Sunday, February 27, 2011

White Lightning (1973)

So when Archer mentioned two awesome-sounding Burt Reynolds movies that we hadn't heard of on last week's episode, it was clear what we had to do. We had to watch White Lightning, wherein the taciturn Gator (Burt Reynolds) negotiates his way out of jail so that he can avenge his brother's murder. He works his way into a circle of bootleggers with the intention of taking down the ringleader, a powerful and ruthless sheriff (Ned Beatty).

Here we have pretty much everything you'd want in a Burt Reynolds movie: he drives a car fast, he has a mustache, he romances a chatty lady, he's shirtless a few times, he's surrounded by jangly music, and he sticks it to the man. Cool. There are a lot of fun action-y scenes coupled with ridiculous dialogue, but for the most part this is a straight crime drama as the corruption and mistreatment running rampant under the sheriff's rule becomes more apparent. There are a lot of problems in this town! But there's only so much Gator can fix!

To be honest, while I did enjoy White Lightning quite a bit, I just don't have much to say about it. It's slow at parts and the tone is a bit uneven, but overall it's a pretty cool movie. There's nothing too special about it, though, except that everyone has this irrational hatred of hippies.


Pair This Movie With: Well Archer thinks the sequel Gator is actually the better film- I haven't seen it yet but I'm going to assume it would make a fun double feature. It's got Jerry Reed!


Friday, February 25, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #30

Oh hi! I'm totally en route to Aruba right now but, as I am a stalwart blogger, here's a new entry in the Movie Sketch Project. I attended the Boston Sci-Fi Marathon this weekend (24 hours of straight science fiction! Wheeeee!). Among the many awesome things about it, they showed Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie! It's basically just like an episode, with This Island Earth being mocked, but with higher production values and no theme song. Seeing one of my favorite tv shows on a big screen was so excellent and it was even more fun with an appreciative audience. (There will be a full report on the 'Thon next week!)

So what with the 'Thon and the Aruba thing, I haven't had the time for more in-depth artwork (though I have an idea for Barbarella I'm itching to get working on!), but here's a little marker doodle of Crow T Robot (my favorite bot) in honor of the MST3K viewing. Enjoy!

Also remember you can buy other stuff I've made. And I've got hella tumblrs lately.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Samâ wôzu (Summer Wars) (2009)

So last week was the annual Boston Science-Fiction Festival! Yay! I look forward to it all year, and I took in a good amount of excellent sci-fi films so be ready for that in the next few days (well... probably. I'm actually going to Aruba for a week and I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be doing). Anyway. The new anime film Summer Wars proposes a not-so-far-off future in which a large amount of business, commerce, and entertainment takes place within a digital world called OZ. Users conduct transactions, interact with friends, and play games through personalized avatars, and many people are able to do their jobs through it.

When awkward math whiz Kenji is enlisted by the popular Natsuki to pose as her boyfriend for her great-grandma's birthday celebration in the country, he finds himself entwined in family dramas big and small. Shortly after his arrival, a major hack in the OZ system causes catastrophic breakdowns in several areas of Japan's infrastructure, and Kenji teams up with Natsuki and her family members to try to reclaim stability in both real-life and computer realms.

Summer Wars was a big draw for me since it's written/directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the guy who brought us the excellent feature The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Here he's crafted another interesting blend of science-fiction and teenage drama, though not quite as adeptly as his previous effort. There's a wealth of characters, all with their own outlooks and problems and comical affectations, and there's an interesting family dynamic at the core of the story. The problem is that all the computer adventure stuff doesn't quite fit into the family stuff. It blends together better by the end, but for most of the film the script feels composed of disparate parts that are forced into the same movie.

The animation and visual design here is so awesome. OZ is a pristine white wonderland with exaggerated cartoon characters, epic battles, and a giant cat head. Everything sort of looks like a Takashi Murakami painting, which makes me smile. As the film progresses it gains momentum with high-stakes battles that reference classic anime and video game imagery, giving it a comedic level of self-awareness amidst all the more serious real-life happenings. Though the script is a little uneven, Summer Wars is just a joy to watch, filled with enough humor, tragedy, apocalyptic disaster, and computer-simulated fun to keep viewers entertained throughout.


Pair This Movie With: Well if you want to continue with the Hosoda goodness, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is great. But thematically I would put it with WarGames, for sure.


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Faust (1994) at 366 Weird Movies

Oh hey, I've got a rad review of Jan Svankmajer's creepy and incredibly strange adaptation of Faust. It's got weird stop-motion, long monologues, frequent set changes, wine bursting out of tables, chickens, severed limbs, and human-on-puppet sex. It's also my first viewing of any version of Faust (unless we're counting I Was a Teenage Faust), so it was... an experience.

Read my full review at 366 Weird Movies! Awesome!


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Les triplettes de Belleville (The Triplets of Belleville) (2003)

Coincidentally (or maybe not?), shortly after the release of The Illusionist in Boston, a local theatre had a showing of Sylvain Chomet's first film The Triplets of Belleville for Valentine's Day. It was so cool. The almost dialogue-free story follows a dedicated grandma and her put-upon dog on a wild adventure that takes them from France to an alternate-universe New York. While competing in a major bike race, her grandson is kidnapped by winemaker mobsters and taken to America to perform in a bizarre gambling scheme. His grandmother follows his trail, eventually teaming up with the eponymous triplets- 3 elderly eccentrics who were a famous singing group in the 20's.

I hadn't seen this film in about 5 years and had forgotten just why everything about it is extremely great. It's set in this weird alternate universe that's mostly familiar but laced with enough oddities to place it well outside the realm of real life. The characters take on Chomet's wonderful mix of hyper-exaggerated design paired with extremely detailed, observed movements and affectations. The colors are gorgeous, steeped in yellow and sepia with bursts of warm reds and oranges. Though a mix of computer and hand-drawn animation, the film maintains a gorgeous sketchy style with noticeable pencil lines and painted backgrounds. I could stare at this movie forever.

The story is almost unbelievably zany, with a primarily dialogue-free script and unpredictable adventure. I love the mix of musical numbers, unexpected sight gags, small slice-of-life moments, thrilling chase scenes, and Americana parody (uh news flash, I guess Chomet hates America). The mobsters are hilarious, the triplets are kind of gross (what with all the frog-eating), but ultimately endearing, the grandson is tragically doe-eyed, the grandma is basically the second-best grandma ever (after my own, of course), and the dog is so stupid and fat.

I don't think there's anything I don't like about this movie. It's beautiful and weird and utterly imaginative. Great soundtrack, too.


Pair This Movie With: I'm going with A Town Called Panic, that completely awesome, utterly insane Belgian animated tale that everyone in the world should see and love.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Some Cast It Hot, Ep. 9: Hey, My Friend

Alright guys, this is the big one. Episode 9. Movies that Pass the Bechdel Test. If you don't know what the Bechdel Test is, well, then I'm sort of sorry for you, but then happy for you since you're about to learn! It is a small set of criteria for films that seems oddly hard for Hollywood to match: 1) The movie must have two women with names. 2) They talk to one another. 3) They talk to one another about something other than men.

It sounds crazy, I know! But it opens up an alarming realization about the rampant sexism/lack of variety for women that persists in mainstream (and many independent/foreign) films. Your favorite movie-gabbing ladies- Allison, Sasha, and I- talk about a really excellent movie that passes the test 100 times over: Kamikaze Girls. We also offer up our own recommendations (including many of my favorites) and discuss the movies we last watched. And other stuff too... I seem to recall scary movie posters and geek conventions coming into play.

You can stream it below or at podomatic, or download it on itunes! Thanks for listening and please leave a comment on any our blogs/twitter, or send an email to


Friday, February 18, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #29

Alright guys, so I had a really stressful day at work on Sunday, so when I got home all I wanted to do was plop down on the couch and watch the greatest movie ever made, Singin' in the Rain. Which I did. It is my go-to film when I'm feeling down because it just always cheers me up and I always get something new out of it. I was feeling the love more than usual and instantly set to making art for the film. It started off with an ink drawing of Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Gene Kelly (from a still of the "Good Mornin'" scene), and launched into a digital painting/collage poster in photoshop. I think it came out well, but please let me know what you think!

It's totally for sale for only $11! And don't forget you can follow my artsy/movie posts on tumblr or facebook, if you're so inclined.


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tideland (2005)

The upcoming Terry Gilliam blogathon inspired me to revisit his oft-overlooked dark fable Tideland. Based on the book by Mitch Cullin, the film is shown through the eyes of young Jeliza Rose (Jodelle Ferland), who is left alone in an abandoned and isolated Texas farmhouse after her addict parents (Jennifer Tilly and Jeff Bridges) overdose in quick succession. Left with only dirty barbie doll heads for company and antique peanut butter for sustenance, Jeliza Rose sets out exploring the fields surrounding the house, inventing her own complex fantasies to sustain herself. She eventually runs into her strange neighbors- Dell (Janet McTeer), a harsh taxidermist who lost an eye to a bee sting, and Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), her developmentally disabled brother who becomes Jeliza Rose's new playmate.

The first time I saw this film, it was on my ridiculously tiny, square dorm-room tv, and even then the splendor of its visuals was not lost on me. It is all just so fucking beautiful. Every shot is meticulously planned, from the sepia-tinged rural vistas to the close-up views of the cluttered, dilapidated farmhouse. There is sparse and well-placed use of CG to heighten Jeliza Rose's fantasy world. Even though the dialogue is a bit scattered and the plot is fairly simple, Tideland injects itself into your subconscious with its dire atmosphere, dark humor, and moral ambiguity. There is a pervasive sense of unease spread thickly over the entire proceedings, giving it the feel of a slow-burn horror movie, though nothing typically "scary" really happens. I can't even tell you why, but something about this movie terrifies me.

It goes without saying that Jeff Bridges and a nigh-unrecognizable Jennifer Tilly put in excellent, albeit short, performances. Janet McTeer is wonderfully intense and otherworldly as the half-crazed Dell, rockin' a head-to-toe black get-up like no other. But this movie is wholly and completely Jodelle Ferland's. She's amazing- adorable, independent, weird, imaginative, sympathetic, and believable. Jeliza Rose's fracturing psyche is explored through her doll head friends, with Ferland putting on a range of voices to conduct fake conversations with them all. It's creepy, sad, and funny all at once.

A lot of people don't like Tideland. In many ways it is a disturbing, off-putting film, and I'm sure it alienates many of its viewers. Personally I can't help but always be drawn in by Gilliam's visual mastery and imagination. His palpable childlike wonder gives this dark tale a strange innocence, while the considerable strengths of its cast lend it a horrific believability.


Pair This Movie With: Shit I feel like I had a good suggestion as I was watching but then, as usual, didn't write it down. I will instead offer the first thing that comes to mind, which is of course, Return to Oz.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ivan Vasilevich menyaet professiyu (Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future) (1973)

When I watched Vanished Empire lo those many months ago for my Russian Culture class (ah... college), I was struck by a film the characters attended called Ivan Vasilevich: Back to the Future. We discussed it in class a bit and I learned that it was a very popular Soviet sci-fi comedy with slapstick leanings. So I watched it. (Great story, I know!) The film details the trials of an absent-minded scientist (Aleksandr Demyanenko) who builds a time machine in his apartment.

He focuses more on his work than on his actress girlfriend (Natalya Seleznyova), so she leaves him for her director, but he barely notices and instead takes his invention out for a test drive, picking up his testy landlord Ivan Vasilevich Bunsha (Yuriy Yakovlev) and a good-natured con artist (Leonid Kuravlyov). After a run in with Ivan the Terrible (Bunsha's double), the time machine malfunctions and the scientist and Ivan end up back in the 70's while Bunsha and the con artist are stuck in the 16th century! Many hijinks ensue as everybody tries to return to their own times.

This move is extremely ridiculous in an unexpected and very likable way. Its goofy tone and over-use of fast-motion montages are reminiscent of a 60's Beatles comedy. There are enough silly happenings, impromptu musical numbers, mistaken identities, wonky sound effects, and historical references to keep anyone interested- plus it's all set to trendy rock music. While in many ways the humor and "hipness" may seem out of place in Soviet Russia, I could definitely see the themes of selflessness and loyalty in the supposed-to-be-sympathetic characters set in contrast to the greed and excess of the more "Westernized" types. Guess I learned all there is to know about Russia from my one class!

The biggest problem with this movie is that the title character is totally boring, while I found the scientist and con man funny and interesting. Yuriy Yakovlev does a great job handling the dual role of Bunsha and Ivan the Terrible, bringing out some very funny moments as the latter when he is trapped in the 1970's and utterly confused and irritable. But he can't do much to his landlord counterpart, who spends most of the time making weird faces while medieval serfs look on.

It's light on the sci-fi and heavy on the Russian history, and ultimately totally enjoyable! Back to the Future!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Pair This Movie With: I haven't actually seen any of those goofy Beatles movies, but I imagine they'd be a good match. Or similar films like Head and Three Resurrected Drunkards, which I can recommend.

PS I can't remember if I've mentioned this here, but I've started a totally sweet tumblr focusing exclusively on foreign movie posters. Maybe you like that sort of thing? I know I do! I made a personal one too.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Mechanic (2011)

Hey, remember that time I watched the original version of The Mechanic and thought it was ok but could be improved in a modern remake? Look who was right.

Me. That's who.

The new one has basically the same premise: Hitman Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is assigned to kill an old friend (Donald Sutherland), whose screw-up son Steve (Ben Foster) ends up following him around and eventually becoming his assistant/student. They go on a few jobs together before suspecting their employers have double-crossed them. Explosions.

This is a generally exciting action movie with a stylishly dramatic bent. There are a number of really cool action scenes, from Statham's unexpected introduction to various high-stakes shoot-outs. Statham does his cool laconic British thing as usual, and there's a nice small part for Sutherland as his wheelchair-bound mentor. Ben Foster is the wild card here, mainly because his character is extremely volatile and hard to pin down. I had trouble feeling one way or the other for Steve, who oscillates between funny and vulnerable to idiotic and self-serving at the drop of a hat. I wouldn't blame Foster, who does the best he can with the role; a character who I think is supposed to be troubled and sociopathic just comes off as annoying, and it's largely due to how he is written and filmed.

The Mechanic tries a bit too hard to be "edgy" in its style, what with all the alcohol binging set to heavy music and the completely non sequitur quick-cut sex scene. It's got a dark story and that's fine, it's not like all action movies need to be infused with pithy one-liners and goofy self-aware heroes. I just didn't take the drama completely seriously because I could feel the director trying too hard- it was forced. That said, it is still an enjoyable film with awesome action scenes and a good cast. I appreciated that it didn't stick too close to the original, just took the basic idea and did its own thing. This way the film was new to me despite seeing the original a week before. And it still had a kickass ending.


Pair This Movie With: I'm going with Shoot 'Em Up, one of the funnest action movies I've ever seen. It'd be a good followup to this more serious film.


Monday, February 14, 2011

The Boys From Brazil (1978)

This is one of those instances in which premise alone is enough to completely sell me on a film. Based on the book by Ira Levin, The Boys From Brazil postulates a secret plot developed by notorious experimental Nazi doctor Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) to re-instate the Third Reich by cloning Hitler. A young Jewish activist (Steve Guttenberg) investigates Mengele's meetings with a group former SS officers and young Neo-Nazis, discovers their plan to set about murdering 94 unrelated men pre-determined by Mengele, and calls acclaimed elderly Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) for help. Despite little support from the police or friends, Lieberman sets out to uncover Mengele's scheme and is horrified by what he finds out.

What's amazing about this film is that its premise sounds like an exploitation b-movie shocker, but when you see its cast you're like "whaaaaaat?" (at least, I was). This is a movie about Hitler clones that takes itself incredibly seriously, becoming a surprisingly intense and moving drama despite its scientific uncertainties. With leads Peck and Olivier- along with supporters like Guttenberg and James Mason- putting in dedicated, studied performances, it's clear that the cast took this seriously as well. Peck especially is maniacally good as Josef Mengele, while Jeremy Black- the boy who plays the Hitler clone- is remarkably unsettling. There's even a small role for a young Bruno Ganz, one of my favorite German actors! Also it was interesting to spot Rosemary Harris (Aunt May in Spider-man) and Michael Gough (Alfred in the Batman movies) among the cast.

The story plays out as a suspenseful mystery, with Lieberman following a trail that eventually leads to Mengele and his ultimate plan. I knew about the Hitler thing going in (it's on the back of the box and in the imdb summary- it'd be very hard not to know first), but the way the script handles the story it is unclear how everything fits together until at least halfway through, which makes for a compelling watch. It then becomes a matter of how can one old man stop a ferociously passionate Nazi. It's an interesting, fairly scary concept brought to life by talented actors and impressive on-location filming in Austria, England, Paraguay, and Pennsylvania.

Also: if you've ever wanted to see Gregory Peck and Laurence Olivier get into a really bloody old person scuffle, look no further than The Boys From Brazil.


Pair This Movie With: Well nothing came to mind while I was watching it... Perhaps another 70's sci-fi thriller like The Stepford Wives?


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nid de Guêpes (The Nest) (2002)

Here's another pick from scanning netflix instant in search of something fun. Lucky us! Setting itself up as an elaborate mystery-thriller, The Nest puts together two groups who'd usually be at odds with one another- government agents and low-level criminals. When an Albanian gangleader/brothel owner/supercriminal is finally captured through European police cooperation/teamwork, his heavily-armed transport is met with a slew of masked gang members ready to bust him free. They're chased into a huge storage warehouse for computer equipment, where a group of thieves have enacted a plan to steal a truckload of computers. With a seemingly endless number of well-armed grunts coming after their leader, the two groups join up and do their best to fortify the warehouse with little hope of escape or rescue.

The Nest represents a genre I really dig- the one-location movie. I find it especially interesting in action thrillers, forcing the script to become inventive with its setting and resources, and often allowing more focus on character development. These aspects are handled perfectly here, with a team of distinctive and likable characters, who all must find their own way to contribute. There's the good-hearted thief intent on saving his injured best friend, the highly capable ex-firefighter-turned-security guard, the stern German agent, the brassy computer wiz, the taciturn acrobat, and the badass French agent attempting to lead them all to safety.

Though the movie is slightly on the long side for an action flick (there is a good amount of set-up), the script is tight and smart, allowing the story and characters to unfold at their own pace, with a few big surprises and emotional punches thrown in. There are several big shootouts and impressive stunts, along with a high death count and even a bit of parkour (this is France, after all). It takes itself seriously and I so I took it seriously, finding myself completely swept up in the events and the tension-riddled premise. It's just a really solid movie.


Pair This Movie With: Hmm any other awesome action movie, I guess! Die Hard feels right since that's another one-location one. Or if you want to keep up the French theme I'd go with District B13 or Taken.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #28

Hey dudes. So over the past few days I spent an unforeseeable amount of time and effort on this totally bitchin' Battle Royale poster, which accounts for my rather unstellar performance in this week's Movie Sketch Project.

I really liked this shot in My First Mister, so I did a little pencil sketch of the scene. Might ink it later, who knows? I hope to be more inspired by next week's batch of movies.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Going Ape! (1981)

So there we were, back from our viewing of The Illusionist and ready for a more upbeat movie to end the night. Scanning through netflix instant we came across a range of possible titles, but something about a little film from 1981 that features Tony Danza and three lovable orangutans kept catching our eye. That's right, we settled on the ultimate monkey comedy: Going Ape! When Tony Danza's circus dad dies, he inherits three lovable orangutans with big personalities. The will stipulates that if any of them die within a certain number of years, he won't also get the load of money promised to him.

Their presence in his apartment upsets his girlfriend and his girlfriend's mom (Jessica Walter). Danny Devito- an acrobat of indistinguishable foreign origin- comes over to help. The zoological society (who stands to get the money if one of the orangutans dies) hires caricatures of mob hitmen to kill one of them. Shenanigans and hilarity ensue in equal measure.

This movie is great. That's the most important point I can make here. It's got everything anyone could possibly want in a slapstick monkey comedy (it helps that it's directed/written by Jeremy Joe Kronsberg, the guy who brought us Every Which Way But Loose). There's orangutans making funny faces and drinking beer and wearing human clothes (now that's wacky) and destroying private property and becoming best friends with everyone they meet. Tony Danza gets into a fist fight while wearing a hospital gown. Danny Devito gets to kiss Jessica Walter while she's wearing a nun outfit. There's a monkey car chase. There is a lot of falling from great heights into a deeper-than-it-looks pool. There's a frizzy-haired psychic and an exploding apartment and a peeping old lady. What a madcap, zany adventure!

That being said, Going Ape! also doesn't make a lick of sense, and a lot of it is so ridiculously over the top you have to wonder just how much self-awareness anyone had. The script seems to change its mind and skip over a lot of points every few scenes. The orangutans are damn well-trained, though.

As a movie: 2.5/5
As entertainment: 4/5

Pair This Movie With: It'd be fun with a Marx brothers comedy, I think. Take your pick.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

L'illusionniste (The Illusionist) (2010)

This was the one big holdover from 2010 I was still really excited to see, tapping into my love of both The Triplets of Belleville (which I'll be seeing in a theater next week!) and traditional cel animation. Based on an unproduced script by Jacques Tati for his daughter (though just which daughter remains in contention), The Illusionist tells the quiet tale of a wandering magician traveling around Europe and struggling to get gigs in the wake of the rock and roll craze of the 50's. During a stint at an isolated Scottish bar, he befriends a young maid who thinks he's actually magic. Despite their language barrier, she follows him to Edinburgh and stays in his apartment, believing he can provide expensive gifts for her with his magic powers. He doesn't want to ruin her fantasy, but as it gets harder and harder to find work as a performer he must resort to other means to get money.

I'm a little torn on this one. First, the good stuff: Of course, the animation and visual design are absolutely stunning. Chomet has this way of giving extremely detailed, closely-observed movements and affectations to characters with exaggerated designs, creating a juxtaposition that completely works. The landscapes and backgrounds are gorgeously rendered in watercolor, soaked in smooth warm colors. Chomet's ability to tell a story with little-to-no dialogue is tremendous, and he achieves a number of adorable sight gags and touching dramatic moments with the absolute minimum of spoken words. I really enjoyed the character of the slightly stuffy magician, with his oversized clenched fists and comic height. The circus-y dudes who lived in their hotel were all pretty interesting too, some very funny and some impossibly sad.

For all that I liked about it, there are a few things that troubled me about The Illusionist. While I will certainly praise Chomet's visual approach to storytelling, there are just a few things that are difficult to communicate without dialogue, leaving a lot of holes in the plot and characterization.

The biggest issue I had here is with Alice, the young girl. First of all, how old is she? At first I assumed she was around 11 or 12, since I could see someone that young who grew up in an isolated rural area believing in magic and not understanding how the world works, and wanting a lot of pretty things. But by the end she's dating a dude and wearing high heels and has boobs, and I'm pretty sure not more than a year passed. So maybe she was closer to 16-17? In which case it is ridiculous that she would leave her home, move in with a stranger who spoke a different language, and then encourage him to get her pretty shoes and dresses while not even thinking about a job for herself. And why the hell would a grown man indulge a teenager who should know better? Either way, she's a pretty flat character who comes off as a completely selfish idiot when I think she was supposed to be cute and naive. It was frustrating, since I didn't want to hate her but couldn't help finding her annoying.

Ultimately The Illusionist is saved by its breathtaking animation and many moments of sweet humor and touching drama. It's a fairly serious film, especially in comparison to The Triplets of Belleville, but quite enjoyable. If the writing had been stronger- especially concerning Alice- I would have absolutely loved it, but I can't quite overlook that weakness. Still better than most of the films playing right now, though.


Pair This Movie With: Mary and Max- another animated drama focusing on the relationship between a young girl and an older man- seems fitting. It will make a nice contrast as this film relies heavily on narration and spoken word to tell its story.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

My First Mister (2001)

So often I add things to my netflix queue on a whim, and find myself unsure if I should go through with the viewing by the time it finally reaches the top. Luckily I gave My First Mister a try and was rewarded with an enjoyable, emotionally affecting film. Jennifer- known as "J" (Leelee Sobieski)- is a self-made misanthrope who navigates high school drudgery hidden behind heavy eye make-up, goth rock, and an unflinchingly pissed-off attitude. She dreams of becoming a successful poet and escaping her mother (Carol Kane) and step-father (Michael McKean), who aren't bad parents but don't understand or fully accept her for who she is.

Desperate for the money to move out, she manages to get a job at a clothing store catering to businesspeople, and strikes up an odd friendship with her boss Randall- aka "R" (Albert Brooks). He's a lonely fortysomething who's scared of everything but finds himself sympathizing with this intelligent, aggressive, fragile teenager. He helps her mature into a more confident, focused young woman and she helps him break out of his shell and enjoy himself once in a while.

This movie is a bit deceptive in tone. The opening scenes feature a gothed-up Sobieski narrating her despair at being an outsider, lighting candles and writing fake eulogies for herself while the dulled tones of some sad metal band waft over it all. She's pissed off and hates everyone, and generally unpleasant to those who are nice to her, but secretly yearns for a boyfriend, or just a friend. It's all very Hot Topic teenagery and while I would have been ok with all that when I was 14 and constantly reading Johnny The Homicidal Maniac and listening to Kittie, I'm a real grown-up now and have little patience for all these hormonal shenanigans.

HOWEVER. Once J meets R, a sweet and significant friendship develops between them and J's character become much more fleshed-out and believable. She's still prone to weird immature outbursts and bad decisions, but hey, she is still a teenager and she hasn't had much experience dealing with people. It morphs from a whiny high school alt-comedy into a surprisingly touching drama that tests the limits of conventional love and relationships. It's got great humorous touches, from J's deadpan narration to R's pithy observations, both of which give the film a touch of self-awareness. The two leads put in exceptional performances, funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. Costars Carol Kane, John Goodman, Michael McKean (whose role is far too limited), and Mary Kay Place chip in appropriately, but most of the screentime is completely devoted to J and R.

My First Mister is a sweet little film with a nice, straightfoward female perspective (it's written by Jill Franklyn and directed by Christine Lahti) and a terrific cast. It starts off shaky but soon finds its footing and becomes a well-written coming-of-age tale. Some of the pacing/timing is confusing (like, did J ever finish high school? Where did that go?), but overall it's very enjoyable. We can all get lost alternately in Leelee Sobieski's eyes and Albert Brooks's mustache.


PS The weirdest thing about this movie is that it's got a young Desmond Harrington (the fucking awful Quinn from Dexter). It is offputting.

Pair This Movie With: This movie definitely draws some themes and humor from Harold and Maude, the greatest old person-young person black comedy-romance of all time. The first portion of the film is more reminiscent of The Craft, though.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rabbit Hole (2010)

I missed his sophomore effort Shortbus, but I am determined to keep tabs on John Cameron Mitchell due to my love of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Plus I heard Rabbit Hole had comic books in it. Adapted from the stage play by David Lindsay-Abaire, the story follows married couple Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) as they mourn the death of their four-year-old son. She tries to look towards the future, not wanting to be constantly reminded of him by his clothes and toys strewn about their house or by talking about him every week at group therapy. He clings to the past, watching videos of the boy on his phone every night and yearning for another child.

Their relationship is seriously strained as they each form a tepid relationship with someone new- Becca befriends the teenager who accidentally hit her son with his car, while Howie starts getting high with a woman from group (Sandra Oh) whose husband just left her. The situation is further exacerbated by the recent pregnancy of Becca's irresponsible younger sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard) and the passive-aggressive input of her mother (Dianne Wiest).

For a movie with such dark subject matter, Rabbit Hole is surprisingly funny at times, recognizing the need for humor in the saddest of moments. It's a very realistic, engaging film with a simple story and down-to-earth performances. I'm generally wishy-washy on Nicole Kidman, but must admit she does excel at playing these stand-offish, stiff characters. Her portrayal of Becca is a woman who's sinking into her own coldness as a coping mechanism- she keeps everyone at a distance because at any moment she feels herself falling apart. It's a surprisingly sympathetic performance and I think the best I've seen Kidman. Eckhart is his charismatic, likable self but with considerable pathos, giving a strong but less challenging performance than his costar. I could get lost in that chin dimple.

The comic book stuff didn't play as big a role as I'd have liked, but I did really dig how it came together. Jason (the teenage boy) is an artist and Mitchell allows us to see his sci-fi comic slowly piecing itself together, deftly working it into the major narrative by the end. I actually found that character one of the most interesting, probably because I could find more to relate to. Not being a mother (and never planning on it) myself, I couldn't fathom what Becca and Howie were truly going through. With Jason, I started to think how terrifying and just awful it is to be 17 years old and know that you killed a 4-year-old child. Completely accidentally. His scenes were few, but Miles Teller did an excellent job portraying this shy, confused character.

Of course it made me cry, but Rabbit Hole isn't as bleak as it may sound. I'm not going to go and show it at sleepovers or anything, but I came out with some sort of hope for the world, which is always nice. Plus it doesn't over-do the sentimentality. The pacing drags at parts and it took me a little while to really get into it, but overall I found it a well-made, engaging drama. Also Dianne Wiest is awesome.


Pair This Movie With: If you're just having a sad movie day, then something like The Hours might fit in well (the other Nicole Kidman movie I love). Or for another examination of the grieving period, I remember liking Moonlight Mile. Oooor for a pick-me-up, why not go with Thank You For Smoking to continue the Aaron Eckhart good times?


Friday, February 4, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #27 (UPDATED)

So I've been kind of bad this week. I had an idea for a Battle Royale poster days ago and I'm pretty excited about it, but it's going to be sort of work-intensive and I've just been unmotivated. Plus I've been copy-editing the awesome upcoming 366 Weird Movie Yearbook.

I promise I will be working on the poster this weekend, it's gonna be awesome. For now here's a quick sketch of Mitsuko, the most hardcore character in the movie.

Oh also I made a tumblr, if that's your thing. It is fun times. Art and movies, mostly! Let me know of any cool ones you'd recommend, or if you have one yourself!

Ok here it is, an excellent and incredibly work-intensive poster for Battle Royale. I am pretty happy with it. You can purchase, if you like.


Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Mechanic (1972)

It seemed wise to check out the original version of The Mechanic before venturing out to see the remake (which we might do if it ever stops blizzarding everywhere). Plus I'd never seen a Charles Bronson movie before. The plot revolves around seasoned hitman Arthur Bishop (Bronson) who, after killing an old family friend, finds the deceased's spoiled twentysomething son Steve (Jan-Michael Vincent) following him around. Eventually he takes the boy on as an assistant, training him to spy, research, and shoot. But as the two are sent on a mission to Italy by Bishop's mysterious employers, they suspect foul play is afoot.

To be honest, I don't have the energy to really say much about this movie. In many ways it's a typical hitman movie- great action scenes, explosions, backstabbing, etc. Bronson has a magnificent mustache and radical pajamas. The story isn't bad, but it takes a while to set up, so the pacing wasn't the best. I liked it in general, but wasn't wowed by it. It's partially hindered by a some period-specific setbacks- mainly its length, dark lighting, and characterization. So I can see how it might be improved upon in a modern remake.

Um. That's about all I have, sorry. Not a bad movie at all, very enjoyable once it gets going. The younger guy seems like a prick but I liked Bronson. And like I said, some really good action scenes (loved the motorcycle chase in the middle). But not really my thing, I guess. If you want more from me today then you can check out the new episode of Some Cast It Hot, with a discussion of HOUSE and awesomely bad movies.


Pair This Movie With: Um a better hitman movie? Like Grosse Pointe Blank. Or The Professional.


Some Cast It Hot, Ep. 8: Cherries Were Made For Eating

Oh man, you guys. We're back! That's right, after an unplanned hiatus due to various scheduling problems, Some Cast It Hot has returned with a shiny new episode. Sadly, Caitlin from 1416 and Counting had to leave the show, but she's promised to remain an active listener! We'll miss you Caitlin! You can still hear her on earlier episodes, though.

This time around, Sasha from The Final Girl Project, Allison from Nerdvampire, and I discuss some of our favorite so-bad-they're-good movies, with the main discussion revolving around Film Forager-fav HOUSE (a movie so nice I reviewed it twice!). We also talk a bit about the last movies we watched, Being Human, swear words, and of course, Doctor Who.

So check it out! We kept it under an hour and everything! Stream it below or listen on podomatic. You can also subscribe on itunes. And as always, we'd love to hear your feedback! Leave a comment on any of our blogs or send an email to We're doing movies that pass the Bechdel Test next time, so if you have any commentary/recommendations let us know!

Some of the movies discussed/recommended include: Heart and Souls, Lady Terminator, The Room, and Robogeisha.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Parking Lot Movie (2010)

I missed this at IFF Boston last year, but luckily it's now on netflix instant. It's nice when that happens. A suspiciously simple documentary in concept, The Parking Lot Movie focuses on the employees of a parking lot in Virginia. The staff is primarily composed of highly intelligent college students (mainly from the anthropology department), musicians, and artists, all of whom seem to become amateur philosophers and self-taught zen masters through this dull, lonely occupation. Interspersing footage of the guys working at the lot and one-on-one interviews, the film details their experiences combating asshole customers, drunken frat boys, and most of all, boredom. Luckily, these dudes are all really funny.

Much of The Parking Lot Movie can be viewed as an exposé on the service industry in general- I could certainly relate to a lot of their experiences from my various retail positions. These are guys who spend most of their paid hours sitting in a small box, reading, drawing, freestyling, inventing a challenging game with traffic cones, dealing with jerks (and some regular people), and pushing themselves into a meditative state borne from nothingness. Their candid, straightforward discussions and high volume of hilarious jokes make for an entertaining and ultimately enlightening peek into a very particular, often-overlooked occupation. It's a really cool movie.


Pair This Movie With: How about Clerks?


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Batoru rowaiaru (Battle Royale) (2000)

Yes. Goddammit, YES. Now here's a movie that I was just born to love. First a novel, then a manga, the film version of Battle Royale tells the totally hardcore tale of a future in which Japanese kids have become so misbehaved and delinquent that the adults have all but given up on them. A law is passed that allows the government to abduct certain middle school classes and force the students to kill each other off in a massive three-day death tournament. The film focuses on would-be couple Shuya and Noriko as they attempt to navigate the isolated island without killing anyone and- more importantly- without being killed. We come to learn more about them and their classmates as the death toll slowly increases.

This movie unavailable in the US for any number of unconfirmed reasons, but there's a UK blu-ray available that I recommend you all pick up. Because this is just a great film. It is at once a brutal vision of the future, a gleefully gory b-movie, a moving character study, and a suspenseful thriller. The concept is incredible, giving us the chilling tagline bait "Could you kill your best friend?" While I consider the over-the-top action and varying weaponry really fun, the script and characters are developed enough to be taken seriously, making for a really well-rounded, absorbing movie.

There are a number of completely badass characters, from the anime-haired homicidal maniac Kazuo, to the track-suited overseer Kitano (played by Beat Takeshi!), to the computer whiz bomb-maker Shinji, but the ultimate in badassery is a tie. There's Shogo, a cool and aloof ally of Shuya and Noriko who manages to protect and care for them thanks to a large number of hidden talents (all purportedly passed on from his father). Then, there's Mitsuko, probably my favorite character. She's amazing: a ruthless, deadly, seductive schoolgirl who's able to be somewhat sympathetic. She felt like an outcast at school but suddenly finds she has an aptitude for killing off her classmates, and just goes with it. I really liked her as a villain.

Battle Royale is a dark, dark movie, but also a really great time. It's got moments of levity along with myriad awesome action scenes, along with great characters and a compelling story. I haven't read the book or manga, but I'm definitely putting both on my to-read list. For now, though, I'm perfectly content with this insanely good film. It might get bumped up to a 5/5 after a re-watch.


Pair This Movie With: Halfway through this movie the perfect pairing struck me (possibly aided by the poster on my wall). Death Race 2000. Two completely satisfying movies with high death tolls. Done.

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