Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Attack the Block (2011)

Seen: At Loews Boston Common.

After what felt like a year of hearing how great this movie is, it finally made it to Boston! Hurray! Written and directed by frequent Edgar Wright-collaborator Joe Cornish, Attack the Block is a fun and tense alien invasion thriller. The twist is its protagonists: the film focuses on a group of lower-class London teenagers, a sort of wannabe gang who mug pedestrians who walk by their neighborhood and assume they'll eventually be forcibly recruited by a local drug dealer. When hostile alien beasts invade their housing development, it's up to them to fight them off and save their block.

This movie has such a great cast, it's crazy. There are hilarious supporting turns from the likes of Nick Frost and Luke Treadaway, both pothead slackers holed up in an apartment with a weed fortress. The focus here is definitely on the kids, though, mostly newcomers who put in intriguing and dedicated performances. John Boyega is SO good as Moses, the hard-faced leader who acts well beyond his years because he has no other choice. This is his first film and I hope he has a long career ahead of him as a leading man (he's easy on the eyes, too). Jodie Whittaker is a little flat as Sam, the high-strung nursing student who is initially at odds with this hostile group of "hoodlum" teens, but she grew on me as the movie progressed. Plus she wields a kitchen knife pretty damn deftly.

From the thumping soundtrack and high-speed bike chases to the gory kills and silly jokes, Attack the Block is just consistently entertaining all around. It's got a fun script that balances comedic dialogue with heartfelt characterization, keeping it light for the most part but never allowing the audience to think any character is safe from horrific mutilation. There are definitely some plot points that don't make too much sense (why would the males of a species want to tear apart the only female?), but it's such a fun ride I didn't really think about it while I was watching. I also appreciated the range of interesting weaponry and impressive creature effects, and the almost complete reliance on one location for the story. Their tenement comes off as a concrete maze with a wealth of resources and hiding spots, and Cornish really works the setting to its fullest.

And Nick Frost. Always Nick Frost.


Pair This Movie With: Hmm another alien invasion action/comedy, probably. Let's see, there's Alien Trespass, Super 8, Independence Day...


Monday, August 29, 2011

Redline (2009)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up.

Don't you love it when the future involves large-scale races replete with wacky gadgets, degenerates, crooked government, and nudity? I know I sure do! The future laid out in Redline is certainly an intriguing one, if completely ludicrous. Hot shot reckless racer JP makes it to the titular big interstellar race, held on a militaristic planet that hasn't consented to be the host. He cozies up to Sonoshee, a cute green-haired lady who is one of the most serious and intimidating drivers there, and together the two attempt to navigate a strange obstacle course against alien competitors (some with inexplicable magic powers) and large-scale weaponry.

This movie is pretty much all spectacle and adrenaline, with very little comprehensible or meaningful plot holding it together, but it's not like the filmmakers are operating under any pretense of depth. They've created a gorgeously animated, pumped-up sci-fi thriller and there's not much else they need! The characters are slick, and the vehicle designs slicker, with plenty of exaggerated personalities and colorful attachments for an engaging race line-up. Sure, there's a pretty silly romantic/secret-past subplot thrown in there, but it's never taken very seriously.

The strengths of Redline lie almost completely in its visuals and fast pacing. The dark shading and bright color schemes, the over-the-top hair styles and imaginative alien creatures, the quick-cut-editing and crazy landscapes: it's all fantastically sweet eye-candy. It's violent but fun, and there's probably political commentary thrown in there somewhere. The script gets pretty cheesy at points, but I'm pretty sure it knows it. Very cool movie all around, though the set-up is a little confusing at times.


Pair This Movie With: Obviously this would go perfectly with the best futuristic road race movie ever, Death Race 2000. Or if you're interested in lighter, even more colorful fare, I thought the Wachowski brothers' Speed Racer was fun.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Guard (2011)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge, with a weirdly talkie, dickish audience.

Surly and unpredictable Irish cop Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) teams up with straitlaced American FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) to track down a pack of cocaine smugglers. That's about it, really, it's a very straightforward story. Boyle is funny and inappropriate, but figures shit out faster than anybody else because he's not crooked like the rest of the cops in his small Galway town. Everett is serious-minded and trying to do the right thing, but put off by Boyle's angry attitude and possibly joking racist comments. The criminals are ruthless but bickering. And there's a big shootout.

Though the plot is much like any crime comedy featuring two men at odds with one another teaming up to get the bad guys, the solid script and excellent cast elevate The Guard to a somewhat more memorable status. Gleeson is gruff and magnetic as a protagonist you can't help but like despite his many flaws. Boyle is smarter than he lets on and it's hard to tell when he's actually being clueless or prejudice and when he's just allowing everyone around him to underestimate him. Cheadle is enjoyable as ever, though under-used. This is really Gleeson's show through and through. Mark Strong's there too, playing... wait for it... A BAD GUY.

It's an interesting portrait of small-town Ireland, with various jabs at stereotypes and racial/xenophobic prejudices common to so many rural and isolated regions of any country. The dialogue is often silly and unexpected, and usually very funny, plus there's a good amount of violence and a decent climactic action sequence. Good times all around, really, but not exactly imaginative or original.


Pair This Movie With: You can't really go wrong with In Bruges, another dark comedy with Brendan Gleeson and a European setting. Or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which everyone should always be watching all the time.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Norma Shearer Pre-Code Double Feature: The Divorcee (1930) and A Free Soul (1931)

Seen: On DVD on my tv, rented from netflix.

I was reading an article about Pre-Code films (sorry I don't remember where! She Blogged By Night, maybe?) and remembered that I really needed to see more Norma Shearer films. Lo and Behold, there's a scandalous double feature of The Divorcee- which nabbed her a Best Actress Oscar- and A Free Soul- which launched Clark Gable to leading man status- available on one disc. Oh happy day!

In The Divorcee, Shearer plays the effervescent Jerry, a sharp businesswoman who happily marries journalist Ted Martin (Chester Morris) despite his struggling career. On their 3-year anniversary, she discovers he'd been unfaithful to her. She is crushed, but he encourages her to "think like a man" and realize that it meant nothing. While Ted is away on a business trip, she sleeps with a rakish and caring friend (Robert Montgomery). When her husband finds out, he is furious and unforgiving, but Jerry calls him on his hypocrisy and asks for divorce. She becomes an even more successful businesswoman, traveling around the world and flirtatiously enjoying the company of many men. It's sexy.

While some at times it's a little moralistic, for the most part The Divorcee is a forward-thinking drama with a fantastic performance at its center. Shearer is gorgeous, sensual, and sympathetic in the lead role, with a killer hairstyle and a couple of tear-jerking moments. Her character is fun and strong-willed, allowing herself whatever romantic entanglements she pleases no matter what gossip or ogling it produces. While she does predictably wind up with a man in the end (I won't say which), it feels like it's on her own terms. Robert Montgomery is easily the other standout, with a devilish gleam in his eye and a host of wisecracks. The script isn't very well paced though- a lot of time passes and certain characters are quickly introduced and then don't show up until years later; it's a little confusing at points.


A Free Soul stars Shearer as a similar kind of independent, "modern" woman, but features a less interesting story. Jan Ashe is a lively lady determined to live her own life and make her own mistakes despite the bourgeois pretensions of her family. She lives with her alcoholic lawyer father (Lionel Barrymore), who lets her do as she pleases but worries her with his drinking. She is sort of engaged to the uptight but good-hearted Dwight (Leslie Howard), but sets off on an affair with Ace (Clark Gable), a mobster whom her father recently got off on a murder charge.

This movie is pretty all over the place, with weird changes in pacing and tone, and a totally ridiculous ending. Of course Shearer is still great in the lead role, and I loved her character's "My life is my business, I'll do what I want to do" attitude. She has these really exaggerated body movements and slinky-ness that gave her real dynamism. Barrymore (who won Best Actor in the role) is good but a little over the top. I think James Gleason as his pal Eddie is the only one really having fun in his role, and he basically steals all of his scenes. Clark Gable is a stud, clearly, but mostly he's just a supporting asshole and can't quite match Shearer's charisma. I have to admit the film just didn't really hold my attention despite the excellent cast, the writing just isn't very good.



Friday, August 26, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #51

Hello friends! I am extremely happy with today's offering in the Movie Sketch Project. I'm still powering through my movie band gig posters and Stillwater from Almost Famous is one I've wanted to do for a while but was having some trouble conceptualizing. LUCKILY I stumbled upon a super awesome design by trying out a few new stylistic and technical things. It's flatter and more minimalistic than usual plus the color scheme is way muted. I dig it. Anyway, let me know what you think!

It's available for purchase, too!

Other movie gig posters:
Buckaroo Banzai and The Hong Kong Cavaliers
Sex Bob-Omb
Lili Von Shtupp


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rifftrax Live: Jack The Giant Killer (1962)

Seen: At Regal Fenway Cinema in Boston, via live simulcast.

I watch Mystery Science Theater 3000 fairly regularly but I never blog about it because I wouldn't count it as watching the full movie, since there are dudes talking over it the whole time and they're edited for length. I've been to a few of the live broadcast Rifftrax performances as well but never thought to post about it here. TODAY THAT ALL CHANGES.

I love me some goofy irreverent commentating and I really love me some ridiculously bad movies, so the MST3K crew has always been a good fit for me. When a few of the main cast members/writers moved on to create Rifftrax, which takes away the robots and updates the film choices to mainstream new releases and popular crowd-pleasers of the past few decades, I was definitely on board. How else could I slog through the Twilight movies?

A few times a year the Rifftrax gang performs audio commentary at a big theater in Nashville, streaming it live in movie theaters across the country. They play shorts and sometimes there's music or comedy performances, and it's just a fun time overall to share the experience with a big room of like-minded geeks. This time around they showed Jack The Giant Killer, a silly and not very well-thought-out Adventures of Sinbad knockoff directed by Nathan Juran. A princess lady who wears quite a lot of make-up is abducted by a giant controlled by an evilly-bearded sorcerer who wants the crown. She is saved by the lowly but hunky peasant Jack, who becomes her protector as various fantastical traps are sprung for them.

This movie is just a real mess, and ripe for sarcastic commentary. The story doesn't make any sense, the script is cheesy as hell, the outfits look like leftover Halloween costumes at Party Box, the effects are laughably low-budget, and there's a weird amount of ethnic stereotyping. I would never put down any animator because I know the work is grueling, but yeesh the stop-motion creatures in this were definitely... rushed into production? It just doesn't look good. But really, most of the comedy stems from the awful dialogue and over the top performances.

It's certainly not the worst thing- in many ways it's a mildly distracting, very dated family film- and it's not at all bad by MST3K standards. What made Jack the Giant Killer a unique experience were the live performances, enthusiastic audience, extremely odd preceding short, and overall zaniness that Mike, Bill, and Kevin can always provide. Just remember, kids: Seize the bone.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Scanners (1981)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Scanners! It's the 80's! Canada is overrun with telepaths who can make your head explode! Patrick McGoohan (a doctor!) scoops up bright-eyed, half-crazed "scanner" Cameron Vale (Stephen lack) for his government program to fight against his nemesis Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside). He is obviously evil. His name sounds like "havoc". Cameron is sent down a twisty turny road of confusion as he tries to piece together just what the deal is. Heads explode, bodies burst into flame, computers self-combust. There's a lot of really intense staring.

Once again David Cronenberg just knows what I want in a movie. The gritty atmosphere, sensationalist script, and wild special effects are just my speed, plus it's got a synth-heavy score (my favorite thing ever? Probably). It starts off a bit slow and uneven, with convoluted plotting and conflicting ideas (like, where did the hippie scanners come from?). Cronenberg was forced to start shooting with an unfinished script, and I can see how it took a while for the story to be fully fleshed out. BUT once it gets going, I was completely into it and forgave any of its earlier hang-ups. There is so much awesomeness in this film, I wanted to watch it again right after the credits rolled.

Amongst the head explosions (which are fewer than I expected), morbid contemporary sculpture, impressive pyrotechnics, and general hullabaloo of a wonderfully out-there sci-fi horror film, there is a trio of very cool performances. Patrick McGoohan (!) is beardy and mumbly and lovable as ever as Dr Paul Ruth, a man with questionable motives and some captivating monologues. Half of what he says is unintelligible but does it really matter? He's Patrick McFuckingGoohan. Bam. Michael Ironside, who only ever plays villains, I guess?, is intense and maniacal as the evil-but-maybe-for-understandable-reasons Revok. He's just got the look for it. Stephen Lack's performance confuses me a bit, but ultimately I enjoyed him a lot. For most of the film he's sort of monotone and unemotional, with short, choppy lines almost like a child speaking. But I kind of loved it? Plus he's got a set of downright CRAZY EYES that work perfectly when he's staring at everyone really hard and making their brains melt or whatever. PLUS plus he makes a phone melt with his mind. Damn.


The best BEST part is that it features what is probably my favorite plot point ever: Two characters are secretly brothers! And sons! Oh snap! I love it when people are unknowingly related! (Except when incest is happening, though.) The climactic confrontation between Revok and Cameron is fucking mind-blowing (literally! lololol I got that joke off the dvd box), with blood just shooting out of everyone and glowy eyes and a sleepy lady and totally unexpected plot twists and dates that don't really match up but it's ok.

Scanners. It's all great.


Pair This Movie With: For more gritty Cronenberg sci-fi I'm all about Videodrome. Alternatively, you could do Re-Animator and Shock Treatment for a crazy awesome 80's double feature, as I was reminded a bit of both while watching Scanners.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Cars That Ate Paris (aka The Cars That Eat People) (1974)

Seen: On a downloaded copy on my tv.

Set in the tiny town of Paris (the one in Australia, not France, duh), The Cars That Ate Paris details the experiences of Arthur Waldo (Terry Camilleri), a mild-mannered young man who winds up in a horrific car crash that kills his brother. Developing a harsh fear of cars and driving, he stays in the town, living with the mayor's family and getting a job as a hospital aide. It soon becomes apparent that the citizens of Paris are intentionally causing accidents along their windy roadway, stealing the car parts and possessions of dead passengers and allowing the local mad doctor to experiment on survivors. Also there's a gang of antagonistic youths (who think they're living in Mad Max) with weaponized cars, ready for a fight with those in charge. It's all really, awesomely fucked up.

With its sensationalistic title, I expected this film to be more grindhouse-y and explode-y, but primarily it's actually a very dark, somewhat comedic thriller that isn't afraid to let its weirdness show. The town's seedy underbelly is revealed slowly and mysteriously, and there's a lot of subtly strange dramatic build-up. As it progressed, I found myself more and more engaged because I began to wonder just how far the film would go, how bizarre and maddening it could truly get. It takes a while to get going, definitely, but eventually I was transfixed. Arthur Waldo's wide-eyed, understated performance certainly helps.

Of course, it isn't all slow-burn mystery, there are also spiky cars and funny costumes and wacky lobotomies and a climactic DEATH PARTY. There's something for everyone, I suppose, which makes it a very hard film to pin down. I could not fit this into any one category. The mix of genres and tones makes it effective in many ways, but also sort of disjointed. Parts of the story dragged, and others just didn't make sense, and I wasn't always sure how seriously I should be taking these characters. It's a minor quibble, though, for the most part The Cars That Ate Paris is original and memorable, and wonderfully weird. I could certainly write more about it, maybe after a re-watch I will.


Pair This Movie With: Well I think it was Miles who commented that this movie is like a combination of The White Ribbon and Mad Max, so that'd be an interesting triple feature.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Drive Stupid Marathon: The Fast and the Furious (2001), 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Everyone in this movie is an assholeSeen: On HD-DVD (yes we have a player), on our big screen/projector set-up.

We're making our way through America's most perplexingly popular (and prolific) car series, which I'll call collectively Fast/Furious. It is a gripping epic of muscular dudes with shitty hairstyles and the ladies who love them, of cars that drive fast and the drivers who drive them, of world-famous cities and the criminals who live in them. It is a grandiose tale of friendship, loyalty, and adrenaline. Oh, such depths of the human soul are explored and taken to even greater distances in this masterpiece of road cinema: Fast/Furious.

Also: I don't really remember the plots of these movies so I'm going to sort of make it up as I go along here.

When bleach-haired and cocky-faced Brian (Paul Walker), a very-obvious undercover agent, tries to sneak into a gearhead gang run by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), he finds he's in for the RIDE of his LIFE. They go to a bunch of races together and become best friends but maybe Toretto is a bad guy because people are stealing stuff from trucks or something. But it doesn't matter because Paul Walker and Vin Diesel totally mate for life and not even the stupid law enforcement that Paul Walker works for can come between them, right?

Right. Except in the next movie Vin isn't even around anymore! He's off gallivanting with Michelle Rodriguez or whatever and Paul Walker is all alone. So he teams up with Tyrese Gibson and Eva Mendes to take down an evil drug lord (I think). I barely watched the second one, I'll be honest, it was hard to focus on the story line. Or maybe it didn't have one? They drove some more cars, that much I remember. And Paul and Tyrese totally wanted to date. They even had a romantic sunset together that I kind of co-opted. Also maybe I had been drinking a little.

So flash forward to the future or something (right?) and also Japan for some reason, and none of the original cast except for one nice cameo. Asshole teenager Sean Boswell (Lucas "Chest Hair" Black) moves to Tokyo to live with his dad because he keeps fucking things up in the US. He loves driving. So he pals around with Bow Wow and joins the underground teenage racing circuit and never has to learn Japanese. And there are yakuza at some point. And a HULK car! Because there's no space in urban Tokyo they have to learn how to "drift" on the sharp and windy turns. It's a real-life thing.

I don't know anything about cars, and to be honest I don't really care to. I like seeing things go fast and/or explode, so I enjoy movies that focus on cars, but I don't actually want to see something ABOUT cars. The first film features dialogue that is exclusively about driving or crime, and that's it. It's almost funny if it wasn't so boring. Luckily it's got a decent cast and solid enough action to make it mildly interesting. And a lot of fast cars! The other two are just sort of wasteful, with some ridiculously bad and entertaining moments but not enough to warrant anyone actually watching them. They all feel like time capsules of the early 2000's, with very specific fashion styles and lingo that probably felt dated the moment they were released. Everyone is trying way too hard to be stylish and cool, it's pathetic. Except for Michelle Rodriguez and Devon Aoki, obviously, but they don't get to do much. Ladies can drive and stuff, but they can't win the big races and they certainly can't carry a film about cars.

2Fast 4FashionTokyo Drift
is by far the worst, with a nonsensical script and wholly uncharismatic cast (except for Sung Kang, who plays "Asian Guy Who's Always Eating", aka "The Best Character"). It's like no one actually thought about this movie as they were making it. Why does Sean go to a Japanese-speaking school? Where are all these kids' parents and how do they have the money for souped-up cars and clubs and whatnot? Why is Sean the protagonist when he's so boring? It does have better direction though, with better-shot racing and action scenes than its predecessors, so good to know Justin Lin is directing all the subsequent entries to the series.

Since I plan on seeing them all, for some reason.

1Fast 1Furious: 2.5/5
2Fast 2Furious: 2/5
3Fast 3Furious: Tok3o 3hrift: 1.5/5


Friday, August 19, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #50

Wow! Number 50! I'm pretty proud to have come this far with this project, and definitely have no intention of stopping anytime soon since I still have tons of ideas for new pieces. Might have to slow down a bit though since I just got a second job, but we'll see. For my 50th piece I did a straight-up ink drawing- I feel I'm becoming too reliant on digital work and I don't want to lose my technical drawing and painting skills. Last week I saw Suspiria for the first time and was happy to be immersed in its amazing colors and patterns even if the script didn't quite win me over. I did an ink drawing of Suzy (Jessica Harper) during the film's climax, when she's ready to knife the shit out of everyone. I think it came out ok!

It's available for sale in my shop... if you DARE.

In honor of this landmark number here are a few of my favorite pieces I've done for this project, for anyone who's new (or forgetful):

The Man Who Fell to Earth
Cleopatra Jones
Battle Royale
Black Swan
Singin' in the Rain
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Tilda Swinton portrait

Have a nice weekend everybody!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957)

Seen: On dvd on my television, rented from Netflix.
81/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

An American manned rocket ship crashes off the coast of Sicily, with one surviving astronaut and a wayward egg that hatches into a fast-growing lizard monster. The US government wants to catch it and study it, hoping to learn more about its home planet of Venus, but the Italian authorities want it killed after it goes on a destructive spree across the Italian countryside, eventually tearing up Roman ruins like it isn't even a thing.

Also known as the BEEEEEEAST FROOOOOM SPAAAAACE, 20 Million Miles to Earth is one of those 50's monster movies that as a genre have become stuck in the public consciousness whether or not we actually watch them. It sets itself apart with its fantastic stop-motion effects done by the incomparable Ray Harryhausen. The monster looks so good, and surprisingly convincing, as he goes through various stages of growth and several bouts with surrounding asshole humans. When he's tiny he's kinda cute, and there is impressively less obvious disconnect between the stop-motion figure and his human counterparts. The final battle between him and a zoo elephant is well-staged and just weird enough to be totally mesmerizing.

I'll admit not much about the general story or characterization stands out, but I must comment on the hilarious half-hearted attempt at feminist inclusion in the character of Marisa (Joan Taylor). She starts off as an outspoken young medical student, taken aback by her patient Col. Calder's rudness and refusing to be called "nurse". She's all "I'M NOT A NURSE! I'M A DOCTOR, KIND OF!" When he proceeds to be a total dick she sedates him, and I'm totally into what's happening. But I knew it couldn't last. Five minutes later they're engaged in a super-boring romantic subplot that strips her of any fire or personality and reduces most of her scenes to wistful stares and dribbling dialogue. I mean, whatever, it's the 50's, all ladies want a big strong man who's a domineering asshole to them, I get it, but why start Marisa off as such an independent character if you're going to immediately reduce her to a dull stereotype?

Anyway. This movie is pretty cool, at times campy (so many over the top Italian accents, it's ridiculous) and at others legitimately action-packed thanks to Harryhausen's technical skills. It's not especially distinctive, though, and the script could be better.


Pair This Movie With: Aw, heck. Godzilla? I've never actually seen the original but I'm sure they'd go together well. Or any of the Gamera episodes of MST3K.

Further Reading: In an awesome moment of coincidence, I found a link to a hilarious and in-depth post about the film at Garbo Laughs the day after I watched it.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Suspiria (1977)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

I think the main genre that I've ever avoided in film is horror, partly because I'm a scaredy-cat and squeamish and partly because a lot of it just hasn't appealed to me. I would like to rectify this somewhat though, and a long-overdue viewing of Argento's Suspiria seemed like a good place to start. Set at a prestigious dance academy in Bavaria, the film follows new student Suzy (Jessica Harper) as she tries to decipher the strange goings-on about the school with the help of her eager classmate Sara (Stefania Casini). People are being brutally murdered, maggots are falling through the ceiling, the teachers go to secret meetings, there's a barbed wire room for some reason... shit's going down here, you guys.

Laced with a taut, whispery score, killer lighting effects, and creepy supporting castmembers, Suspiria is a tense thriller that makes an impact with strong imagery and almost painfully long pauses. It isn't really scary, but memorably eerie and uneasy, with a few gory bits thrown in. Its biggest asset in terms of horror credibility is probably Jessica Harper's extremely convincing wide-eyed stare, full to the brim with naivety and true fear of the unknown. Plus those goddamn whispers!

Every single shot in this film is breathtaking, oh my god I can't even begin to describe. Argento injects each scene with lavish, oversaturated hues, uncanny lighting, rich patterns and textures, and thoughtful framing. I literally just did an image search for this movie and wanted to use every single picture that came up for this post. The sets are incredibly detailed and beautifully patterned, giving a slight fairy tale sense to the proceedings. I loved the use of colored backlight for many of the nighttime shots, from Sara's green glow in the bedroom to the red overcast sleepover punctuated by a death rattle snore. Any shot involving blood is a treat just for its bright candy shade.

The story is decent, but it's the atmosphere, music, and images that make Suspiria a strong horror film. I admit to coming out a little disappointed though, as the ending is extremely rushed and sort of anti-climactic. It all just seemed too easy and I had kind of a "Is that it?" feeling as the credits rolled. I'm not sure what I was expecting; perhaps my expectations were clouded by the killer tagline? Still a very cool movie though, and one that will surely stick with me. I hope to see more of Argento's oeuvre, surely.


Pair This Movie With: My first thought is Black Swan for more ballet-themed horror. I know this is part of a trilogy along with Inferno and The Mother of Tears, neither of which I've seen, but I'm sure it'd make for a cool triple feature! Of course, if you're feeling wacky and just want another glimpse of Jessica Harper set against crazy over-saturated color schemes, there's always Shock Treatment. Or, for obvious reasons, The Witches.

My original artwork for this film is available for purchase.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Future (2011) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

Miranda July's debut feature, Me and You and Everyone We Know, is the kind of film I was inspired by in high school but now doubt my own feelings about- I expect I'll like it less watching it now after my own tastes and outlook have changed. But still I was interested in her follow-up The Future, a bleak tale of a couple on the brink of individual nervous breakdowns as they await their adoption of ailing cat Paw-Paw, who narrates some segments. It's bogged down in its own unnecessary quirks and clumsy screenplay, but overall I liked it. Probably because it's so sad.

Check out my full review at 366 Weird Movies
! I don't know if it's noticeable but I do actually attempt to write better than usual for my reviews over there, it is worth it to read them I think if you want something other than disjointed ramblings and hell of cusses from me.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Demolition Man (1993)

Seen: On Netflix instant on our big screen/projector set-up.

Sometimes after a long day on your feet you just want to settle in for some absolutely ridiculous early-90's sci-fi that drives you to drink because you know that makes it even better. You know? The adorably un-prescient Demolition Man stars Sylvester Stallone as John Spartan, an intense, no-nonsense cop who is cryogenically frozen in 1996 riot-torn LA and woken up 36 years later. Master criminal Simon Phoenix (Wesley Snipes), Spartan's nemesis from the 90's, has broken out of future-jail and gone on a crime spree that the new nonviolent society can't handle.

Can I just say, I fucking LOVE this future. Everything is bright and shiny, everybody wears crazy outfits, the cars drive for you, there's tv heads, the language is wacky, and museums are full of loaded guns. OH! And Taco Bell is the only restaurant! Oh man! The no swearing thing would piss me off but whatever, I'd be too busy munching on Taco Bell every second to do much cussing. Also for some reason everyone can't remember the past or something, even though it was only 36 years ago. Old people call John Spartan a primal savage because he acts like people in the 90's acted, even though THEY themselves were clearly alive at the same time! There's some sort of magical mind meld happening or something.

What's nice about Demolition Man is that it comes off as pretty self-aware, even if it remains a silly, nonsensical action movie with exaggerated performances and a very uneven script. A good portion of the film is devoted to little winking jokes about this vision of the future, as well as action movie tropes in general. Sandra Bullock plays a cute cop who longs for actual crime to fight against and treasures her wide range of 90's memorabilia. She sees a movie hero in John Spartan and tries to predict his actions based on her knowledge of films like Lethal Weapon. It's a nice touch to a character I liked a lot anyway. Oh Sandy!

This is a movie that's both fun to watch and fun to make fun of. It's over the top but doesn't seem to mind, and there are several great moments from Stallone, Snipes, Bullock and even Denis Leary as they try to one-liner their way through the future. I always appreciate the whole utopia-as-dystopia concept, especially when it's as poorly thought-out as this, oh jeez. I think the charms of the cast saved it somewhat, along with the kooky references and endearingly nonsensical leaps of logic.

As a movie: 2.5/5
As entertainment: 4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well there's always Judge Dredd for more Stallone-Being-A-Cop-In-The-Future. Or there's any of the properties this drew from/shares ideas with- Brave New World, 1984, Barbarella, Brazil, Equilibrium, etc.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

BKO: Bangkok Knockout (2010)

Seen: On a Thai-release DVD, on our big screen/projector set-up.

A few months ago my boyfriend went to ActionFest in Asheville and came back with one main movie to recommend: Bangkok Knockout. After introducing a young Thai stunt team, the film quickly thrusts them into an abandoned warehouse manned and guarded by masked fighters. While a group of wealthy foreign assholes watches and bets from a nearby pimped-out trailer, the team must fight their way out of a varied and treacherous death trap.

This really is basically an action video game of a movie. The characters are flat, the story is sparse, and the morals are black and white, but it's such a fun time it all works for the most part. There are numerous kickass fight scenes, involving back flips and high kicks and Spider-man powers and motorcycles and a bloody ax, all of which are exceptionally choreographed and properly gory. It takes a while for any of the ladies to ever fight (both of them get kidnapped and tied up at some point, naturally), but it's cool when they finally do at the end. Parts of it are like a slasher movie, and there's even a nice display of trickery for the final showdown.

The acting is sort of cheesy, especially the performances of the billionaire foreigners and the over-the-top American organizer, but I'm definitely biased because the subtitles on this dvd release aren't the best and ended up having a comedic effect at inappropriate times. The visual quality was pretty low, too. The film is getting a blu-ray release soonish so I expect to enjoy it more on a re-watch!


Pair This Movie With: Other fun Thai action movies I have seen are basically Ong-bak and Chocolate. Otherwise, I'm just going to continue to recommend Gymkata with everything.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #49

Oh no I'm late again! But I have TWO artworks just for you! Remember that movie band gig poster series I'm working on? Well I definitely wanted Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers in there, but I've been unhappy with the original design I did a few months ago. Here's a re-designed version of the poster that I like a lot better. It's got lightning bolts and bubblewrap goggles, what more could you need?

It's available on etsy to BUY with your MONEY. See all entries in the movie sketch project here.

Also I've been re-discovering my life-long love of Batman & Robin and especially Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. She's great. So I started doodling a pin-up of her and ended up liking it so I fiddled around with colors and such in photoshop and turned it into a more finished Thing. It's got leafy greens and everything.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tabloid (2010)

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

It's no secret I'm not really up on the hip documentaries. I tend to only see the ones relating to my personal tastes, meaning most of them are art/culture-related somehow. But when I heard a synopsis for Errol Morris's newest venture Tabloid, it seemed like something I wouldn't want to miss. Setting UK headlines ablaze in the 70's, former beauty queen Joyce McKinney was arrested for allegedly kidnapping a Mormon missionary in England, chaining him up in an idyllic isolated cottage, and raping him. She claims that he was her fiance and came with her willingly, and that the Mormon church brainwashed him to say otherwise. She spent years trying to clear her name, increasing the press interest in her story as various details about her past came to light.

This movie is insane, I'm still reeling a bit just thinking about it. It's a fascinating story, with a number of unexpected twists and turns and a wealth of entertaining interview moments. Joyce's side of the story is a somewhat obsessive fairy tale, the Mormons see it as a horrific, ungodly abduction, while the tabloid journalists assume it's somewhere in between but don't especially care as long as it's sensational and exploitative. As the film progresses through interviews with several players involved, it delves into secret practices of Latter Day Saints, wildly inappropriate disguises, S&M, garish make-up choices, lifestyles of the rich and famous, intrusive journalism, and a bit of cloning (though that's sort of unrelated to the rest). Different perspectives are given and no one comes off as wholly trustworthy, so viewers are left to somehow distill this plethora of information into something resembling fact. I dug the newspaper collage aesthetic strewn throughout in little animated sequences between segments as well as in any descriptive text. Some of the stock footage used for comedic effect or to illustrate certain points is unnecessary, though.

I'm still left with a lot of questions after viewing Tabloid, partly because not everyone was available for questioning (most notably Kirk Anderson, the supposed "abductee" himself), and certain elements felt glossed over. Joyce, while at many points sympathetic, is obviously a practiced performer and I took most of her emotional outpourings with a grain of salt. Nothing can keep this from being a tantalizing and intricate tale, but it's frustrating to still feel under-informed and generally unsure after such a seemingly comprehensive look. I blame the nature of the story and its characters, though, not necessarily the filmmakers.


PS So I guess Joyce McKinney is super against this movie and protesting it all the time? Not sure exactly what her problem with it is, though. Neither does anyone else, apparently.

Pair This Movie With: Oh jeez, not sure what this could be compared to! Maybe another documentary focusing on an eccentric? Man on Wire or Marwencol, perhaps?


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Seen: At the Somerville Theatre.

When a haggard Old West dude with no memory and secret badass combat skills wakes up in the middle of a desert with an alien device attached to his wrist, I'm not going to pretend I'm not interested. Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) wanders into the rickety town of Absolution with serious amnesia and a bounty on his head, but alien crafts attack and kidnap several townspeople before the sheriff has a chance to send him off to jail. He teams up with Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford), the surly rancher who owns most of the town, along with a motley crew of other locals to take down the alien home base and save their hostage loved ones.

I don't even remember Cowboys & Aliens that much and I saw it, what, a week ago? That alone should speak to its lack of impact. It's not that it's a bad movie, in fact I really enjoyed parts of it, but as a whole it just doesn't really work. The opening scenes are fun and intriguing, setting up a man-with-a-haunted-past mystery and an interesting dynamic between several of the townspeople (including the irascible daddy's boy played by a gleeful Paul Dano). I think the science-fiction elements could have been integrated better, as here it feels like a movie with two completely different tones- stuck somewhere between the heavy alien gore and character-driven western.

At times it's a really fun film, with some impressive action scenes and a great supporting cast (Walton Goggins, you guys!), and I was really into it at the beginning. There's something appealing about Daniel Craig in an old-timey vest and Harrison Ford snarling through every line of dialogue, with Sam Rockwell rocking adorable glasses and Paul Dano clearly having a great time despite his unfortunate facial hair. Unfortunately the addition of Olivia "CRAZY EYES" Wilde and a host of ridiculous and stupid plot developments keep the film from ever breaking out of mediocrity. Most of the stuff with the aliens made no sense and everything with Olivia Wilde made no sense (well, also, I don't really like her as an actress I'm realizing). Plus her straightened hair and dark eye make-up distracted me every time she was onscreen- everything else fit well into the referential western aesthetic, so why the hell would Favreau have her walk around like that?

Cowboys & Aliens is breezy enough for a fun blockbuster popcorny movie, but not as innovative or exciting as I had hoped. It's the kind of film that I walked out of thinking it was good, but then realized more and more problems as I got away from it.


Pair This Movie With: There are a few ways you could go. At times I thought of The Searchers, at others, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. If you just want another sci-fi western there is of course Westworld. And I can't lie, once I saw Steve Oedekerk's name in the writing credits I couldn't help but find a number of parallels to Kung Pow.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Batman & Robin (1997)

Seen: On VHS on an old TV at my family's rented beach house, from my personal collection.

Here's a test to see if you've been paying attention: What movie was I utterly obsessed with around 3rd grade, watching it almost every weekend with my best friend from down the street at our weekly sleepovers? What movie do I still know almost every line to? What soundtrack do I own that features both R. Kelly and Jewel?

Did you answer Batman & Robin?! YOU ARE CORRECT. If you haven't seen it, well I feel sorry for you, but here's a synopsis: Crime-fighting duo Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) are experiencing tension in their (totally not gay) partnership since Batman's a mature asshole and Robin is a younger, cockier asshole. When two new villains- the vivacious and seductive Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) and the diamond-hungry Mr Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger)- team up to terrorize Gotham, the boys must put aside their differences to save their city from the destruction, with the help of daredevil college student Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone). Oh also Alfred's (Michael Gough) dying.

Honestly, if you don't think this movie is amazing I'm not even sure why you're reading my blog, because THIS MOVIE IS AMAZING. It's so chock-full of ridiculousness it essentially requires multiple viewings just so you can take it all in. The overly-scripted dialogue, marvelously convoluted plot devices, over-use of close-up during suit-up scenes, stretchy leather, garish color schemes, and amped-up characterization are just some of the treats in store. Almost every shot is coated in a candy-colored neon glow and exaggerated lighting, and almost every line is delivered with the pseudo-conviction of a terrible movie that knows it's terrible.

The thing about Batman & Robin is that it totally takes away all of the serious pretensions of the first three- even the third one had moody flashbacks about parental murders- and just gives in to how silly this world is. A lot of the sets and props are still dark and metally and "edgy", complete with multiple high-speed motorcycle chases and futuristic gang presence- but there is little attempt at the Brooding Batman we'd come to love through the comics and Burton's films. It's much more Adam Westy, except George Clooney isn't as self-aware so it's up to Schwarzenegger and Thurman to carry the script's cheesy puns and melodramatic motivations. Luckily, they are well up to the task. I can gush and gush about Thurman in this film for ages; maybe it's the slick green tights but DAMN is she the best part about the movie. She's got killer costumes, hilarious dialogue, crazy make-up, saucy exaggerated line delivery, and some interesting powers. And she's a mad scientist, always a plus. We'd act out her parts when we were kids.

Schwarzenegger yells a lot of ice-themed threats, Chris O'Donnell is whiny (but I probably had a crush on him in 3rd grade? Unsure. I do definitely remember thinking Clooney must be super old and therefore gross because he had gray hair), Alfred Gough is cute and almost unbelievably British, Alicia Silverstone wears glasses and rides a motorcycle, Vivica Fox has a cameo (what? I know), John Glover is ca-razy, and Elizabeth Sanders livens things up as Gossip Gerty. Everyone is great. But mostly Uma Thurman, as detailed above.

Admittedly, I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for this film primarily because for whatever reason it affected me pretty strongly as a kid. I imagine it has something to do with the elaborate setpieces, Poison Ivy's seasonally-themed costumes, the consistently cheesy dialogue, and the sexually suggestive bat-nipples. I'm not blind, I know it's a shitty movie, but whatever. Everybody just needs to CHILL and remain COOL and have an ICE time watching the film.

It's a real hoot, I tells ya.

As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Batman Forever is the obvious choice, but there's always Grease if you want to creepily recreate my childhood sleepovers.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

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

World War II: A time of Trouble. A time of Fighting. A time of Bigotry. A time of Massive Death Tolls. A time of Super-Secret Science. A time of AVENGING. These exciting acts and more are detailed in Captain America: The First Avenger, a surprisingly fun superhero flick disguised as revisionist history. Chris Evans puts on his best skinny CGI suit to play Steve Rogers, a puny asthmatic who longs to fight for his country and winds up in a classified government super-soldier program. After becoming a chemically beefed-up, super-fast, super-strong hero he is at first only used as a propaganda tool to secure war bonds. He eventually proves himself a brave and capable leader on several special missions against HYDRA, a secret Nazi branch led by the powerful Red Skull (Hugo Weaving). ALSO THERE'S A LADY I LIKE. Her name is Peggy Carter and she's like a soldier or secret agent or something.

Weaving a lot of the already-established Marvel mythology through its storyline, Captain America is an interesting look at how a superhero works within his original time frame. The titular hero is very much a product of his time, and it was smart of Marvel to stick to the WWII themes as opposed to updating him with black leather and snide remarks. It's a straightforward tale of good vs evil made more complex by its many connections to other Avengers-related films, and made more engaging by some top-notch performances and a great period aesthetic. I loved the touches of 40's patriotic kitsch and All-American valor, plus the retroactive-futuristic technology added era-appropriate flavor without feeling anachronistic.

The characters/actors are great, from Evans' stupidly courageous but ultimately likable Captain to Stanley Tucci's adorable German scientist. Hugo Weaving is always a magnetic presence, and his Herzog-ian accent and intense stares made him a memorable Red Skull. It was a great touch to throw in Howard "Tony's Dad" Stark, I'm not sure if he's in the original comics since I'm not into Captain America but I really enjoyed Dominic Cooper's performance and just the general Stark-iness. Naturally, the actual best thing about this movie is Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter, DUH. She is a badass, in-control officer lady (or something? ok I never quite picked up on her job description- British Secret Service or War Department or some such thing?), and I dug her no-nonsense attitude and style. I didn't even resent the romance thrown in there like I usually would, since it was just too darned cute and didn't rely on the hero having to save the damsel in distress like these films so often do. I wanted more of her, though. She is clearly a well-trained, talented soldier and it seemed like she could have been more involved.

The biggest downside for me is that I'm not especially interested in Captain America as a character. Sure, he's a good guy and you want to root for him, but he comes off as one-dimensional, and barely has any real flaws. A little boring, to be honest. Luckily, the people and story framed around him are interesting enough to make him look good, though. Plus there are explosions.


PS I have to add that the funniest thing about this movie was the salute all the HYDRA henchmen had to do. They throw both arms up in the air in unison and it's just the cutest thing, I kept expecting them to go "YAAAAYYYY!" in gruff German accents.

Pair This Movie With: I would make it a Badass WWII Triple Feature with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and The Inglorious Bastards (1978).


Friday, August 5, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #48

Ok I have to go to work so this will be quick, sorry this was late, etc BUT Here's a new movie sketch project entry! Technically this is just comic-based, since this is the original design of Storm and not the movie version, but whatever. Maybe I'll change the title of this project soon to incorporate all the geeky pop culturey things I draw.

Anyway I love Storm, she's one of my favorite X-Men characters and I wanted to make a hardcore, just-got-punched sort of pose. I did a pencil sketch first, went over some lines in pen, then fiddled around with everything in photoshop and I think it came out pretty ok. It'd been a long time since I'd done any superhero comic stuff, which is weird since years ago that's basically all I would ever draw. But I do go through phases. Not sure if I'll do any other comic stuff anytime soon, though I do have a nifty idea for a Tank Girl poster. I don't have a lot of time to do anything for myself these days though, so no promises.

Go to etsy give me money blah blah blah.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Godfather: Part II (1974)

Seen: On blu-ray (the film was damaged, sadly) at the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.
One of my "11 Movies to see in 2011" (only 5 left!).

Let's get into it here. I didn't really like the first Godfather. Admittedly, it's been a few years since I've seen it and my tastes have expanded since then so maybe I would like it more the second time around, but it's like 100 hours long so I never got around to it. When the Brattle showed The Godfather: Part II on one of the hottest days of the summer, my main thoughts were hey, free air-conditioning for 3 hours and also, Robert De Niro! And I knew I needed motivation to actually finally sit down and watch this movie.

Set partially a few years after the events of the first film and partially in the 1920s when Vito Corleone was a young man, Part II is another sprawling mafia tale involving numerous characters and subplots. While in the past Vito (Robert De Niro) works his way up in old-timey NYC to become a powerful mafia don, in the 1950's his son Michael (Al Pacino) has expanded his deceased father's crime operations into Las Vegas, where he owns several hotels and casinos, and he now seeks to extend the family's reach into Cuba. Everybody likes to eat Italian food and everybody's got Problems, and sometimes a Lady talks. Also someone is trying to kill Michael so he has to seek revenge and get his business back under control.

Though it's longer and just as complicated and sprawling as its predecessor, I enjoyed Part II a heck of a lot more. It's less alienating, and has more interesting, better-paced storylines. The script isn't exactly tight, and there are still a lot of extended conversations that feel like they go nowhere, but I felt more engaged by the characters and their experiences. The dual historic settings are thoughtfully rendered, with Coppola showing off both the New York Italian immigrant scene of the 20s and the growing revolutionary tension in 1958 Havana. I really enjoyed the detailed period aesthetics, especially the sets.

Of course this is an Actor's Movie, and everyone is excellent. Pacino is dark and calculating, De Niro is strong and manipulative, John Cazale is beautifully tragic, and a thousand other white dudes are there too, sheesh I don't have time to comment on everybody. I will say I enjoyed both Diane Keaton and Talia Shire in their tiny but important roles, and indeed Keaton has the pleasure of playing probably the only truly sympathetic character in the entire picture. Her scenes toward the end were for me the most moving.

My memory for this one is admittedly fading (it's been almost two weeks since I saw it) so I'm not going to be too detailed; you can surely find copious amounts of in-depth ramblings on this film elsewhere. What it boils down to is this: I liked the film, but it just isn't really my thing. It's all very... I don't know, dude-y 1970's? Everything looks too brown and everything takes too long and most of the characters don't feel fleshed-out and everyone is really condescending to all the women. I am also really not engaged with Italian mob culture, being one of the worst Italian-Americans ever. No thank you, I won't take the canoli, because it tastes gross.


Pair This Movie With: Well, the first film I guess? Or maybe something out of Al Pacino vs Robert De Niro weekend.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Riding In Cars With Ron Howard Double Feature: Eat My Dust (1976) and Grand Theft Auto (1977)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector setup, both rented from the Tisch Library at Tufts.

So here is a thing I didn't know about Ron Howard (well, several things): he got his start, like so many filmmakers, with Roger Corman. He was in his early twenties when Corman cast him in Eat My Dust, a high-octane car chase movie that also features his dad Rance and brother Clint. Initially turning the role down, Howard then bargained for a chance to make his own movie if it was a success, and after writing a script with his dad he was set to direct and star in another, far superior road movie: Grand Theft Auto. Everyone had a good time, and now Ron Howard is famous. This was all during his Happy Days stint, too, so I'm impressed he found the time.

In the fairly nonsensical and nihilistic Eat My Dust, Howard stars as Hoover Niebold, a funny-lookin' teen with a funny-soundin' name, who sees his chance to get with the hottest girl in school (Christopher Norris) by stealing a racecar from the local track and taking her and his free-loading friends on a joyride across the county. They drive around, destroying buildings, cars, and a boat in their wake, and sort of kidnap an old man. Hoover's sheriff father sends out a police force to capture them, but they're smoked every time by the boy's ruthless (and surprisingly sober) steering. But of course the real question is, Will he ever sleep with this lady? WILL THERE BE BOOBS?

This is a fast-paced, ridiculous sort of movie that doesn't offer anything new for the viewer but does have plenty to entertain us. There is an impressive assortment of driving scenes and mass destruction, and it was interesting to see Ron Howard as this lascivious teenage jackass who still looks the way he looks. I also dug the crowd chilling at the police station in a sort of haunted-jail-comedy shtick (that makes sense if you've seen it). The story is paper-thin but no one is coming into Eat My Dust for plot, and it's easy to sit back and just let things happen. It's written and directed by Charles B Griffith, a frequent Corman collaborator who also gave us Death Race 2000, the perfect violent road movie. While it's a fun enough movie, it's sort of underwhelming just because I've seen so many better ones of its ilk. I also thought the complete lack of morals in these kids gave a surprising dark underbelly to the whole proceedings that didn't quite fit tonally.


I've always thought of Howard as a perfectly able and very "crowd-pleasing" kind of filmmaker- his movies may entertain but I'm not going to be telling everyone I know about how his likable underdog totally won in the end, wowee! His first studio picture (he made several amateur films in high school), Grand Theft Auto, came as a complete- and utterly welcome- surprise. He stars as a hippie college student engaged to preppy rich girl Paula (Nancy Morgan). They're determined to get married but her politician father won't allow it, so they steal his Rolls Royce and high-tail it to Las Vegas with a stream of private detectives, cops, bounty hunters, and a spoiled rich kid (her intended) hot on their heels.

When I say "they" I mostly mean, "her", since she is the badass one in this relationship, who actually takes the car and does most of the driving. Seriously, I am in love with Nancy Morgan as Paula Powers, the cardigan-wearing country club member with perfect hair who steals the show at every turn. She's a totally unexpected component to this film that makes it so much better. Ron Howard is basically her sidekick as she decides to be awesome. Even without this thrilling gender turn-around, this movie is great though! So many really expensive cars are totalled.The high-flying car action and ridiculous characters are more exciting and better-written than in Eat My Dust- though it brings on a few of the same actors-, and the inclusion of the REAL Don Steele as a nosy radio reporter just makes for a good time that had me smiling ear-to-ear for most of the film. With him there I could imagine that this movie takes place in the same universe as Death Race 2000, a few years before everything became a dystopian shithole. And Marion Ross from Happy Days is there. Yes! See this movie, it is probably Ron Howard's best ever! I'm not exaggerating!



Monday, August 1, 2011

Naked (1993)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

After multiple people recommended Mike Leigh's Naked to me in recent memory it seemed high time I finally sat down to watch it. David Thewlis stars as Johnny, a scruffy intellectual on the run from the family of a woman he raped. He heads to London to see his ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp), only to almost immediately sleep with her dreamy roommate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge). He gets bored of her and wanders around the city, befriending/foisting himself upon basically anyone who listens to his never-ending rants. Meanwhile, a wealthy, sadistic businessman (Greg Cruttwell) with an unknown connection to the other characters yells and rapes his way through several women.

This really is a tough one, both to watch (at parts) and to write about. It's essentially a study of a despicable but very interesting man, not evil but never very likable. From the opening scene we are introduced to Johnny as a rapist and a coward, and soon learn that he is a well-read, insensitive asshole who thinks his education gives him the right to talk down to everyone he meets. Self-obsessed as he is, he is obviously also starved for interaction as he attempts to befriend a number of people on the streets of London. He talks a lot of shit and believes he is always in the right, but genuinely does want to hear about the experiences and opinions of others. Most of the film depicts episodes of Johnny's conversations with those he meets, with a loose thread of over-arching plot kept in the goings-on at Louise's apartment.

With Leigh's usual (I think?) incorporation of improvisation, the dialogue is natural, funny, and a little rambling. Thewlis is magnetic as Johnny, spewing impassioned philosophies and seductive observations left and right, imbuing most of his talk with bookish references and plenty of cusses. He is a complete jerk but admittedly a compelling one, and Thewlis musters all his charisma and charm for an impressive performance. He plays off of the supporting cast wonderfully, and scenes involving Peter Wight as an upbeat security guard ready for biblical debate stand out as a highlight. Admittedly I found some of his interactions a bit taxing though, as his speeches dragged on or his meaningless sexual encounters became depressing and violent. I was happy for breaks involving Lesley Sharp and Katrin Cartlidge, both excellent as housemates with Problems. They both have great moments individually with Johnny, but their barstool conversation about sex and relationships is one of the strongest scenes in the film.

I guess a film that opens with a rape scene and then offers the rapist as the central character is doomed to be controversial and hard to emotionally navigate. I don't think Johnny is meant to be sympathetic- personally I felt sorry for anyone he interacted with instead-, and he is never rewarded or forgiven for his act. I thought the subplot involving Greg Cruttwell's strange and demonic "Jeremy G Smart" was too disconnected; I assume he was meant to present an alternative example of a nymphomaniac/sociopathic asshole? One who is less interesting and much more prone to hang out in his (very tight) underwear? It just felt like a needless unsolved mystery- his appearance at the apartment made little sense to me, but it's very possible I missed something. Was he a ghost? He was a ghost the whole time, wasn't he?

Oh well. Still not sure how I feel about this movie. I certainly appreciate it, but probably wouldn't watch it again because it made me too uncomfortable. But that was probably the point.


Pair This Movie With: Some of the dialogue and staging reminded me of Hal Hartley, especially Henry Fool, which has some similar themes.