Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bandidas (2006)

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

I came across the poster for Bandidas when I was researching international movie poster designs (as I do), and thought it looked fantastic from the French poster alone. Sexy Salma Hayek teams up with equally sexy Penelope Cruz to rob some banks in Old-timey Mexico? I mean, my god. The details of the plot (if you needed more information for some reason) are as follows: Evil American assholes led by Tyler Jackson (Dwight Yoakam) are taking over land in Mexico so that railroads can be built, leaving a trail of bodies and dispossessed Mexican farmers in their wake. Fast-shootin', passionate peasant girl Maria (Cruz) teams up with sophisticated, European-educated Sara (Salma Hayek) to take revenge with the help of an experienced criminal (Sam Shepard) and a nerdy forensic scientist (Steve Zahn).

With a knack for never taking itself too seriously and a host of ridiculous plot devices, Bandidas manages to be reasonably entertaining but never quite rises to its potentially kickass premise. I wanted capable ladies doing awesome things, and at times I got that, but at other times I got catfights and kissing competitions and caricaturistic vanity. It's a goofy enough movie that I learned early on not to expect too much progressive thinking, but I still felt there were some missed opportunities here. Primarily the introduction of Steve Zahn as a love interest frustrated me- I like him and his character is adorable, but the whole subplot of Maria and Sara passive-aggressively competing over him is just stupid. I found their relationship more interesting when they were fighting about their respective differences in background and personality, there was no need to bring a romantic angle into things. Then again that is a mistake so many films make, so at least they are treading familiar ground.

The costumes are awesome, the ladies are scintillating, the vistas are lovely and most of the jokes are pretty funny, so I'd say Bandidas does what it sets out to do. It's all pretty simplistic, with your classic evil-for-no-particular-reason villain, bickering lady friends, uptight white dude sidekick (you know he's a nerd because of his glasses), and good peasants vs bad rich guys. The lead actresses are downright delightful in their roles, with Cruz's naive Maria offering adorable miscalculations and Hayek's Sara getting in some hilariously haughty commentary. I know it's not actually a very good movie, but I couldn't help but be entertained by how silly it often is. And honestly, I will always be interested in a western that features ladies in masculine outfits. Pants, cowboy hats, and holsters all around! Bang bang bang!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmmm I'm going to suggest sticking this with an even wackier western, something like Sukiyaki Western Django or Tears of the Black Tiger. Or if you want more ladies kicking ass in the Old West, there's Johnny Guitar.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Melancholia (2011) at 366 Weird Movies

Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.

My first foray into now-notorious rabble-rouser Lars von Trier is his latest feature, Melancholia. Its operatic trailer and beautifully enigmatic posters had me drooling in anticipation, and while the film itself isn't as visually grandiose or experimental as I expected, it is a gorgeously shot, emotionally resonant venture that impressed me greatly. Plus it's got several recreations of paintings, a thing I always appreciate. For my full review, along with commentary by editor-in-chief G. Smalley, head over to 366 Weird Movies! Cool!



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Monday, November 28, 2011

Invaders From Mars (1953)

Seen: On netflix instant on my tv.
86/100 on the
Sci-Fi List.

It's 1953 and you know what that means! Communists EVERYWHERE! Even in unsuspecting smalltown America! EVEN ON MARS. In Invaders From Mars, young David (Jimmy Hunt) sees a spaceship land in his backyard and soon notices his parents behaving strangely- after they investigate the ship they return as cold, snipey jerks with strange marks on the backs of their necks. He realizes quickly that they've probably been taken over by evil alien lifeforms bent on world domination and works to find adults he can trust, convincing the sympathetic Dr Pat Blake (Helena Carter- I already checked, no relation) and astronomer Dr Stuart Kelston (Arthur Franz). They try to halt the imminent takeover by involving the military.

I saw the 80's remake of this movie at the Coolidge Corner Horrothon last year, and was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Turns out the remake took some liberties with plot and characters that actually made it better, so I'm kind of disappointed with the original. I like the premise, with the child's point of view offering a nice twist to the alien invasion tale, and there are some killer sets/make-up effects towards the end. The cast is fairly strong, with Leif Erickson and Hillary Brooke really biting into their roles as the possessed parents from hell, it's kind of awesome. The kid is creepy-looking though. He's got like a middle-aged man face.

Though I enjoyed parts of it, Invaders From Mars failed to keep me interested. The main lady (who is some sort of doctor but I have no idea what, and doesn't do much except go to her astronomer friend for help all the time) and dude are boring, the kid's kind of annoying, and I was pretty much rooting for the aliens. Maybe I'm secretly Communist, oh NO! It drags in the beginning with lots of fake-science talk and then it gets all militaristic and not in an exciting way. The finale is explosive and sports some spooky prosthetics, but they are coupled with really bad alien costumes and poorly-staged fight scenes.

So in the end it's pretty middling.

2.5/5

Pair This Movie With: For obvious reasons, Invasion of the Body Snatchers comes to mind, either the '78 or '56 versions. Or The Faculty.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, from my boyfriend's collection.

We have slowly amassed a decently-sized blu-ray collection that we pretty regularly forget about, so the other night we endeavored to actually watch one. The Big Lebowski seemed a good choice since neither of us had really seen it in full since high school. Also since it's awesome. The remarkably twisty plot focuses on Jeffrey "The Dude" Lebowski (Jeff Bridges), a friendly hippie who likes to get high and bowl. His laid-back lifestyle is thrown into turmoil when he is mistaken for the other Jeffrey Lebowski (David Huddleston), an aging millionaire with a promiscuous wife (Tara Reid) who owes money all over town. Suddenly the Dude finds himself deeply embroiled in a convoluted conspiracy involving porn stars, nihilists, kidnapping, feminist art, rugs, bowling, dismemberment, theft, and a 15-year-old little punk.

With an impressive cast (including several people I didn't recognize when I first saw it), a crazy and often nonsensical story, an iconic protagonist, some memorable imagery, and a simultaneously goofy and dark as hell script, The Big Lebowski is made for cult status. The ever-magnetic Sam Elliott narrates with cowboy flair, lending a comedic gravitas to the Dude's predicament, while Bridges moves through each scene with a charismatic bafflement and pitch-perfect line delivery. I'll admit the actual plot loses me at some points, as there are so many characters and I'm too busy giggling at the silly jokes or gasping at the ludicrous situations that arise.

Luckily the plot doesn't matter all that much, as it's largely an excuse to throw a bunch of wacky actors together and see what happens. Between Bridges' hippie sputtering, John Goodman's impassioned yelping, Julianne Moore's matter-of-fact lecturing, Steve Buscemi's adorable confusion, and Philip Seymour Hoffman's everything, it's too much fun to focus too closely on the peripheral goings-on that make up the mystery. And yet, the Coens in their infinite wisdom do churn out a compelling neo-noir-ish criminal tale with various subplots that come together in unexpected ways. I mean, is there anything those brothers can't do? My new theory is that they first envisioned the crazy dream sequence, and framed the rest of the story around that. The whole point of making the film was to see Jeff Bridges gyrating in a surrealistic pornographic bowling alley. This makes sense to me.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: My first thought is Fargo, but Miles suggests Dumb and Dumber since it's his favorite comedy and it "stars another person named Jeff". So take your pick.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Alex Makes Art #60

Hi friends! Happy Friday! What with Thanksgiving travel and whatnot I'm afraid I'm a little light on new art for you today, but don't worry there are still a few things I have to share with you!

Firstly as today is that special day known as "Black Friday" to people who care about shopping or whatever, I thought I'd remind you all that I have various artsy/cinema-y items for sale in my shop! And even though everything is totally reasonably priced to begin with, if you use the coupon code "BLOG11" you will totally get 10% off! Wow! Go get 'em!

Ok so for art things click ahead.

We had a baby shower for my boss last week and I know she's a fan of Dr Seuss so I made her a little Lorax ink drawing since that's my favorite. I think it came out nicely though getting the right size frame was a headache. And this is kind of a bad scan, oops.




Also since I'm visiting my parents I thought I'd snap a few pictures of the art in my old room. This shows one of the first paintings I ever did, a portrait of The Dresden Dolls, and on the wall is a large painting I did for one of my art classes in college. We had to do little sketches of things in the Museum of Fine Arts, combine them, and reinterpret them in one work. I like it but it's kind of hard to see in this picture.


And here's a charcoal drawing I did a long time ago. Maybe I was in high school? Unsure. I drew it on the wall and never got around to taking it down.



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Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Bad Seed (1956)

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

A few weeks ago I read John Waters' most recent book Role Models, a collection of essays describing his heroes and inspirations, and included was a brief aside discussing Patty McCormack, the actress who played sociopathic 8-year-old Rhoda in both the stage and film versions of The Bad Seed. I had to see this movie. SO I DID. Rhoda is a suspiciously perfect child, and after her father is called away by his military job, her mother Christine (Nancy Kelly) begins to notice more and more of her peculiarities. When a boy in Rhoda's class drowns on a school outing, Christine pieces together that her own daughter is a remorseless murderer.

With a fiendish star at its center and a slow-burn escalation to craziness, The Bad Seed is a pretty awesome movie and I totally understand Waters' fascination with it- especially his specific love for Patty McCormack. As Rhoda she is creepy and smart as hell, with a matter-of-fact line delivery as she alternatively tears apart those she dislikes and sweetly serenades those she wants to manipulate. She is without pity and completely self-serving, but maintains the fear and innocence of a child who at times must admit she doesn't have it all figured out. Pigtails never looked so menacing. Well maybe they have. But probably not.

Most of the film is actually focused on the mother Christine and how she gradually pieces together the truth about her own daughter. She is simultaneously sickened and protective, recognizing that while Rhoda may be inherently evil, she also can't help the way she is (there is much discussion of environmental vs genetic factors in the development of sociopathy, and since it's the 50's most of it is probably incorrect). I loved Nancy Kelly's breathy voice and oscillation between crippling fear and decisive action. She's a pretty badass mom, really, plus she's from a family of crazies. Henry Jones also has a great supporting part as Leroy, the menacing handyman who sees through Rhoda's facade because he himself is so dastardly. Most of the cast is from the stage production, which is pretty cool.

My only issue with The Bad Seed is how stupid and out of place the ending is. The climax is awesome (that pounding piano! Oh jeez!) and most of the ending is kind of mind-blowingly great. BUT THEN there's the dumbest final scene that doesn't make any sense and looks awful and is unintentionally laughable. It's a tacked-on ending to appease the studio, so I can forgive it, but it's really too bad because it does take away somewhat from the film as a whole. I can just choose to stop the film after the main big shock happens and pretend that's the ending, though.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I am reminded of The Good Son, which explores similar themes of evil children and unsuspecting adults. I loved that movie as a kid but have no idea if it's actually good? It's got Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood, so that's a start.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Night on Earth (1991)

Seen: On our big screen/projector set-up, downloaded from the innernet.

I am soooo close to Jim Jarmusch completism! I need to see Down By Law! But first, Night on Earth, one of his better-loved films that takes a look at five eventful cab rides across the Western world taking place at the same hour. A plucky young mechanic-in-training (Winona Ryder) ferries an overworked studio agent (Gena Rowlands) from LAX; a loudmouth New Yorker (Giancarlo Esposito) takes over the cab from its navigationally-challenged new driver who can't drive (Armin Mueller-Stahl); a put-upon Parisian (Isaach De Bankolé) gives a late-night ride to a pretty blind woman (Béatrice Dalle); a goofy Italian cabbie (Roberto Benigni) zooms around Rome while narrating jokingly to himself and shocking his priestly fare; and a trio of drunks in Helsinki are picked up by a depressed driver who feels little sympathy for their woes.

Night on Earth exhibits much of the typical Jarmuschyness: it's talkie, it's metropolitan, it's cool, it's as quirky-funny as it is thought-provoking. And it has a crazy cast! Seriously, Jarmusch must just know everyone I guess? But like so many vignette films, it's a little hit and miss. I really enjoyed the LA, New York, and Rome segments but the Paris and Helsinki ones aren't quite as strong. Then again I could see plenty of other people completely loving those and not liking the others. While each portion maintains certain themes and elements intrinsic to Jarmusch's filmmaking, there is enough variety of subject, acting style, and mood to offer something for most viewers. And Tom Waits did the soundtrack, so that should be a turn-on for everybody.

While I loved the photography and deft mix of comedy and drama, I think the cast really helps make this movie so pleasurable. I always love Winona Ryder, and she is fun and downright spunky as the baby-faced cab driver Corky. Ryder really embodies the late 80s/early 90s for me and this is a clear example of her awesomeness during that time (not that she isn't still great!). Giancarlo Esposito (HELLO GUS!) and Armin Mueller-Stahl are my new favorite odd couple, and Robert Benigni is twisted and hilarious in his neverending ramblings. Isaach de Bankolé continues to captivate me with his face. Every time I look at him I get all "I have to draw you..." and it's a little sad. (Incidentally, I did sketch him once after The Limits of Control.)

Like the rest of my experiences with Jarmusch, I found Night on Earth entertaining and well-scripted, but I didn't all-out love it. I like that it's a little more accessible and straightforward than some of his other films, but the disconnected vignette style worked against it as a whole since I didn't love every piece. Still pretty rad though!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: For more Jarmusch vignette-y goodness there is of course Coffee and Cigarettes. It's got Bill Murray! (But don't tell anyone he's here.) Or watch an episode of Cash Cab.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Harvey (1950)

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

I'll always remember the day in high school when I stayed up for over 24 hours watching a Jimmy Stewart marathon on TCM. I think it was sometime around the 2am mark when Harvey came on, and I've been smitten ever since. Based on the play by Mary Chase, the film stars Stewart as the ever-so-pleasant Elwood P Dowd, whose sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and niece Myrtle May (Victoria Horne) are fed up with his titular best friend, an invisible, 6-foot-three-and-a-half-inch-tall talking rabbit. They conspire to place Elwood in a mental institution so that their lives can proceed normally (Veta is intent on marrying her daughter off) but a series of misunderstandings leads them to rethink their decision.

This movie is the very definition of the warm fuzzies. Centered around the unquestionably delightful performance of Jimmy Stewart, Harvey delivers a lighthearted, fanciful story that at the same time delves into deeper questions of family, loyalty, and sanity. Veta feels she is going mad the longer she lives with a brother who makes room in his life for an invisible rabbit- Elwood is so obliging to and so engaged with this unseen force it's almost impossible to not believe Harvey exists. Even though towards the end we learn that this "pooka" does indeed exist, the audience is likely to be convinced long before that through some clever hints and various nods from Stewart.

I love the script so much. It is one of the most quotable films I've ever seen, with so many lines that either crack me up or give me pause. Stewart gets most of the best lines, maintaining a sweet and disaffected air as he inquires politely about those around him and ruminates about his times with Harvey. He embodies the role of Elwood so completely, comfortably slipping into the shoes of this mild-mannered and disarmingly innocent man. His past self is partially restructured through other characters' comments, but it is only this version of Elwood that we see, a man who chose to change his priorities after his mother's death. Of course Josephine Hull (who won an Oscar for her performance) gives Stewart a run for his money as Veta. Her facial expressions are absolutely priceless, and her histrionics after she is mistaken for a mental patient are hilarious.

A big thing about Harvey is how it reminds that everything about mental health science and hospitals in the 50's was just WRONG. Elwood's would-be psychiatrist Dr Sanderson is a super jerk and way sexist, but luckily a good amount of the dialogue around him is a put-down of his character and assumptions. Dr Chumley is an asshole too. Seriously, just crazy superdickery.

Everything about this movie makes me smile, except the end, which makes me cry for about the same reasons as what makes me smile. Elwood is so sweet and gentle, so hopeful and honest. It's heartbreaking. There's something naive about him, despite flashes of his obvious intelligence and world experience. The fact that he chooses to be this way, and doesn't give in to any of the societal and familial pressures around him is the most important point. He gives everyone his business card. He invites everyone over for dinner. He holds doors for people, he asks after his friends' families, he compliments openly. His loves spending time with his best friend Harvey. He must be crazy.

5/5

Pair This Movie With: I was excited when I read the Generation X arc about a pooka named Elwood, but that's definitely a me thing. Otherwise this usually puts me in the mood for more Stewart. Can't go wrong with The Philadelphia Story, You Can't Take It With You, or The Shop Around the Corner. Alternatively, Arsenic and Old Lace offers some more Josephine Hull action.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wayne's World (1992)

Seen: On blu-ray on our big screen/projector set-up, recently purchased for $6 at Best Buy.

Ever since I watched Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure a few weeks ago I have been craving a viewing of Wayne's World. Luckily I found it for super cheap on blu-ray, wow! Based on the popular SNL skit, the film focuses on headbanging buddies Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey) as they're given the chance to bring their public access show to the big time. Sleazy television executive Benjamin (Rob Lowe) sees an opportunity to exploit their public appeal for his video game-hawking sponsor (Brian Doyle-Murray), while simultaneously plotting to steal Wayne's up-and-coming rock star girlfriend Cassandra (Tia Carrere). What an evil guy!

With constant nods to the camera and numerous pop culture references, Wayne's World is an unapologetically goofy trip through early 90's slacker suburbia. They're self-absorbed and kinda stupid, but there's something endearing and ultimately enduring about the central characters of Wayne and Garth as they rock out to Queen (which honestly puts the dumbest smile on my face every single time), fantasize about pretty ladies, and fight the Man. Myers and Carvey are so good together, achieving a chemistry that's nothing short of adorable, and I'm just happy to see them do their thing. Even if it doesn't really make any sense. There's a bit of nostalgia here, making the film both an homage to and a product of its time. The soundtrack is rockin'- I especially dig the fake band "Crucial Taunt". Tia Carrere can actually sing and she did a kickass job as frontwoman (and lace-loving) Cassandra. Plus she learned some Cantonese for the part! What dedication! (Myers actually knows Cantonese, what a showoff.)

It's not perfect, of course. Not every joke lands and the story is meandering and overlong (unsurprising for an SNL skit adaptation), and once in a while Myers treads the line between funny and grating. The whole subplot with "crazy ex-girlfriend" Lara Flynn Boyle doesn't really do it for me either. But the impressive cameos (Alice Cooper! Chris Farley! Ione Skye! MEAT LOAF!), frequent breaching of the fourth wall, and all-around silliness keep me reasonably entertained for the entire runtime. Plus Rob Lowe totally gets in a Chris Traeger-esque "LIT-erally" and that just made my day. It's a fun movie, and definitely one of the best SNL movies behind The Blues Brothers (another recent blu-ray purchase I hope to get to soon) and Office Space if you count it.

4/5

PS There's a pretty cool making-of doc on the blu-ray (not sure if it's on the dvd) that I would recommend to anyone interested. Lots of cool trivia and behind-the-scenes stuff, and interviews with Myers, Carvey, Carrere, Lowe, and director Penelope Spheeris.

Pair This Movie With: Well I remember enjoying the sequel well enough, but it's been many years so I can't really recommend it strongly. I'd say This Is Spinal Tap would be a good pairing.

My original art for this film is for sale.

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Friday, November 18, 2011

Alex Makes Art #59

I have been working on another commission this week, this time for my boss as a Christmas gift to her husband. They are both big fans of The Nightmare Before Christmas so I made an ink painting for his office wall. I think it came out ok, I hope they both like it!


Also I'd like to remind everyone that there are a lot of original posters, prints, and ink drawings available in my shop, for you to buy! You can use the coupon "BLOG11", good for a 10% discount, and just for blog readers. Wowee! I am also available for commissions, just let me know through here or email at alex.kittle@gmail.com. I do my best to be versatile and accommodating. Feel free to tell your friends in case they need holiday gift ideas, eh? I will continue to remind you of this as holidays approach. Apologies for the blatant self-promotion, but I did just get into grad school, so I can use all the extra money I can get.

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Shot in the Dark (1964)

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

Miles and I were watching Lupin III (as we do) the other day and an episode that's just one long Pink Panther reference had me asking questions since I've never actually seen any of those films. I started out with A Shot in the Dark because as far as I could tell it sort of set the precedent for the style of the many films that came after in the series. Starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling French detective Jacques Clouseau, the film does its best to concern itself with a multiple murder case surrounding wide-eyed maid Maria (Elke Sommer) but tends to focus more on the goofy exploits of its main character. Clouseau dons weird disguises, tries to date Maria (whom he is convinced is innocent despite remarkable evidence against her), kung-fus with his housekeeper Kato (Burt Kwuok), and pushes his boss (Herbert Lom) to the brink of insanity. And somehow solves the case.

To no one's surprise, goofiness abounds in this film, and that's totally ok. Everyone is pretty contented to sit back and watch Peter Sellers prance about intentionally making a fool of himself in stuffy aristocratic mansions and nudist colonies and police headquarters. He steers the film through a murder mystery whose solution is almost irrelevant when placed against Clouseau's investigating antics. Sellers is supported ably by the likes of Herbert Lom as his perpetually exasperated boss, George Sanders as a stuffy rich dude connected to the murders, and Elke Sommer as the suspicious/sexy/naive Maria. But the other star of this movie is probably Graham Stark as Hercule Lovejoy, Clouseau's put-upon assistant. Their interactions produced some of the best jokes and I'm pretty in love with all of Stark's facial expressions. The various fight scenes between Clouseau and Kato are also highlights.

A Shot in the Dark is fun and lighthearted, but to me it did feel a bit too dated and cheesy to really get into. I loved certain scenes but could have done without others. It's a pretty specific type of comedy that doesn't always work but is totally worth it when it does. There are some cool directorial choices, from the prolonged opening shot to the various ways assassinations are attempted, but some moments are dragged out or less interesting. I enjoyed the film for the most part but don't really feel the need to see it again. I could imagine loving it as a kid, though.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Well the Lupin episode "My Birthday Pursuit" is what started all this so that's a serious suggestion. Otherwise I guess one of the sequels?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Viridiana (1961)

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

To give you an idea of where I'm coming from when I talk about Viridiana, let me begin with the sultry netflix summary: "Before taking her final vows, young nun Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) visits her uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), who's supported her for years. But Jaime, fixated on his niece because of her resemblance to his late wife, sets out to corrupt her. Celebrated surrealist Luis Buñuel directs this controversial satire, which was banned by the Spanish government for obscenity and blasphemy. Viridiana won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival." Sounds awesome right? With the promise of heresy, incest, presumably sexy times, and a corrupted nun, I was looking forward to this movie. Turns out that's not at all what it's really about.

So in the beginning young nun Viridiana does indeed visit her ailing uncle and he totally lusts after her because she looks like his dead wife. But he doesn't try to seduce her, he drugs her and molests her when she falls asleep in his wife's wedding dress. Then he kills himself. This is all within the first half hour or so I think. The rest of the movie is about Viridiana helping a group of homeless people while her cousin tries to sleep with all the women in his vicinity. It's all a commentary on how shitty the Catholic Church is or something. Self-serving piety and all that.

Look, I dig Surrealism as much as the next person, despite all the sexism. Magritte is one of my favorite artists. So I think I should be more into Buñuel. I liked Un Chien Andalou because of how crazy it is, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is ok, and that's about as far as I got. I chose Viridiana because I think corrupted religious figures are always interesting, and I don't like Catholicism. Unfortunately, my completely off-base expectations coupled with Buñuel's meandering pace and narrative produced a lukewarm reaction as I viewed the film.

Part of the problem is that I didn't really understand the character of Viridiana. She's pretty, she's pious, she's confused, and she's kind of mean. I'm not sure what her motivations are for any of her actions, except taking in the local homeless since that is the kind of thing a guilt-stricken charitable person with sudden wealth might do. Everyone in this movie is unlikable, and it's ok, it happens, but I felt like there was nothing for me to hold on to. The story shifts several times so that I was never sure what the actual main plotline was, or if there even was one. I know I shouldn't hold Buñuel up to conventional standards, but because much of Viridiana is pretty straightforward with its blunt symbolism and stock characters, I continued to hold out for things that weren't there.

I liked the whole rich/poor dichotomy with the beggars and the Last Supper joke, and there is some powerful imagery in the film. The story seems like a failed quest for civility. The cast is strong, with Silvia Pinal's intense and captivating face forcing me to wonder just what forces lay behind it. Margarita Lozano stands out in the supporting role of maid Ramona- she is slightly crazed and easily dominated, and I kept expecting her to just break.

It's not that I disliked Viridiana, I guess I just expected something different. Though there are parts of it I enjoyed and appreciated, overall it felt lacking. That's cool it was banned in Spain though. Franco was such a dick, amirite?

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Mmmm not sure here. More Buñuel? I've heard Belle du Jour is good. Or The Sound of Music has a nun who goes away and lives in a fancy house, but she has a lot more fun than Viridiana!

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Legally Blonde (2001)

Seen: On dvd on my tv, recently purchased for $5 at an FYE-ish place in Toronto HMV! Livin' on the cheap!

I've been sort of in the mood to watch this movie for about a year but I never think to buy it. UNTIL NOW. Based on the book by Amanda Brown and penned by the screenwriting team who would sadly later go on to write The House Bunny and The Ugly Truth, Legally Blonde stars Reese Witherspoon as popular and perky sorority president Elle Woods. Dumped by her pretentious wannabe lawyer boyfriend, she enrolls at Harvard Law School to prove to him that she can be the kind of wife he needs to impress his hoity-toity family. She quickly discovers that her bubbly personality, loud fashion, and naivety cause her Harvard peers to snub her- and underestimate her.

Hiding beneath its pink and frivolous facade, Legally Blonde is actually pretty clever and forward-thinking in many ways. Beginning as a desperate forced romance between a supposedly vapid homecoming queen and a bland, stuck-up asshole, it at first seems like an over-the-top romantic comedy. But you know what? Romance is barely a focus here, which is always awesome in any lady-fronted comedy. When you've got Witherspoon's adorable high-pitched antics, Selma Blair making some amazing faces, and Jennifer Coolidge doing anything, there really isn't any need for a romance to bore things up. Sure Luke Wilson makes eyes at Elle, but it's not really a thing.

Side note: It's funny because as the movie progressed I kept thinking, "This should be a musical" and then like 45 minutes later I realized it HAS been turned into a Broadway musical and I've SEEN it. It was sort of unmemorable I guess?

For the most part this movie is all about a determined, smarter-than-she-looks lady out to prove herself highly capable in the scholastic and professional world despite various obstacles. Elle is misjudged and berated simply because she doesn't come off as a typical Harvard smartie-pants. There are some easy fish-out-of-water jokes, because lol she's blonde and pretty but trying to read BOOKS?!?!??! but I pay more attention to Elle's totally awesome put-downs and can-do attitude. Here is a girl I myself would probably judge harshly when I first met her because I myself am basically a snob, so I love that the script spends so much time proving my first impression wrong. She starts off as a caricature of a popular pretty girl, but is quickly established as a multi-dimensional, resourceful, highly capable young woman who just happens to like fashion and parties. I mean fuck it, I could never get into Harvard Law. Elle is goddamn Wonder Woman.

I would probably unabashedly love this movie if not for one huge problematic scene. There's this crazy exaggerated gay stereotype in one of the courtroom segments, and it's not very funny, and completely unnecessary. I don't mind the plot point of "Oh the pool boy's gay, which is why he's probably lying about having an affair with Ali Larter", whatever. But figuring out he's gay because he recognized Elle's Prada shoes? And then the "YOU BITCH" thing with the boyfriend? I don't know, it just seems so dated and out of place in an otherwise open-minded movie. It could be worse I guess, but mostly I just wish that scene wasn't there.

Anyway Legally Blonde is OTHERWISE pretty great. Maybe just fast-forward through that one part. And remember not to judge people just because they're pretty and perky. Sometimes, not everyone is a jerk, you know?

4/5

Pair This Movie With: I'm not sure, maybe Mean Girls- That's got self-actualization but in high school. Or Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead has some similar themes. For more light Reese Witherspoon fare, I admit I'm a fan of Just Like Heaven.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Alex Makes Art #58

Oh my it's time for more art that I made, isn't that fun? New stuff will be taking some thematic turns in upcoming weeks as I work on a couple of commissions, which is exciting. I will still make time for my own work though as evidenced below with my totally awesome gig poster for Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem! I loved their scene in The Muppet Movie and have pretty much had "Can You Picture That" on a loop in my head for a week. I wanted to make something psychedelic and rainbowy and fun, and I think that's pretty much what happened! Good times.

It's for sale! Buy it! Hurray!

Also in case you're interested here's the first in a big commission series I'm doing for a lady on etsy.


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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Take Shelter (2011)

Seen: At the Landmark Cinema Kendall Square in Cambridge.

A movie that proposes to be about a horrendous impending storm but moves quietly into documenting one man's gradual descent into paranoid schizophrenia, Take Shelter is Jeff Nichols' second feature after his excellent debut Shotgun Stories. The illustrious Michael Shannon stars as Curtis, a construction foreman plagued by hyper-realistic dreams that predict a storm so horrific it turns people into killers. As his visions move into his waking life he fears equally for his sanity and his family's safety, building a tornado shelter just in case he turns out to be right while his wife (Jessica Chastain) and deaf daughter (Tova Stewart) look on in confusion and eventual fear.

With airtight editing, haunting and innovative visuals, an evocative score, and a climax as tense as it is gut-wrenching, Take Shelter delivers on both a narrative and emotional level with room to spare for Shannon's intense and compassionate performance. As usual he proves that he is not nearly famous enough. Suffice it to say, I loved everything about it.

The perfect blending of real world and dream world, part of the film's success is the perpetual uncertainty about what is actually happening at any given time, and whether or not Curtis could be right. He's so convinced that his dreams are prophetic, and Nichols is so adept at infusing each shot with a feeling of doom, that it's easy to believe the world is about to end. This thrilling tension is offset by the gripping emotional drama of Curtis's home life as he alienates his family and friends. Fresh from her insufferable Holy Madonna character in The Tree of Life, Jessica Chastain gives a very strong performance as Samantha, who juts out her dimpled chin in defiance of her husband's insensible actions, determined to stick with him through this hardship if she can only understand what he's going through. There's also one fantastic and revealing scene with Kathy Baker as Curtis's mother. I won't spoil it for you. And it's always nice to see Shea Whigham!

Over a week later and I'm still besotted with this film's imaginative and manipulative imagery, and just the realness of it all. I walked out of Take Shelter mildly speechless, and terrified that either I or those close to me would start slipping into madness at 35. I'm also sort of scared of freaky clouds and flocks of flying birds now. So, I guess this film is wildly effective. And I can't think of anything that's wrong with it, really.

5/5

Pair This Movie With: I'd recommend seeing this with A Serious Man, I just have this strong feeling that they'd go really well together. Plus they both star current Boardwalk Empire actors.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part II

Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, on 35 mm.
But first, read
Part One!

Now on to the wee-er hours of the morning with the 12am-12pm Horrorthon at Coolidge Corner. Before everyone judges me for nodding off a few times, I'd like you to keep in mind that not only had I worked a 9-5 day on my feet beforehand, but also I've been taking sleep-inducing Benadryl all the time because of allergy problems. Also the seats at the Coolidge are so comfortable! Although I must say it was super cold in there, and the snowstorm outside wasn't helping! Anyway, onwards to more thrills and chills and snoozes.

4 Dèmoni 2: L'incubo ritorna (Demons 2) (1986)
Yeah so I haven't seen the first Demons and after struggling through the first half hour I pretty much chose this one as the movie I would sleep through. Directed by Mario Bava's son Lamberto and co-written by Dario Argento, I imagine this film is decent if viewed in a non-exhausted mindset. The story has something to do with a lady's birthday party and demons who come out of a tv show and possess unsuspecting viewers in a big apartment building. As far as I could tell it was super 80's and a bit gory (lots of veins popping out everywhere), but I honestly don't remember much else. Sorry.
?/5

5 Hardware (1990)
I was excited for this one because it's referenced on an episode of The Office and it sounded AWESOME from the netflix description. Too bad it's not actually that good. Drawing pretty liberally from films like The Terminator and Alien, the film sets up a crumbling post-apocalyptic future, then sort of forgets about it as a lady is trapped in her apartment with a killer robot. It seeks to be a futuristic horror movie and I applaud its efforts, but it doesn't really mesh genres well. The setting and characters aren't very well established and the effects/direction aren't thoughtful enough to really make this robot monster situation terrifying. Plus it's paced really badly and I definitely dozed off for a bit in the third act because I thought it was over. Still, I like the premise and Dylan McDermott is there with a robot hand. And the artist lady is pretty ok. There are a lot of good ideas in this movie, but nothing quite works the way it should. It's watchable, though.
3/5

6 Hellraiser (1987)
I was also pretty convinced I'd be too grossed out/scared of this one to make it all the way through, but aside from some intermittent dozing during the opening scenes (I WAS TIRED OK), I was pretty into this movie. It manages to be both funny in a cheesy 80's way and legitimately scary and interesting horror. The main lady is over-the-top British with a bad haircut and half the movie is her making sex-gasp noises, which is always hilarious. But then all the monsters and stuff that come out of hellworld or whatever to claim her gooey zombie boyfriend are freaky and imaginatively designed. Plus there's mad amounts of sado-masochism, jeez. Clive Barker (in his directorial debut) utilizes the claustrophobic setting of the family's house really well, managing to create tension and atmosphere in a seemingly banal location. Good stuff.
4/5

7 Rabid
So we were pretty far-gone at this point and since we had already seen Rabid at the Sci-Fi Marathon a few years ago, it seemed pointless to force ourselves to sit through it again when we were feeling like half-crazed zombie people anyway. This is Cronenberg's second film, and it's notable for starring porn actress Marilyn Chambers and working some body horror into a typical zombie premise. I thought it was ok, a little boring, and for more of my thoughts you can click the title which links to my 'Thon review.
3/5

Well there you have it, another Halloween dominated by comfy seats, schlocky horror, and like-minded nerds and over-animated hipsters (it's Brookline, they're inescapable) to share it with. We'll see what the Coolidge has to offer next year!

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Coolidge Corner Horror Marathon, Part I

Seen: At the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. Everything was 35mm, thank goodness.

Like last year, I stepped out for my annual Halloween shenanigans at the Coolidge Corner Theatre, which hosts a yearly all-night horror marathon for Boston's more discerning moviegoers. There's a costume contest, freaky video compilations from the Whore Church, and most importantly tons of awesome movies! Also I got to meet blogger/twitter buddy Adam in person, who stayed for the first two films. Nice to meet you, guy! Click ahead to HORRORRRRRR.

1 Suspiria (1977)
Though I had watched this fairly recently it was exciting to see it in a theater, with the whispery Goblin tunes and breathtaking color schemes felt more acutely than in a home viewing. I was able to take in more details, such as Argento's high placement of doorknobs to make the girls seem smaller, and Udo Kier's hilarious pronunciation of the word "occult" (although I think he was dubbed?). For my full thoughts, the title links to my original review. Also I'd like to remind you that my Suspiria ink painting is still available for sale.
4/5

2 The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
This was definitely my favorite of the films I saw at the marathon. One of two films directed by legendary sci-fi/horror writer Dan O'Bannon, it is a hilarious and often gruesome view of the zombie apocalypse as experienced by a bunch of teenage punks and the bumbling employees of a medical supply company when a deadly gas is released into the atmosphere and a nearby cemetery comes alive- LITERALLY LOL. Within zombie mythology it is notable in its inclusion of sentient zombies who are just overcome by pain and hunger, a sexy naked zombie, and an awesomely gung-ho solution to the problem. AND not only does the black guy not die first, he makes it to the end mostly! And his name is Spider! Basically: this movie rules. It's funny and scary and imaginative and always exciting. Great effects, too.
4.5/5

3 The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
I was convinced this movie would be super gross and scary and I'd have to avert my eyes for most of the scenes, but actually it's totally watchable and I liked it a lot! The story starts off slowly as five twentysomethings head out to an isolated and abandoned house in rural Texas that two of them used to vacation in as kids (they're brother and sister and the house is owned by their family). They come across strange collections of bones and other unseemly hints at the horror awaiting them, but somehow they still walk right into the titular massacre as a nearby crazy person persists in picking them off one by one. The film really picks up in the last act as lone survivor Sally discovers the true extent of homicidal madness that this area has to offer. It's pretty awesome.
4/5

All right stay tuned for Part II tomorrow, involving some vein-y demons, robot terror, gooey undead murderers, and indulgent British lady sex. Hurray!

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Monday, November 7, 2011

50/50 (2011)

Seen: At the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto. (Canada!)

I know it took me forever but I finally saw 50/50. Yay me. Based on the actual experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, the film follows 27-year-old radio editor Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he copes with his recent cancer diagnosis. He struggles opening up to his appointed therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick), pals around with his only friend (right?) Kyle (Seth Rogen- who is basically playing himself since he is actually best friends with Reiser), gets chemotherapy with some lovable old dudes (Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall), and re-assesses his relationship with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). All while ignoring calls from his over-protective mother (Anjelica Huston).

50/50 is pretty much exactly what I expected it to be, and that's totally ok. It oscillates between goofy, cutesy humor and heart-wrenching drama, without drifting too far into either for an ultimately realistic portrayal of the protagonist's dilemma. I couldn't help but think often of my mother, who in the past few years has seen several of her close friends be diagnosed with cancer, some prevailing and some not. The script is strongest in its moments of subtlety, from a quiet "How are you doing, mom?" in the doctor's office to a friendly offering of pot while Adam gets chemo for the first time. The over-the-top antics of Adam and Kyle trying to pick up cancer-sympathetic girls and the histrionic relationship Adam has with his girlfriend make for weaker scenes. Especially the latter. Seriously, am I the only one who is utterly fed up with this stupid "bitchy ex-girlfriend" cliche? I assume Rachael is based on a real person, so sorry if Will Reiser actually dated a two-timing melodramatic artist, but he could at least have attempted to humanize her. She's portrayed as a woman who is awful for no apparent reason, and I can't figure out why they were even dating.

Otherwise I am a fan of this film! The performances are great, from Gordon-Levitt's ever-adorable face and Kendrick's relatability to Rogen's surprisingly resonant supporting performance and Huston's enduring awesomeness. The absolute best part if you are a total geek is that Matt Frewer is there for like three scenes, and he totally has a line about how great television is! And I was like FUCK YEAH MAX HEADROOOOOM.

So 50/50 made me teary, duh. And I laughed sometimes. And I liked it.

4/5

Pair This Movie With: Oh god it's so hard to not just say Max Headroom. But that's where you need to go if you want more Matt Frewer. For an actual, sensible pairing how about Rocket Science for another example of Anna Kendrick helping out a dude who has a problem.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

I Love Children Double Feature: Annie (1982) and Billy Elliot (2000)

Seen: On dvd on Sasha's fancy new tv, while visiting Toronto.

Reading Sasha's review of Annie had me weirdly in the mood to re-visit it. I remember watching it a lot as a kid even though the main character annoyed the shit out of me. Then while visiting her in Toronto we had multiple conversations (with multiple people) about the fact that I hadn't seen Billy Elliot. It appears this is a crime against humanity? But never fear, all was set right thanks to her generosity and good thinking! We had a delightful double feature during an important day of blogging.

Based on the long-running newspaper comic strip and subsequent musical adaptation, Annie tells the disgustingly saccharine tale of the titular Depression-era orphan (Aileen Quinn) as she moves from an orphanage in the slums up to a billionaire's mansion when she is invited to spend a week with Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks (Albert Finney). She learns what it's like to be rich, chills with a hair-flippy dancing secretary (Ann Reinking), and tries to escape the evil clutches of the gold-digging Miss Hannigan (Carol Burnett) and her con artist associates (Tim Curry and Bernadette Peters). Also there's a dog. And lots of singing. And... little girls...

As a kid I watched this movie primarily because I loved the Talent Trinity of Carol Burnett, Tim Curry, and Bernadette Peters. Also I liked the dancing. As a character Annie has remained irritating as all hell, but it's kind of entertaining. She's high-pitched and super passive-aggressive and really over-acty (well, all the kids are, so I can't blame her there), and it's basically hilarious. The rest of the cast isn't much better, excepting my three favorites mentioned earlier. Albert Finney yells at everything and wears a bald cap while Ann Reinking blares that audacious smile and over-laughs at every joke. I enjoyed Edward Hermann's appearance as FDR, a president who could only stop the Depression with the help of an asshole billionaire apparently. And there's some racism both for the 30's and 80's as a black man plays an Indian guy named Punjab who has mystical powers (duh he's Indian OF COURSE HE HAS MYSTICAL POWERS). At there's no brownface?

The story is ok, pretty straightforward, family-friendly heartwarming stuff with a watered-down version of the time period- everything is over the top and over-simplified, but that's to be expected for a musical aimed at kids. Which is why the surprisingly terrifying climax and totally ridiculous scenes involving the sex-starved and abusive Miss Hannigan don't really fit in with the rest of the film. But oh well, it's Carol Burnett's drunken rants about children that keep me coming back to Annie. What can I say? I totally relate.

I have so many complaints about this movie, clearly, yet I find it so re-watchable. The songs and musical numbers are truly great, and there are some really fun scenes that re-create entertainment in the 30's, such as the radio broadcast and the movie screening pre-show. It's the kind of film that's sort of fun because of its problems, as well as despite them. And seriously, Burnett is comic gold as Miss Hannigan, and now I'm off to watch her stride down "Easy Street" with Tim and Bernadette.

3/5

Ok time for the main feature here as I finally dig into Billy Elliot, a movie I'd heard so much about I almost feel like I'd seen it already, especially with recent talk about the stage musical. Cute-as-a-button Jamie Bell stars as Billy, a young boy living in small-town England who secretly skips boxing lessons to join a dance class. His teacher Mrs Wilkinson (Julie Walters) believes he has real talent and encourages him to apply to a London dance academy, but his conventional father (Gary Lewis) and bullying older brother (Jamie Draven)- who are both on an extended coal miner's strike- don't understand these aspirations.

It's kind of cheesy and pretty predictable, but dammit I was really into this movie. The script merges the actual UK Miner's Strike in 1984 with the fictional story of an idiosyncratic boy who fights for his dream at the risk of alienating his family. While these components don't always fit together well, it does make for a more gripping backdrop of your typical kid-just-wants-to-dance tale. It allows for more exploration of the father and brother characters, and a more nuanced context for the townsfolk. I liked the subplot about Billy's best friend who's secretly gay, even though I worried for that character the whole movie because it felt like physical confrontation just waiting to happen.

Aside from Jamie Bell being absolutely adorable and wonderfully expressive, Billy Elliot's crowning achievement is the dancing. OH THE DANCING. There are so many awesome musical sequences in this movie, it's amazing. Jamie Bell is just a really good dancer, seriously, because for the most part I don't think they used a body double. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) He does one of the best angry dances I've ever seen, so enjoy that. This is a pretty awesome movies, you guys, not sure why I never watched it. Time to see the stage version.

4/5

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Alex Makes Art #57 (AKA The Movie Sketch Project Changes Names)

Hey dudes, how's it hanging? I know I've lapsed in my art-making lately, I have no excuse except to say that I work two jobs and have had some health-related mishaps this month. Also I was in Toronto for a glorious week and had no time for art. I've got a lot in development though, including a bitchin' new movie band gig poster I'm conceptualizing for this month, a Night of the Hunter painting I'm itching to start, and a batch of commissions for a lady on etsy (those will take precedent). Also I'm changing the title since I've moved away from the "sketch" aspect and it's not always about movies. It will still mostly be about movies, though, don't worry.

Anyway for today I have a portrait of PJ Harvey, one of my favorite musicians. For you non-music, pro-movie people you might know PJ from Hal Hartley's The Book of Life, her only film role to date. Her birthday was a few weeks ago (when I started this drawing- it has taken so long to finish). It's too big to scan so it had to be broken into two parts, sorry for the weird shadow and slightly warped angles, that's the best I could manage for now- which is too bad since in real life I think it looks pretty good.



PS Gifty holidays are coming up, why not surprise your loved one with art from my shop? Eh?

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pennies From Heaven (1981)

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

I put regular reviews on hold while covering Toronto After Dark so this one is getting a little foggy in my memory. But I shall do my best. Based on the BBC miniseries of the same name, Pennies From Heaven is one of those high-concept, ill-fated musicals of the late twentieth century that some will probably call misunderstood and under-rated. Those people would be wrong. Steve Martin stars as Arthur, a Depression-era sheet music salesman who is unfulfilled by his high-strung wife (Jessica Harper) and turns to brusque schoolteacher Eileen (Bernadette Peters) for sexual satisfaction. He also meets various put-upon people with problems, and things get worse and worse the more the story progresses. He makes up musical numbers in his head along the way.

What a mess. With a loathsome protagonist and one-dimensional side characters, not to mention a completely uneven tone and ridiculous plot, Pennies From Heaven needs all the splashy musical numbers and charismatic stars it can get. Luckily, the jaw-dropping set-pieces (including a few recreations of 30s-era paintings), stunning choreography from hilariously-named Danny Daniels, and plucky cast kept me engaged enough to sit through the dull and unconvincing non-musical parts. The songs are all era standards, and the majority of them aren't actually sung by the actors, who instead lip-sync to old recordings complete with audio blips and scratches. At first this was strange, especially since several of the performers are fine singers in real life (especially Peters and Harper), but it has a nice comedic effect at times and I ended up really liking the choice once I got used to it, just because it's a little different. Plus everyone is such a good dancer! HELLO CHRISTOPHER WALKEN!

But really, the script is so hard to deal with. I have no idea how seriously I'm supposed to take this movie, but my gut tells me it's meant to be pretty damn dramatic. Horrible things keep happening to these people, and they just retreat into musical numbers to try and cope. The thing is, all of the characters are so poorly delineated and developed that I couldn't bring myself to care. I spent most of the movie wanting to lead Jessica Harper away from the set. And it's so hard to see Steve Martin play such a complete asshole when he's the central focus. The tone jumps from peppy and upbeat to awful and calamitous without warning, and at times it's just hard to watch. I have nothing against dramatic musicals, they don't all have to be Fred Astaire making eyes at Ginger Rogers, but considering so much of this film is a nod to sparkly Busby Berkeley musicals of the 30's and the like, it's tough to take in all the context.

Honestly, if you just watched all the musical numbers online you'd be fine, there's not really any need to see the entire movie. I have helpfully supplied my favorites below. You're welcome. (Unfortunately I can't find the most impressive number, "Yes, Yes".)

3/5

Pair This Movie With: Shit, I don't know. The Saddest Music in the World is set in the 30's and has a few musical numbers. Or there's Chicago. Or just watch The Jerk for the excellent Martin/Peters pairing in a better movie.

"Let's Misbehave" (WATCH THIS IF YOU WANT TO SEE CHRISTOPHER WALKEN DO A STRIPTEASE)


"Pennies From Heaven"


"Love is Good for Anything That Ails You"


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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Toronto After Dark Film Festival: Shorts

This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.

Though I missed the shorts program, I did see a number of excellent short films screened before each feature at Toronto After Dark. Some are zany, some icky, some horrifying, some thought-provoking, some hilarious. All of them are Canadian!

"The Legend of Beaver Dam" (Jerome Sable, 2010; 12 min)
Combine camping, musical theater, heavy metal, and slasher horror and you've begun to crack the sheer awesome joy of this short. It manages to be hilariously inventive, surprisingly action-packed, and darkly shocking in just 12 minutes. I mean, jeez. That is talent, right? I hear it's been playing pretty often at Toronto events and it's screened at various national and international festivals, so hopefully everyone will get a chance to see it!
More info at its website.

"My Main Squeeze" (Chris Nash, 2011; 7 min)
A girl becomes obsessed with popping bubble wrap to the point of sexual fetish. I don't want to go into it any more. Though it's funny and imaginative, I wasn't a big fan of this one, primarily because I am squeamish and have lately been dealing with skin problems that make me sensitive to such topics. It got a very strong response from the audience, I will say that much! Nash also did the horror-themed bumpers before all the TAD films, which I enjoyed.

"Le Poids De Vude" ("The Weight of Emptiness") (Alain Fournier, 2011; 13 min)
Set within a moody apartment building with boarded-up windows, this film tests the relationship between a mysterious mother and son. The blue-tinged color scheme and vaguely sci-fi atmosphere lend the short an intensity and enticing ambiguity. The two actors give fine performances, and the effects are gorgeous. A straight-up beautiful film.
Check out the trailer on youtube.

"The Incident" (Jules Saulnier, 2011; 7 min)
This is another favorite, primarily for how all-out weird it is. An American spy wanders around Berlin with seemingly no memory or purpose, trying to figure out why Baltimore has to be destroyed. It doesn't really make any sense but it's downright funny and I loved it. The black and white visuals, the stilted, distant dialogue (reminiscent of overly-choreographed Hal Hartley conversations), and the befuddling narrative make me want to watch it again and again, because I'm sure there are details I missed.
Check out the trailer on youtube.

"Blind Spot" (Matthew Nayman, 2011; 6 min)
Stuck in traffic on his way to the airport, Steven is transferred around the airline booking agents as he tries to change his flight over the phone. He isn't aware of anything happening around him, but he has to look out the window sometime! This is a snappy, smart little short with a simple set-up and hilarious pay-off, definitely one of the most memorable shorts I saw at the festival.
Watch the film on youtube.

"Ethereal Chrysalis" (Syl Disjonk, 2010; 10 min)
Inspired by his nightmares, filmmaker Syl Disjonk puts himself in a series of horrific hellscapes. Faces rip off, entrails slither about, demons suck face, bodies are dismembered, a painting comes to life... and various other things happen. There isn't really a narrative, it's more a group of nightmarish ideas thrown into a blender and filmed in front of a green screen and set to operatic music. It's not really my thing, but some of the visuals were cool.
More info at its website.

"How to Rid Your Lover of a Negative Emotion Caused By You" (Nadia Litz, 2011; 16 min)
This is the only film (short or feature) I saw that was directed by a woman, so that's cool. (Side note: Come on, ladies, let's get more genre films into next year's Toronto After Dark!) It focuses on a couple with a strange dynamic: Whenever Sadie pisses off her boyfriend Dennis, she knocks him out, cuts out the bad emotions she caused him (they look like blueberries), stitches him back up, feeds him a lollipop, and everything's fine. But it can't last forever. This film manages to be funny, tragic, and visceral at the same time, with an inventive premise and fine performances. Great stuff!
Check out their facebook page.

"The Lady Paranorma" (Vincent Marcone, 2011; 6 min)
This is the only animated film I saw (I skipped Redline since I'd already seen it), so that was exciting for me! With a surreal aesthetic and poetic narration, the film looks at a lonely lady who hears ghosts but can't see them. Believed to be insane by the rest of the town, she tries to find a friend in the dead. It's beautifully animated and scored, and I loved the brown color palette and ethereal look of the ghosts. I couldn't help but recall Tim Burton works like "Vincent" and Corpse Bride, what with the rhyming, Goth-y character design, and askew sets, so I guess it's a bit derivative. I still dug it though!
Check out the trailer on youtube.

Well, thus ends my Toronto After Dark coverage, hopefully you've enjoyed my first foray into this Canadian genre fest. I know I did! Looking forward to next year!

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Toronto After Dark Film Festival: The Innkeepers (2011)

This review is part of my coverage of the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival, taking place October 20-27 at the Toronto Underground Cinema. For more information, check out their website. For my full coverage go here.

With the spiffiest poster I've seen in a while and a lot of positive buzz for The House of the Devil filmmaker Ti West, I was definitely looking forward to The Innkeepers, the closing film at Toronto After Dark. Set at a purportedly haunted inn in Connecticut, the film documents the adventures of Claire (Sarah Paxton, aka the Most Adorable Person in the World) and Luke (Pat Healy) as they work one of their last nights at the soon-to-close Yankee Pedlar Inn. Using an audio recorder, Claire plans to find proof of resident ghost Madeline O'Malley before the night is out, with help from a psychic guest (Kelly McGillis).

Utilizing long bouts of silence and continued uncertainty as to the validity of spectral presence, The Innkeepers proves West is adept at the "slow-burn" style of horror. It is incredibly tense and at points truly scary, primarily because of all the crazy what-ifs I built up in my head as the action slowly unfolded on- (and off-) screen. The exploration of sound is effective and innovative, with a lot of dark scenes propelled by sound alone. This managed to terrify me by holding so much back, but then again I am a bit of a scaredy-cat.

For all its suicidal ghost brides and ominous portent, The Innkeepers' success lies primarily in its remarkable development of character. Sarah Paxton is phenomenal as Claire, a relatable and innocent young lady who manages to be hilarious most of the time with effortless charm. She makes a scene that is literally just Claire taking out the garbage turn into the most entertaining thing I saw all week. I spent most of the film imagining how fun our lunch dates and sleepovers would be once we became best friends. I also totally wanted her to hook up with Luke, since Pat Healy is so helplessly nerdy it looked like he could use a good, healthy boinkfest. The extreme attachment West is able to invoke for his characters is what makes the film so engaging- I cared so strongly what happened to these people, it was a little ridiculous.

Not much actually happens in The Innkeepers, plot-wise. It's slow, it's dialogue-heavy, and for a ghost story there isn't much screen time devoted to actual ghosts. And I was captivated every second. West frames his story so closely and Paxton charms to completely that I couldn't help but give in to this movie. Plus he totally got me several times with the mere possibility of a scare during all those prolonged, high-pitched-note type of scenes.

What's cool about this film is that it's based on West's real experiences. He and his crew stayed at the Yankee Pedlar while shooting The House of the Devil, and he claims that while he doesn't believe in ghosts, this is the most haunted place he's ever been. Doors close by themselves, everyone has freaky dreams, things move on their own, etc. The inn's lazy employees served as inspiration for Luke and Claire. The movie is filmed at the actual Yankee Pedlar and the whole crew stayed there while filming, leading to some spooky times.

4.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I have yet to see West's previous film The House of the Devil but I've heard it's got a similar vibe. Otherwise, I'd say The Shining.

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