Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Abominable Dr Phibes (1971)

I was definitely in a 70's cult film kind of mood during my trip to Hollywood Express, so alongside my blaxploitation double feature I picked up a Vincent Price film I'd been meaning to see for years: The Abominable Dr Phibes. Catchy, ain't it? Price stars as the titular Phibes, a taciturn organist and biblical scholar on a revenge mission against the doctors who failed to save his wife's life. He murders them according to elaborate schemes inspired by the Plagues of Egypt with the help of his silent but deadly assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North). A few exaggeratedly-British police detectives try to put the piece together the killings with the help of Dr Vesalius (Joseph Cotton), who will likely be a future victim.

Director Robert Fuest imagines Phibes' world as an oversaturated and slightly surreal stage performance, highlighting the theatrical nature of his killings and closely-choreographed structure of his plan with intimidating visuals and little reliance on dialogue. The sets, props, and costumes are imaginative and exquisite, marrying minimalism with sensationalism, while the murders themselves are simultaneously fun and grisly. Everything is very overdramatic, but knowingly so, and while the camp is turned up high, I was laughing with it and not at it.

Despite never even moving his mouth (and wearing a mask of his own face for most of the film), Price delivers a wonderful performance thanks to body language and pitch-perfect line delivery (though his monologues to run a bit long). He's the best. I also enjoyed Virginia North as the mysterious and fashionable Vulnavia. The best characters are of course the police investigators, who are all so incredibly stereotypically British it's hilarious. I couldn't actually tell if they were meant to be caricatures or not but it was excellent all the same. Joseph Cotton is pretty low-key which works well because everyone else is so over the top.

Phibes is inventive and fun, memorable for its fantastic visuals, interesting murder devices, and chilling ending. For a horror film, I wasn't actually "scared" by any of it, but found the mix of camp and crime-thriller very cool.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I'd probably make a Pricey night of it with Tales of Terror, House on Haunted Hill, House of Wax, etc. And for more great Plague-based killings, there is of course The Mummy!

PS We all know what the best part of this movie is, right?

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Booming Voices Double Feature: Blacula (1972) and Truck Turner (1974)


I popped by Hollywood Express last week (very cool spot- the last remaining video rental place that I know of) and was delighted to find several blaxploitation films in their Cult Movie section that are unavailable on netflix. Take THAT, movie rental monopoly! I picked up Blacula and Truck Turner for a fun double feature when I had the night to myself. While both are fixtures of the blaxploitation genre, to me the main unifying theme was wonderfully deep-voiced actors leading both films!

Drawing from Bram Stoker's ever-popular Dracula, the ridiculously-titled Blacula focuses on the African prince Manuwalde (William Marshall) who is turned into a vampire by Count Dracula himself and locked in a coffin for centuries. He awakes when a cute gay couple buys his coffin and brings it back to LA, launching a fang-tastic killing spree. He meets a beautiful woman (Vonetta McGee) who looks exactly like his long-dead wife, whom he charms into dating while murdering a lot of people around her. Dr Gordon Thomas (Thalmus "I Have An Amazing Name" Rasulala), a police consultant (or something? I never quite caught on to his regular job- something... doctory? Was he a coroner?), begins to suspect the vampiric nature of the killings and works to bring down the culprit.

I'll admit, I pretty much only wanted to see this movie because I liked the silly title, and I'm into seeing more blaxploitation in general because I find the genre interesting. I had always heard it wasn't all that good. I found it pretty decent, but nothing to write home about. William Marshall is great in the title role, emitting an air of royal dignity even as he tears apart nubile women's flesh, donning a cape just for the hell of it. It's appropriately gory, and I dug some of the visual effects- like how all of the recently-turned vampires looked like wacky zombies, and the weirdly maggoty ending. The story is fairly predictable and the characters are stock (though Dr Thomas is a more intellectual character than I've seen, which was nice), but it's enjoyable enough as a genre crossover and I enjoyed the fashions and performances. Some very cool killing sequences, as well, especially at the end!

3.5/5

Then it was time for Truck Turner, a movie with all the requirements for a solid evening: smooth theme song, big guns, scantily-clad women, and kitties. Isaac Hayes stars as the titular bounty hunter, who goes after a powerful no-good pimp and catches him pretty quickly. In the aftermath he gets caught between a rival crime lord (Yaphet Kotto) and a strong-willed brothel matron (Nichelle Nichols), both of whom want him dead.

There are so many reasons this movie is awesome. Isaac Hayes is there. He sings a theme song. He sleeps with his gun strapped on. He has a cat. He likes Johannes Vermeer. Nichelle Nichols yells a lot and wears crazy outfits that aren't minidresses. There's a car chase within the first 5 minutes. There's so much shooting and a huge body count. The adorable Alan Weeks from Black Belt Jones is there (and he's the best character, actually) AND Scatman Crothers. Yaphet Kotto is a badass. Isaac Hayes is even more badass. It features the most glammed-out, fashion-crazy funeral I've ever seen. There's another kitty. I mean, TRUCK FUCKING TURNER, you guys!

Yeah sure, it has its drawbacks. There's a lot of derogatory language against women and the plot and pacing are a bit uneven. It's got some really fun action sequences and a few silly parts but does drag a bit since the story's thin. BUT whatever, this movie is a ton of fun and overall I really enjoyed it. Pow.

4/5

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Daydream Nation at 366 Weird Movies

Well we all know I'm a real sucker for Kat Dennings, so of course I checked out her new (possibly straight-to-dvd?) feature Daydream Nation, in which she stars as a disaffected teen caught in a love triangle set to lo-fi indie music. You know how it is. Everything is filmed through a white haze and narrated to within an inch of its life, but Kat's still super hot and likable and gets in a few awesome zingers at the awful hypocrites in her small town. So it's not a total loss.

My full review over at 366 Weird Movies! Do ittttt.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

This post is part of the Queer Film Blogathon over at Garbo Laughs. Check it out!

Since I was a kid I've always loved stories of women disguising themselves as men. Books like The Song of the Lioness quartet and films like Victor/Victoria and Mulan are awesome in my book. I still find the premise intriguing for whatever reason, perhaps because I also dig stories about mistaken identities and explorations of gender roles. The concepts of people existing between the two officially-defined sexes or "seeing how the other half lives", as it were, are always interesting. Which leads me to Sylvia Scarlett, a strange film (especially for 1935) with a good premise and fantastic lead actors that loses itself somewhere along the way.

Beginning in France, the titular character (Katherine Hepburn) and her gambler father (Edmund Gwenn) find themselves smuggling lace across the Channel shortly after her mother's death. Sylvia disguises herself as a man ("Sylvester") because she believes she'll be of more use that way (her father is very disparaging of her in general). Along the way they partner up with a cocky con man (Cary Grant) and soon the three are out to scam the good people of London. Unfortunately Sylvia, now quite enjoying her life as a man but uncertain about being so underhanded to get cash, keeps messing up their schemes. To make money the gang soon teams up with a brash housemaid and form a traveling song-and-dance show. At their first performance Sylvia meets a handsome artist (Brian Aherne) and longs to live as a woman again, though she doesn't quite know how.

Katherine Hepburn- a woman who could do absolutely anything- always had a somewhat androgynous look to her anyway, with her chiseled cheekbones and slim build. She rocks it as Sylvester, looking fine in a nice suit and swept back side-part hairstyle. Her body language says it all, as the character is fidgety and slightly uncomfortable posing as either a woman or a man, not wanting to betray herself and not fully sure where she stands. She loves being outspoken and bold as a man, but wants to be seen as a woman by the man she loves. Unfortunately for the audience, the romantic plot that crops up two-thirds of the way is really stupid, and I abhorred seeing Hepburn as a bashful, insipid girl taking a verbal beating from a condescending artist she only just met. A strong, fascinating character is twisted into a one-dimensional bore the second she falls in love, and it's a sad sight to see, but luckily it's only a few scenes.

The story itself is scattered but fun for the most part- I loved the scenes of the trio's attempted cons and weird musical side-plot. Cary Grant is fantastic as Jimmy Monkley, an untrustworthy asshole who can't help but charm, though his Cockney (I think?) accent is come-and-go. Dennie Moore is extremely fun as Maudie the maid, with her brazen voice and cute laugh. The film's tone is all over the place, switching from light-hearted crime comedy to dramatic identity crisis to ditzy romance. A main character even dies, maybe by committing suicide, and another character attempts it. Completely out of the blue!

Because I enjoyed certain parts (especially the earlier sections) and think Hepburn is perfect all of the time, I could never wholly dismiss Sylvia Scarlett. This movie is a bit of a mess, but it's so ridiculous and offbeat that it makes itself endearing. Plus it totally makes me want to go on a European adventure disguised as a dude, just for the fun of it. Inspiring!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Of course there are the classic lady-disguising-herself-as-a-man movies like Twelfth Night, She's the Man, and Just One of the Guys. Or for more Grant/Hepburn fun there's Bringing Up Baby or The Philadelphia Story (I haven't seen Holiday).

PS I know this is somewhat known/controversial for featuring a girl-on-girl kiss, but just a heads up for all you wishful thinkers: it's quick and pretty chaste.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Tree of Life (2011)

When a filmmaker tries to encapsulate all of life in a 2.5 hour film, there's bound to be some missteps. Especially when everything is wrapped up in super-Christian subtext. Told in a non-linear style stretched across millennia, the plot of The Tree of Life primarily concerns a middle-class family with three sons living in 1950's south-western (I think) suburbia and the events leading up to the middle son's suicide. It is held in the memories and interpretations of the oldest son Jack, played in adulthood by Sean Penn and in childhood by Hunter McCracken. He remembers his mother's (Jessica Chastain) goodness and his father's (Brad Pitt) tyranny, and the bonds formed with his brothers growing up. Also the world is created, dinosaurs hang out before getting hit by a meteor, and everyone hangs out on a beach.

OK. I know a lot of people are incredibly affected by this film, that it reaches into some secret part of their soul and just connects to a part of their childhood or other experiences, and I understand that. I'm not trying to tear down those who loved it, or make light of their incredibly personal connection; everyone's free to think what they think, obviously. But really, for me this movie has a lot of bullshit, and I had trouble buying into it.

As an exploration of growing up in that well-worn 1950's white suburban household, characterized by religion and boring meals and restricted gender roles, The Tree of Life is a well-written and well-acted film. The story may not be new, but the choppy editing style and breathtaking cinematography give it new life, and the intimate shooting style almost makes the camera a character itself, as if everything we see is from the point of view of a fellow child or friend. I loved the dreamy, airy imagery and attention to small details. The relationship with the father is well-developed and realistic, though I think I would have appreciated that aspect of the film a bit differently if I were a son. At several points I found myself thinking of my brother and his interactions with my father, as opposed to my own experiences. I would have liked a little more focus on the relationship between the brothers, though. A lot of scenes with the middle brother are sort of hazy, but I guess since it's all meant to be stemming from Jack's adulthood memories that fits.

However, framing this tale with distant outer space photography and sprawling shots of the evolution of early creatures on earth, all set to an operatic score and plagued with whispery, God-fueled voiceovers just takes away from the core themes. It feels bloated and overdone, losing itself in a heap of Christian metaphors and beatific imagery. The saintly Madonna figure of the mother makes me ill just thinking about her, and I had a lot of trouble not scoffing aloud whenever she spoke. Honestly, it's horrific how flat and blatantly symbolic she is. Here's a woman who's only flaw is being too nice, who spins her kid around, points at the sky and exclaims "That's where God lives!", who smiles wanly through every hardship, who has no personality or motivations beyond motherhood, who literally has her feet kissed by her son. I mean, I was raised Catholic, I know how it is. I vaguely remember what it was like to pray to God and actually think someone was listening. I remember truly believing my grandpa went to heaven when he died. But when the mother sweetly whispers that she "gives him over to You" I just recoiled. It's so manipulative. It's too much. I can't deal with it. I almost yelled at the screen.

It's not that I didn't "get" the film. I can understand what Malick was trying to do, I just don't think he accomplished his goal. His attempts to comment on the creation of the world and the importance of all life and how familial connections and childhood experiences tie into our understanding of love, pain, faith, and beauty are muddled. There is some truly breathtaking imagery in this film, and several moments with the family that cut to the heart, but as a whole it is uncohesive, pretentious, and way too religious for me.

3/5

Pair This Movie With/Watch Instead: Oh I don't know. Where the Wild Things Are? Pleasantville?

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Saturday, June 25, 2011

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)

Ah yes, more Woody Allen! I think the only really silly early Woody comedies I'd seen are Bananas (which I barely remember- my dad made me watch it when I was in like 4th grade) and Sleeper. The premise of What's Up, Tiger Lily? is a tantalizing one, to be sure: In his first directorial credit, Woody Allen takes two Japanese spy films, edits them together, and dubs it over with a completely new script and a few buddies providing voices. The story changes from allegedly incomprehensible spy thriller to a silly (and still completely nonsensical) hunt for the perfect egg salad recipe.

Rife with sexual innuendo, exaggerated voices, irrelevant characters, and weird plot twists, What's Up, Tiger Lily? is a delightful romp through 60's Japan and fake espionage and anticlimactic action. It really does sound like Woody Allen's friends just hanging out making jokes over a movie, and I'm totally ok with that. I liked the self-aware segments that cut to Allen in the studio at various parts, along with a good sight gag about the projectionist.

It's a cute diversion with some very funny moments, but not especially memorable. A week later I'm having trouble recalling too many specific jokes. But it's fun! And it's got a couple of spy gadgets! Hooray!

Sorry I don't have more to say about it. Oh well.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well we all know I'm a fan of Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, with Steve Oedekerk dubbing over and physically inserting himself into a Japanese action flick. But I know it's not everyone's (or anyone's, really) thing. Really what this most reminded me of was Mystery Science Theater 3000, one of my absolute favorite tv shows, so go with that! They're basically movies, anyway! To keep with the spy theme I recommend episode 6.8: Operation Kid Brother aka Operation Double 007, featuring James Bond's younger brother (played by Sean Connery's actual younger brother Neil), a plastic surgeon caught up in the world of espionage and yachts.

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #43

Hello! Welcome to another edition of the Award-Winning Movie Sketch Project! (Don't worry, I won't milk that for much longer.) I've had a lot of ideas lately for new series I'd like to do (still pop-culture related, don't worry), so I'm hoping to have a lot of new stuff to show you soon!

This week I watched the interesting period piece Orlando starring Tilda Swinton, who is just always mesmerizing. I was all "Gasp! I have to draw you!" so I worked over the course of several days (rare for me) and created a portrait I am incredibly proud of. I think it's one of the best I've ever done! It's pencil, pen, and a bit of ink splatter on paper and it's available on etsy for $25! What a steal!



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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Orlando (1992)

This post is part of the Queer Film Blogathon over at Garbo Laughs. Check it out!

Virginia Woolf has been one of my favorite writers since I first read her short story "The New Dress" in high school. Her stream-of-consciousness writing style, introspective storytelling, and general insight into the troubled minds of upper/middle-class women never fail to pack an emotional punch. Unfortunately I haven't yet read her quasi-fantasy, slightly nonfiction novel Orlando: A Biography, but I have utter confidence in Tilda Swinton and knew the film version would be interesting.

Sprawling across several centuries, Orlando begins in the early 1600's, during which the title character (Swinton)- a young, poetry-loving nobleman- becomes a certain "favorite" of Elizabeth I (in a fun appearance by Quentin Crisp), who commands him to never grow old. Without explanation or surprise, he does just that. After a torrid affair with a Russian princess and a stint as ambassador to Constantinople, where he is disgusted with the violence of men, he wakes up after a long sleep as a woman. Again, there is little surprise and Orlando just goes about her life, learning the special constraints and shame women must endure in the 1800's. A lengthy lawsuit attempts to wrest her lands and title from her, simply because of her sex, but she refuses to marry as a way out, and stubbornly makes her way into the twentieth century.

Divided into era-specific episodes by both date and theme ("Love", "War", "Birth", etc), Orlando is a deliberately paced and lushly filmed period piece that defies conventions of the genre. It flits about from century to century, wastes little time on exploration of characters outside of Orlando, and never settles on one over-arching storyline. This isn't a love story, or an intimate biography, or a look at historical British politics. It follows one person who develops over the course of several wars, relationships, and technological advances into a fiercely independent, worldly woman who knows just as well what it is to be a man. It is beautiful and quiet, its script sticking to subtle narrative devices and snarky asides to the audience to keep an atmosphere of slight satire alongside its wondrous premise. Potter doesn't linger too long on any one scene or idea, but does keep the focus on Orlando at all times.

As usual, Swinton is a marvel. Don't be fooled by the double billing with Billy Zane, who appears for one scene as one of Orlando's lovers: this is completely her movie. She excels at this androgynous characterization and aesthetic, with a regal posture and exquisite expression that betray the comedic lilt in her voice as she breaks the fourth wall with farcical observations. As a person who is often mistaken for a man in real life, Swinton is tailor-made for the sex-switching role of Orlando. She embodies a character who seems stuck between the two traditionally-accepted genders, making an argument for the myriad nuances that lie between them both. And while Orlando often feels out of place as both a man and a woman, eventually the character becomes wholly satisfied and accepting of him/herself regardless.

Orlando is a lovely film, both in visual splendor, interesting musical score, and fascinating characterization, and Swinton commands our full attention throughout. It is, however, a bit sparse and meandering in its script with the constant succession of new ideas and side-characters. It also seems to suggest at the end the life-fulfilling aspect of childbirth, which is a concept I'll never buy into. I look forward to reading the book, which draws from Woolf's affair with writer Vita Sackville-West.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: For another beautifully-costumed British period piece, something the likes of The Young Victoria would work well. For more exploration of gender (but this time with songs!), there's Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

My original portrait of Tilda Swinton is available for purchase.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Kerd Ma Lui (Born to Fight) (2004)

Well if a movie is called "Born to Fight" you damn well know I'm going to watch it. Especially if it's connected to Ong-bak. This insanely nationalistic action-drama stars Dan Chupong as super-cop Deaw, who recently caught a powerful crime lord in a sting that gets his partner killed. He joins his sister on a trip to a poor village, where she and her athlete friends are donating food and goods. The town is taken over by sadistic rebels who kill half its citizens and hold the rest hostage until the criminal is released. It's up to Deaw and his incredibly limber pals to kick their way out of the situation.

So this is... an ok movie? Half of it is just super kickass fight scenes, with a couple of explosions and one nuclear bomb for good measure. The battles are very gymnastic and fun, with characters using soccer balls and motorcycles to beat the enemy. There is a viciously high body count, and the morals are all extremely black and white so you always know whom to root for.

The other half is exploitative, sappy drama with a ridiculous amount of impoverished children and weather-worn villagers and unnecessary torture. They sing the Thai anthem at their captors, for goodness sake. It's just too much, and it's pretty boring when there's no fighting onscreen. I'd say watch it for the fight scenes, but it's not like there's anything spectacularly innovative that you can't find in a better action movie.

3/5

Watch Instead: The afore-mentioned Ong-bak, or Chocolate, or Police Story. Whatever East-Asian action flicks float your boat. Also: Gymkata!

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Since enjoying Midnight in Paris so much, I've been dipping more into Woody Allen's filmography. First up was Crimes and Misdemeanors, which interested me since it's more of a drama than a romantic comedy (which is primarily what I've seen from him, it feels). The sizable cast features a number of loosely interconnected figures, all somehow dealing with love and disappointment. Judah (Martin Landau), a prominent ophthalmologist, is facing threats from his slightly unhinged mistress (Anjelica Huston) and is given a difficult choice to protect his marriage. Meanwhile, struggling documentary filmmaker Cliff (Woody Allen) is filming a special on his asshole brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda), a successful and lecherous comedy producer. He finds himself falling for the documentary's producer Halley (Mia Farrow), as his own marriage has been failing. The two men's lives seem unrelated, but come together through mutual acquaintances at a dinner party.

Crimes and Misdemeanors has a lot going on, balancing traumatic ruminations on death and faith with light-hearted romance and comedic dialogue. It's a bit off-putting at times, but eventually the very different experiences of the two main characters begin to betray the darkness that can pervade any lifestyle or worldview. Cliff comes off as a slightly silly, intelligent film buff, but it's clear he uses humor to overcome his own insecurities and cannot responsibly deal with his crumbling marriage. Judah seems so put-together, a wealthy doctor, husband, and father, but his own misgivings about his Jewish background and atheist present lead to a complete shift in ideology after he makes a life-changing decision. Their final meeting at the end is a pivotal scene.

The dialogue and characters are the standout of the film, with the story and tone a little too uneven for me. It's a decent mix of comedy and drama, but doesn't quite nail it, plus the ending felt abrupt despite the voiceover montage, somehow. But I loved the interactions between Allen and Farrow (they hang out and watch Singin' in the Rain!) and his adorable niece. Alan Alda is hilarious and douchebaggy; Martin Landau brings the gravitas. It's an interesting and entertaining film overall, but I didn't all-out love it. For one thing the way it ends with Farrow and Allen's characters is frustratingly written, and I can't help but think that this is the sort of thing that influences the one-sided sexism of movies like (500) Days of Summer, wherein women are untrustworthy and fickle just because they don't fall for the protagonist. That's a bit extreme, I guess, but I couldn't help but have that line of thinking.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez. Um. Maybe something kind of noir-y, like The Square.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Super 8 (2011)

Fresh from my first viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, I was definitely ready for JJ Abrams' 70's-set sci-fi adventure Super 8. While filming a zombie movie for a local film festival, a group of nerdy middle-schoolers find themselves in the middle of a massive train wreck. Their camera captures evidence of an alien creature escaping amidst the chaos, and soon the kids begin to pick up on strange happenings around their town- including missing appliances, engines, dogs, and people. Joe (Joel Courtney), the quiet make-up artist mourning the death of his mother, and his crush Alice (Elle Fanning), slowly piece together the mystery as the military moves in to seal off the town.

Many have criticized Super 8 for being too derivative, and it's true it really does nothing new, but I think it's just the right amount of modern-age genre mashup and referential throwback. It's packed with nostalgic touches and a true sense of wonder, coupled with Abrams' eye for destruction and penchant for lens flare (which is ridiculous but sort of endearing). It's true the CGI is a little off-putting and the alien is too Cloverfield-y, but for the most part it all works because the monster is rarely the focus. Most of its appearances are fleeting and mysterious, with strange sounds or violent kidnappings by an unseen force, recalling the smoke monster in Lost or even the aliens in Monsters.

The kids are great. I'm liking Elle Fanning more and more between this and Somewhere, she's adorable and genuine and wonderfully subtle for a young actress. All the boys in the film crew are cute and funny, resembling the awkward group of "Geeks" in Freaks and Geeks, and the final cut of their film is hilarious. Joel Courtney is a bit flat at times, but so likable and unaffected it didn't matter. I think what affects people the most about Super 8 is how it reminds viewers of childhood, and how we all saw things at their age, and I give a lot of credit to the performances for that.

It's not perfect, but it's downright FUN and I'm so glad I saw it in a theater. Super 8 is just right for a summer night, whether you're a kid with a yen for adventure or a grown-up who wishes the world was still full of possibilities.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well of course it's easy to put it with The Goonies or Close Encounters, and that would be great, but I'm putting forth Rare Exports, a fun and weird Finnish movie that has a few similarities (child protagonists, creature mystery, missing electronics, etc). Good times.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Every Which Way But Loose (1978)

It's the tender tale of a man and his monkey. What more do you need, really? In Every Which Way But Loose, Philo Beddoe (Clint Eastwood) is a tough-talking, hard-hitting trucker who moonlights as a street fighter in his spare time. He also has a supportive ape named Clyde for a best friend. Philo stupidly falls for an awful country singer, Lynn (Sondra Locke), whom he believes is being mistreated by her boyfriend/manager/whatever. So he follows her across several states to rescue her, with Clyde and human buddy Orville (Geoffrey Lewis) in tow. Beverly D'Angelo shows up for a bit before she was more famous and Ruth Gordon plays Clint's potty-mouthed, badass mom. I think there was more plot in there somewhere, but it doesn't really matter.

The premise of Clint Eastwood hanging out with an ape and streetfighting should be enough to propel this movie into instant classic status, so I'm not sure what went wrong there. It's got Clint in all our favorite incarnations- fighting, angry, driving, drinking, and shirtless fishing. The ape is adorable and knows some good tricks, and the sidekick is a cutie even if I imagined him played by Jerry Reed for most of the time. Ruth Gordon is hilarious and amazing, and I kind of wish she was the star just so we could see her scaring off punks with a shotgun more often.

It's an odd mix of all-out silliness and attempts at serious drama, which I think is my biggest issue with it. I loved the wacky Nazi gang that follow our heroes for half the film just because Clint ticked them off, they're goofy and incompetent and wear silly hats. Plus Nazis are always a good villain. I would have been happy if that was the plot, I think. But instead there's this stupid love/stalker story that acts as the motivation for Clint, and it's just so blah and at times weirdly dark. Sondra Locke is hideous and an awful, awful actress, sucking the fun away from every scene she's in. There's a really strange dynamic between her and Clint's character, and it's just a pointless romance.

All in all, Every Which Way But Loose is an entertaining backdrop to getting drunk and hanging out on twitter, but it's got a few plot/cast problems that keep me from all-out loving it. Luckily it's got a theme song! One of my favorite things.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well there's the sequel, Any Which Way You Can, which is fine but not as good. Going Ape! is fun if you want another ridiculous ape movie. I'd probably just put it with Smokey and the Bandit, though.

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Some Cast It Hot, Ep. 13: Strange Powers

I can't believe they killed me off first. I mean, really?Well it's that time again, the time when I hang out with two wonderful ladies over the internet and we gab about movies for a while and it is great. This time around the main topic of discussion is X-Men: First Class, resulting in a manly, not girly episode that everyone will enjoy. Especially if you disliked the film as much as Sasha and I did. Allison liked it, bless her heart, but I won't hold that against her. Also we talked about movies we watched recently, and we gave some recommendations for other 60's throwbacks, but the tail end of the recording was lost in a "digital black hole" so that's not happening! It's ok though, since we have enough to talk about with just X-Men.

Check it out! Stream below or on podomatic, plus it's on itunes. Leave any feedback you have here or email us at somecastithot(at)gmail(dot)com. We'll be talking about Woody Allen next time so let us know your thoughts/recommendations for that guy!

PS Sorry I said "like" so much, ugh I sound like an airhead teenager. I promise I'm a grown-up, you guys. And semi-articulate. When I remember to think before I speak, that is.



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Friday, June 17, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #43 (Plus a Special Announcement!)

Oh my god hey. So you might recall me pestering you guys a few weeks ago to vote for me in the Lammy's, primarily because I'm a self-obsessed young person with the need for constant validation. Aren't we all. But somehow, you all bought into my self-promotion and gave the Movie Sketch Project the Lammy for Best Running Feature! That's so awesome. You are all the best! (Unless you didn't vote for me, then you're just ok.)

To celebrate, I'm launching a special sale at my shop! If there's anything I've made that you've considered buying, now is the time to do it. Just use the coupon code LAMMYS2011 at checkout and you'll get 10% off your purchase! I have a bunch of fun poster designs, prints, and original drawings up for sale, so give it a look! And if you have any requests, I'm up for that too- if there's anything I've made that's already sold, I can do another version of it, or if there's a certain film you want to see art for, that's cool. If you're not into the whole etsy thing, I get that, let me know (alex.kittle@gmail.com) and we can work payment out over paypal or a check in the mail.

And click ahead for some new artwork!

I saw Close Encounters of the Third Kind for the first time earlier this month, and totally loved it, then I watched the fun and referential Super 8 (review forthcoming), which basically just put me in the mood for Close Encounters again. In all this fervor I designed a poster! I like it. It's rare I do something that doesn't involve the figure, so it's nice to mix it up even though I'm way intimidated by drawing cars.

It's for sale as an 11x17 poster, and I've also made a version without text if that's more your fancy.


Anyway thanks for being so great, everyone! Have a nice Friiiiiiday.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Jerk (1979)

There are many comedies out there that center on a really dumb character. It's a tried-and-true method of humor, since stupidity is always funny and makes viewers feel better about themselves. With the effervescently silly and supremely enjoyable The Jerk, Carl Reiner and Steve Martin have tapped into this genre with goofy aplomb, and probably made it better.

Martin plays Navin R Johnson, a dim-witted farm boy raised by a caring black family. When he finds out he isn't related to them by blood, he's encouraged to leave home and make his way in the world, following the lead of music he hears on the radio. He works as a gas station attendant, a "Guess Your Weight" guy at the circus, and finally becomes a millionaire after inventing a device to keep glasses from sliding down people's noses. He falls in love with Marie Kimble Johnson (Bernadette Peters), a beautician who's perfect for him, but both his relationship and his personal finances see major setbacks. Probably due to his own jerkitude.

Steve Martin really is just this unabashedly silly guy when it comes to most of his films, and I appreciate that. Not every joke works, but they're put forth with such enthusiasm that I can't help but come away with a good feeling. Besides, most of the jokes do work! The Jerk is quotable and memorable for several scenes, from Navin's discovery of his true origin ("You mean I'm gonna STAY this color?!") to the explosive gas station shoot-out ("He hates these cans! Stay away from the cans!"). I've been giggling over the "Two hundred and fifty big ones!" gag for days. The story comes off more episodic, so it's a little uneven, but most of the ideas are so strong that it works.

Can we all just take a moment and talk about how great Bernadette Peters is? I mean, she's hilarious, she's adorable, and she can sing! What a lady! I saw her on stage once and it was dazzling. She is so ditzy-cute in The Jerk, and gets away with some of the best lines ("I don't care about losing all the money. It's losing all the stuff."), while donning a vacantly pouty face that perfectly matches Martin's wide-eyed idiocy. They have a weirdly touching relationship, both perfectly content to be goofy and stupid together, it's so sweet.

Anyway, great job, Movie! I enjoyed watching you!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well if you're my boyfriend your favorite stupid comedy is probably Dumb and Dumber, so that plus a Steve Martin film would probably be the perfect evening. Personally I might put it with a Mel Brooks movie, maybe Spaceballs.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Midnight in Paris (2011)

I went into Woody Allen's latest international rumination on infidelity knowing very little about it, and I would advise anyone who hasn't seen it to do the same. Just know that Midnight in Paris is very fluffy, but extremely fun, and had me smiling almost the entire running time as Owen Wilson's character effectively lived out one of my fantasies. So my advice to you now would be to run out and see it, and read my review upon your return. It's ok, I'll wait.

Are you back? Good. Let's press on.

In Woody's ode to the romanticized version of Paris that we all recognize in some way, Wilson stars as Gil, a hack screenwriter and aspiring novelist who is obsessed with all things Parisian as well as early-twentieth century culture. He visits the city with his high-strung fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams), as her parents are there for a business trip. While Inez reconnects with an old friend (Michael Sheen), Gil finds himself walking the streets of Paris at night and stumbling upon a time vortex that transports him back to the roaring twenties, where he immediately meets Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and a range of other cultural heavyweights. He starts to fall for Picasso's current muse/lover, Adriana (Marion Cotillard), questioning his relationship with his fiancee and his desire to live in another era.

Admittedly, the present-day stuff could use some work, primarily with Rachel McAdams' character and the dynamic between her and Gil. She comes off as this stuck-up, condescending woman with few redeeming characteristics, and she and Gil are constantly bickering. There just isn't any indication that these two people would ever want to date in the first place, much less get married, so the audience is basically encouraged by the prospect of Gil getting together with another woman. It felt very one-sided and strange, as Allen shows very little foundation for their relationship, and it became unbelievable and a bit sexist (in that the woman is shown to be entirely at fault, and comes off as an unfeeling harpy, basically). But I guess that happens in a lot of movies, and she really isn't any kind of focus here.

OTHERWISE THOUGH I loved this movie. The myriad appearances from famous people from the 20's- mostly writers and artists- were a constant delight, as were Owen Wilson's adorable reactions. He is bemused and ecstatic to be in the presence of so many of his heroes, and to re-live what he considers to be the greatest historical period in his favorite city. He has winking conversations with the likes of Buñuel and Hemingway, slipping in jokes and references about their future experiences. The figures themselves are of course comedically exaggerated versions of their real selves, with Dali obsessing over a rhinoceros for an entire scene and Hemingway waxing poetic about war every five seconds and Zelda discussing her insecurities with her work every chance she gets, etc. But it's how we choose remember them, really.

The whole theme of "Hey, every generation thinks earlier generations were better, so no one will ever be happy in the time they're born in, so get over it" is admittedly beaten into the ground a bit, but it is a valid motif that warrants some observation. The fun and imaginative premise and the excellent performances counter-balance most of the script mishaps, so I was generally a happy gal! I mean really, how could a movie that involves hanging out with Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Gertrude Stein (backed by one of my favorite Picasso portraits) NOT win me over?

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I'll offer two routes. For another Woody tale of a person who goes abroad and finds the life they've always dreamed of comes with its own complications, there's Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Or, for more time-traveling shenanigans with famous people, there's always Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

X-Men: First Class (2011)

An Open Letter to X-Men: First Class Director/Co-Writer Matthew Vaughn and its Many, Many Screenwriters:

Dear Sirs and Lady,

I am writing to you as a long-time fan of both X-Men and films in general, with just a few follow-up questions/concerns regarding your most recent foray into big screen comic-book adaptations.

Now, I assume you've seen the first few X-Men films, especially those that the talented Bryan Singer worked on, considering he co-wrote the story for this version. Might I also assume you've read an issue or two of the X-Men comics? I wonder though, did you take anything at all from any of these efforts, in which the work was basically done for you and you had enough material to make a good movie? I imagine not, since instead you chose to ret-con the Cuban missile crisis and haphazardly throw in a tepid bromance (loathe as I am to use the phrase) and some dull-eyed super-powered teenagers and call it a day. Perhaps you guys were just all tuckered out after Kick-Ass and Thor. Poor babies. Poor X-babies.

My understanding is that your film is meant to be both a prequel and a reboot, but it seems we can't actually have both without everything being fucking confusing. Kudos for the Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Romijn cameos, but then how the hell is Alex Summers- Scott "Cyclops" Summers' younger brother- hanging out with Xavier in the 60's? And how are Scott and Storm shown as kids in the 60's while being in their 30's in 2000? And why is Moira an American CIA agent here but a barely-aged British geneticist in X-Men 3? Come to think of it, where did anyone's usual nationality go? I can deal with taking a few liberties here and there, but casting an American dude-bro to play the adorable and super-Irish Banshee WHO TAKES HIS NAME AFTER AN IRISH MYTH is just ridiculous. And Xavier: Not British. And Sebastian Shaw: Well whatever he can be what he wants I guess, Nazi superdoctor or nuclear war fanatic or Hellfire Club leader, it doesn't actually matter to me. It's still Kevin Bacon.

What matters here, sirs and lady, is that you have taken so much of the fundamentals of these well-developed characters and completely superseded them with your own stupid ideas. I understand that you're trying to do your own thing, make your own mark on X-Men's daunting prolific universe, and I'm all for that as long as you make it somewhat recognizable and true to the basic cores of these people. Mystique is not a bratty teen who goes gooey over Charles Xavier. Never. She is a badass, super-independent lady with her own agenda. Xavier is a dick, it's true, but he wouldn't be so dismissive towards those who have physical mutations. And he's just all over the place in this movie. And he's not bald? What? Emma Frost doesn't parade around in a bra and mini-skirt fetching drinks for Sebastian Shaw and speaking every word with emotionless blandness. I don't care how much January Jones looks the part. She needed to step it up. Azazel is like a demon-mutant from hell who's crazy-clever and loves impregnating human women, and you downgrade him to a low-level cronie with a Russian accent and some throwaway dialogue? Didn't you think his obvious resemblance to Nightcrawler would confuse non-comics people? Since it's not like any of you are ready to bring up that he's Nightcrawler's dad or anything, just like Mystique being his mom has never been mentioned. Whatever. Nerd territory here.

Matthew Vaughn, I think if you put your mind to it you can make a fun movie, and I think that's what maybe you were trying to do here. I don't mind the 60's setting and tie-in to real events, since you obviously found it just too tempting. I'm surprised you didn't throw in some Rock-Hudson-is-secretly-a-mutant line. I get the Bond references, I get the over-bloated action stunts, and I get the need for a dumbed-down storyline that caters to the masses. But... did you intend to make it so funny? Or is it really just so STUPID that it's funny? I gotta say, your movie made me and my friends laugh a lot. At first I thought you guys were being all wink-wink-nudge-nudge and self-aware with the lingerie party and "SECRET MILITARY BASE" literal locations, and I giggled knowingly. But as the film progressed, I became less and less confident that anyone working on this film realized how ridiculous and over the top it was turning out. I have actually been quoting lines with my boyfriend all week in a continuing effort to milk the awful script. I've been putting my fingers to my temple every time I want to control someone's mind because it's funny every single time.

You did right with Michael Fassbender, I'll give you that. Magneto is a goddamn badass and you pulled through on that one, giving him all the best action scenes and a more interesting storyline. Then again, Magneto as a character is always fascinating, and I know Fassbender to be a good actor, so I'm not sure just how much credit I can give you guys for this one, considering how much you fucked everything else up I assume this is just a fluke.

I wonder when this turned from "let's make a movie about the very interesting relationship between Xavier and Magneto and the surrounding context of civil rights/deeply-rooted prejudices" into "let's make a movie about a thing blowing up or something and also some people fly and JFK makes a speech and oh look naked blue lady". You really should have stuck with your first instinct on this one, I'm sorry to say. What could have been a truly thought-provoking but still exciting superhero movie is just hyped-up drivel that makes less and less sense the more one reflects upon it, and a depressingly homogenous cast. The black guy dies first? Really? REALLY?

I postulate that you were coming down to the wire and no one actually had time to watch the final product before sending it out, am I right? It's ok, I won't tell anyone. Or were you all just drunk when you previewed it amongst yourselves? That makes sense to me, because I bet this movie would be a hell of an entertaining time if drinking heavily.

In conclusion: X-Men: First Class failed on many levels. Please take every single one of my comments into consideration, and immediately re-make your movie until it's good.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Alexandra Kittle, Esquire.

PS I'm not really an esquire, I just like the way it sounds. Nuff said.

PPS THE BLACK GUY DIED FIRST? REALLY??!!?!

So for those who skip to the end: I wasn't a huge fan of this movie. Eh.

As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3.5/5 (imagined score if I'd been drinking; as I said, I did laugh a lot)

Watch Instead: Oh you know, X-Men and/or X2 for good X-movies, or OSS 117 and/or Austin Powers for fun Bond-ey 60's throwbacks. Better yet, just read some comics. Get educated.

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Walking Tall (2004)

Buford Pusser. A real person's actual name. As a Tennessee sheriff in the 60's, he pretty much single-handedly straightened out the area in a crusade against gambling, bootlegging, and other vices. There are a ton of adaptations of his story in various media. Luckily for this version, the writers changed his name to Chris Vaughn, because you know Dwayne Johnson is not going to play a man with a silly name. In Walking Tall, Vaughn is a soldier returning from an 8-year stint with Special Forces to his small Washington state town, only to find the place overrun with drugs, gambling, and smut. It seems everyone (including the police) are under the control of Jay Hamilton (Neal McDonough), a childhood friend of Vaughn's, and the stalwart soldier takes it upon himself to rid the town of every vice he encounters, even if it means beating the shit out of many people to do so.

Walking Tall is a simple little movie. It is composed of black and white ethics, a tried-and-true premise, and a strong leading man. There are some brutally violent action scenes, one or two sexy parts (totally out of the blue, might I add), and a little bit of Johnny Knoxville. I don't have much to say about it, to be honest. It's short and sweet, and mostly enjoyable. Dwayne Johnson and Neal McDonough make for a sinister pair of foes, and I enjoyed watching Johnson destroy everything in his path with a two-by-four.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ummm I don't know, another good action movie with a badass dude tearing shit up? How about The Man From Nowhere?

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Friday, June 10, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #42

A story: I worked a whole lot this week and saw a bunch of movies and some projects for that artist collective I volunteer for, so I neglected to make some art in time for my usual Movie Sketch Project post. Oh dear! Luckily I had today off so I was able to work on a postcard I've been meaning to make for ages. It's an ink portrait of Jack Nicholson in Chinatown, loosely inspired by Warhol's portrait of Lenin (one of my favorites!). Let me know what you think.

It's available for purchase on etsy! Along with many other cool things!

Also here's another postcard I made a while ago, as a gift for Sasha's birthday. I've heard tell she's kind of a Doctor Who fan, so I painted a little TARDIS.



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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Incendies (2010)

To quote The Mummy, "Death is only the beginning."

I don't care how irrelevant that seems, it completely applies to Incendies, the riveting familial drama that garnered a Best Foreign Film nomination for Canada at the 2010 Oscars. The film opens on a will reading, with twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) hearing their deceased mother's (Lubna Azabal) last wishes. She was a secretary and single mother living in Quebec, with a complex war-torn past that her children knew little about.

In her will she requests that they find their father (whom they believed dead) and brother (whom they didn't know existed) to deliver them letters she wrote. Simon is initially uninterested in catering to his mother's crazy wishes, but Jeanne travels to her hometown and old university in what I believe is Lebanon (I'm sorry, they only ever said city names that I didn't recognize, and when I looked it up I couldn't find any concrete mention of the setting, but the writer of the play is from Lebanon and the events coincide). With her brother's begrudging help, she discovers a number of shocking truths about her family's past, following a trail of breadcrumbs around the country in a seemingly futile mission.

I have seen several films that have left me with feelings of hopelessness and desolation, usually touching on too-real subject matter or historical injustice or doomed relationships. Often I will recognize how excellent these films are, but their bleakness might make me hesitate to recommend it to a friend or even watch it again. While certainly dismal in many ways, Incendies is so thrilling and twisted and good that I would recommend it to almost everyone. The parallel stories of Jeanne' s amateur sleuthing and her mother Nawal's horrendous journey through both sides of a civil war are expertly pitted against each other. As the audience learns the truth about Nawal's history, we are eager to see Jeanne and Simon understand what she went through. However, the biggest mystery of all- the identities of their father and brother- are kept a secret from most of the characters and the viewers until the end, making it a truly enticing and staggering mystery.

Both Azabal and Poulin give dedicated performances as mother and daughter separated by a lifetime of lies. Azabal portrays Nawal through several stages of life, from lovesick teenager to self-assured freedom fighter to world-weary working mother. She is simultaneously expressive and unreadable, creating a strong, intricate character with a wealth of motivations and influences. Poulin is softer as Jeanne, a math lecturer driven by an unknown force to seek out the whole truth, even though it seems impossible and even though the more she learns the more she wishes she hadn't.

Shot over a range of rocky, desert landscapes and crumbling towns, and edited to perfection, Incendies is captivating visually, but the real success lies in its completely fascinating story. It is tense and dark and beautiful, blending subtlety with shock value for a masterful final product.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: There are some similarities to Oldboy, but that would be one intense evening. To lighten the mood but keep with the Middle Eastern theme, I might suggest British terrorist black comedy Four Lions. Or any of those movies where you learn more about a person after he/she is dead, you know.

Further Reading:
Incendies at The Dark of the Matinee (where I first heard about the film)

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

A number of unexplained events occur across the world: long-missing planes from WWII are discovered in Mexico with no sign of their pilots, a battleship appears in the Mongolian desert, thousands in India hear music from the sky, a massive power outage knocks out several counties in Indiana. People from a variety of nations come together to discover the truth. A dark-haired, sort of douchey white guy is affected by an unknown force, eventually leading him to grow some ill-advised facial hair and obsess over everything. A woman goes crazy after her child is taken away from her. Any female romantic interest is blonde. There is definitely some sort of conspiracy going on. Everyone is looking for the same thing, but exactly what is that thing? And who can be trusted?

Wait a second. Just how much did Lost steal from Close Encounters of the Third Kind?

You may or may not remember the "100 Greatest Sci-Fi Movies" list I've been working to complete. For ages I had seen everything in the top 40, except for Steven Spielberg's finicky feature, mocking me from its spot at number eleven. Thankfully, that has been corrected, as the Brattle Theatre screened a print of it for their Amblin Entertainment series. And I'm really happy I waited to see it on a big screen.

Framed by a mystery spanning several continents and protagonists, Close Encounters is a suspenseful drama that uses elements of the fantastic to ruminate on humankind's sense of purpose. Of course, the audience knows that the weird events are caused by aliens, but there's still so much unknown- why are they doing this, are they friendly, what are the human characters' intentions, will our heroes ever be at peace, what is our place in the universe, etc. The story unfolds slowly but surely, flipping between Richard Dreyfuss's All-American regular-guy dad gradually slipping into madness and Francois Truffaut's paranormal scientist world-tripping between inexplicable happenings. As the scientists and government come closer to the truth, the laypeople caught up in all the UFO hoopla sink deeper and deeper into existential confusion. The addition of family drama (which involves the lovely Teri Garr) and government cover-ups lends even more complexity and interest to the plot.

I love how economic Spielberg is with the actual alien imagery. Despite never actually seeing the aliens themselves until the very end, we are treated to a few visual treats in the form of a crazy dust storm, a massive ship in the middle of a desert, a congregation of orange-clad Indian villagers pointing at the sky in unison, and of course a sunburn-inducing light that shakes Richard Dreyfuss and his truck to their cores. The alien ships are shown here and there, pieced together with intense light displays and whirring noises. The use of back-lighting in the final sequence leaves the biggest impact, with a mysterious and dramatic flair that has by now become an iconic image. For the most part, the visuals and effects hold up today, except for the quick close-up at the very end (you know what I mean if you've seen it), which should have been kept out.

It delivers on the big-budget sci-fi excitement and thrilling adventure tale, but most of all Close Encounters is a surprisingly touching film, and that's what leaves a lasting impression. I was a little teary at the end. I loved it.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Miles suggests Contact, which I've never seen but I generally trust his opinion. I suspect Moon or Solaris might go nicely with this- or any other spacey sci-fi film that's more fueled by drama than comedy or adventure. Of course, if you want to pump things up a bit, you could follow this with Independence Day, a movie that everyone can agree on!

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

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Badlands (1973)

Whenever anything, but particularly a film or filmmaker, is hyped at me for an extended period of time, I grow weary of it before I've even experienced it. I assume that whatever it is won't live up to everyone else's constant praise, because everyone else is stupid. I know. I'm a pretentious dick.

This is essentially what happened to me with Terrence Malick, who seems to be on every movielover's mind these days with the release of his new film (which I haven't seen yet, but will soonish). So I figured I might as well watch one of his movies and Badlands seemed as good a place as any to start. Loosely based on a true story, the film follows young lovers Kit (Martin Sheen) and Holly (Sissy Spacek) on an impromptu killing spree through the northern midwest. Narrating with a dreamy aloofness, Holly recounts their romance and lengthy attempt to hide from the law.

"Dreamy aloofness" is probably how I could describe everything about this movie. Holly is almost clinical in her discussion of Kit's crimes, which she coolly observes and rarely comments on, content to simply pal around and attempt to act beyond her years. Kit rambles on with an easygoing frankness, sometimes defending his personal philosophy and sometimes just spewing aw-shucks nonsense. The murders themselves usually happen without warning, and there's little lingering. Malick allows endless prairie landscape and nervous conversations to fill in the gap between deaths, never explicitly dealing with the horrors the audience has witnessed. While it's clear that Kit is an unhinged killer, he's not really painted in a bad light, with understandable (sort of) intentions motivating his actions. Holly's biggest crime is her passivity, never inveighing against Kit for what he's doing and seemingly never making up her own mind as to whether or not she's ok with it.

I liked Badlands a lot- it's got a strong cast (including Warren Oates for like 5 minutes!), lovely cinematography, and naturally fascinating source material. I can see the appeal of a slightly dreamlike, removed look at a real-life killing spree, though it definitely romanticizes the couple. The distance Malick puts between the characters onscreen and his audience is at times too large a space to breach, and the mood didn't quite work for me. I know it's his first feature, and I'm looking forward to seeing Tree of Life this week and checking out one or two of his other films, but I guess I still don't get the obsessive adoration for Malick yet. Badlands is a really good movie, but it doesn't stand out to me in any special way.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Of course, there are several other films inspired by the same story, including Natural Born Killers and True Romance, but I would pair this with Peter Jackson's The Frighteners, which features Jake Busey as a homicidal ghost driven to beat Charles Starkweather's victim count with the help of his girlfriend.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

Before you say anything, just know that I saw this movie for free. So there's that.

Set at some point, I guess, after the events of the first three films (which, guess what, I don't remember at all because I only saw the second and third installments once and they were so fucking convoluted I couldn't keep it straight even while viewing), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides once again turns its eye to Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), the deviously inept pirate captain who's lost his ship. After stirring up trouble in England again (the rascal), he lands himself on Blackbeard's (Ian McShane) ship, headed to the fountain of youth in South America or somewhere. Along for the ride is the former-nun-in-training-turned-con-artist (what?) Angelica (Penelope Cruz), a former flame of Jack's who's ready to use all of her cleavage- and possibly some other skills- to claim the magic waters. Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) is sailing with his own crew in the name of King George, and the Spanish are on their way too. So it's a race I guess. How thrilling.

The thing about the Pirates movies is, I stopped caring after the first one. But somehow they've made four. The first film is a surprisingly fun, entertaining movie, which is impressive considering it was inspired by an amusement park ride. You'd think the filmmakers/producers would have quit while they were ahead, recognizing this success as a sort of fluke. We know that never happens in Hollywood, though. So instead we were given two exceedingly complicated, rambling sequels that quickly sunk beneath the weight of their own mythology and capricious characters.

On Stranger Tides cuts back a bit on the complications, but manages to pile on more characters and lower stakes to make me care just as little as I did in the previous two. It's a bit more fun, though, at least. There are some decent battle scenes and meticulously-choreographed action sequences, along with a few pretty visuals and intricate costumes. Mermaids pop up for a while so there's the promise of exposed breasts, for anyone who likes that game. There are some sword fights, but most of them take place in poorly-lit locales. For the most part I was just grateful that Keira Knightley was nowhere to be seen.

It's hard to even dredge up any real commentary on the film, I just can't be bothered to care at all. It's not like it's an awful or offensive film, it's just very standard and poorly written. New characters are injected into the plot with forced importance, old ones that I don't at all remember show up like I'm supposed to recognize them (what the hell is up with Jack's dad? Is he a ghost?). Jack Sparrow is a fun character for one movie, but his girlie swagger, self-obsessed jokes, and unclever innuendo get old fast. I don't care how much fun Johnny Depp is having. Do a better movie. I assume you have at least one more in you.

I'll admit that I do love when a priest is romanced, though. So that was a nice subplot. But spoiler alert, I guess. Whatever. Who cares.

2/5

Watch Instead: Anytime I watch any pirate movie, all I ever want is to instead be watching Muppet Treasure Island. That is a fact. I wish I was watching it right now, actually, but I left my vhs copy at my parents' house. Curses. But here's a little something:



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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Nine to Five (1980)

In a world where women are met with prejudice and harassment in the harsh cubicle jungle, three brave warriors stand up and fight for justice. After casting her good-for-nothing husband out on his ass, Judy "Wildcat" Bernly (Jane Fonda) teams up with single mom Violet "The Bulldozer" Newstead (Lily Tomlin) and friendly secretary Doralee "Shoot 'em Up" Rhodes to rid the world of the most vile man of all: Franklin "Dickhead" Hart, Jr (Dabney Coleman). Their boss. It'll take firepower, hog-tying, a trip to the hardware store, a few tokes of the ol' mary jane and a strong command of office politics, but they find a way to subdue The Man and create an Amazonian society free from tyranny and mustaches.

Between Jane Fonda's adorably oversize glasses, Dolly Parton's western fantasy, and Lily Tomlin's runaway corpse, it is extremely difficult for me to not watch Nine to Five every time I catch it on tv. Of course, the amazingly catchy theme song helps. Sure, the characterization is a bit flat and the script is campy as hell, but by golly is it an entertaining movie. The premise is ludicrous but it's backed up by actual problems that face women working in an office, and suggests what were probably radical reforms for the time (I am just making that up, I have no idea what offices were like in 1980)- including an on-site daycare, job sharing, equal pay for equal work, and flexible hours. Oh, and not being harassed. I think they're on to something here.

As you probably all know, I dig movies about empowered ladies, and these three are pretty darn take-charge. The sassy outfits, comedy-ready office environment, and DIY hostage/torture device are an added bonus.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I can't think of another good femalecentric workplace movie to go with this... maybe Working Girl? And there's always Office Killer or Netherbeast Incorporated if you want to give the night a horror twist.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

Me Without You (2001)

Hey! If you are looking for this week's Movie Sketch Project entry, it was posted on Wednesday!

Note to self: Stop believing the synopses on netflix disc sleeves. You know they lie to you. But you can be grateful that you didn't heed Netflix's advice to "watch Me Without You with your best friend" because this movie sort of makes you want to never have any friends again. Sheesh.

Written and directed by Sandra Goldbacher, Me Without You isn't the sappy comedy-drama I had expected. This isn't "BFFL go through trials and tribulations and there are tears but also laughter and their friendship will be stronger at the end because of the problems they've faced." No. Disregard the dvd cover. Growing up as next-door neighbors in 1980's suburban England, best friends Holly (Michelle Williams) and Marina (Anna Friel) come from very different families but develop a co-dependent relationship that lasts into adulthood. Holly's crush on Marina's older brother and Marina's wild nature plant seeds of discontent during their teenage years, and a double affair with an unethical professor (Kyle MacLachlan) while in college hastens their friendship's disintegration. Eventually they will destroy each other.

This is definitely an example of expectations coloring my enjoyment of a film. I did not expect such a depressing, uncomfortable movie, so I was frustrated with the final product. It sports great performances from Michelle Williams and Anna Friel (far from her goodie-two-shoes American Girl role in Pushing Daisies, the only place I'd seen her), with the former channeling every pushover bookworm you can't help but love, and the latter getting sexy and remarkably devious. Kyle MacLachlan shows up for a bit so everyone's happy. It's got a kickin' soundtrack, eclectic 80's-90's fashion, cute side-characters, and a fairly sweet (if clumsy) romantic subplot.

Unfortunately, Me Without You suffers script and characterization problems. It hops around different periods in the girls' lives, spending long amounts of time in some moments and scant minutes in others. The development of their personalities doesn't feel fully realized because so much has to be skipped. The film posits that parental influence played a large role in both of these women's development, no big stretch there. Holly is more reserved and studious due to her strict upbringing, but also resentful of the personality forced upon her from a young age and unsure of herself and her desires as she becomes an adult. Marina's mostly-absent father and beauty-obsessed, laissez-faire mother likely contributed to her passive-aggressive nature and sexual practices. But as the story progresses, Marina is revealed to just be an awful human being with less nuance than I imagine was intended, and Holly is the clear heroine. Despite framing the story around their friendship, it eventually boils down to Holly's romantic aspirations and Marina's unhealthy manipulations of those around her. It begins to feel flat and untrue to itself by the end, with Marina becoming more and more unsympathetic and one-dimensional and Holly seemingly without flaw.

This is a movie about two women who will eventually destroy each other. Well-acted, well-shot, and interesting in many ways, but ultimately a more intense and uneven script than I was prepared for.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: At several points I was reminded of Jane Campion's masterful Sweetie, featuring two sisters reminiscent of Holly and Marina.

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