Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"You Don't Piss on Hospitality!" Double Feature: Best Worst Movie (2009) and Troll 2 (1990)

I missed this multiple times in theaters and therefore was eager to snatch it up when it came out on dvd last week. I actually hadn't seen Troll 2 at the time, but that didn't stop me from watching a documentary tracking the development and subsequent cult fandom of "the worst movie ever made". I followed it up with a viewing of the now-infamous audience favorite that it focused on, for a somewhat backwards crash course in the phenomenon.

In 1989 an Italian production company filmed a low-budget horror film in Utah called Troll 2 (so named to capitalize on the mild success of Troll, though this one doesn't actually include any trolls), employing a group of unskilled actors, a nonsensical script, and a wealth of awful prosthetics. Overwhelmingly panned by critics and viewers, it was quickly forgotten until over a decade later it found a new audience on home video. Gradually a cult developed around the film, soon categorized as the worst ever by sites like IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, sparking Troll 2 viewing parties, backyard games, and homemade costumes. Michael Stephenson, who starred as the whiny little boy Joshua, now sets his camera on the cast and crew of the film, documenting their appearance at a series of large-scale screenings across the US and offering a sort of "Where Are They Now?".

Best Worst Movie does well to focus on the fans as well as the actors and filmmakers, giving an insightful look into the world of cult obsession and the hapless people who make this type of movie. Affable dentist George Hardy, who played the father, emerges as the hero of the piece, going through stages of embarrassment, acceptance, passion, and frustration with the film and its rabid underground popularity, and becoming our host of sorts. The director Claudio Fragasso, and his wife/screenwriter Rossella Drudi become something of a villainous and uncomfortable presence. Claudio seems completely ignorant of how bad his movie is, and doesn't understand the American fandom- why are they laughing at the parts that aren't meant to be funny? He believes strongly in his ability to make great films and stubbornly refutes any claims from the actors that the script was confusing and the direction even more so. It's kind of sad, but pretty humorous.

Taking a focus on the cult obsession behind a bad movie and the people who made it (as opposed to a true "making-of") is a cool approach for a documentary to take, and the result is a funny and fascinating film that to me is more entertaining than its actual subject.

4.5/5

I think Troll 2 was the last of the big "so bad they're good" movies I hadn't seen. It focuses on a suburban family, the Waits, who move to the rural town of Nilbog for a month as part of an exchange program. Mrs Waits' father recently died and her young son Joshua is still having trouble dealing with the death since he's constantly popping up as a ghost that only he can see. Turns out the town of Nilbog is populated by shape-shifting, vegetarian goblins who want to turn the Waits and their friends into plants so they can eat them. That's basically it.

This is indeed a really bad, really stupid movie. The acting is horrendous, nothing makes any sense, scenes begin and end with little attempt at transitions or flow, and the effects are utterly horrendous. And yeah, it's pretty funny, but honestly I don't think it's that funny. I don't need to show this to everyone I know or host an annual Troll 2 party. I imagine it'd be really fun to watch with an appreciative audience of course, but watching it by myself with now-raised expectations from the documentary, I have to say it isn't exactly the "best" worst movie. While a lot of scenes and ridiculous bits of dialogue had me laughing, other parts were just dull. A similar response happened when I watched The Room, and I'm guessing that it's either my predilection for cheesy sci-fi action in my bad movies, or that most of the people culting out over these movies haven't seen any other so-bad-they're-goods, so they don't know how much better it can get. Either way, Troll 2 is indeed a campy, awful, quotable, funny time, just not quite as great as the documentary would have you believe.

Also Deborah Reed is amazing in it and it's too bad she's not in the documentary for some reason.

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

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Johnny Dangerously (1984)

You guys, I've now seen all of Amy Heckerling's films! Isn't that exciting? It is! In her 1930's-era crime spoof Johnny Dangerously, an eyeliner-ed Michael Keaton plays the eponymous gangster, a well-meaning paperboy who turned to crime in an effort to pay his Irish mother's massive medical bills. He moves up the ranks and eventually his boss Jocko Dundee (Peter Doyle) puts him in charge as a violet gang war is fought between his group and the malapropistic Moronie gang. When his law student younger brother (Griffin Dunne) joins the DA's office and proclaims a war on organized crime, Johnny is torn between obligations to his family and his secret criminal occupation.

I've always been a big fan of goofy, irreverent comedies in the Mel Brooks vein- movies that just have fun with the dialogue and silly sight gags, devoid of the cynical sarcasm so prevalent in later films (which I like as well, but could sometimes use a break from). Johnny Dangerously fits well into that kind of comedy, packing in tons of little jokes- from winking anachronisms to unsubtle innuendo to running character gags. Not all of the jokes work (the repetitive ones especially grow stale quickly), but it's impressively detail-driven and everyone seems like they're having a good time. Plus it opens with a Weird Al song, so I was hooked from the beginning!

Michael Keaton is a likable wiseguy, Peter Boyle doesn't explode in a bathroom, Joe Piscopo sneers and snarls, Danny DeVito is sleazy and show-hosty, and Griffin Dunne just wants to get laid: There are a lot of fun dudes in this movie! I also enjoyed Maureen Stapleton as the neurotic mother and the sharp-tongued Marilu Henner as Johnny's love interest Lil, though she was sadly under-used. The plot is all over the place, but the script is funny, the performances are enthusiastic, and the period set pieces/costumes are impressive so it all pulls together to make for an entertaining, endearingly silly movie. I even could see it improving with multiple viewings for all of the crazy sight gags and throw-away lines strewn throughout.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I'm definitely going with something Mel Brooks... how about Young Frankenstein!

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)

Ok so that franchise we all like is ending, boo-hoo, technically it's been over since the seventh book came out so I've already done my grieving. However, I haven't read that book since the day it came out, so I don't remember a lot of the specifics of the story and didn't really have the critical "does this work as an adaptation" eye for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I think that's ok. The film picks up a short time after the ending of the last installment: Dumbledore's dead, Voldemort is rapidly gaining powers and set to take over the wizarding world, everyone is depressed. Harry, Ron, and Hermione set out to find the remaining Horcruxes- little pieces of Voldemort's soul that he's scattered about England as a means of staying immortal- but don't have much to go on and it amounts more to aimless wandering and hormonal bickering. There are some magic fights and explody chase scenes and snake attacks, and the supporting character deaths start happening.

Everyone else has already reviewed this movie in-depth, and I've already had multiple conversations about it with friends/family members, and I've already seen it twice. Suffice to say I'm a little Potter'ed out right now, so I'm just going to hit on some major points and avoid the analytical stuff.

This movie is quite long (about 2.5 hours), but for the most part that was an advantage. Most of the other films have felt quite rushed since there's so much plot and so many characters that have to be squeezed into a regular time frame. Splitting the story into two films and keeping it at a longer runtime allows the characters to breathe a little, though in some ways it's too late to really take advantage of that. We know these characters by now and we know there is a lot going on, so while I appreciated the slower pacing, some of the less action-driven moments were unnecessary and threw off the flow of the story. Ultimately I think I'd prefer that to the super-rushed atmosphere of some of the earlier films, though.

It's beautifully shot, incorporating a lot of gorgeous vistas and unspoiled woodland for which director Yates clearly shows an affinity- almost a longing. The acting has improved greatly as the films have progressed, and the main three actors have come to convincingly embody these characters so that viewers have a stronger and stronger emotional connection. Most of the book is depressing stuff- aimless meandering and introspection set against a lot of fighting and death. The adaptation catches all of that.

One of my favorite things about Harry Potter movies has always been the wealth of familiar British actors who pop up in supporting roles- from Emma Thompson's marvelous Professor Trelawney to Jim Broadbent's slimy Slughorn. This time around we had the unshakable Bill Nighy as Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour, frequent Jane Austen-movie actress Sophie Thompson as a Ministry secretary whom Hermione impersonates, and one of my personal favorites, Rhys Ifans as Xenophilius Lovegood, the second half of the most enjoyable family in the series. Yay!

Alright so Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is a good movie- definitely one of the better in the series- but hard to fully judge since it's just the first half of a complex and well-loved book adaptation. While I definitely agree with where the filmmakers chose to end it, the final scenes do feel abrupt and unfinished- but I have no idea what the transition into the next film will be.

To me anything Harry Potter-related will always have me constantly asking, "Why the hell isn't Hermione the star of this story? She is apparently the only competent person in Rowling's entire universe." You know it's true.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the animated telling of the "Tale of the Three Brothers" is the BEST part of this movie, hands down. Absolutely gorgeous and dark animation style. Truly excellent.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: What do you think? Part 2? Yes, Part 2.

Further Reading:
Dark of the Matinee review
Feministing: "An Unabashed Love Letter to Ginny Weasley"
Frankly My Dear podcast review
Lady Hatter weighs in
Life in Equinox review

My original art for Harry Potter is for sale.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #17

Happy black friday! Yay! I think the best way to celebrate the upcoming "holiday season" would be to look at some movie art and maybe even buy some for your fellow movie fans. It's an idea?

Anyway this week I'm bringing you some holiday cards I made based on Christmas and Hanukkah movies I enjoy, mainly the ones that involve the holiday somehow but aren't all schmaltzy and Santa Clausy. You know: Die Hard (last week's entry), The Hebrew Hammer, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and The Nightmare Before Christmas! I'll be giving some to friends but if you have an interest in getting some for yourself they're $10 for four or $3.00 for one.

Also this great guy is having a saaaaaale.






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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Zandalee (1991)

Ok, so you hear "early-nineties low-budget erotic thriller starring Nicolas Cage and Judge Reinhold" and you think "Awesome!", right? Wrong. The poorly written, poorly shot, and gratuitously topless Zandalee takes most of the "thriller" part out and doesn't do much with the "erotic" part. The titular character (Erika Anderson) is a young clothing shop owner dissatisfied with the sexual performance of her husband Thierry (Judge Reinhold). Though a writer at heart, he's recently been forced to take over his deceased father's business, and the stress of management has made him too preoccupied to have sex with her all the time.

His old college buddy Johnny (Nicolas Cage), a brooding artist with the most ridiculous hair/wig/extensions situation I've seen in a long time, comes to visit and almost instantly makes a play for Zandalee. He seduces her pretty easily and they have sex all the time in various locations, but Thierry picks up on it quickly since he's not an idiot, and is understandably upset, though unsure how to handle it since he feels guilty for not satisfying his wife himself. Then they're on a boat. And Steve Buscemi's there for about 2 minutes.

This movie... this movie is sort of like The Room if it wasn't funny. It's definitely meant to be some sort of serious conversation about marriage and infidelity, peppered with plenty of boobs to keep viewers interested, but it's actually just a meandering, shallow, boring movie about nothing. None of the characters are likable, sympathetic, or interesting. Reinhold's New Orleans accent jumps up and down as he attempts to break out of his goofy persona. Erika Anderson is... there? She doesn't stick out much, spending most of her time jogging around or being naked. Cage brings some levity with his over the top, ludicrously intense artist but often he's just strange and unsettling. All of the characters change personalities and motivations and moods every few minutes, and it's just frustrating to watch.

So one of the main advantages of seeing an erotic thriller starring people who are now more famous is of course, the prospect of seeing them naked. But Zandalee barely even has that! Reinhold is under sheets the whole time and there's a bit of Cage's butt at one point, but that's it. Totally a let-down. Sure, we got to see alllll of Erika Anderson but that isn't as exciting since I hadn't even heard of her until this movie. Sigh. So essentially Zandalee doesn't deliver on any level- it isn't interesting, it isn't funny, it doesn't have celebrity nudity. Not worth it, I promise you, despite its titillating possibilities.

1.5/5

Watch Instead: Almost any other movie. This was definitely trying to be a Sex, Lies, and Videotape kind of movie, so that's a good start. Or if you just want a lot of boobs and white dude's butts, watch some straight porn.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Megamind (2010)

When first faced with trailers for Megamind, I though the premise was absolutely excellent, but the execution looked painfully unfunny and dumb. The excellent reviews it generated upon release convinced me to give it a chance, since I do love me some superhero comedy, I really do. The script posits an alternate Superman scenario: this time, two alien babies careen to earth after their planets are destroyed. Metro Man lands in a good home and goes on to become Metro City's great, self-obsessed superhero, while Megamind lands in a prison and decides being an inventive villainous genius is the only thing he's good at.

For years the two battle it out over Metro City, but when it seems one of Megamind's overcomplicated schemes finally works, he's left with no one to challenge him and therefore nothing to live for. He decides to give a regular citizen superpowers and train him to be the city's next hero (and his own opponent), but his villainous nature is soon tested as he starts to fall for outspoken reporter Roxanne Ritchi.

I always forget that sometimes I really like Will Ferrell. He's great as the clever but bumbling Megamind, whose tendency to inexplicably mispronounce and over-enunciate common words had me giggling. He narrates the story with a self-aware flair that made his character rather endearing. I enjoyed all the voice work, but David Cross is easily the stand out. His fishy robot "Minion" is the most adorable, likable character and I was so happy Cross had a relatively big part (I'd thought it'd be more of a cameo). I dug Roxanne Ritchi as the woman in the movie, and at one point I even thought maybe SHE would save the day! But then I remembered, "Duh, she's a lady and not the hero (because she's a lady), so the day-saving will be up to one of the many dudes!" Still she is cute and I liked her haircut.

Anyway, the jokes are pretty funny, I dug the parodic and referential nature of this exaggerated universe, and it had a nice message about assumptions vs actual intentions. I was impressed that the story really did its own thing, while still maintaining traditional elements familiar to superhero lore. The animation is very good- basically standard for a big-budget Dreamworks feature, with a nice use of 3-D in the flying scenes, though sometimes it's too gimmicky with objects popping out at the audience. I will never be a huge fan of the plasticine look of most CGI, which is why I prefer the style of Wall-e (the robots and sets, anyway) to most other digitally animated movies. I know there's no use complaining about such things since mainstream audiences will always like CG stuff better than traditional techniques, but whatever, this is my blog and it is a thing that frustrates me.

The best part about this movie? There's a character who looks and dresses exactly like this guy.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: It's easy to say The Incredibles or Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, but I am enthusiastically recommending Mystery Men, which has a similar sense of humor along with some of the same themes/concepts.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bride of Re-Animator (1990)

Well, jeez, you've heard me go on about how absolutely kickass Re-Animator is, so how could I not want to see the sequels? I've heard the third one sucks, but the trailer for the second installment, Bride of Re-Animator, was a mind-blowingly easy sell. Further drawing loosely from Lovecraft's story, the film brings us back to the morbid experiments of Dr Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and his reticent assistant Dr Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Now that they've proven the dead can be brought back to life, West is obsessed with re-animating separate parts as a means of proving that the brain isn't that important, as every part of a person's body can survive on its own.

Dan is becoming sickened by his partner's work, but is manipulated into creating a Frankenstein's monster-esque woman out of stolen appendages because he is a whiny little baby and thinks it will bring his dead girlfriend back if the creature has her salvaged heart (idiot). There's a cop on their tail, a European lady who looks like Winona Ryder and was in some war with them somewhere, and a shitload of manic creations. Plus Dr Hill's head is back! Somehow!

While the original is an extremely fun mix of self-aware camp and gory horror, Bride of Re-Animator takes an even more exaggerated, amped-up approach to make everything grosser, weirder, and completely nonsensical, with slightly less success. It is still remarkably entertaining, what with all the weird body part fusion creatures and flying bat heads and Dan's outrageous "Uncle Jesse to the 10th power" haircut and of course, every single thing Herbert West says or does. As long as Jeffrey Combs is there, these movies can be nothing but varying degrees of delightful. He gets in a number of histrionic monologues and it is great.

The script continuously fails to explain anything or elaborate upon various plot points, and while I do find that sort of thing funny, I couldn't tell just how intentional the super b-movie feel was. And while I totally loved the wacky creatures West whipped up, they were kind of under-used. The climax was meant to be overpowering and intense, and in some ways it was, but ultimately it fell short, probably because the big creature battle was over too quickly. Also Hill's crazy bat head wasn't utilized to its full potential. But the effects were very good, with some great stop-motion and animatronics along with decidedly gooey body props. I can only assume this had a lower budget though, since Hill's head was laughably fake.

It's not quite as fun as its predecessor (few movies can be), but Bride of Re-Animator captures the same gleeful, irreverent spirit that further parodies Frankenstein while developing a marvelous lead character of its own in the utterly badass Herbert West. He is the best. I've heard unenthusiastic things about Beyond Re-Animator but I'm probably going to see it anyway since Combs is still involved.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Is Re-Animator too obvious? Otherwise I'm going with The Frighteners, a pretty rad ghost movie from Peter Jackson starring Michael J Fox but also featuring Jeffrey Combs!

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Monday, November 22, 2010

The Hebrew Hammer (2003)

I love it when movies can invent a genre. That is essentially what writer/director Jonathan Kesselman did with his "Jewsploitation" feature The Hebrew Hammer, a parody of 70's blaxploitation films but with a Jewish bent. The adorable Adam Goldberg stars as Mordechai Jefferson Carver, a "certified circumcised private dick" who is enlisted by the Jewish Justice League to stop an anti-Semitic Santa (Andy Dick) out to destroy Hanukkah. He is aided by sexy and capable Esther Bloomenbergensteinenthal (Judy Greer) and Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahim (Mario Van Peebles), leader of the Kwanzaa Liberation Front. Together they work to deter Santa from his evil quest and establish a world of unity and positivity in diverse communities. They also make a lot of silly jokes and shoot big guns.

I've fallen into the habit of watching this every Christmas, as a reminder of how Christmas is kind of boring and Jewish culture is awesome. It also makes me glad I don't have religion, since there's a lot less to worry about. I've become a fan of exploitation parodies and throwbacks in recent years, and can appreciate more of the references and characterizations than I did in previous viewings, making for an even funnier time. I love the Shaft theme song jokes ("No one understands him but his motherrrrr") and Melvin Van Peebles cameo. I love that Mario Van Peebles is a supporting castmember. I love that Hammer's bedroom and car are both wall-to-ceiling shag carpet. As much as the script dives into overly goofy, exaggerated territory, the references and self-aware jokes are generally handled quite cleverly.

I think this is the first movie I saw with Adam Goldberg, and I was totally won over by his fast-paced, mumbly delivery and endearingly clumsy characterization of a "cool" hero. Judy Greer is the leading lady for once, getting in a great "sexy Gentile" impression and a number of James Bond-esque innuendo jokes. She also looks quite nice with dark hair. Sure, it has Andy Dick, but for some reason he tends to do well as a ludicrous asshole villain in under-seen comedies.

The Hebrew Hammer is a silly but enjoyable celebration of Jewish culture, poking fun at stereotypes while piling on references to both blaxploitation flicks and Judaism (admittedly, I didn't get all the Jewish jokes, but I assume most people actually part of the religion would know if they're funny?). It's funny, it's action-packed, and doggonit, it's got holiday spirit.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: As tempting as it is to throw in Yentl, Fiddler on the Roof, or Chaim Potok's The Chosen, I'm going with Black Dynamite for more blaxploitation parody goodness.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Jui Kuen (Drunken Master) (1978)

It's a little embarrassing but I'd actually never seen a real kung-fu movie before (unless you count Kung Pow), and am in fact quite under-educated in Chinese films in general. My new friend/coworker will be gradually schooling me in such matters. Our first outing was Drunken Master, a goofy and disjointed comedy with impressive fight choreography and a young Jackie Chan. When a strict father discovers that his son Fei-Hung (Chan) is misusing his impressive martial arts skills to belittle teachers, hit on women, and beat up a thief who happens to be the son of an important man, he imposes a series of complicated and strenuous punishments.

Eventually he decides to bring in Fei-Hung's uncle, a man notorious for physically harming his students, and so the boy runs away to avoid his cruel fate. He soon meets an old drunkard who helps him out of a pinch, only to discover he is So Chan (Siu Tien Yuen), the so-called "Drunken Master" and Fei-Hung's aforementioned uncle. He trains rigorously with him to learn his special attack style, resulting in lots of fights and pratfalls.

Having only seen Jackie Chan in his English-speaking roles, it was weird but cool to see him as a young mop-topped doofus hanging out in China. He's funny and likable, portraying a character who is radically overconfident and self-serving, but generally well-meaning. The fights are exciting and innovative, incorporating a range of props and weapons in the quick, tightly choreographed style I've come to identify with Chan. The version we watched oscillated between dubbed and subbed, which was a bit unnerving, but added to the camp fun of it all. I didn't really follow the story- which I think is partially my fault and partially script/translation issues- but I guess it's based on a real person/folkloric tale. For the most part I really enjoyed watching the action and comedic scenes, with Chan and Siu Tien Yuen putting in enthusiastic and joyfully over-the-top performances.

There's also a dude named Thunderleg, which has me thinking of changing my name.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well, as I said I haven't seen any other real kung-fu movies. So, um... Office Space?

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #16

Hello friends, welcome to the Movie Sketch Project! I believe the holiday spirit is upon me, probably because I am consistently surrounded by Christmas merchandise (and one small shelf of Hanukkah items) at work. I'm not really that into this holiday since I'm not religious and I hate the music, but I do enjoy Christmas movies. So, I'm starting a short series of images inspired by movies that feature Christmas and Hannukkah but are more badass in some way, with the intention of turning them into holiday cards. First up is Die Hard, one of the best, even though I haven't reviewed it yet.

Also remember you can buy some movie sketch things in my etsy shop- perhaps as a gift for a fellow film lover?


Also, also. Here is that Re-Animator thing I was whining about last week. I oscillate between thinking it's ok and hating it, but I finished it so I figured I might as well share.



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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Four Lions (2010)

Based solely on the Frankly My Dear podcast review I knew I had to see new terrorist comedy Four Lions. I know, "terrorist comedy"? Now that sounds wacky and topical! Four Lions focuses on a group of British Muslim friends living in England and planning their own private jihad. Barry (Nigel Lindsay) is an outspoken extremist who doesn't even attend mosque because he believes everyday Muslims have been corrupted likes to think he's in charge. He is in constant conflict with Omar (Riz Ahmed), a practical family man who's more concerned with acting out against Westernization than debating Islamic law.

Their followers Waj (Kayvan Novak), Hassan (Arsher Ali), and Fessal (Adeel Akhtar) are all pretty dopey and generally follow along with their more eloquent leaders. The story tracks the pals' increasingly poor decisions as they accidentally blow up the wrong people, set up a not-so-secret hideout, accidentally blow up some sheep, and run a high-profile marathon in kooky costumes, hoping to make an explosive statement. Meanwhile, the British government investigates a group of regular, peaceful Muslim citizens with the assumption that everyone's a terrorist.

The script is riddled with hilarious, fast-paced dialogue and there is a number of surprise sight gags; obviously the strange subject matter lends itself to some offbeat and unexpected material. The characters are all exaggerated, silly, and full of contradictions that often speak louder than their words. Omar expounds upon the evils of the West (MacDonalds, capitalism, etc) yet entertains his son with Disney's The Lion King. Barry publicly accuses the British populace of stereotyping Muslims as terrorists, then encourages his "brothers" in the audience to act out violently. There are many scenes of these guys just being silly and stupid, and it's enjoyable as hell to watch them hang out and have so many wrong ideas about everything. That being said they're still generally likable and sympathetic, if very misguided.

As funny as this movie is, it is at heart a very dark satire. Four Lions isn't out to "make fun of terrorists" or belittle orthodox Muslims, it's there to point out the hypocrisies in everyone, from wannabe terrorists to government officials to ordinary citizens, and it makes its statement boldly and without compromise. Viewers may often forget that the main characters are seriously planning to blow themselves up to achieve fast-track martyrdom for a cause they don't even understand fully- and indeed, I think they forget sometimes too. The filmmakers aren't afraid to kill people off without warning or flip flop drastically on moral issues, never slacking in their critique of a society that has essentially begun to breed terrorists due to a proliferation of racist and presumptuous attitudes. The script begins to lose itself towards the end, unfortunately, but the bulk of the movie had me laughing and the ending certainly packs a punch.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: The fast-talking British political comedy In The Loop would make an excellent, and even more hilarious companion.

Further Reading:
Not Just Movies review

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Due Date (2010)

I didn't think it looked very good from the trailer, and after feeling lukewarm about The Hangover I wasn't exactly psyched for Todd Phillips' next project, but ok I have a long-standing crush on Robert Downey, Jr and figured it was bound to be more entertaining than Restoration, right? Well, yes, I guess so. In Due Date, RDJ plays Peter Highman, a high-strung architect traveling from Atlanta to Los Angeles for his wife's (Michelle Monaghan) induced birth at the end of the week. After an argument with offbeat aspiring actor and fellow plane passenger Ethan Tremblay (Zach Galifianakis) before takeoff, the two are thrown out and put on the no-fly list. Peter is left without luggage or wallet, and is grudgingly persuaded to join Ethan in his rental car for a wacky road trip. Their numerous setbacks include a horrific car accident, drug dealing, an accidental shooting, daddy issues, questions of infidelity, and stops at the Mexican border and the Grand Canyon.

Well, I know I wouldn't have liked this film much if it didn't star an actor I really adore, as its just a fairly decent comedy on its own. Of course the "two people who don't get along go on a road trip and find friendship" theme is nothing new, but the film isn't trying to make any big statements. It's just two talented actors banging out funny quips while ridiculous things happen to them. It's comedy, it's dumb, it's primarily light-hearted. A few dark moments sneak in with the discussion of Ethan's recently deceased father, allowing Galifianakis to show some range and inject an emotional center to the proceedings. Ethan is just a quirky, lonely guy who means well but doesn't have much self-awareness. Peter is just a guy with anger management problems suddenly afflicted with numerous stressful events.

Due Date barely makes a dent in my memory, to be honest. I saw it a week ago and it just hasn't lasted. I remember laughing while I was watching it, I remember certain scenes that left me cold, I remember my excitement when Juliette Lewis and Michelle Monaghan had like 5 minutes of screen time each (but really, ladies in a dude-bro comedy who don't show their boobs? Whaaaat?). I remember a steady stream of "Wow, Robert Downey, Jr is great. Zach Galifianakis is ok but this persona is wearing thin" in my thoughts. That's about it. Not a bad film, just nothing to write home about. Or blog in depth about, really.

3/5

Watch Instead: Well I've never seen Planes, Trains, and Automobiles but I know that's the one most people are comparing this to. From my own experience I'd go with Midnight Run, because it's badass and features Charles Grodin, who totally acted with RDJ in Heart and Souls! Whoooa six degrees!

Further Reading:
Dark of the Matinee review
Joel Crary review

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Another Hal Hartley Double Feature: Simple Men (1992) and Trust (1990)

Yup, that's right: "Another". One of my first posts was for a Hartley double feature, and I'm ashamed it's taken me this long to have another one since he's one of my favorite filmmakers. After taking in his latest short films, I was keen on just re-watching all of his features, so on my day off I took in two that are in my own movie collection. His films always go well together, connected by actors, musical style, and punchy dialogue, so it had a nice flow.

First we have Simple Men: When brothers Bill (Robert John Burke) and Dennis (Bill Sage) find out that their activist father, a former professional baseball player, has escaped custody after his arrest for a homicidal bombing that took place decades ago, they decide to track him down in Long Island. After reaching a dead end in their search, they take refuge at a bar run by Kate (Karen Sillas), who's recently taken in a mysterious Romanian named Elina (Elina Löwensohn). Bill has his eye on Kate and wants to stick around, while Dennis is convinced Elina somehow knows their dad and is intent on getting information out of her. Then they all dance for a while, and Martin Donovan is there. As is Bus Driver Stu from Pete and Pete. Radness.

This isn't my favorite Hartley film, but it has really grown on me with repeat viewings. It helps that I am ridiculously attracted to Bill Sage (especially in those glasses- swoon!), but it honestly is a pretty cool movie. It's a typical "brothers with daddy issues" premise turned on end thanks to the filmmaker's trademark oddball characterization and ambiguous dialogue. No one's intentions or motivations are ever entirely clear, and the plot never moves in an anticipated direction- there's always some surprise appearance or event to keep things off-kilter. It also has a kick-ass soundtrack from Hartley and Yo La Tengo and one of my favorite musical moments ever caught on film. The script gets a little weird towards the end with the father's activist stuff, but by that time I'm so interested in the characters that it doesn't matter much. Good movie. The end.

4.5/5

Download "Kool Thing" by Sonic Youth

Next up was Trust, a movie that makes me filled with sighs in the good kid of way. The much-missed Adrienne Shelly stars as Maria, a pregnant teenager who inadvertently kills her father, loses her boyfriend, drops out of school, and is kicked out of her house on the same day. Twentysomething computer repair person Matthew (Martin Donovan) lets her stay at his house, but she quickly discovers that he is physically and emotionally abused by his demanding father (John MacKay). She drags him back to her house, where she becomes a slave to her widowed mother (Merritt Nelson) and attempts to atone for her mistakes while Matthew tries to find a way to get them away from both of their families.

This is one of my favorite movies in general, and remains my favorite Hartley film. It was the first I ever saw from the director, as part of an "American Independent Cinema" course I took one summer in high school. That class really helped open my eyes to what film in general had to offer, and at the time Trust was a kind of movie I'd never seen before. It's only Hartley's second feature- he decided to make it solely for the opportunity to work again with Adrienne Shelly, who'd just starred in his first film The Unbelievable Truth. She is a talented and likable actress, heartbreakingly embodying this young girl who suddenly realizes how naive and selfish she is, and tirelessly works to make up for it. I love how she takes on Matthew's mother's old dress; it becomes a uniform of sorts, physically marking her inner transformation. She starts off as a seemingly simple character but is quickly revealed to be unexpectedly complex.

Of course, the other performances are excellent as well, characterized by Hartley's stilted and over-choreographed direction that serves to highlight each word of dialogue in a theatrical manner. Donovan is stern and troubled, Merritt Nelson is intense and creepy as Maria's controlling mother, and John MacKay is oddly terrifying as Matthew's awful father. Many other Hartley regulars- including a not-yet-famous Edie Falco- make appearances, making for a comfortable familiarity I've come to associate with his body of work. His actors shift in and out of drama and comedy, resulting in a film that makes me laugh as much as it depresses me. Their actions are intentionally over the top and exaggerated, with a wonderful self-awareness that heightens the impact of the quick, snippy dialogue.

I love this movie so much. Maybe some day I'll do a more in-depth review but for now just know that it is a seriously excellent, addictive film that moves me deeply every time I see it. The quirky chemistry between Donovan and Shelly perfectly plays off the intense performances of the supporting cast, and the goofy jokes punctuated by insightful dramatic monologues make for a memorable, complex script. Plus it's got a great, early-90's lo-fi grittiness to it all that appeals to me. I can't believe it hasn't been released on DVD (I'm still enjoying my secondhand VHS copy), but I'm hoping his company Possible Films will get to it. Luckily it's on netflix instant.

5/5

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ink (2009)

Having been dubbed the "weirdest movie of 2009", Ink was certainly on my radar, but for some reason it took me a year to finally see it. Through the experiences of self-obsessed businessman John (Christopher Soren Kelly) and his young daughter Emma (Quinn Hunchar), the age-old battle of a secret dream world is shown. Typical of so many fairy tales, there are "light" ones and "dark" ones- the former give good dreams and the latter give nightmares. A dark hopeful named Ink kidnaps Emma, hoping that offering her as a sacrifice will give him full-on dark powers, but a powerful light "storyteller" (Jessica Duffy) tracks them in an effort to save her. The battle for her soul and that of her father is then fought on two planes- the real world and the dream world.

Ok, so obviously I can't give an actual well-written summary for this movie, mostly because it would take too long. Suffice to say it keeps in the tradition of fantasy films like MirrorMask, Night Watch, and even The Wizard of Oz. Its premise isn't especially original, nor are its themes, but writer/director Jamin Winans infuses Ink with inventive visuals and a grounded emotional center, which- along with some fine performances- give the movie a memorable impact. This is one of the most emotionally affecting sci-fi/fantasy films I've seen in a while, and I really hadn't expected that.

Ink really defies its low budget in most ways- it's filled with complex imagery and costumes, well-choreographed fights, and a talented cast. At times it's a bit corny, at others it is hindered by iffy special effects, and of course its themes are pretty familiar and predictable, but dang if I didn't enjoy the shit out of this movie. It starts off a little slow and I was unsure how to get into it, but it picks up as more awesome characters are introduced and by the end I was wholly invested in everyone's plight. There's a range of incredible moments- from a phonograph domino effect to a What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?-esque ex-actress- held together by a compelling over-arching story.

It's got a little kid who doesn't annoy me. It's got a lady who reminded me of Lizzy Caplan. It's got fist fights and magic and wonderfully creepy villains and a heart-wrenching climax. Ink has a lot of things to like, displaying Winans' obvious ingenuity and a story rich with drama, action, adventure, and imagination. And I got a little teary at the end, not going to lie.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: As I was watching it, several like films came to mind, but I think that the popular Russian movie Night Watch is the best pairing. It is probably my favorite fantasy/sci-fi thriller named after a Dutch painting.

Further Reading:
366 Weird Movies review
Official site. Support these people.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Ughhhh

I've been having a really bad art week, you guys, and I don't know if there'll be a new Movie Sketch Project today. I've made multiple pieces inspired by Re-Animator and am not liking anything so far. I still have some ideas that I'd like to try out but just haven't had the time or motivation to really do them well. Hopefully this evening I'll be able to make something I like. Or maybe Sunday. Anyway, sorry. I don't even have a new review or anything.

In the meantime you can check out earlier entries in the Movie Sketch Project. Or you can buy something I've made and make me feel like less of a failure. You know, whatever.

UPDATE: Here is an awesome movie sketch from Shawn to fill in! Thanks, dude!

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Possible Films, Volume 2

I know I rarely talk about him here, but Hal Hartley is definitely one of my favorite directors. There is a unique atmosphere to his films that I instinctively respond to- the staged choreography, choppy dialogue, repetition, lilting music... There are times when I could spend (and have spent) the whole day watching his films simply because I can't think of anyone else who makes movies the way he does. I went through my main Hartley phase a few months before starting this blog, so while I've seen almost all of his features and shorts, I haven't re-watched most of them recently enough to have written about them. This weekend I took in Possible Films, Volume 2, a new collection of 5 shorts from 2009 and 2010 made while he was living in Europe. He hasn't released a full-length feature since 2006's Fay Grim, so even though I have found his shorts to be hit and miss, I was eager to see anything new from the auteur. I'll just shortly discuss each one individually.

"A/Muse"
A hopeful German actress travels to Berlin with the intention of tracking down her favorite director, an aging ex-pat who's stopped making films. She believes she can become his new "muse" and encourage him to make his first German-language film. She stalks his rumored hang-outs and eventually writes him a friendly letter, only to be disappointed by the response. This is a cute one, with Christina Flick single-handedly engaging the audience with her read-aloud letters and emails and generally personifying a well-meaning but delusional young woman. It's a bittersweet, one-sided romance of sorts.

"Implied Harmonies"
This half-hour documentary details Hartley's collaboration with experimental Dutch composer Louis Andriessen, who asked the filmmaker to stage his production of "La Commedia". It's primarily composed of interviews with the cast and crew members and footage of rehearsals. I know little about opera and I had never heard of Andriessen beforehand, and unfortunately the approach of the film seemed catered to viewers who had some grounding in the subject. I didn't get much out of it, really, though I did love seeing some footage of the final staging, which involved multiple video projections of overdramatic videos Hartley filmed with the play's cast.

"The Apologies"
A young American playwright leaves his Berlin apartment for New York, where he'll be working on a modern musical adaptation of The Odyssey. He lends his place to a German actress preparing for a big audition, and she accidentally overhears an emotional monologue from his ex-girlfriend. This one was my favorite, mainly because of how absolutely adorable the lead actress is (to be honest I don't know if she's Bettina Zimmerman or Ireen Kirsch, the two actresses credited don't have any kind of notation), and for its clever screenplay. I liked the parallels to "A/Muse", with both involving a lady hanging around in a Berlin apartment, reading things aloud and planning for future theatrical stardom. There were also some good jokes with Nikolai Kinski in the beginning as he brainstorms for his Odyssey script.

"Adventure"
This is another documentary piece focusing on a trip to Japan that Hartley took with his wife, actress Miho Nikaido. It's composed of both footage of areas they're visiting (including Nikaido's family home) and interviews with Nikaido and her family. Hartley remains largely offscreen but inserts himself in narrative subtitles. It's a bit uneven structurally but does offer interesting insight into their relationship and Nikaido's career experiences, and I had known very little about such topics before watching it.

"Accomplice"
This is like a three minute credit sequence with footage of Godard. I didn't really get it.

Further Reading:
Nuts4r2 review

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Suck (2009) at 366 Weird Movies


Well, it's a movie with Dave Foley in it. That's kind of the main reason I need to watch anything, even it turns out it misses the mark a bit. But also it has rock music and vampires and satire and miniatures and Iggy Pop! So it turns out to be a pretty ok movie. Catch my review of the Canadian horror-comedy Suck over at 366 Weird Movies!

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Fly (1986)

Oh my gosh. This movie was a big deal for me, and kind of a major stepping stone in my movie viewing habits. I've been avoiding it for a while since I saw the first half hour or so and was deeply unsettled as Goldblum's character started transforming (I am pretty squeamish, as I'm sure I've mentioned). But in honor of Halloween and the Sci-Fi List I sucked it up, and can honestly say I watched the whole thing except for the nail part! Cronenberg's remake stars Jeff Goldblum as Seth Brundle, an unassuming, fast-talking scientist working on a teleportation machine but having trouble transporting anything organic. He begins dating journalist Veronica (Geena Davis), who documents his experiments despite her boss/ex-boyfriend's (John Getz) skepticism. When Seth makes a drunken decision to go through the machine regardless of the danger, he emerges with increased strength and agility, a taste for sugar, and a gradual insect mutation.

First off I'm just going to remind everyone that this movie has this. Just let that sink in, it helps with the horrors that happen later. So despite its almost overwhelming grossness- the ripped off fingernails, loose teeth, expectorant eating habits, bristly body hair, etc- The Fly is a really compelling film, and certainly effective in its juxtaposition of visceral horror and emotional drama. The relationship between Seth and Veronica is written well, though never given a chance to fully develop as his own jealousy and overconfidence launch his accidental transformation. The story can be viewed as a romance with sci-fi/horror undertones, or vice versa, which was a smart move on the screenwriters' part. I haven't seen the original or read George Langelaan's short story so I'm not sure how much the plot and tone were altered, but either way it's just an intelligently-scripted movie.

Goldblum is... well, he's Jeff Goldblum, what more do you want? He's perfected that nerdy/hunky too-smart-for-his-own-good scientist thing and he really gives his all to his performance as Brundle. Even caked in layers of prosthetic monster make-up, he manages to embody a very touching, human character. I've always thought Geena Davis was cute, and while her character is a little too weepy here, I generally enjoyed her performance and was happy to see a Davis/Goldblum team-up that wasn't Earth Girls Are Easy (though I do have a special fondness for that one).

The Fly uses its gross-out horror to convey a sad lesson on the delicacy of human existence. I don't want to watch it again any time soon, but I'm very glad I've finally seen it. Plus it's got mad bonin'. PLUS I now feel braver in my movie-viewing habits, squeamishness-wise. Ready for more Cronenberg, certainly! (Specifically: Videodrome)

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Follow it up with The Lost Boys- another dude is turning into a dickwad monster, but in a much campier, easier-to-digest fashion.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Vampire's Kiss (1988)

I grudgingly sat down for this because my boyfriend thinks it's sooooo greeeeat and I thought it looked a little too silly from the trailer. But it's ok. In Vampire's Kiss, Nicolas Cage stars as Peter Loew, a confident literary agent who meets an alluring woman (Jennifer Beals) in a bar and discovers she's a vampire as they're making love. He sees her again several more times and becomes convinced that he himself is turning into a vampire, emotionally and physically abusing his friends and coworkers- especially his secretary (Maria Conchita Alonso)- in the process. Also, the vampire lady is probably imaginary.

This movie is the kind of comedy so dark and strange that it can become uncomfortable to watch. Cage is hilarious and very weird as Peter, delivering lines in this affected accent and gesturing wildly. He is completely committed to being batshit crazy, which I appreciated for the most part, but it goes too far at some points. As he slowly sinks more and more into vampiric insanity, he becomes more and more over the top. It's both captivating and unsettling to watch.

The script is uneven, offering some very funny lines and scenes while also giving a mostly unfunny subplot concerning Peter's secretary. The direction is ok, nothing special. Really almost any success this movie has relies completely on Cage's extreme performance, along with the mysterious story that leaves the audience wondering just how much is in Peter's head.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Another example of Cage being totally crazy, The Wicker Man remake.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part II

Wait! First read Part I!

Ok, so in case you don't recall: I left off with three movies down, plus a rock performance and costume contest, so by this time I had been awake for a very large number of hours and was starting to feel the pull of gentle dreamtime. Plus the seats at Coolidge Corner are really comfortable, and I'd brought along my favorite blanket. And I was wearing pajamas as my costume. Really, the stage was set for sleep, not more movie watching. But I did my best!

4 Paura nella città dei morti viventi (The Gates of Hell) (1980)
I slept through several large chunks of this movie, I'm not going to lie. It's an Italian production with dubbed English and slow pacing, filmed primarily without proper lighting so it was easy for me to nod off. The story concerns the worm-spewing zombies who rise from the dead after a priest commits suicide and the gates of hell are opened. A psychic lady and a reporter try to reverse the process. I'm not really sure what happens otherwise, but I did keep waking up to various gory hell creatures and insect-fueled horror. It was pretty gross. I don't remember enough of it to give it a rating.

5 Invaders From Mars (1986)
I pinched myself awake and was able to push on through the next two movies with faculties intact. This remake of the 1953 sci-fi classic keeps within the Invasion of the Body Snatchers/The Faculty/Animorphs-brand of alien takeover, but from the point of view of a child. Young David (Hunter Carson) notices his parents acting strangely after visiting the landing site of a crashed meteor/possible spaceship. He quickly catches on that his parents, science teacher, and several other townspeople have been replaced by aliens, and enlists the kind-hearted school nurse (Karen Black) to help him stop the invasion. It's a cute, campy movie with a talented cast, good pace, and interesting visual design, as well as some totally creepy moments. I haven't seen the original so I'm not sure what's been changed, but it seems a good throwback to early sci-fi while still being rooted in its new 80's setting.
4/5

6 Don't Go In The House (1980)
Ever find yourself watching Psycho and wishing it had more boobs and disco? I assume that's how writer/director Joseph Ellison got the idea for Don't Go In The House, a grindhouse slasher flick starring Dan Grimaldi as a troubled factory worker obsessed with the "cleansing" power of fire. After his controlling mother dies he's freed from her overzealous grip and celebrates by luring young women to his home and burning them alive. It's sleazy, derivative, and uneven but ultimately pretty entertaining. Grimaldi is surprisingly compelling in his stilted, bashful delivery and I dug the burning imagery. It was a cool way to end the marathon, especially when preceded by some awesome 70's exploitation trailers.
3/5

So I mostly made it through the whole thing, and overall I feel it was a success! Lots of new movies and fun times, and the enthusiastic crowd, impressive costumes, and super friendly staff (I even got a free tea during the last movie!) made it a memorable Halloween. Too bad it was such a miserable bus ride home, but these are the sacrifices I make to be a Real Movie Fan.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part I

Some of you may recall the Dusk Till Dawn Marathon at the Somerville Theatre last year. It was a good time and I was expecting to repeat the experience this year, but the group that runs it opted for a week-long festival of local and independent features instead of an all-night marathon. Luckily the lovely Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline offered its own 12am-12pm horror 'thon that included a live rock show, Alien burlesque, costume contest, weird short films, tasty pizza, hipsters, and 6 horror movies. I went as Columbia from Rocky Horror, in her pajamas and Mickey Mouse hat get-up so I'd be comfy. The make-up was quite a challenge but I think it came out ok!

The theme was films made before the advent of digital technology so all of the movies do their effects the old-fashioned way, which I really dig. Other, less prevalent themes included cats being thrown into scenes, big hair, and of course, boobs.

1 HAUSU (HOUSE) (1977)
This is the only film shown that I'd already seen, but dang if I wasn't excited as hell to see it again! HOUSE (it can only be written in capital letters) is a riotous, nonsensical, completely insane movie that has viewers laughing as much as they're exclaiming "Oh my god WHAT?!" It's great. The story is sort of about a group of teenage girls who stay a night at an old woman's house plagued by murderous furniture but really it's just a collection of escalatingly weirder scenes of each character's experiences. It's got floating heads and a singing cat and a giggly watermelon and a dancing skeleton and a hungry piano. And every second of it is amazing. (Above title links to my original review.)
5/5

Also here is my original art for this film.

2 Re-Animator (1985)
Awesome awesome awesome! This is my current movie obsession, and I was really surprised by just how fun it was. Loosely inspired by a Lovecraft short story, the film follows obsessive researcher Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and new roommate Dan as they experiment with a serum to bring the dead back to life. Problems ensue, Dan's boss is turned into a lobotomized zombie, a disembodied head becomes an evil overlord, and Dan's girlfriend is kidnapped and stripped down to her boobs: Everything about this movie rules. It's funny, weird, gory, campy, and massively entertaining. Jeffrey Combs is mesmerizing, giving this slightly off-putting, socially awkward, but ultimately brilliant performance that I couldn't get enough of. Plus he looks like a nerdy Rob Lowe. To me the only thing wrong with this movie is Combs wasn't in every scene. The sequel's moving up my netflix queue right now. And I'll almost definitely ask for this dvd for Christmas so I can make everyone I know watch it.
4.5/5

3 Fright Night (1985)
I've been hearing bits and pieces about the remake lately so I was looking forward to seeing what the original was all about. Turns out it's about some high school dork who finds out his sexy new neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is a suave vampire killing all the local ladies! But no one believes him so he enlists the aid of an aging tv vampire hunter (Roddy McDowall) to try and protect his girlfriend (Amanda Bearse), the vampire's next victim. It's a pretty cool movie that's mostly campy and goofy but does hold some creepy scenes and fun creature effects. Chris Sarandon is completely great as the snarky, turtleneck-rockin' vampire and I'm unsure what Colin Farrell thinks he's going to do in the role. No matter. Fright Night is really good, but a little dated and I can understand wanting to give it a more modern spin. Though anything that isn't in the 80's will be less fun.
4/5

Let's set the scene: So by this time it's like 7am, and I've already been up all day, then had work in the evening, then went to a Halloween party, then sat through 3 films/live show/burlesque/costume contest/inside-out pizza. So, I'm a little sleepy. And perhaps a bit less lucid for the next three movies. Just warning you. Stay tuned for Part II!

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Movie Sketch Project #15

Wow the week does go by quickly, doesn't it? Don't worry- I procrastinated a bit but I have pulled through with another entry in the Movie Sketch Project. All for you. Originally I worked for a long time on a design for Suspicion, but wound up hating it and having no intention to share it with the world. So instead I did a quick photoshop thing for HAUSU (my original review), which I re-watched this weekend at the Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon (full report on that this weekend!). It's a rad movie and I love this little snapshot. Click ahead to see!

Also for those who don't follow my twitter feed religiously, I just want to point out that I made a new Cleopatra Jones print that I'm pretty proud of, and it's totally for sale! Cool!



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Thursday, November 4, 2010

One Hour Fantasy Girl (2009)

I received a screener for this independent drama through my stint at 366 Weird Movies, so I just wanted to say thanks for the opportunity!

One Hour Fantasy Girl draws from the true story of a struggling twentysomething (Kelly-Ann Tursi) living in LA who becomes a dominatrix-for-hire to make ends meet, hoping to save up enough to start a career in real estate. As fantasy girl "Brandi", she will act out a paying man's fantasy as long as no sex or kissing is involved, with her partner Chi (Paul Nguyen) offering protection and teaching her a more meditative lifestyle. When Brandi begins to feel a connection with new client Bobby (Joe "Baby Jake Gyllenhaal" Lackay), she debates leaving her unsatisfying and sometimes dangerous lifestyle.

Writer/director Edgar Michael Bravo has opted for a subdued, super-realistic take on this woman's story. The script is sparse, leaving several scenes without much dialogue, and the scenes are often clipped and unresolved. It's a slow-moving film, composed of segments with the "Brandi" persona acting out men's S&M fantasies and the real "Becky" dealing with financial difficulties and societal scorn. She is fiercely independent, to the point of being fairly unpleasant much of the time. Tursi gives a primarily deadpan, straight-faced performance, which felt true to this hardened, private character but was frustrating as a viewer. I wanted to root for Becky and sympathize with her, but I so rarely saw her exhibit any emotion or vulnerability that it was alienating. It took me a while to warm up to Tursi as a performer, but by the end I did get a feel for her approach to the character and was closer to understanding the role she was inhibiting.

Despite its low-budget feel, One Hour Fantasy Girl is a competently-made, well-scripted drama with some interesting twists thrown in and a strong central character. It offers few surprises in tone or execution, and the treatment of the titular Girl is too closed-off to provide the insight I'd have liked, but it's a good film overall, and certainly memorable.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Would it be insensitive to a real woman's struggle to suggest the goofy musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying? I mean, it's also about a young person who starts off with a crappy job hoping to rise to the top, so, it seems appropriate. Sort of?

One Hour Fantasy Girl Official Site

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Suspicion (1941)

I meant to have this done for the Hitchcock blogathon at the LAMB, but I just didn't have time. Oh well. Let's talk about it anyway! In Suspicion, the bookish and reserved Lina (Joan Fontaine) is caught up in a whirlwind romance against her own better judgment, quickly charmed by playboy gambling addict Johnnie (Cary Grant). He spends more money than he makes so he can give Lina the wealthy lifestyle she's accustomed to, and wracks up heavy debts. When he goes into business with his goofy old friend Beaky (Nigel Bruce), Lina begins to suspect (ha!) that her husband may be plotting to kill him to steal his money. Eventually her fears grow and she becomes convinced he's trying to kill her for her insurance.

This movie is all about the slow build-up, taking about half of its run time to develop their romance and highlight certain personality traits of Lina and Johnnie. For the most part Grant is rockin' his charming, overconfident persona and Fontaine is smart but sensitive. The film is sprinkled with tiny hints of possible malice, so that every small look or line that Lina notices is a signal for the audience as well. The action picks up and the story becomes more of a mystery in the second half, as Lina anticipates a murder at any moment.

I appreciate the subtlety with which Hitchcock approaches this tale, along with the stylistic flourishes and clever cues that always keep things interesting. Though it was at first hard to really be engaged with the story, the ever-present questions about Johnnie's character and the overall splendid performances from Grant and Fontaine kept me interested enough until the tone shifts and there is suddenly much more at stake. The ending is a complete cop-out, but I know there were some studio issues there as well as audience expectations about Grant as an actor. It's too bad, really, because it could have been more satisfying had it ended a different way.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I was tempted to recommend another classic relationship-based thriller, like Double Indemnity or Vertigo, but instead I'm going with the more recent À la folie... pas du tout (He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not), a French film that also deals with matters of perspective. Audrey Tatou plays a woman in love with a married man who trusts that they'll run away together soon, but when the point of view is switched to show the relationship from a different angle, it becomes a much darker story.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Chung Hing sam lam (Chungking Express) (1994)

Two separate love stories loosely connected by a late-night sandwich stand are shown back-to-back in Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express. The first half details the month following sensitive police officer He Zhiwu's (Takeshi Kaneshiro) break-up with the unseen May. He buys a can of pineapples (her favorite fruit) every day with the expiration date May 1st, counting down each day of separation, and checks his messages religiously but never receives the one call he wants. Meanwhile a mysterious woman (Bridgitte Lin) disguised in a trenchcoat, sunglasses, and blonde wig stalks the city streets looking for three men and involving herself in drug smuggling. The two meet at a bar and commiserate over their own loneliness.

The second, and much more interesting tale, concerns 663 (Tony Leung), another cop, and Faye (Faye Wong), a quirky new sandwich shop employee. At night he hangs around his apartment, talking to his possessions to help relieve his grief over a recent break-up, while she sneaks into his apartment during the day to clean up for him and offer little encouragements and gifts. They form a friendship but she is reticent to open up to him, still dreaming of a new life in California when she saves up the money. He doesn't realize she may have feelings for him, and may not catch on until she's decided to move away.

Though this is my first viewing of a Wong Kar-wai film not included in his trilogy, I could still easily pick out the filmmaker's distinctive visual and narrative styles. There are gorgeously saturated colors and overexposed lighting, along with many scenes of fast-paced time-lapse photography and wobbly hand-held cameras exposing the busy, shifting nature of urban existence. The characters are quiet and pensive, leaving time for several scenes without dialogue or clear-cut exposition. Wong is adept at creating thoughtful, slow-burning romances, attempting to cut to the heart of relationships, sex, and heartbreak without all the small talk.

The main issue with Chungking Express is that it is essentially two short films back-to-back, and for me the second grossly outshines the first. The first segment offers little in the way of sympathetic characters or engaging script, though the visuals are captivating and the performances interesting. It's not awful, but it doesn't give you much to go on and to be honest I had trouble caring at all about either of the main characters. The second segment is well-written, funny, and sweet, with a more interesting storyline and very likable characters embodied by Tony Leung and Faye Wong (who is absolutely adorable). It's still off-beat and ambiguous, but keeps a lighter tone and more accessible plot.

Wong's films are always beautiful and haunting, both stylistically and emotionally, and this film carefully taps into certain secret aspects of loneliness and lost love. There's a certain wistfulness to his work that leaves a long-lasting impact after viewing, and Chungking Express is no exception. I just wish I could have loved the two segments equally. Excellent soundtrack all around, though.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Watch this first and then segue into Amelie for an even cuter dose of short-haired ladies who clandestinely help others while living in an over-saturated foreign country.

Further Reading:
Cinemascope review
Japan Cinema review
Not Just Movies review

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