Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996)

I think by now it's well-established that I completely adore Kids in the Hall. When the show ended after its fifth season due to various outside projects and hugely inflated egos, it was able to have a finale in the form of full-length feature Brain Candy. The film combines several well-known characters and sketch themes with new protagonists, weaving together a cautionary tale about a reserved scientist (Kevin McDonald) who invents a pill to cure depression.

He soon catapults to stardom with the backing of powerful pharmaceutical CEO Don Roritor (Mark McKinney), leaving his assistant scientists (Scott Thompson, Bruce McDonald, and also Mark McKinney) in the dust until he finds out there's a serious side effect to his creation. Everyone plays a range of side characters- including a callous cab driver, even-toned rock star, homosexual family man in denial, and dedicated executive assistant- and unfortunately my favorite Kid Dave Foley isn't in it too much since by this time he'd started on Newsradio. Sigh.

Anyway. I know they were all having various problems with one another while making this movie, so it's a bittersweet project, but generally I find it a good end to the show and a very enjoyable movie. There are plenty of nods to the tv series in various side characters and in the idea of multiple roles itself. Like the show, this is a dark and surreal comedy, with much of its humor derived from how awful depression is, how over-medicated modern society is, and how ridiculous these people are in general. It's certainly uneven, but then again so was the show. The Kids often like to substitute pure weirdness for actual comedy, something I find endearing but many others find alienating.

For me, Brain Candy is filled with enough delightful tidbits of hilarious off-kilter dialogue and wacky moments to thoroughly entertain and adequately sate my thirst for KITH shenanigans, along with a decent and surprisingly cohesive story propelled primarily by some fun performances from Kevin McDonald and Mark McKinney. On one level it's an exaggerated but topical commentary on drug companies' attitudes toward their customers, and on another it's just a goofy explosion of both new and familiar characters with a lot of surreal and unexpected jokes. Everyone is great in it, from Bruce McCulloch's unhappy musician to Scott Thompson's tea-pouring grandma to Dave Foley's gruff son (who gets in my favorite line- "So I hear Dad's dead. Hey! Is that eggnog?"). There's even a cameo from Brendan Fraser! Awesome!


Pair This Movie With: Dave Foley's The Wrong Guy is a good match in ridiculous, surreal humor. Or check out KITH's recent miniseries Death Comes to Town. Or if you want a more serious take on depression and medication, Prozac Nation is interesting.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Movie Sketch #14 (UPDATED)

Here we go guys, another Movie Sketch Project! (That thing in which I make some art for a movie I reviewed this week.) I was rather taken with Ms Cleopatra Jones on Monday, and conceived of a design that showcased her super awesome fro. I spent a lot of time working out how the letters could be composed, striving to make it look like her hair was covering up the words, but I'm not sure I quite captured it since I was working with some tricky inks. Oh well. I hope to make an altered version in photoshop when I have time (so many ideas, so little time!), and maybe turn it into a cool poster. We'll see! For now click ahead to see the painted version! It's cropped, unfortunately, since my scanner's too small.

Hmm it's not for sale at the moment (unless someone's interested?), but maybe the digital poster version will be. Other stuff is available, though.

UPDATE: After some painstaking digital coloring, I've turned the pencil drawing into what I believe is a pretty rockin' print, and closer to the original idea I had in mind anyway. The image is posted below, and it's for sale!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Six-String Samurai (1998)

This is the kind of movie that I've heard about from a few people who'd say "It's ok... pretty weird, though... Oh wait, you'd really like it actually." And they were totally correct! Jeff Falcon stars in (and co-writes) Six-String Samurai as Buddy, a mysterious traveler who's equally adept with his guitar as he is with his blade. The United States is a dusty wasteland after Russia dropped a nuclear bomb on it, and the city of Lost Vegas- his destination- is the last bastion of American society holding out against the Red tide.

When its king, Elvis Presley, dies, there is a rush of musicians journeying to the city to compete for the top spot. Death himself is vying for the job, and endeavors to kill all of his competitors before they reach their destination. Buddy proves particularly difficult to squash, but his growing attachment to a mute orphan boy (Justin McGuire) who's hitched himself to the rocker may prove his weakness.

So I looked up Jeff Falcon immediately after watching this, since he's kinda cute and was maybe dubbed for his lines (couldn't find confirmation on that- might have just been a weird sync), and did his own stunts. He's still largely a mystery; this is the only film he and director Mungia did together, and he only had bit parts in Chinese martial arts movies beforehand, but is American in origin. He is pretty awesome in this movie, though, getting in a lot of great fight scenes and maintaining a cool, slightly ridiculous persona. The little kid has the most annoying bird-like whine, but otherwise carries on the tradition of orphaned children in dystopias who don't speak. It really is a thing.

The imagination behind this film is the most striking thing about it. There's a wealth of sprawling, barren landscapes and completely crazy characters. I loved the cannibalistic family who talked like they were in a 50's sitcom, and the wind farm people leave behind a memorable image. Death reminded me of a faceless Slash, in a good way. The surf-rock/rockabilly music is catchy and upbeat, performed by the Red Elvises (who also cameo as the band in the beginning). Really, there is a lot to like here, and certainly so much inventiveness and strangeness to appreciate.

This movie is the epitome of "high-concept". Of course, most of the actual concept isn't really explained or elaborated or... conceptualized. Viewers are thrown into this film without much footing, and it sticks to a sprightly pace that never leaves much time for exposition. Generally I'm ok with ambiguity and inscrutability in this sort of sci-fi film, as long as it's still a fun watch. For the most part Six-String Samurai is action-packed, funny, and novel, but it does fall short in the script department. It's hard to explain, but this movie just needed more. More development, more insight, more something. I enjoyed it, but I wanted to really love it.


Pair This Movie With: My go-to pick for a wacky, over-complicated sci-fi film is always The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. So, that.

Further Reading:
366 Weird Movies review
Nerdvampire review


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Leaves of Grass (2009)

So the idea of Edward Norton playing two roles in a Southern drug comedy penned and directed by memorable character actor Tim Blake Nelson was basically the best idea I'd ever heard, despite my lukewarm feelings about Walt Whitman. It turned out... pretty ok. In Leaves of Grass, Norton plays both Bill Kincaid, a Classical Philosophy professor at Brown, as well as his twin Brady, a pot-growing genius who dupes his brother into returning to his Oklahoma hometown for the first time in years.

Brady plans to have Bill impersonate him about town while he and his best friend Bolger (Tim Blake Nelson) go out to handle business with a powerful Jewish pot dealer (Richard Dreyfuss). In case anything untoward happens, Brady will have an alibi. Bill is unhappy with this plan, but finds himself going along with his charismatic brother's wishes, finding comfort in the companionship of local poet and teacher Janet (Keri Russell), and confronting his mother (Susan Sarandon) over childhood issues. Then shit goes down and suddenly it's less a cute comedy-drama with mistaken identities, and more a time of many people being killed.

Well. Before we get to the complete tonal shift about two-thirds of the way through, let's talk about the cool elements of this movie. These elements are dominated by Edward Norton, one of my favorite actors, who gets a chance to show his impressive range with two very interesting roles. Bill is desperate to become the exact opposite of everyone he knew as a child, and in the process loses his perspective and gains extreme pretension. Brady is goofy, unassuming, and willing to see the good in everyone, but desperate also as he strives to protect his new fiancée (the ever under-appreciated Melanie Lynskey) and unborn son. Norton does well in his characterizations to highlight both the differences and similarities in the brothers, while still having fun with both roles. If you ever wanted to see a true Norton vs Norton fight (not just the Fight Club way), this is the movie for you.

Susan Sarandon isn't in it enough, Melanie Lynskey isn't in it enough, Keri Russell isn't in it enough... sensing a pattern? Everyone give great supporting performances- mad props to both Tim Blake Nelson and Josh Pais for their memorable turns- but it's really the Edward Norton show. I'm completely ok with that, but it's frustrating for the script to include all of these other characters and then sort of forget about them. The main culprit is Russell, who is thrown in to give Bill a pretty sounding board who'll call him on his pretension, which I liked, but she's never a part of the main narrative. Then it ends with a sentimental shot of her and Bill as if it was a romance all along? Bullshit. I hate when movies do that. Don't just throw in a romantic subplot if you can't actually develop it.

Anyway. Leaves of Grass basically had me going for most of it; I was enjoying the offbeat humor, family drama, drug references, and excellent performances. Then it takes this turn that I won't spoil for you, but suffice to say the tone completely changes, which makes the characters suddenly seem to change, and as my comrade pointed out, it acts like it wants to be a Coen brothers movie. Even if this uneven pacing/tone is intentional, I found it too unsettling and unexpected. This isn't a bad film, and in many ways I appreciate the story it's trying to tell and the characters it's developing. It's got a nice, dark comedy/family drama feel for most of its runtime, and I enjoyed the heck out of Norton's dual role. It just doesn't come together well, and completely lost me by the end.


Pair This Movie With: Soooo tempted to go with The Parent Trap (the original), an early one-actor-playing-twins-who-don't-get-along favorite, but thematically I'm not sure they'd go well together. I'm sticking with the Coen impulse and putting forward O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which also features Tim Black Nelson and Southerners, and is a silly comedy with its share of dark moments, as is the Coens' want.

Further Reading:
A Life in Equinox reaction (in pictures)
Film School Rejects interview with Tim Blake Nelson


Monday, October 25, 2010

Cleopatra Jones (1973)

It's depressing to think of how long this dvd had been sitting in my house, unwatched. The thing about getting a work-at-home job for supplemental income is that most of your at-home time is spent working. Ah well. To celebrate my penultimate chapter proofread, I took a break for Cleopatra Jones, a badass government agent played by the super-tall, super-stylish Tamara Dobson. She's stationed in Turkey overseeing the burning of poppy fields to deter the heroin trade flowing into the US, but is called back to Los Angeles when her halfway house charity is the subject of a violent police raid. She makes it her mission to find out what sleazy drug dealers are setting up her friends so she can take them down with a mini machine-gun and some well-placed high kicks, all while rocking some seriously wild, complicated outfits.

Isn't it nice to see a hip lady who is taller than most of the men around her but can still rock some platform shoes? And one who is a skilled fighter but doesn't have to strip down to do it? And one who isn't working her way through a law-enforcement glass ceiling but already floating high above it with the respect she deserves? The answer to all of these questions is yes, yes it is. While lacking the extreme charisma of her contemporary Pam Grier, Dobson is a cool and collected heroine with a cute smile and a rockin' fro. She oozes confidence and carries the film well, despite being a bit flat in her delivery. And the amount of fur she wears in a locale with numerous palm trees is hilarious to me. Her villainous counterpart played by Shelley Winters is a nice foil, taking a page out of the Tura Satana book and shouting every single line, an affectation I love. I didn't like the few fat jokes against her, though.

Cleopatra Jones isn't exactly genius filmmaking, but it's a pretty funky way to spend 89 minutes. There's a nice soundtrack, a lot of costume changes, and a whole lot of martial arts. I loved the appearance from Antonio Fargas, but my absolute favorite non-Cleo characters were Matthew and Melvin Johnson, two butt-kicking brothers with adorable dialogue to match, and I kind of wish they had their own movie. On the downside, the pacing does drag at parts, and the story doesn't always make sense. But honestly? Who cares? This movie is fun!


Pair This Movie With: As easy as it would be to just say Foxy Brown or another female-led blaxploitation movie, I'm going with Barbarella, a government agent who changes outfits even more often than Cleo! Plus she's in space!

My original art for this film is for sale as a delightful print (if I do say so myself).


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods (2010)

Assembled with a few other comic geeks at the Magic Room Gallery, a mysterious performance space and art gallery in a hipstery area of Boston, I took in the brand new documentary Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, which profiles seminal Scottish comics writer Grant Morrison. It incorporates a number of clips from comic artists, writers and publishers, multiple insightful interviews with Morrison himself, detailed panels from his comics, and some convention footage. As the filmmakers move from the events of Morrison's activist childhood, to his experimental and flighty early adulthood, to his spiritual and more settled present, they focus on how his work of each period parallels his own personal experiences, resulting in a sort of dual story of development.

Lover of comics that I am, I have been familiar with Morrison's name as a significant writer for some time, but had actually only read his work on New X-Men, which is far from his most influential contribution to superhero comics. This documentary opened my eyes to a complex and unreal figure, whose work is intriguing and groundbreaking. He has been influenced by his pacifist/activist father, quiet, escapist years at private school, and several intense spiritual moments that have led him into a lifelong flirtation with magical practices. It is this last factor that informs much of the dialogue and events of the film, as Morrison explains his beliefs in the extraordinary and his friends and coworkers insist that he has indeed tapped into a certain paranormal mode of thinking. It's pretty weird, but he makes it so believable.

While I do feel like I learned so much about Morrison's life and outlook, there were certain things that were glossed over or not elaborated in favor of the focus on magic. I understand that that was the angle the filmmakers chose to take- and indeed the subject on which Morrison himself tended to dwell- but it became a bit repetitive at points. I wanted more information about the context of his works; there's little about what his contemporaries are doing in comics (except for a short aside about Alan Moore being a dick, which is not news). I was also surprised that his wife/manager wasn't interviewed, since I imagine she could have given interesting personal insight.

Still, it's a really compelling documentary, and generally put together very well by director Patrick Meaney and cinematographer Jordan Rennert (who were both in attendance at the screening and gave a good Q&A). Some of the stock footage they employed was over the top or unnecessary, like a blurry black and white shot of a phone being picked up while Morrison talks about a phone call, but for the most part the visuals are pretty cool as they throw in shots from his comics, original art, and trippy video to illustrate points about his magical experiences. Talking With Gods is a sharp film that does well to focus almost completely on the man himself, as Morrison is an engaging and forthright speaker whose ideas are as fascinating as his life story.

Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods is available on DVD but it's also still screening in some places. Check out the official site and facebook page for more information if you're interested!


Pair This Movie With: Turns out that The Matrix stole from Morrison's comic The Invisibles (as well as Dark City, of course), so pair it with that to see a much more well-known story about a dude who likes to wear black leather outfits and do magic! Also you might be tired of the chattiness of the documentary, so all the fighting and slow-motion will be a good follow-up.


Friday, October 22, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #13

Hey, how's it going? So I'm mixing it up a little with today's Movie Sketch Project. Usually I make some art inspired by a movie I reviewed in the past week, but today I'm bringing you a sketch of Katharine Hepburn, a remarkable actress who is the subject of this weekend's LAMB Acting School. I was planning on getting some reviews of her movies out this week but didn't have the time, so I thought a drawing might suffice to call attention to how awesome she is! My scanner keeps adding these weird lines to my images and I don't know why, so please ignore those. Otherwise I think it's a cute drawing, based on a still from Bringing Up Baby, one of my favorites of hers.

Also shameless self-promotion: please have a look at my shop, where I'm selling drawings and prints for what I believe are rather affordable prices! All the transactions are just done through paypal.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Red (2010)

Let me introduce you to a movie with likable old(-ish) people actors being super badass and fun. Nope, not The Expendables. That movie was a letdown. I'm talking about Red, which is based on a Warren Ellis comic I haven't read. When retired CIA agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is marked Retired, Extremely Dangerous and hunted down by his former employers, he seeks out his old comrades-in-arms for help.

His HR call person love interest Sarah (Mary Louise-Parker) is along for the ride, as are the paranoid Marvin (John Malkovich), retirement home resident Joe (Morgan Freeman), homemaker/killer Victoria (Helen Mirren), and ex-KGB agent Ivan (Brian Cox). An up-and-coming CIA assassin (Karl Urban) uses all the resources at his disposal to track Frank down, but eventually discovers that the motives behind the RED designation are highly suspect and there may well be political corruption (in the United States government).

You guys, this movie is basically pretty awesome, just generally speaking. What can I even say about it? (Well, knowing me, probably a lot.) The script is light but fairly intelligent, the story's interesting, the action is exciting and well-choreographed, and the performances, well, what do you think? Willis's badassery is proving unstoppable as he ages, while Freeman is adorable and gets in some good punches, though his role is somewhat small. John Malkovich steals the show with a wealth of silly faces and clandestine attacks, looking a lot like Al Franken without hair or glasses. Brian Cox's turn as an opportunistic Russian agent is oddly endearing, even though his accent is a bit much. And Karl Urban does a compelling job as William Cooper, The Most Serious Man in America (seriously).

But let's get to the ladies! One thing I really dug about this movie was how it played with the "pretty lady sidekick who can't handle action but is tagging along for some reason anyway" trope. Instead of being all "ewww guns!" and freaking out at signs of danger, Parker's character is giddy with adrenaline and completely ready to dive into the gang's risky schemes even though she isn't trained to cope with it. She proves herself quite resourceful and supportive, and while I think Parker as an actress can be a little grating sometimes, here she is cute, funny, and likable. As for Dame Mirren, she is all kinds of the awesome I'd anticipated, while looking foxy in a white dress for the big scene. Sadly she doesn't show up until at least halfway through, causing me to spend most of the first part of film with "Where the hell is Helen Mirren?!" in the back of my head. She rocks every scene she is in, though, and there's even a cool detail concerning heels vs boots for butt-kicking. (I hate how many women are doing stunts in heels in movies/comics. Come on, guys. Come on.)

It is a bit too long, and there is that one part concerning feminism that stood out to me, but otherwise Red is a thoroughly entertaining film. It does well to focus on action as well as character, and the plot- while fairly standard CIA action movie stuff- is complex enough to keep me interested in what is actually happening to the people I'm watching. I dug the small appearances from Richard Dreyfuss, Julian McMahon, and Ernest Borgnine. I dug the goofy quips and stylish cinematography. I dug everything Bruce Willis did. I just straight-up dug this movie.


Pair This Movie With: I actually thought Live Free or Die Hard was a lot of fun- another good example of Bruce being totally rad at an older age.

Further Reading:
A Life in Equinox review
I Fry Mine in Butter review


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Waking Sleeping Beauty (2009)

There's this little company called Disney, merchandising giant and manipulator of children the world over. A small subset of this behemoth is known for producing beautiful animated musicals- fun for the whole family. In the 1970's and early 80's, this animation studio was on the brink of crumbling in favor of live action movies, and it took a lot of management shifting and dedicated artists to bring it into what became known as its "renaissance". In Waking Sleeping Beauty, the trials of this motley group of animators- which at times included Tim Burton and John Lasseter- are explored in detail through interviews with employees and helpful narration from longtime Disney producer Don Hahn. There's a wealth of behind-the-scenes footage of the animators at work (much of it shot by Lasseter) and rough footage of several classic films. It all builds to the release of The Lion King, a great success for the studio that hid a lot of losses and management quarrels behind it.

As much as I hate Disney as a corporation, I do truly appreciate their significant contribution to the animation medium. I was a little kid when this "renaissance" was taking place, so I was really excited to see the grown-up take on some of my favorite childhood films. The enthusiastic Don Hahn has crafted a respectful, loving documentary with lively narration and a lot of awesome footage of storyboarding, character designs, and early versions of some well-known films. There's also attention paid to the musical score composition by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken of films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, which was something I hadn't expected to be covered in detail. A good chunk of the interviews are pure audio, played over scenes of the films or the animators and producers in their younger days- crazy haircuts and all. It was a nice step away from constant scenes of middle-aged white dudes gabbing to the camera (as is the case with some documentaries), but also made me lose track of who some of the speakers actually were (which would have happened either way- I forget most information five seconds after hearing it).

Much of Waking Sleeping Beauty focuses on the managerial relationships and frictions between consultant Roy E. Disney, CEO Michael Eisner, President and COO Frank Wells, and Studio Chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, which doesn't sound interesting on paper but translates well onscreen through the insightful interviews and old video footage. I knew very little about the inner workings of Disney as a company, so it was a lot of new information told in a digestible, but not dumbed-down, way. Sure, I was still left with some questions regarding certain people and events, but that happens with basically every documentary. Hahn chose a specific manner of presenting his tale, and by focusing on the individual people who made these classic films, he easily communicated the love for the films themselves.

It's an insanely informative and compelling documentary, and I came out with a deeper appreciation for movies that many of us may take for granted now, and even more so for the numerous hard workers behind their creation. What really depresses me is that the proclaimed "death of animation" that Disney pushed itself out of in the 90's is essentially back, with audiences and major studios almost exclusively favoring CG films. Disney did stop making cel animation for a while, and The Princess and The Frog didn't do well enough for them to push forward with many more 2-D (or openly womencentric) offerings. I know there'll always be independent artists working in non-CG animated media but without the most well-known and well-respected animation company putting out 2-D films, there's not much hope for big-budget mainstream films like those so lovingly detailed in Waking Sleeping Beauty.


Pair This Movie With: Well I walked out of there just ready to revisit all of my old Disney favorites (it's a good advertisement in that way). I'm going with Beauty and the Beast since it's the most precious to me personally, and the biggest achievement for Disney at the time.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Some Cast It Hot, Ep. 7: The Song Is You

Remember when I watched The Saddest Music in the World last week? That was totally for a podcast! Tune in as the lovely ladies of 1416 and Counting and Nerdvampire join me for a discussion of music-themed movies (not musicals), including Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, The Legend of 1900, and of course, the aforementioned Guy Maddin comedy The Saddest Music in the World. We've also got our recently watched (or for Caitlin, recently unable to watch) movies and some feedback. Unfortunately Sasha from The Final Girl Project couldn't make it, but she is there in spirit!

Check it out on itunes or podomatic, and please let us know what you think!

Our next episode will be focusing on some so-bad-they're-good movies, so hit us up with your own suggestions for us, either by leaving a comment on one of our blogs, through twitter, or through email at somecastithot(at)


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)

After watching the original a few weeks ago, we were surprised to find out how very many sequels it had. And they're still making them! So despite the inclusion of Burt Reynolds in the made-for-tv second and third installments, we opted for Universal Soldier: The Return, which brings back Jean-Claude Van Damme as Luc Deveraux, a soldier who died in Vietnam but was brought back as a super-powered "UniSol" for a top secret government program. Now he's training new recruits, whose abilities have increased with new technology, and raising a daughter as a single dad.

When the program's supercomputer SETH (no idea what it stands for- my guess is Super Extreme TechnoHuman) finds out that the government wants to shut the UniSol's down, it takes over their brains, kills everyone else in the compound, and gets itself a super sweet body (Michael Jai White, who has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it role in the first film). It's up to Luc and an annoying blonde reporter (hmm sound familiar?) to stop their takeover, before SETH turns the whole human race into super-strong computer people.

This movie promises "nonstop strong violence" in its parental advisory and that is a surprisingly accurate summary. There's about 10 minutes total of exposition spread throughout, leaving the rest of its trim 83 minutes for well-placed explosions, mixed martial arts, and impossibly high kicks. I didn't watch this movie for plot, so it's not a bad thing, but I was frustrated with the clumsily thrown-in female characters. Why introduce an interesting, badass coworker for Luc if she spends the whole movie hanging out in the hospital with his daughter looking worried? Boring. And why on earth hire a remarkably flat and untalented actress to play the annoying, completely unnecessary sidekick? We've seen the chatty blonde reporter thing already. If you needed a woman so badly then just give the cool one you introduced in the beginning more screen time, don't add a useless one who runs around complaining.

Anyway. Lady character cliches aside, this is a pretty kickass movie. It's fast-paced and very entertaining, with really fun action scenes and tension-filled chases. I dug the "technology will conquer us all because all computers will eventually consider humans obsolete" angle. Sure, it's very Terminator-y, but Terminator is awesome. Michael Jai White is SO cool as SETH, giving a slightly over the top, intense performance and constantly showing off how fit he is. And Van Damme reminds us that even though his hair is graying he's still got it in 1999. Oh and I just remembered the wrestler Goldberg is around for a while as a UniSol. Didn't mean much to me, but I guess some people like wrestling? He just made me think of The Mighty Ducks.


Pair This Movie With: The first Universal Soldier makes sense as an opener, not that continuity is especially important to these movies.

Watch Instead: Black Dynamite, to see an All Michael Jai White, All The Time action movie that's also funny.


Friday, October 15, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #12 (UPDATED)

Hey everyone, welcome to another edition of the Movie Sketch Project, wherein I make some art for a movie I reviewed this past week. Wow, well last week I had a really nice surprise when director Mark Romanek on twitter re-tweeted my sketch for Never Let Me Go. It led to lots of new views and I hope everyone liked it! Since then I've turned the drawing into a digital collage and it's for sale as a print, if you're interested!

Anyway, today's sketch is from that lovable dark comedy Drop Dead Fred, a favorite film from my youth that I revisited recently and still found quite charming. I had the idea for this drawing years and years ago but only just got around to it now (it is one of so many art ideas I haven't gotten around to trying out). Fred himself has "Drop" and "Dead" written on his fingers, Night of the Hunter-style, and I thought that was cool. That's it. That's the grand inspiration. It's just a simple pen-and-pencil sketch for now but I do plan on fiddling with it and giving it some color when I have more time. And I apologize for the quality, the scanner was being inhospitable.

UPDATE: I did some more pencil and ink work and made it prettier! The second image is the regular drawing, the third image is some playing around I did in photoshop. Both are available for sale, the original and a print.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Social Network (2010)

Remember everybody, Harvard people are kind of jerks. Not to make a sweeping generalization, or anything. Anyway, the much-buzzed-about Fincher/Sorking team-up The Social Network exposes the narcissistic, misogynistic, nerd-istic truth behind the creation of social networking giant Facebook and the multiple lawsuits that followed. Jesse Eisenberg plays Mark Zuckerberg, a talented programmer with a huge ego whose level-headed girlfriend (Rooney Mara) picks up on his pretentious self-obsession and dumps him. In a fit of drunken blogging rage, he invents "Facemash", a site that allows Harvard students to rank female students' photos in terms of hotness.

He becomes a school legend overnight and is pegged by wealthy crew-obsessed twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (Arnie Hammer) to make a special social networking site for their final club, like a personalized, exclusive Myspace. Zuckerberg instead makes his own site with capital from his only friend Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield), improving upon their ideas and opening it up to Harvard at large. "The Facebook" is an instant success, and as he opens it up to other schools across the country he is sought after by Napster founder Sean Walker (Justin Timberlake) and relocates to California, losing friends and credibility in the process.

Sorkin and Fincher really have done something impressive- they've taken the story of an unlikable asshole and made a captivating, complex film that acts as a commentary on the up-and-coming generation. The script is punchy and sleek, filled with those funny, fast-paced Sorkingesque conversations I'd expect, while the direction is stylish and polished. It's just a really interesting story, and I really didn't know much about the background of one of the most revolutionary websites of the past few years (loathe as I am to admit its significance).

The performances are excellent. I'm so glad Jesse Eisenberg is starting to come into his own, tackling more interesting and varied roles. Here he somehow makes me feel a tiny bit sorry for a character who is shown many times over to be a complete jerk. Garfield is adorable as Eduardo though his Brazilian accent is questionable. And yeah Justin Timberlake is fine, whatever. The real star of this movie is Arnie Hammer, who is soooo good as the Winklevoss twins.They are the best characters and I sort of wished the whole movie was about them.

As many others have already discussed, this movie is sadly without any good lady character who gets more than 5 minutes of screen time, but let's face it: this is a movie about a bunch of self-absorbed guys who did things with computers. It's based on a true story, and while of course I know that various events and participants were adjusted or left out to make for a more interesting movie, I wouldn't expect the filmmakers to add more women just to make it more even. While I find the lack of good female characters in popular films frustrating (hello, Pixar), it didn't really detract from my overall enjoyment of the film. Especially since the most sympathetic and likable character is indeed Rooney Mara's Erica.

The Social Network is a gripping story that roots itself firmly in this particular time, dropping tech references and website management lingo left and right but keeping the focus on the one young man who had a good idea and an unlikable personality, and what he suffered for both. It'll show old people once and for all that this generation is too smart for its own good and remarkably self-important because of it. I liked it- not necessarily best of the year material but there's not too much I can fault it for.


Further Reading:
Not Just Movies in-depth analysis
The Flick Chick review
Women and Hollywood review

Pair This Movie With: Ummm I'm drawing a blank on this one... Sports Night?


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Drop Dead Fred (1991)

Time to take a trip back to middle school, I guess. Drop Dead Fred was one of my favorite movies when I was about 13, but I "lost" my dvd (actually: lent it to a friend and never got it back) a while ago, tragically. When I saw it was on netflix instant I instantly (heh) knew how I should spend that afternoon. We are introduced to Lizzie (Phoebe Cates) on a very bad day: in a single morning, she finds out her husband (Tim Matheson) is cheating on her and wants to separate so he can be with his mistress, her car is stolen, and she loses her job. Her domineering mother (Marsha Mason) forces her to stay with her, and as she sleeps in her childhood bedroom she rediscovers her imaginary friend Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall).

He's boisterous, destructive, and stuck with her until she can sort out her life. Believing that getting back together with her cheating husband is the only way to make her happy, Lizzie cautiously allows Fred to help her win him back, resulting in a lot of destroyed property, dirty jokes, and assumed insanity. Hopefully Lizzie will realize that she doesn't need an awful jerk to be her husband, and that confronting her mother about her depressing childhood will be a good way to gain confidence in herself. We'll see.

Drop Dead Fred is a tricky little film. It's a wonderfully imaginative premise that offers insight into adult problems. At the same time, its title character generally acts like an unhinged child, with an over the top nature and a lot of low-brow, little boy humor. The finished product sits somewhere in the middle of goofy family film and heartfelt character drama, and while that lends it a hit-and-miss aura, I admire it as a pretty bold step to take. I don't think this film has a wide audience, but if you see it at the right age (as I believe I did), it works quite well. The concept taps into that fear of growing up I experienced as a teen (and still experience, really), while the goofy comedy made me giggle like a kid, mostly guilt-free.

The performances are great, and there's a really interesting cast. Cates is far removed from her famous slow-mo sexpot here as the somewhat dowdy, naive Lizzie. She perfectly encapsulates a woman who hasn't been able to come into herself, caught under the shadows of both her mother and her husband, both of whom take advantage of her pushover nature. By reconnecting with her inner child she gets a second chance at development, which is a neat angle. The flashback scenes with the super-cute Ashley Peldon are quite telling and very funny. Mayall is wacky as all hell, bringing the bawdy British punk spirit captured in The Young Ones but toning it down to more reasonable levels. I love the supporting turns from Carrie Fisher and Marsha Mason, plus there's a cameo from Bridget Fonda! Weird!

I love this movie, but am aware of its flaws. The uneven tone is strange sometimes, and a lot of jokes just don't work. Mayall is really fun, but overdoes it at some parts, and it becomes campy and hammy- not in the good way. But for its completely great premise, surprisingly insightful script, and strong message, I'll always enjoy it. Plus I really dig that it's never a question whether Fred is real or not- in this world kids have imaginary friends when they need them, and they can hop about to other kids when they're done. Sort of like The Fairly Odd Parents. It's just a nice idea, really.


PS Fuck the intended remake.

Pair This Movie With: Harvey. Duh. It's the perfect imaginary-but-not-so-imaginary friend movie. I'll review it here one of these days. Alternatively, Heart and Souls, which offers a similar story of a kid who grew up with socialization problems because his invisible friends (here: ghosts) left him at a young age. It's got Robert Downey, Jr. and Charles Grodin! PLUS there's an adorable musical number!

My original art for this film is for sale as a drawing or print.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Event Horizon (1997)

Chalk up another one for the sci-fi movie list, and thanks to the Cin-Obs review on 30 Days of Crazy at Blog Cabins for bringing it to my attention! Event Horizon is a dark thriller set on a long-lost space ship with highly advanced inter-dimensional travel capabilities. A rescue crew led by Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) is sent to the ship's newly-discovered location, along with its over-serious designer Dr Weir (Sam Neill). They find the crew in bits and pieces along with video footage of their sado-masochist slaughter, while the massive, foreboding device that powers it looms over them. Soon several members of the team are plagued by hallucinations drawn from their deepest guilt-ridden fears, and as they must fight against madness as they repair their own ship for return home.

Paul WS Anderson has crafted a surprisingly dark, twisted mystery here that is packed with fucked up visions, likable characters, and stark visuals, along with a good dose of tense space action. I loved the ship design and the use of the interior and exterior space. The cast is great, with Fishburne bringing the deep-voiced authority and Neill bringing the intense stares and batshit craziness. Supporters Joely Richardson and Kathleen Quinlan are bring the lady parts, and sort of make themselves useful (mostly, Richardson reads from a screen and Quinlan hangs out with her ghost son).

Unfortunately, as enjoyable and completely insane as Event Horizon is, it's also remarkably derivative, so much so that it took away from my overall enjoyment. The entire film kept sparking new comparisons to earlier sci-fi films, most notably Solyaris and Alien. And The Shining. Really, the only thing new that Anderson has brought to the table is some memorably gory imagery. It's an interesting, scary film with a good cast and I did enjoy it despite the unexpected number of missing eyeballs (seriously, they don't know what to do with eyeballs in this movie). Apparently Anderson had to cut it down by 20-30 minutes to get it an R rating, removing most of the Hieronymus Bosch-inspired orgy imagery. Too bad.


Pair This Movie With: Moon would make a great double feature, I think, offering a quieter, less actiony portrayal of a man dealing with psychological issues in space.


Monday, October 11, 2010

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009)

More Michael Shannon goodness today with Werner Herzog's thought-provoking drama My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. To preface this review, I'll just say that before this I'd only seen one Herzog film (Kaspar Hauser) and am not especially in a rush to see many of his others. At the same time I don't want to judge the man too harshly without more knowledge of his work, so I'll definitely get around to Aguirre: The Wrath of God and The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans.

Anyway. My Son, My Son begins with the gruesome murder of an unknown woman and the subsequent all-day standoff between the police- led by Det Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe)- and the confused killer, Brad (Michael Shannon), the victim's son. While Brad seals himself off in his cheery pink house with two alleged hostages, Havenhurst interviews his fiancée Ingrid (Chloë Sevigny) and friend/director Lee (Udo Kier), slowly piecing together recent events that may have contributed to this violent outburst.

In the pastel-painted, sunny suburbia of Herzog's tale, nothing is fully explained. There is no big reveal, no all-insightful exposition, no obviously meaningful dialogue; so don't look for it. It's all about small actions, intricate choreography, and words left unspoken. Herzog comes close to mocking his audience with how self-aware this film is, but the intriguing central mystery and exquisite performances make up for the overuse of artful ambiguity. It is at times both funny and wholly disquieting, but the director's true intention is never clear and viewers are left with their own interpretations of the story, characters, and even overall tone.

Shannon is, indeed, phenomenal in this film, putting in a very intense, sort of funny, sort of terrifying performance as a mixed-up guy who becomes obsessed with one quasi-religious experience and allows it to drive his whole lifestyle. He is mysterious and utterly captivating to watch. Sevigny and Dafoe are great in their supporting roles, with the former giving an expressive take when lines don't suffice and the latter pushing the questions but offering little in the way of his own opinion. I also enjoyed Udo Kier's appearance as a stern but kind theater director.

Herzog plays on his audience's preconceptions about "small-town killer" stories, allowing us few insights and fewer answers, eliciting a roundabout character study and domestic mystery out of a sparse script. It's basically what one might expect of a Herzog/Lynch (who produced) team-up, but boiled down to it barest elements. It's a well-made, minimalist, intelligent film, but at times too self-indulgent and standoffish to fully capture the imagination.


Further Reading:
366 Weird Movies review

Pair This Movie With: Some of the events and themes reminded me of Equus, an investigate-a-criminal-mind movie that also deals with the harmful effects of religious obsession, though in a more blatant way.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tucker & Dale vs Evil (2010)

Ah! Finally! The movie with one of my favorite trailers but apparently non-existent distribution deal played here! Thanks, Terrorthon! Plus I got to see a midnight showing, which is a rarity in the curfew-happy Boston area. Tucker & Dale vs Evil is a send-up of those isolated-cabin-set slasher movies that turns against its stupid college kid victims to come out in favor of the "hillbilly killers". Best friends Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) drive up to their recently-purchased woodland cabin for a weekend, with plans to renovate, fish, and drink.

A group of jerk college students drive to a nearby campsite with plans to skinny dip, get frisky, and drink, because for some reason in this universe kids will voluntarily go camping. Outdoors. With no internet. Ew. They soon assume that Tucker and Dale are crazy killers because they're mad prejudiced and also because Allison (Katrina Bowden), one of their group, is seen being dragged away unconscious by the fishermen. Turns out she just hit her head and Tucker and Dale want to help her out, but her friends enact a weird revenge scheme that culminates in a lot of accidental suicides, much to our heroes' dismay.

Well, I haven't actually seen any of the slasher films this is referencing, but it turns out that doesn't really matter, because this movie is mad awesome by itself. The script is hilarious and smart, the direction is clever and well-paced, and the performances are wonderful and, the cases of the two male leads, utterly endearing. I absolutely love Alan Tudyk and it was so great to see him in a big role showing off how versatile he really is. I always enjoyed Tyler Labine in Reaper and he is adorable here as the clueless romantic leading man. These guys are excellent together. Katrina Bowden (who totally went to my high school's rival school, oooo) is cute as the only semi-sensible one in her group of friends, and her wannabe psychiatrist scene is very silly. Also this happens, if that's your thing.

I just want to keep saying good things about this movie! The story accurately captures how goddamn stupid college kids are, which I appreciated. (Screw those guys.) I didn't always know the specific films it was referencing but it's broad enough in its parody that I could always appreciate the jokes, especially since slasher movie cliches are a familiar part of popular culture by now. The many gruesome deaths are done really well- super gross but still very funny. All in all Tucker & Dale is a film pumped with enough enthusiasm and fun to make for a decidedly enjoyable moviegoing experience. My main complaint is probably that there isn't enough Alan Tudyk (Labine becomes the main hero), and the ending drags ever so slightly. Otherwise: Awesome.

If you can catch a screening, pleeeease do.


Pair This Movie With: I think Hot Fuzz would make a great double feature, as another funny genre parody with a lot of inventive death scenes and a strong male friendship at its center.


Friday, October 8, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #11

Time for another entry in the Movie Sketch Project, in which I make some art for a movie I reviewed this week. This one didn't quite come out as I intended but I still like it. I was going for a looser, more naive feel in the style and I think that's basically communicated? It's taken from a scene in the beautiful new film Never Let Me Go, in which Ruth and Kathy peer into the windows of a bank office hoping to spot the "original" Ruth. It's a very telling and sad scene, and I liked the image. Oh and it's ink on paper. Click ahead to seeeee it.

I'm not sure if I'll put it up for sale, it doesn't seem good enough. Let me know if you think it would have a buyer, I guess.

UPDATE: I turned this drawing into a digital collage. The new image is below and it's available as a print for $8 if you're interested. Check it out.

PS Oh and today is my dad's birthday. I'm like 95% sure he doesn't know I have a blog but on the off chance he does, Happy Birthday dad! I'll be calling you after work today.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2005)

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a reportedly "unfilmable" British novel from the mid-1700's that Michael Winterbottom decided to adapt. The result is a comedic meta-film that fuses scenes from the book with documentary-like footage of the actors playing themselves while hanging around the set. In Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Steve Coogan stars as a version of himself as well as the titular Tristram narrating the novel portions, as well as Tristram's father Walter.

It seems much of the book's story takes place before Tristram is even born, with him recounting the experiences of his older family members. Rob Brydon plays himself as well as Tristram's war veteran uncle Captain Toby, who is sort of the hero of the story. Having never read the book, Coogan believes he is the big star of the film, and as it continues to undergo rewrites, reshoots, and budget issues, he attempts to increase his own role and downplay Brydon's. At the same time he's contending with recently becoming a father with girlfriend Jenny (Kelly Macdonald), annoying reporters, a mild fling with assistant Jennie (Naomi Harris), and general career setbacks. It all makes more sense as you're watching it, I promise.

Tristram Shandy utilizes the film-within-a-film conceit to satirize the presumably typical egos of paranoid actors and the general selling-out that bombards any mainstream movie production. It also offers some genuine insight into how films are made and how actors deal with their high-pressure jobs and family lives. For the most part, though, it's a collection of silly moments featuring off-the-cuff jokes and naturalistic dialogue populated by comedic fourth-wall-breaking passages from the novel. Unfortunately, because it is put together quite loosely, it does feel clumsy at times and incomplete by the end. Though considering the strange nature of the source material, perhaps that was Winterbottom's intention.

The film shines in its inclusion of a slew of enjoyable British and Irish actors, with appearances from Stephen Fry, Shirley Henderson (yay!), Jeremy Northam, Mark Williams, Roger Allam, and Dylan Moran (Dylan Moran!). Coogan is clever in his characterization of himself, both exposing a mean streak of narcissism while demonstrating many endearing, sympathetic moments. I loved Rob Brydon as well, who gives off a goofy, slightly annoying but ultimately lovable personality. Oh also, Gillian Anderson shows up for a few scenes, if that's your thing.

It's a fun movie that culls together a host of awesome actors and wry humor, wrapped up in a cool, satirical, high-concept premise. It didn't give me a better idea of what the book's about, but had me thoroughly entertained despite its narrative meandering.


Pair This Movie With: I'm going with For Your Consideration for another hilarious satirical look behind the scenes of a film production. I feel like not enough people love that movie as much as I do, and they should. Because everyone should agree with me, all the time.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Horse's Mouth (1958)

The Brattle Theatre had an art-themed film series in preparation for their big art auction, and while sadly I missed screenings of Stolen and The Art of the Steal, I did get to see Alec Guinness as an uncouth, drunken painter destroying property in 1950's London. So that was nice. Unfortunately the print was severely faded and most of the colors fell into yellow-brown-red territory. That was not so nice, especially for a film about art. Oh well. In The Horse's Mouth, Guinness (who also adapted the script from Joyce Cary's novel) stars as Gulley Jimson, an aging, overconfident painter recently released from prison who seeks the perfect wall on which to paint a major biblical mural.

After attempting to reclaim some older works to sell with the aid of no-nonsense bar-owner Dee Coker (Kay Walsh), Jimson sets himself up in the swanky apartment of a wealthy family interested in his art who have gone away for an extended vacation. He all but destroys their home as he paints a feet-focused mural of Lazarus, but doesn't quite finish it in time before they come home, confused and furious. He moves on to the next big wall: a soon-to-be-demolished church that will require more help than he deserves to complete in time.

Knowing very little about The Horse's Mouth going in, I was quite pleasantly surprised. While the plot is sort of loose, the screenplay relies on funny, fast-paced dialogue and a few well-spoken observations on the nature of art to keep things interesting. The pacing is off sometimes and it feels like several short stories are packed together into one, but it's such a fun time that it doesn't matter all that much. Guinness is delightful as the bawdy, rude, too-smart-for-his-own-good artist, spouting insults in a gravelly voice and hopping about with surprising agility. And I adored Kay Walsh as the hardened, straightforward Mrs Coker. She is completely badass and ferociously independent, and I just loved the ballsiness of her character. She disappears for about a third of the movie, though, unfortunately.

Though it is primarily a comedy, the film does make some good points about art and artists while showcasing some beautiful Modern paintings. The script cuts through a lot of the bullshit surrounding the artist's mentality while respecting the spiritual importance of art itself, and I thought that was a really cool combination. I just wish I could have seen a better print so I'd have a better idea of the colors used for the murals. Regardless, The Horse's Mouth is a hilarious art-themed comedy (not too many of those!) with great performances, though slightly hampered by its loose structure and uneven pacing. And it's on Criterion so eventually I'll probably see a better-looking version!


Pair This Movie With: For various small reasons, this movie reminded me of Mary Poppins, not in theme obviously but in its sly tone, weird details, and London setting. Or for another fun art-themed comedy, try 2009's (Untitled).


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Shotgun Stories (2007)

I was a little late to the Michael Shannon party, but with the aid of a boyfriend who loves the guy, I'm gradually learning what it's all about, since The Runaways, The Missing Person, and Boardwalk Empire are just the tip of the iceberg. In Shotgun Stories, Shannon portrays Son Hayes, a fish farm worker who invites his homeless younger brothers Boy (Douglas Ligon) and Kid (Barlow Jacobs) to stay with him after his wife (Glenda Pannell) and son move in with her mother. The brothers' born-again Christian father dies shortly afterward, and they crash the funeral to expose the deceased's faults to his second wife and sons. This launches an extended feud between the two sets of brothers, who had been raised to hate each other, increasingly escalating in violence.

Reminiscent of Winter's Bone, this film is deeply immersed in a specific region and its small community. It's set in a rural Arkansas town, where everyone knows one another and many are making it work on a low income. First-time director Jeff Nichols effectively captures the spirit and atmosphere of his setting, as well as the specific set of relationships among its inhabitants. The sprawling scenery is beautifully shot, accompanied by a lovely string-based score that reminded me a bit of Patrick Wolf. The dialogue is often sparse or ambiguous, allowing the scenes to linger on certain characters' actions, moods, or presumed thoughts.

Michael Shannon is, indeed, superb in his role as Son, perfectly inhabiting this stalwart, driven man who resents his spiteful mother as much as he acts on her influence. He is supported by the likable duo of Ligon and Jacobs, both sort of goofy guys who step up when their older brother enacts this violent feud. All of the characters feel very real and down-to-earth, popping in with a few humorous moments and insightful observations while the over-arching drama looms over their experiences.

Shotgun Stories is a pensive, closely-observed film populated with moments of extreme violence and a very talented cast. It's a very impressive debut for Nichols and I'm looking forward to his future projects!


Pair This Movie With: Well I already mentioned Winter's Bone, and while I think they would go great together, it would also be a pretty depressing double feature. I'm having trouble thinking of a more lighthearted film that would go well with it, but for some reason I keep coming back to the dysfunctional-family comedy-drama Eulogy. So: That.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Kazuo Ishiguro Double Feature: Never Let Me Go (2010) and The Saddest Music in the World (2003)

The other day I unintentionally seeped myself in two of British writer Kazuo Ishiguro's cinematic endeavors with a viewing of Never Let Me Go (because it looked so awesome), based on his titular novel, and The Saddest Music in the World (for a podcast discussion, and because it looked so awesome), for which he wrote the screenplay. They're very, very different films, but somehow worked well together. Let's take a look!

The quietly resonant Never Let Me Go imagines an alternate history of medical science in which most diseases have been cured with clones grown for organ farming. The short life of Kathy H (Carey Mulligan) is explored through flashbacks- her time spent at a rustic, isolated boarding school with other "special" creepy-as-hell white children, then at 18 her transfer to a farm house that marked her first interaction with the outside world, and then her career as a "carer" for those undergoing their donations. The lifelong love triangle that develops between Kathy and fellow students Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield) dominates her tale.

This movie is basically exactly what I thought it would be- and I mean that in the best way. It is a gorgeously-shot, evenly-paced, subtle love story steeped in atmospheric science-fiction. I haven't read the book yet (I will!), so I can't speak to its merits as an adaptation, but as a stand-alone film it certainly works. The story itself is familiar and simplistic while the premise is imaginative and complex. The script treats both the love story and the science-fiction elements in a thoughtful, nuanced manner. It's never too obvious, treating the relationships and the gradual maturation of Kathy's character realistically.

Mulligan is honing in on the main "adorable but also legitimately talented actress" spot, proving herself adept at portraying smart, driven young women. I normally can't stand Keira Knightley, but I do find her believable as a bossy, annoying lady, plus she isn't in it all that much. Andrew Garfield is cute but a bit too goofy and I would have liked more insight into his character. And this movie needed more Sally Hawkins, mostly because she is great. Otherwise, Never Let Me Go is a truly beautiful, intelligent, and compelling film.


Pair This Movie With: My first instinct is Parts: The Clonus Horror, for a much campier, 70's version of the clones-for-organs premise. I'd suggest the MST3K version though. Or there's its overblown, blatant rip-off The Island.

My original art for this film is for sale.

Oddly enough I first knew about The Saddest Music in the World only because of its connection to Kids in the Hall, as it stars Mark McKinney (admittedly my least favorite of the gang, but I'm always interested in following everyone's post-KITH careers). Later I learned more about its intriguing auteur Guy Maddin, but somehow years went by and I only just watched it last week. Thanks for the push, Allison! The story concerns a Depression-era world-wide competition hosted by the beautiful legless bar owner Lady Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini), who seeks to find which country has the saddest music.

Canadian-born American convert Chester Kent (McKinney), an old flame of the Lady's, represents the USA with a flashy performance featuring his new girlfriend Narcissa (Maria de Medeiros). His surly ex-pat brother Roderick (Ross McMillan) represents his new home of Serbia with doleful cello music. The return of both men to Winnipeg launches a series of mix-ups while dredging up unwanted memories.

With its ever-present soft focus, grainy black-and-white, sporadic use of color filters, and quick-cut editing, this film never offers a dull visual moment. The script is weird and very funny, completely aware of its own quirks and oddities. It's got amnesia, hypochondria, dismemberment, and a delightful pair of beer-filled glass gams. And of course: music numbers! There's a good mix of instrumental and vocal songs with different national influences, and several versions of "This Song Is You", an old-fashioned tune Roderick writes for his wife to hear. The performances are very fun and over the top, and I especially enjoyed McKinney and McMillan, as well as the goofy commentator couple. We'll be talking about this in-depth in the next episode of Some Cast It Hot, so I'll save the rest of my thoughts for that!


Pair This Movie With: Its blurry visuals and chatty weirdness will mix well together with the stark black and white look and long silences of Béla Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

El Espinazo Del Diablo (The Devil's Backbone) (2001)

That lovable old repertory moviehouse, The Brattle Theatre, was gracious enough to host Guillermo Del Toro last week for a book signing and screening of his Spanish Civil War ghost story Devil's Backbone. It was so cool! He's really friendly and conversational, quickly but informatively telling of his early experiences in filmmaking with Cronos and Mimic. He met Pedro Almodóvar at a festival screening of Cronos, and the famed Spanish auteur offered to produce his next film if he wanted to shoot it in Spain.

Del Toro offered up a very personal project about a young boy named Carlos who is left at a small orphanage as the war rages on and his remaining family and friends fight for (and die for) the rebel cause. He is frequently visited by the ghost of a drowned orphan who went missing months prior, and eventually works out what is troubling the dead boy's soul, all while a deactivated missile looms over the building's courtyard with the constant threat of death.

The director is fascinated by this period in Spanish history and wished to create a war tale that doesn't actually have scenes of war, and a story with a ghost in it, as opposed to a ghost story. It isn't a straight-up horror film, though at times it's quite creepy, and as the action unfolds it soon becomes apparent that the real monster is a regular human being (played with a perfect manic energy by Eduardo Noriega, who somehow looks exactly like Eli Roth in Inglourious Basterds here). Most of the script focuses on the children of the orphanage, offering a tense portrayal of boys' jealousy and fear while quietly and minimally working in the details of the adult characters and the scope of the nation's conflict.

Devil's Backbone cleverly includes a bit of everything for a complex and well-rounded overall film. It is primarily a drama, showing viewers a glimpse at life for the children left behind in the wake of war, while also giving us a tender romance, a tragic (but not especially scary) ghost story, and a truly violent, chaotic finale. Typical of any Del Toro film, the visuals are gorgeous and the effects imaginative. The performances are excellent- especially from the child actors. I often find it hard to relate to or fully sympathize with young boys on film (they're so gross! they make marbles out of boogers and collect bugs and stuff, ick), but here they do a remarkable job of keeping true to the curious nature of many little boys while still making them sympathetic. And Eduardo Noriega: Damn. Intense.

Go see it.


Pair This Movie With: Del Toro has stated that Pan's Labyrinth is meant as a companion piece, and the two will definitely go well together. I'll also put up the Del Toro-produced The Orphanage, if you want a truly horrifying Spanish-language movie set in an orphanage. Make it a triple feature!