Friday, April 29, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #36

Hey guys, as you read this I am probably in the middle of taking the GRE with the hope of eventually getting into a good art history grad program and doing something with my life that doesn't involve retail or parental disapproval. We'll see how that goes.

I didn't have time to do any new art this week since I've mostly been studying and working, but I did unearth some old, old sketches from my days of copying anime stills so I thought I'd share a few. I've been re-watching Trigun recently and remembering just how much I love it and how great the art is. I developed certain stylistic tendencies from drawing from it- especially long limbs and long noses and chins in profile. It's also how I first attempted to learn to draw guns. Still working on that one. Check 'em out ahead!

And again, these are like 7 years old. Be forgiving. Not good scans, either, sorry. And I had a really stupid signature. I do enjoy the last sketch though- Wolfwood's the best!






But remember! There is more art to see from recent times in previous posts and to purchase over at my etsy shop! And, finally, as the banner at right indicates, I am hoping to garner a few Lammy nominations this year, most particularly for this very series. If you're a LAMB and feel it warrants a vote, please head over to give your choices! But really, thanks for hanging out here either way.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Special Announcement: The 366 Weird Movies Yearbook Is Here!

Hello friends! As you may or may not know, I've been a contributor to the excellent film site 366 Weird Movies since the summer, and it's been cool to have an outlet for more in-depth reviews than I usually write here. Plus it's an excuse to watch more wacky movies than ever!

Anyway, the site publishes a yearbook collecting reviews of recent releases as well as films that made "The List", and I'm totally included in the 2010 book! It is my first time being published in something. It's available on Amazon for only $6.99, and I can personally say it is a very nice-looking publication since I have my copy already! It's got in-depth analyses of movies like Antichrist, HOUSE, and Enter the Void, as well as shorter reviews of all manner of theater, DVD, and Blu-ray releases. It's pretty great, and very informative for anyone interested in more offbeat or obscure cinema. Please consider purchasing a copy, if it sounds like your thing!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ill-Advised Sci-Fi Adaptation Double Feature: Batman Forever (1995) and Battlefield Earth (2000)

*This post is part of the Juxtaposition Blogathon at Pussy Goes Grrr.*

I don't know why I decided to watch two awful movies back to back, but it's hard for me to resist. I found Batman Forever on netflix instant the other day and immediately started watching because it had resulted in many inside jokes when I was a kid. Also because it's fairly hilarious. Then that night the Brattle Theatre was hosting its "Schlock Around the Clock" weekend event and I of course opted for a late showing of Battlefield Earth, which I'd never seen but had heard enough about to pique my interest. Turns out these two movies almost match each other in suckitude, but in different ways. Also their scores are weirdly similar.

So: Batman. He's a superhero or something, meaning he can put on a black rubber outfit and drive a phallic car and use destructive gadgets to put holes into people's walls without retribution. This unsurprisingly attracts the attention of all manner of "weirdos" who want to destroy him. In this installment of the man's never-ending War on Crime and ongoing Fight With His Own Inner Demons Culled From a Haunted Past, Val Kilmer plays the caped crusader as a slightly nerdy, but ever-so-fully-lipped hero. His enemies are Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), a crazed former district attorney with a vendetta against Batman and a need for duplicity, and The Riddler (Jim Carrey), an obsessive, downtrodden scientist who invents a way to read people's minds and increase his own IQ. His allies are Dr Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman), a criminal psychologist who wants to bone Batman and date Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson (Chris O'Donnell), a rebellious twentysomething acrobat who wants revenge for his murdered family, and his stalwart butler Alfred (Michael Gough).

Ok. This movie. I kind of love it (though not as much as its successor, which I'm sure I'll blog at length about eventually). It is completely ridiculous and over the top, and yet insists on maintaining a level of drama that just does not fit in with the atmosphere. Bruce Wayne is soooo serious all the time and has bad dreams about his parents' murder. Wah-wah. And then Dick is all bratty and whiny about his family being killed by Two-Face and it's like jeez, grow up already, you're like 25 years old! Meanwhile two well-educated men in funny costumes are running around making bad puns and building elaborate sets to coincide with their chosen villainous themes. This dichotomy in tone is part of what makes this movie hilarious, as well as so poorly conceived.

I have to say, though, that the cast is pretty fantastic. Kilmer isn't beefy enough to be a convincing Batman, but darnit if he isn't a cute Bruce Wayne. Nicole Kidman is a commendably forward vixen with nice hair. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar pop up for a while. Tommy Lee Jones has way too much fun. Chris O'Donnell wears a leather jacket and a really stupid-looking earring. Michael Gough is huggable as always. And Jim Carrey is actually pretty good as The Riddler, I think. He's been my favorite Batman villain since Frank Gorshin's gleeful portrayal on the 60's tv show, and while Carrey isn't up to that standard, his enthusiasm is palpable and I liked his sparkles and red hair.

Anyway this movie is enjoyable and goofy as hell, which is all I really want. At least everyone looks like they're having fun. Except Val Kilmer. He's a bit of a downer.

Also part of the premise is a lot like that Max Headroom episode!

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

Now on to a film that set its sights much higher, and therefore fails more miserably. Based on the L Ron Hubbard book, Battlefield Earth is the epic tale of the human race's fight for survival centuries into the future, with our culture gone and society regressed into hunter-gatherer tribes as our cities lay in rubble. Really tall, big-foreheaded aliens called Psychlos have settled around certain areas to mine our resources, using people as slaves before killing everyone. One particularly resourceful "man animal" named Johnny (Barry Pepper) begins to unite the humans and use Psychlo technology against them, much to the chagrin of sadistic and conniving chief of security Teri (John Travolta).

SO MUCH about this movie makes no goddamn sense, I will not take the trouble to lay it all out for you. Just take my word for it. It's just... really stupid. Really, really stupid. The script lingers on certain points and glazes over others, leaving a wealth of plot holes and questions that viewers have to mentally fill in just to maintain a vaguely clear head. It is all set amidst egregiously cheesy dialogue of course, not helped by Travolta's particularly hammy performance. I will never be able to unsee him in this role, and now every time I watch Grease I'm going to imagine him with dreadlocks and pointy monster hands and a hideous guffaw. Too bad.

The thing is, it does look pretty good. The presumably massive budget doesn't seem wasted, with a lot of pretty landscapes and complicated sets, not to mention a range of intricate make-up and technological effects. And I'm not against the premise. But there's very little saving grace in this film. It's just a self-indulgent, hugely extravagant wreck rife with bad acting, poor direction, and worse screenwriting. Those ridiculous centerfold wipes used in every single scene transition will forever haunt my dreams. It was worse than the narration in Dune. And the Dutch angles! MAKE IT STOP.

1.5/5

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gator (1976)

Well we saw White Lightning primarily so we could go ahead and watch Gator, the sequel much-lauded in an episode of Archer. This is what is important. Burt Reynolds' directorial debut, the film stars Reynolds as the titular Gator, a former bootlegger just out of a second stint in prison. He's coerced by local law enforcement to aid a New York federal agent (Jack Weston) in an effort to take down a major crime lord (Jerry Reed). Gator grew up with the criminal and infiltrates his operation, later getting help from ambitious reporter Aggie Maybank (Laura Hutton) and crazy cat lady Emmeline (Alice Ghostley).

This is sort of a weird one. Sometimes I think it was meant as a fun, action-y caper but other times it became this serious-minded crime drama with, like, lots of drug use and violence and death and stuff. I don't know. I really enjoyed parts of it; there are some very funny moments and some cool action sequences, plus good performances from Reynolds, Hutton, and Ghostley (Mrs Murdock in Grease!). I loved Jerry Reed as the sleazy, slippery villain Bama McCall. I had only known him as the adorable Snowman in Smokey and the Bandit, so it was interesting to see him as someone so devious.

Gator has some great moments and overall it's a good time, if uneven in tone. It's hard not to like a Burt Reynolds movie, really.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well, White Lightning I guess.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Brainscan (1994)

Somebody recommended this to me on Twitter and I forget who it was, but thank you! I went into it expecting a cheesy, poorly-made sci-fi thriller that I would love, but instead got a surprisingly smart, interesting, only slightly cheesy horror-thriller that I still totally loved! Brainscan stars Edward Furlong as an unpopular, unhappy teen with a seemingly perpetually absent father. He spends most of his time playing video games with his only friend Kyle (James Marsh), lusting after his next-door neighbor Kimberly (Amy Hargreaves), and having nightmares about the car accident that killed his mom and impaired his leg.

He gets a new video game called "Brainscan" that puts him in the mind of a serial killer, with the imagery implanted directly into his brain for a hyper-realistic experience. It's awesome, until he realizes that it actually happened and he totally killed a random neighbor. The nefarious Trickster (T Ryder Smith) pops out of the game and cajoles him into playing through the next levels, resulting in more deaths and a police investigation led by the suspicious Detective Hayden (Frank Langella).

So it does start off with all the requirements for a ridiculous, over-the-top, derivative sci-fi film that's trying too hard to be cool. It opens with a horrific car accident/leg surgery given no context. Edward Furlong's room is too pimped out and his phone is controlled by a computerized "Igor" (which is actually fantastic). He and Kyle wear jean jackets and speak in weird slang. Kimberly loves walking around her room topless with all the lights on and the curtains wide open. CD-Roms are a new thing. The Trickster is weirdly reminiscent of the blue dude in Little Monsters. There are some silly special effects.

But honestly, this movie is awesome. It helps that I really do enjoy Edward Furlong. He's exactly the type of 90's onscreen teenager I was drawn to in middle school- longish doofy hair, plaid shirts, skinny build. It's Sam and Big Pete and Marshall Teller and all the rest. So I'm pretty onboard with whatever he's up to pre-The Crow: Wicked Prayer. Here, he's likable and slightly creepy as Michael, a young man you want to root for if only so he has a chance to mature a little. He's got a haunted past and unrequited love and no parental supervision, so there is a lot of potential for evildoing.

I was impressed with the general moral ambiguities and play of ethics on hand here. It's lighthearted at first but as the film progresses it becomes a surprisingly sincere and gripping thriller, and I really had no idea how far the story would go. Michael is pretty far gone at one point and who the hell knows what kind of havoc he'll wreak? These uncertainties and strong central character make for a legitimately cool movie, while the lame Trickster jokes and middling special effects give it a corny mid-90s edge that endeared it to me even more. Maybe it's because my expectations were set so low, but I came out a total fan of Brainscan.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: There are a lot of parallels to Videodrome so I think that'd be a fun one. Or maybe a couple episodes of Eerie, Indiana for more of that "weird suburban problems in the 90s" atmosphere.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hanna (2011)

This is the first movie of 2011 I've been legitimately really excited about. I liked how the director was always dumping on anti-feminism in Sucker Punch. I also liked how Saoirse Ronan was going to fuck shit up. The titular Hanna (Ronan) is a teenage warrior raised in mountainous isolation by her father (Eric Bana). She's incredibly strong, with sharp reflexes, deadly aim, a strong memory, and no fear. She turns herself loose in the outside world by allowing secret agent Marissa Wiegler (Cate Blanchett) to find her. She traipses through Morocco and Europe, aiming to meet up with her father in Berlin, and along the way she learns a bit about family, friendship, fairy tales, and electricity. She also fucks all kinds of shit up! Yes!

This movie is seriously intense. Between the thumping electronic soundtrack from The Chemical Brothers, sharply-edited action scenes, high-stakes chases, and marvelous use of flashing lights, Hanna has everything one needs for an exciting and visually gripping thriller. The addition of an intriguing and likable heroine, subtle notes of science-fiction, and a hilarious British family just about makes this my favorite film of the year so far. Also the absence of forced romantic/mushy stuff. Fuck that. Also the fact that no one makes a big deal about the fact that Hanna's a girl. Her role could easily have been adapted for a teenage boy. But obviously, I'm so glad it wasn't!

Of course, performances: I find Eric Bana fairly bland but he's good enough here with some cool fight scenes and a questionable Eastern European accent. Tom Hollander is gleefully sadistic as a German assassin, rather reminiscent of those Funny Games boys. Saiorse Ronan really holds her own as Hanna. With her bright eyes, diminutive form, and wild hair, she perfectly captures the look of an innocent, raised-in-isolation teenager, which is what makes her convincing performance as a specially-trained killer so impressive. She's likable and naive while remaining a deadly- and surprisingly pliable- threat. It's fascinating. Olivia Williams and Jason Flemyng have perfect- if short- appearances as British hippie parents with annoying children.

I've heard a lot about Cate Blanchett here. A friend believes she is purposefully hammy and over the top as a nod to predominantly male villain roles perpetuated by the likes of Christopher Walken and Nicolas Cage. I think that's possible? Everyone else in the movie plays it pretty straight, whereas Blanchett seems to relish her Southern accent and obsession with dental hygiene. It is pretty great. Admittedly I spent a lot of the movie imagining her role as played by Tilda Swinton, whom I like better, but mostly that's because Blanchett had a Tilda-y hairstyle.

What's great about Hanna is that it manages to present a thought-provoking, emotional story without forgetting that it is also a fun, kickass action movie. Her relationship with her father and her growing understanding of the outside world and her own past make for engaging drama, but it doesn't really get into the moral aspects of Hanna's lifestyle, allowing her to hurt a lot of people without worrying audiences about the "murder at age 16" thing. And there are enough moments of levity- primarily with the British tourists- to balance it all out. Good times! Go see it!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There's Prachya Pinkaew's Chocolate for another young woman kicking ass all the time. Or for some reason I'm thinking about Night of the Comet. Love that movie.

Further Reading:
Check out M Hufstader's totally awesome Mythbusting review. It's everything you need to know about the film.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #35

Happy Friday everybody! I hope things are going well for you. I'm about to embark on a week of actual hardcore GRE studying, unlike the mild attempts I've been making for the past few months. Next Friday is the big day, so I'm not sure if I'll have new art next week. Just a heads up. For now, though, here is an ink drawing I'd been itching to work on for ages. It's Debbie Harry as Nicki Brand in Videodrome, a movie I've recently come to adore. She is so cool in it (as she is in everything she does, she's Debbie Harry for goodness' sake). I sort of wanted it to echo my David Bowie piece from a while back, with some ink splatters and drips to highlight her hair color. Anyway, I hope you like it! The original is for sale.

ALSO: So the Lammy Awards are coming up, and it'd be excellent if you wanted to nominate me for a category or two if you're in the LAMB. I don't expect to win anything, but I do think that the Movie Sketch Project has been a successful weekly series and I'm proud of the work I've done for it so far. Just wanted to put it out there as a possibility, that's all! You can submit your nominations here. Good luck to all my fellow LAMBs!

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Super (2010)

Ok so Super finally came out around here. And naturally I went to see it. As a dark superhero comedy with Ellen Page, Rainn Wilson, and Nathan Fillion, it seemed hard to mess up, but unfortunately James Gunn's weird tonal shifts and some annoying plot choices rendered it sort of mediocre in my book. Of course, I still love Page, and she was the best part. That and the awesome animated opening sequence.

For my full review check out my piece at 366 Weird Movies! It's super great, hah!

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Henry's Crime (2010)

The Brattle had an early screening of indie heist comedy Henry's Crime last week, and of course I hopped on it since it stars my favorite semi-guilty pleasure actor Keanu Reeves. He stars as the titular Henry, a pushover tollbooth worker who is cluelessly reeled into a major bank heist by an old school chum (Fisher Stevens). He's the only one caught, but doesn't give up the names of the real criminals, and gets jail time. There he meets Max (James Caan), a seasoned confidence man who loves prison life and purposefully sabotages his sentencing appeals.

When Henry gets out early, he discovers a Prohibition-era tunnel leading from the bank to a theater next door, and decides since he's done the time he might as well do the crime. He gets Max out of jail for help, and begins romancing melodramatic actress Julie (Vera Farmiga), who is performing at the theater and agrees to help them with the robbery.

This is a wholly competent, entertaining little movie, but also quite forgettable once the credits roll. It's got a cute but fairly predictable script, and a likable cast that elevates the material when they can. Reeves does well as a low-key, unmotivated nice guy and Caan is pretty funny as an affable, straightforward old dude who reminded me a little of my dad. I like Farmiga more and more and she is adorable here as the over the top but still sympathetic struggling actress. She also gets to be mean a lot which I liked. Judy Greer shows up for a few minutes, which is always cool. Oddly enough, the scene stealer is Danny Hoch, who plays their goofy, spineless partner in crime Joe. His role is small but his lines are priceless. Oh and Peter Stormare! With a Russian accent!

The romance is sort of forced, and the pacing is all mixed up, but overall Henry's Crime is an enjoyable enough 108 minutes. However, I am glad I got to see it for free since it's just ok (hell yeah Brattle membership!).

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Erm... Perhaps The Men Who Stare At Goats. Not sure why, it just feels right. Or Bottle Rocket.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Crumb (1994)

As a lover of comics, movies, and art documentaries, it seemed fitting that I watch one of the most acclaimed films to fit all three categories: Crumb. Director Terry Zwigoff follows around talented and somewhat infamous comic artist and illustrator Robert Crumb over the course of a few years, piecing together his life story and impact on the comics industry through artwork and interviews with family, friends, and ex-girlfriends. His own neuroses and somewhat off-kilter passions are exposed, only to be overshadowed by the serious mental health problems experienced by his brothers and mother.

Admittedly I didn't know much about Robert Crumb before seeing this. I was of course familiar with his art style and had seen some of his illustrations, but I hadn't actually read any of his comics and always sort of imagined him just as James Urbaniak in American Splendour. The film reveals him to be a funny, bluntly honest kind of guy with some interesting sexual proclivities and a great imagination. His art is wonderfully detailed and expressive, with a lot of focus on drawing women as full-bodied and curvy, which seemed to delight several of the ladies interviewed.

The "hook" of the documentary is definitely the family stuff, which I imagine was unexpected for the filmmakers. His artistically talented older brother- who got Robert into comics in the first place- is a shut-in living with their mother, taking anti-depressants and spending most of his time reading in his room. His younger brother is an artist as well, but paranoid and epileptic, experimenting with painful meditative techniques. His mother isn't featured much, but the brothers' talk about her addiction to amphetamines in their youth, and their deceased father is known only as a disapproving monster. Their two sisters declined to be interviewed, suggesting perhaps even more family secrets left untapped.

As a film it's put together very well, mixing art and interviews and archive footage, along with some of Crumb's media events and time spent drawing street life in San Francisco. There is definitely something held back, but that makes it all the more interesting to watch. It's mostly pretty sad, but does claim some redemptive power through the process of making art. I loved the portrait of 70's and 80's alternative culture in San Francisco, especially, and the discussion of the development of the underground comics movement, which I actually would have liked to see more of.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: There are definitely shades of Crumb in Marwencol, one of my favorite art documentaries. Check it out.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I had a bad day last Saturday. It happens. I had initially planned to watch Crumb for the first time (that review's forthcoming), but decided I really needed something familiar and lighthearted to relax. My favorite Disney movie, my first Broadway play, and one of my favorite fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast tells the age-old tale of Belle, a beautiful bookworm who in an effort to save her bumbling father offers herself as a prisoner to a gruff beast who lives in an isolated castle deep in the woods. As time passes she and the beast become friends, and he and his enchanted servants hope her love can break the spell they've been under for many years. Meanwhile, Gaston, the village's resident conceited asshole, plots to have Belle for himself by committing her father to a mental institution and murdering the beast. What a dick.

When I was a kid, I was sort of a tomboy version of Belle- I read voraciously, didn't really "get" most of my peers, wanted to be independent and do exciting things, and enjoyed spinning around in fields while singing to no one in particular. That last one may or may not be true, but I can say that I did have hazel eyes and brown hair like her, so we were basically the same person minus the dresses and rural France setting, and I really looked up to her. She continues to be my favorite "Disney princess", and I believe she sets an excellent example for young girls, offering an intelligent, quick-thinking, capable young woman who above all respects herself. Yeah, she fell in love with the guy who imprisoned her, but it was pretty clear to me that she could have left the castle if she really wanted, and stayed out of curiosity.

The climax also promotes teamwork, with all the servants working together to save the castle, as opposed to one manly fellow rushing in to save the lowly plebians and helpless ladies from danger. In fact, the handsome macho guy is a sociopathic jerk in this movie, so it's pretty progressive for a Disney fairy tale.

It's funny to watch this as a sort-of-adult (not ready to go all the way quite yet). It still gives me infinite joy, partially out of nostalgia and comfort and partially because it's just a great movie. I was contentedly smiling from ear to ear like a geek for most of the running time. However, now I pick up on certain things a lot more. Like, if the beast is approaching his 21st birthday, he was just a snotty pre-teen when the witch cursed him. It seems a little extreme. Also where are his parents? And what happened to the witch? And all that mental institution stuff used to go over my head, but seeing it now it's pretty dark, Sweeney Todd-esque stuff!

And how the hell does that bookshop owner stay in business- and do well enough to give Belle free books- in a town so anti-reading it shuns the one person who seems to do it and makes up songs about it every morning? (I like to think the opening "Bonjour" scene happens every morning, but maybe with different lyrics or something.) Finally, I find myself appreciating the stuffy character of Cogsworth a lot more as I grow older, while as a kid I of course loved Lumiere the best and thought Cogsworth was boring.

This movie collects together various familiar tropes: arbitrary witch's curse, true love needed to break the spell, pretty but put-upon girl, friendly talking things that usually don't talk in real life, a lot of people bursting into song, royalty of questionable lineage who don't seem to do any actual ruling, missing/dead parents, etc. But through clever scripting, excellent characterization, gorgeous animation and painterly backgrounds, and skillful songwriting, Beauty and the Beast is elevated beyond its deceptively simple components and transformed into a near-perfect film. The dialogue is often hilarious, and features one of my favorite art jokes along with one of my favorite song lyrics ever. The music is catchy as hell and wonderfully romantic, some of Menken's best work thanks to the brilliant and tragically deceased Howard Ashman.

Most importantly it has this, my goal in life forever.

5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well Disney movies usually just put me in the mood for more Disney, like Aladdin or Mulan, but I'll also suggest the absorbing documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty, which has a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff for Beauty and the Beast. I haven't seen the 1946 Cocteau version but I've heard it's really beautiful, and I imagine it'd be a nice pairing.

Further Reading:
I really loved Jake's review, which also has a lot of the behind the scenes stuff found in the doc.

Aaaand finally, my original art for this film is available for purchase!

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #34

Hello friends! How's it going? It's been another exhausting week here in Real Life, but I did manage to get some movie watching done and even a bit of artwork. On Saturday I watched one of my favorite movies ever, Beauty and the Beast (gushy review forthcoming), which I actually hadn't seen in years. It brought back many memories of childhood and the kind of person I used to be, and re-enforced my strong love of books, thus spawning this delightful sketch of Belle doing her favorite thing.

The print is available for purchase for $8.00, along with many other fine items!


Also I put that Rocky Horror ink drawing on several t-shirt styles, if you're interested!

If you're new, you can check out the Movie Sketch Project archives. (More like ARTchives, amirite?)

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Barbe Bleue (Blue Beard) (2009)

In my quest to become familiar with more foreign filmmakers, especially women, I thought Catherine Breillat's rendering of the Blue Beard fairy tale would be a good fit. Plus it's only 80 minutes long so I could easily squeeze it in before work. Set as a frame story, the film spotlights two young sisters hanging out in an attic in what appears to be the 1950s. They read from the story of Blue Beard and add embellishments and commentary periodically. The book's tale concerns two similar sisters, though in their teens, who are poverty-stricken after their father's death.

They must marry for money, and are considered by local nobleman Blue Beard (Dominique Thomas) as potential mates. He chooses the younger sister Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton) for his wife, as she doesn't look at him as an ugly monster suspected of killing his previous wives, but rather as a gentle, shy older man. The two live contentedly for a while in his castle, with Marie-Catherine pleased to finally be given preference over her older sister Anne (Daphné Baiwir). But she suspects a dark secret when he leaves her alone for a business trip.

Hmm not too much to say about this one, I don't think. It's a slow-paced, sparse telling of a pretty simple story, with some gender and sisterly politics thrown in for a more contemporary flair. There are lush landscapes and gorgeous costumes seemingly culled from a few eras. The leading ladies are good at having wide eyes and pale skin, and Dominique Thomas is appropriately gruff. The final shot is exquisite.

There just isn't much to this movie. I didn't love it or hate it, finding it diverting enough for its visuals, likable main character (she's feisty), and easygoing child actors, but too ambiguous and minimal to really enjoy. I think that's all I have to say? Damn. Most boring review ever, sorry.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez. More women-centric European period pieces I guess. Ever After? Shakespeare in Love?

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Carmen Jones (1954)

Truth be told, I wasn't a huge fan of Carmen the opera. Great music, but the story isn't very good and I was probably too young for it when I saw it. Then in high school when we performed highlights from the score in orchestra, I got all the repetitive, unnecessarily complicated parts because I played a bass instrument. So really the main good feelings associated with it come from the Hey! Arnold episode.

In this 1950's-set re-imagining of the classic, Dorothy Dandridge stars as Carmen, a seductive escort who falls in love with straitlaced soldier Joe (Harry Belafonte). He falls for her, convinced to leave both his fiancee and the army to run away with her to Chicago. A famous boxer is instantly transfixed by her and manages to lure her away from Joe, who's made her feel imprisoned in their dingy hotel room. Jealousies and catchy tunes abound.

Like the original, Carmen Jones has a pretty stupid story. It's an unconvincing romance with heaps of melodrama and poor pacing. Most of the characters are flat caricatures: the wide-eyed, goodie-two-shoes fiancee, the staunch but naive "good" guy, the macho, possessive guy, etc. The narrative takes a long time to kick into gear and then drags itself out at certain places while speeding up at others, resulting in a haphazard plot that comes to an end quite suddenly. The script is based on a stage version, which I haven't seen, so I'm not sure if the issues lie in the source material or the adapted screenplay.

Luckily, the excellent cast and bombastic musical score keep the film afloat. Dandridge, who became the first black woman nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for the role, is fantastic as Carmen. She's brash and sexy with just the right amount of vulnerability to be sympathetic. The character could easily become a harsh, sexist portrayal of a "tramp" (indeed, that's what I seem to recall in the opera), but Dandridge imbues her with a likable independent spirit. Belafonte is pretty one-note as Joe, but then his character doesn't get much of interest to do. He does a good job going crazy at the end, though. Pearl Bailey as Carmen's friend Frankie was my favorite. She's super cute and funny and is one of the only actors who wasn't dubbed in her awesome musical number.

The music in this film is so good. Impressively, the filmmakers took the instrumentation of the opera version and added new lyrics, with most of the actors dubbed by operatically-capable singers. I had expected an updated score to suit the time period, perhaps something more jazzy, so it was a surprise to hear the much more classical score. Sometimes some of the modernized, slangy lyrics don't quite match up to the music, but it's still a really cool idea and not really typical for a mainstream 50's musical. Plus I've been walking around with Carmen's version of "Habanera" caught in my head all week.

I completely appreciate that a movie in 1954, written and directed by white dudes, portrays African Americans as beautiful and successful (if sexed-up) people, and it's cool to see a fairly large-scale all-black cast for the period. Otto Preminger had to produce it independently because he knew no major studio would go for the idea, and it's great he was able to provide opportunities for black actors who would be struggling for roles in Hollywood. It's definitely historically interesting. But the script and characterization kept me from really loving it.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Is The Wiz too obvious? Or how about John Waters' Cry-Baby- another look at a 1950s subculture that features two dubbed musical leads and a love triangle!

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Dune (1984)

Ah fuck, is it time to talk about Dune now? (Side note: As a reaction against being denied press status to IFF Boston, despite getting it last year, I've decided to cuss more often around here. Yeah. Shit.) I'd been warned against David Lynch's ill-fated adaptation of Frank Herbert's notoriously complex, influential sci-fi novel (which I haven't read), but its position on the sci-fi list and my own gross curiosity finally led to a viewing. Set in a distant future or an alternate universe or something, Dune concerns the political schemings and drug wars of two powerful clans, each in charge of a planet fiefdom under the emperor. The Atreides family takes over the desert planet Arrakis, valuable because it is the only place to find "spice", a mind-altering substance that essentially powers all society with its many uses.

The family's rivals the Harkonnen invade Arrakis, wanting to control the production of spice for themselves. Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan), the son of the Atreides leader, escapes their attack and spends years in the desert with the Arrakis native people known as Fremen, gaining increased mental powers from spice and fulfilling a prophecy for a superbeing who would lead them to freedom. The emperor gets in on the action, as does a group of witchy magic ladies. Oh, and Sting's there.

Jesus christ what the hell is happening here? I can't even... Ok. To begin with, I'm not the biggest David Lynch supporter, essentially because Blue Velvet freaked me the fuck out in high school (I liked Mulholland Drive, though). With Dune, he takes a lot of his self-indulgent, convoluted storytelling tendencies and applies them to an already complicated narrative, all while making it ridiculously campy and nonsensical.

For the most part, this movie is just a complete mess. The story is all over the place, most of the characters are flat and undeveloped, the effects aren't quite up to Lynch's vision, the whole set up is super patriarchal, half the characters are unnecessary, and it's too damned long. Also, here is a director who can't really shoot action scenes in an interesting manner. Miles wisely advised me to read the wikipedia article about the book, so I'd have some grounding, and thank goodness I did since there isn't much effective explanation of anything. A huge amount of information had to be condensed into one film, which seems like a stupid idea to me. I guess that's why they later made it a miniseries.

Of course, it does have its entertaining moments. The large amount of repetitive thought narration is continually hilarious, and does not help explain the story better, as I imagine was the intention. The acting is pretty bad, but I do really enjoy Kyle MacLachlan in anything, and I appreciated that Sting barely had any lines but did get to wear completely awesome underwear (although his nipples seem weirdly small). There are some cool sets and costumes, and I dug the sandworms.

I'm not even sure what to think of Dune. It's not very good. But I can't say I hated it. I suppose it's mostly just sort of funny, and awfully misadvised; this makes it persistently watchable, like some sort of horrific train wreck with bouncy balls or something. Also it led to this joke that I helped with.

2/5

Pair This Movie With: Well if you want a night of cheesy sci-fi that rips off Star Wars, there's always Starcrash.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Akmareul boatda (I Saw the Devil) (2010)

The combination of director Kim Jee-woon, Oldboy badass Choi Min-sik, and the smokin' Lee Byung-hun made I Saw the Devil an easy sell, really. This gruesome, nihilistic revenge tale follows the transformation of Soo-hyeon (Lee), a happily-married secret agent of some kind, into a sadistic vigilante with a one-track mind. When his pregnant wife is killed by prolific serial murderer Kyung-chul (Choi), Soo-hyeon tracks him down faster than the police and begins a days-long chase through the Korean countryside to Seoul. Whenever he catches up with the killer, he tortures him and lets him go, resulting in a hunt of sorts. Kyung-chul proves to be resilient prey and retaliates with deadly force and cunning.

This is not an easy movie to get through, or talk about, really. I was flustered in my description of it on the most recent episode of Some Cast It Hot, not realizing just how I felt about it. It's a very good film, that much I know. The performances are intense, the plot is twisted and unpredictable, the gore is plentiful, and the action is exciting and well-shot. The loose morality and questionable motives make for a changeable viewing experience, with my initial support for Lee's character gradually draining the more he pressed on. He may be out to take down the bad guy, sure, but he treats it more like a game and his constant toying with Kyung-chul causes more women to be abused and passersby to be killed.

It's interesting for the film to present such deplorable characters and despicable actions with little relief in the form of a typical "good guy", and it definitely lends itself to a more intricate reading in shades of gray. However, I found it harder to really get into than something like The Man From Nowhere, which I'd watched a few nights earlier and couldn't help comparing. There's no one to root for, there's no one to really like, it's more about watching to see what happens next. I wanted to know which character would win in the end, but I didn't especially feel strongly about who did (well, obviously I didn't want the killer to keep killing). I appreciate that the script isn't simplifying everything into black-and-white ethics, calling for psychologically complex characters and extreme events, but after a while I guess it got harder to watch the constant competitive back and forth between these people as everyone around them suffered.

It's still a really good movie, though! Just a bit... long? And... dark?

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Um. Well like I mentioned earlier, The Man From Nowhere comes to mind. Or any of Park Chan-wook's Revenge Trilogy.

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Some Cast It Hot, Ep. 11: Army of Me

Well one of the main reasons I saw Sucker Punch last week was so we could discuss it on the newest episode of Some Cast It Hot. It seemed like a pretty movie full of attractive women kicking ass would be up our alley, plus we felt like doing a new release. Unfortunately Sasha couldn't join us for this one, so it's just me and Allison shooting the breeze and touching upon the finer points of slow motion, fake feminism, comic books, fetish costumes, stupid romantic comedies, self-created fantasy worlds, and a lot of movies that are better than Sucker Punch. It is a delightful (and periodically "Eurgh"-filled) time!

Check it out on podomatic or stream below. You can also download it through itunes! Feedback is always greatly appreciated, so please let us know what you think! You can comment on any of our blogs or send an email to somecastithot(at)gmail(dot)com. Our next episode is going to be based around frame narratives, so please send any suggestions for that theme our way!



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Friday, April 8, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #33

Hiya! I actually had a day off from work and tons of free time yesterday (a magical occurrence nowadays) so I wisely spent my time watching a TON of tv/movies and creating some art for The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. I had the idea for a fake gig poster advertising the live show of "Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers" a couple of weeks ago, but it took me a long time to settle on the actual composition of the piece. I'm new to poster design as it is and I certainly don't know much about gig poster design. It usually seems like just an irrelevant- if pretty- image attached to the band's name and location. I used a line drawing of Buckaroo's head set against a lightning effect to suggest his "ionization" electric powers in the film. I think it came out pretty well!

You can buy the poster for $11 at my etsy shop. And/or you can check out earlier movie sketch project entries.

I also turned last week's Robocop print into a totally bitchin' shirt design! It comes in a wide range of shirt styles (plus a tote bag) in my printfection shop. And I made a maroon version of the image for Rich that I forgot to share earlier. And I will make that Rocky Horror image a shirt, I just haven't uploaded it yet.




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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Source Code (2011)

It came to my attention in gradual bits; Duncan Jones, the brilliant filmmaker behind Moon, has a new movie. Rad. It's gonna be sci-fi and sort of time-travely, awesome. It would star Jake Gyllenhaal, a man I find ridiculously attractive but often stuck in movies I don't want to see, and Michelle Monaghan, a lady I've been crushing on since Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. So far, so good!

Source Code imagines a not-too-distant future in which the war on terrorism has launched a program to take a soldier's mind and implant him into the last memories of a dead man. Colter Stevens, most recently a pilot in Afghanistan, is given the mission to discover the bomber on a commuter train en route to Chicago. He is transported repeatedly into the last eight minutes of a passenger's memory, each time attempting to unearth new clues into the bomber's identity with the hope of preventing future attacks. I don't think that's a very good explanation of the plot, but honestly I'm not sure how expository/spoilery I should be here.

The plot is convoluted, it's true, but it all sort of makes sense when you're watching it, and most of the questions and uncertainties I had were put aside easily enough since the action was so fast-paced and the gradually-developing mysteries were interesting. The somewhat wayward script is made up for by Jones's exciting and innovative direction, along with strong performances from the main cast. Jake Gyllenhaal is intense and at times surprisingly funny, while Michelle Monaghan is her typical adorable self as Stevens' companion on the train who thinks he's someone else. I also enjoyed Vera Farmiga as the officer in charge of the "Source Code" operation, who is equal parts military hardness and sisterly compassion. Jeffrey Wright rocks a tic-y, opportunistic scientist as the inventor of the program Dr Rutledge.

Ok some Spoilers Here, but not too overt. Basically my biggest issue with this movie is story-based. The premise is sort of weird and doesn't really make sense when you think about it (ie, how could a man inside someone else's memory find out things that the person didn't know to begin with? It wouldn't be in his mind, then, would it?, etc), but it offers a fun and action-packed narrative with a nice amount of emotional depth. The ending, though, is painfully saccharine and felt rushed and forced as the writer attempts wrap everything in a none-too-neat package. I really liked the film for the most part, but was left with an uneasy feeling upon walking out only because of the last 10 minutes or so. It's too bad, really.

So yeah, that's no Moon (oh snap, I just thought of that hilarious joke on the spot!), but Source Code is a pretty damned solid sci-fi thriller with very attractive leads. With Jake's blazing blue eyes and Michelle's easy smile, this was a train I was happy to ride, even if I have some quibbles with the script.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Erm... Groundhog Day? Also Timecrimes would be a cool double feature.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Every Told (1968)

I feel awful because I know I found out about this movie through an interesting review on some movie blog or other, but it was awhile ago and I just can't remember where I read about it. I seem to recall the site having a black background and white text? If you are the mystery reviewer, please let me know!

Anyway, Spider Baby, or The Maddest Story Ever Told, a title that always puts in mind a mad cackle and thunder clap when I say or read it, is a wacky horror tale of the best kind. It centers on the Merrye's, a family afflicted with a rare disease (so rare, in fact, that only they have it) that causes individuals to begin mentally regressing in late childhood until they eventually reach a pre-natal state that is also cannibalistic. And it makes them homicidal? Yes.

So kindly chauffeur Bruno (Lon Chaney, Jr) is left to care for remaining family members- all ranging in age and therefore ranging in mental capacity for non-murdering/cannibalism. But when distant cousins decide to drop on the Merrye mansion with the intention of taking away their fortune and the house, it's up to Bruno and the youngest of the clan to find a way to stay together.

Considering somebody gets an ear hacked off by a teenager within the first ten minutes, I was pretty much ready right away to think Spider Baby is wicked awesome. And in many ways, it is! It's got lots of murder and stabby-stabs and creepy insinuations and sexy innuendo and made-up medical science. There is no graphic violence, with the grisly stuff taking place offscreen, so the result is more of a pensive, atmospheric horror with a lot of implied homicidal antics. Rad.

What with all the offscreen stuff, this movie becomes more actor-driven than I might have expected. Lon Chaney, Jr is great as the put-upon chauffeur, whose commitment to this hopeless family eventually drives him a little crazy too. I loved Beverly Washburn and Jill Banner as the Merrye sisters- the youngest and therefore least cannibalistic of the family. The former has a sinister Olsen twin thing going on and the latter is delightfully sadistic with an undertone of teenage sexuality. I also enjoyed Carol Ohmart as the greedy Emily, one of the cousins seeking the Merrye fortune. She's condescending and stuffy yet likes to let loose by dancing around in a stranger's lingerie. Also she was totally Vincent Price's wife in The House on Haunted Hill, and oddly reminds me of Meryl Streep, face-wise.

The downside to Spider Baby is that it is dated, with the whole fake "mental illness" thing and overuse of the word "retard" and whatnot. It's still an impressive little film, with several memorable scenes and smart pacing.

4/5

PS I wish I had seen this before my Top 5 Movie Theme Songs list, because it totally would have been in the running. It's got a weird, fun tune sung by Lon Chaney, Jr himself.

Pair This Movie With: Perhaps What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? or any other movie featuring wacky people stuck in a decaying house. I love those. Grey Gardens comes to mind.

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Monday, April 4, 2011

Jane Eyre (2011)

Welcome to "Dramatic British Things I Loved In High School" Theatre! Yes, my friends, I read a lot of lady-centric Western literature in high school (no surprise, really), and Jane Eyre was one of my favorites. The newest film adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's classic stars Mia Wasikowska as the title character, a serious and decidedly plain orphan who grows up in a theocratic, oppressive school. She is eventually situated as a governess to Adele, the spoiled French ward of Mr Rochester (Michael Fassbender), a wealthy and somewhat volatile gentleman. The two adults develop a close but confused bond, and Jane is perplexed by both the secrets he's withholding and the ghostly nature of the mansion.

With its atmospheric cinematography, long silences, moody score, and expert use of candles and firelight (seriously, this movie has awesome lighting), Jane Eyre is partially a ghost story with no ghost. All of the tense, spooky shots of Wasikowska's pale visage as she listens to the wind rattling and floors creaking were enough to make me almost wish I didn't already know the plot twist that explains it all. And when a film can cause me to consider the advantages of not reading a book, that's an impressive feat!

Of course the main attraction here, though, is Jane herself. Strong-willed, outspoken, intelligent, and humble, she is an intriguing lead character. Wasikowska imbues her with strength and quiet dignity, while maintaining the tradition of seemingly all Jane Eyre actresses: don an ugly hair style that covers your ears and make your face really pale, and boom! "Unattractive". It's ok, though, since she is a talented actress who did look realistically diminutive and ethereal, with expressive pouty lips. It's so nice to have a lady who stands up so fiercely for her own self-respect, knowing she could never settle for surface-happiness and anything less than complete equality in a relationship. The supporting cast is excellent as well- notably Judi Dench as the housekeeper Mrs Fairfax and Fassbender as the over-intense Rochester- but this is wholly Wasikowska's show.

Filled with prolonged pauses, sweeping vistas, and meaningful stares, Jane Eyre is a little indulgent, but that completely captures the mood of the book itself. By ensuring Jane remains a strong, admirable heroine I was satisfied with the adaptation, even if the actual romance between her and Rochester feels slightly forced. I remember reading the book and sort of hoping they wouldn't get back together though, so that's probably just a thing about the story. I often resent characters as independent as Jane ending up with any romantic entanglements, but I completely understand the need and precedent for it in this situation.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There are parallels to Mansfield Park and Persuasion, both Jane Austen adaptations that I enjoy, so you could have a nice lady-centric period piece double (or triple) feature!

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ajeossi (The Man From Nowhere) (2010)

There's been a dearth of Korean cinema in my life lately, but thankfully that's been rectified this week with two awesome new features from that fantastic film industry. The first was The Man From Nowhere, which combines a host of characters and events into a gripping revenge thriller centered around Cha Tae-sik (Bin Won), a reserved and mysterious pawn shop owner. When Tae-sik's exotic dancer neighbor steals drugs from her club's gang leaders, her young daughter is kidnapped and it's up to him to get her back. As a one-man-army he takes out gang lackeys, drug dealers, organ thieves, and cops in equal measure, all with the single goal of rescuing a little girl in mind.

I know I use this word a lot, but this movie is the epitome of badass. It's confusing at the start, with a number of characters introduced in rapid succession and little indication of their relation to one another. As the story unfolds, however, it becomes more and more focused, with certain relationships fleshed out and more attention paid to Tae-sik as the driving force of events. Bin Won is totally cool as your typical taciturn, dressed-in-black assassin with a secret past, a trope I will never tire of. He's got an anime hairdo and a wide-eyed, quiet guilt that each make him instantly likable. In the beginning, much of the intense action is offscreen or not clearly seen, creating an almost mythical figure out of Tae-sik, but as it progresses the violence is more and more upfront and fairly visceral (mostly watchable, though).

The Man From Nowhere is primarily a very well-made action/revenge movie, with excellent camerawork, a fast pace, and great performances from all involved. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of emotional drama, though, incorporated through So-mi, the little girl played exceptionally by Kim Sae-ron. She is a neglected, unloved child with no friends and no desire to make them until she meets Tae-sik, the only person she likes. He initially ignores her when she needs help in the beginning, but his guilt and affection take over the instant she's in real trouble and his dedication to her is quite touching, all connecting to some things we eventually learn about his background. And it's always nice when a movie has a child who doesn't annoy me to no end.

Ok. Great movie. Great job, Korea. Again.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I imagine this as part of a triple feature with The Professional and Taken, since it has elements of both, and all three are totally awesome movies.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #32

Happy April, everyone. Enjoy the fucking snow that's happening for some awful reason, and welcome to another edition of my Movie Sketch Project. Yet again I've been working constantly so I haven't had time to make the big thing I want to do for Buckaroo Banzai (plus I'm still brainstorming the actual composition). But I did make the Robocop sketch of ED 209 from last week into a totally sweet print, and did a little ink drawing inspired by Rocky Horror, just because I love that movie. And I love drawing lips. Press on!

You can buy this print for only $10! Wowee! I will probably put this on a t-shirt soon, is that cool?


You can also get this one-of-a-kind, hand-painted postcard for only $7! Aren't you lucky? Sorry nevermind, a friend of mine snatched it up.



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