kim character (aka the best character) is cut down for time and pacing reasons. Sigh. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is pretty cool as Ramona, tapping into that standoffish edge and ultracool demeanor. And Jason Schwartzman is Gideon, so no complaints there.

But the best, clearly, is Kieran Culkin as Wallace Wells, Scott's gay roommate and the other best character. He's hilarious, sarcastic, immoral, and delightfully seductive, and I'm so glad that his role wasn't curtailed for the film. What a guy. Also great job, casting director, for realizing that Aubrey Plaza is amazing as the dour Julie Powers and should be in more movies.

Wright's films are characterized by such boundless enthusiasm it's almost impossible to not get swept up in the fun. He packs in a range of inventive battle scenes (laden with video game and comic book stylization), throws some goofy visual triggers in there, and keeps the pace up and energy high without forgetting to slow things down once in a while with character-driven moments or quieter jokes. He translates so much of O'Malley's distinctive style and humor and amps it up with wild imagination and sheer joy for the project.

The film isn't perfect. I don't think. It was scripted and filmed before O'Malley had actually finished the series, so the writers drew from his notes and their own ideas to construct an ending. It's similar to the comic's actual ending, but places more of the strength and hero antics on Scott, leaving Ramona a more passive character than she is in the book. I found that somewhat frustrating, but in the wake of everything that's so good about the film it's not a major drawback, and it's also not a big surprise. I lamented the lack of Kim Pine backstory and awesomeness, but I understand it from an adaptational point of view and Allison Pill definitely owns the scenes she does get.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World is one of the best comic-to-film adaptations I've ever seen, while working extremely well by itself as a totally awesome movie. It's got comedy, fights, bisexuality, homosexuality, heterosexuality, video games, ninjas, and a lady who dyes her hair as much as I do, so all told it's just Rad. Plus the soundtrack is completely kickass, with new songs from Beck, Broken Social Scene, and Metric to fill in for the fictional bands represented.

I rarely give 5 stars on a first viewing and I definitely want to see it again as soon as possible, so we'll see if it warrants a rating change later. It's certainly close!


PS Wright and castmembers were really nice and funny for the Q&A. A lot of the audience asked totally dumb or irrelevant questions, but I still learned some interesting behind-the-scenes information. And Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman wish they were dating each other. Also Jason Schwartzman looks like a John Lennon/Ringo Starr combo doppelganger. Adorable.

Check out my original art for this film. I made a poster too and it's for sale.