Thursday, September 29, 2011

Top Five: Hair-Cutting Scenes in Movies

I know this is sort of a weird list topic, but it's something I've thought about a lot. I really love dramatic hair-cutting scenes in movies (usually when someone does to him/herself). I've been cutting my own hair for years now and there is something so freeing and refreshing about it, so maybe that's why I really relate to seeing it acted out on screen. It often represents a character making a dramatic change in life with a strong physical act. Other times it is a depressing, forced transition. It seems trivial but our hair is so important to how we see and often define ourselves; its loss has been used as a marker in storytelling since at least the bible, but very likely sooner (I have no frame of reference, really). I've been thinking about making this list for a while but Frida prompted me to finally do it. I've probably forgot some. It's in alphabetical order.

Empire Records (1995)
This might be my favorite one, just because it is such a surprisingly powerful scene. Robin Tunney's character is introduced by a quick shot of her walking into the employee bathroom looking pissed, and then an extended scene of her silently and without apparent reason snipping and shaving her own head (since they conveniently have clippers and a razor in their record store bathroom). "Free" by The Martinis plays over it. The way Tunney's eyes light up as she does it, with a mixture of fear and elation, just has a strong effect. Her character is the most troubled and the most under-explored in the film, and I think this is the only scene that actually shows what she's going through, and it does it pretty subtly.

Frida (2002)
One of my favorite paintings of Frida's involves the artist giving herself a haircut, and to my delight (well it's a sad scene, really) this moment is acted out on film and then animated into the painting. The haircut is an act of despair and desire for change after she leaves her husband Diego, and I like that it also speaks to her loose view of gender. She often dressed in men's clothing (and had various affairs with ladies), so cutting her hair short is also a way of asserting her control of her own sexuality and gender identity.

The Man From Nowhere (2010)
Everything about this movie is super badass, but especially Bin Won's secret agent/pawn shop owner. He spends most of the movie with a sexily tousled mop that I certainly favor, but when shit really starts to go down and he has to go into full-on assassin mode, he chops it off. I don't think he's as good-looking that way, but I do think it helps to give a visual cue to his character's complete transition. By cutting off that hair he seems to be shedding the quiet unassuming years he's lived since a tragic event in his past, returning him to a vengeful and crazy-action state of being.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
This is probably one of the most notable of such scenes. Though I consider it one of my favorite films, I've never blogged about this movie (maybe this winter I finally will). The depressed and soft-spoken Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) is going through some tough times. When he discovers various secrets about the love of his life, he calmly goes into the bathroom, cuts his hair, shaves his beard, and slits his wrists. Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay" is playing and everyone in the world is crying. Trust me. You're tearing up right now just thinking about it. We all are, it's ok.

The Runaways (2010)
Near the beginning of the film, we are treated to jailbait rocker Cherie Currie performing at her high school talent show. Wanting to be just like David Bowie (I mean, who the hell doesn't?), she cuts her hair into a parted-down-the-middle shag and dons Aladdin Sane make-up. It's impossibly cool. Of course this scene is indicative of Cherie's full-on transformation to sexualized, drugged-out rock star once she joins the titular band. The fact that she does it herself reminds us that part of her future image is on her own terms, even if she and the rest of the band were exploited by Kim Fowley. Also "Wild One" by Suzi Quatro plays during this scene and that song is like the most empowering thing I can't even explain.

Honorable Mentions:
Interview with the Vampire
V For Vendetta


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Frida (2002)

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

I think it's safe to say that if a non-artsy person were put on the spot to name a famous female artist, the two most popular answers would be Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo. The former's work isn't to my taste, though I appreciate what she's done for our understanding of female anatomy, but I consider myself a big fan of the latter's unique and introspective paintings. Julie Taymor's biopic (adapted from Hayden Herrera's biography) stars Salma Hayek as the iconic Mexican artist. Shortly after meeting famed socialist muralist Diego Rivera (Alfred Molina), Frida is injured in a bus accident, causing her to suffer various leg and spine pains/complications for the rest of her life. While recuperating she turns to drawing and painting in bed, often using herself as a subject since that's what she knows best. She shows her work to Rivera, who is impressed by her natural talents, and the two eventually strike up an intense and chaotic romance that would last through their lifetimes.

Navigating Frida's life from her time as a student in Mexico City (and dating Diego Luna!) through her death in 1954, the script weaves a number of significant events and the coinciding paintings but focuses primarily on her relationship with Rivera. Their volatile marriage(s)- characterized by Rivera's insatiable sexual appetite for other women and Frida's grudging trysts in response (including ones with Josephine Baker and Leon Trotsky! Me-ow!)- is shown through the years as Rivera's Communist philosophy becomes just as famous as his public murals. Their run-ins with artists like Tina Modotti, David Siqueiros, and Andre Breton are briefly documented, as well as their troubled stint in New York when Rivera is commissioned for the now-infamous Rockefeller mural. It was a bit of a re-tread of my 20th Century Mexican Art class in sophomore year of college, so that was exciting.

Though much of the film seems focused on Rivera's activities, everything is shown through Frida's point of view. Never comfortable in the background, she is passionate and outspoken throughout her life, staying true to her convictions and pouring out her soul through her emotional and stunning paintings. Hayek is very strong in the title role, appropriately sensual, bold, and sympathetic, though a little bit glammed up. Having fought for the part, she is clearly very dedicated to the performance, and I couldn't imagine anyone doing a better job. Molina is also great as the self-absorbed but unquestionably magnetic Diego Rivera, an artist I'm admittedly not a huge fan of but whose work and goals I do respect. And of course it would have been nice for someone who is actually Mexican to play him, but Molina is so talented an actor I can't actually complain that much. It's not like he was in brownface or anything. The two of them dominate the film, but appearances from Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, Geoffrey Rush, and Edward Norton (who also worked on the script) round out the impressive supporting cast.

Of course my favorite parts of the film (aside from the gorgeous Brothers Quay-animated stop-motion sequence) were the recreations of Frida's paintings into interactive works of art. Taymor incorporates a painterly and wonderfully illusionistic animated style to bring the works to life as commentary on the artist's experiences. Hayek fades in and out of the art as it transforms around her, and it was just beautiful to watch. I loved the collage technique as well. I wish more of the film had been focused on her art and artistic experiences (her meeting with Breton was downgraded to a 30-second scene? What about his Surrealist assignation of her work and subsequent Paris exhibition? The Louvre bought one of her paintings!), as well as the influence of indigenous Mexican culture on her art and persona. But I guess that's less interesting to most viewers? I get that her relationship with Rivera was a major force in her life but I think it was too much of a focus in the film.

A woman who could easily have been defined by her constant suffering and physical pain, Frida Kahlo instead displayed remarkable strength and élan, defying her "Judas of a body" to produce some of the most imaginative and impactful paintings modern art history has known. She is remembered for her fierce independence and originality, and while this movie does skip over and over-dramatize certain events, in the end I do think it did this remarkable woman's character justice.


Pair This Movie With: Aw gee, I haven't seen enough artist biopics, it's a shame! I'm thinking maybe Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus would be an interesting pairing. Ladies making art that's better than that of their jerk husbands! This is a theme I enjoy.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #55

Whaaaat? New movie art on a TUESDAY?! How zany! Yes, yes my schedule was all in a funk this weekend due to a fancy gallery opening and my mom visiting, so I am posting a new Movie Sketch Project on a weird day. Lucky you! And lucky me, I don't have to write a review for today!

So a few weeks ago when I was starting my movie band gig poster series, both Rich and Alexa suggested I make a Wyld Stallyns poster. I re-watched Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure for the first time in years and eventually set to work on a design. It took me a long time to figure out the text but I think I'm finally ok with it all. Mostly I just like this color scheme a lot. I don't use green often enough! Also I'm making postcards of this poster series soon so that will be cool.

It is available for sale on etsy, along with lots of other cool stuff!


Monday, September 26, 2011

Drive (2011)

Seen: At the Somerville Theater in Davis Square.

You know me, always keeping up with the times as I review new movies weeks after they're relevant. Nicolas Winding Refn's much-discussed Drive stars Ryan Gosling as an unnamed stunt driver who's a getaway driver for hire on his nights off. He befriends the young mother (Cary Mulligan) who lives next door and just as they're falling for each other her husband (Oscar Isaac) is released from prison. He wants to go straight and keep his family safe, but is pulled back into the criminal world and needs the Driver's help. Tons of shit goes down.

Despite its thrillery, actiony-sounding premise, I'd say Drive is primarily an understated, minimalist crime drama. Until the intensely violent final scenes, the film relies almost solely on its strong cast and dreamy visuals. The sparsity of the script allows Gosling and Mulligan to communicate primarily through facial expressions and body language, and both are expertly expressive. Sometimes the stilted dialogue and prolonged silences are just comical (and I'm not sure it's meant to be), but for the most part it works. Gosling's character starts off as a mysterious cool-guy archetype but he slowly cracks and develops as the story progresses. The small appearances from Ron Perlman, Christina Hendricks, Bryan Cranston, and especially Albert Brooks lend some interesting variety to the performances.

It's a slow-burn investigation of violence and a strong character piece, with wonderful soft lighting and realistic but not overdone gore. A couple of great car chases, too. I really loved the shoegazey soundtrack (yay female vocals!) but found it overpowering in certain scenes. I liked Drive a lot but can't say I loved it, especially since most other reviewers are obsessing over it. Maybe it's just that I'm usually not one for minimalistic ambiguity, plus a lot of the scenes felt pretty stagey and not necessarily in a good way. I guess it just didn't leave a lasting impression on me, and I'm missing something that so many other viewers are latching onto.

And yes, Ryan Gosling is really, really attractive, and I don't usually go for blondes, so that's saying something.


Pair This Movie With: For another great, quiet Ryan Gosling performance I recommend The United States of Leland, even though it's really sad. Or if you want to go more upbeat with things, there's Hooper, another movie about stunt drivers!


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Zelig (1983)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

So it turns out that Woody Allen, a man of eclectic tastes and a notably silly sense of humor, made one of the most high-concept movies I've ever heard of. In Zelig, a mockumentary of the fad-crazy 1920's, Allen portrays Leonard Zelig, a man so desperate to fit in that he's developed the talent to physically and mentally alter himself to look and act like those nearest to him. He can become Chinese or African-American, he can suddenly gain knowledge of medical science or the French language. He is put under the care of lady (!) psychiatrist Dr Eudora Fletcher (Mia Farrow), who seeks to study and eventually cure him of his personality-less existence. The film inserts Allen into old newsreels and photos, as Zelig interacts with various historical figures, while talking heads of scientists and old people who "knew" him speak to the camera in the present-day 80's.

First of all, this film's technical achievements cannot be praised enough. Allen is so seamlessly woven into old film and photos, while incorporating some impressive make-up effects, that I honestly had trouble recognizing what was actual historical footage and what was re-enacted at some points. The new scenes with Zelig and Eudora are filmed in an old-timey style, using old cameras and beat-up film stock to achieve the appropriate look. On paper it sounds sort of crazy and weird but in practice the whole thing does really work quite well. It's rife with goofy sight gags (Allen and Farrow waving vigorously at one another at a giant Nazi rally), era-specific jokes (news headline reading "Chameleon Cured by Woman Doctor. She's Pretty, Too!"), and a lot of wacky cameos, from Charlie Chaplin to the Pope.

I enjoyed Zelig immensely almost despite of myself. It is highly imaginative and zany in its parody of the time period. Allen gets to don numerous disguises while Farrow is her adorable, nerdy self. It's the kind of premise that could have been alienating or one-note, but he twists the concept around several times and keeps the writing sharp enough to entertain consistently. The biggest problem is that even at a trim 79 minutes, the film drags. Apparently the initial cut was only 45 minutes, and Allen was forced to stretch it out to make it feature-length. There isn't quite enough plot here to make it really work as a full movie, but it's such an inventive and fun story that I still came out smiling.


Pair This Movie With: I was definitely put in mind of Allen's more recent love letter to the 1920's, Midnight in Paris. Both feature F Scott Fitzgerald! Add Bullets Over Broadway for a triple feature.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Into the Night (1985)

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

Someone must have recommended this to me and I have no idea who, but it found its way to the top of my netflix queue. So thanks, un-remembered recommender. Sorry. Directed by 80's comedy heavyweight John Landis, Into the Night stars Jeff Goldblum as Ed Okin, a dissatisfied audio engineer who hasn't slept in days and recently found out that his wife is cheating on him. Driving to the airport on a whim, he stumbles upon mysterious damsel-in-distress Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer) and becomes embroiled in a thrilling tale of espionage, theft, and murder as the night drags on (technically it's two nights). Also, every director in the world shows up for about 2 seconds each.

This is maybe actually the most cameo-heavy movie I've ever seen, probably, with no less than 14 appearances from directors (including David Cronenberg, Jim Henson, and Amy Heckerling!), plus small roles for Dan Akroyd, Vera Miles, Richard Farnsworth, and DAVID FUCKING BOWIE. I spent a good chunk of the movie on imdb trying to pinpoint when a famous person would walk by. Of course, the lead pairing of Goldblum and Pfeiffer offers enough for any red-blooded human to keep his or her eyes on the screen. He's jaded but bewildered, she's earnest but untrustworthy. Also she looks really cute in a short haircut and bitchin' red leather jacket. And he looks cute... duh.

The script is so-so, sometimes funny and sometimes thrilling but never enough of either. It's confusing at times and weirdly paced. I like these kinds of movies, in which one character who's unhappy with his/her (usually his) life finds himself turned about by a wily newcomer (usually a beautiful woman) who infuriates him as much as she entices him, and there's crime involved for some reason. Into the Night doesn't really distinguish itself though, aside from its hyper-aware Hollywood setting (I loved the behind-the-scenes moments on a fake movie set) and highly adept cast. Overall it's fun, but sloppy.


Pair This Movie With: Definitely After Hours, which boasts a similar theme but manages to be infinitely weirder. Incidentally, it was my first Scorsese film. Alternately... Who's That Girl. Because, why not. Either way you're getting in some Griffin Dunne.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Navigator: A Mediaeval Odyssey (1988)

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

Recommended by my lovely fellow podcaster Allison, a lady of fine tastes, The Navigator was another find from the VHS section of Hollywood Express. It tells the strange story of an isolated village in medieval England trying to avoid the Black Death. Following the lead of a psychic young boy (Hamish McFarlane), a group of men set out to tunnel their way to a special city he's had visions of, where they can pay tribute to God and pray for an end to the plague. Turns out the tunnel leads to 1980s New Zealand. And now everyone is in for a confusing night.

I'm at a bit of a loss with this one. The Navigator is tough to pin down. It's a time-travel story, but not a clear-cut one, and it's a medieval "adventure", but not much actually happens. It's extremely low-budget and it looks it; I actually had trouble understanding certain parts because the black and white, dimly-lit imagery sort of runs together (maybe it was just the quality of my vhs tape though). It's slow-moving and ambiguous most of the time, with under-developed characters and an over-simplified story.

What's interesting about it is how the story is told. The structure is quite different from other fish-out-of-time-water stories, which usually involve the time traveler(s) meeting some modern folks and learning about the wonders of the future and hilarity ensuing and/or probably falling in love with someone. Here we see everything entirely from the travelers' perspective, who never understand exactly where they are, thinking it's just a treacherous and strange city. They're nearly attacked by cars on the highway, the leader's nearly killed by a train-monster, televisions rant and rave like demons. Everything relates to religion somehow, since that's basically all these guys know. The switches between color and black and white are at times jarring, but they make sense in context and add a Wizard of Oz-esque layer to the proceedings.

I went into this thinking it was a family film for some reason (I think I confused it with something else? Or maybe it's because there's a kid in the lead), but really this is a sad, almost hopeless kind of movie and I liked that about it. It feels very realistic despite its fantastical aspects. It's unpolished and odd, but wholly original and at times rather exciting. The kid's kind of annoying though. He yells a lot.


Pair This Movie With: I'm gonna go with Primer, another offbeat, quiet look at time travel. Alternatively, if you're in the mood for another dude-displaced-in-time story, Kate & Leopold is one of my not-so-guilty pleasures.


Monday, September 19, 2011

McBain (1991)

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

Scouring the formidable vhs section at Hollywood Express (we found some GEMS, believe me), Miles was almost immediately struck by McBain, an actual movie and not just a Simpsons reference. It stars Christopher Walken as the titular hero, a badass Vietnam veteran who rounds up his fellow ex-soldiers when their old comrade Roberto (Chick Vennera) is killed. With the help of Roberto's sister (Maria Conchita Alonso), they continue his fight for political revolution in Colombia by planning to execute the tyrannical president.

Oh dear. Christopher Walken is entertaining in anything, as we know, but what the hell is this movie doing? It's sort of funny sometimes, it's impossible to follow, and it's often pretty boring. Of course I loved the many ridiculous moments, including an amazing gun shot out of a plane, businessman torture, dumbed-down depiction of Colombia, Walken's silly outfits, and some great fistfights. But I kept zoning out during the exposition moments, and couldn't really be bothered to pay attention to most of the characters. Although Michael Ironside was great as a pony-tailed tech geek. And the final siege on the president's palace is pretty crazy.

As a movie: 1.5/5
As entertainment: 3/5

Watch Instead: Mmmm something with Van Damme, perhaps? Universal Soldier springs to mind.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

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

Several people had recommended this movie to me, but when Jake claimed it was better than Rocky Horror, I finally rented it just to prove him wrong. And while it is a wonderfully strange and kickass movie in many ways, he is incorrect in his declaration, and I'm right as usual. Anyway, Phantom of the Paradise (my first De Palma film, so... just know that I guess) is a wild mash-up of Phantom of the Opera, Faust, a little bit of The Picture of Dorian Gray, and a lot of glam rock. Winslow (William Finley), a mild-mannered musician who's composed a lengthy piece about Faust, finds his life's work stolen by renowned record producer Swan (Paul Williams) and given to a hack boy band [and later a hack shock rocker (Gerrit Graham)] to perform. Facially scarred by an attempt to destroy his corrupted music, Winslow signs a deal with the devil so that he can finish composing and hear it sung by the one person meant to sing it: up-and-coming young star Phoenix (Jessica Harper).

Where to start? With its half-recognizable, half-ludicrous story, awesome glammy costumes, eclectic soundtrack, and great cast, Phantom of the Paradise is easy to like. It's a bitingly satirical take on record companies and the perils of fame in an amoral, egotistical culture. It's a clever update of multiple horror/fantasy classics. It's a MUSICAL! All I ever want, really.

Most of the characters are boiled down to one-dimensional cliches, which works for the over-the-top atmosphere of it all. The super-talented, not-famous-enough Jessica Harper is alluring as Phoenix, the wide-eyed singer who easily caves in under promises of excess, while Gerrit Graham is hilarious and strangely sympathetic as the effeminate rock star known as "Beef". Winslow is adorable at the start but sort of devolves into a growling jerk with a goofy mask after he gets stuck in the record pressing machine. There's just not much personality there, but I was transfixed by his metallic teeth. The real star of this movie is one hundred percent this guy (aka Little Enos in Smokey and the Bandit HOLY SHIT DID I JUST BLOW YOUR MIND). I'll admit I didn't really know anything about Paul Williams, despite the fact that he's a super successful and prolific songwriter, but he totally won me over in this movie. He is funny, odd, adorable, impressively coiffured, and ambiguously accented: the perfect villain.

Though the music is excellent and catchy, I think the visuals are the strongest aspect of the film. The crazy montages, high-concept stage shows, glitter-fueled wardrobe, and retro-futuristic technology leave quite an imprint. There's a lot of bird imagery, including Swan's "dead bird" logo, Phoenix's feathery outfits, and the Phantom's beakish helmet. I imagine this is a metaphor for something.

Phantom of the Paradise is exceptionally entertaining, even if its titular character strangely fades into the background for good portions of the story and the script is cheesy beyond belief. I really dug it and will likely ask for it for Christmas.

Buuuuuuut it's still not as good as Rocky Horror! That's just crazy talk!


Pair This Movie With: Uh yeah so many choices! Certainly Rocky Horror makes the most sense, but also various versions of Faust and Phantom of the Opera. I also imagine this works well with Tommy, if you like Tommy. I was pretty disappointed with Tommy but it's up to you. Follow your double feature dreams.


Friday, September 16, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #54

Oh goodness has it been a week already? Time is flying by here now that I'm settled into my second job (did I mention I'm now working for a filmmaker?) and just generally busier. But I finished my Parks and Recreation postcard series from last week! Yay! All ten of the show's main characters are lovingly depicted in ink on watercolor-paper postcards, along with quotes I liked from each. It was a bit grueling at times but ultimately I'm happy with the results and had fun making these little mini-portraits. The whole gang is displayed below, to achieve the full effect. The set of 10 is available for sale if you're interested. Remember they are original, one-of-a-kind artworks! Tell your friends!

And seriously I need a new name for this project. It's not always movies. Comics, television, music, books- it's all fair game. But I'm TERRIBLE at naming things so please help me with ideas? Something pop culture related maybe? I don't know?


Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

With its somewhat recent blu-ray release I feel like I've suddenly been hearing a lot about The Night of the Hunter, an idiosyncratic thriller with Robert Mitchum in an iconic psycho-preacher role. When bankrobber Ben Harper dies in prison, his preacher cellmate Harry Powell (Mitchum) tracks down his family to seek the hidden money. He woos the confused widow Willa (Shelley Winters) into marriage and charms the young daughter Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), but the son John (Billy Chapin)- who knows where the money is- isn't fooled. Soon enough Powell's got murder on the mind, and only John sees through him.

With its haunting score, deliberate pacing, and long string of indelible imagery, The Night of the Hunter is an expressionistic surprise that delights the eyes as it chills the mind. Mitchum is cool and bombastic as the unstoppable Harry Powell, flashing his LOVE/HATE finger tattoos and bellowing out hymns as he hunts down his desires. The children are surprisingly resourceful and very well portrayed by Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce. The best character is easily Rachel Cooper, though, an older woman played by Lillian Gish who shelters various orphans she finds (it is the Depression, after all). She's a badass Christian who doesn't take shit from ANYBODY goddamn. It's awesome.

The opening and closing monologues are pretty cheesy, which unfortunately detracts slightly from the overall dark, gripping atmosphere of the film. It's a minor complaint, though. For most of the running time, I was totally hooked by the softly lit visuals, incredible use of shadows, and very strong performances. The story is a type that doesn't easily let on just how far it can go, allowing an intensity and terror to sink in gradually as it builds. It is a strange and hard-to-categorize film, incorporating elements of noir, romance, mystery, and morality tales. I'm disappointed that first-time director (more known as an actor) Charles Laughton hasn't made any more films, because this one is so awesome.


Pair This Movie With: It might seem weird but my first association is Sin City, possibly because of the murderous bishop and stark black and white graphics.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

From Beyond (1986)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from netflix.

As I've mentioned several times in the past, I have become a somewhat crazed Re-Animator fan this past year. It's just the perfect movie. So it was with gusto (and a few suspicious cohorts) that I popped in From Beyond, a film that re-teams director Stuart Gordon, stars Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, and loosely-employed source inspiration HP Lovecraft for another round of weird experiments and transformation horror. This time around Combs portrays the amazingly-named Crawford Tillinghast, a mild-mannered scientist assisting the visionary Dr Pretorious (Ted Sorel). Their experimental machine opens up a portal to the 4th dimension, and the doctor is almost immediately decapitated. Police suspect Crawford, but criminal psychiatrist Dr Katherine McMichaels (Crampton) believes his story and seeks to re-create Pretorious's experiment- with TERRIFYING RESULTS.

Thinking about this movie leads to a wistful sigh of satisfaction. It really delivers on so many levels. It starts out slowly, it's true, and for a while I was afraid it would just be a sort of boring exploration of an fake scientific experiment I didn't understand. Turns out the science stuff is indeed completely inexplicable, but totally not boring! As the film progresses, the half-assed explanations of things and haunted house set-up make way for wacky monsters, awesome special effects, unsettling sexy times, cannibalism, incredible grossness, and just all-out insanity. There's also a good deal of purple lighting.

As I'm pretty sure he always does, Jeffrey Combs lights up the screen with his intense demeanor and off-putting delivery and general greatness, as well as getting to wield a badass axe and later donning some crazy, appropriately disgusting prosthetics. I didn't at ALL get the whole "expansion of the pineal gland" thing, because whatever, medical talk will forever be something I cannot follow, but that little spindly forehead pokey thing is an image I will never forget. Yeesh.

Barbara Crampton starts off with some rockin' oversize glasses and a professional demeanor, rapidly loosing items of clothing and modesty the more they experiment. Because did I mention this machine not only opens up another dimension, but also makes everyone super horny? Yeah. So that leads to some nice moments.

By the end of From Beyond I was totally into it, but it did take a while to find its footing. Also the story doesn't make any goddamn sense and sometimes that was frustrating. BUT OH WELL THIS HAPPENS.


Pair This Movie With: It really would pair well with Re-Animator for more Combs/Gordon/Crampton/Lovecraft goodness. Alternatively a Cronenberg body horror would work, perhaps The Fly?


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Roxanne (1987)

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

Based on Cyrano de Bergerac, a play I've never seen/read but certainly recognize aspects of, Roxanne stars Steve Martin (who also wrote the screenplay) as CD Bales, a friendly fire chief with a surprisingly large nose (he's kinda sensitive about it though so I wouldn't mention it if I were you). Though he's intelligent, cultured, funny, and generally well-liked by everyone in town, he doesn't have much luck with the ladies due to his appearance. When aspiring astronomer Roxanne (Daryl Hannah) arrives to study the stars, he falls for her instantly and they become fast friends. Unfortunately she is infatuated with the inarticulate and shallow (but handsome?) firefighter Chris (Rick Rossovich). To make Chris look smarter- and indirectly tell her how he himself feels- CD writes Roxanne love letters in Chris's name, beginning a deceitful three-way romance.

Laced with Martin's trademark blend of utter goofiness and high-brow wit, Roxanne is a cute little romantic comedy with several stand-out moments but a tired central premise. As always Steve Martin is charming and likable as the quick-witted CD, whipping out a string of nose-related jokes in one memorable scene and waxing poetic in several others. He throws in some fun physical comedy too. The supporting cast includes Fred Willard, Shelley Duvall, and Michael J Pollard, who all share some silly moments with our lead guy. Daryl Hannah isn't given much to do except drool over the not-very-attractive Chris and laugh at CD's jokes, but isn't that the plight of so many women in romantic comedies?

The thing about Roxanne is that I find the whole "Oh I'm ugly but I love a pretty person so I'll tell a dumb handsome person what to say and basically trick the person I like into entering a relationship under false pretenses" storyline to be really stupid. Steve Martin didn't invent it so I'm not blaming him, but he is perpetuating it. It basically serves to make Roxanne herself look like an idiot while CD is a tragic romantic hero. Luckily Martin is so engaging and likable in the role that viewers probably won't notice at first, but it's there. I appreciate a lot of the film's parts- from the talented cast to the goofy sight gags and wordplay- but as a whole the premise doesn't really do it for me.


Pair This Movie With: Well the main other movies I can think that play on this theme are Whatever It Takes and The Truth About Cats and Dogs, but neither of those are very good. You could always just make it a Steve Martin night with The Lonely Guy or The Jerk.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Late 80's Asian Cinema Double Feature: Ging chaat goo si juk jaap (Police Story 2) (1988) and Tetsuo (The Iron Man) (1989)

Seen: On dvd rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge (Police Story 2) and on Netflix instant (Tetsuo), both on our big screen/projector set-up.
82/100 on the Sci-Fi List.

Though I watched these films back-to-back I wasn't going to make them a double feature post since there's really very little to connect them except their East Asian origins and late-80's timestamp, but then I realized they would be a perfect entry to Pussy Goes Grrr's Juxtaposition Blogathon! Yay! With its intensely-choreographed fight scenes and mediocre storyline, Jackie Chan's Police Story 2 is a passable action flick. JUXTAPOSED (see what I did there?) against it is Tetsuo, The Iron Man, a goddamn crazy CRAZY movie by noted weird auteur Shin'ya Tsukamoto.

Following his successful first Police Story with more of the same, Jackie Chan once again stars as Ka Kui, a goofy but highly dedicated cop who gets caught up in another major criminal case even after being demoted to traffic cop and subsequently quitting the force. The dudes he had arrested in the last movie are out and have revenge in mind, with Ka Kui's girlfriend May (Maggie Cheung) as their target. But also oh no there's a big terrorist bomb threat hanging over a major corporation in the city and it seems Ka Kui is the only competent person on the police force who can stop it?!

This sequel has many of the same problems the first one did, but also most of its strengths. The script is all over the place and the characterization is weak (especially May), but the action sequences are exceptional. It's not as funny as its predecessor and the story is weaker so as a whole I didn't enjoy it as much, but I always appreciate Chan's impressive fight choreography and high-concept action set pieces. The finale takes place in a fireworks factory, and yes that is as awesome as it sounds. Also there are these three totally badass cop ladies who get like one scene. So... that was nice.


Loosely plotted around a Man (Tomorowo Taguchi) who finds himself gradually turning into metal throughout the day, Tetsuo, The Iron Man is an almost belligerently inaccessible piece of filmmaking, and a week later I still have no idea what I actually watched. It is certainly one of the strangest films I've ever seen, making its way through murky explorations of sex, transformation, revenge, and urban existence with little explanation or exposition. Writer/director Tsukamoto (who also appears as the Man's antagonist, the Metal Fetishist) literally assaults his audience with imperceptible flashes of black and white imagery and a pulsing industrial soundtrack. With its gritty quality and surreal visuals I frequently had no idea just what I was looking at.

And yet, Tetsuo is so wholly singular I actually found myself really appreciating it by the end. It's hard to get into, certainly, but even just the ingenuity and obvious devotion on display make it worth a look. At first seemingly a barrage of disconnected scenes, the story does come together by the end for an interesting sci-fi revenge tale that completely mutates its central character- both physically and mentally. It features a range of awesome techniques, from stop-motion animation to quick-change montage. It also features one of the most memorable sex scenes I have ever beheld. It's weird, weird, weird, but you guys probably know by now that I like that sort of thing!



Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Dead Zone (1983)

Seen: On dvd on our big screen/projector set-up, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

I'm having a real love affair with David Cronenberg lately, and am kind of in the mood to just watch his movies and nothing else. So I rented The Dead Zone because the premise sounds awesome and I was intrigued by Christopher Walken's dramatic leading role (something I haven't seen too often). When driving home from a visit with his soon-to-be-fiancée (Brooke Adams), mild-mannered English teacher Johnny Smith (Walken) crashes head-first into a huge truck and winds up in a coma for five years. He awakes to discover his girlfriend married to another man, his legs rendered nearly useless (though eventually he can get around with a cane), and also he has superpowers- he can see the future/past/present of people he touches. The third thing is what this movie is mainly about.

I haven't read the Stephen King novel this is based on but I can only hope it is as awesome as this movie. Cronenberg takes a cool premise and infuses it with his typical undercurrent of horror, tension, and weirdness. I loved the mixture of melodrama and gruesomeness, with Johnny attempting to get his life together while constantly hindered by various grisly deaths and horrific images of everyone's personal traumas. His visions are depicted in a neat way, too. I really liked Walken's portrayal of Johnny, and not just because he wears a kickass Dracula jacket- he's one of those overserious, tortured anti-heroes that I can't help but love. Especially since everyone around him sort of sucks. The standout performance is Martin Sheen's small but integral appearance as Greg Stillson, an unscrupulous politician running for Congress with aims at the presidency.

The Dead Zone's biggest flaw for me was its episodic structure and off-kilter pacing. It follows Johnny through a few different mysteries and crime-solving efforts, with each storyline wrapped up pretty quickly. I kept thinking, "Oh ok this is going to be the main plot" but then it would be over and we'd move on to the next thing. I can definitely see why this was turned into a tv show (I am now planning on checking that out), but for a film it's somewhat off-putting. As a whole it lacked cohesion, but I still really liked it! It even features a kid I didn't hate!


PS One totally amazing thing about this movie is that one of my favorite works by the inimitable installation artist/photographer Sandy Skoglund is featured on the set! It's actually my desktop background! I love her but she doesn't seem to be very well known so it was an incredibly exciting thing to see her art on the wall.

Pair This Movie With: Well I'm kind of still on a Scanners high so that's my first thought. All Cronenberg, All the Time!


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989)

Seen: On my boyfriend's shiny new iMac, dvd rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge (which is becoming one of my favorite places to visit).

Remember that movie band gig poster series I'm working on? Seen here and here and here and here and here? Yeah. Well Rich and Alexa both suggested I do a poster for Wyld Stallyns, a band I totally hadn't thought of! It had been several years since I saw Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure so a re-watch was necessary. Known as the film that launched Keanu Reeves to stardom and did very little for Alex Winter, it follows best friends Bill and Ted as they try to rock out and not fail high school. They have a huge history assignment due tomorrow and they have to pass it but don't know the first thing about ANYTHING. Luckily a dude (George Carlin) from a future society entirely founded on their fledgling band Wyld Stallyns' music arrives to lend them his time-traveling phone booth. They hop around several time periods and borrow various important historical figures to use in their presentation.

With their airhead personalities and goofy conversations, Bill and Ted are an oddly likable pair. It helps that both actors play dumb so well, and that their friendship is the most realistic thing in the movie. Their little metalhead references and completely insane ideas about history are constant sources of entertainment. As are their outfits. The cast is rounded out with plenty of historical caricatures who become influenced by the new decade, from an aerobicizing Joan of Arc (played by Go-Gos guitarist Jane Wiedlin) to a synth-happy Beethoven. Impressively, these figures don't just speak English in funny accents like you'd expect, so there's a lot of French and Greek and German befuddlement.

It's a very silly film, from the Wyld Stallyn-heavy vision of the future, to the gang of time-traveling famous people letting loose in the San Dimas mall, but it didn't quite hold up for me (I don't think I'd seen it since early high school). It's still a fun time, but it's not as funny as I remembered and it's not as ridiculous as it could have been. I can't quite explain what it's lacking, perhaps it was just that I had higher expectations from my memory of it? It is a great snapshot of a certain era of filmmaking (namely: just after Back to the Future happened) and definitely memorable, though.

And I promise it'll make for a great gig poster! Coming sooooooon.


Pair This Movie With: Ummmm there is the obvious Doctor Who tie-in! But mostly this movie puts me in the mood for Wayne's World.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Movie Sketch Project #53

Hiiiii guuuuuuuys. How's it going? Last Sunday I had a delightful afternoon at a friend's house for a sort of collective artmaking session, with everyone hanging out working on personal projects and eating coffee cake. Pretty nice! It helped me launch a postcard series I've wanted to work on, dedicated to one of my favorite currently-running tv shows: Parks and Recreation. I hope you are watching and loving it too! I know this technically isn't movie-related, but I've been saying for a while now that I really need to think of a more encompassing title for the Movie Sketch Project! Help me out, I'm notoriously awful at naming things.

Anyway I'm basically making a postcard for each of the ten main characters (focusing more on the 3rd season, so no Mark), with portraits and a little quote for everyone. I'm halfway done and it's going well so far I think! I had made one for Leslie (duh she was the first one I did) but the more I look at it the more unhappy I am with it, so I'm going to re-do hers. I hope to unveil the full set next week, maybe along with a new movie band gig poster I have been mentally designing.

These will be for sale later as a set I think, but for now remember there's tons of other fun stuff for sale in my shop!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Impostors (1998)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, from Miles's collection.

You know there are those movies you adore, and cannot figure out why everyone in the world doesn't feel the same? Or why they never became successful? Or why no one's ever heard of them? The Impostors is definitely one of those movies for me. Stanley Tucci wrote, directed, and stars in this madcap comedy that harkens back to goofy classics of the 20's and 30's. Arthur (Tucci) and Maurice (Oliver Platt) are struggling actors who hone their skills in a series of ridiculous cons to score free food. On the run from an overpraised alcoholic stage actor (Alfred Molina), they accidentally find themselves on a cruise liner bound for France. Dressed as stewards and trying to avoid the ship's insanely German director (Campbell Scott), the two buddies run into a number of strange characters, all with some secret or another.

Imbued with a good eye for period details and snappy approach to pacing, Tucci comfortably settles his audience into his film with a number of hilarious and utterly cute interactions between the two leads. Tucci and Platt bicker, make faces at each other, battle to the death, and just generally pal around. It's a bit episodic at the start, but that ties in well with the later introductory scenes for the magnitude of new faces on the cruise ship. I love the exaggerated characters and frenetic over-plotting, it just suits the overall tone and intent of the film sublimely. Plus the upbeat jangly piano score keeps everything light and happy!

Not only is this a pitch-perfect homage to the wealth of silly comedies that involve mistaken identities and are set on cruise ships, but the cast is phenomenal. It feels like every living actor is in this movie. You've got Allison Janney as a faux-French hustler, Isabella Rossellini as a disgraced former queen, Michael Emerson as a quiet assistant, Billy Connolly as a definitely-gay wrestler, Hope Davis as a dour aristocrat, Steve Buscemi as a depressed entertainer, Lili Taylor as an adorable and spunky cruise employee, and Woody Allen as a neurotic theatre director. Everyone is here, and everyone is great. Oliver Platt gets to dress up like a lady, Stanley Tucci makes tons of funny faces, and in the end everyone gets a wicked awesome dance number! Literally my favorite way to end a movie!


Pair This Movie With: I always link it with OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies, I think because I saw them around the same time and they are both movies my boyfriend loves. Also they're both throwbacks to earlier styles of filmmaking and are both hilarious. Another cool pairing might be an actual classic comedy with similar themes, like Anything Goes (I haven't seen the 1936 adaptation but the play is good?) or Shall We Dance.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

True Lies (1994)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv.

It's no secret I'm a big fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, and for the longest time True Lies is the main one I felt was missing in my viewing, especially since I really dig most of James Cameron's films. Schwarzenegger stars as Harry Tasker, a globetrotting government agent whose wife Helen (Jamie Lee Curtis) and daughter (Eliza Dushku) think he's just a boring salesman. When Harry suspects his wife is cheating on him, he uses all of his resources to spy on her, but soon she becomes caught up accidentally in a terrorist plot that he's been fighting against.

With several exciting chase sequences, multiple explosions, and Mr Schwarzenegger doing his thing, True Lies offers plenty of thrills and some hearty laughs. I loved the shopping mall horseback chase, the bridge-is-about-to-explode nail-biter, the one-man killing spree when they're escaping, and lots of little things in between. Tom Arnold is silly as Harry's side-kick, Bill Paxton is even sillier as a sleazy con artist trying to seduce Helen.

Jamie Lee Curtis is of course great, as usual, but her character's storyline is probably the most problematic. The idea of Harry spying on Helen with his government resources is stupid and takes away from the more exciting (and life-threatening) terrorist plot. This movie draaaags in the middle while this subplot is explored. I liked her character and I had no problem involving her in Harry's secret spy life, but Cameron needed to find a better (and more to-the-point) way to arrange it. I haven't seen the original French film this is based on so maybe the original idea lies there, but he certainly could have made some changes. Also I love how they try to make Curtis dowdy by giving her a shitty haircut and glasses. Really, guys? Is that all you've got?

Also yes terrorists are sort of racistly portrayed; though I took it as "these guys are extremists and not at all meant to be regular Arab Muslims", I can see why various groups were boycotting it at the time of its release.

Basically, True Lies has all the makings of an awesome spy thriller, but it takes too long to get its story together and its pacing suffers for it. Still a really fun movie, but not as re-watchable as some of Schwarzenegger's and Cameron's other efforts.


Pair This Movie With: Hmm not sure. I feel like I've seen the "significant other/parent is leading a secret life as a vigilante/spy" premise before but I'm blanking on specific recommendations. You guys got any ideas?

Edit: Muffin suggested The Long Kiss Goodnight, which I haven't seen yet, but sounds like a good option.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

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

A few weeks ago I actually had to hang out with children, a thing that happens very rarely. They're pretty cool and mostly I had some fun revisiting some kids movies that I still love, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which we never finished. I kept getting the songs caught in my head since then so I sat down for a viewing by myself last weekend. Based on a short story by Ian Fleming, with a script by Roald Dahl, and featuring one of the coolest cars ever, the film has continued to enchant me since my first viewing, lo those many years ago.

Dick Van Dyke stars as amazingly-named Caractacus Potts, an absent-minded inventor and single father to two super-British children. He creates a type of candy flute that catches the attention of Truly Scrumptious (Sally Ann Howes), the daughter of candymaker extraordinaire Lord Scrumptious (James Robertson Justice), and she joins the Potts family on a picnic in their new souped-up car (named Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the sounds its engine makes). While hanging out at the beach they're lurched into a fantastic adventure that involves a mad Baron and a city where children are banned and a flying car and singing scientists and Benny Hill.

Between the lovely period costumes (it takes place in the 1910's), kickass musical numbers, action-packed plot, and great cast, there's so much to like about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang even though its name is silly. The visuals are very cool, with decent effects for the flying car shenanigans and a lot of fanciful costuming and sets. It's also legitimately funny, with a farcical edge and memorably outlandish characters. There are so many little things I love, from the machine that makes automated breakfast and the human toy show to the candy factory tasting and the bumbling "Vulgarian" spies trying to fit in with the English.

I guess I love Dick Van Dyke (it took me a while to realize it), and he's excellent as Professor Potts: scatterbrained, kind of crazy, good at monologues, and totally rockin' a cardigan. He's also got some great musical sequences that show off his energetic style and comedic timing. Sally Ann Howes is a little boring as Truly, but she's pretty and it's funny that she re-enforces so many stereotypes about ladies (they can't drive, they have innate mothering tendencies, their solo songs are the most boring in any musical, etc). The children are high-pitched and annoying as hell but I find that basically hilarious. Benny Hill is there and has a funny accent, there's a funny/terrifying couple who frequently try to kill each other (out of love?), and a hideous child-catcher who can smell children. Best of all is Lionel Jeffries as Grandpa Potts, the most adorable and entertaining character in the entire film, and that's saying something. I mean, just look at him.

I know for some reason this movie is derided a lot today, but I honestly have no idea why. I've never read Ian Fleming's story, but I don't think it's become some kind of literary classic that viewers are offended to see adapted incorrectly or something. In many ways I think this is exactly the kind of movie kids should be watching, and to my delight it really does hold up well into adulthood. It's the kind of film that just sparks the imagination, filled with so much adventure and strangeness and fun- plus many a catchy tune- that it yearns for numerous repeat viewings. It's the kind of film that can inspire fantastical backyard games and miniature sagas for Barbie dolls and sudden interest in turn-of-the-century fashion and jotting down an original fairy tale and so many other bouts of creation. And that's important, at least to me.


Pair This Movie With: I think a Roald Dahl adaptation would work well, like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Mathilda.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the film, and I've had the song caught in my head since watching it.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Conan the Barbarian (2011)

Conan and his sassy black friendSeen: At the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

A hurricane was fast-approaching but that didn't stop me from going out for a movie with a friend who loves Jason Momoa. That's dedication. Conan the Barbarian: It was a time of humongous bare chests and big swords and even bigger beards. Also, magic. Conan (Momoa) is born out of war into a battle-worn medieval tribe and as a teenager he witnesses his father's (Ron Pearlman) death at the hands of Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), a totally evil dude who's trying to gain godlike powers so he can resurrect his dead wife. Conan spends years searching for Zym and his sorceress daughter (Rose McGowan) so he can exact his revenge, and finally finds the key to Zym's nefarious plot in the personage of Tamara (Rachel Nichols), a feisty monk-in-training.

This is a very silly movie, and sometimes it knows it and sometimes it doesn't. The gore is pretty extreme and there are some good action sequences- especially the magic sand people battle in the middle-, so it feels like it wants to be a serious action movie at points. But then the story is so ridiculous and the acting so hammy I have to think that at least some of the cast knew how ridiculous the movie would turn out. Rose McGowan (nigh-unrecognizable) most definitely knew, and looks like she's having a ton of fun in those crazy get-ups as she hisses and skulks through all of her scenes. Stephen Lang was in on it too, I think, so any segment with the bad guys was just a good time. Also maybe these father/daughter villains were sleeping together? It seemed pretty obvious to me.

Because the tone is all over the place and the script and characterization just reek of cliche and predictability, Conan is not a very good movie. But it's so ludicrous that I had to appreciate it in some way. It certainly had me smiling at many points (whether that was the intention or not) and I did think some of the visual action ideas were legitimately interesting. And Jason Momoa is shirtless literally the entire running time, so I guess that counts for something. He's so muscular his chest is like bigger than mine though, which kind of freaks me out.


Pair This Movie With: I haven't seen the original in ages but that's a viable option. I know Schwarzenegger punches a camel. Or maybe Prince of Persia?


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hello, Dolly! (1969)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv.

When I was a kid my favorite thing to listen to in the car was my dad's Broadway hits compilation. I learned tons of awesome showtunes before actually seeing the shows, and I'm still catching up on some. Well Hello, Dolly! can now be crossed off the list, exclamation point and all! Drawing from the stage musical (which itself drew from Thornton Wilder's farcical play), the film stars Barbra Streisand as Dolly Levi, a fast-talking widow-turned-matchmaker working in turn-of-the-century Yonkers, NY. She's trying to find a wife for surly "half-a-millionaire" Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau), but eventually realizes she wants him for herself and sets a plan in motion to achieve that goal. It mostly involves a day in New York City populated with plentiful song-and-dance numbers and several romantic subplots.

Directed by Gene Kelly, choreographed by Michael Kidd, and costumed by Irene Sharaff, Hello, Dolly! certainly looks the part of a classic musical adaptation. It's got a number of catchy tunes and a (mostly) talented cast to perform them, but unfortunately the plot is paper-thin, the comedy isn't very effective, and the script draaaaags. Louis Armstrong's there for a few minutes though.

The actors do their best with what they have, as Barbra gets in a few hilarious fast-paced one-liners and of course belts to her heart's content to many a sentimental tune. Walter Matthau is usually great but he's pretty out of place here, unable to sing a note and seemingly lost in the dialogue half the time. I actually think Michael Crawford steals the show as Vandergelder's opportunistic and awesomely-named assistant Cornelius Hackl. He's extremely animated and overly-enthusiastic in his performance, which totally suits the role, and I loved his musical numbers. Plus he cannot figure out his accent, it's kind of adorable. I also enjoyed Tommy Tune's small appearance as a painter romancing Vandergelder's niece; he is possibly the tallest dancer in show business?

Sometimes the film seems to be almost a parody of classic musicals, with certain self-aware moments that I appreciated, but for the most part it's just sort of insipid. I know there are so many musicals out there with stupid storylines and unconvincing romances, but usually they can save themselves with a clever script and memorable musical numbers. Half the songs in Hello, Dolly! are fun and catchy, with colorful large-scale dance sequences, but the others are dull or unoriginal. I did really enjoy chunks of it though and the cast is trying their hardest, so I can't write it off completely.


PS Is it just me or did this sort of feel like a 2+ hour-long advertisement for Harmonia Gardens? Is that place a big deal? Does it even exist? I don't feel like checking.

Pair This Movie With: The only other Barbra musical I've seen is Yentl, so there's that. Or I know there's The Matchmaker, a non-musical version of the story with Shirley MacLaine, which I haven't seen. So really the best recommendation I have is Wall-E, which features Hello, Dolly! in a super cute way.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

Seen: At Loews Boston Common, in 3D.

I saw the original Fright Night for the first time last year at the Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, and while I enjoyed it, I was pretty surprised when it was getting a remake. It just seemed sort of unnecessary. Is there a built-in audience (besides Doctor Who fans) for this movie? Regardless, the Fright Night update is pretty sleek. The story doesn't change much, but the characters do. Charley (Anton Yelchin) is a once-geeky teenager who gave himself a cool makeover and landed a hot girlfriend (Imogen Poots) in the process. His former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) notices certain people in their Las Vegas neighborhood going missing, and figures out that Charley's new next-door neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. Charley catches on eventually and enlists the aid of big-name magician Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a supposed vampire hunter, to take care of business.

It's a silly premise, and in many ways it's a silly movie, but Fright Night really does juggle comedy and spookiness quite well. It's got some good color schemes, a couple of truly tense, creepy moments, and a whole lot of blood (ohhh yeeeah). The cast is great, with most of the best scenes driven by Colin Farrell's slow-talking gleeful suavity and David Tennant's hilarious leather-heavy outfits and drunken ramblings. They're both having so much fun it's a joy to watch them chew all the scenery they can sink their teeth into. LITERALLY LOL.

As a remake, it works pretty well. It successfully updates the script and characters (the girlfriend's hotter but also more useful, Peter Vincent's a Criss Angel-y performer and more frequently shirtless, etc), but maintains the original's story and goofy/gory vibe. I think the "used to be geeky but now is kind of cool" aspect to Charley's character is over-emphasized, and I kind of missed the idea of Peter Vincent being a hero to him, but those are small concerns. Overall it's a good time, and it exceeded my expectations.


PS I forgot to say that I really loved Chris Sarandon's cameo! He was the best part of the original and it was awesome to see him pop up in this to interact with the new Jerry (though it took me a minute to recognize him).

Pair This Movie With: Well obviously there's the original for a comparative double feature, or perhaps another vampire-themed comedy like The Lost Boys or Suck.