Saturday, July 30, 2011

Double Feature Theater!

Oh my gosh, so you guys probably all know by now that I'm a big fan of double features. I post about them fairly regularly and I started the "Pair This Movie With" feature in my reviews for exactly this reason. Well the ever-enterprising Marc over at Go, See, Talk has come up with a fantastic blogathon premise: Devise your own week of double features, with a triple feature on the last day. It is a challenge as well as a delight for me to comply! Check out everyone's posts assembled here.

I did my best to feature a variety of films from different genres, countries, and tastes so that they're something for everyone. Each night has a different theme. Keep in mind that this is My Theater, meaning the seats are ever so comfortable, there's a wide snack selection (including pizza), beer and hard cider are available to those over 21, and there's a fantastic poster gallery in a side room to peruse on your down time. Welcome!

Monday: Strange Days (1995) and Brazil (1985)
Let's start things off with dystopian bang! Admittedly, both of these films are on the long side, but they're both so interesting and entertaining that I figure no one will mind as long as I leave a decent break in between to grab a bite. These varying visions of the future both look at urban decay and technological advancement, but Bigelow's Strange Days sees more action-packed, racially-motivated developments while Gilliam's 1984-inspired Brazil is dreamier and sharp-witted. They're both holiday movies, too, and both will look amazing on the big screen.

Tuesday: Gymkata (1985) and Double Team (1997)
Next I'll liven things up with a so-bad-it's-good action movie night! Grab a beer (grab several beers) and enjoy two ridiculously nonsensical, world-tripping films. Gymkata's got the fake martial arts, funny hats, and 80's Cold War paranoia while Double Team has Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodmann AND Mickey Rourke! It'll be like 4 hours of high kicks and weird hair! What more do you need to know? I will likely invent some drinking games for the evening.

Wednesday: Pontypool (2008) and Thirst (2009)
Ok it's Foreign Horror night with two of my favorites. Pontypool (totally foreign- it's Canadian!) is a fantastic, innovative take on the zombie genre with a smart script and minimalist setting. And because you knew I'd get Park Chan-wook in here somewhere, I'm offering up the mind-blowingly good Thirst, with Song Kang-ho playing a priest who is turned into a vampire. So much awesomeness ensues. And as you can see, they both have incredible poster art. Swoon.

Thursday: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and The American Astronaut (2001)
This might be my favorite night, mostly because these are two films I would love to see in a theater. I link these films by their completely nonsensical and mysterious universes, musical scenes, affable leading men, and total weirdness. Oh, and science-fiction, duh. One's got inter-dimensional travel and faux-Jamaican aliens, the other's got black-and-white planet hopping and impromptu sing-a-longs. They are both great. Also: Jeff Goldblum in a cowboy suit. This will be an amazing night. Bring your bubblewrap goggles and/or cowboy hats.

Friday: Tekkon Kinkreet (2006) and A Town Called Panic (2009)
Now it's time for an Experimental Animation night! Hurray! These are both off the beaten path a bit and totally worth it. Tekkon Kinkreet is a gorgeous anime that is the first to be directed by a non-Japanese person. It's adventurous and a little bit fantastical and somewhat dark, but very very enjoyable and pretty. The Belgian stop-motion comedy A Town Called Panic will end the night on a fabulously silly note, and I guarantee you've seen nothing else like it. There will be many shouts of "COWBOY! INDIAN!" for this one. And I'll make it end with a real dance party since the credits song is so good. You will all do the twist and you will like it.

Saturday: Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) and A Film With Me In It (2008)
I was sorry I didn't fit more classics in here, but if I have to pick one it may as well be the inimitable Arsenic and Old Lace. Cary Grant is so great as the flustered theater critic convinced he'll go mad like the rest of his homicidal family. Next comes a similarly black comedy that's fairly new, and a bit darker. Both take place almost entirely in one building, which I love, and both have pretty high body counts. Plus one's got Dylan Moran! And the other has Teddy Roosevelt, sort of! Guess which is which!

Sunday: Romy & Michele's High School Reunion (1997), Clueless (1995), and Kamikaze Girls (2004)
I'm gonna end things on a fun note with three lady-centric comedies I love! I figure I'll reel 'em in first with eye-searing fashions and a goofy musical number, keep 'em for Amy Heckerling's whatever-centric masterpiece, and then hold 'em for a Japanese comedy they might not know, but will surely dig! Of course it was important to me to have a nice lady-fueled day, and hopefully everyone will end the week on a high note with these funny women.

There you have it! Won't it be awesome? Doesn't someone out there want to give me oodles of money so I can open and run my own theater (plus art gallery)? Well?

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2

Yeah no art for today, sorry. I'll try to make something doubly cool for next week to make up for it. You can always check out my etsy shop for fun stuff.

Seen: In 2-D at Loews Boston Common.

Aw jeez. What can I even say? As one of the many people who pretty much grew up as the Harry Potter kids grew up, the final film is a big deal. I mean, I know the story already ended with the last book, but this is really the END ending, which means the weight of the books' importance to me piled down on me and I found myself loving this film on nostalgia and emotional impact alone.

If you don't know the story already, I assume you don't really care so I'm not going to recap it here. As the second part of the book adaptation, this film is the most action-packed, and ends up being the most inclusive script-wise. There's a lot less "Oh but they cut out THIS part that was in the book!" and "Wah wah I didn't get to see my favorite character do his/her THING!" So that's nice. The performances are the best they've been, with Daniel Radcliffe getting into his role a lot more (I've always found him a bit flat as Harry) and everyone else amping up their badassery in turn. We all remembered how great Neville is and how good of an actor Alan Rickman is, plus Hermione and Ron FINALLY make out. We are all pleased.

The effects look great, with a lot of exciting action scenes and thrilling magical mischief, though Yates does overly-favor his "start with a wide shot and then zoooooooooooom in!" approach to setting up scenes. The script is solid, but there are few comedic moments that feel out of place in such a serious film. It's nice to have some sort of relief from all the heavy stuff though so it's not a huge deal. I took the ridiculous epilogue (JUST GET GROWN-UP ACTORS YOU DINGUS) as comic relief after the bleakness of everything else. I am disappointed they left out the Grindlewald stuff, though, primarily because it gave insight into Dumbledore's character plus they totally showed him twice in Part 1 and it seems confusing for anyone who hasn't read the books. Oh well. I guess my dream of seeing those two wizards going at it is crushed. Leave me to my fantasies...

Anyway, this isn't really much of a review is it? Um. I really liked this movie. I only cried once. I'm glad I didn't re-read the book beforehand because it made more things a surprise- I couldn't remember all of the deaths so I spent most of the big battle convinced McGonagall would die which would have made me SUPER DEPRESSED.

I'll probably find more problems with this movie after a few re-watches, but honestly I have little issue with it, just a few small things (like where was Ginny? Did she speak more than once?). The films have always been uneven, but this is an exciting and heartfelt ending to a collectively wonderful series. And best of all it makes me want to read all the books for the twelfth time.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is the only one that really makes sense, and hopefully you don't need me to tell you that.

My original art for Harry Potter is for sale.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Romance (1999) at Pick 'n' Mix Flix


Blog updating is shoddy this week, isn't it! Sorry dudes but I'm at the beach with limited internet plus I'm working on a big design project that's due tomorrow. No time for movie reviews, really. I still have an offering for you today, though. Colin over at Pick 'n' Mix Flix is having SEX WEEK on his blog and asked me to review Catherine Breillat's not-very-sexy Romance, a so-so story of a lady's sexual exploits. It just proves that no, I don't automatically like a movie just because it's made by a woman, though I can be a bit more forgiving here as there's an effort to give insight into the female sexual experience, and that's a start anyway.

Read my full review along with Colin's input.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trolljegeren (TrollHunter) (2010) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

As I am currently en route to a pleasant seaside town in NJ, I was happy to see my newest review at 366 Weird Movies had been posted! Norwegian horror-comedy TrollHunter plays with the found footage genre by adding mythological elements and some nifty camerawork, plus good special effects. It's not incredibly funny or incredibly scary, but tells an interesting story and I liked the characters. A cool movie all around!

Check out my full review at 366 Weird Movies! Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Almost Famous (2000)

Seen: On DVD on our big screen/projector set-up, from my personal collection.

One of the few movies that has ever lived up to its massive hype for me, Almost Famous is Cameron Crowe's love letter to the 70's rock scene. Patrick "Oh My God Adorable" Fugit stars as William Miller, a wide-eyed, 15-year-old aspiring music journalist with a slightly unhinged but brilliant mother (Frances McDormand). After befriending well-known rock writer/magazine founder Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), he finds himself documenting the first big tour of Stillwater (a mid-level band coming to grips with fame, or some such) for Rolling Stone. Will quickly becomes embroiled in the ups and downs of life with the band, from ever-battling egos to groupie ahem, I mean Band-Aid relationship drama involving Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). He soon realizes he's in over his head, but sees it through to the bitter and thoroughly rockin' end.

Packed with a huge and talented cast, engaging dialogue, excellent songs, and plenty of real-life references, Almost Famous is probably one of the most fun dramatic movies I've seen. Drawn from Crowe's own experiences as a young writer for Rolling Stone, the film is soaked in the good kind of nostalgia while still managing to tell a compelling story. The script continually hops around from city to city and character to character, blending romance, familial drama, casual philosophy, and coming-of-age tropes, but wisely never strays far from its most resonant message: It's all about the music. Crowe's deep and palpable love of music runs strongly throughout the film, reminding us of every band who's ever changed our lives and every song we've ever put on repeat obsessively and every heart-wrenching sing-a-long we've ever soldiered through.

Of course, the cast totally makes the movie. Between Phillip Seymour Hoffman's droll advice and Billy Crudup's drug-fueled ravings, Jason Lee's big-headed rants and France McDormand's hilariously unhinged parenting, Patrick Fugit's utterly pinchable cheeks and Kate Hudson's surprisingly effective performance, plus appearances from Fairuza Balk, Zooey Deschanel, Rainn Wilson, Anna Paquin, Noah Taylor, Jay Baruchel, and even a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Mitch Hedberg- there are just so many great people to watch! Crudup is probably the "star" but to me it's all about the lovable and mild-mannered turn of Fugit, whom I adore in basically anything anyway. He's funny and believably naive, with a few memorable outbursts and a lot of long, meaningful looks.

What more can I say? I love this movie. It helps that I first saw it in high school, which is definitely the perfect time to watch it. I was engulfed in the fascinating lifestyles of these people, and totally jealous my own teenage life was so boring (especially when I found out some of William's experiences had actually happened!). But watching it now I'm a little less jealous because most of these people probably wouldn't actually be too fun to hang around. They're too self-obsessed.

And the chicks are great.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: For another rock n' roll movie that makes me long for life in the 70's (which doesn't happen very often), there's The Runaways.

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

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #47

Whew it's been a tough week here, folks, as I'm sure many of you know what with the HEAT WAVE and all. I don't have air conditioning and my computer is old and ornery so I've been spending less time at home in favor of cool movie theaters and semi-cool employment. So, this morning I have been braving the air-conditioned and over-crowded space of the Panera Bread (TM) that just opened so that I could finish my newest Movie Sketch Project piece! You're welcome!

This is another part of my fake movie band gig poster series (more here and here), this time for the garage-rock, video-game-loving gang in Scott Pilgrim vs The World: SEX BOB-OMB. All right! It features prominently Kim Pine, drummer and awesome lady extraordinaire. I hope it looks ok.

It's available for sale on etsy if you're interested!




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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Con Air (1997)

Seen: High-def download on our big screen/projector set-up in honor of Con Air Day.

When hot-tempered US Ranger Cameron Poe (Nicolas Cage) accidentally kills a guy who was harassing his pregnant wife, he's sent to jail for 8 years. Upon release he's transported home on a plane operated by the US Marshalls that's carrying the most dangerous inmates in America to a new high-security facility. Led by sociopathic killer Cyrus "The Virus" (John Malkovich), the prisoners attack the guards and hijack the plane, aiming to escape to a non-extradition territory. Poe secretly works to sabotage their plot, while on the ground US Marshall Vince Larkin (John Cusack) does what he can to help.

Everything about this movie is insane, nonsensical, and over the top, which is why I absolutely love it. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg did not think the film through AT ALL, but the actors seem self-aware enough that it works. Cage has this incredible exaggerated Southern accent and a host of adorable weird quips ("Christ in a cartoon!" "It's not exactly Mai-Tais and Yatzee out here but let's do it!"), which, combined with his alarming hairstyle and natural droopy-eyed energy, make for a damned entertaining performance. The whole cast is impressive really- this is one of those movie that seems to feature everyone in the world (well, every dude, anyway). Dave Chappelle, Danny Trejo, Steve Buscemi, Colm Meaney, MC Gainey, Ving Rhames... Damn! Of course John Malkovich steals the show as the crazed Cyrus, constantly spouting really weird, verbose threats. John Cusack is totally out of his element but so is his character, so it makes sense in a way. He's got goofy sandals, goofy hair, and goofy faces, but manages to get in one or two badass moments.

You come for the cast, but you stay for the wacky script and outta-this-world action. This movie's got it all! Shootouts, fistfights, a motorcycle chase, extreme piloting, extreme car destruction, enough explosions to read by, and a spectacular crash along the Las Vegas strip. Most of the effects hold up pretty well, too! My main issue with Con Air is that it's oddly long for an action movie, and it feels it- there are a few moments when you think the film's about to end, but then it has another big action scene. It felt like the filmmakers had a lot of climactic scenes they wanted to try and couldn't decide on just one. It's a not a huge deal since it results in even more thrilling moments, but it does mess with the pacing. Otherwise it's fun, it's campy, and it's super exciting! Con Air Day!

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: The main other plane-based action thriller that comes to mind is Executive Decision, which is a good time (I've never seen Air Force One).

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Horrible Bosses (2011)

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre, with the addition of some raspberry beer.

The prospect of Charlie Day and Jason Bateman in a homicidal comedy with Kevin Spacey is a pretty nice draw for lil ol' me, though I could tell early on that the whole Jennifer Aniston-sexually-harassing-her-male-employee thing would not work. The premise: Long-time buddies Nick (Batman), Dale (Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) all have really unpleasant work environments due to their cruel and abusive bosses. They decide the only way to solve their problem is to assassinate all three, first by trying to hire a professional killer and then by doing it themselves. Silly things happen.

Horrible Bosses is pretty standard fare, following most of the conventions of post-Apatow comedy but with fewer boobs. There are a few hilarious moments- many starring Charlie Day- and some really great semi-improvised dialogue. The three leads have good chemistry together and I enjoyed a lot of their conversations and hapless interactions as they try to enact their crazy half-thought-out plot. Kevin Spacey is having a good time in his villainous boss/jealous husband role, Jamie Foxx is ridiculous, and Colin Farrell is barely there but gets in a few good lines. Of course, there's also the unfunny plot concerning Jennifer Aniston and Charlie Day- I understand the concept of "Oh look it's a LADY boss sexually harassing a MALE employee", har har, but it still isn't funny and I know it's just an excuse to show Aniston in lingerie. Also Sudeikis's sex addiction joke got old way fast, so his constant off-screen hook-ups just slowed things down.

This movie teeter-totters its way to a fairly enjoyable outcome primarily because its leads- especially Bateman and Day- are talented and charismatic, and I appreciate that it made me laugh after a long, incredibly shitty day.

3/5

Pair This Movie With/Watch Instead: I'm going with the classic get-revenge-on-your-boss comedy Nine to Five. Just try to get that theme song out of your head! Alternatively, has a similar atmosphere if not premise.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cowboy Bebop: Tengoku no tobira (Cowboy Bebop: The Movie) (2001) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, from our personal collection. Mmm.

Cowboy Bebop has long been my favorite anime series- the marvelously fluid animation, memorable characters, snarky dialogue, captivating backstories, sci-fi setting, and eclectic soundtrack make for a unique and ever-enjoyable experience. The film, which takes place between episodes, is basically a 2-hour long episode replete with high-speed chases, martial arts, a thrilling mystery, and plenty of futuristic trimmings. It's a bit too long, but overall I think it's an incredibly fun time for fans and newbies alike!

I've got a full review over at 366 Weird Movies, please check it out!

PS And no, I don't want to talk about the planned live-action Hollywood version, thank you very much.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

The Court Jester (1955)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, from my personal collection.

Though massively talented and featured prominently in many films in the 40's and 50's- eventually even securing his own television show in the 60's-, for some reason Danny Kaye has not made much of a lasting impression in more recent decades. He's been one of my favorite actors since middle school, when I briefly mistook him for Donald O'Connor when I caught a scene from A Song Is Born on tv. Like O'Connor, he is an acrobatic dancer and effervescent comedian, though he became known for his tongue twisters and fast-paced singing (with songs written by his awesome wife, Sylvia Fine). I would wager that aside from his role in White Christmas (which is likely much better remembered for Bing Crosby), Kaye's most known film is The Court Jester. You know the one- "The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle, the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!" And it's certainly one of his best.

A former circus entertainer existing some time in the middle ages, the kind-hearted Hubert Hawkins (Kaye) has joined up with the Black Fox, a Robin Hood-esque character whose forest-dwelling group protects the true heir to the throne (a baby with the royal birthmark), and fights to win him back the crown. When there is a raid on their camp, Hawkins and Maid Jean (Glynis Johns), one of the Fox's commanders, escape with the child but wind up at the castle, where Hawkins impersonates the renowned court jester/secret assassin Giacomo so that he can get close to the king. Stumbling his way through a wealth of misunderstandings and mishaps, with the help of Maid Jean and a few other friends he manages to prove himself a true hero.

This movie has literally EVERYTHING I could ever want. It's got swashbuckling sword fights, hilarious jokes, catchy song-and-dance numbers, mistaken identities (actually one of my favorite things), gorgeous costumes (hey, Edith Head!), hypnosis, tights, and a fantastic cast. It even manages to slip a surprisingly tender and believable romance in there, with what feels like a slightly scandalous amount of heavy petting. The story is appropriately ridiculous, making room for Kaye's numerous talents- including tongue-twisters and rhymes, multiple roles, goofy physical comedy, full-bodied caricature, and looking like a babe (yeah, I said it). Basil Rathbone is devious and marvelously facial-haired, while Angela Lansbury proves that no matter her actual age she will always seem really old (it's almost impressive). And Glynis Johns is just... love.

Yes, some of the jokes feel dated, and Angela Lansbury irks me in weird ways, but I think my only real disappointment is how Maid Jean turns out. At the beginning of the film she's a badass rebel commander in pants, whom Hawkins addresses as "sir" and is genuinely taken aback whenever he sees her as "a woman". Heyyyy atypical gender roles! Then she slips into some low-cut dresses to blend in at the castle and it feels like she loses some of her spark. She's still resourceful and cunning, but less of a leader. And she's always barefoot, for some reason. I still love Glynis Johns in the role, it's just too bad to see her start off as this very interesting, unexpected type of character and then morph into a more conventional one. Oh well. Also, whatever: The Court Jester is just so excellent.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Honestly this is the kind of film I want to re-watch instantly every time I see it (it's been very hard for me to not pop it in as I write about it), but if you have to put something else on I think Robin Hood: Men In Tights would be a really fun pairing. Or if you're up for a Danny Kaye day, other favorites include Wonder Man and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni), a would-be novelist forced to work as a journalist to pay the bills, is bounced about Rome and its surrounding areas on a series of romantic affairs and potential news stories. He seeks truth and love but more often than not finds misleading facades and exploitation. Essentially broken down into several episodes, La Dolce Vita finds Marcello rekindling a romance with a dissatisfied heiress (Anouk Aimée), escorting and attempting to seduce a vivacious Swedish actress (Anita Ekberg), covering a possible religious miracle, meeting with his aging father, and fraternizing with upper-class intellectuals, shallow partying aristocrats, and fun-loving entertainers in turn. Throughout these experiences his up-and-down relationship with his remarkably dedicated girlfriend Emma (Yvonne Furneaux) crops up as well.

This is a tough one. I know there's no need to go into some long, in-depth analysis because a) many, many more talented and insightful writers have already done it and b) I don't really feel up to the task. So I'll just touch upon some points that stuck out to me.

To begin with, I do not think this is some great "masterpiece" of European cinema. Like so many films considered the best thing ever (often, sorry to say it, by older white dudes), I enjoyed it but wasn't especially affected or impressed. While it features a range of interesting female characters (more on them later), it's centered around a charming asshole who is likely meant to be more sympathetic than I found him. There are so many scenes with self-indulgent, pompous rich people who think they're smarter than they actually are, it's a bit taxing. I absolutely hated the final party scene, regardless of its importance for showing how the lead character had slipped far from his initial aspirations and friendship circles. Also, the episodic nature of the film was a little offputting, mainly because I wasn't expecting it. It's not that it's a boring movie, but it's extremely long (about 3 hours) and with little over-arching storyline to keep the pacing in check I felt like I couldn't find my footing.

HOWEVER, for the most part I enjoyed La Dolce Vita. It's beautifully shot, well-acted, and engaging in an easygoing, slice-of-life way. I liked the focus on sensationalistic writers and photographers, with the ever-present wild-eyed gangs of journalists hungry for a story. There are some great conversations from the various characters Marcello meets, discussing different outlooks on love, life, and creativity. Mastroianni is playing a self-absorbed womanizer, but somehow his charisma and affable demeanor manage to make the character likable enough that I didn't mind following him around for 3 hours. He has these great moments of simple, straightforward confession or observation that allow the struggling writer inside to break through the jaded, sex-obsessed man-about-town. At times I would forget that he drove his unstable girlfriend (fiancee?) to attempt suicide and continued to treat her like shit afterward (why doesn't he just break up with her if he wants to be with other women? UNCLEAR).

Anouk Aimée is the best part, duh, with her independent spirit and unapologetic sexual appetite, though I preferred her slightly androgynous, bespectacled look in 8 1/2 more than her big hair here. Anita Ekberg is memorable as the buxom Sylvia, with an energy and sensuality that captivates all around her. I enjoyed Alain Cuny as Marcello's quiet intellectual friend Steiner as well- his dark subplot is fascinating, and results in a completely unexpected turning point for Marcello's adventures.

Ok. La Dolce Vita. An Important Film. For the most part I liked it, though I feel it would have worked better as a short film series, and I take some umbrage with the way some of the women are depicted (especially Emma, who is just this one-dimensional, over-emotional homemaker who follows Marcello around like a well-trained puppy dog, it's ridiculous. Is it too much to write a girlfriend character with some self-respect?). I appreciated that Fellini doesn't try too hard to fit the film into any one genre, with little in the way of extreme drama, romance, or comedy, but rather a more subdued look at one man. It is at times indulgent and sexual, at others introspective and observant, and my opinions will likely benefit from multiple viewings. Can't see that happening any time soon, though.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez it's so long I don't know if you'd have the stamina for a second film! I guess if you took a break in between this might go well with a Wes Anderson or Sofia Coppola feature. You know, some "privileged white people have problems, too" type of movie. Or 8 1/2, another Fellini film in which Marcello Mastroianni tries to figure out his place in life with the help of numerous attractive women.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #46

Hi! It's a bit late, I know, but what can I say? I was distracted by Con Air last night (weren't we all?) and forgot to set up a post. Anyway, here we are in another edition of the Movie Sketch Project. I have been working on a series of movie band gig posters that I'm pretty excited about. (If you have any bands to suggest, let me know and I'll think about it!) This week a number of family/personal commitments showered themselves upon me and I was unable to work as much as I wanted to, but I did finish that poster I previewed last week. It's not for sale but other cool stuff is. The "LAMMYS2011" coupon code is still active, if you type that in at checkout you get 10% off!

It's a more obscure one, but remember that super-fun Japanese movie Linda Linda Linda I reviewed a few months ago? There is a cute all-girl rock band at the center and I've been listening to their music since I saw the film. Love it. They're called Paran Maum which I believe is Korean for "blue heart" (they perform covers of the Japanese punk band The Blue Hearts). Coooool. I tried to be a bit more graphic for this poster. I like how it came out.

Also just to show I haven't been totally lazy about making art this week, I did design a magazine advertisement for the artist collective I volunteer with. If anybody reads Architecture Boston you can check it out in the next issue! And I don't know if it's common knowledge or not but I do the LAMBs in the Director's Chair blogathon banners. So I made some of those this week, too. Yay.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Johnny Guitar (1954)

Seen: On VHS on my tv, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

Hard-edged bar owner Vienna (Joan Crawford) finds herself on the verge of being run out of town when she is implicated in a stagecoach robbery and murder. Her nemesis Emma (Mercedes McCambridge), who owns most of the town, is worried that when the new railroad runs through the area Vienna and her partners will profit. Vienna is reunited with old flame Johnny (Sterling Hayden) after five years, and he helps her defend herself against the easily-incited townspeople led by a jealous woman hungry for a lynching.

When Jake recommended Johnny Guitar as "Just this crazy gender-bending Western by a bisexual director", I thought... Huh. Let's get on that. Looking into it more I discovered it's not on DVD in the US, but has been passionately endorsed by many critics and fans, including Martin Scorsese, who sponsored a special VHS release of it. It is frequently described as strange and unconventional and hard to explain, so I was expecting something truly out-there. These expectations may be why I was a little bit underwhelmed. It's a cool movie, no doubt about it, but I didn't find it as crazy or weird as some had hyped it, and I kept waiting for something wild to happen. To me it felt like a fairly typical western whose central character was ahead of her time. Then again I'm no expert on westerns.

Crawford is excellent as the tough-as-nails Vienna. She's got hard eyes, a strong shooting arm, and a good head for business, making her an anomaly as a woman in this community. Plus she is rockin' those pants. At times she even appears a bit villainous, but when set against the half-crazed Emma, her motivations and actions are completely justified. The actresses clashed in real life as well (then again, who didn't clash with Crawford, jeez), and their animosity shows marvelously onscreen. Both women play bold, impassioned characters, and their performances reach glorious levels of camp that culminate in a fantastic climactic scene.

Oh, Sterling Hayden's there too. Honestly most of the men in this movie are pretty forgettable, except Ernest Borgnine, who plays a temperamental gangmember who only looks out for himself. Really though, it's all about the ladies.

I liked the mix of western shootouts, small-town politics, and love triangle romance, though the three elements don't always blend perfectly and I never really got a handle on the pacing. Some scenes are tense and explosive while others are suddenly low-key and dragged-out. Not a huge complaint, though. The cinematography is gorgeous, with eye-popping oversaturation and lovely settings. I loved the costumes, which included extremely colorful (to the point of gaudy) outfits for Joan and her pals and in contrast a grim collection of black funeral garb for the village posse. Nice musical score, too.

To sum up: Johnny Guitar is an interesting, exciting western with a killer lady character at the head, and that's so awesome. But my expectations of something more out-there made me slightly disappointed.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: For another great western featuring a strong lady, there's True Grit. I was also reminded of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode "Gunslinger", featuring a Roger Corman-directed western with a vengeful lady sheriff. Yeah you heard me correctly, a LADY who's a SHERIFF! Or maybe it was marshall. Whatever, either way it's CRAZY!

Side note: I feel like if I really tried I could recommend an MST3K episode for most movies I review. But I probably won't do that.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Green Lantern (2011)

Seen: In 3D at the Capitol Theater in Arlington.

In a parallel world not too different from our own, Blake Lively has brown hair, aliens keep watch on all planets with the help of green willpower, superheroes are easily recognized through their flimsy mask disguises, and Tony Stark isn't rich or a genius and his name is Hal Jordan. Everyone is still white and conventionally attractive, though. A cocky fighter pilot, Hal delights in pushing himself to the edge, but finds himself in over his head when he's chosen to be the next Green Lantern, one of a group of extraterrestrial peacekeepers with dorky rings. First he's all like "Being superpowered is rad and macho" then he's like "Wah wah it's haaaaard" but his love interest is like "With great power comes great responsibility also stop being such a doofus" and everything works out.

Also: everyone has daddy issues (duh), including Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard), a brilliant professor and scientist with a really big head (LITERALLY! LOLOLOLOL), who becomes Hal's nemesis along with Parallax, a yucky cloud monster who can, like, suck your skeleton out of your body. It's awesome.

This felt to me like DC's attempt at securing their own Iron Man while also lessening the inherent silliness of a dude with a magic ring whose weakness is the color yellow. It's got a bit of that snarky humor and a definite dramatic edge (plus the opening flying scene is lifted right from it), but it isn't innovative or exciting enough to stand out. I loved Sarsgaard as the smarmy, put-upon Hector, but he seemed like was the only actor really getting into his role, and sadly he was limited in screen time. Of course I enjoyed Reynolds, and not just for superficial reasons- I actually do think he's a good actor! Blake Lively continues to grate, and at first I was intrigued by the prospect of her fighter pilot/successful businesswoman combo, but when she spent the rest of the movie in hilariously inappropriate "office" clothes staring wistfully at Hal, it was hard to take her seriously. Oh well. At least Taika Waititi got to play the "not-white or not-black" character.

Admittedly, I resented Green Lantern a bit for partially keeping Ryan Reynolds from making that Deadpool movie, but really it's ok since I'm sure that film would have had many other hangups anyway (and maybe it will eventually get made). Plus this way we get to imagine Ryan Reynolds naked for most of the running time in his imaginary CG suit. (Attention: Ryan Reynolds is pretty attractive, you guys. Now you know.) The movie itself is pretty ok, nothing special when it comes to superhero fare. The effects are cool, the story is predictable, the cast is charismatic (mostly), and there's a shit ton of aliens. I haven't read any Green Lantern comics (never been a DC person, really) so I can't comment on it as an adaptation, but as a film it's entertaining enough if not especially memorable.

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Iron Man, obviously. Alternatively, Star Trek.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Mustache Mayhem Triple Feature: Hooper (1978), Sharky's Machine (1981), and Stroker Ace (1983)

Seen: On DVD on my tv (Hooper and Sharky's Machine); On Netflix Instant on my tv (Stroker Ace).

Maybe it was just the Fourth of July spirit, but we had a real Burt Reynolds kind of week! First up was the stunt man comedy Hooper, a film that my boyfriend was convinced I'd seen even though we have had the "No you watched it without me years ago" discussion multiple times. Then we watched the Frisky Dingo episode that references Hooper, of course. Soon enough it was time for Sharky's Machine, a favorite of a certain blogger I admire, and one that took us away from the light-hearted Reynolds we're more familiar with. Lastly was Stroker Ace, a movie recommended by someone on twitter as the best Burt Reynolds movie. OVER SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT?! Naturally, we had to check it out.

Hooper (1978)
Frequent Reynolds collaborator Hal Needham (and former stuntman) directs this ode to stuntmen working through the 50's-70's. Reynolds plays the titular Sonny Hooper, a talented head stuntman working on an action picture directed by capricious and pig-headed Roger (Robert Klein, apparently channeling Peter Bogdanovich). He's dealing with ever-worsening back pain but stubbornly presses on to more and more dangerous stunts (or "gags", as I learned) to compete with an up-and-coming daredevil (Jan-Michael Vincent). This movie is a whole lot of fun, with silly industry jokes, impressive action scenes, and a definite respect for stuntpeople and what they go through for their work. Reynolds plays his usual lovable scamp, paired with the cutesy Sally Field. It has a few serious themes, which is fine, but they often feel melodramatic against the thrilling stunt stuff. Mostly it's just a fun, uncomplicated time. Best of all, though: it's got dueling Jimmy Stewart/Roy Rogers impersonations.
4/5

Sharky's Machine (1981)
In this dark crime thriller, Reynolds directs as well as stars as the titular Tom Sharky, a dedicated Atlanta cop who's downgraded to Vice after he fudges up a drug sting. With his new partners Papa (Brian Keith- also in Hooper) and Arch (Bernie Casey), he stumbles upon major corruption involving a popular candidate for governor. I haven't really known Reynolds for dramatic roles, so it was cool to see him here as a tougher, darker character. He's volatile and sort of becomes a stalker for a while, but you still root for him because everyone else is so evil. The story is a bit scattered, incorporating political scandal, drug rings, pimps, and even ninjas for a few scenes. The romantic subplot that crops up toward the end is absolutely ridiculous (and kind of steals from Laura), but I enjoyed the movie a lot up until that point, especially the interactions between the buddy cops Papa and Arch. Kickin' intro song, too, seriously.
4/5

Stroker Ace (1983)
This features Burt Reynolds in a chicken suit for half the movie, so that's a start. He plays the titular (there's a word I'm using a lot today) cocky racer, who stupidly signs a binding and controlling contract with a fried chicken chain restaurant sponsor owned by the unscrupulous Clyde Torkle (Ned Beatty). Stroker and his bff/mechanic Lugs (Jim Nabors) play a series of pranks in an attempt to wiggle out of the contract, aided by Torkle's assistant Pembrook (Loni Anderson), a devout Christian in fetching hot pants. The story is incredibly fluffy, but there are some wild racing scenes and entertaining jokes, and it sort of echoes the plot of Cars. I loved Jim Nabors as the aw-shucks sidekick, and Ned Beatty plays a great sleaze. It's not especially engaging though, since it feels like a retread of Reynolds' earlier films. Plus there's a cringeworthy almost-rape scene that's played for laughs. Yeesh.
3/5

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Some Cast It Hot, Ep. 14: Tout Doucement

Oh dear I don't know if I'll be able to get the triple feature review I'd planned for today done, as an unexpected graphic designy thing has come up that I have to finish. BUT THAT'S OK because we have a new podcast episode out! Wowee!

Focusing on Midnight in Paris as our main discussion, we talk about Woody Allen as a filmmaker with an overview of his career (well, the films we've seen anyway!). Good times. Also I go on a crazy-long rant about Cars, sorry about that. Except not that sorry?

Check it out below or stream it on podomatic. It's also on itunes! And if you have any feedback please comment here, or send an email to somecastithot@gmail.com. Music by Feist.



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Monday, July 11, 2011

The African Queen (1951)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, restored 35mm print.

Hepburn and Bogie: The Dynamic Duo! Set in 1914 and based on the book by CS Forester, John Huston's The African Queen is an exciting trip down the Ulanga river filled with thrills, romance, near-death experiences, British patriotism, and healthy dosages of tea. When German soldiers ransack the East African village where Rose (Katherine Hepburn) and her brother Reverend Sayer (Robert Morley) are preaching the "Good Word", Rose escapes with raffish boat captain Charlie (Humphrey Bogart), whose supply boat The African Queen is carrying explosives and food. Rose plots to take revenge against the Germans by crafting torpedoes out of items on the boat and ramming it into the Louisa, a massive German battleship stationed on the lake where the river ends. Charlie reluctantly agrees to her plan, and the two share a dangerous and eye-opening adventure down the river.

Packed with beautiful scenery, fantastic performances, and one very thick-skinned boat, The African Queen is a joy to watch for most of its running time. Hepburn is ballsy and a bit self-righteous, Bogart is rough and adorably talkative. Most of the story focuses solely on them, and they are more than capable of carrying the film with charisma to spare. The other star is the Queen itself, a 30ft-long steamboat with enough quirks and bottles of gin to make it downstream in one piece. The script is primarily dramatic, but laced with cute comedic moments and sarcastic zingers, and plenty of adventurous action. Also: monkeys!

What keeps me from all-out loving the film is its tendency to feel too dated sometimes. The jungle photography is beautiful, though sometimes bordering on a 50's nature documentary, and several of the most thrilling moments are set against that old-timey moving screen background effect, which of course takes away from the realism they'd achieved with most of the on-location shooting. Some of the humor is a little hokey, as well. And the early scenes with the East African tribe trying to learn Christianity are a little strange.

These are of course minor complaints, as overall The African Queen is fantastic!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: It may well put you in the mood for a people-falling-in-love-over-a-road-trip movie, which I do enjoy. It Happened One Night started it, The Sure Thing continued it. Many others fit this category.

Further Reading: Check out Raquelle's post about the film- she saw it at the Brattle as well! It's got photos!

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

It's a CAR-TASTROPHE (Get It?!) Double Feature: Cars (2006) and Cars 2 (2011)

Seen: low-quality torrent on big screen/projector (Cars); in 3D at Harvard AMC (Cars 2)

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

Until last week Cars was the only Pixar film I hadn't seen, and I'd often heard it was the weakest of the studio's output (though some uphold its values). With the release of Cars 2 and my completist nature, it seemed time to finally give it a viewing, followed shortly by the sequel. The script/characters/animation aside, I had a difficult time just rationalizing the world the writers have created, which really took away from any enjoyment I might have had. A throwaway line or winking joke would launch a sea of questions that distracted me from the actual story. No suspension of disbelief here, there are just too many holes.

In the world of Cars, automobiles are just like humans, and lol they do human things only with car motivations! They drink motor oil instead of beer! They have a Leaning Tower of Tires! They... drive around! Lightning McQueen is a cocky racer who gets stuck in a "town that time forgot" when a major highway was built nearby. They make him stay to re-pave the road he accidentally destroyed, and in the process he makes new friends/learns about small-town living/comes to appreciate that maybe the rural Southwest is ok. But he's got a really important race coming up- WILL HE MAKE IT, and if so WILL HE EVEN WIN. The stakes! They're... not too high, actually.

The general plot of this movie isn't too hard to figure out- it's standard family fare with lessons of tolerance, friendship, loyalty, and humility. And it teaches everyone to maybe not be such a dick all the time. I have no problem with these themes, or the way the script carries them out, though I think it is generally with less wit and charm than other Pixar efforts. The characters are all strangely mired in stereotype- is this town really so "diverse" as to have a pothead hippie, loud military drill sergeant, Latino mechanic with those high-rise things (what are those called? Like when you can make your car taller? Suspension?), a bucktooth "hillbilly" who wears his own ignorance like armor, and an Italian who sounds like he stepped right out of an Olive Garden commercial? At least Paul Newman's character actually resembled a person. I miss that guy.

It's got some good jokes and I appreciated the investigation of a struggling small town, which is definitely aimed a bit more at adults than children (that whole montage of the 1950's would probably go over some kids' heads, I assume). The animation is of course swell, with excellent attention to texture in the cars themselves, fun racing scenes, and a few cute visual gags. There are three lady characters, all of whom own their own businesses. And one of them is a lawyer or something.

The sequel sees McQueen and pals traveling to Tokyo, Rome, and London for a series of big races sponsored by an alternative fuel company. He takes along his best friend Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), whose loud antics and unconscious rudeness cause problems both on and off the racetrack. Mater accidentally lands himself in the middle of a spy thriller when he is mistaken for an undercover secret agent by two British spy cars. There is some evil organization blowing up the race cars in the big race, and he stumbles upon the truth and everyone learns to be nicer to him even though he's a complete idiot.

The story is all over the place, the star of the film suddenly isn't at all the star as attention shifts to Mater (note to filmmakers: Do Not Make Larry The Cable Guy The Star Of Your Movie), and a whole host of new questions arises about the set-up of this world. I was biting my tongue throughout most of the film. The James Bond-y scenes are cool, with Michael Caine having a good time voicing "Finn McMissile" as his car shoots out grappling hooks and torpedoes left and right. And there's a lady who knows about computers (since all the other female characters are essentially wiped from the film). The best character remains the Italian mechanic Guido, though. He doesn't talk and he's adorable and he's tiny. Most of the background characters are weird ethnic stereotypes though, which is a trend I guess.

So if you follow either me or the much funnier Miles on twitter you might have seen the myriad problems we had with these movies. Not only do they both read as 2-hour long toy advertisements, they also don't make ANY FUCKING SENSE. Let's really think about the ramifications of a world populated by cars. Are they born or made? They have mothers and siblings, so perhaps they're born, but then how the hell do they copulate? Do they have sex? In the second film it is said they are "manufactured", in which case what kind of creature is manufacturing them? And why are some of them cruelly made to be "lemons" (a big point of the sequel)? Did they spring into existence in the early 1900's? Or have they been around as long as humans have? The sequel hints that the history is the same as humans, meaning somehow these complex machines that could not have existed in ancient times were somehow being constructed.

Some machines are shown as animals, meaning everything is a car here, not just humans. There are car flies and tractor cows. They're farming for some reason, but they don't eat regular food (although now that I think about it, maybe it's corn and stuff for clean fuel). They have planes and boats, which are also sentient, but which seem to only exist to ferry cars around. We don't see them with their own plane/train/boat-based cultures. This is the equivalent of our own cars in real life being sentient transportation slaves, which is pretty fucked up.

I KNOW THESE MOVIES ARE FOR KIDS, before you say it. I get it. I know several little boys who love these movies and collect all the toys. I'm sure they also go over well with the Nascar set, which admittedly is a culture I'm pretty removed from in the Northeast. I understand that a lot of my questions and points about plot holes wouldn't occur to a child watching them. But hey, I'm totally grown-up, I'm not going to apologize for watching a film as an adult. I usually enjoy kids' movies, especially Pixar, but the Cars franchise just feels lazy and poorly thought-out. The writing isn't as clever and even the messages are pretty muddled, especially in the sequel, which I'm pretty sure is anti-handicapped people? And anti-alternative fuel companies? It also preaches that Mater, an ignorant and stubborn idiot, shouldn't have to change or shouldn't listen to anyone who doesn't like the way he is. I'm all for being yourself, but he is incredibly rude to other cultures and completely incapable of behaving like an adult, and this is saying he never has to grow or learn or adapt.

Ugh. Cars. SO MANY PROBLEMS.

Cars: 3/5
Cars 2: 2/5

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #45

Ok this week's been a little weird so I haven't finished the poster I'm currently working on (which will be part of the movie gig poster series I started last week). BUT I've also got big plans for lots of hand-drawn postcards so here are two I've made so far, for a rock star series. David Bowie and Debbie Harry are two awesome singers/performers and they're both actors on the side so it's still movie-related. You may recall I've already done portraits of both. The Bowie one got a little fuzzy, sadly.

Remember I've got rad stuff for sale on etsy, blah blah blah.



And here's a preview of the next poster design. (I'm feeling the vertical stripes lately.) Do you know the film?



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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dead Woods (2011)

Seen: on DVD on my television, screener sent from Shawn.

It's rare I take screeners, it's true, primarily because I have such a long personal list of movies to get through I don't like to pile too many others on, and also because I'm terrible at watching them in a timely fashion. Shawn from 7 Dollar Popcorn learned this the hard way when he sent me a copy of a movie he and his friends made, Dead Woods, and I took months to watch it. Sorry, guys.

Anyway. I watched it, finally, good for me! But mostly good for director Tom Savage and company for making a pretty impressive movie on a "$0 budget". The story follows a fun-loving gang of twentysomethings partying at an isolated cabin. I was convinced nothing untoward would happen but SHAME ON ME because a slasher killer totally started slashing and killing people. But who is it? And why?

Admittedly I'm not very well versed in the slasher horror genre, but I recognized the influence of films like Friday the 13th and I Know What You Did Last Summer. The story isn't especially new or surprising, but there's a nice mystery set up at the beginning that I didn't really piece together until the end. Dead Woods stands out for its mumblecore-y approach to dialogue- I loved how natural the conversations felt, especially the more comedic ones between Shawn's character (I think? I sort of spaced out during the credits) and his fellow stoners. I'm also a fan of the numerous bloody kill scenes, several of which are quite inventive. The lady taking photos of herself in the woods and seeing her killer in the picture? Very nice. Also: Golfing can be very dangerous. That's all I'm gonna say.

Dead Woods is cool, though it takes a while to get to the gory bits, but most of all it looks like the cast and crew had a lot of fun making it, which makes it fun to watch! The effects are fairly realistic, the cinematography is quite nice, and the cast is entertaining, if unschooled. I would never judge a movie like this against something that had more resources, but I think if you're a slasher fan it's a good time and it looks great for homemade horror!

Check out the Dead Woods website for DVD info!
You can also follow Dead Woods on twitter.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Stalker (1979)

Seen: on DVD with our big-screen/projector. Sadly not in widescreen, though.
80/100 done on the Sci-Fi List. Feelin' good.

Riddled with philosophical asides and blurry, extended views of landscape (alternately urban and rural), Tarkovsky's Stalker offers a look at an uncertain future/parallel universe with a major mystery at its center. In a bleak, colorless city, a talkative writer (Anatoli Solonitsyn) and a well-meaning scientist (Nikolai Grinko) hire a "stalker" (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky) to take them into the "Zone". This mysterious, alien expanse has been closed off to humans for years, but there are special "stalkers" who can navigate the territory. There is said to be a special room within the Zone that will grant visitors their deepest wish, but there are numerous physical and psychological perils to face before one can reach it.

Characterized by long, drawn-out shots and quiet, eerie spaces, Stalker is visually engulfing and haunting in its presence. Though the nameless run-down city and abandoned, overgrown "Zone" aren't unfamiliar spaces to a movieviewer's eye, there is a distinct sense of unease coupled with fear of the unknown connected to every scene in this film. Everything is just a little bit off, just a little bit unfamiliar. A sewer tunnel with a floor of crushed glass becomes the most terrifying place, simply because Tarkovsky frames it that way. The switch from black and white to color is perfectly timed, shocking the viewer out of his or her state of mind for a moment.

Though it focuses on three intriguing characters- all with wildly different motivations and outlooks- the film loses itself sometimes amidst their ambiguous philosophical arguments, with the ambitious and at times hard-to-follow dialogue slowing down the story's pace and subtracting from the fantastic cinematography. I understand the contemplative, all-encompassing atmosphere Tarkovsky is striving for, but he seems to alternately favor minimalism and talkie poetry, resulting in a few distracting shifts as well as an overlong runtime (though I guess that's kind of his thing, huh?).

Stalker is an interesting film, and innovative in many ways. The original film was accidentally lost in post-production, so the entire thing had to be re-shot on a reduced budget. While the quality is noticeably diminished, overall the visuals are fascinating and the acting involving. The ending is enigmatic and chilling, one of my favorite ways to end a movie!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: It shares a lot of similarities and Solyaris, but the two together would make for a long double feature! I was actually reminded me of Lost at several points- especially the earlier seasons. Other parts are reminiscent of Alphaville, which would go well, too.

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Paris, Texas (1984)

*Special Note* I've always liked how Rich includes how/where he saw a film in his posts, so I think I'll start doing the same. It's nice to remember how I watched something.

Seen: on DVD with our big-screen/projector

Working on that "11 movies to see in 2011" list is mighty slow-going, let me tell ya, but I'm happy to check another off the list. Helmed by versatile German director Wim Wenders, Paris, Texas is an introspective drama focusing on Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), a lost man found wandering the desert with gaps in his memory, a worried and abandoned family, and no accounting for where he disappeared to four years prior. When his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) finds him, Travis refuses to talk for the first several days of their car ride to California. He eventually begins to open up, and meets the son (Hunter Carson) he left as a four-year-old that Walt and his wife Anne (Aurore Clement) have been raising. Father and son reconnect during a road trip to Houston, TX, where they hope to find Hunter's mother (Nastassja Kinski).

This is a goddamn beautiful film. Wenders has often expressed interest in American culture in his other films, and here he seeks to capture the American Southwest- its red tints and blazing sun, sprawling brush and clear skies, seemingly everything set in a sprawling expanse. I read somewhere that the landscape is the real star of this movie, and there is some truth to that. Wenders has an eye for color and composition, which he fully utilizes for the drawn-out, thoughtful visuals in Paris, Texas. He moves from desert sparseness to suburban hills to big-city sleaze with grace and precision and a bit of grittiness, all set to a jangly instrumental soundtrack from Ry Cooder.

Of course, the script and performances play a major role in the film's success as well! The dialogue is fairly simple, but the plot brings in elements of mystery and familial drama and a tiny bit of road trip zaniness for a well-rounded experience. Harry Dean Stanton, so often a supporting actor, proves himself a damn fine lead as Travis, with a weathered and woeful face and a stoop carrying the weight of the world. The drop-dead-gorgeous Nastassja Kinski (Klaus Kinski's daughter, poor thing) has limited screen time but makes use of it with a memorable monologue and heartbreaking reaction shots. I also loved Dean Stockwell as Travis's brother Walt. He's just so sweet and good-natured and... brotherly- he's very effective. Most impressive of all, Hunter Carson provides us with a solid child performance that doesn't get on my nerves, so congratulations to him!

I loved this movie, plain and simple. Its expansive, haunting imagery leaves an imprint, and its tragic and mysterious story touches on questions of family obligations, deep-seated loyalties, and the possibility of redemption. Oh Wim, why haven't I seen all of your movies?

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: To lighten the mood a bit but stick with the father-child road trip theme, there's the splendid con artist comedy Paper Moon. Or some of the scenery reminded me of Badlands.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Anything Goes (1956)

A few weeks ago I visited my parents for a few days primarily to see How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (starring a surprisingly spry Daniel Radcliffe and John Larroquette) and Anything Goes (starring Sutton Foster! And Jessica Walter and Joel Grey!) on Broadway. Since then I've had a hankering for some classic musicals, and the Donald O'Connor/Bing Crosby version of Anything Goes, an extremely loose rendering of the Cole Porter classic, seemed up for a revisit. I've owned it for years but haven't watched it since my first viewing in high school.

The story follows respected performer Bill Benson (Bing Crosby) and on-the-rise hotshot Ted Adams (Donald O'Connor) as they grudgingly team up ego-to-ego for a Broadway show. There's one female lead, and each star promises a woman the part. Bill finds the bright-eyed expat Patsy Blair (Mitzi Gaynor) in Paris, while Ted lands the slinky Gaby Duval (Zizi Jeanmarie), a French performer hoping for her big break in America. Through a series of lies and misunderstandings, both women wind up on the boat back to the US, each believing she's starring in the play. Bill and Ted try to hide them from each other, while fighting over who can stay in the show.

When I saw "loosely based" in the Cole Porter play, I mean "kept the title and four songs, threw out the rest". Well, and I guess they kept the boat. Anything Goes is an innocent enough diversion, but wholly unremarkable despite its talented and recognizable cast. The story is predictable and blasé, which isn't very surprising for a 50's musical, but the movie feels unenthusiastic about the genre in general, as if it knows that this type of filmmaking is on its way out. The sense of gleeful fun often palpably present in light-hearted musicals of the 30's-50's isn't felt as much, and it's more like they're just going through the motions. And indeed, this is near the end of several of the actors' tenure in movie musicals, so perhaps they were a bit fed up themselves!

I'm not trying to bash Anything Goes. It's sweet and airy, with some good musical numbers and the ever-enjoyable Donald O'Connor, who elevates every film he appears in. My crush on him will last forever, methinks. Of course Bing brings his reliable smarmy charm and smooth crooning, with several songs written just for him (I guess Porter's jumpy jazz didn't suit him as well), and I enjoyed seeing the two actors play off each other in both their musical performances and their characters' passive-aggressive working relationship. I do like the adorable Mitzi Gaynor, but her singing voice isn't quite fit for her introductory song "Anything Goes" (Jeanmarie does a nice rendition of "I Get a Kick Out of You" for her first number, though). The choreography is just ok, but there are some fantastic costumes (no surprise from Edith Head!) and charming comedic cuteness from O'Connor and Crosby, so there are definitely things to enjoy. It just feels a bit tired and uninspired, I think, with a script that needed to be funnier and musical sequences that needed to be showier to make the film stand out more.

Admittedly the fact that I had just seen several of these songs performed by the inimitable Sutton Foster in a fantastic Broadway production does skew my perspective a bit. I will say that I'm glad this film takes out the whole racist Chinese stereotype thing, though!

3/5

Pair This Movie With: For a fun boat-musical theme night, why not the Astaire/Rogers team-up Shall We Dance? Or for more Donald O'Connor, I'm a big fan of Call Me Madam.

My favorite musical number is probably the cute dual-duet of "You're the Top".


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