Monday, January 31, 2011

Going the Distance (2010)

I'd wanted to see this when it came out in theaters but plans fell through every time I tried. Finally the timing was perfect for a date with my favorite romantic comedy friend (whom you might recall from last year's rom-com series), and we enthusiastically sat down for a commentary-fueled viewing of Going the Distance. Garrett (Justin Long) is a somewhat immature dude who's bad at commitment and works for a record company. Erin (Drew Barrymore) is a summer intern at a major New York newspaper, completing her journalism degree at Stanford after a failed relationship got her career off-track for a few years. The two begin dating a few weeks before she leaves for San Francisco, and decide to see how it works as a long-distance relationship because they like each other so much.

With a script riddled with swear words and generally realistic dialogue, a cast of likable actors with appreciatively regular levels of attractiveness, and a couple who actually have chemistry with one another, Going the Distance manages to be a damn enjoyable comedy. I was surprised by the R rating, but pleased because it allows the film to be more frank in its language and depiction/discussion of sex. The dialogue is funny and ridiculous but does sound like things people could actually say in real life, and I love how potty-mouthed Drew Barrymore's character is. Then again I generally just love Drew Barrymore. She's so cute, and always comes off as grounded and unassuming. The fact that she directed one of my favorite movies of 2009 just makes me appreciate her more.

While Going the Distance features a fantastic supporting cast (including Charlie Day doing his best "Charlie from Always Sunny" impression) and a refreshingly realistic view of both relationships and the current state of employment affairs (this movie is VERY "boo this economy/the internet killed our jobs"), it suffers from poor pacing and a few cliche romantic comedy forced situations. The back and forth between New York and San Francisco and the frequent "This sucks, what are we going to do"'s are typical of a long-distance relationship, I know, but it makes the narrative itself drag on by the end. I have to say, though, (Spoiler Alert) I love that she chose a great job over a boy. I don't care how anti-romantic that sounds. It made a lot of sense to me.

Anyway, fun movie, fun people, good soundtrack, realistic script, and a lady director. Cool times.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: This put me in the mood for a Drew Barrymore rom-com double feature. The Wedding Singer or Never Been Kissed are my favorites.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

City Lights (1931)

Time to watch my first Charlie Chaplin movie! Yay! His silent classic City Lights follows his downtrodden but enthusiastic Tramp character as he befriends an alcoholic millionaire, falls in love with flower girl, and takes up boxing to make some money. Unfortunately, the millionaire only remembers him when he's drunk and kicks him out when he sobers up, the girl is blind and believes the Tramp to be a wealthy gentleman who can help her financially, and he's not very good at boxing.

It's been a while since I've seen a good old-fashioned slapstick comedy, and I found myself really appreciating the enthusiasm and lack of ego that went into Chaplin's performance. He's willing to make himself look so ridiculous for the sake of a laugh, and it just makes his character all the more endearing. He's clumsy and a bit odd, but earnest and kind, and really his biggest setback seems to be bad luck. From his introduction in the first scene as he struggles to break free from an aggressively pointy sculpture, I was laughing out loud, and as he navigates the oft-unfriendly streets of the city and manages to find friendship and beauty along the way, it's easy to fall in love with the guy in general.

The story is simple enough, but engaging and often clever. I was struck by the level of dramatic content strewn throughout, leading up to an ultimately touching ending. It's primarily a comedy I think, but definitely does its fair share of heart-string-tugging as things get worse and worse for our heroes.

Other nice things that I wanted to note: Isn't it cool that a white-person movie from 1931 has a black character who is just a regular guy? Like, he's not a servant or something. And he's doing a sport with white people. Anyone know if boxing was segregated in the 1930's? I have no idea about sports history. (Spoiler Alert) Also isn't it cool that the blind lady is able to get her own flower shop and support herself after her operation? She doesn't even have to get married or anything! I guess you can't be successful AND blind, though, which is too bad.

Anyway, City Lights is really great.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: The dinner scene reminded me of my own favorite slapstick comedy, Bringing Up Baby, which I think would make a fun double feature.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Things to Come (1936)

Getting through that sci-fi list, by golly! Based on an HG Wells novel I haven't read, Things To Come tells the rather preachy tale of "Everytown" (actual name), a place of White British People that goes through a number of extreme changes over the course of 100 years. At the start, we see the town's inhabitants- including intelligent family man John Cabal (Raymond Massey)- assaulted with bombings at Christmas. WWII has begun, and drags on for decades. By the 1970s, civilization has deteriorated into militant tribes attempting to salvage what little resources and technology are left. An aging Cabal unites with a group of engineers and inventors to kickstart a more peaceful society. Flash forward several more decades and we see the descendants of the original characters living in a futuristic world, now forced to contend with the consequences of advancing technology.

The idea of tracking a small, ordinary town through a century of development is indeed an intriguing one- especially when apocalyptic war and space travel are involved. By maintaining a focus on certain re-appearing characters and their offspring (played by the same actors), there's a certain continuity that makes it easier to digest a story so epic in scope. The characters are interesting- especially the lean, mean Raymond Massey as John Cabal- and the visuals are memorable during the future scenes, with a range of whirring vehicles, video gadgets, togas, and something known only as a SPACE GUN. Hell yes.

Unfortunately, Things to Come is hindered by a very preachy script and ineffectual pacing. I understand what screenwriter Wells and director William Cameron Menzies were trying to do, what with all the anti-war and pro-intellectualism goings on, but it's just clumsily done. The dialogue is stilted and unrealistic, the acting is often melodramatic, and there's about 20 minutes of "war sucks" montage to get us through 40 years. Normally I'd be ok with those things in an old sci-fi movie, but this one just isn't fun because it's so caught up in getting out its message. Plus the cool futuristic stuff only gets about 15 minutes. It's a good premise and there are a lot of good ideas here, especially in the visuals and inventions, it just doesn't come together as well as it should.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well, I was somewhat put in the mind of Metropolis for its big scope and cool visuals, but apparently Wells's intent was to make a movie that was the opposite of Metropolis, because he hated what Lang had done with that film. Oh well.

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #26

I seem to have fallen behind in my art-making schedule, so sorry that the most recent movie sketch entries are for movies I reviewed a while ago, as opposed to this week. I will have to right myself somewhere along the line, probably next week.

Anyway, after wasting a lot of time working on a Scott Pilgrim Valentine's Day card that I ended up hating, I decided to try out an idea I had while watching Young Frankenstein a few weeks ago at the Brattle. It's a simple black/white digital painting of Gene Wilder being all crazy-like as Frederick Frankenstein. I'm really proud of how it came out, and I'm thinking of possibly putting it on a t-shirt with a quote from the movie. Any thoughts on that? I'd really like to know your opinion, since I've never made a t-shirt before. For now, though it's available for purchase as a print, along with many other fine items! (The money I make is all going to rent, movies, and art supplies, folks, no splurging here.)

Click ahead, behold my creation!

Oh also just a reminder that I recently made a facebook page for all these artsy things. I am mostly using it to talk about what I'm working on and put up links to cool movie and/or art things I find on the internet. Fun times!


Then I decided to work some more on that Scott Pilgrim thing. It came out ok, but I'm not sure about it yet. Hmm?



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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Somewhere (2010)

Oh, Sofia Coppola. Looks like you've made another movie about privileged white people with feelings of emptiness and isolation. In Somewhere, Stephen Dorff stars as Johnny Marco, a popular action star who spends most of his time drinking, fucking hot women, and sitting around doing nothing. The few times he isn't doing one of those things, he's working on a new movie or spending time with his preteen daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning). When her mother decides to take some "personal time" off, Cleo stays with her father for longer than he's accustomed. The two play video games, travel to Italy to promote his movie, and eat a lot of food. Johnny begins to consider some lifestyle adjustment while Cleo agonizes over her mother's unexplained departure.

I'm of two minds on this one. Yes, this is certainly more of the same from Coppola. Rich white people have problems, boo hoo, and nothing really happens. It's fairly self-indulgent. But at the same time, she is so darned good at doing it, I can't fault her too much for playing to her strengths. She gets interesting, understated performances from Dorff and Fanning. She sets up these beautiful, quiet shots and does wonders with a still camera. She doesn't so much tell a story as she does capture a series of moments in Johnny's banal and gradually self-aware existence.

The thing about Somewhere is that it feels rather pointless. Like its title it is ambiguous, short, and searching, but it never really goes anywhere. There isn't much character development, save for a few small moments at the end with Dorff questioning his purpose. I think it was meant to be more introspective, but it comes off as too sparse and removed. There isn't much resolution, and that's ok, but there's a prevailing sense of blankness to the film that will likely leave many viewers unsatisfied. For the most part I liked it, mainly for the strong performances and gorgeous cinematography, but it just needed... more. I think had I been in a different mood I might have hated it, but at the time it made for a nice viewing. Then again as a hip, privileged white person, I guess I'm the target audience.

I imagine Coppola's very specific approach is wearing thin on many viewers. I'll wait and see what happens next time.

3.5/5

Watch Instead: Honestly, just watch Lost in Translation. It's got a lot of the same themes, but it's a better movie.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Talk to Me (2007)

Big thanks to DC Girl at the Movies for calling my attention to this excellent film, which I hadn't even heard of. Talk to Me tells the true story of Petey Greene (Don Cheadle), an ex-con who becomes an extremely successful radio dj in the late 1960's and 70's. His rise in the industry is aided by Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a producer for the WOL station in Washington, DC, who becomes his good friend and later manager. Over the course of several years, Petey contends with alcoholism and rabid fans while becoming a spokesperson for civil rights following Martin Luther King, Jr's assassination.

For a good chunk of this movie I just kept thinking, "Damn, that Chiwetel Ejiofor is cute, and also a good actor. Why isn't he the star of more movies?" He doesn't exactly steal the show from Don Cheadle, who is lively and raucous as the multi-faceted Greene, but he does fascinate as the more low-key Hughes. He slips between over-serious pretension and unaffected street jive with offputting ease, and I really loved his intelligent and excitable character. Cheadle and Ejiofor are so strong as the leads that it's easy to forget the excellent supporting work from Taraji P Henson and Martin Sheen, but they are totally great as well. I especially enjoyed Henson's many rad hairstyles.

With a script that aptly blends heart-wrenching drama, unexpected comedy, and familiar historical events, Talk to Me is an extremely watchable, accessible, and entertaining partial-biopic. The filmmakers smartly reel the central focus away from Greene's notorious antics on and off-air, choosing instead to highlight the friendship between Greene and Hughes and their effect on one another. All of the historical stuff and music and alcohol problems and activism is still there, but often worked in around their relationship. I didn't know anything about the real Petey Greene before seeing the film, so I'm not sure how accurate it is, but either way it's a great film that captures the spirit of a certain place, time, and people while showcasing a complex and interesting friendship. I hope to see more from director Kasi Lemmons soon!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I think it'd make a cool double feature with The Runaways, which gives an insider perspective on another music scene in the 70's. Plus they're both directed by ladies! What a coincidence.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mulan (1998)

Well, when the most motivational song ever is in your movie, it is likely to be up for multiple viewings. Mulan is a big favorite among many of my friends, and I feel many of my generation see it as the last great Disney movie. Based loosely on the legend of Hua Mulan, the film traces the adventures of Mulan, a young woman living in China during the Han Dynasty. When the Huns invade and the men of the country are called to war, she secretly takes her injured father's place so he won't be in danger. With the help of Mushu, a wise-cracking mini-dragon, she learns to act like a man and trains to become one of the most capable soldiers in her unit. She fights bravely but is constantly in danger of being found out.

Is it weird that one of Disney's funniest and most endearing movies is centered around a brutal war? I mean it's a fictional invasion and all, but still. And just to get it out of the way: yes it's totally not cool how the movie demonizes Huns, who were a real group of people who probably didn't have gray skin, fanged teeth, and crazy pupils. It's not as bad as The Secret of Kells's portrayal of Vikings, though. Finally, while the depiction of ancient Chinese culture is pretty iffy, nothing is malicious and I understand it's all watered down to be more palatable to American children. I remember we watched this several times in my World Religions class (I had to take a religion class every single semester in high school, this was the only one not about Catholicism), because I think they mention Confucius once and there's some praying to ancestors.

Now that that's all out of the way, can we talk about how great this movie is? I mean, jeez. It's got a lady in it. And she's the star. And she's not a princess, she's not white, she almost never talks about romance, and she totally kicks ass. This is not a love story, it's a story of a woman who feels out of place in her assigned lot in life, fitting in neither as a future obedient wife nor as a soldier in disguise. She spends the whole movie working to resolve these separate parts of her personality, first fighting the more "masculine", unladylike tendencies and later fighting her feminine aspects. It's an interesting character study hidden within an animated musical comedy/drama, and one that has likely been helpful to many a young female viewer. I know that as a 10 year old tomboy who didn't quite fit in with most of the girls I knew, I could appreciate it. So good job, Disney, for once. I don't think it passes the Bechdel test, though, since the only other women in it are always talking about getting husbands. Oh well, baby steps, eh?

The music is pretty great, though it sort of peters out as the story becomes more dramatic. The animation is standard Disney fare, but with some nice soft color schemes and attention to delicate movements. I dig Eddie Murphy's comedic bent as Mushu, getting in one of my favorite movie line as a kid: "Mulan, did you see those Huns? They just popped out of the snow! Like DAISIES!" Ha ha ha ha. Plus Donny Osmond is in this movie. Awesome. Mulan rules.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Um. Just One of the Guys? Yes. Yes. Just One of the Guys.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Sennen joyû (Millennium Actress) (2001)

I had a long, late-night bus ride to New York last week and needed something familiar, quiet, and short to pass the time. Thank goodness I had Millennium Actress on my external harddrive. The late Satoshi Kon's beautiful examination of the Japanese film industry focuses on Chiyoko Fujiwara, a popular actress who rose to fame in the 40's and 50's but lived as a recluse after retiring 30 years prior. The studio she helped make famous is being torn down, so long-time fan and interviewer Genya Tachibana travels to her isolated home to film her response. He returns a key he found that belongs to her, and sets off a string of memories connected to it as Chiyoko recalls her long career and even longer one-sided romance that evolved outside of (and often paralleled) her movies.

I'm still sort of reeling over Satoshi Kon's death. He'd become one of my favorite anime filmmakers over the past few years, and I was looking forward to many more groundbreaking and imaginative films from him. I am grateful that his striking animation style and versatile storytelling abilities can still be enjoyed in the films and series he made, all of which are excellent. Millennium Actress is a sweet, introspective story that takes a young girl's simple fascination and turns it into a noble lifelong pursuit, expertly weaving together multiple time lines and fictional asides.

That Chiyoko's acting roles parallel her real experiences is apparent early on, but the intelligent script and subtle narrative techniques make the concept fresh and fascinating. I didn't especially care about the man Chiyoko was searching for- he was a rebel artist she briefly helped as a teen, and they never actually got to know one another- but I felt her dedication admirable. She becomes this independent, strong-willed woman because she maintains a singular goal throughout most of her life. It's impressive, really.

The animation is of course spectacular. In his character designs Kon takes the typical flat anime style and create a more realistic, individualized look. The sumptuous colors and experimentation with photography-inspired shots round out the memorable aesthetic. I loved the easy flow between present day, memory, and movie scenes as the interviewer and his cameraman get caught up in Chiyoko's story. It's alternately funny and heartbreaking as everything weaves together, and just so wonderfully done.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I know this is a movie blog and all, but I'm going to take a wild risk here and recommend a book. (Whoa.) While watching this film I was reminded of The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood- the central romance is quite similar, as is the merging of fact and fiction. It's a beautiful, complex book weaving together three separate stories for a fascinating portrait of a lonely, wealthy woman.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Who knew Jon Voight was so handsome? And so tall! In the Best Picture-winning Midnight Cowboy, he stars as Joe Buck, an aw-shucks Texan "stud" who travels to New York determined to find success as a hustler. Unfortunately he has no idea what he's doing, and soon finds himself homeless and penniless with no one to turn to except Ratso (Dustin Hoffman), a sleazy con artist with a bad leg. The two form an unlikely friendship as they try to survive and eke out a living in an unfriendly city, with Joe haunted by an ugly past and Ratso dreaming of a future in sunny Florida.

It's been a while since I've seen a film so utterly devoted to just a friendship. This narrow focus sets Midnight Cowboy apart from other dramas of its ilk- sure there's a smattering of plot concerning Joe's attempts at hustling and some insight into 60's counter-culture, but for the most part the film is an examination of the uneasy relationship between two strong-willed men and the struggles they face squatting in a condemned apartment without amenities and few ways to earn money. Story-wise it's fairly sparse and understated, with director John Schlesinger incorporating a quick, flashy shooting style to show imaginary and flashback sequences while the gritty, grimy reality is all too apparent.

While Jon Voight is the main star and we see much of the action from his point of view, it is of course Dustin Hoffman who steals the show. He gives a dedicated performance replete with tics and a studied limp, taking a disreputable, downtrodden character and making him remarkably sympathetic. He's more of a supporting role, but he makes the biggest impression. Voight is great as well, working in a blend of goofy and dramatic moments, but his performance doesn't stick out as much (though his appearance in the film certainly does!).

I appreciated the simplicity and straightforward story, but the sparse script and ambiguous background information sometimes seemed unnecessary or irrelevant. All of Joe's flashbacks, while interesting in giving more insight into his character's past, aren't really worked into the main narrative. And some of the "imagining what could have been" segues don't add much. It's fine that there isn't a very heavy plot and that it's more about the atmosphere and characterization, but the abrupt and resolution-less ending left me with a "huh" feeling. Still, it's a really good movie with great performances, a strong central relationship, and a cool look into various subcultures in 60's New York. I also dug the soundtrack from John Barry and Harry Nilsson.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I'm leaning towards Rain Man, another movie in which Dustin Hoffman steals the show from his more conventionally-attractive co-star. It also reminded me slightly of My Own Private Idaho, a movie I haven't seen in a while but remember liking.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #25

Oh, hi! I'm back with another entry in the movie sketch project, in which I make some art inspired by a movie I reviewed this week. Well last time I promised a piece based on The Apartment, and I totally fulfilled my promise. Awesome. I love that movie (obviously), and decided that portraits of the doe-eyed Shirley MacLaine and bowler-hatted Jack Lemmon rendered in black ink would be pretty great. Lucky for me, the ideas in my head generally transferred themselves onto paper and it came out really well (I think so, anyway). I have a really crappy camera, unfortunately, so these images don't quite do it justice, but I should be able to get some better shots this weekend. Enjoy!

Oh and it's available for sale, if it's your thing. Oh AND I made a facebook page for my art things, mostly to link to stuff I'm making, put up in-progress shots, and talk about cool etsy treasuries, articles, and pictures I find on the internet. Joinnnnn ussssss.





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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987)

So there we were, emotionally crushed after our viewing of Blue Valentine, wandering around the house trying to think of something that might give us some sort of belief in the possibility of happiness. Thank goodness, Miles had just got a copy of Hard Ticket to Hawaii, a highly-recommended entry in Andy Sidaris' "Bullets, Bombs, and Babes" collection. That- along with a healthy dose of chocolate chip cookies and alcoholic beverages- was just what we needed! The loose and often non-sensical plot follows Hawaii-based DEA agent Donna (Dona Speir) and recent addition to the witness protection program Taryn (Hope Marie Carlton) as they match wits and firepower with a local drug lord. Meanwhile there's a diseased, toxic mutant snake running wild around their island. And there's some sort of topless epidemic afflicting all of the women.

Oh dang. This movie is amazing in so many ways. We started off with a "Drink every time something awesome happens" rule, but I had to give that up about 15 minutes in because I was too busy laughing/gasping/swearing in enjoyment to take any more sips. The credits clued us in to the kind of low-budget, ridiculous movie we were in for, featuring 5 minutes of packing crates literally stamped with the names of every cast and crew member. We're pretty sure they didn't know how to overlay credits sequences and couldn't hire a person who could. It's so endearing.

This is the kind of movie whose charms can't really be encapsulated, but should rather be experienced. There's bad acting, big hair, goofy outfits, a variety of boobs, violent deaths with very fake gore, inane conversations, some truly inventive action sequences. Frisbee with razor edges? Bazooka vs "Armed Skateboarder with Blow-up Doll"? Deadly mutant snake erupting from a toilet? This Sidaris guy knows what the people want! And I got to yell "OH SHIT!" a bunch of times, which is a big plus for an action movie.

The dialogue may be poor, the plot may be extremely under-developed, the sex scenes may be physically questionable, but doggonit if Hard Ticket to Hawaii isn't exceptional entertainment. Watch it drunk, watch it when you're feeling wicked depressed after a sad movie, watch it while licking cookie dough off of a spoon: no matter how you take it in, it is bound to be an enjoyable time. Unless you don't like fun.

As a movie: 1.5/5
As entertainment: 4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well, there's the Blue Valentine option as I mentioned earlier, but if you want to make a giddy, goofy night of it I'd say something along the lines of Gymkata or Crank 2: High Voltage.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blue Valentine (2010)

Note to self: Just because a movie is critically acclaimed, boosted by ratings scandal, and starring some attractive and talented actors, does NOT mean it won't be soul-crushingly depressing and bleak. Blue Valentine traces the beginning and end of the relationship between Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling). In high school Cindy dates a popular jerk and cares for her grandmother, planning to go to medical school. Dean, who never graduated high school, is a creative man of many talents working for a moving company. He pursues her after a chance meeting and they hit it off. An uncertain number of years later, we see them as a married couple with a young daughter. Cindy is an overworked nurse losing her patience for Dean's childlike behavior, and their tight-lipped interactions speak volumes about their fading love.

Flipping back and forth between their naive youth and the harsh reality that sets in after marriage and children, the film's script is structured beautifully to reflect the parallels and ironies present in both timelines. The dialogue is at times goofy and at others harsh, but always very realistic. It is this intense realism that makes Blue Valentine so successful, and so emotionally devastating (a response I stole from Andreas). Its depiction of a crumbling relationship and the lives lost around it doesn't feel like a movie. This isn't "Oh this is so sad because a beloved character died" or "What? I thought they'd be together forever!" This is, "My god, this is everyone I've known and everyone I will ever know, this is how everything has to happen because everything is awful". And I say that without exaggeration.

The close shooting style, using a handheld lo-fi look for the flashbacks and cold blue-grey color palette for the post-marriage scenes, combines documentary realism with straightforward storytelling and excellent editing. Williams and Gosling put in remarkable, dedicated performances that bridge the gap between a somewhat sparse script and the emotional impact felt by the audience. It's a very, very good film and I'm glad I saw it. But I never want to see it again, and I'm trying my best not to think about it too much because it just makes me tear up. I'm sure not everyone will be as strongly or personally affected as I was, but it's bound to get the best of many of you. And I can't really go into a more in-depth review.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez, something really light and peppy and easy to digest. Something where nothing bad happens. We followed it up with 80's action schlock (review of that forthcoming), but you can do it with whatever is your thing. My Neighbor Totoro, Singin' in the Rain, Clueless, Gymkata, etc.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Starship Troopers (1997)

Well I'm still trying to complete that darned sci-fi list (26 to go!), and I feel like I'm always hearing about Starship Troopers. A future rife with alien "bugs" has prompted a preemptive invasion of the enemy planet by humans, with various aspects of this war depicted through the experiences of soldiers Johnny (Caspar Van Dien) and Dizzy (Dina Meyer), pilot Carmen (Denise Richards), and strategist Carl (Neil Patrick Harris), who were all friends in high school. There's a lot of violent battles, severed limbs, educational videos, and teenage romantic intrigue. Plus co-ed showers.

I'll admit that I didn't really know what I was in for with Starship Troopers, though I think I expected a super-cheesy, failed space epic for whatever reason. Somehow I wasn't aware that it was Paul Verhoeven (he of Robocop and Total Recall fame), so the heavy satire and self-awareness were a surprise (though a welcome one). While the story is peppered with a number of tragic deaths and in-your-face anti-military rhetoric, there's an old-school sci-fi camp that keeps it all pretty fun. That, and the acting is pretty ridiculous. Caspar Van Dien? All I can say is: Yeesh.

For 1997, the effects are impressive. There's a great blending of puppetry and CGI, and while some shots are obviously computer-generated, for others I was honestly unsure what was real. The aliens are all giant insects with a penchant for ripping human limbs, and their leader has a protruding vagina dentata, so it's not especially inventive in its visual design, but it does look good. The action sequences are gleefully violent and there's a lot of unexpected deaths. The script's a bit uneven due to the frequent shifts in tone, and it could have used some sharper editing, but overall it's a cool movie whose metaphor perfectly predicts the Iraq War. And it's got Jake Busey! And Dina Meyer's boobs!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I was strongly reminded of Ender's Game for obvious reasons (I haven't read Richard Heinlein's source novel), but I didn't actually like that book very much so I won't recommend it. I think Logan's Run might make a good pairing, though I'm not sure why. Or there's always Drop Dead Gorgeous and Undercover Brother if you're just in it for Denise Richards.

Further Reading:
Blog Cabins' Five Great Things About Starship Troopers is really all that needs to be said.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Ratatouille (2007)

I remember when Ratatouille was first released in theaters, I thought it looked pretty stupid. A wise-cracking rat wants to cook French food and so he controls a human chef by pulling his hair around? That just makes so little sense. But I saw it anyway, and I've lost count of how many times I've watched it since. The story focuses on Remy, an ambitious rat with dreams of becoming a great chef like his hero Gusteau, a once-famous chef whose motto was "Anyone can cook". Despite his family's disapproval of such un-rat-like behavior, Remy teaches himself to read and cook from Gusteau's book, only to find himself lost and alone in Paris after their nest is destroyed. Through a strange set of circumstances, he teams up with a clumsy kitchen aide in Gusteau's restaurant to become an unlikely success in Parisian food culture.

As weird and nonsensical as the concept is, the script proves to be charming, inventive, funny, and heartwarming. I love the sarcastic dialogue and clever sight gags strewn throughout, and the legitimate reverence for food and cooking is palpable. I'm a weirdly picky eater, but I adore reading about and watching movies about food. I would never eat anything cooked in this movie, but I love watching them make it, which is a real testament to the superb animation and loving dialogue. The peppy, accordion-heavy score and warm color palette give it all a recognizably French atmosphere, even if everyone's accents vary considerably.

Patton Oswalt is awesome in any capacity, but I think this was my introduction to him. He's incredibly likable and funny as Remy, offering sarcastic narration for a character who can't speak to any of the people around him. I love the character of Linguini, mainly because he's self-effacing, stuttery, and really clumsy. Also he gets some of the best moments of physical humor, including the adorable moment when he spins around trying to reach his back pocket. There's a range of likable and fun supporting characters, including Janeane Garofalo's aggressive lady chef and Peter O'Toole's awesomely intense food critic Anton Ego.

I still think the premise is a little silly, but the message of following your dreams despite any handicap is a solid one, and the strong script, vocal performances, and expectedly gorgeous animation with special attention to food details make for an entertaining and very re-watchable movie. It also features one of my favorite end-credits sequences, and I sort of wish someone would animate an entire movie in the style.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmmm another food movie, I think. Soul Kitchen for some goofy German fare, Julie & Julia for ladies and French food, Waitress for a sadder, bittersweet tale with creative pies... whatever suits your fancy!

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Young Frankenstein (1974)

The stars aligned. Just as I was feeling high on some Gene Wilder/Mel Brooks love the past couple of weeks, the Brattle Theatre has a screening of Young Frankenstein! What nice timing. Their spoof of classic 30's horror stars Wilder as Frederick Frankenstein, a medical professor and the grandson of the infamous Dr Victor Frankenstein. He is called back to his grandfather's castle in Germany to claim his inheritance and winds up repeating his experiments with reviving human tissue. With the help of his assistants Inga (Teri Garr) and Igor (Marty Feldman), Frederick revives a huge corpse (Peter Boyle) with an "abnormal" brain and tries to teach him to function in society.

Ah, what is there to even say? While this isn't my favorite Mel Brooks film, it's certainly a stunning example of his and Wilder's talents. Every shot is filled with referential details to the films he's parodying and gleeful enthusiasm for filmmaking in general. The script is silly and well-paced, laced with enough slapstick, fourth-wall breaking, repeated gags, sexual innuendo, and clever jokes to keep any one giggling. Wilder is splendid, as always, utilizing his skill for intense emotional outbursts and funny expressions. Peter Boyle is adorable as the monster, Terri Garr is adorable as Inga, Marty Feldman is adorable as Igor and a wink-wink conduit to the audience, Cloris Leachman is not adorable, but very funny as the castle's housekeeper.

The real supporting standouts are Kenneth Mars as the super-German inspector with an unruly wooden arm and of course, my beloved Madeline Kahn as Frederick's vain fiancee. I remember her scenes so well in this movie that I was surprised how much time it took her to show up. She probably only has about 10 minutes of screen time but it's all so perfect that it feels like she has a bigger role. She even gets to sing a bit!

The main drawback for me with Young Frankenstein is that sometimes it's a little too corny, and at times it over-explains itself. There'll be a funny sight gag, and then Igor will look at the audience and basically explain why it was funny, taking a good joke and beating it into the ground. It doesn't happen often, but it happens enough to lower it ever so slightly in my estimation, especially compared to other Brooks/Wilder collaborations The Producers and Blazing Saddles. Wilder co-wrote the script to this one, so I'm not sure if it was part of his comedy tendencies or what.

Aside from that this is a totally awesome movie and it was really fun to see with an appreciative audience. The two old guys next to us were having a little too good of a time, I think, and kept saying "That's hysterical!" "Oh man, this is hysterical!" "It is just so hysterical" every few minutes, but that kind of made it all funnier.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I've never actually seen it, but I'd love to watch this in a double feature with the original Frankenstein that it parodies. Some of the sets and props are even the same!

My original art for this film is for sale.

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Fighter (2010)

Bah, I resisted seeing this for weeks since it didn't look that good, but its frequent nominations and Oscar buzz and recommendations from friends had me finally cave in. Surprise, surprise: it's just an ok movie. Hah. Based on a true story, The Fighter follows the rise of underdog boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg), who spends much of his early career in mis-matched fights due to his mother's (Melissa Leo) mismanagement and coke-addict brother's (Christian Bale) uneven training. He's encouraged by his new girlfriend Charlene (Amy Adams) to push forward on his own, causing a rift in his antagonistic, tight-knit family.

I have no idea why this movie is being so praised and awarded. It's not bad by any means: it is a wholly capable true-story underdog sports tale with a dysfunctional family. The script is solid, alternating between true-to-life humor and emotional drama, though the pacing falls into the trap of so many biopics and the passage of time is sped up and slowed down on a whim.

Personally my biggest issue stems from the characterization and Russell's direction. If you're going to make an uplifting movie about boxing, you have to make me care about boxing and about the people doing all the boxing. But as the movie progressed, I found myself caring less and less whether or not Micky won his fights, partly because I didn't always understand what he was fighting for. Pardon me but I don't know how boxing matches work, really, so when he was suddenly up for world champion in England after beating one guy, that confused me. Russell and crew don't really create much tension or interest in the camerawork or editing of the matches, so I really didn't feel the nail-biting thrill of "Oh My God Will He Make It?!" that I'm pretty sure I was supposed to feel.

The main memorable thing about The Fighter is its performances. Mark Wahlberg as the lead is fine but a little bland and passionless- it seemed like he didn't really care that much about boxing either, so at least I could relate. Christian Bale is EXCELLENT, so hardcore and crazy-dedicated you can feel the method mania seeping out of the screen. He's got tics and sound effects and goofy facial expressions galore, and is by far the most interesting character. Best Supporting Actor will be an easy sell. I also really enjoyed Amy Adams in a role that saw her cussing and yelling and fighting her way out of her typecast zone. Her character is determined and ballsy, which I dug, and I really appreciate the more natural body/weight Adams sports. Melissa Leo is sort of scary as Micky's intense, melodramatic mom Alice, but she finds a way to make it sympathetic.

The Fighter is a decent sports movie with so-so direction elevated by some excellent supporting performances. I wasn't bored or offended or anything, I just wasn't especially into the central plot, which I'm pretty sure is not a quality you want in a Best Picture nom.

3.5/5

PS What is up with all the Boston-area movies these days? And damn, does this one make Lowell look like shit. Sorry, Lowell.

Watch Instead: The Wrestler, duh.

Further Reading:
A Life in Equinox review
Dark of the Matinee review
The Cooler review


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Friday, January 14, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #24

Hello, hello! I hope you're doing well! Welcome to another entry in my Movie Sketch Project, in which I make some art for a movie I watched recently. I'm bending the rules with this one. I was planning doing some ink portraits for The Apartment, and I think I will do that next week, but I got caught up these past few days working on a Valentine's Day card idea. I kind of hate the holiday, but I do enjoy me some romantic movies and I love cards. One of my favorite onscreen romances of all time is Harold and Maude, which I've seen a bunch of times but haven't reviewed yet (that'll probably be corrected soon), so I made a card/print/postcard design for it. I started off with two ink drawings done by hand, then added the photo backgrounds (their favorite flowers), paper texture, and movie quote in photoshop. I like how it came out, but I'm having some formatting issues so for now it's available for sale only as an 11"x8" print, but will possibly be made into a greeting card later.

Anyway click ahead to see!



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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai) (1954)

I started off the year watching some movies I've been meaning to see for a while. Naturally, Seven Samurai was pretty high on my list, and I'd been putting it off partly because of its length. It's... it's really long. When a small rural community is besieged by musket-wielding bandits, its leaders decide to round up some samurai (seven, to be precise) to defend them from attack. The wise and battle-weary Kanbê Shimada (Takashi Shimura) agrees to take the charity case, collecting other warriors from a nearby town. The strange jokester Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune), wielding a huge sword and mad skills, wheedles his way into the group despite his obviously faked samurai lineage. They take up residence in the community, planning defense tactics and training the farmers to fight for when the bandits attack after the harvest.

Yes, it's unquestionably a classic, with Kurosawa setting the standard for and inspiring many future filmmakers (as usual) with his filmic techniques and storytelling. The stark black and white imagery, textural costumes, attention to weather, and grandiose landscapes make for a visually stunning film. And yes, Mifune is AWESOME as the weird Kikuchiyo, at times goofy with his kabuki face-making and at others intensely serious and tragic. I also loved Takashi Shimura as the leader of the samurai, though unfortunately he doesn't get much development and spends most of the second half plotting battles. The story is simple but engaging, bringing together a range of characters and exploring certain moral attitudes amongst the violent skirmishes. I was a little confused by some of the Japanese traditional stuff, but did my best to recall the multiple Japanese history/culture courses I took in college to pull me through.

Ok so here's where we get to the less complimentary part. I mentioned it's too bad that Takashi Shimura's potentially interesting character doesn't really get much development? Well that's basically a description of every person in this movie with the exception of Kikuchiyo. There's a wealth of intriguing and complex characters here, I know it, but few of them actually get to share their stories or show more of themselves. What's the deal with Kyûzô? He's a badass motherfucker who speaks very little and gets about three scenes. I wanted more! Most of the film focuses on working together as a group (no surprise there), but it seemed like some characters were being set up for more development, and then just fizzled out, so I was disappointed.

And what the hell was with the forced romantic subplot? I found Katsushirô an almost laughable character because he was pretty useless and childlike (despite seeming at least 18), and his "relationship" with pretty farmer's daughter Shino is irrelevant and uninteresting. I know it eventually demonstrated how strict the class system in Japan was, but it was done poorly and cut off weirdly from the main narrative. They barely even spoke to one another. Also I was pretty sure Katsushirô actually wanted to date Kyûzô, so I wasn't believing his love for Shino. I will demonstrate this theory further in my Seven Samurai slash fanfiction.

Anyway, my basic issue with this movie is that it really does not justify its length. It's not that it bores or drags- I enjoyed most scenes very much- it's just that it could have so easily been an hour shorter. The story isn't complex, there isn't much deep character analysis or weighty dialogue; I could totally understand the 3.5 hour runtime if we were given more insight into more of the characters, or if the plot was more involved. It just all seems a little self-indulgent to me.

So, Seven Samurai. An Important Movie. I liked it, I really did. It's got terrific performances, gorgeous visuals, and a good story with surprisingly emotional resonance. I just wish it was either shorter or had more developed characters and relationships.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez, just take a break after this one. Go outside. Eat something. Water your plants. Paint. Re-organize your stamp collection. Definitely go to the bathroom. If you still really want to sit through another movie (and bless you for it), I think a more stylized and fast-paced period Japanese action flick might be a good juxtaposition with Seven Samurai's more leisurely pace and realism. Perhaps Sukiyaki Western Django or Sword of the Stranger.

Further Reading:
A Life in Equinox review
Cinemascope review
The Flick Chick review

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

A wacky action-comedy-fantasy about an evil Santa Claus? From Finland? Sign me up! Even if it didn't have the added bonus of giving me a new country to add to my foreign film list, I'd still be interested. Rare Exports tells the strange and surprisingly horrific tale of small community at the base of the Korvantunturi mountains which finds itself terrorized at Christmas with reindeer slaughter, stolen radiators, and missing children. Young Pietari (Onni Tommila) is convinced that the real, demonic Santa ("The Coca-Cola Santa Claus is a hoax!") has been dug up from his icy grave in the mountains to wreak havoc on children all over the world. He teams up with his gruff father and other men of the community to take down this hulking menace and his hordes of naked elves.

At a trim 84 minutes, this movie gets shit done and never drags. It's funny, scary, odd, and violent in all the best ways, and I really just appreciated its twist on Santa Claus. The story is pretty simple, but told well with enough moments of quiet tension, adorable comedy, and all-out action to keep viewers wholly engaged. The lead kid is pretty goofy, sporting a homemade suit of armor and a ridiculous haircut for most of the film. Everybody's got mullets and guns and rides snowmobiles everywhere. It's just like America, really, only more whimsical.

I assume Rare Exports didn't have the biggest budget, so I really appreciated how the filmmakers limited the use of bad CGI and manipulated the audience's imagination for the fullest effect. Considering its premise, it takes a surprisingly subtle approach that made it all the more impressive as a film. The concept could have gotten stale or stretched too thin pretty quickly, but writer/director Jalmari Helander is smart in his handling of the material. It's just a really fun, entertaining movie, and certainly one to add for frequent future Christmas viewings. We can always use more of those!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: It would make an excellent double feature with John Carpenter's The Thing, just trust me.

PS The feature film is actually a prequel to some short films Helander did about a company that hunts down, trains, and ships "Father Christmases" for various countries. Check it out:



If you dug this review, I'd love it if you went over and voted me "Best Movie Review Blog" at the Total Film Blog Awards! No pressure or anything.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Videodrome (1983)

Ah, finally a body horror film that I don't have to shield my eyes from during certain scenes! And finally, I can declare a favorite Cronenberg film! Of course, I'm referring to Videodrome, in which James Woods stars as Max Renn, a sordid and outspoken cable-tv programmer who gets his hands on a revolutionary new S&M show. As he becomes transfixed by the program, he finds himself hallucinating uncontrollably and is soon caught up in a strange plot involving a masochistic DJ (Debbie Harry), a manipulative eyewear manufacturer (Leslie Carlson), and a cult leader's daughter (Sonja Smits). So little of the plot makes sense on paper I really just can't go into it any further.

But it's all so AWESOME! Seriously, this had me hooked from beginning to end and I'm still thinking about it a week later. The premise is fantastic, with atmosphere and themes setting the stage for the likes of Brazil and Max Headroom and a gritty aesthetic all too fitting for early-80's sci-fi. Cronenberg's facility for gross-out body horror and imaginative imagery is in full-force here despite his limited means. I wasn't too squeamish or anything, it's all just really cool, impressive effects. The story is confusing and weird and surreal, and all the better for it. I loved trying to read between the lines and try to puzzle through just what anyone was ever talking about. It will make for many fun rewatches.

One of the main reasons I wanted to see this movie (besides its inclusion on the Sci-Fi List) was Debbie Harry, whom I adore without question. While her screentime is sadly limited, she is smoking hot and charismatic for those few scenes that it's totally worth it. I dug James Woods in the lead role- he's great as a sleazy programming exec in the beginning, and believably morphs into a confused, sympathetic test subject just trying to find out what the hell is going on. The rest of the cast is fun too, but he drives the entire film and the audience watches events unfold from his point of view.

I loved basically everything about this movie. It's sexy, strange, surreal, inventive, funny, tragic, confusing, and just fucking awesome in every way.

4.5/5 (So close to giving it a 5/5. I probably will after a rewatch, since I usually don't give 5's for something I've only seen once) 5/5 DUH

Pair This Movie With: Watch a couple episodes of Max Headroom and you're in for some awesome visions of our television-obsessed future from an 80's perspective.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Apocalypse Now (1979)

Well, we rang in the new year with a night of dress-up and drinking, and spent the first full day of 2011 sleeping, eating Chinese food, and finally watching Apocalypse Now because it's been on my to-watch list for at least forever. Drawing from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Coppola's epic focuses on Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen), a long-time soldier who can no longer deal with life outside of Vietnam. He's sent on a special mission to sneak into enemy territory and assassinate a Colonel Kurtz (Marlon Brando), a charismatic leader gone rogue in the jungle, leading a horde of cultish followers who carry out his orders without question as he attempts to fight the war on his own terms. Willard spends weeks cruising down the Nung River with a motley Navy crew (including a very young Laurence Fishburne), getting into skirmishes and ruminating on the puzzling nature of his target.

This is really just not my kind of film- I don't like most war movies because I find them alienating and depressing, I don't usually go for overlong mega-masculine movies because I can't really relate to them. That being said, I completely understand why this movie is such a big deal. It is epic in scope yet still manages to be an interesting character study through Sheen's thoughtful narration and Brando's rambling monologues. It is filmed beautifully, with faded overlays and fantastic colors that highlight the explosive, confusing, personal nature of Vietnam. There are a lot of cool effects and camera tricks along with a rockin' era-appropriate soundtrack.

The cast is excellent, with appearances from a wacky, surf-obsessed Robert Duvall, a wacky, philosophy-obsessed Dennis Hopper, and a very young (and adorably bespectacled) Harrison Ford. And while awesome supporting actors like Fishburne, Frederic Forrest, and Sam Bottoms get more dialogue, Sheen carries the film with a dignified, taciturn demeanor, oscillating between looking exactly like Charlie Sheen and exactly like Emilio Estevez, depending on the lighting. His freakout in the hotel room is chilling. Brando is, well, Brando, I guess. Only balder, fatter, and near-indecipherable.

I didn't really like the ending sequence. It just didn't make a lot of sense to me. Kurtz's rambling, nihilistic speeches and Hopper's unhinged proclamations and the child-like depiction of Vietnamese followers herded as sheep. It just left a bad taste in my mouth for whatever reason. It didn't all fit together, it was too much of a shift from the rest of the film. I can't quite explain it because I'm not very articulate, obviously.

So, I've seen Apocalypse Now. Yay. In most ways it was exactly what I expected: masculine, sad, confusing, violent, and hard to relate to. A very good film, no doubt about it, but I'm not going to pretend like I think it's a brilliant masterpiece.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Jeez well it's pretty goddamn long so I'm not sure it'd make the best double feature... Maybe follow it up with light, straightforward palate cleanser. Might I suggest The Mighty Ducks? Father and son, together again!

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Apartment (1960)

I've had the French version of the poster hanging in my room (a delightful gift from my guy) for about two years now, yet for some reason I haven't taken in a viewing of The Apartment for ages. It's one of my favorite films, but I find parts of it so sad that I have to be in the right mood to watch it. Affable insurance adjuster and bachelor CC Baxter (Jack Lemmon) finds himself suddenly on the rise within his firm after he starts lending out his apartment to high-placed coworkers with mistresses. When word gets out to his boss Mr Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), Baxter finds himself playing host to depressed elevator service operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), whom Sheldrak's been dating on the sly. While Baxter tries to cheer her up and prevent her from killing herself, she begins to wonder if loving a married asshole is really the best way to use her affections.

This movie is the ultimate blending of drama and comedy, perfectly meshing the two styles to make for an utterly realistic, subtle, and sweet movie. The script is punchy and paced well, incorporating adorable narration from Baxter and introspective dialogue for Miss Kubelik as our heartstrings are tugged back and forth. The characters are smartly written and well-developed, giving a fairly straightforward story interest, depth, and relatability. I love the pop culture references (especially the Marilyn Monroe impersonator), cleverly simple sight gags (Baxter eating dinner in front of the tv, reacting to the announcer), and little digs at American business (anything at Baxter's office).

Along with the pitch-perfect script, it's the performances that make this movie, really. Jack Lemmon is the lovable everyman: a genuinely nice, unassuming guy who's sadly a pushover (you know, the one none of the girls go for, apparently). He's naturally very funny in his goofy facial expressions and enthusiastic delivery, while getting in some appreciated dramatic bits as he concerns himself with Miss Kubelik's suicidal state. Shirley MacLaine gets to me every time with her big doe eyes, pouty mouth, and cute haircut- my heart just melts whenever she's on screen. Fran is a light-hearted working girl with tragedy brimming below the surface because she can't seem to help but fall in love with awful men (hmm reminds me of another Wilder lady protagonist), and MacLaine just nails every subtlety and affectation of her character. Oh and Fred MacMurray plays a great smooth-talking asshole.

This movie is so good, you guys. So, so, so good. I laughed, I cried. Literally. If you've never seen it than what the hell are you doing with your miserable life?

5/5

Pair This Movie With: I often mentally link this with Irma La Douce, the other Wilder/MacLaine/Lemmon team-up from the 60's. It's not as good, but it's cute and features a rather fetching pair of green stockings.

My original poster design for this film is available for purchase.

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Friday, January 7, 2011

Special Announcement: Vote for Me in the Total Film Blog Awards

Hi guys! So first off I want you to know that I love you all dearly. I know I don't always respond to every comment (though I try to respond to most), but I honestly love every single one I get. I still get a little smile of excitement when I see the "new comment" email. I love all of your recommendations, opinions (especially when they agree with mine haha), and stories. And I still read my analytics obsessively, taking in all the details of what everyone's reading and where you're coming from. You're all great.

So now that you've had a confidence booster, I have to ask you a favor. Somehow, some way, I have been nominated for "Best Movie Review Blog" over at the Total Film Blog Awards. I know right? How did that happen? I am pretty pleased, but I'm up against some stiff competition, and I would really love and appreciate it if you could go over there and vote for me. It takes a second and you'd be making my day. I don't at all expect to win but I'd like to not embarrass myself and maybe get a few votes in, that's all.

If I do magically win I will do something special on here for you. Not sure what yet. Maybe a giveaway or a special art thing or posting naked pictures of celebrities. I'll probably put it to a poll. Anyway: INCENTIVE!

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Movie Sketch Project #23

It's a bit frustrating when what seems like a simple idea transforms itself into a surprisingly time-consuming project that doesn't really correlate to the image in my head, but then turns into something else that isn't what I intended but I still like. Did that make sense?

Today's entry in the Movie Sketch Project (and the first of 2011, woo) is inspired by Disney's new animated princess feature Tangled. I thought it was a pretty good movie, not great, but very pretty and with some well-written characters. I hated the poster though- it just seemed lazy and unappealing- so I endeavored to make a better design. Simple, purple, with a nod to a running joke in the film that I liked ("Frying pans, right? Who knew?") as well as a bookish texture to reference the original story. Which is called Rapunzel. Not Tangled. Anyway click ahead to see! It's not for sale yet but maybe it will be. I'm not sure if it's something anyone would want, but I dig it. There's lots of other neat stuff in my shop though.





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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Producers (1968)

Oh my gosh. I can't believe it's been at least two years since I watched this movie- a true oversight on my part. The first directorial feature from my beloved Mel Brooks, The Producers tracks the burgeoning friendship between outspoken, financially struggling Broadway producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) and timid accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder). The two hatch a plan to make a million dollars by intentionally staging a flop and keeping the extra money they raise beforehand. As they go around finding the wrong script (a "gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berchtesgaden" called Springtime for Hitler), wrong director (a self-absorbed choreographer), and wrong cast (a bunch of unaware hippies), they somehow manage to get it right and stand to lose everything if the show's a hit.

What can I even say about this movie? It has to be one of the best comedies ever made. I mean I was sitting there, alone in an empty apartment, watching a film I've seen at least 10 times, and cracking up hysterically to myself because it's still just that funny. The premise is simple but clever, leading to a range of satirical theater jokes, Nazi jokes, little old lady jokes, and wacky musical numbers. The amount of little sight gags and referential nods makes it eminently re-watchable, while its tone remains delightfully silly without sinking into stupidity. There's great music, lovely shots of 60's New York, and a pointy-boobed Swedish lady. Really: it has everything.

Zero Mostel may be credited as the star of this movie, but I think anyone today can see that the young, remarkably talented Gene Wilder basically steals the show. Mostel is great, and I love his greasy-haired histrionics and wide-eyed winks to the audience, but his over the top performance gets to be a bit much, especially since he's in almost every scene. Wilder's incredible skill with facial expressions and endearingly offbeat affectations just get me every time. He is so innocently adorable while working in moments of sly humor and unexpected outbursts that I never tire of watching him. Typically his face is the one to watch in any given scene, just for his hilarious reactions. Amazing.

Aside from my obviously huge crush on Gene Wilder, everything else about The Producers is great. There are so many amazing lines- "Hitler! There was a painter! He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon- TWO COATS!"; "I never knew that the 'Third Reich' meant Germany! It's just drenched with historical goodies like that!"; "Hey world, YOU STINK!"- and the list goes on. There's also a hippie Hitler (the truly excellent Dick Shawn), so it will always have that going for it (I didn't love the flamboyant Hitler twist in the remake). Sure, it sort of loses itself toward the end with the blowing-up-the-theater stuff as Brooks can't figure out where to go with the script, but then I feel like he never really knows how to end his movies and it's just become an endearing trademark. No matter its flaws in pacing, performance, sexism, gay jokes, etc, I will forever and always adore this movie without question.

5/5

Pair This Movie With: In my Gene Wilder Haze (as it's known) I'm going with The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Younger Brother, a very silly movie that he wrote, directed, and starred in. I haven't seen it in a while but I assume it's as enjoyable as I remember.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Kyûketsu Shôjo tai Shôjo Furanken (Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl) (2009)

My latest review over at 366 Weird Movies concerns Japanese splatterpunk feature Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl. It is a movie with an awesome premise, about an hour of set-up, and about 20 minutes reward. Eh. Also, too much CGI. It's a rollercoaster ride of short-attention-span cinematography, teenage relationship drama, fashion satire, gory battles, and an insufferable narrator, managing to only half-entertain.

Check out my full review!

Also I made art for it last week. The finished version is for sale as a print.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The King's Speech (2010)

Period piece? British monarchy? Colin Firth? Must be a movie I'll see with my mom at the resident north Jersey indie/foreign release theater that only senior citizens patronize. The King's Speech tells the true story of King George VI's (Colin Firth) struggle with a speech impediment as he is forced to make frequent public appearances and broadcasts. The film tracks his later years as prince, both under his father King George V (Michael Gambon) and older brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce) as he closely trains with and befriends unorthodox speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). As World War II approaches George VI ("Bertie" to his friends) must accept his role as king and all the oration that comes with it.

I'm finding myself with little of interest to say about this movie, despite enjoying it a lot. The script is well-paced and features a good mix of realistically humorous and dramatic dialogue. The story is appropriately uplifting while not being over the top. The sets and costumes are lovely and detailed, with a good amount of fog and muted palettes. Of course the performances are the highlight, with excellent supporting turns from Gambon and Helena Bonham-Carter (whose role was far too limited) and impressive leads. Rush and Firth have a palpably close relationship as Lionel and Bertie, and the strength of their interactions is the main pull of the film. I also adored Timothy Spall popping up for a few minutes as Winston Churchill- it was oddly adorable.

It's predictable, stuffy, sort of glazes over David's Nazi sympathies, and jumps around in time a bit too much with the requisite montages, but The King's Speech is a well-made, well-acted drama that still manages to inspire with its interesting true story. There's not much else to be said. I don't think it's Best Picture material but I wouldn't mind seeing Firth getting a Best Actor win.

4/5
Pair This Movie With: Oh, My Fair Lady, The Princess Diaries, Marie Antoinette... Anything wherein a British person/member of royalty gets a makeover, really.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Top Five: Favorite Movies of 2010

So here I am, pandering to the masses with my year-end top 5 list. Whatever. You know I do enjoy list-making. And I did do it last year.

2010 was a year of many disappointments, some excitements, and a slew of mediocrities in the movie world. Personally it included my first official press pass for IFF Boston, graduation from college, move into a new apartment, joblessness and subsequent depression, and finally minor success in achieving a paying job, a fun volunteer position, and art-making motivation (along with my first sales!). So I guess it was sort of ok.

Anyway: Movies. I have a top 5, not in numerical order (since my lists are always alphabetical or in order of release), and it's really a top 10 since I have my honorable mentions. I enjoyed all of these films immensely and recommend them to all (or most). There are a few 2010 releases I was interested in that I still haven't seen (mainly Chomet's The Illusionist), but I doubt anything is going to bump these guys off the list. Check it out after the jump.

Black Swan
Mind-blowing. Gorgeous. Tense. Sexy. Metaphorical. Insanely good. That about sums it up. I've now seen Black Swan twice and can say it's just as incredible the second time around. Aronofsky has successfully combined so many of his visual techniques and storytelling tendencies for what I find to be most successful movie yet. It's just a great blend of pulpy horror, intense thriller, backstage drama, and sexual awakening. And Natalie Portman is quite excellent. I even made some art for this one.

Exit Through the Gift Shop
Well that art history major thing will always be a big part of my movie viewing, as you've possibly noticed, and what with my affection for contemporary street art it was pretty easy to like this Banksy-driven documentary. It's a strange, funny, confusing, possibly faked, but ultimately fascinating portrait of a wannabe artist and his all-too-perfect entry into the contemporary art world. Its biting commentary on the business of art making and the celebrity behind it makes it a perfect debut for Banksy as a filmmaker.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Love the comic, love the director, love vibrant hair color: It was easy for me to just flat-out enjoy Scott Pilgrim. The cast is excellent, the humor is spot-on, and the visuals are innovative and grandiose. There were a few disappointing script choices, but overall it is probably the best comic-to-film adaptation I've ever seen, and it's peppered with so many adorable little jokes, references, and sight gags that it makes for really fun re-watches. Heck, we even gave it a podcast.


Toy Story 3
Well, duh. Being of the generation who grew up with this series and is currently entering the adult mainstream, this movie hit just at the right time for me to be hopelessly attached and engaged to a bunch of beat-up anthropomorphic toys. Thanks Pixar, for capping off perfectly a truly magnificent film series, and for making me cry BOTH times I saw it, despite knowing what was coming. It looks like they might break their great movie streak with Cars 2 this year, but I won't judge until I've seen it.

Winter's Bone
After seeing this at IFF Boston in May, it became the standard by which I measured subsequent 2010 films. Black Swan is the only one that's matched it. Jennifer Lawrence gives a stunning, jaw-droppingly good performance as the strong-willed teenager Ree, while the gritty cinematography, twisted story, and excellent supporting cast make for an incredibly gripping, intense viewing experience. It's a bit bleak at times but ultimately moving. I know it's probably too much to ask for a Best Picture nomination, but someone please give Lawrence a Best Actress nod! (Can't wait to see her in X-Men: First Class, by the way. Mystique is one of my favorite characters!)

Honorable Mentions
Inception
Marwencol
Never Let Me Go (I've got art for this one too)
Please Give
Tucker & Dale vs Evil

Note: I would have included Mother, Pepperminta, or both on here but I think those are technically 2009, just released near me in 2010. Just fyi. Those movies are great.

PS Also here's a mix of music I was digging this year, if that's your thing.

What about you guys?

Further Reading:
366 Weird Movies Top 10 Weird Movies of 2010
Blog Cabins Films I Saw in 2010 (in a theater, he means)
Dark of the Matinee Top Five Films of 2010
Life in Equinox Best and Worst Movie Posters of 2010
Roger Ebert 10 Best Foreign Films of 2010

Read more...